Category Archives: Christianity

Jesus, Ego, Truth and Compassion.

Today, I’ve decided to respond to some of the ideas inherent in an article posted to the ABC’s excellent “Religion and Ethics” page. The astute reader will notice that I am not really responding to the stated thesis of “What’s Love Got to do with It? The Politics of the Cross” by Stanley Hauerwas, but more to the the underlying assumptions. These are often shared by dogmatic religious types irrespective of whether they are Christian, Islamic, or something else entirely. Indeed, one could easily extend this analysis to all sorts of secular “isms” and insanities.

 

Christ on the Cross

Christ on the Cross by Rembrandt
(Image courtesy of The Louvre)

The crux of Hauerwas’ argument is probably as follows: “Is it any wonder that Jesus was despised and rejected? Is it any wonder when the church is faithful to Christ that she finds herself persecuted and condemned? Yet if such a church does not exist, the world has no alternative to the violence hidden in our fear of one another.”

Jesus and the Church are not one and the same. If one reads the Gospels properly, it can be seen that Jesus was a failed human being, much like the rest of us. He lost his temper and he got violent (John 2:14-17). He lied (John 7:6-10). He cursed – literally (Mark 11:12-25)! He made false prophecy (Matthew 16:28). He was intensely resentful of those who didn’t believe his message (Matthew 11:20-24). He arguably invented the “thought crime” (Matthew 5:27-28). He never claimed to be “100% God and 100% man”.

Like many mystics before and after (including myself), Jesus was aware of his own Divinity and aware that there was another way, but found it difficult to live the life to which he was called. It is simply impossible to translate all of the nuances, subtleties and contradictions of Transcendent Experience into the mundane reality of the “monkey suit”.

By way of example, the Church is often a controlling, secretive, dogmatic organisation that has, since its creation by Roman Emperors sought to wield political influence of the most sordid sort. Its history is less about “an alternative to the violence” and more about the exercise of brutal, aggressive power and sometimes farcical zero sum politics. It is condemned, not because it is “faithful to Christ”, but because it is anything but faithful to the highest ideals to which he aspired.

The modern Catholic Church continues to protect child molesters within its ranks and avoid taking responsibility for the great evil it has committed. With a celibate (although clearly not chaste) clergy, it is obsessed by the sexual choices of others. Until the recent arrival of Pope Francis, its main focus has been on two issues that Jesus never even mentioned: Homosexuality and abortion. Other Christian Churches are rarely any better than the Roman variety.

Hauerwas’ essay is evidence enough of the failure of both Jesus and the Churches that have hijacked his life and teaching for their own purposes. The writer finds himself incapable of letting go of the rigidity of Dogma and the zero-sum thinking of religious absolutism and so has to shoehorn the life of Jesus into the story he wishes to create. I can’t help but suspect that only a person of great insecurity, or lack of imagination would need to posit that “the world has no alternative” to his view of reality and that only his prophet is a true representation of an Infinite Divine. As if the Infinite contained only one path, or had only one story to tell!

Blessed (or perhaps cursed) with visions of Infinite Divinity beyond normal comprehension, it is far too easy for the mystic to become trapped in grandiosity and ego. When Jesus claims that “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”, Pilate rightly retorts, “What is Truth?” (John 18:36-38). In doing so, he is engaging not with cynicism, but with a question that is fundamental to any understanding of reality and one which the Church and other spruikers of dogmatic certainty would rather you simply didn’t ask.

Jesus accepts his mystical understanding as truth and lacks the wisdom to question that “truth”. He fails to understand that it is a truth for him alone and that it is impossible to communicate a genuinely spiritual experience to another: The first Disciple, is always the first Heretic. 2000 years later, the real Jesus is well and truly lost in time, while modern revisionists claim to know his very thoughts and to be able to divine his ultimate purpose!

The truth is that an honest examination of the whole life of Jesus, as described in the Gospels, represents a conundrum only to those who imagine him to be something he wasn’t. Yes, he was Divine, but only to the extent that we are all Divine. More importantly, for both good and ill, he was as human as us and the greatest lessons that we can learn from his life are lost if we forget this.

Matthew tells us that his last words on the cross were “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46), clearly demonstrating that rather than being “100% God”, this was a man who was experiencing the disillusionment and loss of faith as his mystical ideas and imaginings clashed with the brutal, painful, terrifying reality of his impending death. Those words were not spoken by a god about to realise his grand plan, but by a frightened man faced with the real possibility of oblivion and the collapse of everything that he had held dear in his life.

Jesus’ last words on the cross, his failed prophecies and his frequent demonstrations of hubris, should give a warning to those of us who share his mystical journey: The “Truth” that we glimpse within the heart of Transcendent Experience, is often not literal truth and we should resist the urge to impose our reality on those around us, lest reality bites back.

If we pretend that Jesus was God, then we are forced to deny his human failings and waste time and energy on apologetics that deny the plain truth of the Gospels. If we recognise that Jesus was only human, we are freed to accept him as he was. We can open our eyes and our hearts to the truth of his story and realise that history has been replete with mystical voices who have called us to a better way. Even more exciting, we can see the life of Jesus as an invitation to engage with our own Mystical journey and to connect with the Divine Reality that lies within the heart of each of us.

The ideals of compassion, mercy, love, justice, tolerance, sacrifice and courage (among others) are all present within the story of Jesus. But so too are they present within the lives of Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius and thousands of other people throughout the ages. When we attempt to impose our reality on others, we inevitably destroy these very virtues, because when we believe ourselves right, and all others as wrong, we stop listening and deny empathy to the “other”; we become incapable of expressing the values we claim our God represents to any but our own.

Rather than working to prove our God’s “Truth” above all others, we should be working to connect with those who share our values and who share our vision of a better world irrespective of how their culture might happen to have packaged those truths.

I firmly believe that people of good will can find a win-win solution to the ills of our world and create a future of peace and harmony. But nothing sabotages good will and creates evil so quickly as the belief that everyone must conform to our view of reality and that people are evil and beholden to Darkness, simply because they believe differently.

The struggle between Light and Dark occurs both within and across cultures.

It is only by letting go of our own rigidity and by empathetically embracing the Divinity of others that we will ever be able to achieve the peace and prosperity that the people of our planet so rightly deserve.

PS: Happy Easter!

No Place for Humans in Heaven

TLDR: Traditional ideas of heaven represent a repudiation of our humanity, including free will, and need for challenge, purpose and meaning. And its boring!

 

doggie_heaven-767087

Golden Retrievers belong in Heaven. Humans don’t!
(Image unattributed please inform me if you know its creator)

 

Heaven is usually held to be the place where some people go, once they have died, to spend the rest of eternity in the infinite bliss of God’s company. Different beliefs have different criteria for those fortunate enough to earn a ticket to Heaven, with some holding that (almost) everyone gets in (perhaps after spending some time in purgatory, where they serve time for sins committed while alive), while others hold that only good people, believers in a particular deity, or even just a few of the “elect”, or “anointed” earn that reward.

Like Hell, Heaven is not a concept held by all believers in god. However, it is universally held by the major Christian and Islamic traditions, which means that some two thirds of the world’s population is likely to believe in it. Many people who refuse to believe in Hell are happy to believe that there is a Heaven. For example, Seventh Day Adventists, don’t believe in Hell, believing instead in the annihilation of evil doers (although this does seem little better than murder), with the good earning a place in Heaven.

Intriguingly, the Bible contains very little concrete information about what to expect in heaven, beyond a vague description in the book of Revelation. As with Hell, the Quran provides more explicit descriptions of the delights available, including the provision of sexual partners (although the famous reference to 72 virgins is actually found in the Hadith, or “Prophetic Traditions”.)

For Christians, most of what people believe about heaven is therefore obtained from extra biblical sources. For the most part, these beliefs generally mirror those described in the Islamic texts (sadly, the minus virgins),  and run along the lines of eternal, blissful enjoyment of life, spent in the company of God and with none of the problems and concerns of human existence.

Heaven is a place where evil cannot exist and good reigns supreme. Everyone in heaven is their perfect self. There are no poor or destitute, no hunger, disease, or aging and no wars, torture, or abuse. Its like living in a land of eternal, multiple orgasms.

While this sounds all well and good and at first glance it seems like Heaven would be the place that we would all aspire to ending up, there are quite a few problems with it, both as concept and as an ultimate destination for a sentient being.

Strangely, enough the idea of heaven as a place of ultimate, eternal perfection (UEP) is actually quite unbiblical. Firstly, Jesus makes it quite clear in Mark 13:31 that heaven is not for eternity, when he says “Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away”. Accordingly, we are left to ponder what happens after heaven, but Jesus chose not to enlighten us in this regard.

Secondly, in Revelation 12:7-9, John of the Apocalypse categorically states that “there was war in heaven”. However, as is normally the case with respect to contradictions between what people want to believe and what the Bible actually says, both these passages are routinely ignored by the faithful, who continue to believe in the fairyland version, rather than the one described in the Bible.

Believe it, or not, the first problem with Heaven is the very absence of evil. While it may not seem like an obvious issue, it helps to consider some of the ways in which theologians explain what, here on earth, is called the “Problem of Evil”.

The problem of evil is that its very existence flies in the face of many of the claimed attributes of the monotheistic God. It simply shouldn’t exist!

If God is perfectly good, then he would seek to oppose evil and remove it. If he was omniscient, knowing everything that it is logically possible to know, then he would be able to unerringly detect it and if he was omnipotent, able to do anything he chose then he could effortlessly remove it. But there is evil and as a result, and this evil seems to refute the claim that there exists an all knowing, all powerful, infinitely good God running the show.

Responses to the problem of evil, come under the heading of “theodicy” are aimed at demonstrating that the existence of evil is perfectly in harmony with the existence of a perfectly good God. While I don’t have enough space to deal with each and every one here, some have significant implications for the viability of Heaven.

Alvin Plantinga is the latest in a long line of philosophers to argue that the presence of evil in our world is not due to the acts, or intent of God, but rather the fault of humans. This position, known as the Free Will Defence  holds that it is our exercise of free will that has bought evil into our world and which continues to keep it alive, even today. As a theory, it has Biblical backing in the story of the Garden of Eden and how Adam and Eve were thrown out after exercising their free will and sampling the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The problem with this defence is that it effectively compounds the existence of free will with the existence of evil. One is the result of the other. If one accepts this logic, then one is forced to also accept that a place in which there is no evil, is also a place in which there is no free will. In other words, anyone lucky enough to get into heaven will immediately have their free will removed and from then on in be condemned to act in a totally deterministic manner.

Without free will, people in heaven might as well be highly functioning, self aware robots incapable of any act of self determination that contradicts their programing. Given that free will is held to be an inherent characteristic of being human by many faiths and philosophies, sacrificing such a fundamental aspect of being human seems a repudiation of one’s very humanity.

Is such a price worth an eternity of never ending orgasms?

The second issue with the UEP (AKA fairyland) idea of heaven is that it seems a dangerously hedonistic and pointlessly shallow existence. There appears to be nothing more to the heavenly existence than pure bliss and pleasure. Indeed, if one were to consider what earthly experience might compare to being in heaven, the closest likely candidate seems to be heroin, which users describe as producing a sensation of blissful euphoria (Personal disclosure: I’ve never tried heroin).

Given this comparison, it is worthwhile to engage briefly in a bit of hypothetical speculation. Let’s imagine that there was a drug that produced the same effects as heroin, but had none of the associated health dangers, or potential for addictiveness. In other words, lets imagine a world in which heroin was perfectly safe to use, safer even than Transcendent Compounds. Furthermore, lets also assume that our technology has advanced to the point where all our survival needs were fully met through automated robots, so that no human ever needed to work in order to survive. Furthermore, our society has evolved to the point where each individual was recognised as their own master, and fully able to decide how to live their lives, so long as they weren’t hurting anybody else. Each of us could choose to spend our lives in whatever way we happened to see fit.

In this situation, would we regard we would regard a life spent on heroin as being a worthy one? Would, or should we aspire to live on heroin, safely enjoying the euphoria and bliss that accompanies its use? I would suggest not, as I think would most people, not because the pursuit of pleasure is a bad thing (although some traditions would attest to this misanthropic idiocy), but because in pursuing hedonism we miss out on what makes us truly human and the things that make us truly alive.

As philosophers since the time of Socrates have pointed out, there is more to a good, worthwhile life than the pursuit of blissful euphoria. Indeed, a life of hedonism is often as a symptom of a poorly developed personality.

Psychologically, it seems that most of us need a whole range of other things in order to be happy. Friendships, helping others, the search for knowledge, risking one’s fate, and overcoming difficult challenges are what provides most of us with meaning.

With the exception of friendships, it is hard to see how the UEP version of heaven is going to provide any of these needs. How can we help others, when there will be nobody in need? How can we search for knowledge and the answers to the big questions of science, meaning and the nature of god, when these will be handed to us on a platter? How can we climb mountains when they are all reduced to hills? Most importantly, how can we strive to face the monumental challenges that the very presence of evil in our world creates for us, if there is no hardship, tragedy, or even the hint of evil.

Symbol of Life - White

The Symbol of Life represents, Sentience, Meaning, Purpose and Wisdom as being fundamental to all life.

 

 

The importance of these challenges to what it means to be human should not be underestimated. Have you ever noticed that nearly everyone, irrespective of their station in life, seems to be functioning at the edge of their capacity?

People either push themselves, in order to expand the scope of their horizons, or they remain static, in which case their horizons and capacity to function inevitably shrink, as they slowly stagnate. Either way, our need for challenge, in order to feel truly alive asserts itself as we strive to make our way through our lives as functioning human beings.

With challenge comes the risk of failure and in some cases the risk of death. Indeed, for many people, our very mortality and capacity for injury is crucial to their pursuit of meaning and a satisfying life. If one couldn’t die, or get injured, where would be the fun, or excitement in jumping a motorcycle over a long row of busses? If everyone could do it, where would be the satisfaction of swimming across the English Channel?

And what of simple competition, where the success of one person ensures the failure of the others. For many athletes, the hard work and perseverance of training makes the victory all the sweeter, or the loss all the more heartbreaking. Who would bother to compete in the Olympics if nobody could lose?

And of course, the very existence of something like heartbreak (and the associated music) is absent in heaven, as is every other negative human emotion. While it may not be fun at the time, many people regard the difficult parts of their lives as being the most rewarding; as the times in which they have grown as a person and developed in ways in which they would never have dreamed possible.

I describe my own experience of exactly this sort of growth here.

And what of courage, valour, determination, sacrifice, fearlessness, dreams, and the many other positive emotions and virtues, which we value because they are a response to adversity and are demonstrations of a the depth of a person’s character? Without adversity, these like so much of the human experience is consigned to the dustbin.

But, by definition, these challenges are missing from the UEP heaven. Simply, there is nothing to aim for. Nothing to achieve and nothing to overcome. In reality, there is nothing to do, beyond imbibing the heroin, which is handed out freely at the door.

But if it is wasteful to spend our threescore and ten years on heroin, why is it that our major religious traditions are actively encouraging us to aspire to spending an eternity on the stuff? As Marx might have said, the answer seems to be that they are peddling opium for the masses. They offer a Faustian bargain for the unaware: Behave as we tell you. Follow our rules, laws and dictates. Believe our dogmas without question. Give us your money, so that we might grow fat on the toil of your backs. In exchange, we will guarantee that you’ll get to spend eternity on heroin.

But the currency for this exchange is high. Indeed, it is nothing short of the destruction of your ultimate self and the trivialisation of everything that you have fought so hard to achieve during your life.

It is a mockery of the challenges that you have overcome and the very qualities that make you human. The only thing that you get to take into the next life is your personality; who you are is all you will ever be. But everything that you have worked so hard to achieve and all that is worthwhile in your spirit are irrelevant in heaven. The “you” that gets into heaven is little more than a vague sentience; a robotic shadow lacking purpose, nobility and humanity.

Go to Heaven and you will be stripped of anything more than a desire to endure blissful euphoria for eternity. You will cease to be you. You will cease to be human.

Not only this, but you’ll be bored senseless. Think of any story that you want, whether it is based on a true story, fictional, mythical, or religious.

How many of these stories don’t contain a hint of challenge, conundrum, or problem for the main characters? None that I can think of. In other words, despite what we might say about the difficulties in our own lives, when it comes to the sorts of stories that we consume (and by extension, the computer games we play in a more modern context), we are invariably drawn to those which contain elements of drama and darkness against which the heroes strive.

Without these elements, these stories not only be boring beyond belief,  they wouldn’t even be stories.

For example, imagine if at the very first page of the Harry Potter series of books, or the Star Wars movies, or your own favorite story all the characters had been miraculously saved Deus Ex Machina, and transported to a fairyland UEP heaven.

Boring!

Harry Potter’s adventures wouldn’t have spanned seven paragraphs, let alone seven books and we’d have been left with the shortest and most pointless movies in the history of cinema.

If we can’t even go through our short three score and ten years without the stimulation and excitement provided by stories, how do you think we’d cope with an eternity of it?

If evil didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it, just to avoid the mind numbing tedium of an eternity with nothing to do.

By now, it should be clear that the concept of heaven, as imagined by the vast majority of the religious and faithful of both the Christian and Islamic traditions based on the repudiation of the very things that make us human.

It inevitably strip us of our capacity for free will while destroying the very things that make us human. And its so very booooring!

So, what might heaven actually look like? Obviously, it would need to be a place in which we had the capacity to exercise our free will. Secondly, it would need to be a place in which our very human need for challenge, purpose and meaning are met.

We can surmise that heaven would need to contain opportunities for competition, victory and failure. It would be a place where we could explore the fullness of being human and strive to improve ourselves, make a difference and experience achievement. In other words, it would need to contain obstacles, tragedy and perhaps even evil.

If you want to know what heaven looks like, open your eyes:

You are already there!

Worship of the Hell God as a Character Flaw

TLDR: Belief in the Hell God is unfortunate. Worship of this God is a Major Character flaw that puts you on a Path of Darkness and closer to Hell.

Billions of people in the world today actively worship a God that they believe is going to torture even more billions of people for eternity. This should worry you, especially if you are one of them.

In a previous post, I discussed how Hell is pointless because it fails to meet any of the moral justifications for punishment. Furthermore, I demonstrated that its existence would be completely alien to any genuinely loving, just, merciful and Good God. Indeed, the most rational explanation for the origin of the idea of hell is that it is a technique for controlling people through fear.

Today, I would like to discuss the psychological implications for a belief in Hell and why the worship of a Hellish God is the sign of a significant character flaw.

Abu-ghraib-leash

This doesn’t suddenly become OK because God holds the leash.

(Specialist Lynndie England holding a leash attached to a prisoner, known to the guards as “Gus”, who is lying on the floor. Image and Image text from Wikipedia entry on Abu Ghraib.)

 

I was raised in a devout Roman Catholic household, attending mass every week, going to private Roman Catholic schools and receiving the Catholic sacraments. From my earliest days I was surrounded by Roman Catholic iconography, thoughts and assumptions. During my teenage years, my parents were heavily involved in their local church and in the emerging Catholic Charismatic Movement, which was a bit like Pentecostalism Lite for Catholics.

In those days, my sense of the connection to the Divine was embryonic, but real enough for me to never question the existence of God. I seriously considered becoming a Priest, at least until the age of twelve, when my sense of adventure lead me to decide instead on a career in the Australian Navy.

For many people, such a story would be the beginning of a rant about how they were permanently scarred by their early exposure to abundantly overt religion. Fortunately, my parents were genuinely spiritual and caring, providing me with an environment in which I felt secure, loved and valued. For this, I am in their debt.

It was around the age of seven that the concept of Hell began to seriously register on my small mind. Hell isn’t a big part of modern Roman Catholicism, but under the influence of my strict Catholic nun teachers, religious education and my own emergent understanding of death, it emerged as a very real concern for my future.

As a child I was continually getting into trouble. Today, I’d have been diagnosed with ADHD and most likely medicated back into “behaving”. Childhood tantrums aside, was I never deliberately mean, or nasty, but I was forever getting underfoot, forgetting what I was supposed to be doing and generally leaving a wake of chaos. Unsurprisingly, I was continually getting into trouble and aggravating my parents, who often responded with less than dignified anger to my troublemaking.

Over the course of months, I began to believe that I was a bad person and that I was going to go to hell. While I wasn’t obsessed with the thought, it was certainly an issue that began to prey upon my growing mind.

After yet another episode where I pushed my mother’s buttons once too often, it all became too much for me and I burst into tears, wailing about how I was going to go to hell because I was such a bad child.

My mother could have responded in one of three ways. She could have agreed with me and used the threat of Hell as a tool of control, she could have ignored my worries and let them fester, or she could have had one of those miraculous adult conversations that parents so often don’t seem to have with their children.

Thankfully for me, she chose the third path. Comforting me, she made it absolutely clear that while I was a naughty child, I certainly wasn’t a bad child and that there was nothing that I had done that would warrant my going to anywhere but heaven. She made it clear that I was just a child doing childish things and that her love for me wasn’t dependant on absolute good behaviour, but was unconditional and forever.

I doubt that my mother would even remember the event today, but for me it was truly transformational parenting and the sort of behaviour that I try to emulate when I am working with people spiritually.

Her comforting reassurance was enough to help me realise that the fires of hell were not in my future. Given how vividly I remember the event decades later, it will surprise few to know that it was with great relief that I went to bed that night.

I was fortunate. Over the years I have encountered dozens of people, whose parents took the exact opposite path to my mother. Since childhood, these people have been tormented with the “reality” of Hell and the belief that they could easily find themselves there. They invariably carry deep emotional scars and a foreboding sense of guilt just for being themselves and not being able to adapt to the dogmatic straightjacket into which they were born.

Invariably, the straight jacket isn’t discarded as an adult, which in turn leads to hypocritical behaviour as a person seeks to be their true self, while presenting a false face to the world in order to maintain their social acceptance. In many cases, the expression of the true self is regarded as somehow evil (even when it is obviously not) and held by the individual as being further proof of their ultimate damnation.

In several cases, these people have engaged in systematically self-destructive behaviour, almost as if they seek to act out the self that they have been told they are, at the expense of the self that they aspire to be. These behaviours have included everything from self-mutilation, to alcohol and drug abuse, to violent and otherwise antisocial activities.  This behaviour then feeds into and provides justification for the Hell narrative.

Should the straightjacket be discarded, the result is often significant social and family disharmony, up and including penalties, such as being disowned, disfellowshipped and rejected by one’s entire social support network. The person becomes free to plot their own path through eternity, but at significant cost.

Whatever the outcome, in my experience, inflicting the belief in Hell on children to the extent that they believe that it is a possibility for them, is uniformly destructive to the welfare of those children.

Make no mistake: Teaching belief in the Hell God is child abuse.

 

What is Hell?

Let us pause and consider what we mean when we speak of Hell. Both the Islamic Quran and the Christian New Testament are equally definite about Hell, although the Quran is especially graphic in its descriptions of the torments that await.

Judaism is mostly silent on issues of life after death, so Heaven and Hell don’t feature significantly within its theology.

At the most basic level Hell is considered a place of eternal torment (Matthew 13:41-50Mark 9: 43-49; Sura 4:56, Sura 19: 29 ) . Once you are there, there is no getting out Luke 16:26Sura 22: 19-22, Sura 47:15) so it is not like the doctrine of Purgatory, where there is at least some hope of escape.

Both the New Testament and the Quran make it clear that this is a destiny that awaits not only those who do evil in the world, but also those who reject the very teachings of Jesus, or Mohammed, respectively.

In other words, irrespective of which religion you are talking about, literally billions of people are condemned to eternal torment, not because they were evil, or caused harm to others, but because they couldn’t bring themselves to believe the unbelievable, or because much of their benign and even generous behaviour was considered sinful by someone else’s God.

 

Psychological Impact of a Belief in Hell

This belief has to be about the biggest psychological screw-over in history. To understand why, we need to put ourselves into the mind of a person who genuinely believes in the Hell God. So, for the remainder of this discussion, I’d like to ask you to imagine what it must be like to actually believe in this God with the same strength as you believe that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

Firstly, our God has no problem with sending billions of people into eternal torment, so what on earth is going to keep us safe? How can we ever know that we too aren’t destined for the fires of hell? Short answer: We can’t!

God knows our every thought and deed and no amount of pretence is going to fool him, irrespective of how much our hypocrisy might fool others.

When burdened with this belief we aren’t just walking around with a possible death sentence over our head, we are walking around with the certain knowledge that the slightest transgression or doubt could land us in the fires of Hell.

Without massive self censorship of our thoughts and behaviours, our doom is almost guaranteed.

But even if we, as Hell believers thinks that they we in the clear, imagine what must it be like to live in a world where most don’t share any belief in our particular God?

Every day, each of us talks and interacts with many perfectly wonderful and admirable people, many who would willingly take great sacrifices on our behalf and perhaps even give their own lives in defence of ours (think police, firemen and ambulance). But because they aren’t followers of our God, we must face the undeniable “reality” that all of these amazing, generous and compassionate people are destined for eternal torture.

Unless we are a sociopath, how can this not play havoc with our mind? Unless we were the most emotionally and morally stunted people on the planet, how could we not see that this represents the utter repudiation of love, justice and mercy? In holding that fundamentally good people deserve eternal torture, we are turning morality on its head.

That all these wonderful people are destined for Hell, can only play havoc with our sense of right and wrong.  When good becomes evil, and evil becomes good, any and all barbarism in the name of religion can, will and has been justified.

Most of us know good and evil when we see it. There is a reason that we cheer Luke Skywalker, over Darth Vader, or Harry Potter over Lord Voldemort. This is because we recognise that irrespective of their beliefs, the former represent the forces of Light and growth, while the latter represent the forces of Darkness and decay.

Once we believe in the Hell God, there is no real point in cheering any of these characters. None of them are believers, so they are all destined for eternal torment in the fires of Hell, irrespective of how good, courageous and loving they were during their lives. There could be no joy in these stories.

For the Hell Believer, there are no happy endings.

Staying in the mind of the Hell God believer it seems clear that they are already well and truly on their way there. Fear cannot help but be a major part of their lives. If not fear for themselves, then fear for those that they love and care about. In many religious communities, apostates are shunned, cast out and even killed. Fear of Hell for the individual very quickly morphs into actual Hell for the community.

The idea that belief in Hell has a corrosive impact on people’s wellbeing is supported by recent, robust scientific research that shows belief in Hell is significantly correlated with and causal to unhappiness.

Fear of eternal damnation leads to fear of any idea, or ideology that contradicts that of the Hell God, and the very denial of the universe discovered by science.  The logical conclusion of belief in the Hell God is a repudiation of reality itself, lest the self be distracted from worship and end up in the fires of Hell.

 

Worship of the Hell God as a Character Flaw.

Belief is something that is largely out of our own control.

We believe things because we encounter sufficient evidence for them and for a child raised on a diet of Hellfire and Brimstone, this evidence, in the form of social, cultural and parental “proof”  has been frequent and often overwhelming.

If you doubt it, just try to believe that you teleport thousands of miles in an instant, just with a single thought. With the exception of people suffering some sort of psychosis, I’d suggest that you’ll find it impossible to believe something so obviously out of touch with the reality based universe that most of us inhabit. Such is an utter contradiction of the reality that we’ve experienced our whole lives.

We can’t deny our own reality, even if we don’t necessarily all agree about what it looks like. For example, I have a schizophrenic friend, who routinely tells me that dead people are in the room and that UFOs hover over his house. Nothing I, or anybody else says is ever likely to dent the certainty of these beliefs.

In my experience, it is difficult for people raised within the Hell God traditions to ever fully escape the existential dread of this worldview. It can take an enormous amount of work and personal self discovery before they are finally free.

 

holocaustgermancitizenswitnesses

Multiplying this by Infinity doesn’t make this an act of LIGHT.

(Image: German citizens forced to confront the reality of the death camps after the Nazi defeat in WWII.)

 

Worship, on the other hand is a voluntary behaviour over which we have control. While we might believe that a particular God exists, it is up to us whether or not we decide to Worship that being, or follow its dictates.

Now, some may argue that Worship follows naturally from the existence of God to the believer. If you believe it is inherent that you worship. But, I’d disagree with this, and to illustrate I’ll use the example of an earthly leader.

Followers are to leaders as worshippers are to Gods. But whether we choose to follow a particular leader is something that we decide. Our decision to follow isn’t entailed by the fact that someone is a leader.

Not only this, but if the leader is barbaric enough, we have a moral obligation to not follow them, irrespective of what penalties might befall us.

For example, if our leader is Adolf Hitler, or someone equally abhorrent, most would suggest that our moral obligation not only involves not following them, but in the active obstruction of whatever diabolical plans they might wish to implement.

Resorting to the Nuremberg Defence in these situations is rightly regarded as a moral cop-out. Our own personal culpability is not rendered null and void, simply because a leader orders us otherwise.

Similarly, if our God-Leader orders us to obey Him, we have a similar moral obligation to refuse those orders if it is clear that this God-Leader happens to be a servant of evil.

Those of us with even a shred of compassion and empathy rightly quail when presented with images of the victims of humanity’s inhumanity to each other. Whether it is the holocaust, victims of crimes such as rape, murder or assault, the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, or the brutal killings of the modern Islamic Fundamentalist we not only recoil from these acts, but understand that at they represent evil and the forces of Darkness at the most basic level.

Multiply these by Infinity and you have the depths of depravity that the worshippers of the Hell God seem to think is not only acceptable behaviour, but admirable to the point that the perpetrator must be idolised and elevated above all other beings.

Now, one might argue that in light of the brutality presented by such a barbaric and omnipotent being, the logic of Pascal’s Wager becomes even more convincing. Irrespective of what one might know to be the ethically correct thing to do, worship of such a being is an act of self-preservation, much as the following of an evil leader is also an act of self-preservation.

The Nuremberg Defence might have been a copout, but at least those people were still alive and well to make that defence, rather than being dead, or irredeemably broken by torture. Far better to stave off eternal torment through worshipping an evil being than try to face it down and face pointless suffering.

I certainly understand and sympathise with that argument. I doubt that I would have the courage to face down the barbarians who rage throughout our own world, let alone one who holds my infinite destiny in His sociopathic and heartless gaze. While I would hope to have the courage to spit in the Hell God’s face on Judgement Day, I can’t fault those who do not.

On the other hand, at least now we are being honest about the true nature of the threat and acknowledging that the Hell God is evil, rather than loving, merciful and just. Surely the moral reasons for opposing that being are just as real as those for opposing any other evil.

The greater the Evil, the greater the moral imperative to oppose its influence.

Irrespective of the justifications put forward, worship of an Evil God of Darkness is indicative of a flaw of character that mirrors that of any follower who obeys and idolises an evil leader.

Whether it represents a lack of empathy and compassion, cowardice, willful ignorance about one’s own path, or even a true commitment to evil and the Path of Darkness, worship of the Hell God is a sign that something Dark lurks within the breast of the worshipper and a sure sign that they are perhaps closer to the Hell that they see for others than any Heaven that they hope for themselves.