Posts Tagged ‘theism’

Rob Bell, Hell, and the Evangelical Uproar

Posted: March 15, 2011 by skepticalprogrammer in Atheism
Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

Advertisements

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.

Question for Theists: Why do you believe?

Posted: July 1, 2010 by justmeangie in Atheism, General
Tags: , , , ,

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!

Question for Theists: Evolution and The Soul

Posted: June 7, 2010 by justmeangie in General
Tags: ,

There is something I’ve been wondering about theists who accept evolution as true. Given that most (if not all) theists believe in a soul and that this soul is crucial to their whole theological position, at what point in the history of evolution did the soul come into existence? It’s one of those questions for which I don’t think there could possibly be a good answer. Where do you draw the line between highly advanced animals and “humans” who would be considered “children of god,” special and distinct from other creatures? The problem that I see is that there isn’t really any point in evolutionary history where it would make sense to say that one animal is human and the other prehuman. And without a specific point, wouldn’t every single living organism, even to the point of bacteria and plants, have to have souls? Curious to see what you might have thought about this.