Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hell No!!

[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.


Anonymous said...

I'm not religious but do spent a substantial amount of time reflecting the infinite when I'm in a more contemplative mood. One thing that has always struck me about organised religions (Christian or otherwise) is that they reek of petty humanity. Something that was truly divinely inspired would feel...cleaner somehow, I think. As it stands, religious texts and the malignant beliefs of fundamentalists smack of fear, shame, and deceit, all aimed at one goal: control. Having been raised in a country where religion is largely personal and mega-churches were unknown, my first meetings with fundamentalist hate was unpleasant, to say the least. Personally, if there truly is some sort of cosmic judgement at the end of my life, I'll be proud to answer for my choices. And if I'm condemned for living a good life without belief, while a closet-alcoholic filled with venom is rewarded simply for believing, then I wouldn't worship such a god anyway.

Ultimately, my logic is this: if I was created by a omnipotent, omniscient being, then he deliberately created my rational, highly analytical mind, and furthermore knows precisely what I'd need to see/hear/experience in order to come to a point of belief. He'd also know that blind faith would be impossible for an individual such as myself. Therefore, since I don't currently believe, either God isn't ready for me to believe (not having guided me to the proper experiences), or God doesn't exist. Either way, I think I'm set.

Anonymous said...

Gah! Apologies for spelling/grammar. Preview is my friend. :P

Dr. Rob said...

Let me give this a stab from a Christian's perspective. I am not saying this to convince anybody, but simply to explain the Christian position.

First, I agree 100% that anyone who has any sense of smugness about others going to Hell is acting anything but Christ-like. They would seem to me to be more like the Pharisees that Christ attacked than like Christ.

Second, Hell is a very difficult thing for me to understand or accept. I would be delighted if was not true. It is hard for me to imagine Hell - I don't like to even try. But to reject it is to reject orthodox Christianity and much of the Bible.

The reason the idea of Hell is held is that it is talked about multiple times in the New Testament. The reason it is held is that the concept of Christ as a savior depends on there being something to save people from.

The orthodox Christian teaching is that mankind is alienated from God through sin, and God can't just ignore sin. God, being perfect, can't abide rebellion against him. People who don't want to submit to him as God are left to live life without God - which is what Hell is.

Christ came to be punished in the place of mankind. He took the rejection and wrath of God on himself. This allowed God to be just (by not just ignoring sin) and merciful at the same time.

Without Hell, there really is no need for Christ. If Christ's sacrifice is meaningless, then it is meaningless to be a Christian. You might as well be a "good atheist."

That is the orthodox view. Obviously there are hard things to accept, but I do think it is internally consistent, and that a rejection of the divinity of Christ or the need for a savior pretty much reduces Christianity as a moral code (as opposed to a means of meeting God).

I don't blame anyone for abhorring the idea of Hell. If you don't believe that man is in rebellion and is unacceptable by God, then Hell just seems like a cruel idea.

I hope that gives some explanation as to how the idea of Hell came about.

Sid Schwab said...

Rob: I appreciate your taking the time to write your comment. Believe it or not, I have mixed feelings about these rants of mine, because it sets me against people I respect. Nor do I really intend to argue or (God forbid!) to convince anyone out of their beliefs. I will say this: your last sentence, in a way, is significant. "How the idea of hell came about..." It's of a piece with the larger idea. It "came about." It's all a story to deal with the existential dilemma that derives from knowledge of mortality. People make up stories and then cleave to them because it eases a certain angst. Fair enough. But the idea of hell and eternal punishment is not consistent with a god who is simultaneously all powerful, all knowing, and loving. He made us. He made us imperfect. He made sin, and he made punishment for sin. If all of that's true, it's not a guy to whom I choose to give fealty. He knows exactly what's happening, and made it so, deliberately consigning his children to hell for ever and ever. All powerful and perfect, he could have done otherwise. The rational conclusion is that the whole idea is bogus, and not just the idea of hell. But I recognize belief isn't about rational conclusions; it's to provide answers to the unanswerable and as such is irrational by definition. So I say my piece but don't expect to change minds.

Dr. Rob said...

Yep. That's a huge problem with God. But for me to reduce God to something I understand is to make him not God. I just think that other belief systems are wrought with bigger problems when taken to their logical end.

I use words like "came about" and "idea" so as not to sound too fundamentalist. Do I think this idea was created by people and not the Truth? I wouldn't be a Christian if I did.

I respect you greatly. I would not respond if I did not. I just feel that it is worthwhile to give the "loyal opposition" view.

xxnemesis2010 said...

Wait, Dr. Schwab, what do you mean by "last post in a while"? Are you discontinueing blogging?!

Anonymous said...

My question is why did God make it so easy to believe in him early on, with burning bushes, parting the sea, walking on water etc. But in the modern day and age he sees fit to really test peoples faith. And don't give me the crap about miracles are everywhere, if God wanted to make his presence known like he used to, everyone would believe, and there would be no more debate.

Rita - Supporting Safer Healthcare said...

Ecclesiastes 9:5 says "For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything..."

Hmm, seems like food for thought to me.

Unknown said...

Seems like a statement of the blindingly obvious to me.

Anonymous said...

Do you know for a fact that the artist is Italian? And...why the ethnic slur?

Sid Schwab said...

anonymous: I'm sorry. My understanding of the term was more generic than that. I changed it.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Schwab,
Being as close to death as I once was, I can say that the accepted belief isn't what is actually there. One must live with great courage (and love), then everything is cool. People do that every day.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sid,
Going to add on with Rob here.
Not trying to change anyone's mind, or force my opinions onto anyone. Just explaining my understanding.

God did not create us as imperfect, with sins.

He did allow it however. Satan was created, and turned against God. How literal you want to take the garden of eden is up to each person, but the beginning of tempation did start with the first created beings.

They WERE created with perfection ...and part of that perfection was with a choice to serve, worship and choose to obey or not.

When they chose to not obey, then imperfection entered mankind. Disobedience separates from God. Then as Rob said, Christ accepted the punishment for that disobedience so the sepration could be gapped.

God *could* override that choice if he wanted. He really could. But then he would have to remove our free will to worship him or not.
He would have to remove our choice to follow him or not.

Then everyone would be just little robots adoring him without any knowlege of anything different ... and you would not have the choice to decide if you wanted to believe in Him or not. He is not a God who wants to be worshipped just because he said "obey me cause I said so" But rather "obey me because you choose to"

Anyway Sid, that's *my* understanding, my belief. And because I believe that God gave us each free will, I believe in your right, choice and freedom to not agree.


SeaSpray said...

As Usual...another thought provoking post and interesting comments.

Dr S. -I wrote a l-o-o-o-n-g. comment but am putting it back in word for now. Actually I accidentally lost a third of it when I went to look something up. Better if I look with fresh eyes anyway.

Anonymous said...

When I was a little girl in Catholic school in the 50's, we went door to door in our neighborhood collecting money for "pagen babies" in non Christian countries. The money went for food and clothing, but with the intent to convert them. We were told that if these babies died before conversion they went to a place called limbo, just outside of heaven. But they would never see God.

I don't think this conclusion is being taught in Catholic schools today, but I do wonder about all the Catholic people who died without confessing the sin of eating meat on a Friday. In those days that was a mortal sin. Meanwhile that rule has been lifted. So are those souls still in hell?

Sid Schwab said...

emily: yeah, I find that interesting. A group of scholars, or whatever they are, get together and decide limbo is no longer active. Says a lot about the whole thing. Well, of course I'm sure their epiphany was divinely inspired. So was Mohammed's, Jos. Smith's, and David Koresh's.

SeaSpray said...

Dr Schwab...this is so interesting to ponder. I do appreciate your frustration and disdain for the whole thing. I really do understand.

I am having difficulty in trying to hone it down to the hell factor because I think some other background should be given for the complete picture.

I personally find theology to be one of the deepest topics we can ponder. It IS inexhaustible. Jesus said the salvation message should be so simple that even a little child should be able to understand.

So based on his words...the one who matters, the son of God himself...said the message is simple.

I know many of you don't believe there is a God never mind a son of God so please know that I am describing things from my perspective as a Christian as I go on with this. Dr Schwab has asked good questions, as have commenters.

It is a fact that Jesus existed.

The debate is whether or not he is the son of God, was born of a virgin, died and spent 3 days in hell (does hell exist?)and rose again, spent time on earth in his transformed resurrected body and days later ascended upward into heaven with the promise that he would return again. If you do believe that then it is logical that you would believe there is a hell or why else would Jesus have warned so much about it? Yet there are Christians who don't believe in hell. If a nonbeliever doesn't believe in hell...I understand but don't understand the inconsistency among believers. But I digress.

At the very least people thought he was a good teacher and a good man. he was certainly influential although he was never here for the accolades of the world but his mission was to teach people to love one another (doesn't sound like the lunatic fringe terrorist)understand their heavenly Father better and point the way to eternal salvation.

He sacrificed HIS LIFE so that people wouldn't end up there. Last night I wrote an explanation as to why there is even a hell in the first place.

Dr S...I also have wondered why can't he make himself more obvious so people could ARE real! I am lining myself up with the good guy!

Why is it so hard for some people to understand? Why did he create us? You ask valid questions.

I will come back with that later. I have to run some errands now.

I know you are discussing hell but I want to point out that it's man made rules that cloud the picture. Obviously certain ones ARE important but some church tradition is extraneous in my opinion. Then again sociologically, traditions are important and solidify our "raison d'etre" over time...keeping us hooked into and unified with what is important. The problem is that along with that, other things get introduced that cloud what is most important.

I am not Catholic and so I can not fairly address their traditions.

Speaking of limbo, back in the 90s, a neighbor of ours who IS a devout catholic told me she was concerned because she didn't understand why the church was going to be doing away with limbo. She said if a baby isn't baptized it goes into limbo. Well that is pretty significant to suddenly do away with it. What about the babies past and present? As a protestant, we believe they go instantly to heaven before the age of accountability. (I know DR S...right there that accountability thing again -that ties in to hell.)

I can see where man made inconsistencies about the faith or seriously misguided acts done in the name of God (that he has NO part of) would be a deterrent to believing in the existence of God and completely turn them off. But as with anything need to pursue the truth.

Dr S. It is good to question things that don't seem right. God forbid we should be like lemmings erroneously following everyone off the cliff just because we are told to. God gave us brains to discern these things.

But faith is also a gift from God and when a person is seriously willing to surrender their will and sincerely ask God to show them, to make himself known...I do believe he will. A doctor I know was telling me how he had been an athiest for most of his his adult life. He had been having discussions with a Christian colleague who at one point gave him the book Mere Christianity written by C.S. Lewis. After reading the book...he became a Christian.

C.S.Lewis was an Oxford professor who had lost his faith and became an atheist. His friend J.R.R. Tolkien(Lord of the Rings)was influential in helping him regain his faith. (interesting reading about their friend ship and one of their arguments led to Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" and Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings".

I mention Lewis because he was a scholarly man who lost his faith because of how he came to view life and then as an educated man and after much heated debate...fully embraced Christianity and subsequently authored many excellent books on the faith including his own biography.

I never saw that about Mother Theresa. Thought provoking indeed. Amazingly...her faith that she felt she had dried up is what kept her going. She acted as if even though circumstances seemed to be different. Pretty powerful stuff. I don't know why some people that are trying to honor God go through the "dark night of the soul" but would be an interesting thing to read up on. Thanks for sharing that.

Anonymous said...

What a brave post! I'm not going to go there for the most part except to note that all religions are human constructs, and they provided frameworks for everything from public health to commerce to ship-building. They all have some degree of utility, and they provide framework for communal mores.

But what seems to have been left out of much of modern day discussions about religion are the ideas of the virtues, which include humility, generosity, love (agape - action), tolerance and kindness. There are several different classifications and cultural bases for virtues. I'm mentally referring to Greek classical virtues as the reference point for this comment.

The virtues cross almost all civilizations, and to the best of my paucity of knowledge, they are congruent with the social mores of most major western and eastern religions.

The only way we will move forward is to be able to devise some sort of globally accepted moral structure which leads to the optimal actualization of all people.

It seems to me that in your example, Dr. Schwab, aspects of Christianity as practiced by some denominations, act to reduce people, to diminish them and to make then less, instead of more.

To practice true humility, one would have to strive to live as if there is no god at all, and that serving the greater need and acting to enable others to be free would in and of itself, exhibit agape.

Therein lies the paradox.

For me, it is enough to marvel at what we can observe, at the great works others have given us, and at the ability of me to be able to serve others, no matter how insignificant or menial, in the most anonymous way possible. There is more than enough mystery in the universe to waste time on arguing and warring over "Whose God", "Which God", and "My way or hell". Those don't meet the criteria for the significance and applicability standards.

Tolerate ambiguity, do the best you can and help others without judging. Virtue and religion reconciled.

When some one's in distress or dying, they want someone to stay with them, to comfort them and to be present. No one yet has dismissed me when I was that person. No one even asked what religion I was (with one notable exception - an Episcopal nun who was recovering from bypass grafting and was suffering from some memory loss (pump head) kept asking me if I was RC or AC. I didn't know what that meant and asked her. She explained Roman Catholic or Anglican Church. I replied,"neither". Her comeback: "It doesn't matter, dear. I know you're a Christian."

Well, no she didn't, but it was the action she was referring to.

As my Jewish uncle used to say, "Jesus was a smart teacher and used parables as effective teaching aids."

Now, can we all just get on with it?

webhill said...

Well... gosh. Here I am finding this great "new" blog and enjoying the heck out of it, and now the author suggests he's quitting. That's the third strike for me on this crummy Monday. I officially give up hope for this day's redemption.

I hope you are having a happy Pesach. There were 7 young children at the seder we attended the first night (my mom's house) and 7 at the second (my mother-in-law's). My kids had a great time with their cousins and we all reaped the benefit of their presence which convinced the leaders of both events to engage in what we like to call a "speed seder." Because seriously, if He had given unto us only two or three pages instead of too-many-to-count, dayenu.

Sid Schwab said...

seaspray: thoughtful, as always. There is some circularity in your reasoning, I'd say. And as I've said before, religion starts with answers and sorts through and ignores facts as necessary to maintain the answers; whereas realists/scientists/agnostics start with questions and go where the facts lead.

annie: yes. The mysteries of our lives and the world and the universe ought to be enough to inspire us and show us our common humanity, without the need for artificial constructs that obstruct the journey and insert barriers to understanding.

webhill: it's not necessarily the end of the blog. Just another lacuna of inspiration. As to the Seder: the best thing about it for me is the Haggadahs that still have my grandfather's notes: who will read what, which pages to skip (thankfully, many.) And predicting whether the matzo balls will float or sink, depending on who made them.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Sid. If we end up in Hell together, I have a plan to organized the unsaved and strike. We will not display anguish to the demons who feed on it, and our demands will be to be taken to God so we can address our complaint.

It is a stupid and cruel setup. The sin was to accept curiosity, to eat of the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

We will demand a do-over, one that makes sense intellectually. No Hell.

As to free will and choice, it can hardly be considered a choice to worship if the alternative were Hell.

Jesus' existence is not a fact, btw.

Anonymous said...

Joseph Smith and David Koresh in the same sentence--ouch!

Joseph Smith's version of hell: seeing clearly all those moments when we could have chosen to live by love and we turned away from it instead, and still losing ourselves in the anguish of that rather than being willing to see the love still being offered us. He taught that in the hereafter, we keep learning and growing and progressing--everybody--just like here.

But there are definitely those who will start off way behind, because of the choices they made here. Hell is not *wanting* to get too close to God because it makes you feel too keenly the sting of all the times you chose to--Hitler jumps to mind here...

If we choose to live by trying to be the kindest and most caring person we can, be we atheist or Taoist or Mormon or you name it, then, later, in the presence of the absolute Love of the universe, we will be told our efforts did matter, even though we ourselves are far less loving and far more human than His love. His Son went through every one of our pains, so that whatever we go through, we might have where to turn to for solace. Someone who understands.

Our job, should we choose to accept it, is to likewise spread compassion and understanding. That is heaven.

And if you're going to hell, Sid, I'm coming with you because I want to be around good, caring people like you.

Sid Schwab said...

Alison: my mention of those two was in the context of differing beliefs, each based on a claim of a direct channel to god, or an angel, or whatever. In other words, the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Koran, you name 'em, are all believed by their followers to be the direct word of god, to the exclusion of the other, and no matter how they differ. To me it's a sign that none has a greater claim than the other, that all are, fundamentally, constructs of humans who for whatever reason (in the case of some, I'd say schizophrenia) believe they heard something and wrote it down. And those who follow them have chosen to believe various complex and unprovable and contradictory scenarios, each with the fervor of the other no matter the differences; such as hell, heaven, levels of hell, purgatory, limbo, eternal this or that, virgins, etc etc. I think it's okay to the extent that it provides comfort. But to the extent that it sets one upon the other, whether country upon country or school board upon student, it's a bad bad thing. Particularly because from the outside, it's clear it's all made up. Cynically, as in the case of L. Ron Hubbard, or crazily, as in the case of... well, you know. Really, it can be no other way, given the billions of people with diametrical but equally held beliefs. Someone commented here with a great quote. I don't remember from whom: "When you come to understand why you reject my beliefs, then you'll also understand why I reject yours." I think it's pretty profound, and applies pretty much to all of us.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sid,

I read with interest a post you did last year regarding "surgical hints" and a comment a couple of weeks ago regarding practicing suturing. Would love to hear if you have any hints for practicing basic skills (ie. learning percussion by placing a five cent piece under a textbook etc). Unfortunately with most of our medical training being done by non clinicians, we don't always get the tricks of the trade passed down anymore!

Sid Schwab said...

anonymous: Off subject much? It's okay, I understand. I did write this, which is about physical diagnosis, although it gives no particulars. There are several books which have more than I can say. One small pearl, which isn't a way to learn, but a specific finding, is point tenderness in appendicitis. More than any other sign, tenderness elicited with a single finger (doesn't have to be brutal) in the RLQ and much less not far away is highly confirmatory, assuming the rest of the picture is consistent. To me it eliminates the need for CT, etc. But probably not to lawyers.

Bardiac said...

I was at a Buddhist Temple the other day, a World Cultural Heritage site, and donated for a tile (for preservation efforts), and the paper they gave me says I'm promised eternal happiness.

So I'm good to go.

(It's no more logical than Christianity, and a lot more fun to visit!)

Sid Schwab said...

bardiac: you should look on the other side. Is there a cancellation clause? If not, you really ARE good to go!

Justine Johnston Hemmestad said...

Dr. Schwab,
Please forgive me because my comment is off topic, but I wanted to thank you again for helping me with my assignment - I got an A, thanks to your wonderful insights! I wanted you to know how much I appreciated your help!

Sid Schwab said...

justine: you're welcome! I was happy to shoot off my mouth.

Anonymous said...

Your attack on the Creator of that graphic is what we in the old days of Usenet and FIDOnet used to call a "grammar flame."


I used to drive Xians crazy by explaining that I saw no incompatibility in being a Born Again Evolutionist. Shucks, YHWH went to a whole lot of trouble to make the Universe appear to be 12 X 10^9 years old. If he went to all that trouble, from the residual heat of the big bang to the Burgess Shale and the weird way that a human embryo develops, who are we to ignore the Divine Plan. YHWH wants us to believe in evolution and the Big Bang and it's not for us to question his wisdom.

Alas, I found myself cut off from one Xian community after another.

Then I found a religion that says, when we find scientific truth that is inconsistent with our faith, we change our faith. Oh, how cool is that!?! And it's a great religion, helps you deal with death, even more than having a resurrected person in the family (yes, resurrected, not resuscitated, the attending told me the night it happened that the kid was definitely NOT resuscitated by any human agency and that he was no longer an atheist; but he's a bodhisattva, not a messiah).

I no longer try to convince such fundamentalists. It's just a waste of my karma.

Ros said...

What religious people fail to comprehend is that they too will go to hell, just (maybe) not their own. There being no means to determine the validity of a particular religion except the appeal to authority a rational party must evaluate them all as equally credible.

Therefore if you don't satisfy the inane ritual requirements of each and every human religion you're going to find yourself in an awful lot of hells. Nope, even the Unitarians don't skate, unless they've started praying to Mecca five times a day. I hear especially bad things about Aztec hell, but strangely human sacrifice isn't having a resurgence.

I guess my point is, fear compels only the smallest minds, and barely even them. Religions threaten it to be horrific and eternal because fear of an indeterminate far future event holds no sway on the moment to moment actions of a human being.

The real purpose of hell is not to scare the unbeliever, but to marginally reinforce the cliquish nature of the religion club. On the outside looking in yet another hell earns yet another indifferent shrug, but on the inside looking out it produces a furious sort of envy based schadenfreude; they are jealous of the freedoms of their irreligious neighbors, and so delight in the supposed afterlife payment to be exacted.

Plus, compared to the real professional merchants of institutional fear (See: North Korea), modern religions are gross amateurs. To paraphrase Nietschze the extent to which Xtians love our non-believer 'eternal souls' can best be measured by how few of us they burn.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Sid, You have the BEST blog around - just when I tap in for a messy, sticky surgery story I find this rant about hell! I was raised as a 1950's Catholic, which was a 100% guarantee for psychological problems as an adult. Just the experience of being sent into a dark confessional booth as a 7 year old in order to be forgiven of my multitude of sins was enough to create lasting fears. As a 15 year old, I told my very Catholic mother that I didn't believe in hell. She was horrified. That was probably a mean thing to do - ooops, there's another sin. But seriously, I have tried, and failed, as an adult to reconcile the concept of horrific punishments for human failings. The only conclusion I've reached is that all religious beliefs are hampered by limitations of the human intellect and imagination. I have not rejected a Supreme Being/Creator, just most human descriptions and elaborations regarding the Creator. I believe -just not what religious people tell me to believe. As far as an eternal hell? I don't worry about that anymore and it's certainly not up to me to decide that that's where another soul belongs. Now I have to go do some work. Thanks for your writings!

Sid Schwab said...

spynster: what a great opening line! (I liked the rest of it, too.)

ros: I particularly like your point that every religious person is going to another religion's hell.

Anonymous said...

Oh, what the hell, I'm back for more. While I was seeking spiritual direction (a few years ago due to my conflicted beliefs)a Carmelite contemplative priest told me "God is outside the bounds of time and space" - and is unaccessible to the soul until the time of death. At which time, if the soul is amendable and receptive it/he/she is privy to the Beatific Vision - incorporation into the very essence of the Godhead, which for some of us is the Trinity and for other, something else altogether. But it seems to me that if the essence of God has neither time nor space, then likewise, neither heaven nor hell can exist as we humans attempt to describe them. Fr. C also said that evil does not exist as a separate entity, but is simply the absence of good. Choosing not to do good creates an evil condition, but evil cannot exist alone. Therefore, I believe that hell is the absence of "heaven" - the inability to enter into the presence of God. And since there will be no time, then all existence will be experienced as an eternity. But religion is a tricky subject and people take comfort in some pretty bizarre beliefs, including cruelty masquerading as holiness. Inquisition? Crusades? Polygamists in Texas?

Anonymous said...

4 Pete's Sake. I keep screwing up the link to my blog. Maybe because I'm at work and shouldn't be doing this at all!

Sid Schwab said...

spynster: it's always been interesting to me how people know how these magical things work, down to the tiniest detail. In some cases, anyway. And, of course, there are others who see it entirely differently, equally detailed, equally certain. Within the same faith, not to mention, sometimes, within the same head.

I think I left a comment on your blog. It didn't show the usual statement when I hit the button. If not: I was there, and was amused. Sorry for your addiction.

Anonymous said...

C'mon Sid. Cool down or you're gonna blow a head gasket! Why waste your time worrying about what other people believe, and even worse, spend time trying to convert them to your side? How can anyone else's beliefs possibly impact your life? Who knows? Maybe everyone will be wrong in the end anyway. We won't know for sure until we're dead. Oh well...

Sid Schwab said...

Why worry? When witnessing the spectacle of presidential candidates being forced to speak of their faith? When the words of a candidate's preacher might impact an election? When churches are actively involved in politicking science out of schools? As long as people (particularly those with the most closed-minded and anti-scientific beliefs) keep trying to convert this country to a Christian nation that ignores facts to maintain beliefs, dumbing down our children and making us less able to compete in the world, I will worry. And whereas I have no illusions of converting anyone, I'd like to hope that people might come to realize their beliefs are for their own purposes, unsupportable as anything other than belief, and that such matters are best kept out of the public square. Pointing out the inherent contradictions, I'd like to think, might at least accomplish that much.

Andrew Tan, M.D. said...

Great post! As a devout athiest, I applaud you for having the guts to say what a lot of people don't like to hear.

I was never comfortable with the idea that all the people in the world who were never exposed to the Christian message and were never prosletyzed to, would somehow end up in hell. If somebody gives you all the information and you choose not to believe, that's one thing, but if you never even got asked the question, why should you be punished with all the rest?

Religion is really best just believed in or not. It's like modern movies, if you ask too many questions, the whole thing falls apart.

Anonymous said...

Your post is very interesting. I have recently converted to Mormonism from being a non-denominational Protestant Christian. I have to say Mormon beliefs put a bit of a new spin on the idea of hell, and I think they are for more easy to accept. First of all, only the really horrible people-- if any-- go to a true hell. Otherwise, people all have at least contentment. Some go to a place where they are much closer to God than others, but that's not unreasonable. If you are not close to God on Earth, you might not feel comfortable being close to Him in heaven, but He still wouldn't want you-- His lovely child to suffer in hell. He'd want you to live in contentment and happiness. The other thing that is different and good is that those who don't have the opportunity to receive Christ here on Earth can after they pass away-- that only seems fair, right? People who don't know about Christ but are good shouldn't go to hell, and for God to give such a grat sacrifice to His people as His Son's life-- why wouldn't He want all people to have every opportunity to receive that gift? I think God wants all His children to live in eternal peace, and I think we all can. :-)

Anonymous said...

Sorry - I just want to mention one thing about my post-- I hate that I said "horrible people" because I think there are very few if any. I think even people who do bad things usually have some problem that causes them to do such things. I don't mean to sound judging because I think God is the only one who can judge such a thing. I don't think people have a right to tell others they are going to hell-- it's just not right.

Sid Schwab said...

anonymous: thanks. What's interesting to me is belief is like a cafeteria: choose what you want. To me, that's telling. There are beliefs about such things as heaven/hell/god/virgins. And, no matter the beliefs, there is what IS. And whereas no one can say convincingly what IS, lots of people are sure nevertheless. And what one is sure about differs wildly from what another -- pretty much every other -- believes. There can only be one IS. I happen to believe that the IS is an ISN'T, but that's beside the point. The point is that it's clear, given the wild variation in beliefs on this planet, virtually everyone is wrong. The odds that any one set of beliefs (changeable, evidently) is the right one are far less than winning the lottery, where it's only a matter of one in a few million. And when most have obvious internal contradictions (thou shalt not kill but stone your son to death; three different creation myths in the Bible; etc, etc) it means that not only is one choosing belief like peas on a salad, one is swallowing, at least in part, some really silly stuff.

I didn't use to feel like this, as I've implied. It's that it's starting to drag our country down, demonstrably. And it promises only to get worse.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Schwab,

Here's the same argument you pose, on a different level. And I begin a parallel paraphrase, "Among the things that most disturb me about the way some americans view their court system is the concept of life in jail. That a "just" judge would consign, for an entire life, some people, citizens, to such a fate is bad enough. That it could be for as meager a failing as rejecting the law of the land one time, say rape, despite having lived an otherwise exemplary life, is even worse. But worst of all is the absolute delight with which some people, of the American persuasion, contemplate the levying of the justice systems retribution on all those who break the law. Sticking someone in solitary confinement for a week for doing something as puny as being a liar or theif, or a rapist, or murderer isnt enough for these "lovers of their neighbors." This, from a loving judge, the arbiter of morality, the single guide to right and wrong, without whom, say the fantastically patriotic, this country would be a disaster.

Now, Dr. as you read through this, it might sound rediculous and I'm sure you're huffing and puffing at what an idiot would write this. I have probably not read a fraction of the books that you have read, and my intellegence is far beneath yours...but The Bible says, "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom," and wisdom is what makes me turn the mirror back to you so you can consider your own argument. We are so certain to argue against a Holy God, because certainly a Holy God wouldn't send people, his own creations, to Hell...would He? Well as I pointed out through my paraphrase of your argument, if a judge didn't condemn people to prison we would be in outrage at how corrupt He or She was. God is Holy and Just and he must punish sin because of His nature. The problem we have, is that his definition of sin is anything less than his Holiness. Run through the Ten Commandments and see if you actually have lived an exemplary life, as you are so certain you have. Have you ever lied or bent the truth to your advantage? Have you ever taken anything that was not rightfully yours? Have you always honored your parents? Have you ever used the name of God, who gave you life and a brain, as a curse word? Have you ever lusted after a woman, or man? That's just 4 of the Ten and I gaurantee you that you have broken all of them. The place where you are desperately misguided is when you think that Christians are sticking their fingers at non believers and laughing, saying, "You're going to HEll and we're not!" The truth is, all are going to Hell if we get the punishment we deserve. The Judge has made the right decision and sin must be punished. That's where it get's amazing....Imagine you've been given the death penalty and a 100 million dollar bond. As they march you away to your prison cell, someone you don't even know says, "Wait, Dr. Schwab is my friend, I love him, and I've given up everything to pay his fine that he couldn't afford to pay himself." How would you react to such an offer? Would you complain that it's not fair that you're being sent away to prison and the death penalty, or would you fall at the feet of the one who saved you, and love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? That's the truth of's not about people being better than other people, it's not about control....It's about a loving God who poured out his wrath on his own son, so you may be set free from the sentence of his wrath upon you for your sins. I am in the exact same boat as you, Dr. If I die and face God on judgement day (The Bible says a man will die once and then be judged. The oldest medical statistic in the book is 10 out of 10 people die) he will use the 10 commandments to Judge me. I will be you will be. How shall we escape, if we reject such great a salvation as Jesus dying on the Cross, on our behalf, to pay our fine for us? Would we then have any authority to tell God that his ways were not Loving, or Kind? Fall on your knees today and receive this gift of freedom today. I love you, but God loves you way more and showed that to you in that while you are a sinful man (feeding stray cats doesn't count for much ;) God sent his son to take your punishment for you.

Sid Schwab said...

Right. God loves you so much he made you a sinner even though he could have made you not. He set up this world and put people in it, making them imperfect so he could consign a bunch of them to hell. He knows all, right? So he knows from the start that billions of people will suffer in hell for all eternity. But since he's all powerful, he could prevent it. But he doesn't. He didn't have to make Satan, but he did. So clearly, if what you believe is true, you are following a god that's either highly imperfect because he made such an evil-filled world, or he's incapable of changing it, in which case he's hardly worthy of worship. What I believe is that we are alive and we are capable of being good to one another and therefore we should. It doesn't take a guilt-trip of thinking someone died for me, not does it take a fear of punishment or a belief in reward. I do good because it's right. I expect nothing in return except a clean conscience when I die, at which point it will be over. Life is pretty cool. It's all I need. That, and the wonder that's associated with learning about it as it is, as opposed to making it up.

Anonymous said...

This is the Mormon again. I think you have some very valid points that are hard to argue and that I have questioned myself. I do also think that there has to be more to our existence besides just this life. I sure hope there is. Again, why I like this faith so much is that I think all people will get at least contentment and rest if not glory with God. To really be a part of this religion I do to some extent have to believe it is right, but I also don't feel like I can say some others are really so very wrong because they could tell me I am wrong and they are right-- it's only our personal testimonies that can really tell us. So then, that's why this makes sense-- all people get at least contentment if their hearts are good. I believe your heart is good, and so I think you will be at such peace after this life even if you don't now believe is God or Jesus Christ. I think I'm starting to lose my train of thought, but I enjoy your discussions. I found this sight when searching about gallbladder surgey because I am about to have mine and am a little scared-- another reason why I need to believe in God-- it's just comforting. :-) Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"What's interesting to me is belief is like a cafeteria: choose what you want."

It is not so much *choose* as it is *understand*.
People can read the same Bible verse and come to totally opposite conclusions/beliefs. However, the majority just sits in church, eyes glazed over, and takes in what they are told the same way they watch a TV program. No critical thinking, just passive absorption. And the Mickey Mouse beliefs are passed on from generation to generation.
You'd be amazed at the totally unorthodox conclusions you might come to if you read the Bible -alone- with a thinking mind.
Maybe you'd come to the conclusion that there is no Hell.

Anonymous said...

Right, you love your children so much that you make them disobey you??? Huh? Children disobey their parents all the time and it has nothing to do with how much the parents want their children to be perfect. On the love thing, wouldn't it be nice if your spouse (I don't know that you have one) had no choice but rather had to love you. She or He did everything you wanted them to do because they have no choice, they were made only to love and serve you. Huh? Would that even be love? By having a free will, you have the ability to choose to love, otherwise, there is no such thing. On the satan part, God created Satan as an angel not a demon. Satan's free will allowed him to make choices and the choice he made was to contend with God for glory and power. And now he is doing just that only his throne is already established...the throne of Hell. You are not letting yourself look at this spiritual truth with the same brain with which you analyze this physical world we live in.

Sid Schwab said...

"You are not letting yourself look at this spiritual truth with the same brain with which you analyze this physical world we live in. "

Sorry. I am. Which is why I see the bogosity. I know kids disobey. That's why I wouldn't punish them for every second of every day of the rest of their lives and into all eternity. And, if I were perfect, as god is, I might even set it up that they could be free to enjoy life without their imperfections -- which I gave them because I'm all powerful -- and without punishing them for all eternity in hell. But that's just me.

Either god is all knowing and all powerful or he isn't. If he made satan and then had to say "oops, my bad," then where's the perfection and the power.

But look: we aren't convincing each other. I point out logic, and you point out stories as if they are logic, or truth. Most people need belief. Some believe in a particular version of the bible, some in another. Some believe in the Koran, or the Book of Mormon; some believed David Koresh, others believed Jim Jones. Each with as much certainty as you. I believe what can be proven; I believe in the wonder of this world and of life. Let's let it go at that, okay? You're happy with your Bible, I'm happy with looking around at the world and learning. Works for you, works for me.

Anonymous said...

I see you side to some extent, but I think that God gave us imperfections so that we can grow. He wants us to learn to be like Him, and unfortunately it's our imperfections and our trials that often help us grow the most. Just a thought I wanted to share. Thanks. :-) (the Mormon)

Anonymous said...

You're missing the point. You're stuck on Hell, when for God, it's a last resort. God is slow to anger and rich in mercy. That's where Jesus comes in. You seem to be focused on Hell and how that can't be possible because it makes God a bad being, and if you were God you wouldn't have done it that way. He sacrificed his own son so masses of people could live eternally. In fact, he offers it to anyone and everyone, including you. Could you do that...say, kill your son if his blood would save millions of children in Africa who's blood was poisoned with aids? That's the love God shows to you and you continue to overlook or ignore the beauty of it, and focus on what you are certain is "unfair." You have a conscience as you explained you do good things to have a clean conscience "in the end." For what? Why do you even have a conscience? Did that evolve in you? And why not in animals? If there is no God then our conscience is nonsensical and yours is as valueless as the guy who rapes and murders women and doesn't have a problem with it. Your conscience is telling you that you should do good. But there is a point to it. If you deny God....then there is no point to doing the good that you do. As Bertrand Russell put it so idiotically, "We are but a wiggle, a wave, a fluctuation in a larger cosmic mass." Either you can consider yourself a wiggle, wave, and fluctuation, that in the end is meaninglessness, or you hold to Truth which says, we are here to do good because that's what God intended for us to do. He loves us and expects us to love our fellow human beings. I don't gain anything by telling you these things and I'm certainly not trying to beat you in a intellectual argument. As you can see each time I post I am pleading with you to soften your heart and see the truth of Jesus' claims. I am burdened by a compassion for lost souls and I'll move on to sharing the good news of the Gospel of Jesus to someone else after you. And there were certainly many more before you that I've spoken...some who's eyes are opened to the truth, and some who are satisfied in their own idolatry in fashioning a God in their own mind that fits their fancy. Just because you don't like the way God does things doesn't make him less real. You belief doesn't make an object real or fake. Either it is real, or fake, regardless wether you or I believe in it or not. Either God is who he says he is, or not. Remember the Bible is written over a time span of 1200 years with over 40 authors all pointing to the death of Jesus on the Cross. That's some pretty lucky and cohesive story telling for people who lived nowhere near each other at least 2000 years ago. We can also rewrite the entire Bible minus a few versus with actual manuscripts that are preserved to date. Translation is not a problem as it was originally written in Greek and Hebrew which are not difficult to translate for the right scholar. So if you choose to deny it, it's not because of lack of is rather as you have shown very clearly that you simply don't like the way it goes down, and you'd have it another way. Don't worry, you're not alone...that's why there are so many other religions. :) Talk about petty humanity.....

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of Skeptics who scornfully ask how God could possibly send them to hell, and ask this knowing how little risk there would be, and how light the burden is, of repentance and faith in Christ, even as they continue to say that they would never worship a God who issues divine judgments which they feel are excessive.

Sid Schwab said...

anonymous, the most recent: unsurprisingly, you miss my point. It's not that I choose not to worship a god because I think his judgment is excessive. It's that those who believe such things have bought into a self-negating contradiction.

wackyvorlon said...

The truth is that the notion of eternal torment in hell is inconsistent with the bible, and genuinely has no support in scripture. There are a lot of mutant ideas people hold about the bible. Ecclesiastes 9:5, for example, says "The living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all."

Regarding punishment for sin after death, Romans 6:7 says: "He who has died has been acquitted from his sin."

The whole discussion is more complicated, and doesn't really fit in a blog comment. The ultimate point is, the bible doesn't teach hellfire.

Sid Schwab said...

wackyvorlon: Thanks. That makes it even more interesting, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

I am so fed up with the Insurance Salesman defense.

"It takes so little to just believe and be saved from damnation, why can't you do that?"

Because you can't force yourself to believe something. You just can't.

I still haven't seen anyone answer his initial question: What kind of a jerk God would start up a sandbox, put the dolls in the sandbox, wake them up, make up a bunch of rules about what they can't touch (with no real good reason) and then give them unlimited access to those things?

What kind of a God do you honestly think would go to all of this trouble for no good reason? What's in it for him? Boredom? Seriously. Create a universe, make some people, make someone who you already know will be a serious pain in your backside, then make your beloved creations suffer for things that aren't their fault.

Oh yeah, that's just sane all over.

All the hocus-pocus aside, if faced with pure factual proof of his existence, the sheer WTF-ery of his decisions still keeps me on the "hell, no" side.

That is all.

Jay McHue said...

Skeptic "logic" 101:

1. Christians say I have to accept Jesus as my savior and I will receive eternal life; otherwise I will go to Hell.
2. I cannot comprehend either eternal life or eternal damnation, and the latter is just evil and unjust anyway. I've lived a good life, so I should get to go to Heaven no matter what.
3. Therefore, God does not exist.

More here, mostly written by yours truly:

Over Three Hundred Disproofs of God’s Existence

Bad said...

Rob: I just wanted to respond to this:

"Without Hell, there really is no need for Christ. If Christ's sacrifice is meaningless, then it is meaningless to be a Christian. You might as well be a "good atheist.""

I'm not a Christian, but I know many Christians who have a contrary view on this: universal salvation. They would point out that Christ's sacrifice is not meaningless if we say that it saves EVERYONE.

And indeed, the claimed flaw in this idea: that you might as well be a good atheist, is no flaw at all. Certainly that's not what God wants, but people are to be saved anyway.

It's not clear why this flaw would somehow be unique to this view in any case: the orthodox view still has Christ saving fallen creatures, and indeed, fallen creatures who might as well be BAD atheists, as long as at some arbitrary time before their random time of death, they become Christian believers.

Anyway, in my opinion, there is no moral defense of the concept of hell that does not require simply ejecting morality altogether. I'll be running a series of articles on this issue over the next few weeks over at Bad Idea Blog, as it's one of the things that most fascinates... and frustrates me about the beliefs of otherwise good and loving people: that they could endorse such evil, merely to retain a textual orthodoxy. That's a high price: perhaps the highest, to pay for avoiding a little more confusion about doctrine and scriptural direction.

Unknown said...

The concept of Hell doesn't disprove God, of course. All skeptics realize that. It just reveals that God, should he exist, has a moral sense that is slightly less developed than mine.

wackyvorlon said...

The existence of god does not necessarily require the existence of hell, of course.

Anonymous said...

To the anonymous poster who wrote:

He sacrificed his own son so masses of people could live eternally. In fact, he offers it to anyone and everyone, including you. Could you do that...say, kill your son if his blood would save millions of children in Africa who's blood was poisoned with aids?

It depends - would I have her back again, alive and well, in 3 days?

Jay McHue said...

It just reveals that God, should he exist, has a moral sense that is slightly less developed than mine.

Gee, no arrogance there. Nope.

If God were as finite as you, you would have a case. However, God is not finite. He is infinite in all of His aspects. He is infinitely holy, just, righteous, etc. Sinning against an infinite authority requires an infinite punishment. It's like (not exactly, but similar) how we punish people more severely when they commit crimes against the police or judges. A policeman's or judge's life is no more important than your life, but they represent the authority of the law. In God's case, He doesn't just represent the authority. He IS the authority.

wackyvorlon said...

@Jason: Can you describe what you consider to be sinning against god?

Jay McHue said...

It's not what I consider it is, but what God considers it is, namely violating His laws (see Matthew 22:37-40 for what those laws are).

wackyvorlon said...

Interesting! Now, for those without a bible handy:

37 He said to him: “‘You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 The second, like it, is this, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments the whole Law hangs, and the Prophets.”

Would you consider being unloving towards ones neighbour to be worthy of eternal, infinite suffering?

Jay McHue said...

As it is a direct violation of God's law and thus a direct offense to Him, yes, I would.

Do you think that if you hate your neighbor you are still worthy of Heaven? Do you think that doing a bunch of "good" deeds somehow forever negates the wrong things you do? Should we be able to do that with earthly laws - e.g. get away with a murder because you saved a child or even a hundred children from a fire?

Earthly law rightfully does not weigh good deeds against evil deeds in order to determine punishment and neither does God.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Schwab,

Every time I find myself about to rebut a comment I find to be egregious, I find that you have done an exceptional job doing that yourself. I guess I just want to say that I’m glad you exist. And also that you have a blog.

Guav said...

"As you can see each time I post I am pleading with you to soften your heart and see the truth of Jesus' claims."

You guys Just. Don't. Get. It .... Asking an atheist like me to simply "believe" or "have faith in Jesus" is as impossible for me to do as for you to just suddenly start believing Mohammed was a prophet and that Islam is the The Truth because someone pleaded with you to do so.

It simply is not going to happen.

"Just because you don't like the way God does things doesn't make him less real."

This is undeniably true. But so is the flipside—just because you believe in God doesn't make him real. Yet people like you rarely admit that there's a possibility that there is no God and that you've been basing your life on a man-made myth. It's unthinkable to you, because to contemplate such a possibility goes entirely against the concept of "faith." So you've just described a concept—our beliefs don't change reality and you could be wrong—that I assume you inherently reject when it comes right down to it.

"knowing how little risk there would be, and how light the burden is, of repentance and faith in Christ"

It's always interesting how proponents like yourself of the "hedging your bets" argument—"Shouldn't you simply believe just in case the Bible is true?"—NEVER extend that same logic to any of the other faiths (or even denominations of your own faith). Otherwise you'd end up like this:

Not Important said...

Without any evidence, the whole argument is based on made-up stories, and has no real rationality.

Anonymous said...

Speaking as someone who's suffered great harm at the hands of people who believed in the fashion that you decry in your post, I agree with you in every respect; I've had both time and opportunity to reflect on the nature and behavior of people who can actually give their affirmative belief and worship to an imagination of deity such as that, and -- not to put too fine a point on it -- as far as I can tell, they're just bad people, of the sort that you'd expect anyone to be who can, to use your word, savor what they believe will be the eternal damnation of one of their own family members.

But that's always more or less just been me, and I've never been able to be very confident that it was the result of reasoning from available experience, rather than that of rationalization from an already-fixed opinion. I don't think that's what it is, but I've never been able to find much basis on which to be sure, because I'm never sure whether I'm looking past my bias or just letting it convince me that I am.

To hear someone saying it who's a Serious Person, a surgeon and by all accounts a damn good one, instead of a half-bright, quarter-assed, barely-graduated-high-school autodidact and born goat like myself -- well, I can't help but think that counts for something.

There've been a few other posts of yours which have inspired me to say 'thanks, Doc, I needed to hear that', but I don't think I've ever actually done so. I hope this time can pay for all, or at least all so far: Thanks, Doc. I needed to hear that.

(...does it ever get tiresome, with the blogging and the occasional completely random people turning up out of the blue to say that you've completely accidentally done them some major good, even if only within the realm of the mind? In the last five years I've had a couple of people say I did that for them, and I feel like I should say something, but never quite know what.)

-- Aaron (

Sid Schwab said...

Aaron: does it ever get tiresome? Hell no!!! (to borrow a phrase.) It's by far the best thing about this blogging thing. Thanks for taking the time to read what I wrote, and much more thanks for commenting on it.

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

I will keep my comment as simple as possible, and furthermore state that I have only read the first few comments and the initial posting.

In reference to the big picture and greater questions that arise (which deem the other ideas, such as Hell, more or less irrelevant and unanswerable in our human context,) I submit that:

1) This life and all in it are polar in nature
2) If there is a God and He is infinite and vast, by definition, His mind is beyond our comprehension
3) God is presented as a father or parent of all mankind
4) Parents do things in the best interest of their children which is beyond their (the children's) comprehension, and teach them with lessons that seem to stretch beyond the limitations of truth
5) We have a finite perception, and a loving God would teach us (for our better good) in a profound, yet understandable way... sometimes the very nature of our limited understanding suggests the nature of God, which is important to grasp... Sometimes unanswerable questions lead us to greater truths.
6) trust and faith are important lessons, at the core of our human needs, spiritually speaking
7) spirituality, I will argue (submit,) is the most precious and important aspect of human life
FINALLY) - Important questions are difficult, and lead us to make determinations on a deep and defining level, even if the definition at the bottom line is an understanding that some things cannot be understood.

Look for the profundity in the question itself - often the answer lies therein. Be wise in your acceptance of the limits of your own nature. Trust, Faith, and Acceptance can be virtues beyond that of Understanding. (I capitalize for emphasis...)

I understand a lot now that I never understood as a child; and we are all children, spiritually speaking. This life, I feel, is our spiritual infancy. Maybe once we've reached the first iota of the vast, we'll begin to begin (to begin) to understand.

I apologize for any poor grammar.

Sid Schwab said...

JOT: thanks for writing. No need to apologize. We'll never find common ground on this, I guess. To say parents do things for children's good is one thing; to rationalize killing them, starving them, giving them awful diseases is quite another. There are those that need to see such things and rationalize them via what they call "faith." There are others that prefer to see the world as it is and try to accept it and find ways to live within it that honor reality.

Some make stuff up; or settle for that which others made up (in order to do so, they must reject what still others made up: Bible vs Koran vs Book of Mormon vs Earth on back of Turtle. Others seek to find truths within what is knowable and provable. The twain shall not meet. As long as the former don't force their beliefs into our schools and require that we all reject science in order to salve their wounds, I'm okay with it. When it leads us, as a nation, to fall behind the rest of the world in our ability to recognize and solve real problems, I find myself very worried indeed.

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

SID: I return your thanks.

I make a personal separation between what is chosen and what is allowed. I think there are many who feel that a God of purpose and design is the intentional and deliberate director of all things that are and that happen. I retain that a God of profundity can be the director, in one aspect, and allow the course of things to unfold by their own design (in another aspect,) based on the decisions He allows us to make. To clarify - I allow my son to skin his knees and learn... I may also have to choose making other hard decisions he hasn't the capacity to understand. I hope he knows that I love him, and trusts that I make the right decisions when there are decisions to make. I also hope he learns from his experiences, and grows into a thoughtful, aware, and deliberately good man. I have only one son, but if I had the whole of mankind in my care, how would I deal with the hard lessons? I don't... and (respectively) I don't know. I suppose the extent of "hurt" I would "allow" would be weighed with the importance of the lesson and what stood to gained or lost. As previously emphasized, eternity is absolute - and as such, it has ultimate gravity... and I reiterate - the true nature of some lessons are to be considered possibly more so than to be revealed; but I digress, I don't know that I believe in an everlasting Hell as an actuality, but I understand it as a concept worthy of use in lessons of mortal gravity. When we are no longer here to use these hard lessons, they are obsolete, so maybe the key is not in avoiding Hell, but avoiding apathy.

This world is polar - light/dark, etc. Is the next? (Was the previous?) I don't know, but what did the big bang start as (before the bang?) Is there an exhale for every inhale or vice versa? Genesis touches on this separation into our present state. What came before? "In the beginning God created..." What came before the beginning? What is at the (end)?

I feel any lessons intended or perceived are to find their merit here and now, and the struggle for understanding is just part of the lesson. Is understanding a fool's errand? Is the concept or pursuit of understanding merely a tool? Is seeing the observable shape of things truly the same as seeing something in its complete nature? Can we, as finite within our intellect, know what it is to comprehend? Even plants know to keep reaching. I find them genius in their simplicity; but when intellect outweighs spirituality, I, for one, fail to struggle through my human perception in pursuit of comprehension. I have never been to China or the moon, but i believe they exist. I guess we each must believe or struggle to touch, according to our own determination of what's realistic and important, and according to our own sense of reason and realism. I believe in things that by certain evidence may seem to contradict the standards of reason, but I fail to see my reason as perfect anyhow... I trust what I feel, and the rest I either make sense (sense as in through my senses, not just sensibility) of, and the rest I take in stride as I grow through this life.

I welcome any discussion branching from any part of these comments, as time and convenience allow. I see a potential for a varied address, as these are not shallow topics, but time may interrupt or sever my ability to afford proper response.

If it answers anything satisfactorily, I will end on the note that I know nothing, but believe based on my experience, open-mindedness and reason (and acceptance of the limitations of my perception and faculty for profound comprehension.) Furthermore, I truly believe that life is what you make of it.

Thanks again for the exchange of thoughts! I joined today and appreciate your candor and your contribution to meaningful discussion.

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

A Point:

Religion is varied because we are. Maybe each is right, but according to a different perspective. We are a messed up bunch in this cosmic stew of time and space... I prefer not to condemn a program based upon its poor representation or flawed translation into translation into translation to generation after generation into translation... Beneath it all is what's beneath it all.

A drop of poison in any food can kill you, no matter what the food is - conversely, why can't something good benefit us likewise? ...Just a thought.

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

*(2 posts ago): 9/02/2008 9:47 AM

...OR take in stride as I grow....

(last line of last large block of text.)

Sid Schwab said...

JOT: there's much in your posts in which we agree. But far from everything, and I'm certain neither of us will convince the other. I'd just say a couple of things: you say you believe because of open-mindedness; I say the two are mutually exclusive. You say you believe in China and the moon even though you've never been to either. I say, wow.

If one believes in a god or gods who is/are omniscient and omnipotent, then there are only two possibilites: either he/they is/are in control of absolutely everything, or he/they have elected entirely to remove themselves from anything and everything. There is no middle ground. In either case, prayer, for example, can't possibly be effective, because in the former case it's irrelevant because the decisions have already been made; and in the latter, it has no effect by definition. The Christian view of god is entirely inconsistent, internally and externally. Either god is behind the death of every child, the horror that happens every day on Earth, or he's gone or is in fact neither omnipotent nor omniscient.

Like you, I truly believe life is what you make it. Which also means god has nothing to do with it. Otherwise, life is what god makes of it, and we have nothing at all to do with it. There simply is no logical middle ground. But logic, of course, has nothing to do with belief. That's the attraction.

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

sorry for the delay in response... (a friend died, & life goes on...)

an observation: I notice that you express your logic/reasoning in absolutes - only, absolutely, entirely, no (middle ground), can't possibly, nothing (to do with it)... and also that you say logic has nothing to do with belief...

I try to avoid absolutes, because my perspective is just that ("my" perspective.) I differ with your reasoning on a couple of points related to this. I feel that belief is what is relevant to (and subject to) the logic of the believer (*I can't afford to be wrong,) or (*this makes the most sense to me,) or (*I will trust my intuition, which transcends my understanding,) or (*I can't change the IS, so commitment to any idea beyond my concrete knowledge [by evidence of my experience or understanding] is foolish)... *these are all outlooks based on logic, and belief is based largely on one's outlook. Accepting the IS is also part of an outlook.

I know that I do not know everything. I believe that God IS, and that God is omnipresent and omnipotent/omniscient, and as such, He has the option to interfere with the "natural" progress of reality as much or little as He chooses (much like Jackson Pollock allowing paint and gravity to work a little beyond the box of his direct involvement - Pollock is still the artist.)

I see each of us (and all things) as God manifest as us; as we are, in all our limited and finite glory. I feel that God (manifest as say, you, for instance) has His cosmic "blinders"on and cannot experience the entirety of His mind beyond your capability of experience. This is the key to the human experience IMO, and our place in all things (the IS.) VERVE... the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I believe that God is in all things and all people, and furthermore, that all possibilities coexist. Whether they do so in theory or reality is relative. If the mind of God is profound and infinite, than (to use an absolute) nothing is beyond His mind, including any and all possible scenarios, eventualities, realities... and all are part of the IS. We, on the other hand, are limited to our place in things, and our respective human minds can only conceive the reality within the realm of our experience. Sure, we can theorize and philosophize, and grasp other realities or the greater scheme of the IS... most, though, do not profess the ability to touch it.

I will elaborate thusly: logic may seem to hold that if time travel were possible, one could not go back in time and prevent their own birth (grandfather clause)... but I say that ANY interference in the linearity of a timeline, such as a visit to one's relative past, creates a diversion from the native timeline (butterfly effect.) Since the intact native timeline, by evidence of memory, exists within the IS, the butterfly effect takes place in a new "skew" timeline. Furthermore, just because (with our relative "blinders" on) an intersection of timelines cannot be seen, or diversions noted/annotated, one cannot disprove the existence thereof. In fact, theoretically, every occasion (on non-occasion, for that matter,) within existence creates reality anew... and what of the unchosen possibilities...? Do they exist only in theory, or do all possibilities coexist? Well, I've explained the logic behind my answer to that question. I see the IS like an onion with many layers, and if one were to stick a nail through the onion, it would traverse coexistent realities. String theory has touched on this notion, and to further expound on this, I feel that God is, in fact (by my understanding,) the unified theory. By definition, our human understanding has its limitations, but the God I believe in has none. So who am I to argue the finer points of the IS? Sure, I reach to understand, but I also retain that there are things beyond my understanding, which may always be, until God is no longer me. (Please don't take that last comment out of context, I don't think I am God, but He is in me - manifest as me, as I am, with all my limits of perception... I see all things as tied together, in that notion. We are but stardust...) Ashes to ashes, dust to dust... all things are one, and through us all is the breath of God.

Each cell of the human body has the DNA to duplicate the entire body... I believe that each thing in the IS has a similar code to duplicate the IS. We only know what we can understand, and we only even begin to understand those things we can observe and measure. You can't prove a negative, and atoms were always there, even before we could see or understand them (which we don't, fully.) What lies beneath the energy that makes up all things? What separates us from each other and all other things, other than our limits of perspective and ties to identity? Do we need to know, or rather do we need to ask? Is it the answer that compels us to come within sight of our potential, or is it the reaching, rather than the arriving, that is important?

I reiterate a comment I posted earlier... even plants know to keep reaching.

BTW, I truly appreciate the sharing of ideas and reflections that stem from a perspective different than my own... my aim is not conversion or persuasion, only mutual enrichment through the sharing our unique perspectives; thanks Sid.

Sid Schwab said...

JOT: I speak in absolutes (to the extent that I do) about this issue, because there are only two choices: god (or gods) exist, or not. You seem to be trying very hard to apply logic to support belief. A noble effort, but in my view they are not intersecting circles.

It may be possible to gin up a view of god that's internally consistent. The Christian view, as I tried to say in the body of this post, is most certainly not. Perhaps your more Zen like approach will get closer. But at bottom, there's this: one's world view, no matter what it is, must include this single fact: existence of something without creation. Either the universe exists without a magical creator, or god does. Either stuff exists, or guy exists before the stuff who is "born" knowing how to make stuff and work with it. Given the inexplicability of either view, (and, when you think about it, the greater sensibility and simplicity of the former) I prefer to start a millisecond after, and follow the evidence.

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

Another point:

I believe in universal memory, as I believe in universality. This explains many things for me. Many cultures embrace the idea of ancestry carrying forward in a direct involvement with current life and events. Many people have stated a belief that they have been another person in a different life, and make very specific references to this "remembered" experience. I allow that, in the universality of the IS, we ALL have been each of the rest of us throughout the past, present and even future of mankind. Premonition and universal memory are merely evidence of this, whether accepted or discarded - as is déjà vu (as is déjà vu.) Hey, didn't I just say that just say that? Some people resonate with certain traces within the universal experience, and therefore conclude that they have had that singular past experience. (Again, I state all of these things as what I allow for, not what I know.)

Please read this poem I wrote when I was in design school several years ago:

"A Notion or An Ocean" ©2001 Justan O. Therman

The stars enumerate the heavens –
Experience imbues the soul;
yet neither, less than fully counted,
can yet be counted "less than whole"

A drop of water from the sea
contains the memories of the ocean;
and life entire can yet be seen
within a solitary notion

When I was you, your joys were mine –
to have, and not to borrow;
and when you're me, remember this
(we may be someone else tomorrow)

– and keep in mind – all things are one;
through one: the whole, replenished
All joys we share are multiplied,
and all pains shared, diminished

One day, all Heaven will raise its voice
to drown the deepest void –
at once, all eyes will turn to you;
each tongue, in praise, employed

(and) even Hell will know God's joy,
and taste the gift unearned –
You'll know - all things will come to pass;
but each within its turn

So when you look up to the stars,
you'll know, then, what to do –
just smile, and know you once were there
smiling back down on you


I believe (in reference to predestination) that God is at the finish line, as well as running the race - and that we are, too. The difference is that we cannot remember our "universal" self while in the race. Choice is supported by this relationship and the linearity and direction of our human perception and experience. Psychedelics have been touted to blur the distinctions between the ego-based self and the universal self... meditation has the same reputation. Eastern medicine and philosophy is slowly finding its way into acceptance within the western realm. How long will it be before we indoctrinate unmeasurable effects into scientific evidence, and furthermore, blur the distinction of what science is. Respect the IS; it is greater than any means of measure. ...(or is it?) In human terms, for now anyway, I'm afraid it seems to be.
Be the answer - be the question - just be.

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

In reference to your last reply (SID):

I am, in fact a Christian. I make my own definition thereof, which is that I accept the idea of God taking human form as the Christ, while retaining certain spiritual attributes, if not a tangible and comprehensive universal knowledge (in that form, as Christ.) I will not burden this conversation with a detailed account of my Christian beliefs further than this, and that I believe the Bible to be divinely inspired.

That being stated, in the Bible John answers with
(John 1:1-3) "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." (Revised Standard Edition)
In Genesis (I am making a point, not to worry...,) God created by the words of His mouth, He spoke - and it was...

Perhaps this iota after is the logical point where human understanding can begin to grasp, thus no mention is made of the beforehand (until John, who was sufficiently ambiguous.)

I submit that the key is awareness... God realized, therefore He was; but the Zen-like approach (east meets west) that I take is that the great nothing is full. It is the separation of things from one another that give rise to identity (the naming of things, as in Genesis.) The "big bang" came out of this universal nothingness that is everything, or so some (like I) believe. Remember my mention of polarity? Light and dark both cancel and support each other. It's a matter of where within the great breath of life you happen to be. What gave rise to the something? Well, maybe something and nothing both support and cancel each other likewise.
The same" Judaeo-Christian Zen" applies to the notice that YHWH was written in Hebrew without vowels, which support the word as an utterable name which can manifest in more human terms. It is between the consonants, in the emptiness, where the fullness lies - but one part supports the other (and cancels, according to traditional Hebrew ideology - a matter of respect, which itself (respect) denotes that something is greater than you are.) *Yahweh was not to be pronounced aloud.

Another point: where does a circle begin or end? A sphere? Complete openness beyond the bounds of static form?

Another poetic thought:
©2001 Justan O. Therman

"A man can take a pebble and toss it into a pool of still water, and rings will ripple across the surface; but he cannot say "look at the beautiful rings which I have made," for it was not he who made them.

(I copyright my phrasing, which is original and arrived at by inspiration alone, and because this is on the back of a book of my poetry I published locally... I cannot lay claim to a universal idea, but am happy to have had the words come to me so that I may share them.)
I think the "copyright" to the IS just IS... God IS, as a way to find human understanding of things beyond our human grasp, but who am I to say? Just me. (or am I... ???)

Logic, as religion, is imperfect - you may enjoy reading "Göedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" by Douglas Hofstadter. I found it to be an enjoyably clever address to contradictory logic and paradox. Light reading for heavy minds (hah.) I've read it much like I've read the Bible... not cover to cover, but chapters or sections at a time. I don't believe I've completed either (but I'm still reaching!)

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

SID: (correction
9/09/2008 9:09 AM - 4th Paragraph:


(should be) "SYNERGY..."

*when the phone rings, stop writing... don't talk and write at the same time! (sorry)

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

9/09/2008 10:04 AM - last paragraph:

"indoctrinate" >>("admit") ...ahem, uh, yeah.

Those with whom I used to hold regular conversations (with some level substance) have been replaced in recent years with others, who are of a completely different set. I will try to type more cautiously and proof before submitting (& stay off of the phone...)

Sid Schwab said...

JOT: I appreciate your comments, and your poetry, as well as your interesting amalgamation of Christianity and, I guess, Buddhism. In another time in my life, I might keep up the conversation forever. At the moment, I'm so consumed with politics, and the fear (no, the realization) that our country is going down the tubes, and that it will once again be fooled into falling for the Republican lies and sleight of hand, that I have a hard time keeping this one going.

I wish you well. I'm glad you've found a philosophy that works for you. As long as you're willing to keep it out of our public schools, it's fine with me. Good luck.

Justan_Oscar_Therman said...

Keep breathing (and blogging) ...and ranting!
Good luck to us all.

David said...

I'm not religious either, but I am a Christian. Putting aside the Hell concept for a second let me try something out.

You're out in a lake swimming when you go just a bit too far. There were warning buoys to warn you, but you didn't pay attention to them. A lifeguard sees your dilemma and swims out to rescue you. Already you can feel your lungs on fire as they grope for oxygen, your arms and legs feel like led. You know you're going under, but when the lifeguard makes it to you you find enough strength to kick at him, then slowly sink for the last time. Now whose fault is it that you drowned?

As has been stated, at least in a mild tone, Jesus took on Him the sins of all of us, you, me, everyone, past, present and future. That was the payment required to do away with our sins so we could have fellowship with god. THAT is God's desire. Did you know that all of your sins have been taken care of, even if you reject Jesus, all except one. God sent His Son to die for you, to reject the payment already made on your behalf is to make you guilty of murdering God's Son. Sorry if that sounds a little heavy.

Let me put it another way. The Bible says, "Behold this day I have set before you death and life...choose life." If choosing Jesus means eternal life with God why would anyone want to choose death? That is not God's will. God isn't some big ogre in the sky, nor is His love an emotional thing like we are so used to understanding love. God is love. And you know what? If you reject His love there isn't a thing He can do about it. It's your choice.

Sid Schwab said...

David: Thanks for your comment, although I have a hard time reconciling your opening gambit "I'm not religious either" with the rest, which is a recitation of all the self-contradictory marks of being religious. Jesus didnt' die for my sins, or yours. He was resurrected, right? Where's the dying in that?

The whole thing is nonsensical to me: god decided we're all sinners, sent his son to "die" but not die to wipe away those sins but not really.

Using your swimming analogy: the thing is that god set up the rules knowing that lots of people will drown. It's as if he put you in that position, saw to it that your lungs didn't have the capacity, nor your legs. He could have made the water more shallow, but he didn't. And when you drown, you accept the idea that it's YOUR fault. I don't buy it.

I do accept that if you swim too far and drown, it's your fault if you took unreasonable chances. But that's the real world. In the imaginary world, we're dealing (by your reckoning) with a god that plunked you (and everyone else) into the water too far from shore and says you'll drown unless you pledge alligience to him. It's like water-boarding. The guy with the water has all the power, even if you're innocent.

"Guilty of murdering" god's son???? WAY over the top. But a good example of how Christianity is the ultimate guilt trip, designed to keep you under its sway (not to mention giving money to the church!). I find it highly repugnant, and fallacious on its face. You don't, which is your right.

Anonymous said...

There is a 1946 movie “Angel on My Shoulder”. It’s a classic.
It shows the stereotypical hell scenes with sweating people in high heat, toiling with shovels and afraid of the devil.

Dante’s “Inferno”, (the first part of Dante Alighieri’s epic poem Divine Comedy, written in 1308-1321) is an Italian poem that describes suffering in hell.

It is widely believed that this poem is the origin of everyone’s contemporary idea of hell, including the various churches.

All of these interpretations of hell are based on a work of fiction, describing a medieval concept of hell.

The word hell has been translated from the original text “hates” . Hates was a dump, on the edge of town, that constantly smoldering. Being “banished to Hates” does not mean burning in hell for all eternity. It means something more like being cast out of town and discarded in a dump.

God is in the business of Love.
If you are capable of love, and like love, you belong in Heaven.
There are no religions in Heaven. No single religion is ‘most correct’.
People in Heaven (spirits) have no interest in earthly things. They are not concerned about the living. They know that the living will be ‘along in a while’.
People in Heaven are bathed in God’s love. It’s like swimming in love.
I’ve been there. I’ve seen it.
God loves those that love God. God wants our love, and God loves all of us.

I have not seen God, but it’s easy to know where the all-encompassing love comes from.

There is no hell.
There is only ‘being in God’s love’ and ‘not being in God’s love’ (eternal damnation).
Not being in God’s love is basically hell. It’s not the torturing of spirits by some evil being, it’s just not having God’s love constantly poured all over you. Hell is only like earth. There is no fiery hell.

Evil and Good.
Some people (alive) say that you can’t have ‘good’ without ‘evil’.
Pure crap.
This yin/yang outlook is just not true.
There is only love, or not love.
There is temptation. There is fear. There are mistakes.
Don’t be tempted. Don’t be afraid. Fix your mistakes.

I have heard that the greatest trick that the devil can make is to convince everyone that he doesn’t exist. It is my opinion that this is not true.
It is not necessary to have evil for good to exist.
The devil does not exist. Believing in evil only gives it power over you.
Evil and hate do exist. They are just the absence of love.

There is no death.
There is no hell.

Let love into your life.
Let forgiveness into your heart.
Love God.

Sid Schwab said...

All of these interpretations of hell are based on a work of fiction

Oh, the irony.

Mya Symons said...

I took an ancient history class years ago and for part of the semester we studied the bible. The teacher thought the bible was a good "history book." It was interesting to find out that many of the stories in the old testament pre-dated the bible. For example, the stories of Noah's Ark, Moses, and the virgin becoming pregnant with God's child who becomes the savior were all ancient Egyptian stories far before there was the Dead Sea Scrolls. The only thing that was different were the names of the characters.

I do not believe that the old testament is at all "the word of God." It is just a bunch of stories created out of fear of death and for those in power to more easily control people. However, I think some of the new testament may be true. Perhaps Jesus was not a made up individual, but rather an ancient philosopher. Further, depending on how you interpret Revalations, it does seem like quite an accurate description of where we are heading and how the world will end (as long is it is not interpreted literally. I don't think there will be any dragons or beasts or prostitutes involved in the end of the world). Especially when you consider that Babylon is burried under Iraq, where we are still at war, and; the line that the Jews will cross that Revalations speaks of as starting the end War is on the West Bank. (I am not trying to imply that it will be anyones fault. I am just going over what Revalations spoke of in the Bible I learned from when I was a child--it was not the King James version)

As Bill Maher says, it could be a self fufilling prophecy. Fundamentalist Christians could end the world for us.

If there is a God, I would think that he or she would be most angry at those who use religion in his or her name to judge, condemn, control, and start wars. If anyone is going to burn in hell, I think it would be these people.

Sid Schwab said...

Anonymous (not published): like capital letters much?

Anonymous said...

Without hell, where is justice for crimes like rape and murder? The decisions of human courts - ask any victim - are inadequate at achieving true Justice.

What kind of eternity would it be if everyone was allowed to live indefinitely, with unchanged hearts, continuing to become even more selfish and bitter and destructive? Hell exists as a containment area, to protect what is good from contamination.

Literally, Hell is the absence of Love, the absence of God.

Hell is the default choice we make when we refuse to have a relationship with God. To force us to choose him would be unfair and unloving. Yet God doesn't 'want' anyone to go to Hell. He is "not willing that any should perish", and "takes no pleasure in the death of anyone".

God created us knowing that the free will is integral and necessary to Love. None of his laws are capricious, arbitrary or intended to withhold any good thing from us.(In contrast, Satan's line of attack was -and still is- the suggestion that God is depriving us of something better by setting up a boundary for us)

The tree of knowledge of good and evil is not the same thing as a 'tree of knowledge' (God wasn't trying to withhold wisdom from us!) It symbolized the chance to experience what evil is, in harsh contrast to the good they knew. Unfortunately, humanity chose to doubt God's love and ignored his warnings, plunging headlong into self-destruction.

Even knowing we could make the wrong choice, God created a way out of that mess in the form of his son, Jesus Christ. Christ took those sins, those impediments that keep us from being close to God, and removed them permanently. He intercedes for us, having fulfilled the payment true Justice requires for sin.

That's not a sadistic God who loves to send people to Hell, in order to boost his ego or prove his power. That's a humble, Just and compassionate God who gave up his own life for us, so that we can freely live.

"There is no greater love than this, when a man lays down his life for his friend." (John 15:13)

Sid Schwab said...

Well, other than the fact that Jesus didn't lay his life down at all, being, you know, immortal, and that since he's the son of an all knowing guy he knew the plan before he even showed up, it makes perfect sense. If you say so.

Anonymous said...

I see what you're saying - because Christ is God (and therefore Immortal) it seems contradictory that he could also have died (like a mortal). Christ is part of God but he is also human...that's why he's the perfect mediator.

I'm not sure what death meant for Christ but it says in scripture that he 'tasted death' for us (Hebrews 2:9) and Death couldn't hold him. Perhaps it was the physical side of death he experienced, though I think it must have been much more brutal than that. He took the punishment of the whole world's sins.

Scripture indicates that Christ set aside some of his power and some of his knowledge for a time in order to share in/ relate to our hardships and temptations while on earth.(Philippians 2;6) In this way, he met the requirements to be a substitute for us, his fellow humans. (Hebrews 2;17-18)

So it definitely wasn't a picnic for him to die for us.

ps( Have you ever read The Case for Christ? It's written by a respected legal journalist for the Chicago Tribune, Lee Strobel)

Unknown said...

Dr. Schwab,

I believe that the essence of discrepancy between your dissatisfied view of God and those of Christian believers is the question regarding the goodness of man. Your standard of goodness seems to consist of something along the lines of living a civil life, helping those in need even at the cost of your sacrifice, and caring for others (paying taxes, rounding 3-4 times, worrying about patients being some examples that you mentioned). While I certainly agree that these things are undoubtedly good, it is a very "low" criteria for goodness.

God certainly recognizes our good works, but He also recognizes our bad works (sin). Christians' standard of truth is the bible (this could be another discussion itself) and it reveals that man actually has an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of bad works than good. By default we are drowning in sin much like the medical school graduate in his/her financial debt. Unfortunately, the punishment of this debt that mankind has incurred is eternal hell which rightfully bothers you so. It bothers us as well.

I respectfully liken your dissatisfaction to waving at God our one month repayment of student loans (a drop in the bucket) and criticizing Him for His "injustice." I have no doubt that your work, medical career, and altruism is more than most could accomplish, but the bible accordingly tells us that no man can accomplish full repayment. We are all doomed to the eternal fires of hell.

The difference with us Christians is that we believe in Jesus Christ (God Himself manifested as man) who incurred the infinite cost of sin to graciously offer us complete forgiveness so that we are no longer in debt. In fact, not only are we cleared of debt, but He has made us righteous in the eyes of God Himself. We are no longer doomed to eternal punishment because we believe in Jesus and His full repayment--not because of good works we do to repay God.

Down to the core we are sinful. Our thoughts, our past actions, our hatred toward anyone...everything wrong with the world today is the product of sin. No amount of rounding, advancement of medicine, genuine care for patients (while they are certainly great and admirable) can make God deem us good. Only if we believe in Jesus, God will see us as good because Jesus was His gesture of love and desire for us to be made good again.

Thanks for the great ideas and thoughts you share on this blog.

Best regards,


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