Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fire and Brimstone, Black and White

Commenting on a recent post, Laura stated

I really believe [hellfire and brimstone religion] has a lot to do with temperament. If one is a fearful person, or a black/white person, one may need the structure and reassurance (?!?) of religion, which appears to provide answers to scary questions. In my opinion, those answers are scarier than the questions, but I know plenty of people who are convinced the Bible is literally true and this seems to make them happy and secure.
This jibes with my experience of very religious people, but the interesting part is what lurks behind Laura's observation that the answers are scarier than the questions. Hell, especially in the hands of its most enthusiastic believers, is portrayed as the most terrible place imaginable, where the most unspeakably hideous torments await the thought criminal -- far worse, even, than either Ponca City or Klamath Falls.

I will go so far as to say I find it impossible for a sane human being to believe, on the one hand, that hell is a possible fate, and on the other hand, that hell is a possible fate for the believer in question. I think it's rather easy to believe in hell when you're thinking about Hitler or Karl Rove, but virtually impossible to believe that I am -- likely, probably, realistically, foreseeably -- going to the same hell where Hitler currently roasts while sitting at stoplights in a subterranean K-Falls. Not far below the surface of a fire-and-brimstone believer is a person who believes his own "salvation" is assured -- or, at worst, will be assured after the completion of an ongoing program of god-pleasing penance.

Maybe this is just a roundabout way of saying that black-and-white thinkers have a highly developed capacity for self-excuse and rationalization, such that they always exist in the white.

I am no mind-reader but I think I'm right about this, and if I am, it gives the lie to the fatuous claim made frequently by Dinesh D'Souza (cf. here and here) that hell is too terrible to be explained as a self-soothing delusion. It most definitely does qualify as a self-soothing delusion, provided we assume, as I do, that believers in hell are actually believers in hell for other people.


Laura said...

First of all, I'm kvelling* that you'd refer to my comment. Let's not forget that these same loving, kind,compassionate Christians are the same ones who are going to be eternally happy in heaven, even as others are roasting long past infinitude. Anyone who can be happy knowing that there are others suffering a horrible fate for all eternity scares me a lot.

*a Yiddish (I'm guessing) expression I've picked up while exploring Judaism which means something along the lines of feeling proud and happy. Before I walk away from religion I just want to make sure I haven't overlooked anything. The good news is: in Judaism, you're supposed to question God, and it provokes a lot of great discussion. The bad news, from the perspective of someone not raised in the faith, is that the spiritual gymnastics I must do to make sense of some of their interpretations of Biblical stories is beyond my flexibility.

Lirone said...

The rhetoric of the more vitriolic Christians does occasionally suggest that their version of heaven would involve a comfortable cloud with an uninterrupted view of hell, and unlimited popcorn to munch as they enjoy watching atheists being tortured for all eternity!

Dale said...

Lirone, Laura, square on. I've nattered on that subject before, and none too far in the reaches of the past:

Heaven doesn't make sense if there's a hell. Sorry, no. It doesn't add up.

Laura, I'm with you on the mental gymnastics. No thanks to all that.

w said...

You are a luciferian or satanist. Not simpy because you reject christianity. This is not personal. Ir is your focus against all religions that impute fear as a motivation for conversion. You are more focused on prosperity and meterial growth on earth. You are 100% earthly minded so your hope dies with you. Sorry thats all u get in this life. Turn to Christ u will have more beyond ur limited achievement.

Dale said...

w, so which is it? Don't leave me in suspense -- am I a "luciferian" or a "satanist"?

Whatever. I think I'll post on this --- I know you're waiting eagerly.

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Anonymous said...

As a Christian, my heart literally breaks for those who reject the path of life. The thought of "unlimited popcorn" while watching the atheists being tortured for eternity is absolutely preposterous. Knowing that in the presence of the Almighty God we will be in absolute peace, surrounded by absolute love and filled with complete joy...miraculously we won't be aware anymore of those who chose to rebel against God.
Whether it is a hell that has been written about and described, or just being removed completely from any peace, joy and's not a place to be.
God is pure perfection...even a little white lie is pure evil in His presence. That is why He provided the "blood sacrifice" of His only Son, Jesus, to die in our place. If that's not love, I don't know what is. It is our choice and being the God that He is, He allows us to choose our path of life and ultimately our eternity. I pray that you choose life.

Dale said...

Anon et. al., you might want to know I replied to your post of July 10 with a fresh new blog post, here: