Posts Tagged ‘god’

Rob Bell, Hell, and the Evangelical Uproar

Posted: March 15, 2011 by skepticalprogrammer in Atheism
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Recently a pastor friend of mine shared a link to a critique of Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins. For those who haven’t heard about the controversy, the Evangelical Christian community is in an uproar because in Love Wins Rob suggests that a loving God would not send anyone to “Hell” as hell is traditionally defined. Instead of the traditional eternal torment and torture in a fire with no hope of escape for all eternity, Rob speculates that Hell could be more aptly described as the pain and suffering we put ourselves through when we live apart from the wonder of God’s creation.

The critique above basically sums up Rob’s book as the path to Hell (as traditionally defined, not as Rob defines it), and shows the author’s lack of critical thinking skills by using a number of logical fallacies to demonize Rob’s claims. One fallacy in particular that bothered me can be found in the following passage:

Throughout the book he engages in what can best be described as exegetical gymnastics, particularly in dealing with the Greek word aion, a small word that is crucial to his arguments.

While this word is commonly translated as “eternal” or “everlasting,” Bell argues that it can also mean “age” or “period of time,” or even “intensity of experience.” Using this approach, he briefly argues from the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46) that eternal punishment isn’t eternal, but rather an intense period of pruning.

Now here’s the thing: aion and aionos definitely can mean “age” or “period of time,” they also mean “eternal.” The word’s context helps us to determine its meaning. So if we assume that these words primarily mean “age” or “period of time,” what happens when we apply that definition to John 3:16 where aionosis used?

For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have life for a period of time.

Not as encouraging, is it? While Bell might argue here that “life abundant” might be a better fit (playing on the “intensity of experience” angle and tying it to John 10:10), at the end of the day, we’re left with an approach that gives more credence to living your best life now than it does to worshipping Jesus.

Rob Bell’s argument is not that aion primarily means “age”, or even that it means “age” more often than eternal. Rob’s argument is that in the passages that are often used to describe hell aion can be translated more accurately as “age” or “period of time”. As anyone who has translated text can tell you, context is everything. While translating from English for example, the phrase “Firing up a bowl” would translate very differently depending on whether you were talking about pottery or a party; likewise the Spanish word Mariposa can either reference a butterfly or a homosexual depending on the context.

Why then would someone who is obviously familiar with translating from Greek make such a rookie mistake in logic? I believe the answer is that he is terrified of the implications of Rob’s assertions.

Without Hell, Christianity will die.

As a former Evangelical I can tell you that the thought of those I loved (or even those I didn’t know) ending up in Hell was enough for me to go out of my way to ensure that they never had to endure that torment, and I was from a church which focused on God’s grace rather than hell most of the time. Others such as my wife however, were not so lucky. Growing up in a more conservative background, she heard about the horrors of eternal damnation regularly in sermons, “Judgment Houses”, and everyday conversation. Because of this, she experienced fear and guilt when she began questioning her faith, partially because she had been conditioned to think that not believing would bring her eternal and excruciating pain. When it comes to converting others to Christianity, you would be hard pressed to hear an alter call that does not mention Hell as the alternative to faith in Jesus. Overall, without hell there is very little reason to convert to Christianity, or to avoid deconverting from Christianity.

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This video brings tears to my eyes. Every time. I hope it touches you as much as it did me.

Major life events do not need to invoke religion or a deity to be special and meaningful to the individuals involved.

Seriously. I wouldn’t think something so simple would need to be said, but recently, I realized even more just how saturated our culture is with religious language and thought. People seem unable to express even basic human sentiments without invoking the supernatural.

skepticalProgrammer and I have been searching for a song to play in the background of a slideshow with Little Bit’s hospital photos. You wouldn’t believe just how difficult it is to find something that isn’t completely focused on God/Jesus/Religion rather than the special occasion of a baby being born or the relationship between parents & child. After weeks of searching, we decided to either go with something instrumental or Phil Collin’s You’ll Be in My Heart. There were hardly any secular (or even loosely religious) options available. Can people really not celebrate an enormously special occasion without all the supernatural platitudes? Can’t your baby’s birth, or your marriage, or your graduation, or your anniversary, or any other significant life event be about the PEOPLE involved, their lives, their accomplishments–the simple beauty of nature and humanity?

And after all the frustration of trying to find an appropriate song, I am even more frustrated to know that when he is born, well-meaning friends and family will be telling me over and over again how blessed I am and how wonderful God is for giving me my beautiful baby boy and a loving husband. Yeah. Thanks. But no. The true beauty is in the fact that my husband and I met against all odds, connected with each other, fell deeply in love, spent many years together learning, growing, changing, becoming closer and closer. That we, as an expression of our love, engaged in a sexual relationship which 8 1/2 months ago resulted in half of his DNA and half of my DNA creating a new life that is living and growing in me at this very moment…a life that we will love and nurture and cherish for the remainder of our own lives. That is beauty. That is love. That is happiness.

God is not necessary. In fact, it would be nice if we could just leave him out of the event all together and instead focus on welcoming this amazing new life to the world.

As Tim Minchin puts it, “Isn’t this enough? Just this world? Just this beautiful, complex wonderfully unfathomable world? How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap, man-made Myths and Monsters?

I have a very difficult time understanding theists who base their lives on a particular faith and particular religious text yet do not believe that text to be inerrant. Personally, I much prefer when theists use a non-literal interpretation. Believing in the inerrancy of these texts goes against science, portrays a deity I would have some serious issues with if there were reason to believe in his existence, and is more often than not quite disturbing when it comes to issues of morality. But how can one possibly apply a non-literal interpretation?

First of all, that leaves only the individual (or religious leaders in the individual’s life) to determine what he or she believes to be true from their sacred text and what can be discarded as “human error”. How can there be any validity to any of it at that point and how can we ever get closer to what the deity in question was trying to convey? The “truths” supposedly conveyed in such texts would be far too important not to be communicated clearly. A moral, all-powerful, all-knowing God could have ensured a perfectly morally acceptable text including specific and reasonable moral principals and without contradictions or cultural biases no matter when the text was introduced to society. In fact, wouldn’t any communication from God to humanity be the perfect opportunity to point out cultural biases and immorality that existed at the time (slavery, genocide, sexism, racism, etc. etc. etc.) rather than supporting them…to move humanity forward rather than allowing us to be drawn backwards…even these thousands of years later?

I can see how one might interpret a religious text as vastly allegorical and metaphorical–in fact, that’s how atheists such as myself view religious texts and it is by far a much less disturbing approach–but once interpreted in such a way, how can one still believe the fundamental supernatural claims as truth? And besides, whether a literal or non-literal interpretation is applied, there is still not a single bit of evidence for the existence of a supernatural world or supernatural beings. Period. Sometimes, I just don’t understand how I was ever so convinced that my religion was true…

**Edit: Vaguely relevant thoughts from skepticalProgrammer**
As someone who was once upon a time a hardcore Christian who rejected the literality of the Bible, this post was very interesting for me to read. When I was younger I found myself performing incredibly complex mental gymnastics in order to sync my worldview with that which I was being fed at church. One thing that is most interesting is the ability I had to overlook and re-interpret the violent themes in the Bible in favor of the hopeful and encouraging themes which were more in line with my own moral code. One example of this is the story of Elisha and the bears, in which God violently murdered 42 youths for calling Elisha bald; I interpreted this story as an example of God protecting his faithful from even the small things which hurt our feelings. Looking back I can see how fucked up that whole story is, but because I wanted so badly to believe I was able to create positive spin for even the most barbaric stories in the bible while still believing in a loving God.

Man Created God in His Own Image

Posted: March 5, 2011 by justmeangie in General
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Homosexuality is an abomination according to God. God loves everyone. God hates fags.

America is a Christian nation blessed by God. God hates America. God loves all nations.

God is forgiving and merciful. God is vengeful and curses those who displease Him.

God wants women to be subservient. God created everyone as equals.

Hell is simply separation from God. Hell is a place of eternal torment and torture. Hell is final death, not pain.

God=Hate

God=Love

God=Destruction

My God Loves Everyone

Have you ever noticed that a prejudiced person tends to worship a god who holds his or her same prejudices? Or that people who value kindness and compassion worship a merciful and loving God? Conservatives believe their God is conservative, while liberals believe their God is liberal.

The things that we value are also the things that we see as “good” or “right.” What a religious person sees as “good and right” is then applied as a characteristic of “God.” Because it is attributed as a characteristic of God, the idea is then strengthened in the mind of the believer–it is certainly good and right if God thinks it is! This is of utmost importance. It gives reason to believe that a religious person’s morality doesn’t come from God, their morality is projected onto their idea of God.

Because the major religious texts contain contradictory information about the nature of God–a vengeful and vain god at times, a loving and merciful god at times–it is easy to focus on just the views that align with a person’s own values and sense of morality. If I believe, for instance, that some races are better than others or that there is something wrong with those who are GLBT, then I can find verses to back up these claims while ignoring verses that state one shouldn’t judge or that we should love our neighbors. If on the other hand, I believe that everyone is equal, I might ignore verses that suggest prejudice against other races or sexual orientations while emphasizing the verses supporting love and acceptance.

When faced with a moral dilemma, a religious person often asks “What would God want me to do?” or as the popular Christian slogan puts it, “What would Jesus do?” Yet, two people with different value systems are going to come up with two vastly different answers to this question based on their own opinions and personal experiences. Asking what God would want or what God would do is just an abstract way of asking what YOU think you should do in a given situation. Ultimately, it is the individual who makes the call. Their belief that they’ve made the “right” decision once a decision is reached, is validated and justified because the person now considers this course of action or this particular viewpoint to be a religiously moral position. Both the moral belief and the religious belief are strengthened in the individual’s mind.

In other words, God is simply a believer’s own self-projection. What a person believes about God provides much more insight about the individual than it does about a divine being.

Question for Theists: Why do you believe?

Posted: July 1, 2010 by justmeangie in Atheism, General
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In a recent post, I laid out some of the most important reasons for me personally not believing in a deity. I am curious, however, as to what theists view as the most compelling evidence or logic for their belief, first of all, that a divine being exists and, secondly, why you chose your particular religion over others. I read a lot of apologetics about the nature of god and his supposed texts, but very little concerning these two fundamental questions and certainly nothing compelling or logically sound so far. I’m not trying to start an argument or even a debate and I will appreciate any responses whether I agree with them or not. I am honestly curious.

Thanks in advance!