9-03-13 10:20Is Hell Bad?

People keep trying to tell me that Hell is not actually "bad."

For example, Crystalite always says that hell doesn't really involve flame or torture. She says it's just eternal separation from God, and if you didn't believe in Christianity, well, you would probably like Hell better, because you wouldn't want to spend the afterlife with God anyway. As I recall, she likens it to choosing a vacation spot - most people would love to vacation in Hawaii, but she personally would hate it and would choose to vacation elsewhere. She says Hell is just the alternative for people who would hate Heaven anyway, so how could that be bad?

Then, some Christians also tell me that you don't actually have to accept Jesus right now to avoid Hell. They seem to be saying that at some later time, all people will have another chance to accept Jesus, presumably at a point when He is a bit more obvious. So Hindus and Buddhists and Pagans, etc might be able to get on board with Jesus some time after death if they missed the boat while they were alive.

The odd thing is, that for most of my life the standard story I have heard is that if you do not accept Jesus now, before you die, you will go to Hell when you die and fry there for eternity, and that's that. This is what the tracts say, and that is what the televangelists say. If there are extra shots at Heaven later, or if Hell isn't really bad, then why don't the tracts and the televangelists mention this? What is the point of depicting Hell as bad if it isn't? What is the point of saying it's now or never, if it isn't?

Does anyone actually believe the standard story - that if you don't accept Jesus before you die you are punished with torment in Hell for eternity? If so, does that mean that all Hindus fry?

Jen's Mom: For those who know Christ, and choose to turn away from Christ, then they will go to Hell.

Does that include the atheist? He may have "heard" of Christ, but not experienced Him personally and so would not really "know" Him. If an atheist simply finds the Christ story implausible, does that mean he deserves Hell?

Jen's Mom:I don't think any human has the authority to answer that question.

Then why is Salvation through Christ the central tenet of Christianity? Obviously some humans feel they have the authority to answer that question because they do it all the time.

Jen's Mom:Was it an athiest that said it's a vacation spot?

No, Crystalite self-identifies as Christian, as far as I know. However she is the first to admit that this is just what she believes, and that other Christians may differ.

I do know other Christians who have proposed something similar though. Hell isn't really fire and brimstone, it's just eternal separation, the "torture" is overstated, etc.

Jen's Mom: Christians differ. But the basic tenet in Christianity is to love and accept Christ.

I think it is possible to love and accept Christ as an enlightened human who had some very insightful things to say about making this life work. Is that good enough, or do you also have to believe that He was the Son of God who was born of a virgin?

Jen's Mom: At the end of the day. We don't know about the afterlife.

I would agree with this.

Jen's Mom: I'd just say, be firmly rooted in the Word, and know it. And pray about it.

This is where we may begin to disagree. As a Zen Buddhist, I already have a very rich spiritual practice which has delivered for me in spades and continues to do so. It doesn't happen to include extensive Bible study or prayer to a deity.

Do you feel that only Christian practices, like Bible study and prayer, are means to spiritual understanding? Or would you accept the idea that Buddhist practice can be an effective means?

EternalAtheist:Hell isn't bad because it doesn't exist. Just like all underworlds for the damned don't exist.

Well, yeah.

But, I have been getting such mixed messages about this, I really wanted to find out what the Christains here think. The "moderate" Hell stories - Hell doesn't have torture, you will get more chances to choose Jesus after death, etc. - are in direct conflict with what I always heard growing up.

As far as I am aware, the standard salvation through Christ story is this: because Adam and Eve ate the fruit, all humans are born with "original sin" and deserve Hell, but IF you have faith that Jesus died for your sins, and ask His forgiveness during this life, you receive "redemption" and get to go to Heaven after death instead. If you fail to accept the Jesus story, for whatever reason, you have committed a crime so heinous that eternal torment is what you deserve, and you are going to get it.

This is still what the brochures and infomercials for Christianity say. When did it become negotiable?

Jen's Mom: At what particular time do you think Jesus will be more obvious? He's pretty obvious now!

Obviously He's not obvious enough for millions of Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, etc. who see fit to practice the religion of their choice instead of Christianity.

Jen's Mom:I don't know such much if it's that Jesus isn't obvious enough, as much as it's that people don't want to recognize him.

So do you think Hindus who hear of Jesus recognize that Chistianity is superior to Hinduism, but just refuse to make the change? Why would so many Hindus do that? Are they poorer at making choices than Christians?

Jen's Mom: Everyone has the opportunity to go to heaven; Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Christian., etc....it's up to the individual to come to know Christ with a genuine desire.

Some Hindus hear about Christianity and then choose to stay Hindu. Is this wrong?

Jen's Mom:I don't know if it is. However, I do know that there are verses in the bible that mention that anything/anyone not of God is of evil. If you are not for God and his ways, he considers this evil. The opposite of goodness and God is evil.

Well, consider Buddhism. It's far from perfect, but it has a much more Christlike history of peace than Christianity does.

So, if a person examines both the history of Christianity and the history of Buddhism, and chooses to practice the more peaceful, though non-theistic, tradition, is that evil?

Jen's Mom: How can you conclude that Buddhism is more peaceful than Christianity?

Because In the last 2,500 years, there have not been any wars or persecutions in the name of Buddhism.

2 3 4 5

There have been many of them in the name of Christianity - holy wars, crusades, inquisitions, witch trials, etc. 

To this day in the U.S., the largest block in support of war and torture is evangelical Christians.

Jen's Mom: I would think we all feel pretty confident with our choices, until we find reason to question our current beliefs.

Then why would a Buddhist or a Hindu deserve Hell?

Jen's Mom: According to the bible we all deserve Hell. They will get what they deserve because they did not come to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Well, again, yeah...I know that is the story. What I want to know is how people figure that this is good, or fair, or just.

According to my moral understanding, punishing one person for the deeds of another - ie, condemning all humans because of Adam's mistake - is wrong. And, according to my moral understanding, doling out punishment that outweighs the crime by several orders of magnitude - ie, relegating a well-intentioned person to an eternity of torment for one wrong choice (choosing the wrong religion) or just one lifetime of ordinary mistakes (sins) - is wrong.

If the Christian story is true, then examining the history of Christianity and the history of Buddhism, and choosing to follow the more peaceful tradition, would be "evil." But how could it be? Where is the wrong-doing?


9-03-13 1:47Blame the Bank

This conversation took place shortly after the banking crisis of 2008, but the discussion of how the crisis occurred is ongoing to this day. Some people are still blaming individual borrowers for crashing the entire world economy, so this continues to be a very important point.

Years ago when we decided to buy a home, the first thing we did, before we even looked at houses, was to go to the bank. We presented them with our income information. The agent did some calculations and then told us how much of a home loan we qualified for. We based our home selection on those figures and never had a problem with our mortgage.

I don't see why everyone is dumping on the borrowers in the mortgage crisis. If the bank told them that they qualified for X amount of home loan, why should they have thought the bank was wrong? The bank people are supposed to be the money experts. Are ordinary people supposed to know more about money than the bank?

When the bank loans you money, it's not their money. It's the money deposited by their customers in saving and investment accounts. The bank has a sacred trust to protect the money of their customers and NOT loan it to people who can't pay it back.

Anyone can apply for a loan. The banks are supposed to vet the applicants and reject the ones who don't qualify. I don't see how we can blame people who applied for loans and had their applications approved by a lender. The lender could have told them "No." Or "Less."

What do you think?

BJ: I disagree, the crisis was caused by greedy people making bad financial decisions. They are trying to live outside their means.

Sure they are. But most ordinary people can't just sit down and do the intricate calculations to figure out how much mortgage they can get. I don't blame people for thinking they could afford a loan if the bank told them they could.

It's up to the bank to lend responsibly to people who can afford the loan. If the amount was outside their means, the financial experts at the bank should have spotted that a mile away and not given them a loan they couldn't afford.

MystyFoam: If you don't understand that you are signing a morgage for a ARM that is going to go up in 3-5 years and increase every 3-5 years after that, whose fault is that?

It is the fault of the bank for telling them that this was the right loan for them. If they couldn't afford it the bank should not have told them that they qualified.

EllsBells: The bank told us that we could afford a house that was insane. I dont think that the banks are honest at all.

That definitely puts them at fault. They should not be dishonest.

EllsBells: Banks make money hand over fist when they forclose on property and dont let them tell you otherwise.

So, they are shilling people for their own gain. Totally unethical.

EllsBells: Well, people need to stop being foolish about believing big business monopolies.

If you hire an accountant to do your taxes, are you supposed to do them again yourself when he's done to check on his work? Of course not. If you had the time and the expertise to figure out your own shit then you wouldn't have hired an accountant in the first place. He's supposed to be the expert and know what he is doing.

The banks are the financial experts. If they are tricking people into loans they can't afford by lying to them about how much mortgage they qualify for, they certainly can't blame the borrower for their own dishonesty and greed.

MystyFoam: I disagree, this is where personal responsibility comes in. No one put a gun to their head & made them purchase that home...

The bank should not have lied to them and told them they qualified for that loan when they didn't.

EllsBells: Agreed - banks will LIE. They will try to talk you into BAD decisions when it comes to loans. In this crisis, BOTH the buyer AND/OR the bank can take the blame at times. It depends on the situation.

Well, I agree somewhat. In most situations, everyone involved shares some of the responsibility.

However the party which is acting unethically bears more of the responsibility.

You can't just walk into a bank and tell them how much you think you qualify for and expect them to agree. They are the ones who do the math. They are the ones who examine your tax returns, your credit, your income, etc. and then tell you what they think you can afford. That's their job. They have no business telling you that, according to their calculations, you qualify for X number of dollars if you don't.

If you provide the bank with false documents which dishonestly inflate your income, then that's one thing. But if they are the ones lying and cheating, then they deserve most of the blame when their underhanded little scheme blows up in their faces.

BJ: you cant blame anyone but yourself for bad financial decisions. a bank cannot dupe an informed consumer.

They should not be trying to dupe consumers in the first place. I can't believe people defend the banks for lying and cheating to trick people into loans they can't afford and then blame the poor slob who falls for it. His eyes may be bigger than his wallet but he's not the one being dishonest.

MystyFoam: Unfortunately, it's a grim reality that businesses are in the business of making money...

Does that mean it's okay if their schemes are dishonest and immoral? If "anything goes" when the bank is trying to get more money than they deserve, then how come "anything goes" doesn't apply to a borrower trying to get more house than he deserves?

MystyFoam: ...I'm just encouraging consumers to be well-informed when they go to make a purchase on something like a home.

It's a grim reality that people like nice houses. I'm just encouraging banks to be well-informed when they go to make a loan on something like a home.

BJ: you are the one going to the bank and while they should help you the best they can, it's not their job to hold your hand.

Honestly assessing what kind of risk you pose to their customer's money is not hand holding. They have a responsibility to their savings and investment account holders not to gamble their money away on loans they know will not be repaid.

MetalMom: It's sad that many American's choose to blame other's instead of taking personal accountability.

If accountability is important, then why does the bank get off scott-free? Should the bank not be held to professional accountability?

MetalMom: They bank doesn't look at anything but how much you make and your major expenses. That's the borrowers job to know how much money they can pay back and to take a look at what your personal expenses are and will be.

There is more to it than that. If you are a loan officer, your entire career is about sizing people up and figuring out how much of a loan they are good for. If you can't do that then you shouldn't be a loan officer, because you are risking the solubility of your entire institution if you fuck up too often.

MetalMom: Does the bank be told that the borrower wants to have 2 kids in the next 5years? Does the bank know...

Let's be clear about this. The sub-prime mortgage crisis is not about a bank thinking that you are good for the money and then finding out later that you aren't. It's about them knowing that you are not good for the money and loaning it to you anyway.

I really don't see why everyone has turned into apologists for the banking industry. They are a bunch of super-greedy fucks who gambled other people's money on loans they knew would not work, and so we had to bail them out or risk tanking our entire economy. Everyone just shrugs and says, well, that's a bank for you, and never questions whether the bank should have done that or not. Well, they shouldn't have.

Each individual borrower who bit off more than he could chew, at least only screwed up himself and his family. The banking industry knowingly gambled on millions of these loans and have screwed up the entire global economy. When you have millions of problems and billions of dollars involved, you can't dismiss it all as the fault of careless individuals. It is a systemic problem.

Careless borrowers who want to bite off more than they can chew have always existed, that's nothing new in the banking world. So what is the new factor that has precipitated this crisis? An unregulated financial market, and the monetary sleight-of-hand underpinning the entire "sub-prime" industry. They gambled, and we lost. I don't see why we should now pretend they had nothing to do with it.

9-03-13 12:16Evolution by...

Ashley: I've only heard twice in my life people saying that they don't believe in evolution. But evolution is a fact. We are not the same as we were millions of years ago. There is scientific proof of evolution, so how can people still say that it's not true? How can people say we are still exactly the same as God made us?

Most people do not have trouble with evolution until you say the whole thing: Evolution by natural selection. People will accept the first part and give God the credit. It's really the second part - natural selection, i.e., not God - that most people have trouble with.

Ashley: Being that Evolution is natural selection...what part of evolution are they okay with?

Some people seem to be okay with "change over time" as long as they can say God did it.

I have seen many people say, "How do we know that evolution wasn't God's way of making us what we are today?" But the whole point of natural selection is that it occurs naturally and does not require guidance by an external supernatural intelligence.

Ashley: oooo...I understand now! Thanks!

Ava: So you think God's design would not allow for natural selection?

Seems to me creating a self sufficient universe that keeps what it needs and purges what is not needed is a genius design. Exactly what I would expect from a higher being. :)

See what I mean? People will always try to shoehorn God in there somewhere.

Ava: Hey!

Your statement proves my point. Of course the "higher being" you posit conforms to your expectations. Since it's all your speculation, you can imagine it to be whatever you need to backfill the justification.

When people did not know where life came from, God got the credit for creating it exactly as is. When life is shown to have changed over time, God gets the credit for causing the changes. When the changes are accounted for naturally, God gets pushed back to merely having created the natural system. It's called "God of the gaps." It's handy for allowing you to insert God back into the equation after understanding pushes Him out.

9-02-13 5:12Common Ground

Blue-J: Atheists are not helping with all their naysaying. If you want to bring people together, i recommend reaching out for common ground, not telling people their deepest held ideas are wrong.

Blue-j, I really appreciate the spirit of camaraderie and mutual understanding with which you present this suggestion. But, what is an intelligent non-theist to do? Just pretend to go along? Why are the non-theists the ones who have to compromise well-reasoned and evidentially supported explanations to find "common ground" with people whose ideas are supported only by the "deepness" with which they are held?

When people believed the earth was flat, it wasn't because there was some "deep underlying truth" to the flatness thing. They were just wrong.

Are theists "just wrong"? Well, it looks that way. If the theists think otherwise, maybe *they* should be the ones trying to reach for "common ground" and give me one reason, anything, why I should see it their way.

So far, every theist I ask just says, "Stop asking."

Blue-J: I think the key is to talk about direct experience and validate experiences and find common ground there.

How, exactly? In a recent discussion, a theist used his "direct experience" of the beauty of the sunrise as evidence that Allah sets the Kreb's cycle in motion. *He's* not sticking to discussion of direct experience. He's drawing conclusions, and pretty elaborate ones at that.

And how does "validating the direct experience" help? Yes, I can validate that the sunrise is indeed a beautiful thing of wonder. Am I then supposed to agree that it is beyond all understanding, or what? Acknowledging the beauty and wonder is not good enough; I still get a lecture about how I'm just blind to the God part, I'm just refusing to see, and it would just not be worth it to them to explain what I am missing.

Blue-J: Religion gives so much! Community, volunteerism, ritual, shared singing, sincere gestures of appreciation for being alive and the astonishment we feel at being sentient. Bash religion, and the faithful feel you are also taking these things away from them.

Why should they? I have had plenty of all those things in a lifetime of total secularism. I got craploads of that just from joining Toastmasters. Those things can be created in any context.

Blue-J: Atheists offer no replacements...

They are starting to. But is it really the job of the atheist to provide ritual and meaning for the floundering theist?

Blue-J: You need to connect with the truths in religion...

Name one and maybe I will.

Blue-J: Name one? You need me to point them out? You have go to be kidding me!

People can mean any number of different things when they say "the truths in religion." What kind of "religious truth" are you referring to? I would need to know specifically what it is before I could agree to "connect" with it.

Blue-J:the work you are asking me to do was the work i am asking you to do.

I'm talking to you. I'm asking you give me an example of a "religious truth." Is it too much "work" for you to do that?

Blue-J:yes, it is. the project bores me.

I see. As usual, when I ask for specifics, we always, ALWAYS come back to the "and it would just not be worth it to explain" point.

Blue-J: Well, if you insist, i like much of the dhammapada (wait, you can't count that as a reli... whatever!). tao te ching. i actually think the whole tree of knowledge bit is interesting. the sermon on the mount has some cool sentiments.

Yeah, and so does that one Viagra commercial, or so I've heard. But "cool sentiments" does not equal "religious truths."

A little while ago you threw out a "you've got to be kidding me!" like the "religious truths" were so obvious that I would have to be blind not to see them already. Yet you cannot name *one*.

I'm glad you "like" the dhammapada and think the "tree of knowledge bit is interesting" but that tells me nothing about what part of them are both "religious" and "truth." In fact you admit that some of it doesn't even count as religious. Surely if "religious truth" is the big blinking banner of obviousness you imply it to be, you ought to be able to pull one religious truth out and write it down.

But, of course, it's "boring," and it's too much "work." Well, I find it hard to believe that if a "religious truth" existed it would be boring, and too much work to share. But perhaps now you can understand why I asked you to name one.

You have recommended that I find common ground with theists by connecting to religious truths. But I cannot "connect" with ideas that no one has ever been able to overcome their boredom and fatigue long enough to tell me about.

9-01-13 4:12End of Marriage?

Haley's: It seems like people are just not as interested in marriage anymore. Do you think marriage will continue to exist?

Humans tend to form long-term, mostly monogamous relationships under any circumstances. Even serfs in feudal Europe and slaves in 18th century America, who were forbidden to marry, came up with their own informal ceremonies which they performed in private to celebrate commitments.

However the "ideal" of marriage is seldom strictly adhered to.

For one thing, there are usually a significant portion of adults in any social grouping who never marry at all. "Bachelor uncles" and "maiden aunts" are common. Sometimes this is where homosexuals find themselves when they are forbidden by social mores to marry their true loves. Some people are simply not interested in pairing or do not find a suitable mate.

This actually has advantages for the group. In many animal populations there are adult members who do not produce offspring. But this ensures that there are "extra" adults around to help parents with the rearing. Raising the next generation is difficult and parents often need assistance. Since the non-producing "aunts" and "uncles" do share genes with the offspring, their help does ensure that their genetic material is passed on.

Another deviation from the "ideal" of marriage is the fact that there is no society, no matter how rigid or puritanical, that has ever been able to prevent marital infidelity. It occurs in every human group. Among nobility, powerful lords were often expected to have mistresses, and ladies could ask for "special services" from their houseboys and horsemen.

Such affairs were not usually considered grounds for ending the marriage. Marriages among the rich and powerful were as much or more for the purpose of political alliances as for romantic reasons, and people were not really expected to find their entire sexual needs fulfilled within the bounds of the alliances. These "outside relations" were acceptable as long as the dalliance was discrete. As one British lady put it, "I don't care what people do as long as they don't frighten the horses."

So, my conclusion is that people today are not different than people have ever been. Marriage will continue to exist, and it will continue to have many deviations and alternatives, as it has for thousands or perhaps millions of years.

9-01-13 3:50The Bad Kids

Ava: Liberals don't really want to take care of anyone. They just want to divide us into groups - men & women, blacks and whites, homosexuals and normals. To a conservative, we're all just Americans.

Schools are crap because people don't raise their children to be decent human beings. If teachers weren't being told to go F themselves and being assaulted they would be able to teach just fine. That is why private schools with vouchers would work much better. If your kid acts up then out the door they go. They can go to the "bad kids" school, or perhaps department of family services should get involved.

What I'm preaching is to take care of others.

You are preaching taking care of some others.

Draining the money away from the public school system to funnel it into vouchers is not helping the ones you call "the bad kids," and they are the ones who need help the most.

Ava: If the bad kids are unable to control themselves in school we should just allow them to disrupt every-one's chance at learning? Like I said if these kids are causing that much of a disturbance perhaps someone should be looking at their home life, The last case scenario is that the children would then be sent to a state school, it should be similar to a juvenile detention facility.

So, conservatives do not just see everyone as Americans. At least not American kids. To a conservative they are divided into the "bad kids" and the real kids.

The "bad kids" must be segregated, sent to bad schools and then - prison.

The "real kids" get everything else.

I'm sorry your view is so divisive. To me, they are all just kids.

Ava: Some of them need more guidance then others, they should not be allowed to hold other children back. I believe that kids can be helped but not merely from providing their basic needs, I guess you are content to make them out of sight out of mind.

Segregating them into bad schools and then to prison is out of sight, out of mind.

Ava: So, as long as they have a roof over their head, food in their tummies, and free medical care they should just turn out to be decent adults?

It would be a start. How do you expect them to be decent adults without that?

Ava: Whatever Fairytale lady!!!! LOL


Ava: You fail to realize the utopia you speak of already exists. It is called an American Ghetto, and everyone there is fighting to get out!!!!!

If everyone is fighting to get out, it's nothing like what I am speaking of.

Ava: It's proof positive socialism does NOT work.

American failures are not a failure of socialism. America is among the least socialist nations.

9-01-13 10:09Religion and Error

Surrender: You claim that belief "causes error." So what? There will always be error, no matter which side it is coming from.

Yes. But error can be greatly reduced with accuracy.

No understanding is perfect, but some understandings can be shown to be far more accurate than others. They may still produce error, but much less.

Surrender: You act like Christianity is a problem, but I'd have to conclude that everyone's choice regarding beliefs can be a detriment to society.

To what degree? Buddhism can hardly be argued to be a detriment to society. If a 2,500 year history almost entirely lacking in violence is any indication, some choices are clearly far, far less detrimental than others.

Not all belief choices are equivalent.

Surrender: One side will always claim the other side is misinformed.

Sometimes this claim can be supported with evidence.

Surrender: There is never going to be peace in religion or the belief systems as a whole so...

So let's just give up.

Surrender: ...since error is just part of life, and since this life isn't perfect this isn't even a debate. Error will always exist.

I guess it depends on whether you want your society to flounder along, causing great harm with great error, with no way to determine where the error is occurring or how to fix it, or if you want your society to utilize a system that provides for error correction and improvement, allowing for a gradual reduction in error and the corresponding suffering.

Error will always exist but that is hardly an excuse to ignore it. You can work for less error.

Surrender: Regarding religion/belief, I don't think one side is informed and the other is misinformed.

I'm not even sure who you are referring to as the "sides" here. Atheist vs. Theist? Christian vs. Hindu? Protestant vs. Cathlolic? Science vs. Religion?

"Sides," like people, are usually informed about some things and misinformed about other things.

However there is such a thing as being well-informed. Some people and some positions seem to be better informed than others, as demonstrated by verification.

Read more in the Archives.