Category Archives: Islam

Sura 4:34 and Domestic Violence in Islam.

This article arose from discussion with a female Islamic friend, who was experiencing a crisis of faith with respect to the nature of her belief.

One area of concern was the conflict that she felt between following her own dreams and aspirations and following the dictates demanded by her religion’s dogmas and behavioural expectations for women. In particular, she was concerned that her family regarded her as having no ultimate say in her destiny, based on their understanding of Sura 4:34 of the Quran.

 

Domestic Violence Poster 1ALERT: Please scroll to the bottom if you are looking for Domestic Violence Support Service contact details.

In responding to her, I located an article online that defended the Sura and then addressed the points raised by that author, who far from being horrified that his holy book authorises domestic violence, claims that the relevant verse is instead the cure for domestic violence.

This kind of repugnant denial of the reality of spousal abuse demonstrates the lengths that people will go to in order to defend their religious belief and to avoid having to confront a range of assorted, multicoloured elephants tap-dancing in their living rooms. It should serve as a wakeup call to all of us to make sure that we aren’t similarly justifying the inexcusable within our own religious traditions.

 

The Sura, or Verse and its translation

The “Wife Beating Sura” is contained within the  fourth Sura of the Quran known in Arabic as “An-Nisa”, or “women”. It gains its name from the many references to women made in it. Having said this, the Sura is not simply about women, as it discusses issues of inheritance, orphans, children and marriage laws among others.

It is generally regarded as a “Medinan Sura” and therefore of being one of the later chapters to be revealed, most likely after Mohammed and his followers had been forced to migrate to Medina after fleeing persecution in Mecca.

The Sura itself is 4:34

[4:34] The men are made responsible for the women, and GOD has endowed them with certain qualities, and made them the bread earners. The righteous women will cheerfully accept this arrangement, since it is GOD’s commandment, and honor their husbands during their absence. If you experience rebellion from the women, you shall first talk to them, then (you may use negative incentives like) deserting them in bed, then you may (as a last alternative) beat them. If they obey you, you are not permitted to transgress against them. GOD is Most High, Supreme.

A fairly typical article in defence of it (written by a Muslim) can be found here.

I have used his preferred translation of the verse, but at the outset, I would point out that this is a very generous translation of the Sura. And despite this, the author has felt it necessary to include additional qualifiers that aren’t in the original text in brackets.

Thankfully, for us who don’t read Arabic, the Wikipedia entry on that verse contains alternate translations, none of which agree on the qualifiers and two which don’t include them at all. This demonstrates that making insertions aimed at changing the basic thrust of controversial texts is a common tactic of modern Islamic scholars, who want to make the Quran seem less threatening.

Interestingly enough, as I understand it, Islam generally holds that making modifications to the Holy Quran is blasphemy, but obviously not if it advances your argument.

In any case, these qualifiers are absent from the original Arabic text as are any indications that Allah is laying out a progression of events, rather than merely listing things to do to a rebellious wife in order of seriousness. For example M.K. Shakir translates the important section as “…those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in their sleeping places and beat them.” As can be seen, there is no hint of any stepped approach to the administration of punishment. It is simply a list of things to do.

 

The Submission of Women to Men in Islam

The first thing to note, is that the Sura relies on the assumption that a woman is the property and chattel of a man and that he can effectively tell her what to do and that she is required to submit to his decisions. If she fails to do so, she is being “rebellious” and Allah decrees that she may be punished for her transgression.

While this passage includes the expected submission of women to their husbands, the initial verse makes it clear that the submission required is much broader than that. Women are expected to submit to men as a category, not just to their husbands as individuals. Men are considered, “responsible” for women, in a way that treats them as if they were children.

This typifies the traditional patriarchal notion that women are inferior to men and not to be trusted with independent decision-making, or allowed to have any independent control over their lives.

Of course, in the 150 years since Western societies started actually letting women demonstrate their capabilities they have demonstrated exactly the opposite. While physically different, women are just as capable as men in every area that they set their minds to. Indeed over 100 years of psychological research has failed to find any evidence to suggest women are reliably inferior to men in any area. For a clear example of their ability one need to go no further than university graduations, were women consistently outperform men.

This last point is vital, as if god had ordained women to be inferior to men, science would have demonstrated this and proven it beyond doubt. Certainly, men and women are different, but neither is necessarily inferior to the other and thus the initial verse of the Sura is clearly wrong.

 

Domestic Violence: Where the Quran gets it wrong.

Irrespective of what the Quran says, spousal abuse is never acceptable. Regardless of the justification, beating any sentient, whether it be a person, or animal is wrong. Any god who claims otherwise, merely demonstrates that they lack the supposed attribute of being “good”. Even if the husband were to walk in on his wife cheating on him, he still does not have the right to attack, or physically abuse anyone. Certainly one could argue that doing so in such cases, would be understandable, but this doesn’t make it either moral, or virtuous behaviour.

The author of the article is overjoyed that “Abuse of a wife will not happen if the man learns to follow the clear commandments of God in this verse and in the order decreed. Abuse will only happen when a man does not follow these commandments, and thus fails to cool off and reason with himself or with his wife”.

Frankly this is a crock. As anyone with experience in DV will confirm, spousal abuse can occur without either partner laying a finger on the other. Psychological abuse is just as dangerous and immoral as physical abuse and perhaps even more so, because it is often not regarded as “abuse”. So, based on the fact that wives should not be rebellious, Sura 4:34 gives the husband a free hand to psychologically abuse his wife, as all he will be doing is “talking” to her.

Another reason that this is a crock, is that the threatened or implied threat of a beating is just as immoral as a beating itself. Intimidation, such as standing over the wife, slamming doors, throwing things and the like all are designed to remind the victim that failure to comply with the demands of the aggressor will result in these things happening to the victim, rather than the furniture. It isn’t subtle, but Sura 4:34 allows it, and indeed the reworked translation above encourages it in spades.

The author states that the “The theme of this Sura is to defend women’s rights, and countering injustice and oppression of women. Thus, any interpretation of verses in Sura 4 must be in favour of the women, not the other way around”. Sadly that is the author’s opinion and not contained within the Sura. Honestly read, Sura 4 puts women firmly under the control of the men with no way of breaking that control without going against the will of god. They either do what they are told, or face the punishment that Allah has ordained.

Even if one accepts the author’s argument that it gave women “rights that were first available to western women only a few decades ago, and some that still aren’t” (What that last is referring to I have no idea. I’ve read the Sura and can’t come up with anything), it still places women on the end of the male leash and a dog is still a dog, irrespective of how big the leash might be. The fact that Christianity and other religions, or cultures, have routinely supported the abuse of women is hardly a defence in favour of Islam also doing so.

The whole point of recognising the equality of women was to remove the leash, not merely make it longer.

 

Sura 4:34 vs the Ethical Principle

Clearly the author’s justifications of this text are a woefully poor excuse for the ongoing abuse of women. Even sillier it relies on the claim that a “believing” couple would never have any issues (conveniently ignoring non-physical abuse, as above) and that somehow this makes Islam somehow better than the alternatives.

But it doesn’t. In fact it merely demonstrates how its morality is in fact inferior to the Ethical Principle, “Act with Empathy”. If partners in marriage seek to understand the other, and treat them as they wish to be treated, domestic violence would not occur, as the partner doing the beating would have too much empathy for the suffering of his victim. To act with Empathy, one must accept the unstated premise that all people are equal and that none has any implicit, or arbitrary right to be considered superior to others.

Of course, a little empathy will probably reveal that most women would love to be banished from the bed of an obnoxious, violent partner. I can hear them screaming “punish me, punish me” all the way to the couch, where they settle in for a good night’s sleep free of fear and snoring.

Does anyone seriously believe that a Sura so lacking in basic empathy and compassion for the victims of abuse was dictated by a being even remotely worthy of being called god?

 

Obey me and my god, or go to hell!

Also, it is interesting to note that in an article addressing domestic violence, the author leaves us with a quite unsubtle threat:

We have to know that we are not in this world to protect unrighteous behavior. We are in this world to be given a last chance to make the right choice and submit to God alone. Making the wrong choices will have consequences for all of us, both in this world and in the eternal Hereafter, for women and men equally.”

In other words, obey me and my god, or you will go to hell for eternity!

I address the pointlessness of hell and explain why worship of the Hell God is a significant character flaw elsewhere.

For now, let me just say that this is one of the oldest, most insidious, and most effective weapons in the religious zealot’s arsenal, particularly once you entertain even the slightest possibility that it might be true.

Once you are hooked on this, fear will dominate your every waking moment and nothing they ask of you can be considered immoral. Every natural defence against acting unethically, your conscience, integrity, personal morality and even common sense, becomes overwhelmed by the pervasive threat of eternal agony and damnation. Even independent thought becomes immoral, and those who choose to Act with Empathy become the agents of Satan, or perhaps even Satan himself.

Of course, in a typically hypocritical manner the threat is followed by the clearly contradictory reminder that:

“God is the Most Just, the Most Merciful”.

 

Let me state things clearly: If Allah allows the subjugation and beating of wives by their brutish, ignorant and often far stupider husbands, he is far less just, far less good and far less merciful than even I and not worthy of any kind of worship.

 

Are you a victim of Domestic Violence?

Are you, or is someone you know suffering from Domestic Violence, or abuse? Are you, or is someone you know perpetrating Domestic Violence? If so, do not hesitate to contact one of the excellent support services available.

For Australians The Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria has an excellent and up to date list of contacts who can help.

For New Zealanders, the New Zealand Family Violence Clearing House lists contact numbers.

Safe Place Services also lists support line and website details for people in Australia and New Zealand

For people in the USA contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

For readers in the United Kingdom, Women’s Aid  support a network of over 500 domestic and sexual violence services across the UK

For people in other parts of the world, the Australian Domestic Violence Clearing House lists a whole raft of services both within Australia and Internationally.

Thin Skinned, Obnoxious Militants

LOL!!

It is always intriguing how insecure so many militant believers actually are. They are so happy to abuse and condemn others, but can’t handle anybody taking them to task for their inaccuracies, or routine obnoxiousness.

jesus-says-meme-generator-no-really-get-the-fuck-out-of-here-4090cfIf this is your immediate response to even mild criticism, then maybe you need to take a hard look in the mirror of life. 

 

A while ago, I was invited to a closed group of atheists on Facebook, run by one of these people. Despite not being an atheist (at least not by a definition that they would accept), I accepted the invite, because there is often some good discussion in these groups.

Turned out that I was wrong!

Today, the group’s Rather Obsessed Founder (ROF) posted a link hostile to Islam, which was commented on by someone who was obviously a Muslim (don’t know how he managed to get in!), to which ROF immediately posted an obnoxious reply to the effect that Mohammed was a pedophile and a terrorist.

Ironically, I had just posted my own reply to our Muslim friend, pointing out that while Mohammed was a pretty cool guy for his time, his “model society” was still significantly flawed, especially in its treatment of women.

So, I am hardly an apologist for Islam! I replied to ROF calling him out for being both needlessly rude and factually incorrect. Firstly, while Mohammed did consummate his relationship with his nine-year old wife, there is no evidence that he met the DSM-V definition for pedophilia, which requires “a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally age 11 years or younger.”

Secondly, while Mohammed engaged in the sorts of raids and warfare that is typical of tribal societies, he demonstrated considerable reluctance to go to war and sought to spare captives where possible. For example, when he entered and captured Mecca he did so at the head of a band of unarmed followers. There was nothing to stop his enemies slaughtering him, but he took the chance and in doing so avoided considerable bloodshed.

ROF then sought to tell me that he “calls it like it is” and is “brutally honest”, before posting a rather unimaginative picture of Jesus telling me to “get the fuck out of here” (see above).

I responded by calling him out yet once again, and pointing out that every ignorant, anti-social jerk hides behind the “call it like it is” and “brutally honest” catchphrases. I also pointed out that I wasn’t going anywhere, and if he was that insecure that he couldn’t cope with people disagreeing with him, he should simply eject me from his closed-group, nightmare utopia.

Which he promptly did! To add insult to injury (his not mine) he then proceeded to block me entirely from his Facebook experience.

It just goes to show that what is important isn’t what people believe, but how they behave. Here you have a guy who is so convinced that he is right and that everyone else is wrong, that he sees no problem in hurling his anger, frustration and abuse at perfect strangers, while demonstrating that he is incapable of handling the gentlest of criticism.

In all honesty, I don’t see any difference between people like ROF and many of the fundamentalist theists that he opposes and attacks. In both cases, these people have not only already made up their minds, but tied their entire self-worth into an external identification, whether it be as an atheist, Christian, Muslim, or whatever.

Apply even the smallest of challenges to this worldview and the result is an overwhelming attack and/or rejection, as the person feels the very core of their being come under attack. God help us if these people ever achieve political power.

Once again, I find myself wishing to express the sentiment that I believe that all people of goodwill can and should work together in order to achieve a win-win solution to the problems that plague our world.

People are people, irrespective of were you find them, or what they believe. Good and bad exists in every person and in every culture (although I do believe that some cultures are better than others, because they do more to promote values of tolerance, understanding and compassion) and our job needs to be to reach out to people who are prepared to work with us towards a better world, irrespective of what they happen to believe about the nature of ultimate reality.

While I routinely criticise the belief structures of others, when it comes down to it, I know that nothing I write is likely to change your mind and don’t really care what you believe, unless those beliefs are antithetical to my wellbeing, or the wellbeing of others. If your beliefs tell you to persecute, condemn and kill people who are doing no harm to others, then I have to say that I don’t regard you as a person of good will.

If you think it is OK to be an obnoxious jerk, or violent towards those who disagree with you, it matters little to me if you are an atheist, agnostic, or theist, because if you believe this, then you are the problem, not the solution.

Today’s experience was with someone who honestly seems to believe that he is the solution. I’m guessing that despite his thin skin and possible self-esteem issues, his self-image is of being on the “right side” and probably even a “good person” for standing up for “Truth”. Despite this, all he is actually doing is making the world a more hostile, angry and antagonistic place for us all.

Time for us all to recognise that our beliefs don’t define whether we are agents of Light, or Dark. None of us holds reality in the palm of our hands and we need to learn to work together and play nice with the other children if we are ever going to bring peace to our world.

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.

The Pointlessness of Hell

The material in this section originally came about because I was randomly emailed by some very rude Christians, who were determined to save my eternal soul from the barbarisms of their loving god. Intrusion into my private space arose because of comments that I occasionally leave on various forums in which I discuss theology and philosophy. A few of the offending (and offensive) comments are below. I only include initials, because I don’t really want to encourage either stupidity, or bad spelling and these people don’t deserve to get their names up in lights.

 

hell1180manuscript

 

Its Hell Out There!

 

” I think that you need to think about that. WE have been warnging yoU! we are telling you! you need to accept Jesus into your life. He loves you and is waiting for you. Other wise…I am sorry for you. You had your warning.” KTS

“Jesus doesn’t inflict Hell on anyone. People inflict it on themselves by refusing Christ offer to pay for their sins. I and everyone else sins each day. I am not perfect, I am only FORGIVEN. ” DR

“Jesus loves u and God, His Father does…but if u lack the Holy Spirit and you reject Christ, u will not see heaven. Read your Bible Greg. God is judge and love, both, not just one…that is how satan is deceiving many right now in this world. Please read your Bible, He will reap judgment on this world, really He is already by allowing things like disease, etc. Get a grip Greg, read your Bible and I will pray, the Truth of it comes thru in your mind and heart. Love u in the Lord.” BC

“Dude you seem to thrive on bigotry and insolence. If you know the word of God, then you are without excuse. Do you understand hyperbole? It.s used to compare our feelings for our family as hatred compared to the supernatural love that we have for Christ. We never stop loving our familys. Christ taught on the sermon of the mount that hatred is as murder. I’m no genius or expert in anything, but I know in whom I have believed. Sir/mam it takes guts to say what you’re saying, not because of the people in this forum, but because Christ will judge the living and the dead at His appearing as written in scripture” AL

This is only a sampling of the relevant hate mail landing in my inbox. But in each case, the writer obviously believes that their deity is going to inflict needless, eternal and evil torture on a significant section of the population, starting with one Greg Kasarik.

While the comments that I have received have been from Christians, what I have to say applies equally to Muslims and others who believe in a literal Eternal Hell.

Hell is pointless!

 

By it’s very definition Hell doesn’t achieve anything!

If I punish someone here on earth, it is with the intention of modifying their behaviour, so that they don’t repeat offend. In addition, one might argue that it is so that others might see the punishment and refrain from acting in that manner (although research, particularly on the death penalty shows almost no evidence of this).

One could also argue that it serves some metaphysical concept of “Justice”, in which case the proverbial “scales” of justice are weighed and an appropriate punishment given out, thereby balancing the scales because the perpetrator suffers an appropriate penalty for their transgressions.

Perhaps final possible reason for punishment is that of allowing the aggrieved party to achieve closure, in that they knowledge of the punishment helps to alleviate some of their pain.

Now, lets look at “Hell”.

The first two reasons for punishment don’t apply. By definition, it is for eternity, so nobody is going to be given the opportunity to reform and behave better next time. Also, as the punishment lies beyond our earthly gaze, it is an incredibly inefficient way of changing other people’s behaviour.

With respect to the first two reasons for punishment, Hell achieves nothing.

Which brings us to the third reason for punishment, closure for the victim. Care needs to be taken here as some victims would, through reasons of their own, seek to impose penalties far in excess of the original crime. The hilarious example occurred recently when someone tried to sue the Bank of America for 1,784 billion, trillion dollars. But the “victim” in this case is God, who we are being told is so aggrieved by my failure to believe in him that he demands that I suffer for eternity? 1,784 billion, trillion doesn’t even begin to scratch an eternity, but even if the punishment was that I suffer for this many days it would, in any reasonable assessment, judged excessive in the extreme.

When looking at the final reason for punishment, the impartial balancing of the scales of justice, we need to take a close look at the nature of the crime.

In this cases of the believers above, the crime was my “failure to believe”. Hardly the stuff that eternal torment should be made of. What about other crimes, such as murder, rape and the like? Aren’t these more worthy of eternal suffering? Indeed, take an unavowed mass murderer like Mao Zedong, who was probably responsible for the deaths of more than 40 million people; if we were to send him to jail for a full term of 25 years for each, he would “only” be in jail for a billion years. A fair whack of time, but not even a decent start on eternity.

The very nature of the “crime” is suspect. Most would agree that “Belief” is based on evidence. If I don’t believe, it is because there isn’t enough evidence.

For example, if I were to say to someone that I have a talking rabbit in my kitchen, would anybody expect them to believe me?

No! In fact, we’d doubt the rationality of anyone who did. A person couldn’t even “choose” to believe me, as no amount of choice on anyone’s part is going to be able to make them believe something as nonsensical as talking rabbits.

Similarly, if I were to challenge a person’s belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, they’d need damned good evidence to abandon this belief and no amount of “choosing” to believe otherwise is going to work.

Of course, organised religion has spent centuries coming up with formulaic phrases designed to make non-believers seem like they are actively defying God, rather than sitting around going WTF?

For example, I’ve routinely been accused of “hardening my Heart against Jesus”. How anyone can harden their hearts against something that they don’t believe in beggars the imagination. I may as well be accused of hardening my heart against fairies, Darth Vader, or Ralph the Invisible Pink Unicorn (RIPU).

Belief is all about available evidence and there just isn’t enough objective evidence to warrant belief in any deity, let alone the Christian one. This is made abundantly clear when you realise that after 2000 years, Christianity has only a 30% market penetration worldwide. Coca Cola has at least this much after only 100. And don’t get me started on the ubiquity of Microsoft Windows after less than a generation.

Whose job is it to provide the evidence?

I’d suggest that it is the responsibility of the guy supposedly running the show (AKA God).  So, if there isn’t enough evidence, and God is responsible for providing it, then I’d suggest that blame lies with him and that it would be totally unjust punishment me for his error. In fact, if anybody is going to end up in Hell, its him, on account of sheer laziness, and ineptitude.

But what of the nature of God? Is it plausible that he would be as offended and hurt as you surely must claim? I’d suggest not. As defined by the Hellraising monotheistic faiths, God is Infinite, Omniscient, Omnipotent, the source of Ultimate Good, and chock block full of justice, love, mercy and forgiveness.

I would suggest to you that an infinitely good, omniscient being is also infinitely well-adjusted with a psychological stability beyond comprehension. He can forgive the most grievous transgression not just once, but a 1,784 billion, trillion times. He will punish, but only to the point of necessity and no further. It is inconceivable that an infinitely loving being could pointlessly inflict needless suffering on a creature that he loves. Such a being would descend into madness in the blink of an eye.

For those who believe in Hell I would ask, do you have a pet, a partner, or children that you genuinely love? What madness would have to be eating into your brain to make you inflict torture upon them? (Hint: If you are fine with torturing someone you claim to love, you really need to look up the meaning of either, or both those words).

Perhaps most importantly, the Eternal Hellraising God is Omnipotent! He can do anything he likes! Can anyone seriously try to claim that an Omnipotent being doesn’t have a choice over whether to torture me for eternity, or not? He certainly does; that’s the whole point of Omnipotence! Yes, I have my free will, but don’t for a second try to claim that my free will invalidates that of a God!

If God doesn’t like how I exert my “free will” (and once again, belief has nothing to do with “free will”), he has the free will to choose how to deal with me. He can either educate me properly, as I would do for any of my children, or pets, or he can freely choose to inflict cruel, pointless and unjust suffering on me. If he chooses the latter, he is obviously a mad god and not worthy of anyone’s worship in the first place.

A More Likely Story.

In conclusion, I’d like to put forward an alternative, much more likely idea.

God is an infinite being, who as we have seen, possesses precisely the characteristics that would prevent him from needlessly inflicting suffering on any other being. Man (and I use the gender term for “Humanity” deliberately here) however, is greedy, fearful, egotistical and desperate for power over his fellows. A doctrine of “hell” doesn’t begin to match the behaviour that we would expect from a just and loving God. It does however, match what we would expect from any man seeking to exert control over his fellows. What better way, than to terrify believers into submission, so that they police themselves for heresy, rather than actively searching for the truth of God’s wonder and majesty?

Accordingly, I would suggest that any belief system that contains threats of eternal damnation, is of man, not of God and we should all recognise the implications this has for our lives.

Ironically, within the context of my own Mystical journey, I have begun to realise that just as states of absolute Joy exist, so to do states of absolute despair and misery. Darkness is real, and it is incumbent upon each of us to choose our own paths through Eternity. Some people will choose Darkness and I believe that the belief in Hell is one such indicator that a person has chosen a path of Darkness.

Ironically, it is the person who believes in Hell as a destination for others who is far closer to Hell than anyone else, if for no other reason than because his conceptualisation of reality actually contains HELL, and because they believe that it is a Good thing!

From there, it is only a small step into the Fires.