[The recently usual warning: there follows a weekend rant, non-medical, and, in this case, against some manifestations of religion. Coming upon the included literary quote is what re-occasioned the thought.]
Among the things that most disturb me about the way some Christians view their god is the concept of eternal punishment. That a "just" (or any other adjectival attribute considered worship-worthy) god would consign, for all of forever, some people (his creations!) to such a fate is bad enough. That it could be for as meager a failing as rejecting him as one's savior despite living an otherwise exemplary life, is even worse. But worst of all is the absolute delight with which some people of that flavor of faith (including the ungrammatical zealot who made the above "artwork") contemplate the levying of their god's retribution on all those with whom they disagree. Sticking someone in the celestial slammer for an eon or two isn't enough for these lovers of their neighbors. It's forever, for infinity, for more time than anyone can possibly imagine. This, from a loving god, the arbiter of morality, the one single guide to right and wrong, without whom -- say the fantastically faithful -- non-believers surely wallow in an amoral morass.
So, to give the slightest inkling of what this really means; to provide a tiny basis on which to judge this judging god and those who judge him favorably; to give some context to the magnitude of the monstrosity in which these people love to believe, I present (soon, I promise) the words of James Joyce, in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," describing eternity. When reading it, consider whether eternal punishment, with no second chance, meted after but the briefest of sojourns on this planet (far less, in cosmic time, than the single vibration of an electron), no matter the grievance, bespeaks a just god (forget "loving!"); think about whether believing in this outcome makes one a party to malignancy. And my point, if it needs to be stated, is NOT that you better watch out and fall in line with God; it's that THIS view of god is one of someone whose justice is so horrible that the very acceptance of it makes one unworthy, whether the concept be true or not. Such punishment demands outrage from all thinking people. Silence is immorality. Think about it!
To me, this doctrine of eternal punishment is the worst kind of biblical literalism; even worse than the pensive pretzelling required to claim the earth is six thousand years old. To believe in it and not to call god out on it, not to march into the streets and shout on every corner at the injustice, is to be complicit in egregious behavior. Neither to reject the teaching nor to speak against it is far worse than keeping silent about Abu Ghraib, or slavery, or child abuse, or genocide. What does it say about those who accept it; or worse, who actually savor contemplating it? More tellingly: how, if it were actually true, could any decent person justify lounging around heaven knowing what was going on down below? In what kind of monster could the conscience lie at peace, or consider itself deserving the favor of such inequity, such iniquity? The smugness, the self-regard, the complicity seems so, oh I don't know, unChristian. Put down your damn harp, circulate petititons!
So here's Mr. Joyce, on how long is eternity in hell:
"For ever! For all eternity! Not for a year or for an age but for ever. Try to imagine the awful meaning of this. You have often seen the sand on the seashore. How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those tiny little grains go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad, extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness; and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on animals, atoms in the vast expanse of the air: and imagine that at the end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages before it had carried away all? Yet at the end of that immense stretch of time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended. At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been all carried away, and if the bird came again and carried it all away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals, at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not one single instant of eternity could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time the mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would scarcely have begun." [Wow! Whole comprehensible sentences in a row!! By James fricking Joyce!!!]
That's how long the Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi (and maybe, for her doubts, Mother Teresa) will be in hell, according to the self-righteous. And only half as long as I will, despite having paid all my taxes and made rounds three or four times a day and having lain awake at night worrying about my patients, taking a shower and brushing my teeth when I got up. Flossing. And, lately, feeding a stray cat. To anyone who believes that's justice and who delights in it: you should be ashamed of yourself. And so should God.
This might be my last post for a while (other than the promised issue of SurgeXperiences), and although I'd hate to end on a rant, I figured I should let you know where I might be... eventually.