Archive for October, 2010
Or, at least for some.
Here is an interesting tidbit related to Halloween that I thought I would bring to light before the month turns over in about an hour.
On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther pinned his famous 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, to protest, among other Catholic practices, the sale of indulgences, which allowed believers to be absolved of their sins via payment. Of course, in Luther’s day, there was nothing quite like the modern Halloween, but elements of it, including costumes and bonfires, were probably already part of the national conscious in parts of Europe.
The roots of Halloween as we know it likely began with the Celtic festival known as Samhain, which finds its origin in the Old Irish word meaning the end of summer. As lore goes, the Celts believed that on Samhain, which was presumably held between Oct. 31-Nov. 1, the border that separates the physical world from the “otherworld” — I take this to mean “spiritual world” — became permeable, thus spirits could more readily slip into this one. Apparently, the wearing of costumes fended off the “bad” spirits from bleeding through and affecting things in this world or the costumes made people appear to be bad spirits, as if the spirits couldn’t see through the guise.
Regardless, “Halloween” was thought to have been used first in the 16th century as a variation of All Hallows Eve, which was the day before All Hallows Day or All Saints Day, which, in contrast to the lore behind Halloween, was meant to be a celebration of all saints, both living and not. And it’s here that we come back to Luther.
It’s probably no accident that Luther chose All Hallows Eve to post his treatise on the door of All Saints Church, and we can outline the rest of the story. Luther’s actions laid the foundation for what came to be known as the Protestant Reformation, which, of course, paved the way for the Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Baptists, Quakers, Calvinists and all the rest to found their own separate doctrines. Looking back, it’s quite necessary to note that in Protestant circles today, from Methodists to Baptists to Presbyterians, almost all of those believers now seem to assume that Protestantism was the original and major religion that took root following the supposed proselytizing recounted in Acts.
Catholicism, however, was the church that eventually evolved and legalized in 313 A.D., and it’s only because of Luther, and John Calvin, that Protestantism came to be. Carried to the end, it’s no stretch to suggest that without figures like Luther, Calvin or similar figures, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists and others might now be Catholic Christians because that’s really the only Christian establishment that existed prior to the 16th century. Current Protestant thinking is peculiar indeed, since many of the more fervent evangelicals today suggest, and even teach, that Catholicism is misguided or outright in error and that Protestantism is the true and right religion, when in fact, for about 1,280 years, Catholicism was the only path to Christianity.
And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city. — “The Plague,” Albert Camus
In separate research, scientists learned recently that the bubonic plague, which wrecked the lives of millions of Europeans starting in the 14th century and continuing through the 17th, indeed originated from China. The plague is said to have killed off 30 percent or more of Europe’s population at its height, and reemergences of the disease continued about every 10 years for centuries.
In the above-referenced article from The New York Times, the causal element of the plague was a bacterium known as Yersinia pestis.
According to the article:
Dr. Bramanti’s team was able to distinguish two strains of the Black Death plague bacterium, which differ both from each other and from the three principal strains in the world today. They infer that medieval Europe must have been invaded by two different sources of Yersinia pestis. One strain reached the port of Marseilles on France’s southern coast in 1347, spread rapidly across France and by 1349 had reached Hereford, a busy English market town and pilgrimage center near the Welsh border.
The strain of bacterium analyzed from the bones and teeth of a Hereford plague pit dug in 1349 is identical to that from a plague pit of 1348 in southern France, suggesting a direct route of travel. But a plague pit in the Dutch town of Bergen op Zoom has bacteria of a different strain, which the researchers infer arrived from Norway.
The three plague waves have now been tied together in common family tree by a team of medical geneticists led by Mark Achtman of University College Cork in Ireland. By looking at genetic variations in living strains of Yersinia pestis, Dr. Achtman’s team has reconstructed a family tree of the bacterium. By counting the number of genetic changes, which clock up at a generally steady rate, they have dated the branch points of the tree, which enables the major branches to be correlated with historical events.
In the issue of Nature Genetics published online Sunday, they conclude that all three of the great waves of plague originated from China, where the root of their tree is situated. Plague would have reached Europe across the Silk Road, they say. An epidemic of plague that reached East Africa was probably spread by the voyages of the Chinese admiral Zheng He who led a fleet of 300 ships to Africa in 1409.
“What’s exciting is that we are able to reconstruct the historical routes of bacterial disease over centuries,” Dr. Achtman said.
What’s terribly unexciting is the message pregnant in the conclusion of Camus’ “The Plague,” that the bacterium may not be done with mankind yet, and as we’ve seen through the centuries, there’s no reason to believe that it won’t rear its menacing head again at some point in the future. In isolated cases, it already has. Luckily, we live in an age of modern medicine — far alien to people in the 14 or 17th centuries — where mass outbreaks could likely be quelled.
I tweeted (or whatever) about this earlier, and while I rarely mention sports, especially regional sports, on this site, I felt this topic deserves a brief airing.
Of course, I realize that every football fan has his or her own notions about how such and such a game should be called from the sidelines. The coach either ran too much or not enough. The coach should have gone for that fourth-and-two play. The coach should have kicked the field goal. And on and on. And while preliminary rebuttals may come that coaches know more about what’s going on down on the field than someone listening to a game on the radio or television, but what I’m about to mention seems to me basic and impenetrable logic.
My alma mater, Clemson University, has been either mediocre or just above average in football since 1991 when it then had a national championship and six ACC titles under its belt. The current coach, Willaim “Yaba Dabo” Swinney, took control of the team midway through the 2008 season when Clemson ousted Tommy Bowden, who, at least in coaching, seems to be a shell of his father. Swinney and Bowden followed prior coaches Tommy West and Ken Hatfield.
At least since Bowden, and perhaps prior, the coaching and play calling has been, by and large, predictable and uninspired. The team’s 16-10 loss today at Boston College seems to be a case in point. Granted, Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker had a bad day in the air going 21-39 for 176 yards, but what I saw was way too many predictable calls and a lack of urgency in the face of looming defeat.
The very first drive makes the case: a run on first down for no gain, a run for 5 yards, an incomplete pass and a punt. When, as a team, you are on the road in a hostile environment, it seems to me the last thing you want to do is to come out with such a conservative, sluggish and unimpressive start, such that, it seems Clemson set itself up for a fall from the start. Throughout the game, as it turns out, Clemson, as Boston knew it would, tried to establish the run with Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper. Clemson mostly failed, however, tallying only 86 total yards on the ground against the best rushing defense in the ACC. Even in the second half down 16-10 and having scored only a defensive touchdown, the conservative play continued. Not counting the final two drives late in the fourth quarter when Clemson pretty much had to throw the ball, the Tigers only threw three times on first down versus nine rushes on the same down in the second half. Granted, one series of rushes resulted in a field goal in the first half, but that was it for the offense. And when the Tigers did choose to throw the ball, they lined up in the shotgun, which, again, is predictable coaching. The only schemes that I saw that even halfway attempted to mask calls was a few play actions passes behind center.
Of course, now at 2-3 in the ACC and 4-4 overall and with three conference games left, the Tigers still have a tough road to hoe going forward, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Clemson gets another mediocre and mostly meaningless bowl bid come December, if any. Woeful games such as the one Saturday leave a fan wondering just what the heck the Tigers, or any other team who seemed so ill-prepared for the next game, was doing the entire week prior to game day. Maybe one of my journalism cohorts in the Clemson area can help me with that one!
Loving news talk, but not having satellite radio, I purposefully subjected myself to about an hour or so of the Mark Levin Show on the way back tonight from covering something for work. Levin, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of the many current fear-mongering talking heads dubbing themselves “Constitutionalists,” and his show is aired on this new radio station in Northeast Georgia on the 103.7 dial. The radio station airs the usual cast of Levin, Limbaugh, Hannity and Savage. This is no surprise, given the location, but several months ago, I actually e-mailed the station and said something to the effect of that, while I appreciated the fact that we now had a talk radio station in Northeast Georgia, I find the content they’ve chosen to air to be disingenuous and destructive to any kind of constructive political conversation. An official with the station replied back that, as programming manager, he must strike a balance between the kind of content offered versus what is marketable. Basically, he was saying something along the lines of, “This is what is popular right now, and this is what sells and people in this region want to listen to.” While that may be true, that fact certainly doesn’t give the station any credibility as a real news source. Of course, in radio and many news outfits today, credibility isn’t the important thing, now is it?
But back to Levin. His usual shtick, in which he condemns Obama of having some sinister socialist mind and agenda, was very much evident tonight (Actually, a taped episode from Oct. 29), as in every other episode to which I have listened. Tonight, right in line with the theme of his book, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, available in fine book stores everywhere, Levin seems to equate the Obama administration and everything certain Democrats and progressives are trying to accomplish as tyrannical efforts, efforts such as bolstering the effectiveness of government programs and, well, helping those who can’t help themselves.
Here is Levin from Oct. 29:
Conservatism is the only antidote to tyranny because conservatism is our founding principles (sic). Conservatism is a recognition of the value of the individual human being. That’s the bottom line. All these other models, all these other philosophies, political philosophies, they’re not about the individual human being. They’re about some centralized power where masterminds, whereas I decided to call them, stateists (?), decide what’s best and isn’t best, but I don’t care how they dress it up. Tyranny is tyranny.”
Might I remind Levin that some of the most important Founding Fathers, namely Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, would today probably have been Democrats for their belief in a strong centralized government. For what is the point of having a government at all if it’s not to be a strong one, and I think Hamilton and Madison understood this. Do we really want a weak or measly federal government? What would be the point of that? State governments surely can’t be expected to regulate international commerce, markets and provide for the common defense and welfare.
On Levin’s statement about the value of individual human beings, I couldn’t agree more, in circumstances where said individual is, indeed, capable of finding and keeping a job and engaging in entrepreneurial enterprises, but we well know that many people in our nation are not capable of exercising their supposed “value” within the job market because of disability or education or economic disparagement. So, while Levin’s theory may work with economically upright Americans, it doesn’t work with others, and indeed, it’s a slap in the face to the thousands who need help and have nowhere to turn but the government. Sure, some abuse exists within the system, but to assume that the majority seeking government help abuse the system is a heartless exaggeration. And this heartlessness is, I think, at the heart of the current wave of Tea Party, constitutionalist movement. We are not an open prairie, agricultural society anymore, and I’m not sure we ever have been, except under the clouds of slavery, indentured servitude and sharecropping. So, I’m not sure what Levin and others are trying to achieve, but it seems that the world they seek is an illusion, anachronistic and irrelevant from modern America.
We should have seen it coming, that, following the election of one of the most progressive presidents in the last century, bitter Republicans in Congress would, first, attempt to block nearly every piece of legislation proposed by the Obama, thus rendering them the party of “No” (but for only four years, of course), and second, a frustrated electorate (including the ones who have long since lost the inspiration that led them to vote for the president in the first place) will most certainly vote in a majority of Republicans in one, if not both, houses of Congress next week. And so, the predictable, eye-rubbing pattern persists.
On the second part of the previous paragraph, the consequences will be clear: more Bush-Reagan era policies that bolster the rich in spite of the poor, possible repeal or stunting of the new health care bill, reversal of economy-boosting policies that experts say wasn’t strong enough to begin with and general malaise in Congress. Or, more succinctly from Paul Krugman:
The way the right wants to tell the story — and, I’m afraid, the way it will play in November — is that the Obama team went all out for Keynesian policies, and they failed. So back to supply-side economics!
Here’s some rather damning figures that show the federal debt as a percentage of GDP increasing in each of the last six Republican presidential terms and decreasing in each of the last seven Democratic terms going dating back to Truman. Only under Eisenhower and once under Nixon did the federal debt as a percentage of GDP decrease under a Republican president.
What about modern Republican heroes, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II? The debt increased 11.3 percent in Reagan’s first term and 9.3 in his second. Bush I: an increase of 15 percent. Bush II: increases of 7.1 percent and 20 percent. And it’s these folks who talk about fiscal conservatism and responsibility?
More recent news from the continued joke-show that is FOX News.
Juan Williams, former National Public Radio employee, was fired Oct. 20 for comments he made on an episode of The O’Reilly Factor, in which he said he gets nervous when on a plane with folks donning Muslim garb. Williams was also serving as a FOX analyst before NPR fired him. I think several contemptible elements are at play here.
First, the supporters of Williams’ comments, like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, have used this episode as a push for ideological rackets like FOX News in blasting what they feel is a liberal slant on NPR’s part. Here’s Palin from Twitter:
NPR defends 1st Amendment Right, but will fire u if u exercise it. Juan Williams: u got taste of Left’s hypocrisy, they screwed up firing you.
NPR has discredited itself as a forum for free speech and a protection of the First Amendment rights of all and has solidified itself as the purveyor of politically correct pabulum and protector of views that lean left. It is time for the taxpayers to start making cuts to federal spending, and I encourage the new Congress to start with NPR.
And this bit of garbage is the most destructive critique of all, since, if taken to its end, would provide less (or no) funding for PBS and NPR, two of the most informative and apolitical news outfits in this country. And we can immediately see the game being played, and it is this: If conservative politicians and “analysts,” like Williams and Huckabee and others begin to discredit NPR and propose that we take away its funding, the voices of rationality, fairness and objectivity in journalism begin to recede into the ever after, while squawk boxes like FOX and MSNBC become even more influential within the body politic. Another point: Nowhere has it been claimed, outside of the above comments from Huckabee and others, that NPR is a forum for free speech and First Amendment rights. NPR is a purveyor of information. I think this detail from the above-linked report makes the case clear enough:
In a memo to her staff and affiliate stations, (NPR CEO Vivian) Schiller said the comments violated NPR’s code of ethics, which says journalists should not participate in media ‘that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.’
And punditry is precisely what Williams was engaged in during the O’Reilly interview. Of course, it all worked out for Williams, who now has a new contract with FOX. No surprises there. And here is a seemingly bitter Williams making his case:
Here, Williams gives three examples in which NPR supposedly allowed questionable content to be spewed by its employees without the employees facing retribution. Of course, Williams, in his Talking Points Memo segment of The O’Reilly Factor, gives no dates or direct quotes for his claims, as if often the strategy of FOX pejoratives, and while stuff such as this is more often than not, good enough to sway FOX’s non-thinking viewers, these arguments are immediately discredited for the rest of us. Of course, Williams is, as I write, now just another FOX News hack, and that should tell readers all they need to know about his credibility.
Hmm, pretty sure this is illegal …
This article doesn’t make a conclusive decision on the subject, but it indeed seems that Sarah Palin penned her signature to the American flag on a recent campaigning expedition in Reno. While we can admit that Palin was obviously preoccupied with talking to members of the press in signing books, etc., and thus may have not realized what she was signing her name to (Although the stars and stripes might have been hard not to notice), at about the 1:40 mark in the video, she then grabs a piece of paper from a supporter along with the American flag, which was on top. She takes the pen and scribbles her name on the flag. It seems conclusive to me since the piece of paper that she grabbed along with the flag was still underneath the flag when she handed the items back to the supporter, she did desecrate the flag thusly.
Of course, if this was the case, that would have been in illegal and in violation of the “Respect for flag” section of Title 4 of the United States Code, Chapter 1, which in part g, reads:
(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
So much for the ultra-patriot credo of the Tea Party crowd, ay? Here is the video (And to see stupid heaped onto more stupid, by all means, watch the rest):
and a still shot:
I’ve often contended that for one to argue that, not just morality, but objective morality, can exist without the assumption of a god, one only need to find cases in other species within the animal kingdom that experience empathy and display altruism. For, to find such cases would be to show that other species, while, perhaps, operating on a more simplistic, less evolved level, still display shades of what it means to be of a higher intelligence, that is, dogs and cats have feelings (the former more than the latter!) and various monkey species, like us, care, not only for their own kin, but for strangers without any outside forces operating on their consciences in anyway whatsoever. Here are two good articles on animals and morality: Animals can tell right from wrong and The moral status of animals.
In an intriguing article titled, “Morals Without God,” Frans De Waal argued against folks like the Rev. Al Sharpton, whom Waal quotes from a debate (I believe with Christopher Hitchens), in which Sharpton states:
If there is no order to the universe, and therefore some being, some force that ordered it, then who determines what is right or wrong? There is nothing immoral if there’s nothing in charge.
Of course, Sharpton wrongly assumes that something is needed to determine right or wrong and that something needs to be “in charge.” One might, for instance, be quite appalled if the something “in charge” (and all-loving something) has sat silently by while atrocity after atrocity has taken place under his omniscient eye.
Waal, in response to this and Dostoevsky’s oft-quoted, “If there’s no immortality of the soul, then there’s no virtue, and everything is lawful,” had this to say:
Perhaps it is just me, but I am wary of anyone whose belief system is the only thing standing between them and repulsive behavior. Why not assume that our humanity, including the self-control needed for livable societies, is built into us? Does anyone truly believe that our ancestors lacked social norms before they had religion? Did they never assist others in need, or complain about an unfair deal? Humans must have worried about the functioning of their communities well before the current religions arose, which is only a few thousand years ago. Not that religion is irrelevant — I will get to this — but it is an add-on rather than the wellspring of morality.
Getting more specific farther down in the essay, Waal argues for the kind of objective, scientifically-based morality that I would:
Fortunately, there has been a resurgence of the Darwinian view that morality grew out of the social instincts. Psychologists stress the intuitive way we arrive at moral judgments while activating emotional brain areas, and economists and anthropologists have shown humanity to be far more cooperative, altruistic, and fair than predicted by self-interest models. Similarly, the latest experiments in primatology reveal that our close relatives will do each other favors even if there’s nothing in it for themselves.
In a universe of blind physical forces and g0enetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no other god. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is.
So too, ethics in humans, perhaps, just are, and Harris briefly mentioned the case for objective morality in his earlier work, “The End of Faith” before more largely expounding on it in “The Moral Landscape.” The most basic argument for objective morality is this: Would humans cease being good and generally civil to one another without a god? I would emphatically say, “No,” and this notion is absurd because there have existed numerous societies that have been built on the secular principle of the separation of church and state and religion as a private, not public, concern, with America being just one of them. Also, without some intrinsic, naturally endowed ethical elements, no society, be it the British empire, the Roman empire or America would exist very long without them. While there have existed societies with very different notions of what is right or wrong based on time, place and social norms, some basic ethical principles itself holds the line within every functioning and thriving society. In the absence of ethics, societies fail for they self-implode. Here is Harris in “The End of Faith:”
The pervasive idea that religion is somehow the source of our deepest ethical intuitions is absurd. We no more get our sense that cruelty is wrong from the pages of the Bible than we get our sense that two plus two equals four from the pages of a textbook on mathematics. Anyone who does not harbor some rudimentary sense that cruelty is wrong is unlikely to learn that it is by reading — and, indeed, most scripture offers rather equivocal testimony to this fact in any case. Our ethical intuitions must have their precursors in the natural world, for while nature is indeed red in tooth and claw, it is not merely so. Even monkeys will undergo extraordinary privations to avoid causing harm to another member of their species. Concern for others was not the invention of any prophet.
And Dawkins’ response today to Harris’ conclusions?
I was one of those who had unthinkingly bought into the hectoring myth that science can say nothing about morals. The Moral Landscape has changed all that for me. Moral philosophers, too, will find their world exhilaratingly turned upside down, as they discover a need to learn some neuroscience. As for religion, and the preposterous idea that we need God to be good, nobody wields a sharper bayonet than Sam Harris.
Don’t you just love squirm-in-your-pants moments like this:
Actually, I don’t, and it makes me very sad for America that folks like Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin are even in the national spotlight. Neither, barring Roe Vs. Wade (a case in which even high schoolers are familiar) could think of a Supreme Court decision with which they disagree. And if you watch this Palin video with Couric, it’s clear Palin doesn’t know the difference between Federalism and Anti-Federalism either when talking about Roe vs. Wade. “I’m, in that sense, a Federalist, where I believe that states should have more say in the laws of their lands and individual areas.” You have to love the cut-away shot to Couric, in which the interviewer just looks confused. No wonder, since Palin meant Anti-Federalist (or perhaps Jeffersonian republicanism), not Federalist. Of course, to say she “meant” to say one thing and not the other assumes she actually knew the difference.
I’ve decided to let this be the final edition on this series since it seems that any other arguments I meet in the remaining chapters, “Salvation,” “Christianity & Other Religions,” “Objective Truth” and “The Bottom Line,” merely rehash the same fallacies and question begging, or beginning with that which is trying to be proven, that I’ve already spent much of real estate addressing. This post covers heaven and hell, free will, and that which must have occurred in the mind of God prior to everything.
Having thus done away with nearly every argument the authors of Handbook of Christian Apologetics have presented for the after life, it’s almost logically absurd to then attempt to examine their (and religion’s) claims on heaven and hell, but since these notions are so entrenched in doctrine, and at least with the latter “place,” and sometimes even with the former, creates in so many young people an abiding and impenetrable fear of death, they must be addressed. I, myself, remember living for quite some time in unheralded fear, ever looking to the skies for the second coming, quite liking my current life, and frankly, not looking forward to the end of it all.
Religion, however, can’t wait for it, for it is then, that every eye will dry, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess the true lord. And then, with winnowing fork in hand, the great Judge will separate the wheat from the chaff, the saved from the damned, in the cosmic and spiritual end game of all time.
The authors, after some unnecessary remarks about reincarnation, begin with another maddening self-created list of objections, this time 29, to which they claim to answer in turn. I cannot go through every single one but will highlight some keys points.
Their first answered objection is this: “The idea of heaven is a prescientific superstition,” and their first answer is that, “That objection is unscientific. The scientific way to refute an idea is by evidence, not name-calling.” But the authors are working from a backward premise here. Fantastical claims, like the existence of some place, in this dimension of another, require fantastic evidence, for even if our telescopes and modern means of observation can’t yet reach these realms, the question of whether places like heaven or hell exist would emphatically be a scientific question. For, a world in which heaven or hell or God exists would be a very different world from that which these elements do not exist. To claim that these are spiritual worlds, and thus, outside of the scope of science is to provide a cop out answer and to provide license to claim anything about anything. I could claim the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a real presence in my life. For instance, and I can claim that he is totally spiritual but has a real presence in my heart. And most everyone would call me crazy or deluded.
The authors’ next point on this objection is that, “Plenty of ‘prescientific’ ideas are valid, true and important, not superstitious — for example, birth, death, life, good, evil, beauty, ugliness, pleasure, pain, earth, air, fire, water, love, hate, happiness.” First, life, birth, death, earth, air, fire and water are not ideas, neither are beauty, ugliness, love and happiness. The former are realities of physical life, the latter are emotions and adjectives. I suppose we can say “heaven” is an idea, but we can’t say any of the elements in this list are ideas, in the same way that libertarianism or Unitarianism are ideas. The notion that an unproven spiritual place is somehow equated to any of these observable or noticeable components of human existence is a stretch.
In the second objection of heaven, the authors attempt to answer this, “There is no scientific evidence for heaven.” True enough, but then they skip the tracks a bit when they say, “Nor are many ideas that everyone admits are valid, even the scientist. When the scientist closes his laboratory and goes home and kisses his wife, he does not believe there is nothing there but hormones and neurons and molecules.”
Actually, love, again, is not an idea but a human emotion, and yes, the scientist knows full well that his feelings of love for another are firmly based in science (and here) and have nothing to do with any spiritual realm, for non-believing scientists can feel love as powerfully as believers. Does anyone really think that somehow the phenomenon of love somehow slipped past scientific investigation, that the brightest minds in the world missed some mystical or otherworldly component we call love? That love has the scientific world stumped and at a logical impasse? Love is as firmly based in science as any other feeling.
I skip some objections and land at #9, which says, “Heaven is too dogmatic. How can we know anything about heaven, anyway? If ‘no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived,’ then it has not entered into our hearts yet. It can only be faith and speculation, not knowledge.” Their Reply B is the only one worth mentioning: “‘Only faith or speculation’? But faith is not fantasy; faith is knowledge. Faith is accepting divinely revealed data.’” These statements are false based on scripture. Hebrews 11:1 has this to say: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The “conviction of things not seen” is about as far from “knowledge” as one can imagine, and while the believer may hope for whatever they have faith in to be true, that hope doesn’t make it so. Faith is not knowledge; otherwise, it ceases to be faith, and divinely obtained knowledge is only faith that the information came from a deity. I hope for a world in which people live and die by grace, without ever being subjected to persecution, racism, rape or murder, but I’m under no delusions that this type of world can be achieved any time soon. It’s the unfortunate belief of apologists that this sort of world will never and can never come to fruition under the cloak of original sin, and it’s my belief, in turn, that such a world can never come to be while religion continues to denigrate human life and human solidarity in longing for an after life that’s about as certain as the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Russell’s Teapot.
Most of the rest of the objections deal with questions about whether we will be bored in heaven, will we miss our loved one once we get there, will we mourn those who might have gone to hell and how are notions like resurrected bodies and new earths possible. The answers provided (except for the point about being bored) amount to this: we don’t know but God does, and we’re sure he’s sorted through those issues. On the point about boredom, the authors have this to say: “Heaven will not be boring because it will not be merely the satisfaction and the lulling of desire. It will not be merely contentment, which gets boring, but joy, which does not. Joy is as passionate and dynamic and stimulating as desire itself.” This is all complete speculation, of course. The authors have no idea what heaven will be like no more than any pastor or biblical scholar. Pulling some quotes from C.S. Lewis and Revelation are far from adequate to accurately a) describe a place such as heaven and b) to prove its existence in the first place, for if the gospel of Mark is markedly unreliable in many cases, how much more so are any of the other gospels, and especially the wildly symbolic Revelation.
Included in the next chapter is a list of 14 things about hell, #9 of which raises one of the more interesting (but I would add, revolting) and shocking points in the entire book, and here it is:
“Many have believed, and some still believe, that since there is a hell, God must be a God of wrath and vengeance and hate (We can add, by God’s own admission, “jealous”). It may be that the very love of God for the sinner constitutes the sinner’s torture in hell. That love would threaten and torture the egotism that the damned sinners insist on and cling to. A small child in a fit of rage, sulking and hating his parents, may feel their hugs and kisses at that moment as torture. … So the fires of hell may be made of the very love of God, or rather by the damned’s hatred of that love.”
While the authors seem to make non-believers (They ratchet up the language and call them “sinners”) out to be seething God haters and active revolters against heaven, this, in almost all cases, is not true at all and absurd. For, to actively hate God’s love would be to assume that he exists in the first place, so it would be logically impossible to suggest non-believers hate God’s love. Nor is it a matter of ego. To actively reject a god, while still believing he is there, could be egotistical depending on the person (“I want to go at it alone”), but non-believers, can claim no such egotism because, again, that would be absurd.
The next point is fascinating as well: “Some (Whoever that might be) have taught or implied that hell is forced on the damned, that they are thrown into hell against their will. This would go contrary to the fundamental reason for hell’s existence: our free choice and God respecting it.” Yes … free will. Repent, accept this free gift (which was neither asked for nor desired) or burn. That’s not free will.
I was once asked by a believing friend of mine that if I was standing before God, what would be my one question. I thought about it for a minute, knowing both Bertrand Russell’s own answer (“Oh God, you didn’t give us enough evidence.”) and Christopher Hitchens’ (“Imponderable Sir, I presume from some if not all of your many reputations that you might prefer honest and convinced unbelief to the hypocritical and self-interested affectation of faith or the smoking tributes of bloody altars.”), I gave this one: “Why did you bother in the first place?”
For, in that time before time that the Bible calls “chaos,” God knew the whole game before he set it in motion. He knew, first, that he would get around to, as some point, creating humans. He knew he would endow us with free will. He knew he would plant the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden. For what purpose? To tempt man with a carrot on a stick, as if to say to a 6-year-old, “Don’t you eat any candy this afternoon. Oh, by the way, here’s a cookie jar. We’ll sit that right in front of TV. Look but don’t touch.” He knew, prior to making us, that we would fall. He knew that Satan would enter into the garden, and he knew that he would not stop him. He watched it all happen, there in the chaos in his omniscience.
He knew of the thousands and thousands of years humankind would suffer through all kinds of natural disasters, disease, famine and wars. He knew about the years and years of disputes that would take place between Israel and himself. He knew of the plagues that he would send. He knew they would wander in the desert for years, ever wavering between belief and disbelief. He knew that he would, after years of squabbling with the Israelites, send a son, the human embodiment of himself, to at last, atone for the original sin that took place thousands of years prior and for all present and future sins of man. And all of this, in the mind of God in that early chaos. One might wonder why God waited until about 4 A.D. to send Christ. Why not immediately after the fall? Why not save his loved creation thousands of years of suffering, famine and wandering in the desert? Why not, indeed.
Likewise, Christopher Hitchens has summarized the ultimate problem as well as anyone:
… the idea of a vicarious atonement, of the sort that so much troubled even C. S. Lewis, is a further refinement of the ancient superstition. Once again we have a father demonstrating love by subjecting a son to death by torture, but this time the father is not trying to impress god. He is god, and he is trying to impress humans. Ask yourself the question: how moral is the following? I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.
Let us just for now overlook all the contradictions between the tellers of the original story and assume that it is basically true. What are the further implications ? They are not as reassuring as they look at first sight. For a start, and in order to gain the benefit of this wondrous offer, I have to accept that I am responsible for the flogging and mocking and crucifixion, in which I had no say and no part, and agree that every time I decline this responsibility, or that I sin in word or deed, I am intensifying the agony of it. Furthermore, I am required to believe that the agony was necessary in order to compensate for an earlier crime in which I also had no part, the sin of Adam. It is useless to object that Adam seems to have been created with insatiable discontent and curiosity and then forbidden to slake it: all this was settled long before even Jesus himself was born. Thus my own guilt in the matter is deemed “original” and inescapable. However, I am still granted free will with which to reject the offer of vicarious redemption. Should I exercise this choice, however, I face an eternity of torture much more awful than anything endured at Calvary, or anything threatened to those who first heard the Ten Commandments.
In the final portion of this needlessly long chapter on hell, the authors answer some objects, and I will only take the first three, which say that the concept of hell goes against God’s supposed love, justice and power. In the latter section about God’s power and his seeming ability to squash hell, Satan and his minions in an instant, the authors say that we must understand God’s nature of omnipotence. “… God’s power does not extend to contradicting his own essential nature. God is consistent. The logical laws of consistency … are reflection of the very nature of God. God cannot do meaningless and self-contradictory things. … One such intrinsically impossible, self-contradictory and meaningless thing would be to have a world with free creatures and no possibility of hell. … To destroy hell means to destroy free choice by destroying one of its options. If there is no hell, no separation from God, then all must choose God, and this is not free choice.”
I would have thought a couple college professors could do better than this. First, if God can’t contradict his own nature and if he is locked in to being consistent, then he’s not omnipotent. If he were omnipotent, he could, if he chose, do “meaningless and self-contradictory things” or anything else that he liked. Thus, the authors aren’t making a great case at all for God’s all-powerfulness.
Second, you mean to tell me that it is out of God’s purview to come up with some way that his creation would not have to face eternal punishment in case they decided to use their reasoning faculties, which he presumably provided, and could not in good conscience, believe based on the evidence? Why only the two-fold option? God is either not all-powerful or omniscient or he isn’t very creative. How about this: He could have rewarded those who chose to believe with eternal life and paradise, and he could have merely left everyone else who did not believe alone and simply allowed them to choose to live finite, non-eternal lives like dogs and cats. Why this brutal and arcane insistence on eternal punishment for folks who tend to think for themselves? This insistence doesn’t even make the case that God is nice, much less benevolent, for a nice God would conclude something like, “Well, people after Adam really had nothing to do with that first human’s decision to disobey me, so I’ll give them a pass.” But no, we have a brutal, unalterable and unreasoned decree onto future generations who were in no way responsible for Adam’s decision. For this follows: just because a member of the human species may be found guilty of rape or murder, the entire race is not guilty, and it would be unjust to pass along that judgment to everyone else.
For some folks, the thought of living this life to the fullest without resting any hope on another life is, to some, a comforting, liberating notion because it makes this life very important indeed, while theories of eternal life and souls make this life almost beside the point. Again, setting up a spiritual game of “Let’s Make a Deal,” in which we had better choose the right door, is not free will because of the existence of only two doors. Where are the third, fourth and fifth options?
One more point: The authors here say that, “The objection claims that a world with no hell is possible and asks why God did not create it. He did! God did not create separation from himself. God did not create hell. We did. God created a perfect world, but in creating humans (and angels) with free will, he left it up to us whether this actual world — the one without hell — would continue to be, or whether another possible world – one with hell – would begin to be.”
But yet, he planted the tree of knowledge in the garden like a carrot on a stick (If he didn’t, who?). Yet, he allowed Satan to enter the garden. Yet, he gave Adam no firm answers (only vague ones) on the critical and eternal consequences of eating the fruit? Yet, God can’t figure out a better way for most of his creation not to suffer eternal hellfire, and he can’t come up with not even one more option? Yet, he foreknew the entire tragic story of human history before he, himself, set the ugly business in motion. Unfathomable.