Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Heaven?

Christians often tell me about how their faith brings them such comfort and happiness. They say it's so reassuring to know that death is not really the end—that they'll live forever in heaven with their loved ones. So if you're a Christian, I have a few questions for you...

I wonder, do you feel even a little bit sad—does your comfort and happiness get even a little bit interrupted—when you think about all the poor unsaved people who are going to burn in hell for all eternity? Do you have a spouse or children, or other close family members, perhaps? What if your brother, or your spouse, or one or more of your beautiful kids rejects Christ and goes to hell as a result? Do you imagine that you'll ever be fully happy in this lifetime knowing that your apostate family members will go to hell when they die and you'll never see them again? When you die yourself, do you imagine you'll be able to enjoy the paradise that is heaven when you know that somewhere else your loved ones are in agony, being endlessly burned and tortured? Or suppose every single one of your close family members gets into heaven; what about the mailman, or that nice lady who works at the grocery store and always has the sweetest smile and the most cheerful "hello" for you every time you meet? I sure hope heaven is far enough away from hell that the tortured screams of agony won't spoil the pleasure of your perfect paradise. But something tells me the damned will never be too far from your mind whether you can actually hear them or not. Unless God somehow erases your memory of all the people you care about who are burning forever. That would be totally awesome, right?

And don't forget, you're going to live for eternity. Since God knows everything there is to know and can do anything there is to be done, it means there are a finite number of things to do and know. Eventually you will do everything there is to be done, and learn everything there is to know and you will be bored out of your mind. There will be no more room to grow or change and you will be, by definition, dead. Only you won't really be dead. You will wish for death, but it will never come—not in a hundred years, not in a billion, not when every last star in this universe has burned out. You will never die. Great, huh?

Yeah, heaven sounds like a swell place, and not at all like a fate worse than death. It must be very reassuring to know you'll spend eternity there when you die. Where do I sign up?

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22 comments:

  1. This is not one of your better posts. But I will respond anyway.

    Heaven is not a major part of my theology. I still think that when you die, you die. No body escapes death, not even Jesus. From my reading of the bible the world is waiting on a rebirth and the people are waiting for a resurrection. I hope for a resurrection and a final judgment but am not certain of their future manifestation. They are contingent on God's action in the future but I have hope because he promised he would act.

    In light of my uncertainty, I hope for heaven but it wouldn't effect my faith or walk with God if heaven wasn't in the "cards" for me.

    Having said all that I will comment on your flippant questions.

    I have talked to Christians who have many times in their life wept for the "lost." Not just family members who aren't "saved," but the "lost" in abstract. I know families who fear for their members and hope they see them in heaven one day. But heaven will not be with out mourning, and sadness will not be absent there, that is my guess at least.

    Nobody likes the doctrine of hell, but people do like justice. That is why I hope for a final judgment and hell. I don't want people who sell children into sexual slavery to go unpunished and I don't want the victims to go unrewarded.

    As for your second question, I think there will be plenty to do. I can't even imaging running out of things to read, let alone stuff to do. I can picture myself perusing the shelves of the Alexandrian Library. Or investigating String Theory to see if it is a good hypothesis. Perhaps I could be involved in the building of the transatlantic subway. Or I could be a barista in Portland for 5 years. I could back pack across Europe. I would have time to introspect and learn more about myself. I would love to get to know anyone I could find. Or talk with famous scholars about why they thought the way they did. Maybe I will get to walk on another planet in this heaven of the future.

    There. I have responded to useless speculation in kind. I think you should stick with your regular thought provoking posts.

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  2. Just to clear up any possible confusion, Leah isn't responsible for this post; I wrote it (and a few others this past week) as a guest while she was busy with finals.

    My point is, that mainstream Christians who claim that their religion makes them happy and gives them peace must not be thinking about the logical implications of their beliefs or are in denial about the cause of all the tears they shed for their "lost" loved ones. This sadness stems directly from the religion they claim makes them so happy, and I was merely trying to get them to think about that. I'm just following the concepts of heaven, hell, and eternal life through to their logical conclusions.

    I don't consider hell to be justice. Nobody deserves that. Do you really and truly hope that hell exists? Will you be happy in heaven knowing that the people in hell will continue to be tortured forever and ever, long after they've learned their lesson? That's not justice, but rather unmerciful and never-ending vengeance of the most sadistic kind.

    And with a finite number of things to do and an infinite amount of time to live, you will eventually do everything there is to do and still have an infinite amount of time left over. Granted it will take a very, VERY long time (longer than we can humanly conceive, I'm sure), but the fact remains that afterward you are still left with an infinity of boredom and stagnant existence.

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  3. While there are many crimes that some people would mind seeing endless punishment for, there are others sins that most people I know would be less inclined to want to see some one endlessly punished for.

    The simple sin of disbelief is an example, or perhaps the sin of homosexuality. I don’t think anyone reading this blog would find it a just thing to punish some one for eternity for these so called sins. Yet the god of many religions would do just that.

    I can’t imagine myself being happy if some one I knew was in hell for a simple crime such as disbelief. We sould wonder if a god who punishes people in such a way is any more moral or just then the people the god would demand worship him.

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  4. I get the logical dilemmas. The second question is speculative because it implies that the infinite doesn't exist. If modern science has shown us anything it is that there is always more to find. If string theory has any merit it has shown that we can continue to divide down. If there is a multiverse then we can keep going up. If the world sits on the back of a turtle and that turtle sits on the back of another turtle, then its turtles all the way down. Or we could go to application, we my not be able to investigate for ever but what about the application of our findings. Their maybe an infinite amount of applications. What about the introspection? After I have been a barista in Portland, wouldn't it serve me to do it again a thousand years later? Wouldn't I have forgotten things from my first stint? I could go on but the question is based on an assumption (not a bad one, mind you, but one still) and the context is unrealized imagination. It is silly apologetic on both sides of the house, and I regret participating in it.

    The first question is better, but your problem is that you are reading the text as literally as the fundamentalists do. What if it isn't a literal lake of fire? What if it is just imagery? There may be no torture. Again, all speculation.

    The other problem with this question is intent, why can't that which makes us happy and comforted, be that which makes us sad. My relationship with my wife does both. Should I give up on marriage? I love my work, but I hate aspects of it, does that mean I don't love my work? God being a person gladdens me and gives me cause to mourn, should I give up on god?

    Finally, the meat of the question and that being the only thing worth talking about are justice and morality. I think justice is more interesting because you offer none. We could run around the cul-de-sac of morality but it will boil down to you saying something isn't moral and me saying it is and you not having a basis for your assumption and you not agreeing with mine.

    In light of this we will stick with justice. You offer none. Kids raped by men who feed the pockets of brutal slave traders will live in that existence until they die poor and victimized. Those who exploit them will win out. Assuming no intervention from law enforcement, no justice will be given and no redemption given. Everyone will die and the events that transpired were of no significances. The sexually exploited kid remains anonymous. I hope for a day that that scenario isn't the case.

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  5. I have been told that I was spouting off for using much much much less sarcasm than what is found in this post. If the moderators are going to call out the commenters for spouting off then maybe some restraint should be used by the moderators as well.

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  6. @Patrik, the "spouting off" chastisement was not for sarcasm. It was for a gross misconstruing of what I had said.

    @Mike, a desire for justice was part of why I wanted to believe in God for quite a while. Who doesn't want to believe all the horrific atrocities of our world will one day be set right? But wishing does not make it so. There is no god watching out for us. It's up to us. Julia Sweeney says of a worldview with no God, "The sad things do seem a whole lot sadder." Yeah, it's harsh, but the sooner we face up to it the better off we'll be. We have to solve our own problems and look out for our fellow human beings, as well as the plants and animals that share our planet. And while it might be nice if there were a benevolent god, I'll take no god over Yahweh any day.

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  7. Mike, I've gotta say, I'm a little bit puzzled by your beliefs. You are the first and only Christian I've talked to who doesn't consider heaven—or at least some kind of afterlife—an absolute given. You must be doing some VERY creative interpretation of the bible. I thought the whole point of Christianity was that Jesus conquered death, and if you believe in him and accept his sacrifice then you don't have to die either (as the bible states explicitly). That's really the main unique thing Christianity has going for it, and if you don't believe at least that much, then really, what's the point of following Christianity?

    Every Christian I've ever asked cites salvation and the afterlife as the principle source of the peace and happiness they derive from their religion, and they follow Jesus because they believe he is the one and only way to heaven and eternal life. I think a big reason many Christians are unwilling or unable to honestly consider that their beliefs might be false is because they are so emotionally attached to the idea of heaven and eternal life. If I can do anything to lessen that attachment, I'd consider it well worth doing.

    That's why I'm taking the trouble to point out that heaven and eternal life are not blessings, but horrible curses. As long as human beings have empathy for the suffering of other human beings (which will be always, I hope), heaven and hell—as described in the bible—cannot logically co-exist. Even if hell isn't a literal lake of fire, it's still very clear that hell is a place of suffering intense enough that it's compared to fire, and it's still a place that's separate from heaven. So your loved ones are suffering somehow (be it emotionally, or physically, or whatever) and you cannot be with them. You cannot see them, you cannot comfort them in their suffering, and this knowledge will haunt you every day of your eternal existence.

    Yes, my tone was sarcastic (perhaps that was a mistake), but the points I brought up are completely serious, and shouldn't be dismissed so easily as "useless speculation." Faith in heaven is nothing but false security (in more ways than one), and I find it tragic that people sacrifice so much of their life for it and shed so many needless tears over it. So while you may find this discussion frivolous and irrelevant because you're apparently the one Christian who doesn't believe in an afterlife, I believe it is of great importance for mainstream Christians to consider these ideas.

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  8. @Leah - So where are you on the whole 'religion is poison and needs to be eradicated' thing? Is your stance the same? Has it changed?

    You say, "There is no God" as if you are certain. Do you have conclusive evidence that is physical and based on observation to back up that statement? Is there logic available to support all the mysteries of the universe that would lend credibility to your statement (Do you have physical and observable evidence that explains the origins of the universe and life. A reply that God is highly unlikely and even more complicated than the universe is and therefore not probable is not physical and verifiable evidence)? If the answer is no, then is that statement tempered with an appropriate amount of doubt? Because if you do not have the logic or evidence to support your statement and it is not tempered by an appropriate amount of doubt (in which case the phrase should be something like "in my opinion and from what I can tell there is no God") than it is possible that your statement falls dangerously close to fitting in the same category as faith, which you have labeled as dangerous. If you are not absolutely certain then your statment is no different than one who claims that there is a God and bases their life on that claim.

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  9. You need to remember that only positive assertions require proof. The position that God does not exist is logical, because God has not been proven to exist. In all your comments you have not once given any verifiable evidence of a god or creator. Therefore the default position of something not existing, or being false, is the correct one.

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  10. Sigh... I thought we'd been through this already.

    Patrik, every place you use the word God in the above paragraph, replace it with Flying Spaghetti Monster and ask yourself the same questions (I'm assuming you feel pretty certain there is no Flying Spaghetti Monster).

    Like I've said before, it's not possible to prove the non-existence of something. But just because something COULD exist doesn't doesn't give us an automatic license to assume it DOES exist. As Ray said, non-existence should be the default assumption until proven otherwise.

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  11. @ Ray - do you apply this same logic to your favored theory on where all the matter in the universe came from? The multi-verse theory is asserting that something exists, and unless there is verifiable evidence based on observation then the default position should be that is does not. Unless science has developed a method of peering outside if our universe then it will always be just theory. Also, let's apply another argument you have used before. The 'who created the creator' argument. If the matter in our universe came from a multi-verse then where did all the matter in the, what has to be an even more complex, multi-verse come from. You just move the problem back a step. And any explanation that is infinitely more complex is even more unlikely and therefore even less likely to exist.

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  12. Another big sigh...

    Ray's said repeatedly that he doesn't know how the universe started and that God is a possible but unlikely explanation; you must have "forgotten." It doesn't really sound like he's "asserting"—meaning "to state a fact or belief confidently or forcefully"—anything either way (sorry if I'm putting words in your mouth, Ray).

    Every theory on how the universe started (including God) is just a GUESS, and we may never know the answer for sure. It seems you're the only one around here who is claiming to know the FACTS about how it all started (unless you're willing to admit that God is just a guess).

    Also there's nothing to say that other universes (if they exist) have to be any more or less complex than our own. Our universe could just be another universe that emerged from the other side of a black hole; nothing overly complex about that. Not compared to a causeless, un-created, all-seeing, all-knowing consciousness capable of everything whose origins don't have to be explained because he's "magically" been there all the time. The concept of God doesn't explain anything, but rather dodges the responsibility of actual explanation by asserting it all happened by magical means that can't be explained. God sounds like he was invented by someone with a 5-year-old's understanding of the universe (or maybe a bronze-age understanding of the universe).

    Something that strikes me as really funny about you Patrik, is that you realize the claims of other religions like Mormonism are completely silly, but you don't realize your own religion isn't really any better (to be fair, I had the exact same problem when I was religious). Try to look at the claims of your religion as though someone is explaining them to you for the first time. Would you really find them any more plausible than Mormonism?

    Wasn't this discussion thread originally about the afterlife?

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  13. If there were no bible or no books with human interpretations of God, God would still be real, to me. All the arguments against God are derived from personal experiences with either books or men. I am amazed and intrigued at all the intelligent arguments against God. Leah, you seem a wise soul with all you've lived. But a childlike acceptance of God is a fruitful thing. If you don't string along all the human baggage there is greatness in God. And as for heaven, how can we know whether there are 'finite things' to do there?

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  14. Heaven is such a bizarre concept, I can't understand how people will believe in it, let alone want to go there. In a word, "Eternity". That is a long time and then some, without a physical body and knowing that loved ones are burning in the fires of hell. I have taken this arguement to theists but they need to believe in eternal salvation so much, that they deflect my comments.

    The best I've had is that god gives peple drugs so that they don't notice that loved ones are missing, presumed in hell.

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  15. Maybe theists do not have all the answers about heaven, however to post a statement such as "without a physical body" just goes to show that there is a general lack of understanding of even what IS known about heaven. So, what is the point of debating a topic when one does not even make an attempt to understand what is known about heaven from actually reading what the Bible has to say about it first?

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  16. I like how you take one person's minor misunderstanding and call it a "general" lack of understanding.

    Physical body or no, I still don't see how it makes the knowledge of loved ones (or anyone) in hell any more bearable.

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  17. My comment was not based on one post by one person. In my experience I have seen on numerous occasions a lack of understanding with regards to theological concepts. I have even seen it in best selling books written by rather outspoken atheists.

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  18. Which version of heaven are we talking about?

    Catholicism, Protestantism, Mormonism, Hinduism, etc. all have different definitions. Some believe in a corporeal realm. Some believe it is a physical realm, and some believe it is actually located on Earth after God comes to rule.

    There's more theologies than one. Being read up on all of them is a daunting task, to say the least.

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  19. I think it is safe to say that the author of this post had the theistic concept of heaven in mind given the specific questions about heaven and hell. This then eliminates eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, etc. from the debate since they do not profess a believe in heaven and hell but rather some form of Nirvana.

    I know in Mormonism the ultimate goal is to become a god, but I do not know if that god status comes in the form of a physical being or not. And I don't know what that means for those who only obtain the second or third heaven. Is the outer darkness a physical place? Well, now that I think about it doesn't Heavenly Father reside on or near the planet Kolob? Does this then mean that Heavenly Father is a physical being? (Leah, Mike..some help on this)

    On the other hand, Catholicism and Protestantism both place their hope in the physical resurrection of the body as demonstrated by Jesus. The core of Christianity (for both catholics and protestants) centers around the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of the physical resurrection of mankind as well.

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  20. Another big sigh...

    Ray's said repeatedly that he doesn't know how the universe started and that God is a possible but unlikely explanation; you must have "forgotten." It doesn't really sound like he's "asserting"—meaning "to state a fact or belief confidently or forcefully"—anything either way (sorry if I'm putting words in your mouth, Ray).

    Every theory on how the universe started (including God) is just a GUESS, and we may never know the answer for sure. It seems you're the only one around here who is claiming to know the FACTS about how it all started (unless you're willing to admit that God is just a guess).

    Also there's nothing to say that other universes (if they exist) have to be any more or less complex than our own. Our universe could just be another universe that emerged from the other side of a black hole; nothing overly complex about that. Not compared to a causeless, un-created, all-seeing, all-knowing consciousness capable of everything whose origins don't have to be explained because he's "magically" been there all the time. The concept of God doesn't explain anything, but rather dodges the responsibility of actual explanation by asserting it all happened by magical means that can't be explained. God sounds like he was invented by someone with a 5-year-old's understanding of the universe (or maybe a bronze-age understanding of the universe).

    Something that strikes me as really funny about you Patrik, is that you realize the claims of other religions like Mormonism are completely silly, but you don't realize your own religion isn't really any better (to be fair, I had the exact same problem when I was religious). Try to look at the claims of your religion as though someone is explaining them to you for the first time. Would you really find them any more plausible than Mormonism?

    Wasn't this discussion thread originally about the afterlife?

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  21. This is not one of your better posts. But I will respond anyway.

    Heaven is not a major part of my theology. I still think that when you die, you die. No body escapes death, not even Jesus. From my reading of the bible the world is waiting on a rebirth and the people are waiting for a resurrection. I hope for a resurrection and a final judgment but am not certain of their future manifestation. They are contingent on God's action in the future but I have hope because he promised he would act.

    In light of my uncertainty, I hope for heaven but it wouldn't effect my faith or walk with God if heaven wasn't in the "cards" for me.

    Having said all that I will comment on your flippant questions.

    I have talked to Christians who have many times in their life wept for the "lost." Not just family members who aren't "saved," but the "lost" in abstract. I know families who fear for their members and hope they see them in heaven one day. But heaven will not be with out mourning, and sadness will not be absent there, that is my guess at least.

    Nobody likes the doctrine of hell, but people do like justice. That is why I hope for a final judgment and hell. I don't want people who sell children into sexual slavery to go unpunished and I don't want the victims to go unrewarded.

    As for your second question, I think there will be plenty to do. I can't even imaging running out of things to read, let alone stuff to do. I can picture myself perusing the shelves of the Alexandrian Library. Or investigating String Theory to see if it is a good hypothesis. Perhaps I could be involved in the building of the transatlantic subway. Or I could be a barista in Portland for 5 years. I could back pack across Europe. I would have time to introspect and learn more about myself. I would love to get to know anyone I could find. Or talk with famous scholars about why they thought the way they did. Maybe I will get to walk on another planet in this heaven of the future.

    There. I have responded to useless speculation in kind. I think you should stick with your regular thought provoking posts.

    ReplyDelete

Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism