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Friday, June 16, 2006

Heaven and Hell

I rarely look at the "Faith & Values" section of the newspaper since it reliably pisses me off because religion pisses me off, reminding me, as it does, of my early religious training, specifically as to the nature of hell (fire and brimstone). Young though I was, I had pretty much figured out that "eternity" was a long time to burn and that scared the wits out of me. Fortunately, I recovered my wits and dismissed religious claims as nonsensical. But, today, for some reason unknown to me, I opened this section and got two gems.

The first gem was Stephen Hawkings saying he was warned off by that world class scholar, Pope John Paul II, from inquiring too closely into the origins of the universe "because that was the moment of creation and the work of God." At least the pope doesn't think creation began 5,000 years ago or however far back fundamentalist Christians think the moment of creation was. However, I think I will leave the origins of the universe in Hawkings' hands, not the Pope's.

Much more fun is the report that an emeritus prof, Jeffrey Burton Russell, from UC Santa Barbara is concerned with U. S. Christians' ways of conceiving heaven and hell, claiming they are "so feeble and vague that it's almost meaningless -- vague 'superstition.'" Uh, Professor Russell, I feel it is my duty to tell you that the concepts of heaven and hell are inevitably vague and meaningless whether conceived of by ordinary people or big time religious scholars.

Let us ask what sort of nouns "heaven" and "hell" are. Are they place names like "New York City?" If so, then they refer to specific regions of .... (you fill in the blank, for I can't). Unfortunately, we are stuck either with locating heaven and hell somewhere in our universe or nowhere. I suppose we could posit the existence of some parallel universe for heaven and hell to exist in but, boys and girls, and men and women, the notion of a parallel universe is a mathematical fiction. Until a given parallel universe can be shown to exert some force on this universe there is no way to prove it exists. So, I think we must conclude that heaven and hell are noplace.

Professor Russell would replace the ordinary man's and woman's view of paradise with the idea that heaven "means being in harmony with God and the Cosmos and your neighbors and being grateful." Hell is not the place where there is nothing but fire and brimstone but is simply "the absence of God, the absence of Heaven." I guarantee that you will not find expressions in English that are a bigger mess than Professor Russell's. Lumping God, the Cosmos, my neighbors, and being grateful in one package constitutes a major category mistake (or set of category mistakes). We have God, who exists nowhere, a Cosmos that embraces everything, my neighbors, who are next door and therefore in the cosmos, and feeling grateful, which does not per se have a location.

This is the problem with religion. We are required to use English or Japanese or Swahili to express our concepts of "God" and "salvation" and "heaven" and "hell" and all the rest but the net result is always something vague and nonempirical. How about just saying, "I am awed by the universe and that evokes feelings in me that are reverential and this makes me want to go to church." If you go any further, you will inevitably get into linguistic trouble.

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17 Comments:

Blogger L>T said...

Heaven & Hell are just symbolic points of reference in the real world, right?

Really interesting if you think about it.
heaven/up Hell/down.
Heaven/bird/free spirit/eternal life
Hell/worm/trapped/eternal death

Why everybody has to make Heaven & Hell their own little special places? the answer is simple:
We want our enemies to die & we want all the goodies for ourselves.

prob. completly off the lingustic subject. But, if I tried to be smart i'd bomb. :)

12:16 PM

 
Blogger Paul F. said...

So, if you're so smart, what do you say to the average unintelligent human being with an IQ of just under 90. All you so-called intellectuals can theorize all you want, but you'll never ever grasp the complexity of all that is. How could you? People want to believe in something. Sure, maybe belief in something like heaven and hell is "below" your level. I sure can't tell you what heaven or hell is like or even if it exists. But it sure brings me comfort to think that some people I know will burn in hell eventually.

1:47 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

I've heard the theory that Russell seems to posit, that heaven is merely the state of being in harmony with God and that hell is the state of being completely separated from God. Sure, that works for me. I don't know. I'm reminded of the passage that says that as far as the east is from the west, so are God's ways above our own (and therefore our understanding is insignificant.

L>T: a good Christian wouldn't want their enemies to go to hell (see below, my response to Paul F), although you are undoubtedly right that many Christians do want their enemies to go to hell.

Paul F: your statement troubles me. No one should ever take comfort in the thought that someone will go to hell. That's the whole point of proselytization--because we love our neighbors we show them the way to heaven. For some reason, I don't recall you ever mentioning that you are Christian. Perhaps you were being sarcastic . . . or perhaps the ratio of atheists to Christians in this forum has made me forget.

2:03 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

Kelly; I certainly don't want anyone to go to hell either.
I really didn't mean it that way.
I was trying to make point about the concept of it, tho.
Just think about all the pictures etc. we use for Hell & Heaven.

What do we mean when we tell someone to go to Hell?
Or talk about something heavenly?
What do you mean, when you use those words? not in your Christian philosophical sense, tho.

I think Paul is being human in his thinking & he has a point. Not everyone is above human emotions of hate, etc...
Maybe the concept of a place where we can send all those things that are evil is healthy.

Not only Christians are capable of coming around to higher ideals, you know.

4:17 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

Something I want to clarify for the record, I am not an atheist. I would label myself "Agnostic Secular Humanist"

5:40 PM

 
Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.

So we've heard from The Intellectual, The Anti-Intellectual, The Believer and The Artist. (And The Poet if you include the Milton.) Anyone else going to take a shot?

(Oh, me? The Kibbitzer. :)

12:34 AM

 
Blogger L>T said...

Who's the Intellectual? I haven't figured that out yet.

11:45 PM

 
Blogger Language Guy said...

Definitely not anyone who uses "ironic" and "begging the question" incorrectly or who discusses heavem/Heavan and hell/Hell as if they were places as opposed to, say, states of mind. I have definitely been in Hell by the "states of mind" viewpoint and believe I have been in "Heaven" a good deal of time. Mostly I just mosey along, writing blogs, tending to my garden and guinea fowls, and being happy about my wife, kid, her husband, and our dogs.

8:22 AM

 
Blogger L>T said...

Some of us are exposed from birth to the idea of real fiery pits Of hell, deep in the bowels of earth & the opposite & equally impressive heaven with it's pearly gates & streets of gold,etc...

This is a juvenile Christian concept of course, that some people never let go of, they just try to dress it up in grown-up clothes.

I like to see the Christian community work with other concepts(I hope I'm using the right words here, but I know I'm not the intellectual, so i can get away with it, right?)it means to me that they are evolving(?)
I'm giving them the benefit of doubt.

I have done my own jacking around of heaven/hell since I was small & being scared out of my wits over the whole thing. I've done away with them as real places a long time ago, & have fit them into my (for now)secular humanist veiw point.

10:43 AM

 
Blogger L>T said...

Happy fathers day, BTW.

10:44 AM

 
Blogger Paul F. said...

It is ironic that the "Christian" one judges me and the "Agnostic" one understands what I said.

9:02 PM

 
Blogger L>T said...

:)

10:27 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

I sincerely apologize if I offended you. It's a bit more difficult to detect sarcasm in plain text than in conversation.

I wonder, though. Since when is criticizing an action or a statement a judgment of a person? That's dangerous thinking.

10:04 AM

 
Anonymous pf said...

Sorry, maybe I just took it as judgment; it's more like being lectured, I guess. Actually, I just wanted to use the word "irony" in a sentence just to irritate the LG a little more.

3:37 PM

 
Blogger Kelly said...

Actually I think you used the word "ironic" correctly in that context. If you didn't then maybe I shouldn't even be using the word.

9:56 AM

 
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

Is it love to create a heaven and a hell, then tell people they better do as you say and love you and get yer dang name right or you're going to burn them for eternity?

10:23 AM

 
Blogger Ralph said...

If God was to exist, creating humans in his image, and as well have already a predetermined judgement on them whether they go to the so called paradise or the underworld. Why would the Christian God make diableries in human form (considered a wrongdoer) that will go to hell and which was decided before the very commencement of that human's accouchement?

7:39 PM

 

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