Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Enlightened Ones

Some “enlightened” Christians (a term not used derogatorily) are of the opinion that once you go to Heaven, you are completely stripped of your bodily self, to the point that you no longer care about your former family and friends and have absolutely no personality characteristics linking you to your old self. It’s as if once you leave your body behind, you’re just an anonymous soul that goes to Heaven and does…I don’t know. I guess, crazy anonymous soul stuff, like standing around looking like a bright light. And praying, or something. Nobody’s ever really clarified that for me.

I’ve gotten this theory repeatedly whenever I ask Christians about whether or not my Christian parents would be sad if they knew I was in Hell. I was of the opinion that if my parents made it into Heaven and I didn’t, they’d be really sad and it really wouldn’t be Heaven for them. Or so I’d hope. And the same goes for everyone. Were the Heaven & Hell system to work the way many people believe it does, it’s unlikely that anyone in Heaven wouldn’t have at least one or two dear friends or family members suffering in Hell for eternity. And that just doesn’t seem right.

But when I’ve asked Christians about this in the past, many of them seem to believe that this is no big deal. That once you’re in Heaven, you drop all your earthly relationships and so you wouldn’t even care that you can’t remember your children, friends, and whatnot. And I guess that makes sense to me. I have no idea how these people would know any of this, seeing as how nobody’s ever been there. And unless I’m crazy, Christians can’t believe that people come back from Heaven, so this seems like a big guess to me. But whatever. If they’re willing to believe it, I guess that’s their business.

Effectively Dead

But the part that doesn’t make sense is: Why are they cool with this? I mean, what’s the point of living in Heaven for eternity if it’s not us anymore? If we completely lose our identity, memory, etc; aren’t we effectively dead? I mean, if some evil doctor removed your brain and placed the brains of another person in your head, would it still be you? Would you be cool with that, knowing that it isn’t you anymore? Of course not. If some other dude was walking around in your body, you’d be pissed.

And so how is this any different with our souls? If my soul doesn’t have my memories, then it’s not me. It might as well be something else walking around in my soul. Our personalities are nothing more than our memories combined with our earthly genetics and chemicals. So if you deny us our bodies and our memories, we are nothing. We don’t exist. So what’s the point of that?

And what would be the point of Hell? If Hitler’s soul has no memory of who he was or what he did, is it really Hitler? Does God get some special kick knowing that these dudes have no idea why they’re suffering? But is it really Hitler suffering? Or is it yet another empty soul, unaware of its former self? And if my soul doesn’t have my identity, what the hell do I care what happens to it? Sure, it was my soul. But it’s not me. Without my memories and body, it’s no different than anyone else’s soul. If our souls really are anonymous, then I’ll just pretend that my soul went to Heaven. What difference does it make? According to these people, they’re all the same.

Punishing the Soul

And speaking of points: What’s the point of this whole earthly place, if we’re just going to lose all our experiences once we leave? Is our universe just a disposable test, which will someday be entirely forgotten once God is finished with it? Does God really need to put us through all this suffering, simply to find out if he wants to let us hang out with him for eternity? And after it’s all over, we’re not going to remember any of this? He created all this, just for a loyalty test? I find that unlikely. Could anyone really believe that God is allowing children to die and women to be raped, for no other purpose than to test our ability to love him? Really??

And honestly, if we’re sinners, we’re sinners because of our bodies and experiences. So how does it make any sense that those are the two attributes of us that won’t be getting the reward or punishment? Or are our souls somehow responsible for how we act, independently of our body and memory? If that’s the case, then that’s how God made us. And if he can make us with rotten souls, then he should just cut-out the middleman and just put us bad apples directly in Hell. That sure would prevent a lot of needless suffering and agony.

But I think that people’s personalities are based entirely on their memories and bodies, so I see no reason why the soul needs to be punished for anything. Punish Hitler’s body. Screw with his head for the things he did. That makes sense, though I refuse to understand how eternity is the proper length for any punishment. But come on, leave his poor soul out of this. I haven’t the faintest idea of what a soul could possibly be, beyond our life experiences; but if there is one, I refuse to see how it’s anything but an innocent victim in all this.

Stop-Gap Theories

Overall, I’ve got to give the memory-less soul theory a big D-minus on the sensible theory scale. It goes hand-in-hand with the theory that God doesn’t send people to Hell, but rather people send themselves there by rejecting God. And that the only punishment in Hell is that you exist without God. Sure, these sound like intellectual improvements over the traditional Fire & Brimstone version of life, but even a cursory exploration of these theories leaves us far more confused than if we hadn’t bothered thinking of them at all.

But these really aren’t supposed to be sensible theories. They’re supposed to be enlightened ones. You know, the ones your “enlightened” Christian philosophy professor feeds you, in order to quell the growing dissent between your new knowledge of higher ethics and the childish vision of the sulfury pit of Hell. Hell is an absurdity to all enlightened people, so this argument is designed to reassure newly enlightened Christians by giving them a less absurd Hell to believe in.

But this enlightened vision of Hell is even more absurd, for many of the reasons I mentioned above. But you’re not supposed to think about that. You’re just supposed to accept the new line of reasoning because it’s better than the alternative. But the truth is right there for anyone to see: There is no Hell. It’s just a dumb idea used to scare the rubes, but it really doesn’t make any sense.

Blessed be the Sinners

If we assume a kind and loving god, we cannot accept a cruel and judgmental god. If I’m expected to have the wisdom to understand my children’s mistakes, then any loving creator would surely understand mine. And of all people, he’s got the least right to complain. He made us. He created this world. He knew that some people would be born with bad parents. He knew that some people would be given bad experiences. He knew what those experiences would do to them. And he let it happen anyway. He knew what he was getting into. God is no victim in this.

So he owes it to the sinners most of all. Whether they were born with a bad soul, bad genes, or bad experiences; none of this was their fault. God was responsible for all of it. Sure, they had freewill. But what did they use to make their decisions? The soul, genes, and experiences that God was ultimately responsible for. And if a dumb schlub like me has figured this out, then there’s no way that our Almighty Lord hasn’t figured it out yet. People wouldn’t do bad things if they truly understood the consequences of what they were doing. And if they don’t understand, then God just wasn’t doing his job.

So he can’t punish these people. Nor can he allow them to banish themselves to Hell, as these enlightened Christians believe. He would understand why they made these mistakes. He would forgive them. Not because they asked. But because they were too ignorant to know how to ask. This shouldn’t be about finding Jesus as the savior. This is about an omniscient being showing how truly omniscient he is. I am expected to unconditionally love my children, even if they reject me. It is absurd to expect any less of God.

Mortal Threats

But the obvious truth is that this has nothing to do with God at all. This is about impotent humans trying to scare people into obedience. That’s where Hell comes from. All-powerful beings don’t need to rely upon anonymous threats of eternal damnation to get obedience. Humans do. And the reason why no two Christians have the same idea of Heaven is because they’re just thinking of the place they’d like to be. This isn’t about God and the afterlife. This is about humans, coping with what we were given in this life.

And maybe there’s a god. And maybe he wants us to obey his rules while we’re temporarily here on earth. But I’m quite confident that he’d certainly understand if we didn’t. And if he didn’t understand and really intended to allow me to be punished for all of eternity, then I fail to understand why anyone would want to love him in the first place.

But I’m willing to grant people their enlightened god. Just as long as we go all the way with it. Eternal damnation might be a fun threat to toss at those who disagree with us, but it sure isn’t very enlightened. Intellectual honesty requires more.


whig said...

So God sent his son to this place because, what, God doesn't care about what happens outside of his gated heaven community?

whig said...

Let me try to give you a metaphor that will make sense -- God as a collective consciousness.

Here we have a collective consciousness between bloggers, we write and read one another's thoughts and each of us influence the other to think together of things that we might bring from different perspectives.

The highest penalty that might be imposed upon someone in a community of consciousness is to deny connection, to stop speaking and listening, to shun completely and let the individual go think for him or herself for awhile. Maybe a long while.

Does that work for you?

whig said...

It might also be a good lesson in child rearing, the observant parent is still present and knows to keep the child out of certain kinds of danger, but when the child grows old enough to be independent the parent must step out of the way.

When the child calls for the parent, in genuine sadness, the parent is there. So it may be with God.

These are metaphors, not to be taken as words of literal truth, because the complexities are far more than could be reduced to language. But instinctively I think we understand the connection between parents and children.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Sorry Whig, but I'm just not buying it.

For your first point, sorry I didn't clarify that, but I wasn't at all referring to God not caring about earth. I would assume that he would care, but presumably only to the extent that he wanted people to join him in Heaven. Or perhaps he's a big voyeur and really enjoys watching our lives. But if we don't remember any of this in Heaven, then it still seems fairly pointless and very, very much like death.

As for your second point, I think we'd have to examine why someone would reject being part of the collective consciousness. And the reason why would be due to genetic or chemical influences, as well as our experiences. And how are we resonsible for any of that? We don't choose our souls or bodies or experiences. So why should we be held responsible for all of eternity due to a system entirely out of our control? If we made a mistake, it was a mistake based upon things that God gave us.

Beyond that, until I get a firmer grasp as to what Hell would actually be, I refuse to consider any of this. Are these just memory-less souls floating around in emptyness? Why would that be of concern to me? I'd already be dead and wouldn't know anything about it.

And would they be able to repent in Hell? I can't imagine why not. But if you could repent in Hell, who wouldn't do that? If upon death, every human was given the option of meeting God in Heaven, there is not one who would refuse. Or if they refused initially, they'd surely reconsider before too long. How is it logical that a loving god wouldn't understand that?

As for your third point, I again insist that God would understand why he was being rejected and not require the request for help. Have you never known anyone who needed help but refused to ask? Or didn't know that help was available? Do you honestly believe we shouldn't help people who don't ask for help? Of course not. If an old friend hit hard times and was homeless, I'm sure you wouldn't wait for him to ask you for assistance before you'd help him. You'd reach out and do what you can to help him. How could God do any less?

And homelessness doesn't compare at all with the fate you believe billions of us will endure for eternity. Again, I'm sorry but I find all of this entirely absurd. A loving god could not permit us to suffer as you say we will. And any god who would allow such a thing would not be deserving of love. I'm not at all trying to talk you out of belief in God, but the whole Hell thing has got to go. It's an outdated concept that's entirely offensive.

whig said...

I think you're loading a lot of presuppositions onto what I'm saying. I'm not claiming you lose your memory at all, I'm saying we gain one another's memories and share them with one another.

That's what we do every day when we blog.

As for there being a discrete heaven and hell, it's not a useful model for me and appears to be founded on nothing. If there is a place other than heaven, it is called earth.

I won't write more on this if it doesn't seem helpful to you, but don't assume I take a silly position because other people might.

John of the Dead said...

I think some of the best nuggets of religious wisdom come from The Ridly Scott epic, "Kingdom of Heaven." Doc, in response to your quandy about heaven/hell/eternal punishment, there's this:

"God will understand, my lord. And if he doesn't, then he is not God and we need not worry."

Good stuff. Then there's this one, from one of the Hospitaller knights:

"I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. I have seen too much religion in the eyes of too many murderers. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What god desires is here"
[points to head]
"...and here"
[points to heart]
"...and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man. Or not."

Heck, I'm a devout Methodist, but that's still powerful stuff. Yes, most religion is used to control the populace. Simple fact. Despite that, I still attend church regularly. I do so because of the good we can do. And we can do more as a group than I can alone. I, and most folks at my church, don't care one whit for heaven or hell or any other "Pie in the sky, by and by" hokum. We're trying to care for folks here, now. That's something that far too many religions have lost.

Now we have a situation wehre folks are told (by their pastors) that they only have to worry about themselves and their own private morality. Say a few magic words, and *poof* you'll live forever (after you did, by and by). But it's onlt *their* particular magic words that work, and everyone else will be punished. It dividing people into arbitrary sects, setting up an enternal enemy, so people will cede more power and authority to their leaders. That's why the megachurches are so popular: you go for an hour a week, and that's it. Nothing else. You get reinforcement of your "proper" choice while you're there, and aren't asked to do anything (although a nice fat check would be appreciated).

Bah. Now I'm getting angry again, and starting to ramble. Anyhow, "Lord, save me from Your people."