The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'hell'
Skeptic PZ Myers recounts how, when he was a child, a crazy Christian lady converted him, unwittingly, to atheism:
And then she told us to kneel down in the gravel by the side of the road and put our hands on her Bible, which we did, because at this point I was afraid if I didn't our Mommy and Daddy would find our little corpses with our throats slit and a mad woman dancing in our blood. Then she recited some lengthy vow with lots of Jesus in it, looked at us expectently with another mad-eyed grin, and we mumble-whispered "yes, ma'am" and she let us go, throats uncut, hearts still in our chests, heads still attached to our necks, while she capered off triumphantly, having secured two more souls for her lord and master. She thought. But, as you can know now, all she actually managed to do was make me aware that people who believe in Heaven and Hell are freakin' nutbag insane.Myers goes on to tear apart the ideas of an eternal afterlife, using the power of reason, starting with Hell in its various guises, from the absurdly corporeal (lakes of fire, with the damned being magically suspended for eternity in the state of a very physical death-agony; i.e., the stuff designed to scare the less sophisticated thinkers), and then working up to more subtle variations:
Other visions of Hell are a bit more sophisticated — it's a place of psychological torture, unending despair and futility, where you feel regret and sorrow for all time, or suffer because you are deprived of the presence of God. That's a bit more plausible for a disembodied self, I suppose, but still…throw a mob of people in a Slough of Despond for a long, long time, and at some point someone is going to get together with someone else and form a Glee Club, and there will be singing in Hell. And then a rugby match will break out, and there will be cheering and betting, and thespians will be pestering Shakespeare for some new plays, and before you know it, culture will emerge and it won't be Hell so much anymore.
But all right, let's assume God has figured out ways to permanently suppress the human spirit among all those deceased spirits, and actually has contrived a truly painful Hell, one that I can not imagine but that he can, being God and all. Now we've got the problem that the loving God we're all supposed to worship is an imaginative, creative death camp commandant, one who also maintains a luxury spa on the side.Heaven, alas, doesn't fare any better. The visions of the blissful eternal reward awaiting the virtuous (or, in more liberal theologies, everyone) all fall down on closer examination. Some seem, frankly, hellish (an eternity of singing praises to God, surrounded by puritans?), and others are either inconsistent with human nature or have the nihilistic qualities of an eternal crack cocaine binge:
A paradise is also inhuman (I know, one can get around this by arguing that after death you can't be human anymore, by definition; but then that requires throwing away the idea of life after death, which is what most people find appealing). Think about what defines you now: it's how you think, your personality, your desires and how you achieve them — by what you strive for. Finish one project, and what do you do (after a little celebration, of course)? You look for something else to strive for, a new goal to keep you interested and occupied. But now you're in heaven. All wishes are fulfilled, all desires achieved, we're done with everything we've ever dreamed of, making Heaven a kind of retirement home where everyone is waiting to die. Waiting forever.Of course, one could imagine ways around this. Perhaps there would be entire legions of angels whose job would be to lay on the entertainment, distracting the saved souls from eternal boredom in the way that one amuses a housecat (which, remember, is a territorial predator with no prey and nothing to defend its territory against) with a laser pointer. Actually, the idea of one of the newly-dead exploring and pushing against the logical constraints of a heaven, and discovering the infinite layers of distracting angels required to keep it heavenly and keep God's side of the contract to His faithful departed, and coming up against an infinitely sophisticated machinery moulded to the logical necessities (however odd) of keeping humans entertained for eternity, could be a good premise for a sci-fi (or, more accurately, phil-fi) story.
As problematic as the common Western idea of heaven is, the alternative involves the annihilation of the self as we know it in a supernova of infinite, mindless ecstasy, like a heroin overdose that goes on forever. (Blessed are the junkies?) And while that may be plausible, it doesn't sit well with the Abrahamic religions or most people's idea of heaven:
There are some religions that embrace this sublime vision of an ultimate end that does not include the mundane humanity of its believers — the Buddhist afterlife does seem to be a kind of selfless oblivion — but that does not include the Abrahamic religions. They've still got the cartoonish anthropocentric version of an afterlife, where you've got a body with limbs and tongues and penises and vaginas, and you get to indulge in the senses within certain confining rules. You get to meet Grandma and Grandpa again, and they aren't all subsumed in the godhead — they're there to give you hugs and a plate of cookies. And that's just silly. I can't believe a word of it.
The town of Kingsville, Texas, is doing its bit in the battle against the powers of evil by banning the word "hello", which contains the word "hell":
"When you go to school and church, they tell you 'hell' is negative and 'heaven' is positive,'" said the 56-year-old Canales, who owns the Kingsville Flea Market. "I think it's time that we set a new precedent, to tell our kids that we are positive adults."
On Thursday, courthouse employees were answering the phones, "heaven-o." And the chamber of commerce was working on a campaign promoting Kingsville, a Rio Grande Valley town of 25,000, as a "heavenly" place to visit.
Canales, a Catholic but not a regular churchgoer, has been as serious as heck about "hello" since 1988, when he told his brother he might start greeting people with "God-o." His brother suggested "heaven-o" instead.Pointing out that the word "hello" has no etymological connection with the word "hell" (the OED says that it stems from an old German greeting for hailing a boat) is, as one might expect, of little avail to the sort of mediæval mindset that finds omens and portents in things.
The Catholic Church has just revised the list of mortal sins. Among new things which damn the sinner to Hell for all eternity if not absolved is engaging in "manipulative genetic science", i.e., modifying genetic material. To be fair, the Vatican did just erect a statue of Galileo, the scientist they forced on pain of death to recant the theory that the earth went around the sun, so they're not entirely anti-scientific; they just like their science to mature for a few centuries.
Other things Catholics may not do without risking eternal damnation include abortion (natch) and paedophilia, taking or dealing drugs (presumably not including socially acceptable ones, such as alcohol, nicotine or caffeine) or "the excessive accumulation of wealth by a few" (that's a few individuals, not the Church itself).
A blogger named John finds a stack of 1960s-vintage womens' magazines, blogs about them being a depressing insight into how people coped with suburban isolation in the days before personal blogs/World of Warcraft/MySpace:
Some time ago at a yard sale I came across a pile of magazines called "Woman's Household". At first glance they just looked like your run of the mill woman's recipe and crafts magazine, but with each one I picked up I was stunned; I had never seen such despair wrapped up in so much yarn. The woman running the sale, gave them all to me for a dollar, saying "Take them all, they are just going in the garbage." I knew I'd do something with them someday, I guess this blog is it.
"Woman's Household" was a monthly crafts publication which sold for 25 cents an issue. Their slogan was "Meet Other Friendly Woman Just Like You". The key phrase being 'just like you'; middle aged women isolated in small towns across America. Every month readers were encouraged to participate in the writing of the articles, such as My Pet Peeve, or Words I Live By, My Diet or just to write a poem about Christ or their cat.
My favorite section is Missing Persons Corner. Here people ask for help in finding a long, long lost friend or relative. Usually the description of the person is vague at best, i.e., liked to drive cars; five foot five, last seen in Pensacola Florida. The most amazing thing is that they even have a section for people found.Then again, would the suburban housewives who read these magazines in the 1960s have felt the kind of despair and isolation that John describes, or is our perception of this as depressing an artefact of us living in a far faster-moving and more stimulus-rich world? I suspect that the boredom may be subjective; whether or not the social isolation of living in the suburbs would have been objectively distressing could be a different question.
(via Boing Boing)
A new study from US Federal Reserve economists has shown that countries with widespread beliefs in Hell and damnation are less corrupt and more prosperous. The report, of course, casts a very flattering light on the US, with its marriage of fire-and-brimstone Christianity and free-market liberalism like a shining beacon to all. Common sense psychology, or more of the Bush administration's neo-Lysenkoist ideological pseudoscience? (via bOING bOING)
Amazing: A look at the folklore of homeless children, as handed down from child to child in streets and homeless shelters in Miami, kept secret from adults. The stories show a dark world of cosmic war, where God has been forced into exile by hordes of demons, Satan and the terrible Bloody Mary are at large, and outnumbered legions of angels are hiding in the Everglades; an angel named the Blue Lady is on the side of good, but can only help you if you know her true name, which nobody does. Very archetypal, and existing in very similar form.
No one knows why God has never reappeared, leaving his stunned angels to defend his earthly estate against assaults from Hell. "Demons found doors to our world," adds eight-year-old Miguel, who sits before Andre with the other children at the Salvation Army shelter. The demons' gateways from Hell include abandoned refrigerators, mirrors, Ghost Town (the nickname shelter children have for a cemetery somewhere in Dade County), and Jeep Cherokees with "black windows."
There is no Heaven in the stories, though the children believe that dead loved ones might make it to an angels' encampment hidden in a beautiful jungle somewhere beyond Miami. To ensure that they find it, a fresh green palm leaf (to be used as an entrance ticket) must be dropped on the beloved's grave.
Research by Harvard's Robert Coles indicates that children in crisis -- with a deathly ill parent or living in poverty -- often view God as a kind, empyrean doctor too swamped with emergencies to help. But homeless children are in straits so dire they see God as having simply disappeared. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam embrace the premise that good will triumph over evil in the end; in that respect, shelter tales are more bleakly sophisticated. "One thing I don't believe," says a seven-year-old who attends shelter chapels regularly, "is Judgment Day." Not one child could imagine a God with the strength to force evildoers to face some final reckoning.
Folklorists were so mystified by the Bloody Mary polygenesis, and the common element of using a mirror to conjure her, that they consulted medical literature for clues.
Darkness, despair and street violence. I'll be surprised if this isn't picked up as a Vertigo comic (or butchered into a dire Hollywood popcorn flick). (via Rebecca's Pocket)