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Theological Clusterf***
March 29, 2011 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Who Goes to Hell? An editorial response (by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, posted on Foxnews.com) to the controversy of Chad Holtz, a Methodist Church pastor in North Carolina, having been fired for questioning whether hell exists.
posted by rodmandirect (397 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
It was not really a defense of Holtz. Carlton Pearson may hold the key to Evangelical Protestant study of the afterlife in Christianity.
posted by parmanparman at 7:10 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reminds me of a truly fantastic This American Life episode called Heretics.
Carlton Pearson's church, Higher Dimensions, was once one of the biggest in the city, drawing crowds of 5,000 people every Sunday. But several years ago, scandal engulfed the reverend. He didn't have an affair. He didn't embezzle lots of money. His sin was something that to a lot of people is far worse: He stopped believing in Hell.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:10 AM on March 29, 2011 [14 favorites]


See also the immense controversy in the Evangelical blogosphere over Rob Bell's new book Love Wins, which similarly questions the existence and doctrine of hell. Slacktivist has been talking about it.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:11 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Peter Gomes nailed this one in a sermon once. The Day of Judgement is really the day when everyone's expectations are overturned. No one is vindicated but God alone. The people who believe they are right will be wrong, and the people made to feel wrong will be right.

If you believe the Bible is authoritative, then Jesus' own description of the Day of Judgment say explicitly that everyone will be completely shocked by God's opinion of them.

Everyone.

Christians included.
posted by jefficator at 7:12 AM on March 29, 2011 [46 favorites]


Without Hell, Christians simultaneously lose the fearstick with which to club new inductees, and for some, the only thing that deters them from drinking/drugging/going on a killing spree. The supposed existance of that fiery lake is the only thing that makes salvation through Jesus important at all. Without the threat of eternal burning torture, the prospect of an eternity singing hymns from the celestial pews is hardly enough carrot to overcome the sweet sweet lure of earthly sins.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:14 AM on March 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Tell me a person’s beliefs about the afterlife, and I’ll tell you how they are likely to behave in this life, for better or for worse.

Yeah, right. I grew up in a atheist family, my neighbours were christians. We behaved the same.
posted by Pendragon at 7:14 AM on March 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


shakespeherian, it was supporting Bell's book (possibly among other things) that got Holtz fired.
posted by mediareport at 7:15 AM on March 29, 2011


I would love to read this entire thread full of thoughtful, insightful responses. I also want college football playoffs. GO!
posted by Senator at 7:18 AM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Tell me a person’s beliefs about the afterlife, and I’ll tell you how they are likely to behave in this life, for better or for worse. Notions of the afterlife reflect our most deeply held values about this life, which because they are not always realized here, are deferred to the next life. Like all ideals, they represent that to which we aspire, and if we are serious about our aspirations, they are the compass points by which we navigate through life in the here and now.

Isn't he simply repeating an old non-Christian slur about Christians here? That because they believe salvation lies in the afterlife, they don't need to take responsibility for their actions when they're alive? I think that myth has been around for as long as Christians have existed. Wasn't that one of the excuses used by the Romans to persecute them? That Christian loyalty was to their god and messiah first, rather than the Empire.
posted by zarq at 7:19 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Senator, that doesn't help. But go read that Slacktivist link shakespeherian posted; it's good.
posted by mediareport at 7:19 AM on March 29, 2011


Having a rabbi weigh in on Hell is a little odd, and it's odder still that the article itself does not make more hay of that oddness. Hell is not really a Jewish concept. Trying to say that concepts like Gehenna or Sheol are "basically the Jewish Hell" is specious, tenuous reasoning along the lines of "Yom Kippur is the Jewish Lent." At least, that's how I was raised.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:23 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


A debate in which not a single person actually comprehends the doctrine being debated is unlikely to be a very productive debate.
posted by koeselitz at 7:25 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


A debate in which not a single person actually comprehends the doctrine being debated is unlikely to be a very productive debate.

Hell is other people ?
posted by Pendragon at 7:28 AM on March 29, 2011 [26 favorites]


It strikes me as arrogant to imagine that when we are done in this life, there is nothing that comes after.

It strikes me as arrogant to believe that the mere act of imagining that there's no afterlife (which, ironically, requires much less imagination than the alternative) is arrogant.
posted by Dr. Eigenvariable at 7:28 AM on March 29, 2011 [39 favorites]


Officials with Holtz's church declined to discuss his firing in detail, but suggested there was more to it than his position on hell.

Gee, ya think? I'm thinking there's a lot more back story on this then we're getting here.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:28 AM on March 29, 2011


Hell is a long poem that Dante wrote to make fun of his political enemies.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:28 AM on March 29, 2011 [29 favorites]


Zarq, it's not a slur to say that the majority of US Christians believe in hell. Nor is it a slur to say that some Christians have treated (and continue to treat) wide swaths of the world's population as damned. He's not saying that Christians act like assholes because hey, heaven's there anyway. He's saying that it's wrong to treat people as lesser beings and wrong to assume that everyone who disagrees with you or is unbaptized or whatever is going to hell.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:33 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sticherbeast: At least, that's how I was raised.

You are not the only one.
posted by cyphill at 7:35 AM on March 29, 2011


I think this whole heaven/hell thing can be resolved by the formation of an Afterlife Commission, comprising expert and layman opinion, religious and secular voices.

Let's assign people to heaven/hell by consensus. Even if you're an athiest, you can have an input on who deserves to go to a conceptual hell. Not sure? Stick them in purgatory for a few years, come back to the decision later.

Who wants to join?
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 7:36 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


A debate in which not a single person actually comprehends the doctrine being debated is unlikely to be a very productive debate.

Is there really anyone here who doesn't understand the difference between "does the invisible sky daddy send you to your room like FOREVER when you are bad" vs "not that thing I just said because what are we, 3"?
posted by DU at 7:37 AM on March 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


I think having a rabbi weigh in is quite appropriate, given that many christians believe that he is going to hell because he's Jewish. And that's arrogant and fucked up. Which is his point, not the existence or non-existence of hell.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:37 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


My personal paradox is that a heaven full of Christian Evangelicals is my idea of Hell.

And if I will be shocked by God's opinion of me, what till He hears my opinion of Him.
posted by three blind mice at 7:43 AM on March 29, 2011 [40 favorites]


It strikes me as arrogant to believe that the mere act of imagining that there's no afterlife (which, ironically, requires much less imagination than the alternative) is arrogant.

I you believe in an afterlife, then by definition, you no longer believe in death. You believe you are immortal.

Certainly doesn't sound arrogant to me.
posted by silentpundit at 7:44 AM on March 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


It strikes me as arrogant to imagine that when we are done in this life, there is nothing that comes after.

You can watch a person die and see that they don't go anywhere. It's wishful thinking to imagine that something "comes after" when your eyes and every measuring instrument ever invented says there is no "after." It's arrogant wishful thinking when you imagine that the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe is going to put you in the Happy Place and Them in the Torture Place "after." And you call skeptics "arrogant."
posted by callmejay at 7:45 AM on March 29, 2011 [23 favorites]


Peoples' ability to misinterpret the Bible constantly amazes me. My father, one of life's eternally angry people and a lifelong Catholic, insists, despite all evidence to the contrary (including pointing at and reading out passages), that the idea of forgiving others never gets a mention in the Bible.
posted by dowcrag at 7:46 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is like baby boys having a conversation edited by a monkey.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:46 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wasn't this guy on an episode of This American Life?
posted by desjardins at 7:48 AM on March 29, 2011


I mean Carlton Pearson.
posted by desjardins at 7:49 AM on March 29, 2011


given that many christians believe that he is going to hell because he's Jewish.

Wrong. Many Christians believe unless you are "saved" - that is that you accept Jesus Christ as your own personal saviour - you are going to hell. Jews aren't going to Hell because they are Jewish, but for their failure to accept Jesus. This is a subtle, but significant difference, it does not strike me as arrogant, and I don't know why anyone should have a problem with it.
posted by three blind mice at 7:50 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Keep in mind that in the United Methodist Church, pastors are employed by the larger body (a regional area known as a conference), and assigned to a congregation by the conference's bishop (it's a weird combination of Catholic-style top-down control, via the Church of England, and American-style lay-lead democracy).

This pastor was removed from this congregation, but he's still a pastor in good standing with the UMC and will be reassigned to a congregation that holds view more compatible with his own. Note also that the congregation has no direct role in all this. All they can do is complain loudly to the bishop.

One of the good and bad things about the UMC is the wide diversity of congregations. On one end, you have congregations like the one in this article. On the other end, you have ultra-liberal congregations like my own, that are, for instance, members of the Reconciling Ministries Network.

(My wife is a former UMC pastor)
posted by tippiedog at 7:50 AM on March 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


And I'm absolutely seconding the recommendation made by shakespearian at the beginning of the thread. If you are interested in this controversy, liberal evangelical blogger Fred Clark, a.k.a. Slacktivist, is a must-read.
posted by tippiedog at 7:53 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


the young rope-rider: "Zarq, it's not a slur to say that the majority of US Christians believe in hell. Nor is it a slur to say that some Christians have treated (and continue to treat) wide swaths of the world's population as damned. He's not saying that Christians act like assholes because hey, heaven's there anyway. He's saying that it's wrong to treat people as lesser beings and wrong to assume that everyone who disagrees with you or is unbaptized or whatever is going to hell."

Hrm. Hadn't read it that way. Thanks.
posted by zarq at 7:54 AM on March 29, 2011


Okay, we got the hell thing wrapped up, but who ends up in the Elysium fields and who in hades? Will I end up in the land of the hungry ghosts? Or will I make it to the Olam Ha-Ba? How can I avoid Hifhel? If I avoid that can I still avoid Jahannum? Will rastas return to Africa? Will I make it to the summerland? Surely, if I avoid all those fates I'll end up in Ahura Mazda.

Oh well, back to praying to 100 different deities. Can't take any chances. Immortality is hard, yo.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:57 AM on March 29, 2011 [24 favorites]


Unbounded punishment (and if the torment lasts forever, it is) as a consequence of a finite act is irrational enough, but comparing it against "God loves us" is just one more inconsistency to swallow.

We're in the hands of infinite power and infinite sadism.
posted by adipocere at 7:57 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is a subtle, but significant difference, it does not strike me as arrogant, and I don't know why anyone should have a problem with it.

Because it's condescending and ridiculous. "We know the truth, and accept the truth. You won't accept the truth even though we've pestered you, and you're going to be punished for it. Oh, you'll see. No, we don't have any physical evidence that we're right; we just know because we can feel it. How could we be this smug if we're wrong? Remember when you're being tortured for all eternity and we're laughing it up that we warned you."

Even if this is not actually stated, it's implicit in "We believe this, we will be rewarded it for and others will be punished for not falling into the line we made."
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:58 AM on March 29, 2011 [32 favorites]


If Hell is real, you don't have to believe in it, right? Isn't hell like cottage cheese? I don't believe in cottage cheese, but there it is.

It doesn't strike me as particularly brave to profess a belief in something that's already real. If Hell is real, you don't have to go very far out on a limb to say so.
posted by emelenjr at 8:00 AM on March 29, 2011


In Catholic school I learned that Hell is supposed to be somewhere where God is not with you. This made no sense to me, because God is supposedly everywhere. When I asked my religion teacher about this, she said something to the effect of, "well, God chooses not to be in Hell." It's been a decade and I still don't know what that means.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to having my remains liquefied. Then, every time it rains, forgetful folks will be soaked with me. And when snows, children will be catching me on their tongues. Take that, everyone else! My afterlife is going to kick ass.
posted by giraffe at 8:04 AM on March 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


I miss being someone who believed in Heaven, though it was always a little creepy when people told me I was being "watched" by my grandma or whoever. Some things you don't want Grandma to see.

I never could really believe in Hell; all I could think was, how illogical was it to punish people forever--they could never repent, so the punishment had no aim, except to show that it could be done. And how could Heaven be enjoyable when you knew people were getting skewered one supernatural level (or whatever) away? I figured that people who were too nasty to go to heaven just got their souls dissolved into nothingness. More efficient, much less sadistic.

Besides, as far I could tell, the truly nasty people on earth were never dissuaded by the fear of Hell from killing and raping and so on. As a deterrent it was distinctly unsuccessful.

Simpler, really, to just be ok w/out an afterlife. Though reincarnation might be kind of cool, or dissolving into golden energy particles like in the Pullman books.
posted by emjaybee at 8:06 AM on March 29, 2011 [11 favorites]


My inability to believe in hell is one of the first things that made me question my christian faith at age 11 or 12. Then the more I thought about it the less sense any of it made. It's odd to me to be agnostic/atheist leaning today, because I still remember how viscerally I felt my faith that god existed and loved me.

But a loving god seems so incompatible with hell that I have a hard time understanding why so many people believe in hell.
posted by mai at 8:08 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


all I could think was, how illogical was it to punish people forever--they could never repent, so the punishment had no aim, except to show that it could be done.

You just outlined my opinion of American prison system.
posted by mooselini at 8:10 AM on March 29, 2011 [18 favorites]


Isn't hell like cottage cheese?

Once I had a very bad case of pneumonia, and for some reason cottage cheese was one of the few things I had in my refrigerator. It made me violently ill in ways I do not care to describe here, and fifteen years later I can't even look at the stuff. The smell makes me retch. So yeah, cottage cheese IS my personal hell.

posted by desjardins at 8:12 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


three blind mice: " This is a subtle, but significant difference, it does not strike me as arrogant, and I don't know why anyone should have a problem with it."

Christians have used that difference as an excuse to treat us like shit over the years, that's why.

Please read Constantine's Sword. It was more than a thousand years after Christ's death until a Pope issued a Sicut Judaeis bull. Subsequent Pontiffs had to reissue it for centuries, because by the time the Church decided to treat us with any degree of respect and tell their followers to stop stealing from us, abusing us, killing us, torturing us and trying to convert us against our will, Christian antisemitism had become deeply ingrained. Their benevolence didn't last, either: Popes still played fast and loose with subsequent bulls, so the message was muddied. No matter: Many later Popes and other Church scholars fanned the flames with written antisemitic tracts, like Aquinas, or Pope Gregory X.

So a couple of thousand years after Christ was crucified, we got Vatican II and Nostra Aetate. "Sorry. Our bad."

And hey, that's just the Church of Rome, we haven't even discussed modern times, with Evangelical Christians and all the other Protestant sect missionaries who are actively trying to convert us, or the Mormons who pray for our dead or the so-called "Jews" for Jesus who try to co-opt our religion in the name of their own.

The arrogance is obvious, and it's also overwhelming.
posted by zarq at 8:13 AM on March 29, 2011 [33 favorites]


I think it's amazing how lucky we people in America got, being born into the one true faith to avoid hell. Man, it would really suck to be one of those people to have been born elsewhere and have to go to eternal torment for believing their idiotic local cult religions. What a bunch of rubes they are to believe that crap. Such obvious stupidity.
posted by norm at 8:14 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


You can watch a person die and see that they don't go anywhere.

The people who do believe in an Afterlife don't believe in CORPOREAL afterlife. Not a one of them. The people who do believe in an Afterlife already know that the body you've "watched die" doesn't "go anywhere." Because they're not talking about the body in the first place.

I mean, if you're determined to slag those who believe in an Afterlife. It may help to check on what they actuallY DO believe so your insults are more effective.

It's wishful thinking to imagine that something "comes after" when your eyes and every measuring instrument ever invented says there is no "after."

Well, one scientist used a "measuring instrument" and ascertained that in some cases, the body loses a few grams worth of weight at the moment of death. Granted, he said that this was far too small a sample to draw any real conclusion from. Nor will I. But -- do you have any theories as to why such a thing may happen?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Eventually, this conflict is going to spill into the Real, and the next thing you know, there's a clandestine warfleet headed toward our computational substrate.
posted by reverend cuttle at 8:20 AM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


We can still hate fags, right? 'Cause that's who Hell is for, amirite?

I think it's amazing how lucky we people in America got, being born into the one true faith to avoid hell.

Okay this thread, which could be a pretty interesting conversation about exegesis and doctrine and the intersection between accepted scripture and popular fiction, is pretty quickly becoming stupid and useless because everyone wants to get their digs in at conservative Christians in case there wasn't anywhere else to do it.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:21 AM on March 29, 2011 [20 favorites]


The people who do believe in an Afterlife don't believe in CORPOREAL afterlife. Not a one of them. The people who do believe in an Afterlife already know that the body you've "watched die" doesn't "go anywhere." Because they're not talking about the body in the first place.

I'm reminded of the phrase "Every description of God is an excuse for his absence." Every description of the soul is an excuse for the obvious reality that when people die they stay dead.

Well, one scientist used a "measuring instrument" and ascertained that in some cases, the body loses a few grams worth of weight at the moment of death. Granted, he said that this was far too small a sample to draw any real conclusion from. Nor will I. But -- do you have any theories as to why such a thing may happen?

Are you serious.
posted by callmejay at 8:24 AM on March 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


I was hoping that the rabbi's comments would be to elucidate the Jewish understanding of the afterlife for us goyim. I don't understand it, and I would like to. (But I'm also very lazy, and don't like long words).
posted by jb at 8:25 AM on March 29, 2011


But -- do you have any theories as to why such a thing may happen?

Why assume it's a soul and not just air from the lungs?
Could wishful thinking have corrupted the measurement?
Could the 'experimenter' have simply lied?

From the snopes article itself:
What to make of all this? MacDougall's results were flawed because the methodology used to harvest them was suspect, the sample size far too small, and the ability to measure changes in weight imprecise. For this reason, credence should not be given to the idea his experiments proved something, let alone that they measured the weight of the soul as 21 grams. His postulations on this topic are a curiosity, but nothing more.
posted by device55 at 8:27 AM on March 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


My church explicitly does not believe in hell. And their statement about heaven is, essentially, "Given how little time Scripture spends talking about the particulars of heaven and what it's like, the only rational conclusion is that it must not be very important."

Big ol' Christian church. Over a million members, including the President.
posted by KathrynT at 8:27 AM on March 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


But -- do you have any theories as to why such a thing may happen?

Nope, so it must be the magical man in the sky!

Such utter bullshit that it makes my blood boil. I can't explain many things that happen in the world and that's okay with me. I don't need to. But just because I can't explain them doesn't mean I need to attribute them to mystical origins.

Believers need to believe, and therefore no amount of "proof" will ever be enough and ultimately questions can just be answered with "'cuz I believe".
posted by dave78981 at 8:27 AM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was hoping that the rabbi's comments would be to elucidate the Jewish understanding of the afterlife for us goyim.

There is no single Jewish understanding of the afterlife. It ranges from a literal resurrection of bodies after the Moshiach comes to going to some kind of literal garden of Eden to going to some kind of supernatural garden of Eden. Hell ranges from nothingness to a purgatory-like thing to more of a Christian-type Hell, but usually less infinitely long. That's the beauty of making shit up -- the only limit is your imagination!
posted by callmejay at 8:27 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


If Hell exists, I will gladly walk through the front door.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:28 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

Epicurus
posted by dave78981 at 8:29 AM on March 29, 2011 [24 favorites]


Christians have used that difference as an excuse to treat us like shit over the years, that's why.

Really? That's the reason why? Does it occur to you that evangelical Christians have the same view of Catholics, Muslims, atheists, and every one else who isn't "saved".

I don't consider it arrogant. As an atheist, I consider it wrong and I am equally condescending towards them as they are towards me.
posted by three blind mice at 8:29 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


But -- do you have any theories as to why such a thing may happen?

A god of the gaps is very small indeed.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:30 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay this thread, which could be a pretty interesting conversation about exegesis and doctrine and the intersection between accepted scripture and popular fiction, is pretty quickly becoming stupid and useless because everyone wants to get their digs in at conservative Christians in case there wasn't anywhere else to do it.

You know, you can minimize these sentiments because they're not respectfully presented, but both of the digs you cite actually are spotlighting some key and troubling assumptions made by American evangelicals, namely that a) hell is a convenient conceit to smugly know that your enemies will get comeuppance and b) the chauvinistic belief that their cultural background is the universally correct one and everyone else's is not only wrong but also one that warrants eternal damnation.
posted by norm at 8:30 AM on March 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


giraffe - the concept that part of Hell is the absence of God is also in Dante. I think it's the Limbo level, where the virtuous pagans are - people who died before Christ or without hearing of Christ. They aren't being tortured (unlike the other circles), but they are not happy because they are denied the presence of God.

I found Dante's Inferno fascinating, though I never would have understood many of the political references without the thick footnoting. But the overall structure of Hell gives such a colourful insight into medieval/Rennaissance ideas of morality and what is important. Also, the idea that the final circle is frozen is far more frightening to this Canadian than any image of a warm, toasty hell is.
posted by jb at 8:30 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


If Hell exists, I will gladly walk through the front door.

That would be doing it wrong. C'mom man. You have to sneak in the back door without paying.
posted by three blind mice at 8:31 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


jb: "I was hoping that the rabbi's comments would be to elucidate the Jewish understanding of the afterlife for us goyim. I don't understand it, and I would like to. (But I'm also very lazy, and don't like long words)."

callmejay has it. Compared to Christianity, Judaism is far more focused on living one's life than than what happens after death.
posted by zarq at 8:31 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nope, so it must be the magical man in the sky!

You'll note that I don't say that.

Such utter bullshit that it makes my blood boil. I can't explain many things that happen in the world and that's okay with me. I don't need to. But just because I can't explain them doesn't mean I need to attribute them to mystical origins.

You sound awfully determined to rule certain conclusions out, however. That is my point. If you're satisfied leaving them unexplained yourself, then why make an argument that essentially is, "I don't need to know what it is, but it certainly is not that!" If you are so sure it's not something, doesn't that stand to reason that you do have a notion about what it is?

So which is it? Are you satisfied leaving this be, or do you have your own notion that you're just disagreeing with someone about?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:31 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


It strikes me as arrogant to imagine that when we are done in this life, there is nothing that comes after.

Funny. It strikes me as humble.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:35 AM on March 29, 2011 [20 favorites]


You know, you can minimize these sentiments because they're not respectfully presented, but both of the digs you cite actually are spotlighting some key and troubling assumptions made by American evangelicals

I agree, but I don't really think that mainstream Evangelical homophobia or the way in which worldview is intrinsically tied to cultural upbringing are the point of this thread, or the point of most threads that have 'Christians' or similar in the FPP, yet they seem to always come up, and often in similarly not-respectfully-presented ways. If Metafilter doesn't ever want to have any threads about Christians or Christianity or religion or religious beliefs or theological disputes, that's fine, and say so. The current state of People Have To Post Sarcastic Comments With The Word 'Fags' If The Thread Is About Religious People is incredibly stupid.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:36 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Compared to Christianity, Judaism is far more focused on living one's life than than what happens after death.

The condescension towards Christians in this thread is proving a point all by itself...

Christians are all about how lives one should live ones life BECAUSE OF WHAT THEY BELIEVE HAPPENS AFTERWARDS.

It is my understanding, and please correct me if I am wrong, is that Judaism is focused on how one lives ones life because of what they believe happens in this life. Right?

It cost/benefit all around. The only difference is in the way the checks are cashed.
posted by three blind mice at 8:39 AM on March 29, 2011


You sound awfully determined to rule certain conclusions out, however. That is my point.

dave78981 shouldn't even bother engaging on this subject, though, because as has been shown above, there's no actual evidence that this discrepancy in weight even exists.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:40 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


You sound awfully determined to rule certain conclusions out, however.

Well, I can make educated guesses based on previous experiences and know with a certain degree of certainty that some things just aren't real and are fabricated explanations for things that are unexplainable. As an extreme example, I may not know the exact process by which cookies are made, but I can be certain that elves didn't do it.

I can also look to the past and see that many of the things we take for granted now as obvious were attributed to mysticism. With a similar degree of certainty I can extrapolate this to the future and say that, no, things like the 21g "soul" don't exist, and no, there isn't some all powerful being that controls everything.

You have to rule things out if you're a critical thinker. As an atheist, I rule out more than others. But everyone does it or else we'd still be in caves sacrificing to the fire god.
posted by dave78981 at 8:41 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Christians are all about how lives one should live ones life BECAUSE OF WHAT THEY BELIEVE HAPPENS AFTERWARDS.

See. I'm going to Hell for that sentence....

Christians are all about how one should live ones life BECAUSE....
posted by three blind mice at 8:41 AM on March 29, 2011


Well, one scientist used a "measuring instrument" and ascertained that in some cases, the body loses a few grams worth of weight at the moment of death. Granted, he said that this was far too small a sample to draw any real conclusion from. Nor will I. But -- do you have any theories as to why such a thing may happen?

Oh, you've got to be kidding me. Did you even bother to google it before suggesting it must be Magic? No one has been able to reproduce MacDougalls findings. You should read about his experimental conditions, I'll save you the trouble: they were terrible. Macdougall also moved on to photographing the soul with x-rays and is convinced that he was able to do it.

In the end, he was debunked by a dog:
Having reasoned that such loss could not be explained by bowel movements or evaporation, he concluded he must have measured the weight of the soul. A follow-up experiment also showed that dogs (which were healthy, so they were probably poisoned on purpose by the good doctor) don't seem to suffer the same sort of loss, therefore they don't have souls (sorry, you canine lovers).

This is an excellent example of where pseudoscience and belief go wrong, on a variety of levels. Let us start with MacDougall's claim itself: it turns out that his data were decidedly unreliable by any decent scientific standard. Not only was the experiment never repeated (by either MaDougall or anyone else), but his own notes (published in American Medicine in March 1907) show that of the six data points, two had to be discarded as “of no value”; two recorded a weight drop, followed by additional losses later on (was the soul leaving bit by bit?); one showed a reversal of the loss, then another loss (the soul couldn't make up its mind, leaving, re-entering, then leaving for good); and only one case actually constitutes the basis of the legendary estimate of ¾ of an ounce. With data like these, it's a miracle the paper got published in the first place.

Second, as was pointed out immediately by Dr. Augustus P. Clarke in a rebuttal also published in American Medicine, MacDougall failed to consider another obvious hypothesis: that the weight loss (assuming it was real) was due to evaporation caused by the sudden rise in body temperature that occurs when the blood circulation stops and the blood can no longer be air-cooled by the lungs. This also elegantly explains why the dogs showed no weight loss: as is well known, they cool themselves by panting, not sweating like humans do.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:41 AM on March 29, 2011 [22 favorites]


dave78981 shouldn't even bother engaging on this subject, though, because as has been shown above, there's no actual evidence that this discrepancy in weight even exists.

And that's why I said "in certain cases this was found" instead of "in all cases".

Look -- my point isn't "this is evidence". My point is that you can't say that "I'm content with this being unexplained right now" and then turn around and get so angry about other people's theories. You can't say "I'm content with this being unexplaine" and then say "I don't have an answer myself, but YOUR answer's wrong".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:45 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


dave78981 shouldn't even bother engaging on this subject, though, because as has been shown above, there's no actual evidence that this discrepancy in weight even exists.

Lack of evidence rarely if ever stops people who believe if bullshit from believing in bullshit. In fact, it makes their belief stronger to some degree. In the end, it's important to engage people who believe these things and to call them out as bullshit. You may not be able to sway the believer, but maybe somebody who was on the fence will tip over to rationality.
posted by dave78981 at 8:46 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


You may not be able to sway the believer, but maybe somebody who was on the fence will tip over to rationality.

For the record, I also believe that the experiment I cited was inconclusive. I was not advancing it as any "proof of the afterlife" or anything.

But I do find it telling that people have taken such an emotional reaction to it. That was more my point -- that you have taken an emotional stake in something that you claim to be laissez-faire about. And I find that telling.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:48 AM on March 29, 2011


From Hirshfield's article: "Tell me a person’s beliefs about the afterlife, and I’ll tell you how they are likely to behave in this life, for better or for worse. "

This to me says everything I need to know about how a converstion is going to go, and why these discussions are utterly unproductive. Most pastors/rabbis/priests use such notions to treat non-beleivers as less than human.

I have, to my face, been called the moral equivalent of a thief and a sexual offender, because I was not a beliver by someone who thought he was doing me kindness, indeed who was trying his best to convert me. I've had parishoners express disbelief that I could follow any moral code that wasn't based on punishment in an afterlife, a weird mix of envy and horror that I was some kind of cripple who couldn't understand ethics.

zarq: Isn't he simply repeating an old non-Christian slur about Christians here?

This attiude is not restricted to Christians. I've heard it from Jews and Muslims too, in various forms. If divine punishment isn't on the plate, if you don't believe in sin, you can't be ethical. Thus a non-believer isn't worthy of respect or consideration as a full human being, but are some kind of out-of-group less-than-human that can be treated less than ethically. It's conflated with tribalism, but seems to be a common religious belief.
posted by bonehead at 8:48 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I find all these attempts to "prove" religion to just be pathetic. Believers, its very transparent to us, and perhaps not to you. The creationist museum, the bible code, the believers genome, 21 grams, kirlian photography, seances, etc. Seriously, you're only fooling yourself.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:49 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Though certainly nobody asked me, I'll go ahead and say that I think what happens is not NOTHING, but that it is so far beyond our ability to imagine it that it's almost not worth contemplating, and certainly barely worth discussing.

This is still a kind of faith, I think.
posted by hermitosis at 8:50 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


For the record, I also believe that the experiment I cited was inconclusive.

No its not. Its a complete and utter fraud by a disengenious researcher. This is like holding up this photo and claiming "GHOSTS ARE TEH REALZ!!"
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:51 AM on March 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Christians are all about how lives one should live ones life BECAUSE OF WHAT THEY BELIEVE HAPPENS AFTERWARDS.

Except that the theology of predestination - the idea that God already knows who is saved, and who is not - undermines that idea. I never understood how die-hard Calvinists didn't just become actual antinomians because it didn't matter whether they sinned or not. I'm down with Robert Lerner that historical antinomianism generally existed only in the mind of the accuser (and in misinterpretation of some heretical writings) - but at the same time, if I seriously believed in predestination, I think I would be an antinomian.

Indeed, one could even say - as the 16th century RC Church did - that salvation by faith alone is a justification/instigation to antinomianism.

That said - I have never lined up Matthew 25 (quoted above) and ideas of salvation before. Even though Paul might say salvation is by faith alone, by Matthew 25, quoting Jesus, suggests that salvation is by charity or love of one's fellow human being (and possibly other beings as well). It's interesting that that passage - which is one of my absolute favorites - isn't more widely quoted. This world would be something rather closer to the best of possible afterworlds if more people followed its injunctions.
posted by jb at 8:51 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


there's no actual evidence that this discrepancy in weight even exists.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:40 AM on March 29


though it did lend itself for the title of a rather good film.
posted by jb at 8:53 AM on March 29, 2011


The 21 grams theory is about as believable as the Oregon vortex, and the (apparently) unironic defense of each as fact now have their own hilarious piece in MeFi history.
posted by norm at 8:53 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


but I don't really think that mainstream Evangelical homophobia or the way in which worldview is intrinsically tied to cultural upbringing are the point of this thread,

You don't; I do.

I don't think Chad Holtz's congregation fired him over a theological peccadillo. They fired him because "no Hell" gives a certain type of Christian no basis for religion at all.

For a certain type of believer, punishment (of everyone who disagrees with you) is more important than salvation (of one's self). And without Hell, there's no way to smugly assure oneself that "those people" will be getting what's coming to them. What's coming to them from an angry God and His torturer-in-chief, Satan.

For many Christians, the religion is about loving Jesus; but for too many, it's about having a celestial friend with a very big stick indeed, and a preoccupation with using that stick to whack the very people they happen to dislike. Take away that stick, and it''s just no fun, is it?
posted by orthogonality at 8:54 AM on March 29, 2011 [24 favorites]


bonehead: “This to me says everything I need to know about how a converstion is going to go, and why these discussions are utterly unproductive. Most pastors/rabbis/priests use such notions to treat non-beleivers as less than human.”

Well, it might tell you everything you need to know, but given that you clearly didn't read anything after that comment in the article, why are you commenting here?

Let me be clear: the point of the article had absolutely nothing to do with non-believers. The fact that you expect it will doesn't change that fact. The point of the article was that believing in hell makes you less likely to be a good person.

Can we talk about that? Or do you need more time to read the link?
posted by koeselitz at 8:56 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


No its not. Its a complete and utter fraud by a disengenious researcher.

damn dirty ape beat me to the punch. This is what makes me so angry. This is what I feel when I see this 21 grams bs or John Edwards, or some slimy televangelist: it's the fraud that is so apparent to me and so utterly obfuscated by belief. I have no problem at all with people believing what they want, but so often that belief is twisted by unscrupulous evil men to further their own goals: greed and power.

I have a great deal of respect for people, with faith or without, who give their lives in service to the sick or the poor. I have no tolerance for con men.
posted by dave78981 at 9:00 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


three blind mice: " Really? That's the reason why? Does it occur to you that evangelical Christians have the same view of Catholics, Muslims, atheists, and every one else who isn't "saved".

My impression is that this is an inherent aspect of the Christian religion which is not limited to a sect of Christianity.

I'm not sure why you think this should have to "occur" to me or not. It enforces my point rather than disproving it. The question was why Christians believing a Jew is going to hell is problematic. I answered from that perspective with some examples.

I don't consider it arrogant. As an atheist, I consider it wrong and I am equally condescending towards them as they are towards me.

Your personal experiences and attitudes notwithstanding, historical precedent clearly shows how dangerous it can be to 'other' and vilify people through religion. Feel free to disagree, but I think 'condescending' and 'arrogant' do not reflect an accurate understanding of the problem.
posted by zarq at 9:00 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


me: “A debate in which not a single person actually comprehends the doctrine being debated is unlikely to be a very productive debate.”

DU: “Is there really anyone here who doesn't understand the difference between "does the invisible sky daddy send you to your room like FOREVER when you are bad" vs "not that thing I just said because what are we, 3"?”

Yes, that's right. Everyone who disagrees with you is three years old. Wow, you already won the debate! Good job! Here's a gold star!
posted by koeselitz at 9:02 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


You sound awfully determined to rule certain conclusions out, however. That is my point. If you're satisfied leaving them unexplained yourself, then why make an argument that essentially is, "I don't need to know what it is, but it certainly is not that!"

I'd bet money you're pretty confident that the 21 grams aren't made up of Thetans exiting the bodies.
posted by callmejay at 9:05 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've thought a lot about Hell as a concept over the years, and I imagine that its current incarnation as a fiery place of eternal damnation is the result of centuries of theological extrapolation and brinkmanship: Early texts suggested that living a virtuous life would put you in favor with god, this could be extended to suggest that living a non-virtuous life would keep you from god's grace. In trying to explain how that might feel to a congregation, the speaker came up with the most horrible fate imaginable; burning alive. And how long would this last for? What's the longest time that can be? Forever? Forever. And when that stopped being enough, another scary aspect was added a generation later, And each and every twisted description eventually became accepted canon because it fit within the overall theme.

Sort of like how a urban legend can spin to wilder and wilder extremes and the longer it exists, the more credence it's given.

But that's sort of my view on how most of what religion is today has come to be, so this isn't a great leap for me.

Probably because it would secretly delight me to discover that evolution exists, and it explains the mythos of modern Christianity.
posted by quin at 9:08 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not that I have any doubt that evolution exists, just that I love the idea that it also exists as the shaping principle behind modern religious thought.
posted by quin at 9:10 AM on March 29, 2011


norm: “You know, you can minimize these sentiments because they're not respectfully presented, but both of the digs you cite actually are spotlighting some key and troubling assumptions made by American evangelicals, namely that a) hell is a convenient conceit to smugly know that your enemies will get comeuppance and b) the chauvinistic belief that their cultural background is the universally correct one and everyone else's is not only wrong but also one that warrants eternal damnation.”

He isn't minimizing those sentiments because they're not respectfully presented. He's minimizing them because they're inane, irrational, and not worth talking about. Not even at Christianity's worst moments has it ever been Church doctrine that hell is just a convenient place where our enemies must go, nor a place where people are consigned based on their beliefs. The construction of strawmen doesn't constitute a cogent spotlighting of "troubling assumptions."

Again, a debate in which nobody understands the subject isn't likely to be very good.
posted by koeselitz at 9:11 AM on March 29, 2011


“A debate in which not a single person actually comprehends the doctrine being debated is unlikely to be a very productive debate.”

Christian doctrine is an especially slippery fish.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:11 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


koeselitz: the point of the article had absolutely nothing to do with non-believers.

This isn't just a narrow sectarian or doctrial difference ans you seem to be claiming it is, nor are these attiudes limited to Christians.

Hirshfield: At the end of the day, it is far easier to hurt and even to destroy another human being whom one already believes is cursed by God.

Your focus is too narrow. You're missing the bigger point.
posted by bonehead at 9:12 AM on March 29, 2011


Alright: I chose a very bad example to illustrate my point. I apologize for having inadvertently muddied the waters.

Let me try again.

It's wishful thinking to imagine that something "comes after" when your eyes and every measuring instrument ever invented says there is no "after."

Please explain exactly how you know precisely what such a "measuring instrument" would "measure".

And now, let me actually plainly state my point without making an admittedly bad argument.

I believe in an afterlife, but I also freely admit that my belief is not scientifically proveable. I am comfortable with that. I am also comfortable knowing that this lack of scientific proof makes others say, "sorry, I can't get on board with that." That's also fine. I also understand that some people are trying to "scientifically prove" these kinds of things, and while I really doubt they're going to get very far, the fact that they're doing this doesn't bother me. If they find something credible, then cool. If not, it keeps 'em off the streets.

What does bother me, though, is when each of the people in each of these camps use these beliefs as an excuse to slam each other. I am horrified when hardcore religious people equate the lack of a belief in the afterlife with sin. But I am equally horrified when people who do believe in an afterlife are accused of being "arrogant" by those who do not believe.

There's a difference between "what an individual believes in the afterlife" and "whether an individual uses hir own beliefs as an excuse to be a dick to others." Consider: yes, it's unconscionable that this happened to bonehead:

I have, to my face, been called the moral equivalent of a thief and a sexual offender, because I was not a beliver by someone who thought he was doing me kindness, indeed who was trying his best to convert me. I've had parishoners express disbelief that I could follow any moral code that wasn't based on punishment in an afterlife, a weird mix of envy and horror that I was some kind of cripple who couldn't understand ethics.

But how is this different from how Three blind mice says he treats theists based soley on what they believe?

As an atheist, I consider it wrong and I am equally condescending towards them as they are towards me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:14 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


From Hirshfield's article: "Tell me a person’s beliefs about the afterlife, and I’ll tell you how they are likely to behave in this life, for better or for worse."

bonehead: “This to me says everything I need to know about how a converstion is going to go, and why these discussions are utterly unproductive. Most pastors/rabbis/priests use such notions to treat non-beleivers as less than human.”

me: &ldquo:Let me be clear: the point of the article had absolutely nothing to do with non-believers. The fact that you expect it will doesn't change that fact. The point of the article was that believing in hell makes you less likely to be a good person.”

bonehead: “This isn't just a narrow sectarian or doctrial difference ans you seem to be claiming it is, nor are these attiudes limited to Christians.”

Yes, I'm aware of that. Insofar as the article is about nonbelievers, it is claiming that nonbelievers are morally better than Christians because they don't believe in hell.

You were drawing an equivalence above between Rabbis, Priests, and evangelicals, claiming that all of them seek to marginalize nonbelievers. In fact, this Rabbi is directly implying that nonbelievers are likely to be morally superior to hell-believing Christians.
posted by koeselitz at 9:17 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Please explain exactly how you know precisely what such a "measuring instrument" would "measure".

My point is that there is nothing to measure. Nothing leaves your body. My stance is that when you start talking about the "non-corporeal" you might as well be talking about "magic." It's just a convenient excuse as to why we can't see (or measure) what you insist is there.

I am horrified when hardcore religious people equate the lack of a belief in the afterlife with sin. But I am equally horrified when people who do believe in an afterlife are accused of being "arrogant" by those who do not believe.

False equivalence much? Saying someone is arrogant is a lot different from saying they deserve to be tortured for all eternity. Being condescending is a lot different from calling someone "the moral equivalent of a thief and a sexual offender."
posted by callmejay at 9:22 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


All I can say is, thank goodness there are people on Metafilter willing to take such a brave, intellectually challenging stand against conservative Christianity.
posted by Pants McCracky at 9:23 AM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


three blind mice: " It is my understanding, and please correct me if I am wrong, is that Judaism is focused on how one lives ones life because of what they believe happens in this life. Right?

It cost/benefit all around. The only difference is in the way the checks are cashed.
"

Honestly? I'm not qualified to answer this properly. It's practically impossible to speak about Judaism as a whole in terms of absolutes. It's not a monolithic religion, and interpretations of its religious texts and scholarly writings on every subject vary wildly. If I say, "yes" that's way too simplistic an answer. If I give a more complex answer based on what I personally believe, there are no doubt examples of Jewish sects that would disagree. And my personal beliefs and understandings aren't even reflective of the sect I purportedly belong to. I don't know if they're reflective of any sect, specifically.

So, I'm not a religious scholar, but I'll try to explain my understanding of the situation: There are injunctions in the Torah not to murder, steal, etc. As a Jew, you are supposed to follow them because once you learn them, you know the difference between right and wrong. Not because someone or G-d is threatening to torture or punish you, although there's no doubt a large number of religious Jews that embrace that paternalistic mindset.

Here's where it gets sticky: you are supposed to use your own judgment in each and every situation. There are only four things that Jews are absolutely not allowed to do according to the Torah: murder, incest, adultery and worshiping idols. Everything else is on a case by case basis. Keeping the Sabbath is supposed to be one of the most important commandments, but you're allowed to break it to save a life. Or to donate your organs to do the same. And even murder is interpretable: most Jews (including myself) believe abortions aren't murder, but some do.

For everyone but the most fundamentalist Jews, their religion adapts over time to modernity at varying rates.

I was raised to believe that you treat others with respect and dignity and try to be a good person because that's the right thing to do. That you try to help others without trying to boost your own ego or because if you don't you'll burn in hell or G-d will punish you. It's not really a 'carrot and stick' scenario in the way I believe you're describing? I honestly don't know if that's everyone else's experience, either.
posted by zarq at 9:25 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


callmejay: “You can watch a person die and see that they don't go anywhere. It's wishful thinking to imagine that something "comes after" when your eyes and every measuring instrument ever invented says there is no "after." It's arrogant wishful thinking when you imagine that the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe is going to put you in the Happy Place and Them in the Torture Place "after." And you call skeptics "arrogant."”

I would never have said it's "arrogant to imagine" that there's no hell; so I disagree with the Rabbi on that point.

However, there's no evidence whatsoever of what may or may not happen after we die; nor is it even possible for there to be evidence one way or the other. Given that lack of any evidence whatsoever, it's not even possible to make a rational assumption about what happens. Any belief on this matter is entirely a question of faith.

The same is true of all matters of faith. The Church has taught this consistently. If there is anything which is subject in any way to evidence of any kind whatsoever, it's not a matter of faith, and Christianity doesn't speak about it. As Paul taught, and as the Saints have always affirmed, "faith is the evidence of things not seen." This has been a cornerstone of the religion from its foundation.

So all this "it's more rational to assume there's no afterlife than to assume there is" stuff is frankly nonsense. It's not rational to assume anything about the afterlife. Rational assumptions are for when there's some slim amount of evidence, or for when evidence might have been expected in the case of an affirmative result. But no evidence could ever even be expected of the afterlife. There is no rational assumption to be made.
posted by koeselitz at 9:25 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


The people who do believe in an Afterlife don't believe in CORPOREAL afterlife. Not a one of them. The people who do believe in an Afterlife already know that the body you've "watched die" doesn't "go anywhere." Because they're not talking about the body in the first place.

But for centuries they were. At the time of the Reformation, people believed that on the Day of Judgment, the bodies of virtuous people would literally rise from the grave and be restored to youth and good health, before joining Christ in paradise. They also believed that the entrance to Purgatory was somewhere in Wales.


Really, though, if people think they will be shocked on the Day of Judgment, wait until the Great Old Ones awaken and consume everyone, sinner and saint alike. They'll be fucking surprised then, let me tell you.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:25 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Saying someone is arrogant is a lot different from saying they deserve to be tortured for all eternity. Being condescending is a lot different from calling someone "the moral equivalent of a thief and a sexual offender."

And that makes it okay to do it?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:26 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I also understand that some people are trying to "scientifically prove" these kinds of things, and while I really doubt they're going to get very far, the fact that they're doing this doesn't bother me. If they find something credible, then cool. If not, it keeps 'em off the streets.

The problem is they are not honestly looking for proof. They are like John Edwards, cynically taking advantage of religious credulity. These aren't serious researchers. Religious "researchers" and others don't sit around doing experiments, slaves to the scientific method and worrying about their control groups. They find some garbage and play up the god in gaps argument or just outright use old con tricks.

What happens in real life is that con men realize how to fool the marks. They skip any level of scrutiny by experts and market directly to their audience through television, internet, or publishing. Do you really think the publisher that made a mint off "The Bible Code" gives two shits about its accuracy? Or its author? Or heck, its author might, but his delusion is being exploited by the publisher.

These guys aren't doing science, they doing demagoguery.

There's a reason on why you know the 21 grams story but not its debunking. There's a reason why the Bible Code sold millions of copies, but stories that debunk it are in the back pages of Scientific American - its because marketers have made it so, because the businesses that promote these things are cynically exploiting your faith for money.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:26 AM on March 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


The people who do believe in an Afterlife don't believe in CORPOREAL afterlife. Not a one of them. The people who do believe in an Afterlife already know that the body you've "watched die" doesn't "go anywhere." Because they're not talking about the body in the first place.

Actually, Catholics believe in Resurrection of the Body - that when the end of the world comes, all the righteous dead will be reunited with their corporeal bodies, perfected.

Which means (I hope) that this whole diabetes thing will be going away.
posted by Billiken at 9:26 AM on March 29, 2011


Well, one scientist used a "measuring instrument" and ascertained that in some cases, the body loses a few grams worth of weight at the moment of death. Granted, he said that this was far too small a sample to draw any real conclusion from. Nor will I. But -- do you have any theories as to why such a thing may happen?

Sure! Tons. Here we go:

Theories As To Why People Conduct Non-Peer-Reviewed, Unverifiable "Experiments" With No Controls, No Oversight, Poor Instrumentation and No Discernable Sample Size:

• They are trying to give a belief scientific gloss when there's no science to support the belief;
• They are attempting to bilk people by having them buying a sham treatment or medicine;
• They are woefully ignorant of the scientific method, why it exists, and why it's important;
• They are mentally deranged and think their ”proofs” are except from normal rules of logic;
• They are underfunded and attempting to build a foundation for greater funding or attention to support future, better-grounded research;
• They want to give other people unfounded, unverifiable points for discussion in order to derail conversations on the Internet.

Those are only a few theories as to why people conduct poorly conceived "experiments" with unverifiable results. There are thousands more, just hovering there like stars in the firmament, which (using custom-designed instruments and conducting trials in the basement) I have proven rotates around a fixed point somewhere between my feet and my head.
posted by Shepherd at 9:28 AM on March 29, 2011 [14 favorites]


The people who do believe in an Afterlife don't believe in CORPOREAL afterlife.

There are 1 million rastafarians who would disgree with you about that. True Rastas are believed to be "everliving," that is to say physically immortal.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:29 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem is they are not honestly looking for proof. They are like John Edwards, cynically taking advantage of religious credulity. These aren't serious researchers. Religious "researchers" and others don't sit around doing experiments, slaves to the scientific method and worrying about their control groups. They find some garbage and play up the god in gaps argument or just outright use old con tricks.

And that's why the preponderance of people actually don't believe them, and even those who believe in an afterlife think that the drive to "find proof" is kind of silly.

We just don't shout real loud about how stupid we think it is so everyone knows how much smarter we are and how dumb we think the believers are.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:30 AM on March 29, 2011


There are 1 million rastafarians who would disgree with you about that. True Rastas are believed to be "everliving," that is to say physically immortal.

Okay, fine.

But if that's what they believe, why should that bother you? If it doesn't, cool. If it does, why?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:31 AM on March 29, 2011


Can people just let the "21 grams" derail drop? EmpressCallipygos has already said it was a bad example. Does everyone have to excitedly come in here to prove how oh-so-clever they are by demonstrating that the "21 grams" thing is false?
posted by koeselitz at 9:31 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


It has been asserted repeatedly in this thread that the existence of heaven and hell is the basis for the belief of many or even most Christians. It is not for me, nor is it for any Christian I have ever met, so I am curious as to how this fact is known.
posted by generalist at 9:32 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


We just don't shout real loud about how stupid we think it is so everyone knows how much smarter we are and how dumb we think the believers are.

Addressing ignorance is important, especially when it is used directly against me and those I love (homophobia as justifiable via religious texts, right wing philosophies, right to choose, etc.) Its not about "Wah wah, listen to me I'm smart" its about "Wow, these hateful words should be addressed and I will be the one to do it, even if it doesn't really make a difference." But thanks for the backhanded insult.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:33 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Actually, koeselitz, Device had a fairly cool and thoughtful response.

But I didn't believe in it anyway and that was just confusing things, so yeah.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:33 AM on March 29, 2011


Insofar as the article is about nonbelievers, it is claiming that nonbelievers are morally better than Christians because they don't believe in hell.

He remarks that non-believers are arrogant, as pointed out above, but I don’t' see any particular moral assignments. In fact, I don't see any claims about morality of anyone other than believers in punishment in the afterlife in the article. You appear to be drawing inferences that aren't in Hirshfield's argument: Whatever we mean by Divine love, eternal justice, or any of the many grand ideas being invoked in the current debate around Bell’s book, the most pressing question is how beliefs held about the next world might actually contribute to assuring greater human dignity in this world---not only for those who share our beliefs, but even for those who may not.

My points above were to a) point out that this isn't just limited to Evangelical Christians (my interlocutor above was an RC priest, the parishioner, an orthodox Jew) and b) that non-believers seem to be in a category beyond believers. Things appear to be more subtle than the Rabbi makes them out to be. Being a "Person of the Book" accords one more respect than being a complete outsider.
posted by bonehead at 9:36 AM on March 29, 2011


Addressing ignorance is important, especially when it is used directly against me and those I love (homophobia as justifiable via religious texts, right wing philosophies, right to choose, etc.) Its not about "Wah wah, listen to me I'm smart" its about "Wow, these hateful words should be addressed and I will be the one to do it, even if it doesn't really make a difference."

Okay, but how does "I am going to try to prove there is a soul" connect to "I am going to prove homophobia is evil"? How is the afterlife a "right-wing philosophy"?

Just because someone believes in an afterlife (raises hand) that doesn't mean that they also ipso facto believe homosexuality is a sin. In fact, many people who do beleive in an afterlife are working just as hard to speak out against homophobia (raises hand again).

So why'd you think I insulted you? I wasn't addressing you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:36 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't hell what you have to have to make people who believe in country clubs and gated communities believe in heaven?
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:36 AM on March 29, 2011


Part of me really wants to believe there's a Hell, because there really needs to be a place for the Pol Pots, the Hitlers, the guys on Wall Street who blithely ruin the lives of hundreds of people...

...the Joe Quesadas...(okay, maybe not "eternal torment," but he really ought to be there for at least a week for the whole Spider-Man making a deal with the devil thing to get a divorce thing...)

But what really bothers me is this: I obviously hope I'm not going, but how am I going to feel when I go on to whatever non-Hellish reward I might attain, only to find out that people I love are stuck in Hell?
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:42 AM on March 29, 2011


Just because someone believes in an afterlife (raises hand) that doesn't mean that they also ipso facto believe homosexuality is a sin

I love the conceit and convenience of the believer. You brought 21 grams into this conversation and then when debunked the reply is "its not important, why are we still talking about 21 grams?!?!?" When you suggested us petty for addressing your disinformation you said "oh so smart" when I replied its important to address the type of lies you are spreading now its "I'm a buffet style believer, ignore the 21 grams thing and umm religion can be good." Wow, got anymore horrible replies left? Also, thanks for making this thread all about your fancy supernatural beliefs which you hilariously try to back up with 21 grams.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:43 AM on March 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


So why'd you think I insulted you? I wasn't addressing you.

that's right, the Empress was addressing me, for the arrogance of non belief in magical beings and places; and anger at the con men who take advantage of the rubes who believe in that sort of thing.
posted by dave78981 at 9:44 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


It strikes me as arrogant to imagine that when we are done in this life, there is nothing that comes after

Whereas it is the height of humility to imagine that the human organism is such a special magic snowflake that it doesn't just stop existing when it appears to, and when all our knowledge indicates that such is the case?

And these people wonder why some of us refuse to treat them with respect. It's like they live in Bizarro World.
posted by Decani at 9:44 AM on March 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


I was trying to figure out what fraud had been perpetuated by the former VP candidate...and then I realised that people aren't talking about that John Edwards.
posted by jb at 9:45 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


However, there's no evidence whatsoever of what may or may not happen after we die; nor is it even possible for there to be evidence one way or the other... If there is anything which is subject in any way to evidence of any kind whatsoever, it's not a matter of faith, and Christianity doesn't speak about it.

Do you not see how ridiculous that is?! It's transparent special pleading. "Of course there's no evidence for what I'm claiming is true! We wouldn't expect there to be! It's MAGIC!"

Just because someone believes in an afterlife (raises hand) that doesn't mean that they also ipso facto believe homosexuality is a sin.

Of course not, but it sure gives the homophobes more of a leg to stand on. The more you rationalize the belief in the afterlife, the more you de facto rationalize their ridiculous belief that homosexuality is one of the reasons people are sent to the Bad Place.

In general, the more you rationalize "faith", the more you rationalize truthiness and trusting one's "gut" when it says things like "gays are icky and therefore bad."
posted by callmejay at 9:45 AM on March 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm a buffet style believer

This always cracks me up, when people who don't believe in God tell people who do believe in God that they aren't believing in God the right way.
posted by KathrynT at 9:45 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


I love the conceit and convenience of the believer. You brought 21 grams into this conversation and then when debunked the reply is "its not important, why are we still talking about 21 grams?!?!?" When you suggested us petty for addressing your disinformation you said "oh so smart" when I replied its important to address the type of lies you are spreading now its "I'm a buffet style believer, ignore the 21 grams thing and umm religion can be good." Wow, got anymore horrible replies left? Also, thanks for making this thread all about your fancy supernatural beliefs which you hilariously try to back up with 21 grams.

Wow.

Look, Damn Dirty Ape, I'm not sure what I said to make you so angry, but I'm sorry. I'll leave you alone now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:47 AM on March 29, 2011


bonehead: " This attiude is not restricted to Christians. I've heard it from Jews and Muslims too, in various forms. If divine punishment isn't on the plate, if you don't believe in sin, you can't be ethical. Thus a non-believer isn't worthy of respect or consideration as a full human being, but are some kind of out-of-group less-than-human that can be treated less than ethically. It's conflated with tribalism, but seems to be a common religious belief."

Perhaps? You could be right.

The only time I've ever heard that attitude from a non-Christian it was being said by Orthodox Jews. My experience has been that it's a fundamentalist religious belief, rather than one that's necessarily held by all religious non-Christians.

I know a lot of people who have religious faith who have never said that to me. Still, I really rely on my own experiences here to try and draw a general conclusion.
posted by zarq at 9:48 AM on March 29, 2011


So when I was in boot camp, I went to talk to the chaplain. He was the first religious professional I'd ever met who didn't seem preachy. I told him that I was pro-choice, that I didn't see a problem with living together or having sex before marriage, and that I certainly couldn't accept the belief that people will go to Hell because they're gay or they aren't Catholic. So, given all that, should I really consider myself Catholic?

He shrugged and said that most reasonable Catholics think all that, too, and that I probably shouldn't really worry about it unless it was genuinely keeping me up at night. I distinctly remember him telling me that nobody really listens to the Pope anymore, anyway.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:48 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


This always cracks me up, when people who don't believe in God tell people who do believe in God that they aren't believing in God the right way.

Fine, I can see that, but there's social harm in justifying and rationalizing Christianity (or anything religion) and then purposely downplaying its harmful elements in the whole "Im a buffet style believer, I just like the happy things. Religion is magic and awesome, dont bum me out with facts." Its disingenuous. Not to mention, the damn article is about a specific Christian tradition and all its trappings not of some new agey summerland.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:49 AM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Of course not, but it sure gives the homophobes more of a leg to stand on. The more you rationalize the belief in the afterlife, the more you de facto rationalize their ridiculous belief that homosexuality is one of the reasons people are sent to the Bad Place.

This is a ridiculous argument, like saying that the longer I rationalize a belief in evolutionary biology, the more I de facto rationalize eugenics.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:49 AM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Peoples' ability to misinterpret the Bible constantly amazes me.
posted by dowcrag at 3:46 PM on March 29


Have you read it? Because I have, and it sure as hell doesn't amaze me in the slightest.
posted by Decani at 9:49 AM on March 29, 2011 [16 favorites]


zarq: "Still, I really rely on my own experiences here to try and draw a general conclusion."

*grumble* My kingdom for an edit window. This should read, "Still, I really can't rely on my own..."
posted by zarq at 9:51 AM on March 29, 2011


Christians lose the only thing that deters them from going on a killing spree

Don't worry - The Pope has a "just war" doctrine so keep the killing up!

(and the Church of Profit has its prophets like Trump letting you know about how awesome they are, and why Union Carbine cutting corners in Bhopal is A-OK.)
posted by rough ashlar at 9:54 AM on March 29, 2011


To be fair, the rides at New Agey Summerland are pretty cool. Everybody Mattershorn and Spaced Mountain are particularly mind blowing.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:55 AM on March 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


I never thought I would do this, and maybe the worst of the derail is over, but I have made a request in meta.
posted by jb at 9:55 AM on March 29, 2011


The only time I've ever heard that attitude from a non-Christian it was being said by Orthodox Jews. My experience has been that it's a fundamentalist religious belief, rather than one that's necessarily held by all religious non-Christians.

Well, I can confirm your orthodox experience personally, and I've seen it in some the the Islamic discussions I've read as well. I don't know if it's just fundamentalism, but certainly literal belief in divine punishment, wether in Hell or something else seems to bring this behaviour out.
posted by bonehead at 9:55 AM on March 29, 2011


me: “However, there's no evidence whatsoever of what may or may not happen after we die; nor is it even possible for there to be evidence one way or the other... If there is anything which is subject in any way to evidence of any kind whatsoever, it's not a matter of faith, and Christianity doesn't speak about it.”

callmejay: “Do you not see how ridiculous that is?! It's transparent special pleading. "Of course there's no evidence for what I'm claiming is true! We wouldn't expect there to be! It's MAGIC!"”

There's nothing ridiculous about it. Do you deny that there are things of which there can be no evidence? Apparently not. So apparently you, too, agree with this "transparent special pleading."

“The more you rationalize the belief in the afterlife, the more you de facto rationalize their ridiculous belief that homosexuality is one of the reasons people are sent to the Bad Place. In general, the more you rationalize "faith", the more you rationalize truthiness and trusting one's "gut" when it says things like "gays are icky and therefore bad."”

Oh, this sounds like fun – connecting things that have no rational connection. "The more you teach monkeys to surf, the more you make Hitler smile." See? I can do it, too!
posted by koeselitz at 9:56 AM on March 29, 2011


This is a ridiculous argument, like saying that the longer I rationalize a belief in evolutionary biology, the more I de facto rationalize eugenics.

If you gave up on evolution, nothing really happens. Universities, academics, etc still publish, still do research. If everyone gives up religion, then churches fold, hateful philosophies are no longer justified by 1st century ravings by racist madmen, etc. Sounds like one structure is valid because its methodology and can be independantly verified while the other is only held up the lowest common denominator for the emotional satisfaction and little else. So in one scenario, addressing the issue is important as it leads one step closer to the end of the religious age. In the other, no biggie, the Origins of the Species won't unpublish itself.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:58 AM on March 29, 2011



It is my understanding, and please correct me if I am wrong, is that Judaism is focused on how one lives ones life because of what they believe happens in this life. Right?

It cost/benefit all around. The only difference is in the way the checks are cashed.


You're not 100% wrong but I'd say you're 98% wrong.

There is strong traditional basis for the idea that our collective behavior affects our collective destiny - sinning will result in exile from Israel, bad weather for crops, etc - but even that strain of thought gets significantly interpreted in various ways (especially post-Holocaust). There are some communities who will say that bad stuff happened to you because you didn't make sure that the scroll in your mezuzah was still kosher. But that's pretty unusual.

The idea that if an individual keeps the commandments they'll be 'rewarded' in their lifetime with actual good consequences (as opposed to the pleasure of a life in sync with God or something) doesn't have much traction at all in Judaism, both historical and contemporary. Probably all the martyrs of heroes, slaughters of innocents, etc, help to maintain that perspective...
posted by Salamandrous at 9:58 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


He isn't minimizing those sentiments because they're not respectfully presented. He's minimizing them because they're inane, irrational, and not worth talking about. Not even at Christianity's worst moments has it ever been Church doctrine that hell is just a convenient place where our enemies must go, nor a place where people are consigned based on their beliefs. The construction of strawmen doesn't constitute a cogent spotlighting of "troubling assumptions."

I mean, not to state the obvious or anything, but doctrine != assumptions. And where's the strawman? Are you going to defend the proposition that evangelicals don't generally teach that homosexuals are hellbound? That's not a strawman, that's pointing out a nasty piece of doctrine. My 'inane' argument, which was presented in an admittedly mocking tone, was that it's arrogant to assume that one's own culture just happens to be the ONLY ONE in the entire world that has the means to salvation from eternal torment. There's no strawman there, either.
posted by norm at 10:00 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Do the more Orthodox flavours of Judaism share this non-emphasis on the afterlife?
posted by jb at 10:01 AM on March 29, 2011


An eternal hell isn't quite the universal, fundamental doctrine many Christian believers and anti-Christian atheists believe it is. Apokatastasis - universal reconciliation - kept popping up among Patristic theologians, including Origen and the Cappadocians, and that kind of hope for a universal salvation of everyone and everything can be seen repeatedly in the Orthodox Church as recently as Dostoyevsky's cosmic vision in "The Brothers Karamazov". Most recently, in 2008 Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev stated in a conference with Roman Catholic officials that "hell" in Eastern Christianity is more like the Purgatory of Catholicism. Kallistos Ware, who was the Greek Orthodox bishop for Great Britain, writes:

"Hell exists as a final possibility, but several of the Fathers have none the less believed that in the end all will be reconciled to God. It is heretical to say that all must be saved, for this is to deny free will; but it is legitimate to hope that all may be saved. Until the Last Day comes, we must not despair of anyone’s salvation, but must long and pray for the reconciliation of all without exception. No one must be excluded from our loving intercession. ‘What is a merciful heart?’ asked Isaac the Syrian. ‘It is a heart that burns with love for the whole of creation, for men, for the birds, for the beasts, for the demons, for all creatures.’Gregory of Nyssa said that Christians may legitimately hope even for the redemption of the Devil."

However, in Western Christianity, thinkers and movements denying eternal punishment have, since Pelagius, been on the outskirts. It's gotten to the point that, for many nonbelievers, all religion is partially defined by a supposed universal insistence by the religious on the necessity and desirability of eternal torture of some portion of humanity or other - which is purely projection of the beliefs of parts of Western Christianity upon the entire human race. And many of the religious, following the lead of those like Jonathan Edwards who held that among the greatest pleasures of the saved would be to voyeuristically watch the eternal torment of the damned, seem happy to affirm that view.

Chad Holtz' firing is in the news because of Rob Bell's book "Love Wins" and the furor it created in the evangelical precincts of the Internet, and I find that a lot more interesting than snark about 21 grams and LOLGODATHEESTSRULEAMIRITEYAY???!1!!!! for what it tells the world about what's important to people and how they view the world - it's a lot bigger than just a question of hell. For many like the neo-Calvinists (they're the people who believe that God is a pure psychopath who micromanages the universe and chooses who will suffer for eternity before they were born in order to show off something I've never been able to quite grasp called his "glory") hell and original sin and other ideas that offer a negative view of existence seem to carry a lot of emotional heft. When you view the world like this - evil at its very core, a God who is all about power, the unceasing violence of hell and a God who demands the sacrifice of his child at the heart of existence - that belief generally isn't compartmentalized to an hour on Sunday or abstract discussions on the nature of the soul. And to be honest, there's not a lot separating this view from the view of the unbeliever who can't believe in a God who would let evil happen or who thinks that without the Great God Progress, we would all be "living in a cave worshipping the fire god", for people are naturally stupid and superstitious, living lives that are "nasty, brutish and short" as Thomas Hobbes put it. Both assume the same basic framework of what God is (or should be) like, what people are and what life is.

I think the reaction to Rob Bell's book is about a lot more than hell. Just by writing this book, Bell has questioned the idea that everything is unceasing horror. And to his critics - and Holtz's as well - that is too much to bear. Individual doctrines are disposable - I've met quite a few cynical liberal Christians who have no trouble denying the resurrection of Jesus but who hold on like tigers to the notions of original sin and total depravity, notions that I find not that much more questionable and offensive to that of eternal torture. I think the reaction is about someone with a lot of influence in evangelical circles questioning a common assumption of what people actually are and what people are for. Are people depraved, evil, worthy of unending pain - and therefore, should be treated that way? Or are they something more, something better - and, therefore, should be treated that way? When you get past the theological jargon, that's what it's about, and that's why it's much more relevant than a question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
posted by jhandey at 10:02 AM on March 29, 2011 [36 favorites]


Jews aren't going to Hell because they are Jewish, but for their failure to accept Jesus. This is a subtle, but significant difference

It's a chicken-egg thing, though. Jews that converted during the Inquisition were still marked as different, and no matter how sincere they might have appeared to be, they were still considered essentially Jewish -- many (most?) people couldn't believe that they had "really" converted.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:02 AM on March 29, 2011


... he prospect of an eternity singing hymns from the celestial pews ...

God, that alone sounds like Hell to me!
posted by ericb at 10:06 AM on March 29, 2011


However, in Western Christianity, thinkers and movements denying eternal punishment have, since Pelagius, been on the outskirts.

On the other hand, the patron saint of Evangelicals, C.S. Lewis, comes across both in The Great Divorce and The Last Battle (from the Narnia series) as maybe perhaps secretly being a universalist.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:07 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is a ridiculous argument, like saying that the longer I rationalize a belief in evolutionary biology, the more I de facto rationalize eugenics.

Well, sure, in the sense that you can't have eugenics without evolution.

If evolution were as untrue "based on faith" as believing in the afterlife and if a majority of Americans supported eugenics and if the same books that introduced the idea of evolution introduced the idea of eugenics and if those same books were still bestsellers and if eugenics were preached every Sunday in science rooms around the country then it would be a better analogy though.
posted by callmejay at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


There's nothing ridiculous about it. Do you deny that there are things of which there can be no evidence? Apparently not. So apparently you, too, agree with this "transparent special pleading."

Yes, I do deny that there are things of which there can be no evidence. There are many things for which we currently have no evidence, but "of which there can be no evidence?" No. I mean, of course it's possible, in the sense that it's possible that Superman really exists, but a reasonable person has to work with the assumption that such things don't exist.
posted by callmejay at 10:10 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, the patron saint of Evangelicals, C.S. Lewis, comes across both in The Great Divorce and The Last Battle (from the Narnia series) as maybe perhaps secretly being a universalist.

Yeah, I thought of him. But his universalism definitely isn't one of the things his many evangelical followers (and don't forget conservative Roman Catholics, either) look to his writings as a proof-text for. From what I can gather, that sort of kindness is considered slightly embarrasing. Which says a lot about conservative Christians.
posted by jhandey at 10:11 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


shakespeherian - Do you really think The Last Battle had universalist overtones? I have seen some universalism in other parts of the Narnia series - mentions of how Aslan is the god for Narnia, but that he appears with other forms and other names in other places - but I really disliked The Last Battle when I re-read it as an adult, for how closely it adheres to Revelations' cruel, divisive depiction of the afterlife.
posted by jb at 10:12 AM on March 29, 2011


I was thinking very much of how Aslan divides all the people at the end -- and I don't remember it being done on the basis of the Matthew 25 criteria.
posted by jb at 10:13 AM on March 29, 2011


I'm pretty sure that if everyone gave up religion tomorrow, people would still find lots of ways to justify their hateful philosophies. Religion doesn't have a monopoly on evil in this world.
posted by Go Banana at 10:15 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Religion is not something that the Internet does well. *shrug
posted by andreaazure at 10:16 AM on March 29, 2011


Well, I haven't read it since probably middle school, but I distinctly remember there being a guy who shows up at the end and goes 'Sorry Aslan, I fucked up, it turns out you're the savior but this whole time I was following Tash, who doesn't even really exist! So now I'm boned.' And Aslan says 'Oh you silly, every time you did something good because of your belief in Tash, it was still good, and I still saw it, and you were doing it for me, really, now get on in there!'
posted by shakespeherian at 10:17 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Religion is not something that people do well.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:18 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


jb: "Do the more Orthodox flavours of Judaism share this non-emphasis on the afterlife?"

I don't know enough to say definitively one way or another. If I had to guess, I'd say "I doubt it."
posted by zarq at 10:20 AM on March 29, 2011


Religion is not something that the Internet does well. *shrug

Funny how not being able to carefully weed out or silence everybody who disagrees with you makes it hard for religion to "do well."
posted by callmejay at 10:20 AM on March 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Do the more Orthodox flavours of Judaism share this non-emphasis on the afterlife?

It's not a huge deal, but it's there. Stupid little things mostly, like "saying this prayer three times a day every day guarantees your share in the world to come!" I would say it doesn't really function prominently as carrot or stick. You're taught to do what God wants because that's what he wants, not because you'll be rewarded or punished.

Of course, every year around the High Holidays, people repent with the explicit goal of being written in the Book of Life, so there is that. I just don't think it plays a huge role in the day-to-day thinking.
posted by callmejay at 10:24 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Go Banana, I'm sure you are right. However, at least then they'd be more honest with themselves (at least if they stop saying that they believe I'm evil because I can't blame my actions on the magic man in the clouds). Sure, there will be competing ideas of why we can justify hate of "the other", but it would be so much more preferable if it were at least a reality based argument, one where you can just look at someone's behavior and say "look, you're being an ass" instead of "I can be an ass to you because I believe in pixies who told me you are evil because you don't believe in my pixies." Actually, that's one of the better arguments I heard about why belief in any god is stupid. "I can hate these people because my god told me it's ok" is supposedly "A-OK" while "I can hate these people because my dog told me it's ok" is schizophrenia. Now, you tell me. How does one word substitution make it ok to hate? Sometimes it might help if you realize that you just might be too stupid to understand that you are stupid.
posted by daq at 10:25 AM on March 29, 2011


Go Banana, I'm sure you are right. However, at least then they'd be more honest with themselves (at least if they stop saying that they believe I'm evil because I can't blame my actions on the magic man in the clouds). Sure, there will be competing ideas of why we can justify hate of "the other", but it would be so much more preferable if it were at least a reality based argument, one where you can just look at someone's behavior and say "look, you're being an ass" instead of "I can be an ass to you because I believe in pixies who told me you are evil because you don't believe in my pixies."

If someone's being an ass to you, does it really matter why they're being an ass?

Conversely, if someone's not being an ass to you, then does it matter what they believe?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on March 29, 2011


Conversely, if someone's not being an ass to you, then does it matter what they believe?

If the hate comes from or is justified from religious sources then yes, absolutely, its important and it would be foolish to ignore the source of it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:30 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure that if everyone gave up religion tomorrow, people would still find lots of ways to justify their hateful philosophies. Religion doesn't have a monopoly on evil in this world.

Sure, some people would find ways, but would as many? As Steven Weinberg said, "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil. But for good people to do evil -- that takes religion." I personally know good, kind people who create terrible environments for gay people not due to any personal animus, but solely due to religion. Take the religion away, and you take their de facto (although not emotional) homophobia away.
posted by callmejay at 10:33 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


shakespeherian -- good point, there was some more of that Aslan-by-lots-of-names thing. I still really disliked The Last Battle as an adult, but I also really dislike Revelations. If I could go back in time to whatever council it was that included it and argue against the inclusion, I would, even if it did inspire lots of dramatic art.
posted by jb at 10:33 AM on March 29, 2011


If the hate comes from or is justified from religious sources then yes, absolutely, its important and it would be foolish to ignore the source of it.

Even if other people who ascribe to the same religious sources are OPPOSED to that hate?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on March 29, 2011


'You're a terrible person because as a vegan I believe that eating animal protein is immoral and does great harm to the environment!'

'Alright then, I guess all vegetarians hate me and vegetarianism should be eradicated from the face of the earth, and I'm also pretty suspect of all dietary restrictions now, including so-called celiac disease.'
posted by shakespeherian at 10:34 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


The source of the hate is xenophobia (usually), and if you make it about religion, you risk a polarization where people who aren't homophobic but are religious refuse to engage with or support you because they are getting lumped in with the homophobic sub-group of their religion. This is as ridiculous as lumping all Americans in with homophobes because of DOMA. We don't get to define every aspect of every institution we are a part of, and we have to take the bad with the good.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:38 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


We don't get to define every aspect of every institution we are a part of, and we have to take the bad with the good.

No, you don't.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:39 AM on March 29, 2011


We don't get to define every aspect of every institution we are a part of, and we have to take the bad with the good.

You are free to quit your religion, start your own, become an atheist, etc any time you damn please. I am not free to repeal DOMA. That's the difference.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:40 AM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


You don't know nothing! Mighty Mouse is a cartoon. Superman's a real guy. There's no way a cartoon could beat up a real guy.
posted by snottydick at 10:40 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


This brings to mind the recent story in the news:
After Near-Death Experience, Boy Says "Heaven is Real" [video | 06:10]
Deleted FPP.
posted by ericb at 10:41 AM on March 29, 2011


You are free to quit your religion, start your own, become an atheist, etc any time you damn please. I am not free to repeal DOMA. That's the difference.

You are free to leave the country, live on an island, build a cabin in the woods any time you damn please.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:42 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


In case anyone is still interested in the topic of this post, there is more to the story than what has been widely reported about Chad Holtz’s departure from Marrow’s Chapel United Methodist Church. Far more than even the Rob Bell publicity machine would have you believe.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:43 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hell is having to read comment strings like this one.
posted by Kokopuff at 10:43 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Do the more Orthodox flavours of Judaism share this non-emphasis on the afterlife?"

Yes and no. All of Judaism starts at the texts, and with the baseline assumption that if it isn't in the Tanach, it's an opinion, rather than dogma. And Tanach really doesn't mention it at all (there's Sheol, which may or may not have to do with the punishment aspect of the afterlife - it's certainly a dark place where everyone goes after death. But it might be a literal pit in Ancient Israel where bones were thrown - i.e. a bad place to go when you die). However, some opinions hold lots of weight.

I've definitely seen evidence (though only secondhand) that the most fundamentalist stripes of Orthodoxy (Chassidic and Chareidi) use the idea of Hell as a potential future punishment for misdeeds, especially as a way to scare children into good behavior or threaten people they don't like in Op-Eds. But they say the same prayers on Yom Kippur as Modern Orthodox (and most Conservative Jews, and some Reform) - asking forgiveness for sins for the year, so the next year will be good. That through prayer, penitence for sins, and charity, you get a clean slate. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar and the concepts of sin and repentance are paramount to its observation, but the afterlife really doesn't get any play. There is a core belief in the "World to Come," which is generally accepted to be better than the world we live in now, but what form that World to Come consists of is unknown. Most sources pretty much agree, though, that whatever comes after death, Jews and non-Jews experience it equally -- there's no payoff after death for being Jewish that other people won't also experience, and any 'special share in the World to Come' that a Jewish person can achieve through good deeds can also be gained by 'righteous gentiles.'
posted by Mchelly at 10:46 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hell is having to read comment strings like this one.
posted by Kokopuff at 10:43 AM on March 29 [+] [!]


Good thing you don't have to! Quit yer whining and go outside, it's a beautiful day.
posted by skewed at 10:46 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


DDD, you are free to leave America any time. See how that works?

Space Coyote. Yeah, you kind of do. No institution or community you are a part of perfectly represents your interests. You can either leave of lobby for change, but until that change happens you are supporting things you disagree with. As an American, I'm supporting a hell of a lot that I disagree with via my tax dollars. I'm working on changing the things I disagree with most, but I know there'll always be something I'm supporting that I find morally reprehensible.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:47 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


You are free to leave the country, live on an island, build a cabin in the woods any time you damn please.

I'm not. All land is accountable by some nation state and moving there just brings me to another ethical issue ie whats this country's version of DOMA? Religion on the other hand, can just be dismissed outright. You don't need to move to a different one. You can simply liberate yourself from them all.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:48 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Religion on the other hand, can just be dismissed outright. You don't need to move to a different one. You can simply liberate yourself from them all.

And you can just break up with the partner who has that one habit you don't like, regardless of what other benefit you may get from being with them. I mean, fuck working through it. There's other people out there. Just DTMFA and liberate yourself!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:50 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


At a certain point analogies become useless. Partner? Seriously? The point is that you can't just whine about being stuck in a religion. Its a personal choice. You dont have to be a hateful homophobe nor do you have to be an preachy susan. At the end of the day you are responsible for your actions, not religion, and claiming that your church is something youre powerless against is 100% unconvincing. Its an organization you chose to support, believe, and invest yourself into. If you find it problematic then you can simply leave, no silly analogies required.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:53 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just DTMFA and liberate yourself!

Or, you know, live your whole life with someone who's kind of a racist / homophobe but you just prefer not to talk about it.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:53 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Aha! He doesn't believe in Hell, and he wrote that homosexuals don't automatically get sent there, and got fired. (And against conflating patriotism and Christianity.)

Yeah, I think my snark is vindicated.
posted by orthogonality at 10:54 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


The point is that you can't just whine about being stuck in a religion. Its a personal choice.

No, the point is that people aren't "whining" about being "stuck" in a religion. If they're "whining" at all, it's "whining" about people who think that they think in monolithic lockstep.

You dont have to be a hateful homophobe nor do you have to be an preachy susan. At the end of the day you are responsible for your actions, not religion, and claiming that your church is something youre powerless against is 100% unconvincing.

I haven't seen anyone saying that they're "powerless" against homophobia within their church, have you?

However, I have seen plenty of people say "look, we're working on changing this from within, but it's not gonna be an overnight process."

Its an organization you chose to support, believe, and invest yourself into. If you find it problematic then you can simply leave...

....or try to erradicate the problematic parts so you don't have to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:58 AM on March 29, 2011


I'm trying to think about what institutions and communities I have to sever myself from to get away from racism/homophobia. Lets see, have to leave the farm bureau, can't be a Democrat in this county (fairly socially conservative here), Italian-American heritage foundation is right out, can't hang ou with my cop buddy anymore because he has other cop friends who probably racial profile, can't spend time on any gamer forums. I think I'll just stay at home forever and listen to music, except Wagner.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh crap, and that monster Chad Holtz doesn't condemn Muslims either!
Spending 4 years in Bahrain among Muslims. Here I met numerous faithful Muslims who were Muslim for the same reason I was Nazarene – they were born into this. They knew nothing else. Yet unlike myself, they seemed to be far more faithful to their faith. They loved God and neighbor in ways I (and many Christians I knew) only gave lip service to. Before this I just assumed that Muslims must be evil because they were not Christians. Having a meal with them, however, changed my heart.
Against the flag, for homos and Muslims getting into Heaven! Guy probably doesn't even believe in stoning adulterers. Thank Jesus his congregation got rid of him before he corrupted the youth!
posted by orthogonality at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


"look, we're working on changing this from within, but it's not gonna be an overnight process."

I refuse to grant you another 2,000 years. Its clear your methods don't work as faith is completely illogical and your assumptions are untestable and unfalsifiable. If thinking you're one of the good ones makes you sleep better at night, then fine, but to me you're still part of the problem and your little promises of reform are laughable.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:00 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would love to read this entire thread full of thoughtful, insightful responses. I also want college football playoffs. GO!
posted by Senator at 7:18 AM on March 29 [3 favorites +] [!]



Senator, that doesn't help. But go read that Slacktivist link shakespeherian posted; it's good.
posted by mediareport at 7:19 AM on March 29 [+] [!]



I stand corrected! This thread turned out different than I thought it would!
posted by Senator at 11:01 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mchelly, thank you!!
posted by zarq at 11:02 AM on March 29, 2011


orthogonality: “Yeah, I think my snark is vindicated... Oh crap, and that monster Chad Holtz doesn't condemn Muslims either!”

Snark is rarely vindicated – especially when it's drive-by snark that has nothing to do with anything that anyone is talking about. It'd be nice if you'd quite crowing and favorite-whoring and actually address the subject at hand.
posted by koeselitz at 11:03 AM on March 29, 2011


I refuse to grant you another 2,000 years. Its clear your methods don't work as faith is completely illogical and your assumptions are untestable and unfalsifiable.

Wait, are we talking about "trying to prove the existance of an afterlife" or "trying to erradicate homophobia"? Because you've combined the two issues, there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:03 AM on March 29, 2011


damn dirty ape: “I refuse to grant you another 2,000 years. Its clear your methods don't work as faith is completely illogical and your assumptions are untestable and unfalsifiable. If thinking you're one of the good ones makes you sleep better at night, then fine, but to me you're still part of the problem and your little promises of reform are laughable.”

Are we all just going to keep flinging unreasoned balls of random assertions at the wall to see what sticks, or are we actually going to talk about what may or may not be the truth?
posted by koeselitz at 11:04 AM on March 29, 2011


I refuse to grant you another 2,000 years. Its clear your methods don't work as faith is completely illogical and your assumptions are untestable and unfalsifiable. If thinking you're one of the good ones makes you sleep better at night, then fine, but to me you're still part of the problem and your little promises of reform are laughable.

damn dirty ape, please stop shitting in this thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:05 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think it's really fascinating that much of contemporary atheist thought reveals an obvious Christian point of view, in so much that many atheists are former Christians and while they stopped believing... They still retain much of the same world view.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 11:07 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]




I think it's really fascinating that much of contemporary atheist thought reveals an obvious Christian point of view, in so much that many atheists are former Christians and while they stopped believing... They still retain much of the same world view.


Take it further.
It's hard to argue that Christianity hasn't shaped Western thought, no matter what you were raised to believe about religion.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:09 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Damn Dirty Ape, I'm actually in complete agreement with you on faith being to some extent the enemy of rationality. However, you consistently undermine support for your argument that it's the source of bigotry by being an avowed atheist and spouting bigoted statements.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:09 AM on March 29, 2011


I was only ever bothered by bigotry to begin with.

It's BIGOTRY that makes a person a bigot, not what they believe. What a person believes only gives them words to EXPRESS that bigotry. But I believe that the bigotry is something THEY brought to the table.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:11 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


actually address the subject at hand.

It's appearing pretty clear Chad Holtz's congregation got rid of him because allowing that Hell might not exist was the last straw in a pattern of Chad Holtz not hating/condemning the right people: "un-Americans", gays, and non-Christians.

I mean, we can tediously spell it out, but I concisely alluded to the crux* of the matter in my first sarcastic comment. Which is a form of addressing the subject at hand.

* pun intended
posted by orthogonality at 11:12 AM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Its clear your methods don't work as faith is completely illogical and your assumptions are untestable and unfalsifiable.

That's... rather the point of the exercise. If that's not your cup of tea, fine; but do me the courtesy of judging me by my actions and my speech - by how my faith guides me to live - and not by the simple fact that I posses it. To do otherwise is to be part of the problem.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 11:12 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]




Damn Dirty Ape, I'm actually in complete agreement with you on faith being to some extent the enemy of rationality


Ehhh... that's not fair at all. Various segments of the Christian faith have put enormous energies into the study of philosophy, science, and reason. They certainly didn't see it exclusive of their faith.

There's always very careful negotiation between what you're allowed to say within the church, and a legitimate quest for knowledge, but how that's handled depends on what particularly brand of Christianity you've chosen.

What's interesting is how they choose to negotiate those issues.

(And that IS a response to the linked articles as well, BTW.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:13 AM on March 29, 2011


orthogonality: “It's appearing pretty clear Chad Holtz's congregation got rid of him because allowing that Hell might not exist was the last straw in a pattern of Chad Holtz not hating/condemning the right people: "un-Americans", gays, and non-Christians.”

Assuming that people can only believe in hell because they want to send gays and other particular people there is effectively identical to assuming that anyone who believes that prison is sometimes a good idea is a racist who wants to put all black men in jail.

“I mean, we can tediously spell it out...”

... or we can make sarcastic, snarky remarks designed to shut down conversation.
posted by koeselitz at 11:25 AM on March 29, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: "It's BIGOTRY that makes a person a bigot, not what they believe. What a person believes only gives them words to EXPRESS that bigotry. But I believe that the bigotry is something THEY brought to the table."

I don't really understand this. If one's religion teaches homophobia to its faithful, then how is the religion not at fault for that? Could you please explain?
posted by zarq at 11:27 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is like baby boys having a conversation edited by a monkey.

Well, Hell is for children
posted by mrgrimm at 11:27 AM on March 29, 2011


However, there's no evidence whatsoever of what may or may not happen after we die; nor is it even possible for there to be evidence one way or the other.

Absolutely ridiculous.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:30 AM on March 29, 2011


are we actually going to talk about what may or may not be the truth?

Go for it. You haven't said much yet except accuse everyone of ignorance. Multiple times.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:31 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Assuming that people can only believe in hell because they want to send gays and other particular people there is effectively identical to assuming that anyone who believes that prison is sometimes a good idea is a racist who wants to put all black men in jail.

Hrm.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:33 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't really understand this. If one's religion teaches homophobia to its faithful, then how is the religion not at fault for that? Could you please explain?

To the extent that one's religion successfully inculcates homophobia more than the larger society in which one is located, the religion is definitely at fault. If one's religion teaches moral reasoning and examples of people fighting bigotry which effectively counter homophobia, one's larger society is more at fault for homophobia.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:34 AM on March 29, 2011


If one's religion teaches homophobia to its faithful, then how is the religion not at fault for that? Could you please explain?

You're assuming that homophobia is being taught from the pulpit.

I'm not denying that Western Religions generally have a lousy track record when it comes to acceptance of homosexuality. But blaming Western religions as a whole for homophobia ignores the denominations that do accept same-sex relationships, and ignores those who personally believe that the "hard language" in scriptures to be an outdated relic of its time or those who accept stricter translations of those hard passages (i.e., "The Apostle Paul wasn't saying all gay sex was sinful, he was saying that 'orgies in the middle of church services' was the problem" -- and yes, that is a specific example).

There is a huge range of opinions about homosexuality in the various different denominations, and that tells me that outright homophobia is coming from someplace other than the scripture. Saying that "religion teaches homophobia to its faithful" kind of implies that every single Christian denomination is kind of like Westboro Baptist Church, and that REALLY is not the case.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:34 AM on March 29, 2011


Hmm. Didn't mean to emphasize "is coming from someplace other than the scripture."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:35 AM on March 29, 2011


I wrote a really long ranty thing, but decided not to post it, because I realized that arguing with belief is a fools errand (yes, I'm calling evangelical athiests fools).

It doesn't matter what you believe. "Arguing with reality only means you are wrong 100% of the time," to paraphrase a quote by someone I can't remember at this moment.
posted by daq at 11:41 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


BrotherCaine and EmpressCallipygos, okay, thank you. That makes more sense to me.
posted by zarq at 11:41 AM on March 29, 2011


So all this "it's more rational to assume there's no afterlife than to assume there is" stuff is frankly nonsense. It's not rational to assume anything about the afterlife. Rational assumptions are for when there's some slim amount of evidence, or for when evidence might have been expected in the case of an affirmative result. But no evidence could ever even be expected of the afterlife. There is no rational assumption to be made.

The question here is between believing in specific claims about "the afterlife", and not believing in those specific claims. Given that "it's not rational to assume anything about the afterlife", the latter is clearly more rational than the former -- it's a refusal to assume that "the afterlife" works in a particular way.

For example, if you really want to argue that, say, believing that "the afterlife is a paradise flowing with pink elephants and polka-dot vodka" is precisely as rational as replying with "I bet it's not", feel free... but that's not real convincing, despite a total lack of evidence for or against pink elephants and polka-dot vodka. Even in a hypothetical, unknowable sphere in which pink elephants and polka-dot vodka are just as likely as anything else, the entire set of non-pink-elephants-and-polka-dot-vodka options still constitute a more likely outcome... so much so that believing in pink elephants and polka-dot vodka is like placing a straight-up bet on number 458,782,901 on an infinite roulette wheel.

Is that really as rational as betting that 458,782,901 won't come up, even though it obviously could?

The same goes for reincarnation, eternal life, torment and/or peace, Anubis weighing hearts, the Rainbow Bridge, or whatever other details you'd like to throw in. It is certainly more rational to reject each of these specific claims about "the afterlife" than it is to believe in them, given that this is a topic we truly know nothing about.

I understand that many find it convenient to portray atheism as involving a fervent belief that there's absolutely, positively nothing after death, but that's not necessarily the case. It's more like a rejection of claim(s) that there is a specific thing after death. Frankly, I don't think most atheists have much concern about "the afterlife" at all, other than perhaps the effect that belief in it has on human society.
posted by vorfeed at 11:42 AM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


me: “However, there's no evidence whatsoever of what may or may not happen after we die; nor is it even possible for there to be evidence one way or the other.”

mrgrimm: “Absolutely ridiculous.”

Okay. I'm willing to accept that maybe I'm being small-minded or unimaginative. What exactly would evidence for or against a life after death look like?
posted by koeselitz at 11:43 AM on March 29, 2011


A floating sheet with eyeholes cut out.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:44 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


The evidence will also have clinking chains!
posted by Mister_A at 11:46 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


zarq: ""It's BIGOTRY that makes a person a bigot, not what they believe. What a person believes only gives them words to EXPRESS that bigotry. But I believe that the bigotry is something THEY brought to the table.""

I'm not so sure about that. I've known a number of people who were ambivalent to accepting of homosexuals before becoming "born again" and becoming utter bigots because that's what was being taught from the pulpit. I'm sure that many members of that church would have been bigots anyways, but the social pressure to conform to the group's beliefs can do a lot of damage. You can't lay all the blame for their bigotry on their religion, but in some cases that is where the actual bigotry originates from.
posted by charred husk at 11:46 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Stagger Lee, there's a reason I threw the weaselly qualifier to some extent in there. However, I think that religion, specifically religion incorporating the idea that there are untestable assumptions that should be valued, can't help but be somewhat inimical to the cause of rationality no matter how much science, philosophy and reason are otherwise embraced. That said, even outside of the religious sphere I've seen plenty of avoidance of even testing one's hypothesis, so I'm not really worked up against religion.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:46 AM on March 29, 2011


charred husk: "zarq: ""It's BIGOTRY that makes a person a bigot, not what they believe. What a person believes only gives them words to EXPRESS that bigotry. But I believe that the bigotry is something THEY brought to the table.""

I'm not so sure about that. I've known a number of people who were ambivalent to accepting of homosexuals before becoming "born again" and becoming utter bigots because that's what was being taught from the pulpit. I'm sure that many members of that church would have been bigots anyways, but the social pressure to conform to the group's beliefs can do a lot of damage. You can't lay all the blame for their bigotry on their religion, but in some cases that is where the actual bigotry originates from.
"

I'd just like to point out that I didn't say this. Empress did. I was quoting her. :)
posted by zarq at 11:48 AM on March 29, 2011


Saying that "religion teaches homophobia to its faithful" kind of implies that every single Christian denomination is kind of like Westboro Baptist Church, and that REALLY is not the case.

Yeah, that's unfair. Let's instead say that every single Christian denomination teaches that there is a Holy Book written by God, called the Bible, which contains a passage explicitly telling believers to kill homosexuals.

Given that baseline, if a particular denomination doesn't take affirmative steps to work against the plain reading of Leviticus 20:13 (as by ordination of homosexuals, or performing homosexual marriages), then yeah, every religion that says the Book of Leviticus is God's Holy Word is teaching homophobia.

Preacher-man: "Here's a book full of what God wants. And if you don't do what God wants, he'll send you to Hell!"

Little Johnny: "But it says to kill gay people!"

Preacher-man: "Well, they're going to Hell anyway, because their depravity disgusts God. Why else would He tell us to kill them?"

Little Johnny: "Well, if they disgust the all-loving, all-forgiving God, they must be pretty bad alright!"

Preacher-man: "And you don't want to go to Hell, do you, Little Johnny? I don't need to spell it out for you then, what you need to do, right?"
posted by orthogonality at 11:49 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


vorfeed: “For example, if you really want to argue that, say, believing that "the afterlife is a paradise flowing with pink elephants and polka-dot vodka" is precisely as rational as replying with "I bet it's not", feel free... but that's not real convincing, despite a total lack of evidence for or against pink elephants and polka-dot vodka. Even in a hypothetical, unknowable sphere in which pink elephants and polka-dot vodka are just as likely as anything else, the entire set of non-pink-elephants-and-polka-dot-vodka options still constitute a more likely outcome... so much so that believing in pink elephants and polka-dot vodka is like placing a straight-up bet on number 458,782,901 on an infinite roulette wheel. Is that really as rational as betting that 458,782,901 won't come up, even though it obviously could?”

Yes. I'll even go the whole hog: assuming the absence of pink elephants and polka-dot vodka is just as rational as assuming the presence of pink elephants and polka-dot vodka, in lieu of any evidential framework.

People choose those examples because they're nice and ridiculous, and because we have an evidential framework which suggests that pink elephants and polka-dot vodka are unlikely to exist in any given situation. There is no such evidential framework for the afterlife.

“The same goes for reincarnation, eternal life, torment and/or peace, Anubis weighing hearts, the Rainbow Bridge, or whatever other details you'd like to throw in. It is certainly more rational to reject each of these specific claims about "the afterlife" than it is to believe in them, given that this is a topic we truly know nothing about.”

Is it really most rational, in lieu of evidence, to believe that there is nothing rather than something? I'd like to see an explanation of why that's the case.

“I understand that many find it convenient to portray atheism as involving a fervent belief that there's absolutely, positively nothing after death, but that's not necessarily the case. It's more like a rejection of claim(s) that there is a specific thing after death. Frankly, I don't think most atheists have much concern about "the afterlife" at all, other than perhaps the effect that belief in it has on human society.”

Oh, I should make it clear, then, that I don't think atheists are fervent believers, hoping and praying that there's really nothing there after death. I think most atheists (not all) really believe that they're making a rational, conscious choice, and believe that, as you've said, it is most rational to assume nothingness in lieu of evidence. And I don't think they're being disingenuous when they say that this isn't something that matters much to them. I just happen to think that they're incorrect about this minor point.
posted by koeselitz at 11:53 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Let's instead say that every single Christian denomination teaches that there is a Holy Book written by God, called the Bible, which contains a passage explicitly telling believers to kill homosexuals.

I don't understand why you would, though, since "every single Christian denomination" does NOT claim that the Bible is "written by God." The majority believe it was written by men. I will grant you that several will go on to say that those men were inspired by God, but these denominations also allow that the fact that there's a human "middleman" means that some flaws got into the system somewhere.

So...that kind of knocks down your whole "preacherman and little johnny" example a tad. But just for fun, let me ask you this: would you also say that the song "Helter Skelter" was responsible for causing the death of Sharon Tate?

No? Why not?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:54 AM on March 29, 2011


Vorfeed, thank you, I'm going to steal that example sometime. Quite well stated.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:54 AM on March 29, 2011


Well if we're going to go quoting crazy-ass bible verses that maybe one oughtn't to take literally in the 21st century, I give you Deuteronomy 25:11-12:

If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity.
posted by Mister_A at 11:55 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


in North Carolina, having been fired for questioning whether hell exists.

Now if he was in NYC perhaps he'd have seen a kitchen or spent time underground and have less doubt.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:57 AM on March 29, 2011


What exactly would evidence for or against a life after death look like?

Why do we need evidence against it? This sounds like an objection that can be easily answered by the "teapot atheist" saw.
posted by adamdschneider at 11:57 AM on March 29, 2011


Is it really most rational, in lieu of evidence, to believe that there is nothing rather than something? I'd like to see an explanation of why that's the case.

Occam's razor?
posted by callmejay at 12:01 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


orthogonality: "Let's instead say that every single Christian denomination teaches that there is a Holy Book written by God, called the Bible, which contains a passage explicitly telling believers to kill homosexuals."

Yeah, here's a link for you.
PROTIP: This criticism often originates from within Christianity itself.
posted by charred husk at 12:02 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


All of Judaism starts at the texts, and with the baseline assumption that if it isn't in the Tanach, it's an opinion, rather than dogma.

"Starts" is difficult, here since the texts aren't ex nihilio, but for (at least some) Orthodox Jews, the texts with which they start include the (now written down) Oral Law, which is not part of the Tanach and which they hold to be not just opinion, but authoritative. (The word "dogma" is difficult, since it has it's origins in a different Christian context.)
posted by Jahaza at 12:03 PM on March 29, 2011


me: “Is it really most rational, in lieu of evidence, to believe that there is nothing rather than something? I'd like to see an explanation of why that's the case.”

callmejay: “Occam's razor?”

In lieu of evidence, there is no standard by which to judge which explanation is simplest. (William of Occam, by the way, believed in hell, for whatever it's worth.)

me: “What exactly would evidence for or against a life after death look like?”

adamdschneider: “Why do we need evidence against it? This sounds like an objection that can be easily answered by the "teapot atheist" saw.”

Bertrand Russell was rather unimaginative. Burden of proof really doesn't matter; besides, the point is that there can be no proof. Russell assumed that there can be a proof of everything. He was soon disabused of this notion, by mathematicians themselves no less.
posted by koeselitz at 12:06 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've been reading a book by Randy Alcorn entitled If God is Good...I'm not done with it (it's pretty thick) but it does address a few of the questions I have seen on this thread in a really thoughtful manner. (I got it from the public library so I am sure any of you who might be interested could do interlibrary loan if you didn't want to purchase it.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:08 PM on March 29, 2011


I don't really understand this. If one's religion teaches homophobia to its faithful, then how is the religion not at fault for that? Could you please explain?

I'm not sure what EC's take on it is, but here's mine: Religion doesn't teach anything. It can't. It's only a philosophy, a collection of text, a group of ideas with a name, or whatever you want to put the label on.

People, though - they teach.

Some people fastidiously believe that if they are even okay with the idea of sharing the Earth with queer folks then they'll sizzle and hiss and pop in the sky daddy's Fry Daddy.* Other people love and worship the same God but are secure in the knowledge that God loves power bottoms and rimpigs, too.

It ain't really the religion so much as what gets done with it. I always have to laugh at the idea that the world would be an idyllic paradise - or even appreciably better or worse - without religion. The problem isn't God. The problem isn't Buddha or Woten or Termagant** or Ra. It's not like these works are the reason for our bigotry, our evil or our inhumanity. They're just the most convenient excuse. They're there, so we don't have to do any work. If they were gone tomorrow, we'd find something else.

No, people are the problem.

The Bible is what it is. Its chief function (to me, anyway, and your Universalis Ecclesiae may vary) is not as a holy text but as an inkblot test. It says a lot of things which you absolutely must not do but none of them has gained quite the traction that the trivial bits about gay love have done. Why is that? Why is there no godhatesadulterers.com? Why isn't there a Defense of Not Suffering A Witch To Live Act?

Our fear of being alone in an uncaring universe, fated to cease entirely to exist at the end of our short lives...that's not really our reason for the awful things we do. It's our handiest excuse, and if we didn't have it we'd find another one double-quick. It's what some of us use as a way to make ourselves feel better about the way we can be, as a species, utter bastards sometimes.

Even if Yahweh His own bad Self took a holy finger and inscribed "kill the fagets lol" on a stone tablet, it's people who'd be choosing to repeat it two millennia later. It's people who say "holy war" when what they mean is "kill the browns," but removing the holy war from the equation wouldn't make them any more honest about it, or be less enthusiastic about killing some brown people.

For some people, religion - and please note that religion does not necessarily mean the Western Abrahamic tradition, nor does it necessarily not - is a force for good in their life, a source of love and not fear, a warm feeling that the architect of the universe is on the side of those who show love, compassion and mercy. They were presented with a huge inkblot and that is what they saw.

For the overwhelming majority, it's a convenient justification for being subhuman fountains of caustic diarrhea. It's an assurance that they're correct in hanging queers and treating women as chattel. The problem is not the inkblot, but what they saw when they looked at it.

The problem is not what we believe (or don't), the problem is how we believe we are entitled to treat others. Whether you're on fire 4 Christ or a hardcore atheist, the unavoidable fact is that what we choose to do with religion - any religion - says some reasonably encouraging things about a minority of us, and says some (to put it charitably) fantastically unkind things about us as a species.

*I completely abhor the whole "sky daddy" business but my love for stupid wordplay is greater still.
**The problem really isn't Termagant but that is a discussion for another time.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:08 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


The people who do believe in an Afterlife don't believe in CORPOREAL afterlife. Not a one of them

This is simply not true. The belief in the corporeal resurrection of the dead was part of the revised Nicene Creed at the council of Constantinople in 381, and has been mainstream Christian theology since. It is the stated belief of the vast majority of the world's Christians, including all Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglican communions.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:09 PM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


What exactly would evidence for or against a life after death look like?

Well, a dead human body stays dead in almost 100% of cases, and does not come back to life (I may be unaware of some miracles).

That seems like one strong piece of evidence against life after death.

Modern physics suggests that at very small levels, we cannot accurately determine where one object ends and another begins.

That is a mark of evidence that suggests our perception of individuality is an illusion.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:09 PM on March 29, 2011


Empress, a religion or sect is not its scripture, as you've noted. Some sects are absolutely a driving and creative force behind the prejudice of their members, whether or not you think that prejudice is supported in the scripture. The sect is a social institution, and the scripture is merely an artifact they make use of.

That said, your broader point of "maybe it would be good if we weren't evil to each other" should not be as controversial as it is.

The essential decency of my ideological foes is an ongoing tragedy for me. Just as the religious right demonizes me for being queer, many persons (including my boyfriend!) demonize them. I mean, it's understandable: the parents that would repudiate their kids for being queer or dating a black boy or whatever seem monstrous, to me. But then what about the first 15 years of their child's life, when they were loving and supportive and woke up at 4 to get her to skating practice? Is that erased by their later wickedness?

Bleh, I'm wandering afield.

For me, the broader point is that I've become disillusioned with an ethics of principles. They're seductive, for sure: something about our brain just loves the way conclusions extend logically from initial premises. Unfortunately, what always seems to happen is that our fellow human persons become subordinated to service of The Principles. And then, depending on where you fall in the continuum of misbehavior, you get justifications for the whole panoply of ways in which we treat each other poorly. I'm comfortable saying that dirty ape's conduct in this thread is an example of this. His or her give-no-quarter, fight to the death attitude is just so troubling to me.

It reminds me of the thread about the Soldiers recently put on trial for faking attacks on themselves as excuses to kill unarmed civilians. Several commenters in that thread were of the opinion that all U.S. Servicemembers who had volunteered after 2005 were morally bankrupt.

Contrast these sorts of attitudes with Pastor Holtz's story on his blog about talking with a young, gay man who was leaving the church, convinced that upon death he would be consigned to hell. The thing that concerned Holtz at that moment was the human being he was with. Not principle. Not Making A Stand. Not any of that. Those things may have happened, but they happened because he cared for a fellow human.

The sad irony of my position is that it becomes a principle itself: "care for your fellow humans!" or "humans as ends in themselves!" or whatever.

I just... wish people wouldn't be hurtful to each other. Including people in this thread. Even when someone has been hurtful to you. Easier said than done, I know.
posted by kavasa at 12:10 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


In lieu of evidence, there is no standard by which to judge which explanation is simplest.

I was thinking of this version: "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily."

Also, you're being imprecise when you say that there is no evidence of what comes after. There is no evidence that there IS an after. All the evidence we have says that we are our bodies, and "after," we decompose or whatever.
posted by callmejay at 12:10 PM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Compare 1 Corinthians 15: 52: "the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed."
posted by mr_roboto at 12:11 PM on March 29, 2011


I'm not sure what EC's take on it is....

For your reference, famous monster, my take on it is here.

I'm with you for the most part, save for a disagreement about the percentages of people who believe "religion's been good for me" vs. "religion's been an excuse to be a dick." I've found the "dick" percentage to be smaller (but much more vocal).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:12 PM on March 29, 2011


Former House speaker and possible presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said he is going to work on slowing down the progress of gay rights, if he is elected president.

"I think my emphasis would be pro-classical Christianity," Gingrich said in a video interview with Bryan Fischer of the antigay American Family Association after addressing the Rediscover God in America conference, held over the weekend in Iowa.
(emphasis added)
posted by orthogonality at 12:15 PM on March 29, 2011


Empress, a religion or sect is not its scripture, as you've noted. Some sects are absolutely a driving and creative force behind the prejudice of their members, whether or not you think that prejudice is supported in the scripture. The sect is a social institution, and the scripture is merely an artifact they make use of.

And yet, my point stands -- that there is a wide range of opinion within any given sect or religion. Which -- still -- tells me that how people relate to that sect or religion is something people bring to the table themselves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:16 PM on March 29, 2011


All the evidence we have says that we are our bodies, and "after," we decompose or whatever.

Yes.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:18 PM on March 29, 2011


So Newt Gingrich is claiming "Christianity taught me to do thus and such."

By that logic, do you believe Sir Paul McCartney should be sued for the wrongful death of Sharon Tate, just because Charles Manson said that the song "Helter Skelter" caused him to commit her murder?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:18 PM on March 29, 2011


I'm with you for the most part, save for a disagreement about the percentages of people who believe "religion's been good for me" vs. "religion's been an excuse to be a dick." I've found the "dick" percentage to be smaller (but much more vocal).

Perhaps you shouldn't use anecdotal data. Here is a Gallup poll from last year.

Of people who agreed that "religion very important," 70% thought gay marriage should be illegal.

Of people who agreed that "religion not important," 71% thought gay marriage should be legal.

That's an insanely strong correlation.
posted by callmejay at 12:18 PM on March 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


However, you consistently undermine support for your argument that it's the source of bigotry by being an avowed atheist and spouting bigoted statements.

When you can longer defend your fairy tales and other assorted BS, the name calling and victim card comes out. Typical, shame I expected more from religion defending mefites.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:19 PM on March 29, 2011


Perhaps you shouldn't use anecdotal data. Here is a Gallup poll from last year.

Of people who agreed that "religion very important," 70% thought gay marriage should be illegal. Of people who agreed that "religion not important," 71% thought gay marriage should be legal.


You know what Mark Twain said about statistics, right?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:22 PM on March 29, 2011


When you can longer defend your fairy tales and other assorted BS, the name calling and victim card comes out. Typical, shame I expected more from religion defending mefites.

....Dude, I think you just accused another atheist of trying to "defend fairy tales".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:24 PM on March 29, 2011


You know what Mark Twain said about religion, right?
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:24 PM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself"
posted by mrgrimm at 12:25 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what you're arguing. Social groups - even very small, very unimportant ones - have extremely powerful effects on behavior. People that have never met each other can be convinced to say that a 3" line is longer than a 2" line if enough other people in the room loudly proclaim it to be so. Police departments and cultures of silence and brutality vs. departments with cultures of understanding. Social institutions shape our behavior. I'm not sure how anyone can argue otherwise.

Persons that do or espouse wicked things on a religious basis have a responsibility for that, sure. But it's madness to suggest that the institution couldn't have had an effect on them.

Mark Twain did not coin the pithy quip about statistics, but that's a quibble. The reality is that it serves to remind us to always evaluate them carefully, not to caution us that they never say anything true.

DDA - what answer would satisfy you? Do you demand that all persons everywhere reject their heritage, their memories, and their emotional connections with the people in their community wholesale or else be branded fools? What do you even want?
posted by kavasa at 12:26 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know what Mark Twain said about statistics, right?

Really? You're going to dodge the issue by crapping on the notion of statistical sampling? And continue blissfully pretending that it's a minority of Christians who are homophobic?
posted by callmejay at 12:27 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Er. People can be convinced to say that a 3" line is shorter than a 2" line etc.
posted by kavasa at 12:28 PM on March 29, 2011


callmejay: “All the evidence we have says that we are our bodies, and "after," we decompose or whatever.”

No. We have no evidence that we are our bodies. Evidence can only be bodily; a fundamental assumption of "evidence" is that it only indicates bodily things. So saying that we have evidence "that we are our bodies" is making an entirely unwarranted assumption.
posted by koeselitz at 12:28 PM on March 29, 2011


You know what Mark Twain said about religion, right?

*sigh*

Alright. You win. Every single person who isn't an atheist is an evil homophobic pederast that's responsible for the downfall of Western Civilization. Never mind what we do with our lives or how we act or what work some of us may do to help people, secretly we're all laughing at you because we think we're better than you and we're too dumb to have thought through what we believe because our brains are atrophied from eating junk food all day.

And I should ignore the fact that none of the people I've ever talked to who professed to a faith expressed anything but acceptance of same-sex marriage and gay rights. They must all have been lying to me. How could I have been so stupid?

I should just abandon what my gut is telling me and scorn all people who profess to a faith beacuse insulting them will CLEARLY bring them around.

Fine. Have it your way. You are right, all you oh-so-much-smarter folk snickering about "invisible pink unicorns" and such, you know it all and I clearly know nothing.

Teach me how to be snarky like you so I can be a good little atheist.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:29 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Im a buffet style believer, I just like the happy things. Religion is magic and awesome, dont bum me out with facts." Its disingenuous.

Listen, don't tell me what my religion does and doesn't teach, OK? Just because the God I believe in is different than the one you don't believe in doesn't mean I'm disingenuous.

I don't believe in Hell, or sin. I don't believe in a literal Heaven. I don't believe in an anthropomorphic, interventionist god, aka "a magic sky daddy." I don't believe that God has a favorite sports team, and I don't believe that God frowns on anyone who loves with respect and compassion.

You don't believe in any of that bullshit either, right? So why is that when I don't believe in it, I'm "ignoring facts," but when you don't believe in it, it's because you're a True and Reasonable Person?
posted by KathrynT at 12:30 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not calling you a bigot (yet), but you are making bigoted statements about religious people. You've got a chip on your shoulder about this, and you are letting it drive you into lumping all religious people in with all the worst that religious people have done. All without any comparison to the fairly equal insanity of non-religious people. Do you think homosexuals were happy under dialectical materialism? People are shitty; that's all there is to it. You want to make it about religion, fine. Live that way, but don't be surprised when people tell you you're a bigot for saying so.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:31 PM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


but for (at least some) Orthodox Jews, the texts with which they start include the (now written down) Oral Law, which is not part of the Tanach and which they hold to be not just opinion, but authoritative.

Good point. And I'd probably have phrased that differently if we were on another topic (Kosher laws, for example). But as far as I'm aware, the Oral Law only references the afterlife on the level of there being something to follow, and that our deeds in this world affect what happens next. For example, in Ethics of the Fathers you can find "Rabbi Yaakov says, 'This World is like an anteroom (of a Palace) with respect to the World-to-Come. Prepare yourself in the anteroom so that you will gain entry to the Palace.' He used to say, 'One moment of repentance and good deeds in This World is better than all of Life in the World-to-Come. But (by contrast), one moment of spiritual delight in the World-to-Come is better than all of life in This World.' " (Pirkei Avot, 4:21-22) It's not irrelevant, but it's pretty pareve. More like one more reason to do good deeds, rather than OMG damnation and hellfire.
posted by Mchelly at 12:31 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not calling you a bigot (yet)

You already did. I think you and the empress need a time out. You can criticize me and this thread directly in the metatalk thread instead of further threadshitting and hysterics.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:33 PM on March 29, 2011


No. We have no evidence that we are our bodies. Evidence can only be bodily; a fundamental assumption of "evidence" is that it only indicates bodily things. So saying that we have evidence "that we are our bodies" is making an entirely unwarranted assumption.

Do you not see how ridiculous this is? You're so insistent on believing what you want to believe in that you would rather throw out the whole idea of empirical knowledge than admit that your belief system is (with extremely high probability) just a fantasy. Maybe we're just living in The Matrix, man. Well, maybe. Nobody can prove we aren't. That doesn't make it a reasonable belief.
posted by callmejay at 12:34 PM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sorry EC, I did regret being that snarky, but you were trying to hand-wave away callmejay's point, and I had to call you on it. Clearly I don't believe all religious people are homophobes. I do believe most are delusional, but I think of that as the default state for humanity, so it's not like I think atheists are any better.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:36 PM on March 29, 2011



You already did. I think you and the empress need a time out. You can criticize me and this thread directly in the metatalk thread instead of further threadshitting and hysterics.


And said without a single ounce of irony.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 12:37 PM on March 29, 2011


I did regret being that snarky, but you were trying to hand-wave away callmejay's point, and I had to call you on it.

That wasn't a hand-wave so much as a realization that what I wanted to say would run to multi-paragraphs. I didn't handle it well, I'll admit. What I was trying to get at was: "the people who say religion is 'very' important to them also think X. But what is the percentage of people who think it's 'very' important to them vs. the percentage who only think it's 'kind of' important"?

Clearly I don't believe all religious people are homophobes. I do believe most are delusional, but I think of that as the default state for humanity, so it's not like I think atheists are any better.

From what you'd said, it actually wasn't quite clear that you didn't believe thus. But thank you for saying that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:40 PM on March 29, 2011


Regarding BrotherCaine's belief that most people are delusional, atheists actually might be a little less delusional.

Most people are a bit crazy, and believers are a bit crazier than most.
posted by perhapses at 12:41 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


callmejay: "Perhaps you shouldn't use anecdotal data. Here is a Gallup poll from last year.

Of people who agreed that "religion very important," 70% thought gay marriage should be illegal.

Of people who agreed that "religion not important," 71% thought gay marriage should be legal.

That's an insanely strong correlation.
"

You left out a finding. Of people who agreed that "religion fairly important," 60% thought gay marriage should be legal. The turn against gay marriage only comes about when you're looking at people who very religious. A majority of folks who have what I would guess are reasonably strong religious convictions still approve of gay marriage. So the opponents are probably a fundamentalist minority.

Does that not back up what EC is saying?
posted by zarq at 12:41 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


You left out a finding. Of people who agreed that "religion fairly important," 60% thought gay marriage should be legal. The turn against gay marriage only comes about when you're looking at people who very religious. A majority of folks who have what I would guess are reasonably strong religious convictions still approve of gay marriage. So the opponents are probably a fundamentalist minority.

Now THIS is what I was trying to say.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:43 PM on March 29, 2011


perhapses: “Regarding BrotherCaine's belief that most people are delusional, atheists actually might be a little less delusional.”

Cite?
posted by koeselitz at 12:43 PM on March 29, 2011


Cite? It's in that there linky thing right below the statement.
posted by perhapses at 12:44 PM on March 29, 2011


The Gallup poll doesn't specifically say what percent of Christians thought it was "very important" but it did say this:

Differences on the issue are also apparent by religious affiliation. Notably, 81% of Americans who claim no religious affiliation favor legal same-sex marriage. That compares to 48% support among Catholics and 33% among Protestants (including those who identify as Christian but do not specify a particular Christian denomination).

So half of Catholics and two-thirds of Protestants/nonspecific do not favor legal same-sex marriage, compared to 81% of unaffiliated.
posted by callmejay at 12:45 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Err, that was a little confusing. 81% of the unaffiliated support it, while half of Catholics and two-thirds of Protestant&nonspecified Christian oppose it.

Is that a strong enough correlation for you?
posted by callmejay at 12:46 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


only comes about when you're looking at people who very religious.

Yore wrong again. From the article:

. Notably, 81% of Americans who claim no religious affiliation favor legal same-sex marriage. That compares to 48% support among Catholics and 33% among Protestants (including those who identify as Christian but do not specify a particular Christian denomination).

Your average catholic is still under 50% and your average Protestant? 33%

Your everyday religious type is still a pretty strong bigot from the looks of this data. Denying the connection between homophobia and religion is hilarious. You guys are cracking me up with your denials and silliness!

http://www.gallup.com/poll/128291/americans-opposition-gay-marriage-eases-slightly.aspx
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:47 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now THIS is what I was trying to say.

Empress, you were going to say that half of Catholics and 2/3rd of Protestants are serious devoted bigots? Good on you!
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:48 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Twain didn't say that bit about statistics, although he popularized it. Curiously, the person that he said was the originator didn't originate it either. I think there's a theological implication to this tangent, but I'll be damned (as it were) if I can figure it out.
posted by norm at 12:52 PM on March 29, 2011


damn dirty ape: "Yore wrong again. "

Less of this attitude would be helpful if you would like to have a conversation with me. I'm not defending homophobia. Nor am I defending Christianity. I'm trying to understand and interpret the data provided. In good faith.

Further, I'm asking a question, not making an outright assertion.
posted by zarq at 12:53 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your interpretation of the facts are wrong as we can see the breakdown of Protestants and Catholics in the article. Your various assumptions were wrong. You're wrong. Accept it and move on. Its not hard.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:54 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Empress, you were going to say that half of Catholics and 2/3rd of Protestants are serious devoted bigots?

I will thank you not to miscategorize what I was saying.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:54 PM on March 29, 2011


All Christians are homophobic. That's why Ontario's first legal gay weddings were performed by a clergyman at a Christian church, by ancient Christian practice (calling the banns).

(Derailing: these marriages are by exhibit A that supporting gay marriage means supporting freedom of religion - all religions who believe in gay marriage should have the right to marry same-sex couples).
posted by jb at 12:55 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is ugly.

DDA, I repeat my question to you: "what answer would satisfy you? Do you demand that all persons everywhere reject their heritage, their memories, and their emotional connections with the people in their community wholesale or else be branded fools? What do you even want?"

Also, no one was "wrong again". It should not be surprising to anyone that a majority of religious persons would score their religious beliefs as "very important," so the statement "The turn against gay marriage only comes about when you're looking at people who very religious." is correct. You, DDA, are wrong. Accept it and move on. (It's actually hard.)

Empress, I remain unsure what you're trying to argue. Is it "religious beliefs do not necessarily make someone wicked"? I'm down with that. If it's "religious beliefs exert no pressure on someone's overall beliefs and behavior," then that I can't really agree with.
posted by kavasa at 12:56 PM on March 29, 2011


What are you saying then? The data is there. How do you spin the bit on Catholics and Protestants? I'm curious how these millions up millions of bigots fit in with your "small vocal minority" conspiracy theory you're so fond of? Or will I stop discussing this like I did with your assertion that the soul weigh 21 grams or at the very least the research that nutjob did 100 years ago bears repeating and considering.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:56 PM on March 29, 2011


Is it really most rational, in lieu of evidence, to believe that there is nothing rather than something? I'd like to see an explanation of why that's the case.

Again, it is not "believing that there is nothing rather than something". It is "not believing that there is X, rather than believing that there is X".

If religious beliefs stopped at "there is something after death", you'd have a fairly strong argument, because that cuts the options down to exactly two, either of which may be equally likely... but that's not the way it works, and it's "frankly nonsense" to pretend as if it is. We are looking at specific claims among an infinite set of possibilities.

People choose those examples because they're nice and ridiculous, and because we have an evidential framework which suggests that pink elephants and polka-dot vodka are unlikely to exist in any given situation. There is no such evidential framework for the afterlife.

That's why I gave several other examples which are not (supposedly) nice and ridiculous. Again, the same logic works for reincarnation, Judgment Day, or any other specific afterlife you care to choose. Many afterlife-beliefs seem reasonably likely to exist in a given situation (like Valhalla, which is very much like everyday warrior life, only idealized -- it could exist over the next hill, who knows?) Given a total absence of evidence, though, Valhalla is still vastly less likely as an outcome than not-Valhalla. It is but one option floating upon a literal sea of infinity.

Which leads me to this video, which does a great job of pointing out the obvious: there are at least as many possible afterlives as there are peoples. Even if we assume that there is "something after death", given no evidence it is clearly more rational to bet against any given belief, on the grounds that one of the others is much more likely. Extrapolate this beyond the afterlives that people actually believe in, to include all the possibilities that could exist... and, well, it's simply not rational to believe in one.

The only winning move is not to play.
posted by vorfeed at 12:57 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I agree, but I don't really think that mainstream Evangelical homophobia or the way in which worldview is intrinsically tied to cultural upbringing are the point of this thread,

Yes, if you read the rabbi's article again you will see that a major aspect of his criticism is the way that a belief in hell favors certain cultural groups over others. Evangelical homophobia--he also addresses the belief in hell as it relates to treating others as subhuman in part because they're damned and in part with the excuse that your torment will"save" them. The connection is apparent. Not off-topic.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:58 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


You seemed to be saying that it was only a minority of Christians who are homophobic. I've provided you evidence that a majority of American Christians think gay marriage should be legal. You have quoted Twain on statistics and used several other dodges to avoid addressing the contradiction. Now I'm afraid you're going to use damn dirty ape's aggressiveness to avoid answering my challenges, which have been, I think, fair and respectful.
posted by callmejay at 1:00 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


The really disappointing thing is that now if I try to make a cogent FPP about Rob Bell's new book, the controversy surrounding it, the history of the doctrine of hell, John Piper's dismissive tweet, neo-Calvinism, and Fred Clark, it will be deleted as a double.

Because of this stupid fucking thread.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:01 PM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've provided you evidence that a majority of American Christians think gay marriage should be legal.

Sigh. I mean "illegal," obviously.
posted by callmejay at 1:01 PM on March 29, 2011



the same is true of all matters of faith. The Church has taught this consistently. If there is anything which is subject in any way to evidence of any kind whatsoever, it's not a matter of faith, and Christianity doesn't speak about it. As Paul taught, and as the Saints have always affirmed, "faith is the evidence of things not seen." This has been a cornerstone of the religion from its foundation.

The catholic church is the only church now? Or there is one Christian church? Bullshit. As atheists are frequently reminded when we criticize any aspect of Christianity, it contains a wide variety of beliefs and doctrines.

Surprised that none of the Christians in this thread are calling you out on this generalization.

See also: the creationist museum
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:01 PM on March 29, 2011


callmejay: "Err, that was a little confusing.

Heh. I read it twice and still couldn't figure it out. Thanks for clarifying. :)

81% of the unaffiliated support it, while half of Catholics and two-thirds of Protestant & nonspecified Christian oppose it.

Is that a strong enough correlation for you?
"

It is, thanks. My point is simply that within that group, it seems likely to me that the ones who are most likely to give a "no gay marriage" answer are fundamentalists. At least, that's my read of the situation.
posted by zarq at 1:02 PM on March 29, 2011


You, DDA, are wrong. Accept it and move on. (It's actually hard.)

50% of catholics is 12 million. So we dismiss them even though in the poll they would like gay marriage to remain illegal? So, whats 2/3rds or Protestants? Whats, at least, 80% of evangelicals? How many millions of everyday Christians do we have to ignore before your side makes any sense? 20 million?
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:02 PM on March 29, 2011


Your everyday religious type is still a pretty strong bigot...

Now THAT is comedy gold.
posted by Mister_A at 1:04 PM on March 29, 2011


damn dirty ape: "Your interpretation of the facts are wrong as we can see the breakdown of Protestants and Catholics in the article. Your various assumptions were wrong. You're wrong. Accept it and move on. Its not hard."

You have no idea what my final interpretation of the facts is. I've asked a question, requesting clarification from callmejay. Which he did. I've just now responded to him. I didn't make an assumption. I posed a hypothesis. That's why the final line of my comment was in the form of a question, not a statement.

You really should consider calming down. This "frothing at the mouth" routine is offputting and disruptive.
posted by zarq at 1:05 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


My point is simply that within that group, it seems likely to me that the ones who are most likely to give a "no gay marriage" answer are fundamentalists.

That gets into the definition of "fundamentalists," but it would imply that "fundamentalists" make up a fairly large proportion of Christians -- a majority of Protestant/others and about half of Catholics, give or take, based on these data.
posted by callmejay at 1:06 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't believe in Hell, or sin. I don't believe in a literal Heaven. I don't believe in an anthropomorphic, interventionist god, aka "a magic sky daddy." I don't believe that God has a favorite sports team, and I don't believe that God frowns on anyone who loves with respect and compassion.

That's great (I mean that sincerely).

But is it typical of people who call themselves Christian?

Apparently, your version of Christianity doesn't fly with Chad Holtz's former congregation. Presumably, if they'd got rid of him for merely questioning a belief in Hell, they'd think that what you believe isn't "really" Christian.

So isn't your disagreement with them, not atheists?
posted by orthogonality at 1:06 PM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Empress, I remain unsure what you're trying to argue. Is it "religious beliefs do not necessarily make someone wicked"? I'm down with that. If it's "religious beliefs exert no pressure on someone's overall beliefs and behavior," then that I can't really agree with.

It is mostly "religious beliefs do not necessarily make someone wicked" -- but there's a bit more to it than that.

I also allow that religion is part of what influences a person's behavior -- but only to a certain point. People always exercise the option of agreeing with -- or disagreeing with -- every single aspect of every faith. And, the culture a given religion is in also has a great influence on what that religious doctrine teaches on a given matter, and this also has an influence on the individual. And there are numerous interpretations of each given religious doctrine, some more and some less strict; and a given individual is more likely to go along with the interpretation of the doctrine that "feels right" to them.

For instance -- okay, let's take Lent. Some denominations are encouraged to spend the 40 days before Easter in some kind of fasting and self-denial. However -- even within those denominations, you'll find the people who all-out fast every Friday during Lent, but you'll also find the people who just say "I don't meat on Fridays", and you'll also find the people who say "feh, God really has better things to worry about than whether I have a burger or not on Friday". You'll find the people who give up something for Lent -- but then you'll also find the people who say, "you know, I think trying to find something to 'give up' is missing the point, so I'm going to spend Lent doing something positive for the whole 40 days."

That is one single tiny bit of dogma -- that of how to behave during Lent -- and you have a myriad of approaches to that dogma. Religion has partially influenced their behavior -- to the point that they want to do something for Lent -- but the individual's manifestation of that influence is all them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:07 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Feh, didn't finish my sentence.

So my point is -- "religious beliefs do not necessarily make someone wicked", and that "religious beliefs are only A SMALL PART of what influences someone's overall beliefs and behavior -- and it also depends on what their SPECIFIC religious beliefs actually are".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:10 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


But is it typical of people who call themselves Christian?

Not all. But some. Certainly they're beliefs shared by John Shelby Spong, an Episcopalian Bishop. He's very vocal about it, and the Episcopalian church hasn't kicked him out, so I think we need to assume that they endorse that belief. The Episcopalians are an awfully big church.

So isn't your disagreement with them, not atheists?

Yes. My disagreement with atheists is when they tell me I'm not really a Christian, or that I'm being disingenuous by embracing a different vision of God than they rejected.
posted by KathrynT at 1:12 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Empress, I mostly agree with that. From what I have read, people's beliefs tend to be identical with the attitudes of the higher power they subscribe to. I would imagine that older people who decide to get religion would find one that makes them comfortable. However, many people are brought up in a religion and might not have or know about other options.

In the latter case, the religion's teachings would be a much more powerful influence.
posted by perhapses at 1:15 PM on March 29, 2011


callmejay: "That gets into the definition of "fundamentalists," but it would imply that "fundamentalists" make up a fairly large proportion of Christians -- a majority of Protestant/others and about half of Catholics, give or take, based on these data."

Interesting. Yeah, I'm pretty sure that Catholics and Protestants aren't fundamentalists in such proportions. Thanks for explaining. Much appreciated.

As an aside... I wonder what the overall population ratio of dominionists to fundamentalist Christians is. I always figured it would be close to 1:1, but I guess not. I guess one doesn't necessarily have to embrace rigidly religious views in order to be a dominionist.
posted by zarq at 1:16 PM on March 29, 2011


DDA, the assertion that you magnanimously gave up talking about the 21g soul is utterly disingenuous. Empress has repudiated it unequivocally numerous times and your pretending that she didn't does you no credit.

The lies damned lies quote is now actually quite relevant. Here are two true statements, according to that gallup data:
1. Only people for whom their religion is "very important" are mostly against gay marriage.
2. Half of U.S. Catholics and 2/3 of U.S. protestants are against gay marriage.

"How many millions of everyday Christians do we have to ignore before your side makes any sense? 20 million?"

I don't really have a side here. You're being disrespectful, mean-spirited, and disingenuous, which I dislike a lot. Zarq pointed our true statement #1 from above. You said #1 was untrue and it was not. Full stop.

Imagine some people were arguing about a math problem with an objectively, unequivocally correct answer. The justification for being a jerk there would be much greater there, right? I mean if you're correct, you're correct, and the person arguing with you is just wrong. Would it be ok to be as mean as you've been here in that argument?

Now. Do we want to extrapolate past that to "most religious persons are wicked people"? It seems like you do. I think that's nonsense. I think that ignoring the goodness in even a bigot because they have failings is pointless and wicked in its own right. I refer you to my original post in the thread and the question you still have not answered.

---

Empress, I think you should probably be open to the possibility that the social institution of a church might have more influence on someone's behavior than you seem to currently think possible. Religions can be very, very, very powerful agents of socialization. I agree that people are still responsible for their behavior, but I also think that a dad that throws his son out of the house might not have done so as the member of a different congregation.

What I mean to say is that religion can be a large part of what influences someone's behavior. It isn't for everyone, but for many - perhaps even a majority - it is.

Or to use your Lent example: sure, in some churches, there may be a lot of variation between individuals. In some other churches, the entire congregation may treat Lent exactly the same and suffer shunning if they are found to differ.
posted by kavasa at 1:16 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


My disagreement with atheists is when they tell me I'm not really a Christian,

I'm not about to tell anyone she is or isn't a "real" believer.

That said, if your particular form of belief in X is so outside mainstream Xian beliefs that you need to list your differences to and departures from mainstream X, it's not unfair for someone to say that you're not a typical Xian.
posted by orthogonality at 1:17 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


orthogonality: "So isn't your disagreement with them, not atheists?"

Yes, but they aren't in this thread so we get to argue with atheists instead.
They also aren't in my church, so I can't argue with them there, either.
They aren't in the social circles I run with, so I can't argue with them there, either.
We invite them to our ecclesiastical pow-wows with the other protestant churches, synagogues and mosques, but they don't want to show up.
But we get to see them in the news and get pissed about it, shaking our fists ineffectively just like you.
But here we are, having to defend ourselves on their behalves. Go fucking figure.
posted by charred husk at 1:20 PM on March 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


Empress has repudiated it unequivocally numerous times and your pretending that she didn't does you no credit.

Why mention it in the first place? She obviously thought it was compelling evidence for her position and it was only after my criticism that she dismissed it. Its like somene saying "Obama isn't a citizen!" Being corrected and then saying "Why did you ever think I thought Obama wasn't a citizen."
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:20 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I mean to say is that religion can be a large part of what influences someone's behavior. It isn't for everyone, but for many - perhaps even a majority - it is.

I'm not as convinced that it is thus for a majority.

A majority of Biblical literalist fundamentalists, yes. But honestly, the majority of people I know who claim to be of a given religion are more like what people call "Christmas and Easter Christians" or "High Holy Days Jews". They go to services a couple times a year, and most of the rest of the time they blow most of it off. If questioned, they'll say, "yeah, I'm Methodist/Catholic/Lutheran/Anglican" or whatever, but for the majority of people, that's just naming how they were raised.

I'm honestly not seeing how most of those people can be "influenced" as strongly by their church if they're only there twice a year.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:21 PM on March 29, 2011


That said, if your particular form of belief in X is so outside mainstream Xian beliefs that you need to list your differences to and departures from mainstream X, it's not unfair for someone to say that you're not a typical Xian.

I belong to a denomination with over a million members, including the President of the damn United States. Just because some people have chosen to claim that their vision of Christianity is the only true one doesn't make me atypical. I'm not an atypical Christian; I'm a Christian, full stop. The set of "Christians" includes me.
posted by KathrynT at 1:21 PM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


But here we are, having to defend ourselves on their behalves. Go fucking figure.

Maybe if your god was real he would handle these sorts of problems by correcting people to clarify his position, but from the atheist point of view he isn't real and as such leads to all these crazy disagreements and the old "no true Scotsman" fallacy that liberal Christians love to play up to make themselves feel better.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:22 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe if your god was real he would handle these sorts of problems by correcting people to clarify his position,

There you go again. Only male, interventionist, anthropomorphic Gods are worthy of the name God. You don't BELIEVE in them, sure, but you sure as shit cling to that vision of them, don't you?
posted by KathrynT at 1:24 PM on March 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Does the set of vegetarians include vegetarians who eat fish if their numbers are large and include a very important person?
posted by perhapses at 1:24 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why mention it in the first place? She obviously thought it was compelling evidence for her position and it was only after my criticism that she dismissed it.

I was responding to callmejay's assertion that "every measuring instrument ever invented says there is no after." I was merely using that example to illustrate that someone used a measuring instrument to at least raise the question.

As I stated in the thread -- it was a poor illustration of that point. Your criticism actually had very little to do with my retraction -- or, rather, the fact that you were criticizing a point I hadn't even been trying to make illustrated to me that I had phrased my argument very poorly, because you were arguing a point I hadn't been trying to make in the first place.

I trust that this is a clear enough statement that you understand now why I said what I said, and can drop that tangent.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:24 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't BELIEVE in them, sure, but you sure as shit cling to that vision of them, don't you?

I'm working from the context of the posted articles in the FPP which are about a specific brand of Christianity. I can argue agaisnt your summerland gaia some other time, thanks.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:25 PM on March 29, 2011


Honest question, KathrynT. What percent of American Christians do you think would consider you and Bishop Spong to be Christian?
posted by callmejay at 1:26 PM on March 29, 2011


vorfeed: “Given a total absence of evidence, though, Valhalla is still vastly less likely as an outcome than not-Valhalla. It is but one option floating upon a literal sea of infinity.”

This was my point: this is logically fallacious. It makes no sense to assign probability based on the existence of alternatives. For example, in a launch rocket engine might succeed or fail; those are the two possibilities. The bare fact that there are two possibilities does not mean that each has a 50% chance of occurring.

This is aside from the fact that there is no way to assign probability in these cases at all. There's simply no framework for it. Probability is overused as it is, and here it simply doesn't have a place.
posted by koeselitz at 1:26 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was merely using that example to illustrate that someone used a measuring instrument to at least raise the question.


Wait, you picked a 100 year old fraudulent study that only happens to coincident with your religious faith (belief of soul) as a counter example? Right, youre quite the objective logician!
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:26 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


damn dirty ape: "
Maybe if your god was real he would handle these sorts of problems by correcting people to clarify his position, but from the atheist point of view he isn't real and as such leads to all these crazy disagreements and the old "no true Scotsman" fallacy that liberal Christians love to play up to make themselves feel better.
"

Congratulations, you win, dda. I will humbly kneel before you and kiss you feet. Would you like a rimjob while I'm at it? I have to call off my wedding now so its not like I've got any commitments.
posted by charred husk at 1:27 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does the set of vegetarians include vegetarians who eat fish if their numbers are large and include a very important person?

Whether it does or not, it's not really my business to tell them that they're eating wrong nor every time I see them eating a salad should I start complaining loudly about PETA.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:28 PM on March 29, 2011


damn dirty ape: “... the old "no true Scotsman" fallacy that liberal Christians love to play”

There is no such fallacy. "No true Scotsman" was never a fallacy. It was supposed to be an example of a way of arguing that might be fallacious, but I don't think it even succeeds at that.

If you can define what a Scotsman is, you can definitively say what "no true Scotsman" would and would not do, full stop.
posted by koeselitz at 1:29 PM on March 29, 2011


Sorry, shakespeherian. I was only passivly-aggressively pointing out that I don't care for appeals to authority or numbers.
posted by perhapses at 1:29 PM on March 29, 2011


Honest question, KathrynT. What percent of American Christians do you think would consider you and Bishop Spong to be Christian?

I'm going with 99%, Alex. Spong is an EPISCOPALIAN! Some of you are really off your gourds.
posted by Mister_A at 1:31 PM on March 29, 2011


Does the set of vegetarians include vegetarians who eat fish if their numbers are large and include a very important person?

Is there someone who's in charge of saying who's a vegetarian and who isn't?

Honest question, KathrynT. What percent of American Christians do you think would consider you and Bishop Spong to be Christian?

Well, the ELCA and the Presbyterians hold us in full communion, so I'm guessing the percentage is pretty high. And the Episcopalians, like I said, are a pretty big church. I can't find exact numbers, but from personal experience, I've only had my Christianity challenged by other Christians twice, both times online.
posted by KathrynT at 1:35 PM on March 29, 2011


So this was a 100% business decision. If people start questioning the existence of hell, money stops flowing in.
posted by Danf at 1:42 PM on March 29, 2011


SO has anyone here read Rob Bell's book?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:42 PM on March 29, 2011


SO has anyone here read Rob Bell's book?

Just put it on my library hold list! I can't imagine it's as incendiary as people are making it out to be, but we'll see.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:45 PM on March 29, 2011


[There is a MetaTalk thread on this thread, if you are not talking about the topic of the thread or just want to be horrible to each other, take it elsewhere, starting now. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 1:46 PM on March 29, 2011


I can't imagine it's as incendiary as people are making it out to be, but we'll see.

A friend of mine from college reviewed it here, and it sounds like he gives it a fair shake. Having not read the book yet, I do think this review looks like the one that most earnestly attempts to engage Bell's arguments without out-of-hand dismissiveness OR stick-it-to-the-man support.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:48 PM on March 29, 2011


callmejay has it. Compared to Christianity, Judaism is far more focused on living one's life than than what happens after death.

Honestly I think if I weren't Jewish I would have dropped my faith a long time ago for this very reason.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:50 PM on March 29, 2011


They also aren't in my church, so I can't argue with them there, either.

Well, this ain't gonna make anyone happy, and I've avoided saying it up until now. But...

Liberal Christianity has a bit of a problem. You want to love Jesus, and you want to love the gays. And you have a Holy Book that says, "God sez, 'Kill gays!'"

So you do your best to play down that aspect of the religion. You ordain homosexuals, you marry them, you spend lots of time very cleverly explaining how things in the Holy Book expressing God's literal commands, somehow aren't God's literal commands.

Because, frankly, you're more moral than the God of the Old Testament: you don't want to kill gays, or people wearing polyester, or dash out babies brains, or commit genocide, or rape captives, all things that God either commands, or rewards, or praises, in your Holy Book.

But, inevitably, things turn to shit. And almost as inevitably, theists respond by saying, things turned to shit because God is punishing us for our sins.

And in their panic over things turning to shirt, people don't listen to the most liberal and educated and sophisticated and clever high church theologians who explain away the plain language of their Holy Book.

No, they listen to back-to-the-book fundamentalists educated in tiny backwoods seminaries, who believe in the literal word of God as written by His Hand in His Book.

No subtleties, no shading, here's a literal manual of what to do and we'd better do it exactly as it says, because the crops are failing, the locusts are eating what's left, and no one has a job.

The Bible itself records several of these reformations ("O Israel!) where things turned to shit and the people lost confidence in the establishment high priests, turning instead to until-then ridiculed backwoods prophets like Isaiah.

And US history records three (or four, according to some) Great Awakenings, where the rationalized, urbane, gentled Christianity failed the people, who turned again to fundamentalism.

So liberal Christians, as long as you don't explicitly reject Leviticus, as long as you are unwilling to say it's either not God's words or God was wrong about it, as long as you just use vague and clever sophistry to ignore the parts of the Holy Book you aren't comfortable with -- well, then you're just storing up Leviticus as a seed, a spore.

And in not too many years, that spore will germinate. Despite all you've done, your liberal Christianity will become your children's children's children's re-awakened fundamentalism, with Leviticus restored -- to full fundamental literal commandment.

All the more so if, as many predict, we are headed from peak oil, economic downturn, environmental collapse.

The urbane Christianity of Bishop Spong and Reinhold Niebuhr will be denigrated, then forgotten, by the new Cotton Mathers. And once again Leviticus will be used to persecute and kill gays.

By not facing down the conflicts between your morality and your Bible's morality, you're just kicking the can down the round, and nourishing at your breast something that will grow a generation hence to do what you yourselves would never do. Something that will be used to persecute gays and subjugate women.
posted by orthogonality at 1:52 PM on March 29, 2011 [17 favorites]


I'd just like to add that if you're one of those people who finds believing in a religion to be silly, try to think of it more like you hate cilantro. Believing in something or not believing somthing is not a question of being right or holding on to some essential truth, it is rather a matter of taste. It's not your problem or theirs if other people believe in things and you don't. And my belief in some kind of higher power is different than believing in unicorns or the tooth fairy and you'll just have to take my word for it that it is.
posted by Deathalicious at 1:54 PM on March 29, 2011


It's not your problem or theirs if other people believe in things and you don't.

Yeah, it is my problem, because as people have pointed out numerous times in this thread, the people who hold the most power in this country hate cilantro. If I happen to like it, that directly affects my life.
posted by desjardins at 1:58 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Actually, orthogonality, even conservative Christians have something to say about the disparities between the Old and New Testaments -- and it's the Old Testament whihc contains most of the "hard language" concerning homosexuality. Many conservative Christians (at least, the ones who think about that issue) will say that the New Testament is kind of like the "reboot" for the Old (kind of like how J.J. Abrams intended for his Star Trek to be a "reboot" of the canon of the original series). The arrival of Jesus was kind of a way of saying "okay, the rules have changed a bit now."

You do make a good point, though, about the disconnect between liberals vs. conservatives in religion. However, I wonder exactly how much of that was due to something inherant in people themselves, wanting the "cut and dried/here's the answer" approach as opposed to "let's think about this".

Also, I wonder how much of the development of Christanity in the United States can simply be attributted to geography. The same religious foment was happening in Europe as was happening in America, but everyone was living on top of each other and were thus forced to come to a compromise and find a way to co-exist. Whereas in the United States -- at least during the days of the colonies -- if you didn't quite agree with your friends about a particular point of religious doctrine, all you had to do was...walk a couple days' walk through the woods and start your own town.

So a lot of the oddball little faiths that didn't last too long in England had room to grow into something in America.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:58 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


that their hatred directly affects my life.
posted by desjardins at 1:59 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


BTW I will straight up say that Leviticus is not the inerrant word of God to God's people for all eternity. I do not believe that God has ever said that homosexuality was an abomination; I think that the people who wrote Leviticus said that.
posted by KathrynT at 2:00 PM on March 29, 2011


orthogonality, the issue is, for me at least, that I understand that the Bible is a collection of 66 disparate bits of writing from dozens of writers, each written for different reasons in different cultures and within different contexts, with different audiences, and thus saying 'Leviticus is pretty obviously, given the sorts of intertextual cues we use for reading any other bit of ancient literature, a sort of Constitution for the newly-formed nomadic nation of Israel as it wanders around the desert, trying to keep its tribal identity intact through various cultural signifiers, and thus to take any of the proclamations therein as binding for all peoples in all cultures for all time not only makes no sense, but is directly refuted by later writings that are also collected in what's called The Bible,' it isn't cheap sophistry, and to dismiss that understanding and context for the pragmatic reasons you outline (to keep my descendants from slipping into fundamentalism?) doesn't make any sense.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:01 PM on March 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


orthogonality: " So liberal Christians, as long as you don't explicitly reject Leviticus, as long as you are unwilling to say it's either not God's words or God was wrong about it, as long as you just use vague and clever sophistry to ignore the parts of the Holy Book you aren't comfortable with -- well, then you're just storing up Leviticus as a seed, a spore.

And in not too many years, that spore will germinate. Despite all you've done, your liberal Christianity will become your children's children's children's re-awakened fundamentalism, with Leviticus restored -- to full fundamental literal commandment.
"

See, I remain unconvinced. Jews and Christians both emphasize the importance and relevance of different passages of their respective bibles and have been doing so for generations. That isn't some newfangled liberal concept. There's already a precedent of Christians rejecting the parts of Leviticus (and Deuteronomy, etc.)

If what you're depicting here were the case, wouldn't Christians start obeying kashrut (kosher laws), eliminating idolatry and embracing animal sacrifice when life got tough? They never have before.

Religious beliefs and structures are often formed as a part of the cultures in which they exist. I think it's unlikely that our culture would embrace The Handmaid's Tale so readily in the future. .
posted by zarq at 2:03 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


orthogonality:
Good response. The thing is that there isn't actually much we can do. The book of Leviticus isn't going away. All the liberal Christians out there could covert to atheism tomorrow and Leviticus would still be there for the people to read. On the other hand, we certainly aren't going to become conservatives.

We have our theological reasons for reading the bible the way we do, it isn't just plugging our ears and going "la la la". My link to versions of Biblical critique earlier in the tread was meant to point this out - ways of reading the Bible as being inspired by God but still written man in his times. There isn't much we can do about those who don't want to think about that except argue with them when we get the chance, but usually they don't want to listen or they just shout louder.

The point of my lament wasn't, "but we're not all like that!" but rather pointing to the irony that the ones we all have problems with aren't the ones getting their heads bashed in here. We really should all be friends here on this subject, even if we disagree. If I and everyone I know were to renounce Christianity tomorrow the conservatives would just feel more justified in never trusting us in the first place.
posted by charred husk at 2:04 PM on March 29, 2011


SO has anyone here read Rob Bell's book?

Not read it yet, but coincidentally just discovered it this morning and put it on my Audible wish list. Being born and raised in an Evangelical church in which hellfire-and-damnation were one of the major topics of discussion, I'll be real interested to see how Rob Bell pulls this off.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:05 PM on March 29, 2011


This was my point: this is logically fallacious. It makes no sense to assign probability based on the existence of alternatives. For example, in a launch rocket engine might succeed or fail; those are the two possibilities. The bare fact that there are two possibilities does not mean that each has a 50% chance of occurring.

Yes, sure: if there is a Valhalla after death, then an afterlife which contains Valhalla is 100% likely to be true. That said, we're not talking about the chance that a given religion is actually true or false. We're talking about the chance of choosing a true religion from among infinite options, with no evidence whatsoever to go on.

"Assigning probability based on the existence of alternatives" is exactly what combinatorics does... and given an enormous array of mutually-incompatible options, it is rational to state that any given choice probably isn't the Right One. You can solve this problem by claiming that the options aren't mutually-exclusive, and that a great many of them are actually Right (syncretism, pluralism, pantheism), but you can't solve it just by claiming that "probability is overused".
posted by vorfeed at 2:13 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've read over most of the thread, and I think I'll stay out of the same old atheist/believer shadow boxing and offer, for anyone interested, a little background on Christian interpretations of hell and the controversial Rob Bell book that Pastor Holtz was responding too in his blog post.

Everyone is familiar with the standard Christian view of hell: conscious, everlasting torment with no hope of respite. That's been taught since at least the 300's AD, and was popularized by medieval preaching and religious art, and certainly by Dante's Inferno. It's been the standard view for so long that to question it in evangelical circles is to get the kind of dismissal and ostracism that Rob Bell is now enjoying.

But when you actually go looking for conscious everlasting torment in the Bible, it's hard to find. Really hard to find. There's a verse or two that might lean that way, but for the most part when the Bible talks about the fate of the wicked, it uses word like death and perishing. It's all over the place, even in the super-popular verses that Christians quote all the time without stopping to think about what they mean. Like the grand-daddy of them all, John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life." There are two options: perishing or everlasting life. Paul says something similar in Romans: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life." Edward Fudge wrote a book called The Fire that Consumes that takes the view that hell is where souls go to die. (After all in Matthew 10:28, Jesus says "Do not fear him who can kill the body but cannot harm the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell."). That's not a well known book outside of Christian scholars, but it's been enormously influential in leading some people to reevaluate the meaning of hell in the Bible.

Fudge's case, in short, is that the NT writers all believed that the wicked will cease to exist, and that's reflected over and over in the death/kill/perishing language of the scriptures. But the very early church was influenced by the Platonic belief that souls are inherently immortal--something the Bible never says. In fact, 1 Thessalonians says that "God alone is immortal." That's why eternal life is a gift he gives--immortality is not the natural condition of humanity. But the neo-Platonists were so used to thinking of souls as immortal that when they read all the lines about the soul dying, they assumed that it must be a metaphor for something so awful that you'd wish you were dead, but it couldn't mean soul death itself because that was impossible. And so began a 1700 year tradition of Christians reading in two dozen places about the souls of the wicked dying and somehow never noticing that the Bible said that, even when they're holding up "John 3:16" posters in the end zone.

Similarly, the Bible never really talks about anyone going to heaven. It talks a lot about the resurrection of the dead and Jesus coming back to restore and renew the cosmos, but when it's all said and done the Bible picture is resurrected people (in their new immortal bodies) living on the New Earth. If you wanted to look at my blog, here is where I list all the places where the gospels mention heaven, and show that there isn't a since instance where it is referred to as the destination of believers in the afterlife, here is where I very briefly point out that Christian talk about heaven doesn't match the way Jesus talked about it at all, and here is a draft of a sermon I did on the topic of heaven trying to clear some of this up and challenge the traditional thinking.

After I read Fudge's book almost twenty years ago, I came to believe that if you are basing your doctrine on what the Bible actually says, he has a virtually airtight case for the idea that hell is where souls cease to exist--especially if you're actually a conservative and care about literal interpretations. It's ironic that most most (supposedly) literalistic readers are the first ones to castigate someone who dares to believe that "perish" means "perish."

Now, I realize to a lot of you guys this is like arguing over the original meaning of Rumplestiltskin or some other fairy tale (and hopefully you've stopped letting me bore you and moved on to the next comment by now) but for people interested in recent developments in the Christian world, I think there's going to be a pretty big (hopefully amicable) parting of the ways in the near future between the Ed Fudge/N.T. Wright/Rob Bell Christians who are looking forward to the restoration of the cosmos and renewal of earth where most (if not all) people who have ever lived will enjoy a meaningful but peaceful eternity, and the traditionalists who are hoping for their wispy souls to float on the clouds while most people who have ever lived are burning forever somewhere below. This is not a minor distinction, and the vehemence that came Bell's way before his book was even released shows how wedded a lot of folks are to a view of heaven and hell that is much harder to support from the Bible than the re-visioning going on in other circles.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:14 PM on March 29, 2011 [104 favorites]


I remember the increasing absurdity of the rules for who goes to hell from my Catholic school days. Classically, unbaptised babies went to Hell (though they got to hang in Limbo with the Virtuous Pagans). But then fairly recently (not sure if it was Vatican II or after that) the Pope came out and said that unbaptised babies or stillborn children didn't have to go to Hell because they didn't have a chance to be baptised. So then that logically leads to the question of what about adults who have no chance to be baptised because of where they are born or possibly they lived before Christ ever existed. Well, ok, then those people, if they're good people, can get into Heaven, too, even if they aren't baptised Christians, because they didn't have the opportunity to be baptised. So then why can't good people of any faith get into Heaven?

It just all breaks down once you leave the medieval rules behind. A compassionate Church doesn't make any logical sense, just like a loving God who punishes people for eternity doesn't make any sense.
posted by threeturtles at 2:18 PM on March 29, 2011


A compassionate Church doesn't make any logical sense, just like a loving God who punishes people for eternity doesn't make any sense.

Huh? I think "a compassionate Church" makes a lot of sense. ...Meaning, "if you take away the medieval rules, it makes sense".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:21 PM on March 29, 2011


Leave it to Pater Aletheias to bring some interesting perspective!

That said, I have a serious question: how do you get "the restoration of the cosmos and renewal of earth where most (if not all) people who have ever lived will enjoy a meaningful but peaceful eternity" out of "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life" and "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life"?

"Most if not all people who have ever lived" were certainly not Christian.
posted by vorfeed at 2:21 PM on March 29, 2011


That said, I have a serious question: how do you get "the restoration of the cosmos and renewal of earth where most (if not all) people who have ever lived will enjoy a meaningful but peaceful eternity" out of "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life" and "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life"? "Most if not all people who have ever lived" were certainly not Christian.

I'll leave PA to follow up, but here's some of the things I've heard:

1. At the time, the people who wrote that Jesus said those two things were writing for a select audience. They had no idea that the world was as big as it was. In fact, Jesus' early teachings were meant to be a reformation of Judaism, and it wasn't until the Apostle Paul that the church decided "you know, maybe this is meant for more than just Jews". So it's possible to make the argument that Jesus wasn't even talking about anyone who wasn't Jewish, and that any non-Jews would be covered by their own respective faiths (and, for the record, Judaism does have a principle regarding whether non-Jews have a place in the "World To Come".)

2. I've also heard the argument that upon death, God will introduce Himself to those people who were never informed of the Gospel, and give them a chance to basically join His team. Which is an "out" for "most if not all people who have ever lived". Whether that's canon, or is a feel-better approach to theology, is an issue I leave up to the discretion of the individual; but it at least, I hope, illustrates the idea that there are those people who are not taking a fire-and-brimstone approach to their fellow man.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:31 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


That seems to support the idea of how much power even a (mis)interpretation can have over those who want to hold on to it. The history of Christianity includes many such struggles for power of one interpretation over another.

Those of us on the outside see it as only a struggle for power within a belief system and not as a justification for either particular facet of belief, which many of us see as harmful either way. And it provides another opportunity for name-calling, of course.
posted by perhapses at 2:32 PM on March 29, 2011


Yeah, it is my problem, because as people have pointed out numerous times in this thread, the people who hold the most power in this country hate cilantro. If I happen to like it, that directly affects my life.

There's a distinct difference between holding beliefs and legislating them. I have no problem with telling people that it's stupid to expect that their belief system should be reflected in the laws. I do have a problem with telling people that their belief system is stupid.

I'm making my point apart from the political reality of religious politics in the United States. There are some people who believe in things, and some who don't. My experience shows that the two camps are incapable of understanding the other so long as each holds onto the idea that they are "right".

I gave the example of cilantro because there are some people who love cilantro, some people who hate cilantro, and some who are indifferent. Imagine if the people who hated cilantro (it works better in this example if they're atheists) refused to believe that the people who liked cilantro had any reasonable reason to like it. Meanwhile those who loved cilantro tried to push cilantro on cilantro-haters at every step. Imagine if both parties were trying to persuade those neutral on cilantro that it was either great or horrible. Now, this would all be very silly. For those who believe in a higher power, that higher power is certainly more important than some random herb. And yet, in terms of how people internally respond to the idea, it's an excellent analogy: there's no concrete reason why one might love or hate cilantro, and if you are in one camp it is unlikely you will be swayed to the other side (unless, like me, you have the "spiritual awakening" of eating Pho). So, yeah. If you don't believe you probably won't, and if you do you probably won't stop. And it's really a personality thing as opposed to a "I am intelligent" vs "I am morally superior" thing. It's more a "I happen to have a personality that's biased against belief" vs "I happen to have a personality that's biased to believe".
posted by Deathalicious at 2:35 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


In related news: Ricky Martin is proclaimed "Hell's ambassador" by Puerto Rican evangelical.
posted by ericb at 2:39 PM on March 29, 2011


koeselitz: Given that lack of any evidence whatsoever, it's not even possible to make a rational assumption about what happens.

Now there, I disagree for the same reason that it's reasonable to make rational assumptions about, say, the Higgs Boson, mathematical infinities, or due process of law. We can do thought experiments that extrapolate on what we do know or principles we consider to be axiomatic. And while those thought experiments might never be conclusive, it is reasonable to suggest that universalism is more likely than suicide as a magic ticket to a spaceship shadowing a comet.

The notion of an afterlife in which individual identity is retained and is adjudicated by a personal deity that cares about the disposition of every soul runs into a few too many contradictions, complications, and paradoxes for me to seriously entertain. Certainly I'm not going to push the argument that my Grandfather didn't work miracles while riding an express elevator to heaven, but I'm not convinced I'm just pissing in the wind by believing he didn't.

Also, the epistemological argument for atheism following Russell and Dawkins after him is that doubt is a reasonable, common-sense position to take given a lack of evidence. Especially when you consider that belief is rarely a neutral value proposition but one that prompts certain forms of behavior.

WRT Bell, I'm watching with interest, but honestly, I don't have a dog in this fight because his universalism isn't my universalism.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:44 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I appreciate Pater's interpretation, very interesting to this atheist. What falls out of it (for me) is that it implies Christianity appeals mainly to those who fear dying. I don't think I mean that as a slight, obviously "fear of dying" (or rather "try to live as long as possible") is what keeps life seething.

I think it also implies only self-aware beings will be made whole again--a dog may not want to die, but does it do so because it covets immortality?
posted by maxwelton at 2:53 PM on March 29, 2011


I just want to say how much I like the name "Spong".

SPONG
posted by everichon at 3:25 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hell is more comforting than oblivion.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:26 PM on March 29, 2011


I just want to say how much I like the name "Spong".
SPONG


WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH YOU?!
posted by vorfeed at 3:28 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hell is more comforting than oblivion.

I don't know, the idea of the emptiness of the eternal nothing has its appeal. At least you know what you're getting.

A bleak, never-ending, unfathomable, state of nonexistance, where the spark that was you was extinguished after an infinitesimally short time only to be instantly forgotten by the cold indifference of an uncaring universe.

I'm a blast at parties.
posted by quin at 3:33 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm with quin. I'm totally into the idea of oblivion and meaninglessness. I like to say that my purpose in life is denying that life has any purpose.
posted by perhapses at 3:47 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps it's just my psychological hangups, but oblivion is far more comforting to me than the possibility of an eternity as me. There's some wonderful things sticking to me but there's also some bits of ugliness that should go to oblivion. And a transformative heaven or hell in which I'm distilled down to pure worship or suffering wouldn't be me either, so I see little hope or fear in it. I'm going to go with the Buddhist thing that eternity is not our friend, and the only thing worth striving for is finding a way to the exit.

But I'm a doubter when it comes to cosmic views of Karma as well, so I'm not jumping headfirst into Dharma practice to better secure my chances for optimal human rebirth in a land with a Dharma teacher.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:04 PM on March 29, 2011


Can't for the life of me recall where I heard it, but it was a story that someone was discussing hell with T.S.Eliot (I think it was he) after his conversion and his opinion was that it did indeed exist but that he wasn't convinced that anyone was actually there.

Sound familiar? Citation?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:48 PM on March 29, 2011


I don't believe in Heaven or Hell, but if the beliefs give comfort to people I see no problem with them. I did study Dante for a bit and as amazing as his vision was it was also a bit petty.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:23 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


In related news: Ricky Martin is proclaimed "Hell's ambassador" by Puerto Rican evangelical.

Does he get diplomatic plates?
posted by KathrynT at 5:23 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


That said, I have a serious question: how do you get "the restoration of the cosmos and renewal of earth where most (if not all) people who have ever lived will enjoy a meaningful but peaceful eternity" out of "For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whosoever should believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life" and "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life"? "Most if not all people who have ever lived" were certainly not Christian.

Good question.

Off the cuff, I'd say the short versions of the answers are:

1) People can choose to believe after they die.

The universalist Bible math problem goes like this:

Romans 14:11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

+

Romans 10:9

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

=

Everyone is okay in the end.

2) It's important to take seriously the idea that God wants everyone saved. On one hand, Christians know that a central teaching of scripture is that God loved the world so much he let his son die so as to somehow effect their salvation (exactly how that worked is being rethought as much as heaven and hell are--there are more images in the Bible than the popular penal substitutionary atonement deal). But even though we know that God wants the redemption of the world so badly that he works for it even at great personal cost, we tend to fall into this contrary way of thinking that only a minority will make it. That's kind of a hard picture to hold together. God wanted you with him forever, but you had the misfortune of being born in the wrong era, the wrong place, to the wrong parents, and so it's off to hell for you. That doesn't really fit will with images like the ones in Luke 15 where the God-analogues in the story are turning the world upside to recover their sheep, their coin, their son.

3) Although John talks about belief as the key issue, Matthew 25 makes it all about ethics. The people who believed in Jesus but were jerks are in real trouble, but the kind-hearted helpful people are in good shape, even if they weren't thinking of the good things they did as being religiously motivated. There are multiple pictures of salvation, and the total picture is going to be different than any of the individual pieces.


As far as I know, the best book on the topic (from a conservative theologian) is The Evangelical Universalist. It was written under a pseudonym because this is still too controversial to come out with openly in evangelical circles.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:39 PM on March 29, 2011 [19 favorites]


Thanks for jumping in, Pater Aletheias. I always enjoy reading your comments.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:57 PM on March 29, 2011


Even if I have been more sinner than saint, today.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:00 PM on March 29, 2011


If what you're depicting here were the case, wouldn't Christians start obeying kashrut (kosher laws), eliminating idolatry and embracing animal sacrifice when life got tough? They never have before.

Good point.

But I think the "theological" argument is Jesus overturned the Jewish Law, including Leviticus, but Paul in Romans hated on gays (but not shellfish)

The reality on the ground, I think, is that in times of collapse and panic, when people decide the answer is to purge the community of sin, no one is going to stand up and guiltily admit "I can haz pork and shrimp cheeseburgers".

They're going to look for a scapegoat who isn't like them, to be sacrificed to appease God, and gays neatly fit that bill. (As do, given various demographics, Jews, Muslims, and other minorities.)

My argument is that as long as Levicticus (and PAul) are part of a religion, at some timer now or in the future, that religion -- and your belief in it -- will be used to oppress.

"Your Great-Grandad Zarq wasn't ashamed to be a Jew. If he were here now, he'd tell you that he believed in Leviticus all his days, and that's why in Zarq's day, God left the icecaps frozen. Now stop whining, the sooner you throw that stone, the quicker God'll give us cool ninety-degree temperatures!"
posted by orthogonality at 6:17 PM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sheep Go To Heaven, Goats To To Hell
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:29 PM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


My argument is that as long as Levicticus (and PAul) are part of a religion, at some timer now or in the future, that religion -- and your belief in it -- will be used to oppress.

Right, but again, I don't think it's honest or intelligent to change my hermeneutic and understanding of certain documents because of how I'm afraid my great grandchildren will misinterpret me.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:39 PM on March 29, 2011


mrgrimm: hell is for children

Close. Hell is Hell Is for Children.
posted by msalt at 9:00 PM on March 29, 2011


Hey all, ex-evangelical here.

Some things which spring to mind:

There's a point about the psychology of religion here. Religions which demand more of you and are more exclusive are, paradoxically, more popular. There's been research and everything, and I only wish I could think of the right search terms for cites. Anyway, it seems to me that a more inclusive religion is less desirable and people don't want to see their church go that way, hence the controversy.

There's also the point that talking about this stuff primes people with thoughts of death, and this makes them defend their worldviews more rigorously. Cite from Richard Beck's excellent psych of religion blog. That goes some way to explaining both the reactions of the church members in question, and some people on this thread.

Of course, universalist Christians exist, but I don't think it's unfair to point out that such people stand outside the mainstream of Protestantism and Catholicism (Orthodoxy's attitude to Hell is another thing, and I don't know much about it). It's not surprising that the liberals find allegations of being cafeteria Christians annoying, but there's something one can respect about deciding that the truth comes from a particular source and then following the implications through. This article about the psychology of Biblical inerrancy talks about that in relation to a fundamentalist article of faith, but it seems applicable to liberals in another way. Liberals are making it up as they go along, constantly modifying their beliefs to keep them palatable while maintaining the belief in God that they really want to keep.

Most people who avow belief in Hell don't really believe in it, or they'd be doing a lot more evangelism, say. Nevertheless, avowal is bad enough, and it is completely appropriate to point out to those people that they worship a monster.

People aren't getting Occam right, with the exception of vorfeed. More detailed claims are always a priori less likely, but humans have a psychological bias, the Conjunction Fallacy, by which more details give a claim verisimilitude. Hence the claim that you go to Heaven if you accept Jesus as your personal saviour and believe a bunch of specific things about God (and go to Hell if you don't) is less likely at first sight than the claim that there's some sort of afterlife, say (which was vorfeed's point, I take it).

Like others here, I find it odd that people abandon the ordinary empiricism they use when, say, buying a used car, when talking about the afterlife. Invisible pink unicorns and teapots in orbit are completely fair analogies for this sort of thing. Russell's problem wasn't too much empiricism, but Godel's Theorem. I struggle to see how that applies here.
posted by pw201 at 5:35 AM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry I missed this discussion yesterday-- I might have been able to shed a little light on some of the more confusing aspects of what Christians believe. I'm in the middle of reading American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us which is all about how religion in America has changed over the last 50 years. America provides a very interesting position in the world because we don't have a state religion yet we do have complete religious freedom coupled with a immigrant population from around the world-- this creates an incredibly fluid religious environment. It's no wonder that it is difficult to pin down exactly what "Americans Believe" because it is constantly evolving.

Based on a number of polls (including the in-depth Faith Matters poll)
80% Americans are absolutely sure there is a God
60% are absolutely sure there is a heaven
49% are absolutely sure there is a hell


I find it interesting to ask people who believe in hell if animals end up in hell and if so why? Are great apes incapable of behaving in an evil way? What about people with brain damage? What about evil children?

I ask about the brain damage because before his brain tumor my grandfather was a loving, gentle Methodist minister. After the tumor started growing he became a raging, violent man who spewed hate, cursed his congregation from the pulpit and whipped his family. Maybe he went to heaven because of his previous actions, but what about someone who is born a psychopath? Is he condemned to hell for something that might be a chemical or hormonal imbalance?

One of my favorite anecdotes (which I have told here on the blue before) is about being at a dinner party with my fundamentalist in-laws. I asked the question, "Do pets go to heaven?" The husband said "No." the wife said "Yes" simultaneously. Then they looked at each other in confusion. 45 years of church-going together and they did not know what the other partner believed in because they never discussed this aspect of their religion. I find that is not uncommon. Even though their lives are shaped by faith and their actions are driven by faith, many highly religious people never question what they are taught and I find that very troubling.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:53 AM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Many people in general live their lives by dogma or rote, regardless of their piety or spirituality. To constantly re-evaluate things is exhausting, and it takes a special set of circumstances or a certain kind of wiring to even want to make the effort. Reflection of any kind is a bit of a luxury, and moral reflection with its accompanying doubt and uncertainty even more so. I don't find the lack of asking the questions as disturbing as the frequent lack of ability to morally reason at all. I have a lot of admiration generally for the culture of Jews and Jesuits and people who have an intellectual tradition around their religion. That said, dogmatic people can occasionally surprise me by demonstrating humility and lack of righteousness.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:12 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


pw201: Like others here, I find it odd that people abandon the ordinary empiricism they use when, say, buying a used car, when talking about the afterlife.

That's because it's not an empirical question. In fact, we look at non-empirical questions all the time here on metafilter. Just scanning the front page: "Can the intervention in Libya be called 'humanitarian'?" "Is this a good work of art?" "Is an editor wrong in excluding LGBT lit from a YA anthology, and why?" "How should an author respond to bad reviews?" "What is the value of renegade art?"

While many of these questions can be informed by empiricism, they can't ultimately be answered by it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:41 AM on March 30, 2011


Ugh. Why do atheists care so much about other people's religions? Why are they so gleeful about reducing monotheism into the "skydaddy" strawman and blaming believers for thousands of years of history?

It's just as bad as some guy on UHF in a bad suit telling me I'm going to hell for not contributing to his College / Amusement Park / Secret Bordello.

It is almost as if there is some universal human desire to get up in other people's business, and believe our own beliefs more than we should, and mistrust others' beliefs more than we should. Where finding a hole in someone else's beliefs is far more satisfying than making a convincing case for our own.

People are selfish assholes, on balance. Doesn't matter what their religion is.
posted by gjc at 7:14 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


gjc: "Why do atheists care so much about other people's religions?

Because in the real world they get religion interfering with their lives a whole lot more than people who believe in a religion.

Why are they so gleeful about reducing monotheism into the "skydaddy" strawman and blaming believers for thousands of years of history?"

Sometimes its just a cheap shot. Sometimes it is a simple challenge to see if a believer has looked at their own beliefs critically. The "invisible dragon in my garage" challenge is a standard hurdle that a believer needs to find a way to get over if they want to be rational about their beliefs.
posted by charred husk at 7:36 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why do atheists care so much about other people's religions?

Catch 22. We're flamed for ignorance if we don't and being nosy if we do. Meanwhile even advocates of liberal religion often like to use us as case studies for some perceived sin or another.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:48 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


gjc: "Ugh. Why do atheists care so much about other people's religions? Why are they so gleeful about reducing monotheism into the "skydaddy" strawman and blaming believers for thousands of years of history?"

On one level, it's a defensive reaction to both pervasive religious influence in our society and direct experience with aggressive religious folks. Also, let's be fair, please: not all atheists do it.

But of course, the exact same defensive reaction can be seen in the vilification of atheists and agnostics by some religious folks. Take Bill O'Reilly (please!) who launches a campaign every winter declaring that America's non-Christians have declared war on Christmas, while simultaneously announcing that this country was founded on the "Judeo Christian" principles of religious freedom. He doesn't speak for all Christians, and as a Catholic he's not even a member of the Protestant majority. But he's louder than most.

He's also correct that our culture is deeply steeped in Christianity. Christian mythologies, holidays, and teachings. Christian religious concepts are a part of our laws, attitudes, biases and perceptions and whether we try to reject them or not they still lend structure our lives.

Extricating oneself from that can be difficult.
posted by zarq at 7:51 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or Newt's recent nonsensical warning against a dystopian America ruled by Atheist Secular Fundamentalist Islam this week.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:54 AM on March 30, 2011


So saying that we have evidence "that we are our bodies" is making an entirely unwarranted assumption.

Not really, no. We have plenty of evidence for this, in that brain changes can directly change behaviors and self-reported mental states.

If you can define what a Scotsman is, you can definitively say what "no true Scotsman" would and would not do, full stop.

That's not the point of "no true Scotsman" at all. It's not about defining Scotsmen and moving forward from that, it's about moving the goalposts and changing the definition on the fly.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:55 AM on March 30, 2011


Take Bill O'Reilly (please!) who launches a campaign every winter declaring that America's non-Christians have declared war on Christmas

Wrong Fox News host! John Gibson is the general in the War on Christmas, O'Reilly is only a colonel.
posted by Jahaza at 7:56 AM on March 30, 2011


Why do atheists care so much about other people's religions? Why are they so gleeful about reducing monotheism into the "skydaddy" strawman and blaming believers for thousands of years of history?

It's not "atheists" who do this. It is jerks who do. The fact that those particular jerks also happen to be atheists is incidental.

And for the record, there are also Christian jerks who care too much about other people's religions. And Jewish jerks who do. And Muslim ones. And...

But whatever faith they are(n't), it's the fact that they're jerks that's the real problem.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:00 AM on March 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


KirkJobSluder: "Catch 22. We're flamed for ignorance if we don't and being nosy if we do. Meanwhile even advocates of liberal religion often like to use us as case studies for some perceived sin or another."

Yeah, but that's not a universal experience here on MeFi, is it? There were polite questions asked of some of us who self-identify as having some level of religious faith throughout this thread which were answered without any accusations that the questioner was either nosy or ignorant.

I remain convinced that the problem isn't that people are asking questions or that our beliefs are challenged but rather the way it's being done. People can ask me all the questions they like about Judaism here and I'll do my best to answer, or say, "I don't know" when I don't. I'll even try to provide reference links and source materials if asked. But let's be honest here: why should I or anyone else bother to respond in good faith (so to speak) if the question being asked is said in a mocking or demeaning tone? Or if I'm told what I believe by someone who refuses to consider the possibility that they're wrong, or that ___ belief system isn't followed equally by every member?

The reverse is of course equally true. There are plenty of people here who self-identify as having no religious faith who are open to questions, challenges and debates as long as the discussion doesn't turn nasty. When it does, they usually bow out.
posted by zarq at 8:08 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jahaza: " Wrong Fox News host! John Gibson is the general in the War on Christmas, O'Reilly is only a colonel."

Heh. I thought Gibson was canned by Fox in favor of Glenn Beck, wasn't he?
posted by zarq at 8:12 AM on March 30, 2011


I honestly think there's a lot of theistic privilege that goes unnoticed by the privileged. In many places, a simple vocal disagreement with theistic beliefs is met with outrage and moral indignation, as if theistic beliefs should be uniquely free from criticism. Even on places with mefi, where there are many atheists and even the theists seem to share more theological beliefs with atheists than with 67% of American Christians, this persists in the idea that atheists are "arrogant" for simply stating their beliefs. The one or two atheists who descend into mocking and derision are held up as examples of what atheists are like, and then even the "good" atheists start chiming in to brag about how good they are and how they never criticize religion. They'll imply that criticizing religion is something juvenile, that people's religious beliefs are their own business.

The internet is one of the first places in history where religion has to compete on an even ground. In real life, many religious people (again, not the Spong-like MeFites) protect themselves and especially their children from even encountering atheists. In religious schools and institutions across the country, vocally expressing atheism or even very difficult questions is grounds for dismissal and/or punitive action. In this very post, we have an example of a pastor who was dismissed for an honest change of belief.

On the internet, in an unmoderated forum, the religious don't have that power, and so they try to silence people by attacking them for not being respectful enough, or for being offtopic, or any other excuse they can find. But, like right-wing political views, I think you'll find that if you want to have a religious discussion that can thrive online, you'll have to engage in censorship and banning. You can't just expect the rest of us to stay silent while you so intellectually discuss the myths that have been used to beat us and others over the head for centuries as if they are perfectly reasonable beliefs for intelligent people living in the 21st century to hold.
posted by callmejay at 8:23 AM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but that's not a universal experience here on MeFi, is it? There were polite questions asked of some of us who self-identify as having some level of religious faith throughout this thread which were answered without any accusations that the questioner was either nosy or ignorant.

Which is why I found gjc's complaint to be inexplicable.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:28 AM on March 30, 2011


You can't just expect the rest of us to stay silent while you so intellectually discuss the myths that have been used to beat us and others over the head for centuries as if they are perfectly reasonable beliefs for intelligent people living in the 21st century to hold.

Even if the bulk of the discussion concerns reasons why people no longer accept the harmful nature of those beliefs?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 AM on March 30, 2011


Even if the bulk of the discussion concerns reasons why people no longer accept the harmful nature of those beliefs?

I'm having trouble parsing this. And I've already pointed out to you that a majority of American Christians, for example, continue to oppose gay marriage while a majority of non-religious support it, so if you're saying that the beliefs are no longer harmful, I don't agree.
posted by callmejay at 8:43 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm having trouble parsing this.

Here's what I mean:

1. This discussion was about a Christian leader saying "you know what, I don't believe in hell."

2. People were starting to discuss who did and didn't still believe in hell, and why the abandoning of a belief in hell was a net good.

3. That said, since the tone of the conversation seemed to be "yeah, this is actually a good trend because believing in hell hasn't been a cool thing and I never liked it anyway," I'm not certain what "religion is intellectually dishonest because you all believed in hell" was going to achieve, since most people in the conversation were already down with the notion that "believing in hell was a bad thing".

And I've already pointed out to you that a majority of American Christians, for example, continue to oppose gay marriage while a majority of non-religious support it, so if you're saying that the beliefs are no longer harmful, I don't agree.

This discussion, in the thread we're standing in right now, is not about religious views on gay marriage. It is a discussion about differing religious beliefs about hell. I'd be happy to discuss religious views about gay marriage with you -- and, in fact, I agree with you -- when we are actually standing in a thread about gay marriage. Here, the topic is "religious views about hell".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not certain what "religion is intellectually dishonest because you all believed in hell" was going to achieve

I think the accusations of intellectual dishonesty originally came about in response to your argument that the afterlife (may?) exist.

This discussion, in the thread we're standing in right now, is not about religious views on gay marriage.

The stance of a majority of American Christians on gay marriage is an example of the harm that can come from a belief in hell. I used it because it's relatively easy to find data on the subject.
posted by callmejay at 8:55 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm an atheist who cares a lot about other people's religions, because, well, shit:

* Religions inform so much of what we call "culture", and I've been absorbed by many of "culture's" aspects since I could read, and see, and hear.
* There is sublime beauty and also a lot of horror to regard in religious practices and traditions;
* Because I'm a person, I suspect I am predisposed to be curious about how other people address the question of, "What do we do with this window of time between birth-n-death?"

That's just off the top of my head.
posted by everichon at 8:59 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here, the topic is "religious views about hell".

Sure, specifically the topic is an author who's extremely controversial this month for publishing a Universalist book, and a minister who lost his job for expressing Universalist sympathies. Surely we can't talk about how Universalism is (officially) controversial without looking the alternative doctrines of Hell and Salvation by Faith.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:02 AM on March 30, 2011


I think the accusations of intellectual dishonesty originally came about in response to your argument that the afterlife (may?) exist.

(head in hands) in the first place, I retracted that, and in the second place, I was responding to someone else making the "intellectually dishonest" accusation. I didn't start it, yo.

But belive me, I ain't continuing it. (makes lip-zipping motion)

The stance of a majority of American Christians on gay marriage is an example of the harm that can come from a belief in hell.

My point is, you were walking into a discussion where people were all saying "yes, beleiving in hell is harmful" and saying, "look, believing in hell is harmful and I'll prove it!" You were, so to speak, preaching to the choir.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on March 30, 2011


Actually, I initially waded into this thread to respond to the rabbi's implied attack on atheists: "It strikes me as arrogant to imagine that when we are done in this life, there is nothing that comes after." You responded to my comment with the argument that you have now retracted, and I responded to that as well as commenting with my Jew hat on to answer people's questions about Jewish conceptions of the afterlife.

Then you said "Just because someone believes in an afterlife (raises hand) that doesn't mean that they also ipso facto believe homosexuality is a sin." And that's when I went into the gay marriage stats.
posted by callmejay at 9:09 AM on March 30, 2011


callmejay, I'm going to move this back to the MeTa. Meet you over there.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:10 AM on March 30, 2011


Heh. I thought Gibson was canned by Fox in favor of Glenn Beck, wasn't he?

Gibson was given a Fox News radio show while his TV show was still on the air. He's still doing the radio show, though at a different time than when it started. It's now in the Noon to 3 P.M. time slot which is pretty rough, since that's Limbaugh's live time slot.

His TV show, The Big Story was put on haitus during the '08 election and replaced by America's Election Headquarters and some other interim programming that was then replaced by Beck.
posted by Jahaza at 9:34 AM on March 30, 2011


pw201: ". This article about the psychology of Biblical inerrancy talks about that in relation to a fundamentalist article of faith, but it seems applicable to liberals in another way. Liberals are making it up as they go along, constantly modifying their beliefs to keep them palatable while maintaining the belief in God that they really want to keep. "

FWIW, I've heard this complaint a lot from Orthodox Jews about the Reform and Conservative movements. That we're all just making it up as we go along, and are destroying Judaism. Depending on which source you trust, somewhere between 88-94% of Jews aren't Orthodox. One could say that like King Canute, such complaints are a futile effort to order the tide to recede.

Of course, Judaism has never been a static, unchanging religion, no matter what such folks would like us to believe.

One of the comments made by damn dirty ape above was that he wasn't willing to give Christianity "another 2000 years" to change. But successful reformation movements usually don't take very long to spread like wildfire and embed themselves in hearts and minds. Should be interesting to see what happens over the next few decades.
posted by zarq at 9:43 AM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jahaza: " Gibson was given a Fox News radio show while his TV show was still on the air. He's still doing the radio show, though at a different time than when it started. It's now in the Noon to 3 P.M. time slot which is pretty rough, since that's Limbaugh's live time slot.

Ah! I didn't realize. Thanks. :)

His TV show, The Big Story was put on haitus during the '08 election and replaced by America's Election Headquarters and some other interim programming that was then replaced by Beck."

Interesting.

I've never understood Beck's appeal. Gibson's makes more sense to me. But then again, I'm not the target audience.
posted by zarq at 10:04 AM on March 30, 2011


The stance of a majority of American Christians on gay marriage is an example of the harm that can come from a belief in hell.

When it comes to Catholics a majority now support gay marriage or civil unions, as do Americans overall.

ABC News/Washington Post poll: Gay Marriage [PDF] | March 18, 2011
"A poll and a comprehensive study released last week reveal that for the first time, a majority of Americans support marriage equality and other benefits for same-sex couples.

The poll, conducted for ABC News and The Washington Post, indicates that 53 percent of Americans support marriage equality for same-sex couples, a 21 percent increase from 2004.

The biggest increases are among Christians, who saw gains among white and Hispanic Catholic Americans and white nonevangelical Protestants. While support from evangelical Protestants increased, especially among younger members, they still overwhelmingly oppose marriage equality and other benefits for same-sex couples.

'This is very consistent with a lot of other polling data we've seen and the general momentum we've seen over the past year and a half,' Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, a leading pro-gay-marriage group, said to The Washington Post of the poll."
And in another new report ...

Catholics More Supportive Of Gay And Lesbian Rights Than General Public, Other Christians | March 22, 2011
"Catholics are more supportive of gay and lesbian rights than the general public and other Christians, according to a new report released today. The new report, which is the most comprehensive portrait of Catholic attitudes on gay and lesbian issues assembled to date, also finds that seven-in-ten Catholics say that messages from America's places of worship contribute a lot (33 percent) or a little (37 percent) to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth. ...

Nearly three-quarters of Catholics favor either allowing gay and lesbian people to marry (43%) or allowing them to form civil unions (31%). Only 22% of Catholics say there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple's relationship.

Nearly three-quarters (73%) of Catholics favor laws that would protect gay and lesbian people against discrimination in the workplace; 63% of Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian people to serve openly in the military; and 6-in-10 (60%) Catholics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

Less than 4-in-10 Catholics give their own church top marks (a grade of an A or a B) on its handing of the issue of homosexuality; majorities of members of most other religious groups give their churches high marks.

A majority of Catholics (56%) believe that sexual relations between two adults of the same gender is not a sin."
posted by ericb at 11:31 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Blessing of Same-Sex Unions in Christian Churches.
posted by ericb at 11:34 AM on March 30, 2011


Attitudes, they are a'changing!
posted by ericb at 11:35 AM on March 30, 2011


KirkJobSluder: I agree that questions of value are not empirical in the same way as questions like "did this car really have one careful owner?" are (though in fact I think they reduce to empirical questions about human preferences and humans' preferred use of words, but that's not important right now).

However, the question of whether there's any sort of afterlife is not a question of value.

If the claim is that the afterlife occurs in some realm which is otherwise inaccessible to the living, then you have teapots and unicorns ("we know She is invisible, because we cannot see Her"). Sure, it might be true, but there's no particular reason to believe it. We feel no qualms about discounting similar claims when they are not associated with religions, so getting all "well, you can't prove there isn't one" about an afterlife looks like special pleading.

If the claim is that this realm sometimes interacts with our world, then the claim that those interactions occur is an empirical one.

In both cases, the fact that some people claim it's true is not strong evidence, since some people will say anything.
posted by pw201 at 4:40 PM on March 30, 2011


pw201: Certainly I personally reject the afterlife on similar grounds. But that's only a provisional disbelief. We can't use this principle to conclusively claim non-existence. And I find it a weak argument against both gods and the afterlife.

But we can use non-empirical philosophy to test hypotheticals logically before we test them empirically. So for example, there's no reason to believe that wormholes or FTL travel are possible, because they both run into significant complications and paradoxes with General Relativity. We can make tentative conclusions in computer science about the behavior of quantum computers, based on theoretical models of qbits.

In some cases, these thought experiments can be useful even if they're empirically impossible. Einstein's guy on a train with a flashlight is never going to happen at relativistic speed. It's still useful for working through ideas about special relativity.

My defense of thinking about the hypothetical afterlife as an atheist is two-fold. First, I feel stronger in rejecting afterlife claims that create paradoxes or problems when thought through.

Second, my thoughts about the hypothetical afterlife inform other opinions. For example, my rejection of transhumanism is based on the fact that an eternity as me is likely to feel like hell, and any edited copy of my personality to remove the things I find to be barely tolerable probably wouldn't be recognizable as me. Granted I'm also a skeptic that any of the more ambitious claims of transhumanism will be achieved in my lifetime. But that's another problem.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:39 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


It may be a weak argument against gods and the afterlife, but when placed against the arguments for these things, it appears very strong indeed.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:50 AM on March 31, 2011


KirkJobSluder: look like there ain't nobody here but us chickens, and the action has moved to MetaTalk where there's an important discussion on why atheists are so mean. So:

We pretty much can't conclusively claim anything, so I agree that we cannot be certain there is no afterlife. I take the extensions of empirically confirmed theories into areas where we can't do experiments as legitimate because I have seen such extensions work before.

I don't really think this is relevant here, though: the question of an afterlife is not a question of value, nor do extensions of our existing good theories give us any reason to believe it. In the absence of that, saying "what if when we die we either go to a very good place or a very bad place based on what we believed/did in our lives?" and looking for evidence of that is what's been called privileging the hypothesis, like the detective who says "Well... we have no idea who did it... no particular evidence singling out any of the million people in this city... but let's consider the possibility that this murder was committed by Mortimer Q. Snodgrass, who lives at 128 Ordinary Ln" in the linked example.

I think we can go further than just saying that there's no reason to believe it, though. I'd just observe that minds seemed to require brains (you needn't be all reductionist about consciousness to agree with this: you could be someone like David Chalmers, for example) and, if the claim is that the afterlife is brain-less, then it's up to the person proposing these brain-less minds to substantiate the claim that such a thing exists.
posted by pw201 at 6:11 AM on April 1, 2011


I don't really think this is relevant here, though: the question of an afterlife is not a question of value, nor do extensions of our existing good theories give us any reason to believe it.

On the contrary, I think that theological arguments these days are primarily about value and secondarily about empirical realities. In the last month I've been blasted for my non-belief, not using empirical arguments that god or the afterlife exists, but on the argument that materialism implies a lack of values. Many modern apologists admit up-front that they can't deliver conclusive arguments for the empirical existence of god, only subjective ones based on perceived value.

Certainly believers in the afterlife are privileging the hypothesis. That doesn't mean that we can't show that the hypothesis is both unwarranted by evidence and internally inconsistent.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:38 AM on April 1, 2011


Can you prove inconsistency in the general case? I mean if you have a specific inerrant dogma about the afterlife you are talking about I could understand making the attempt, but otherwise wouldn't the goalposts just move endlessly? I guess at some point you could get into a very refined version of the afterlife that would be interesting to talk about. To me it seems like the more I pursue the afterlife as a thought experiment, the closer it resembles a metaphor for death (at least heaven). There seems to be an emphasis on a steady state of contentment, with no room for the kind of conflict that lets us grow. If you are omniscient and endlessly happy, do you even exist? Without some variation in state don't our identities collapse into nothingness?

For example, my rejection of transhumanism is based on the fact that an eternity as me is likely to feel like hell, and any edited copy of my personality to remove the things I find to be barely tolerable probably wouldn't be recognizable as me.

That sounds really bleak. I like the idea of an eternity as me, but I've noticed in fiction and literature pursuers of immortality are always treated as fools misled by their own arrogance.
posted by BrotherCaine at 7:48 AM on April 1, 2011


everytime I hear about transhumanism, I get confused and wonder why people are talking about seasonal moving for livestock grazing. Though transhumance is pretty cool, and a part of European history often missed out.
posted by jb at 9:04 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've noticed in fiction and literature pursuers of immortality are always treated as fools misled by their own arrogance

Perhaps another coping mechanism like religion to convince us that lives limited by something other than choice are The Way It's Supposed To Be. Or maybe pro-immortality people just write boring fiction.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:48 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


pw201 says: [...] it's up to the person proposing these brain-less minds to substantiate the claim that such a thing exists.

I'm your huckleberry.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:51 PM on April 1, 2011


Eh, it's not at all clear that these people don't just have highly compressed brains. Go ahead and cut your brain out and see where it gets you.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:06 AM on April 2, 2011


Sure, I'll do that if you'll let me "highly compress" your brain first. Or is it already highly compressed? I mean, if "just hav[ing a] highly compressed brain" is so unremarkable...
posted by Crabby Appleton at 10:54 AM on April 2, 2011


Pater Aletheias, I was wondering how you would then respond to Luke 10:15,

8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.


Down to Hades is pretty explicitly an allusion to a "neo-Platonian" underworld designated especially for the residents of towns that refuse to convert, in contrast to the extinction you posit.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:56 PM on April 3, 2011


That question really makes me wish that my theological library wasn't packed away and inaccessible. This is my "can't get to my books" answer.

First, stuff you probably already know:

The Old Testament scarcely has any concept of an afterlife, but when it does hint at postmortem existence it uses the term Sheol, often translated "grave." Sheol seems to be a lot like the Greek Hades, populated by insubstantial souls. There are some hints at a better existence for the righteous, but no more than that. (Notable figures are often said to be "gathered with their fathers" after death, which could imply something quite a bit better than an typical Sheol/Hades existence.)

The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT in popular use during the Roman period) uses "Hades" to translate the Hebrew "Sheol." So it's not surprising that Hades shows up some in the New Testament (and especially in Luke, who alludes to the Old Testament all the time). It's also not surprising that Jesus (whether you are thinking of him as a historical person or a literary construct) would use widely accepted concepts and terminology to get his basic point across, especially when dealing with Gentile communities. It doesn't look to me like Luke is trying to stake out a position on the afterlife here (I don't think he really believed that whole cities would sink to Hades or be lifted to heaven). He's using familiar, vivid imagery to make clear how much is at stake in the reception the disciples will receive. Still, verse 12 talks about it being more bearable for Sodom than for towns that don't welcome the disciples, and you remember what happened to Sodom.

I'd be the last one to claim that the New Testament is completely consist on the topic. But given the fact that Hades/Sheol was the predominant view of the afterlife and that the neo-Platonists didn't believe souls could die, the fact that the majority of New Testament references to the fate of the wicked involve death/perishing/destruction is really remarkable.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:33 AM on April 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


I mean, if "just hav[ing a] highly compressed brain" is so unremarkable

I never said it was unremarkable. It is quite remarkable, and the brain is an amazing organ. It is a far cry from that to "brain-less minds" and the brain being "unnecessary," however.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:13 AM on April 4, 2011


Nuts, I'm in roughly the same boat... My father's books are all more than 1000 miles away from me. This would be my, only have access to the bible I annotated years ago, reply.

This is in line with my understanding, that we are the dust of the earth with the breath of life given to us by God (Gen. 2:7; 3:19). Thus logically we would forever cease to be vitally alive, or nephesh, as we returned to that dust and that breath goes where it does for everyone.

Job 3:11-19, 11 “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? 12 Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed? 13 For now I would be lying down in peace I would be asleep and at rest 14 with kings and rulers of the earth, who built for themselves places now lying in ruins, 15 with princes who had gold, who filled their houses with silver. 16 Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day? 17 There the wicked cease from turmoil, and there the weary are at rest. 18 Captives also enjoy their ease; they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout. 19 The small and the great are there, and the slaves are freed from their owners.

In Sheol all of our deceased ancestors, Rephaim, exist together, for the most part forgotten and abandoned

Psalms 6:4-5,
4 Relent, Lord, rescue me!
Deliver me because of your faithfulness!
5 For no one remembers you in the realm of death,
In Sheol who gives you thanks?

Psalms 88:3-12
3 I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.

6 You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.[d]
8 You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
9 my eyes are dim with grief.

I call to you, LORD, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
11 Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction[e]?
12 Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?

Psalms 16:9-11
9 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.


Sheol as it is thus described is perfectly analogous to the Greek Underworld where Hades reigned, exempting of course the presence of Hades. Notable figures do have this fate described in a way that does not sound so bad, hey at least to get to be notable and God still loves you, but not in a way that conflicts directly with the physical description here.

While I agree that Luke is plainly not trying to describe the afterlife, I think he is reflecting the understanding of the early church also outlined here,

Acts 2:25-28,
25 David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, (ᾍδης)
you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.

Revalations 1:17-18
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

6:7-8
7 When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.

20:11-15
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.


Thus it seems as if Jesus came to save our immortal-ish souls from the kinda death that is Sheol, and deliver all of us who will fit into the Kingdom of Heaven, which will be built on the ashes of our current existence. This would indicate that most evangelicals have it precisely backwards. That the popular image of heaven, which you lampoon in your wonderful sermon, is in fact more analogous to the biblical hell. While The Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus talks about as the destination for good people, is Earth in communion, or the very thing that many abandon in search of the "purity" they they feel necessary to get into the popular image of heaven.

But of course all of this does ignore that Jesus does do a bit of fire and brimstone preaching himself using the word Gehenna (Greek γέεννα), even if it is just a little.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:07 PM on April 4, 2011


The stuff in Revelation about Hades giving up its dead and then being thrown into the lake of fire is interesting. It seems like the perspective there is that Hades was a temporary deal and afterward the souls within it either die or find a spot in the New Heaven/New Earth.

The Gehenna references fit in really well with Edward Fudge's idea that hell is "the fire that consumes" souls. Traditionalists take the line about "the worm doesn't die and the fire isn't quenched" to mean that you'll be perpetually gnawed on/constantly burning for eternity, but when you look at the final words of Isaiah that Jesus is alluding to:

22 “As surely as my new heavens and earth will remain,
so will you always be my people,
with a name that will never disappear,”
says the Lord.
23 “All humanity will come to worship me
from week to week
and from month to month.
24 And as they go out, they will see
the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against me.
For the worms that devour them will never die,
and the fire that burns them will never go out.
All who pass by
will view them with utter horror.”

It couldn't be more clear that the worm/fire stuff is an image of unescapable death, and yet it is usually interpreted as ongoing torture. Since Gehenna was the pit where trash was burned and destroyed, the picture is pretty consistent.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:11 PM on April 4, 2011


The Place of God's Disfavor
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:18 PM on April 4, 2011


You might also appreciate this, it is my favorite thing to come out of all of this nonsense
posted by Blasdelb at 10:18 PM on April 4, 2011


Blasdelb is that real??
posted by Salamandrous at 4:17 AM on April 5, 2011


Salamandrous: "Blasdelb is that real?"

Nope.
posted by charred husk at 8:20 AM on April 5, 2011


St. Alia of the Bunnies: “The Place of God's Disfavor”

More evangelical heresy. When will these people have the guts to stop calling themselves Christians? It's disgusting to me that they defile the name by adopting it.
posted by koeselitz at 8:31 AM on April 5, 2011


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