Tag Archives: hell

What does atheism have to offer?

29 Jan

Earlier this evening I met up with a group of fellow atheists for a round circle discussion. While there I got to meet the hosts of the A Matter of Doubt podcast and one of them asked a very simple question that honestly stumped me for a bit:

What does atheism have to offer?

That question really made me stop and think, and at first I couldn’t really come up with any serious answers other than “Well, we have the best comedians.”

But really, what does atheism have to offer? Well there’s a lot it doesn’t have to offer:

A reward after you die, the ability to see lost loved ones, a large community safety net, a constant feeling of belonging, etc. Instead atheism, at least on its face, appears to offer a first class ticket to be socially ostracized with no happily ever after. That’s a tough sell!

But after thinking a bit more on the matter, and discussing it with the other people in the group, there is one very important thing that atheism does not offer: certainty.

And you know what? That is perfectly fine for me. “I don’t know” are three very humble yet powerful words. Unfortunately uncertainty scares people. One of the greatest draws for religion is the false sense of certainty is asserts, backed up by nothing but the tenacity of the belief. If I can only will it hard enough, it will be so. I feel a big part of growing up and achieving maturity is gaining the understanding that “I don’t know” is a good phrase, that it is ok to utter it.

As we discussed this question further, I realized there was something that atheism offers that religion does not.

Responsibility

(Now depending on the person, if they shy away from responsibility or not, it could be yet another mark against atheism)

With atheism comes the realization that you are responsible for your own actions. You have no excuses for misdeeds, and no salvation from consequences. You cannot blame things on the work of the devil, and you cannot be forgiven by proxy from a god. There are no bailouts or handouts. There are some theists who would say that atheism is a free ticket to do all the horrible, wicked things you want, when in reality it is exactly the opposite. With atheism you can’t commit evil and then wash your hands of responsibility by asking an invisible man for forgiveness.

Which brings me to the next thing atheism offers:

Freedom

With this great responsibility comes great freedom. You are not born evil. You are not somehow sinful and broken. Your life is not planned out for you, it is not a test that you must pass. You are you’re own person, responsible for your own actions, and free to make your life what you want it. If you ask an atheist who used to be religious, chances are they’ll tell you that when they left religion they felt a great sense of relief. I know I did. Suddenly you no longer have heaven and hell looming over you, no supernatural puppet masters, no self-loathing. You are free, you are in control.

Animal souls, stem cells, & embryos

31 Oct

Do animals have souls?

The majority of theologians say no. The bible is clear that animals are beneath humans and not made in god’s image; thus they do not contain souls and will not be waiting for you in heaven or hell.

But what about those who believe their pets DO have souls?

Are animals able to sin? Does sin require consciously making the choice to disobey god? If so then small children and animals can’t sin because they are physically incapable of the brain functions needed to understand that what they are doing is a sin.

However, the doctrine of original sin dictates that everyone is born damned because of what Adam and Eve did generations ago. (For centuries the infallible catholic church felt it was imperative to baptize children as soon as possible to wash away original sin so they could enter heaven if they died, which was a real possibility. They only recently changed their mind on this because they realized “unbaptized babies in hell” was bad PR) John Wesley (one of the fathers of Methodism) felt that even animals were cursed when sin entered the garden of Eden. Furthermore, he believed that when Jesus died on the cross, he was also dying for all the animals. Francis of Assisi (founder of the Franciscan order) gave a famous sermon titled “Sermon to the birds,” where he literally preached to a flock of birds in a tree, warning them against committing the sin of ingratitude. (So lets see where this line of thought leads, shall we?)

Despite not having the brain capacity to understand the concept of sin, there are those who believe animals are capable of sinning; and thus going to hell (“for the wages of sin are death” Romans 6:23). This begs the question then: do animals have free will? If they don’t have the brain capacity to understand sin or the ability to decide whether to commit it or not, then they can’t have free will. Yet despite not having free will they are still capable of sin. Furthermore, you must believe in Jesus to be cleansed of this sin and enter heaven (John 3:16). If animals are unable to even comprehend sin, they definitely can’t comprehend Jesus. Therefore, since animals are born guilty with sin and capable of unknowingly sinning further and are physically incapable of understanding their actions or accepting Jesus;  god is condemning billions of animals to hell without any chance of appeal.

Lets step away from this conclusion and go back to the original question of “do animals have souls.”  Well what exactly is a soul? The eminent wikipedia  has this to say about the soul: The soul has often been deemed integral or essential to consciousness and personality, and soul sometimes functions as a synonym for spirit, mind or self, although the soul is said to function in a distinct enough way from both the spirit and the psyche that the terms should not be treated interchangeably.

“Essential to consciousness and personality,” so that is pretty much exclusively mammals. Fish, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, and most birds would not have souls.

Here is where stem cells and abortion come in. If we operate under the definition of a soul that requires consciousness, then embryos, stem cells, and fetuses do not have souls. They are an unconscious mass of cells.

But what if we went back to the notion that all living things have souls? (Isn’t this borderline Animism?) This way stem cells, embryos, and fetuses would have souls, but so would fish, spiders, frogs, and crocodiles. So would plants! Under this logic vegetarians would be far more guilty of genocide for the number of plants that died to make their salad than compared to the 1 bull that died to make a bunch of steaks. If you look even closer at this line of thinking it becomes even more absurd. When talking about things the size of stem cells or embryos, it would be better to compare them to something similar in scale and complexity. Animals and plants are far too large and complex. Bacteria and viruses would be more appropriate. They are living things too; do they not have souls as well? What about this example? A human embryo 4 days after fertilization is a blastocyst with 100 cells. Some christians would say this tiny blastocyst has a soul and that it would be murder to destroy it, even in the pursuit of medical advances that could save the lives of millions. By comparison the brain of the common house fly, just the brain, has 100,000 cells.

A conceivable (no pun intended) counter to this argument might be: “Oh, but only human cells have souls because only we were made in god’s image.”  Here’s a mind-blowing little fact for you: There are 1 billion cells for every gram of body weight. If you weigh 70 kilos (154lbs) then there are 70 trillion cells in your body. All of these cells die off and are replaced over the course of 7 years. 7 years, 10 trillion cells a year, 27 billion cells a day, 18.75 million cells a minute.  Every 19 seconds more cells die in your body than people died in the holocaust. If you scratch your arm you kill millions. Here’s a possible retort: “Oh GP don’t be ridiculous! The difference between the cells on your arm and the cells in a blastocyst is that the cells in the blastocyst have the potential for creating new life.” Ah! But that argument fails as well because the very stem cell research that some christians seek to block holds the key to enabling us to transform those cells into anything we can imagine. If the mere “potential” for life is what you care about, then standing in the way of stem cell research that would unlock the secrets to creating that life is in effect denying an unfathomable number of cells the potential of life.

Of course there is one position I haven’t covered yet, and to which there is nothing I can say. It is the position of “Despite what you’ve pointed out, I am going to arbitrarily choose to believe that only my pets, and other animals I like, along with an form of human embryo, has a soul and will be in heaven with me. Now excuse me while I stick my fingers in my ears and go lalalalalalala.”

What is “Choice” when it comes to faith?

15 Jun

It seems to me that a lot of religious people are confused as to what exactly is a choice and what it means to be able to choose freely.

A choice in it’s most basic form is when you are presented with two or more options on how to proceed and you must pic one.

There is a major difference, however, between a free choice and an unfree choice.

A free choice is a choice where no matter what the possibly outcomes, no option has drastically more consequences than another. A free choice does not just mean that you have the ability to make a choice, but that you are not overly pressured to choose one decision over another.

An unfree choice is just that: a choice that involved significant biases. A prime example of this is “God gave us “choice”. We can choose to love him and go to heaven, or we can choose not to, and spend the rest of eternity in unimaginable torment.” Yes you have the ability to “choose” one option or the other, but merely having the physical capacity to “choose” does not mean it is a “free choice”.


Atheism and Death

30 Mar

Recently a friend of mine’s grandfather died. She is religious and made some comment on facebook about how the whole thing got her thinking about heaven: Is there one? Is my grandfather there now?

Well I know tact and not wanting to be a jerk in her time of grieving, I merely said that my thoughts were with her. But this got me thinking about Atheism and death. How do you treat people who are grieving because of a death?

To answer her question “is there a heaven?”, no. There is no heaven, there is no hell. This is going to sound very painful and very blunt, but there is nothing after this life, the person is gone.

Yeah, I know, it hurts and it’s ugly. But here is what people don’t want to accept: what we want to be true, and what IS true are not the same thing.

The fact that when we die we are gone forever is such a painful and scary thought that people turn to religion for comfort. Even if it is a lie, believing in that lie is easier than facing the facts.

This fact amplifies everything. What I mean by that is it amplifies the grievousness of loss at the same time it amplifies the preciousness of life. A person and their life is all the more beautiful because they are only here once. Treasure it. At the same time, murder and war all the more heinous because they destroy something so immensely precious. The cold unyielding fact is that there is no justice beyond this life. As much as we will there to be, no amount of wishing will make it so. For this very reason it is so important to fight for justice here and now, that’s the only time you might get it. (But I digress)

So how do you comfort someone without turning to comforting delusions? Well, the main thing you can do is to help them cherish the memories they have. Grief is a cycle, and the best thing you can do is be there for someone.

Dante’s inferno, a comparison

9 Feb

EA and Visceral games are putting out a new game, Dante’s Inferno, supposedly based on the work “Divine Comedy” by Dante Alighieri. In the game you play as Dante, on a mission through hell to rescue your hot wife Beatrice Portinari. So how does the game match up with the actual Dante’s Inferno?

Take Dante in the game:

He’s a hardcore soldier with a giant battle scythe, covered head to toe in stylized plate armor.

Dante in real life:

He’s a hardcore poet with a giant battle quill, covered head to toe in…well…pajamas.

What about hell?

In the game hell is an action packed demon strong hold, full of bad guys that stand between you and your love.

In Dante’s book, hell is more like a scary guided tour given at Disney on Halloween.

And your love, Beatrice?

In game:

In real life:

Lastly, what about story wise?

Well here the game and the book continue to radically differ. In the book Dante starts off in a forest and is given a tour of hell by Virgil. He goes down, sees the 9 circles of hell, sees various famous people, and then climbs out the other end and into the second book, Purgatorio. There is no fighting and no Beatrice. The most dramatic seat of you pants thing that happens to him is he faints. (Don’t go to hell if you have low blood sugar) She shows up in the second book. Also Beatrice was never Dante’s wife. He first meet her when she was 8 and fell in love with her, but she married some other dude and died at the age of 24.

Here is what the game has to say for itself:

“At the midpoint on the journey of life, I found myself in a dark forest, for the clear path was lost” (opening line of The Divine Comedy). In the game, Dante goes on a spectacular journey through the afterlife to save his beloved Beatrice from the clutches of evil. But what starts out as a rescue mission quickly changes into a redemption story, where Dante must confront his own dark past and the sins he carries with him into Hell. He faces the epic inhospitable terrain of the underworld, huge monsters and guardians, sinister demons, the people and sins of his past, and the ultimate traitor: Lucifer himself.”

Sounds cool. A little heavy on the “go save the helpless white woman”, but still cool none the less. The game developers also have this to say:

“Inspired by the real Dante Alighieri, but adapted for a new generation and a new medium, the hero of the game is a soldier who defies death and fights for love against impossible odds. The Italian mercenary Dante returns home from the wars to find that his beloved Beatrice has been murdered, and her soul pulled down into Hell by a dark force. He gives chase, and vows to get her back. For weapons, he wields Death’s soul-reaping scythe, and commands holy powers of the cross, given to him by Beatrice.”

If by “inspired” they mean “hey, we took his name” then yeah it’s inspired, because that’s about it. Everything else but the names is changed, including the plot and characters. As for the “for a new generation” yeah, we play video games much more than we read, but if you ever get the time, check out the books, they are pretty cool. Maybe Riddley Scott could make a movie about it :-p

Dead Babies

12 Aug

If it is true that all human beings are born as sinners, what about babies who die? The baby would not have had the opportunity to accept Jesus as his/her personal savior and ask forgiveness for his/her “sins”, therefore the dead baby would go to hell with absolutely no choice in the matter or ability to avoid it. Thousands of babies die every day across the world. Way to go god.

Heaven is Hell

26 May

As a little kid, did you ever take a plane ride and look out the window onto the clouds, hoping to see angels or perhaps a dead love one? I did, and I’m pretty sure millions of other kids have too.

Growing up, I never really thought of heaven much. I knew that I wanted to go there, but beyond that I didn’t give it much thought. Then I started thinking about all the people I knew who wouldn’t go to heaven, how it would make me really sad if someone I loved was burning forever in hell. How could I be happy in heaven knowing someone I loved was suffering? How could anybody?

I used to think that perhaps if I made a deal with god to trade spaces with someone in hell, he’d see the goodness in that act and we’d both be free to live in heaven. That or maybe if I just asked Jesus to forgive that person even if they didn’t ask for it…..

But what I really found fascinating was the idea of eternity. I was brought up to believe that if you were good and believed in Jesus you would spend eternity in heaven with god, where you would always be happy and feel no pain. Can you imagine eternity? Could you imagine being stuck in one place forever? I’d go crazy! I couldn’t do it, it would eventually become hell for me. The only way I’d be happy would to not exist, to not be conscious of time.

If I had to be conscious of time, I guess I could be happy if I had complete freedom of movement within time and space. I could be there for every event in human (and alien) history. I could go see the moment of creation, spend summers in distant galaxies, explore. Unfortunately, I don’t think my pastor thought this was part of the all-inclusive package.

The heaven that the people at places like “Liberty” “University” speak of would drive me up the wall. An all white gated community, where I am forced to be god’s cheerleader for all eternity. I’d be much more happy not existing.

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