Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ torture

January 30, 2013 • 11:29 am

I do wonder how many of those who object so strenuously to American torturing of prisoners (I am one of those objectors) nevertheless accept eternal torture.  After all 70% of Americans believe in hell, and although some of these must surely see hell as metaphorical—usually “separation from God”, which I consider a bonus—those people are ignoring the literal description of hell in the Bible. I see such cherry-picking, impelled not by theological advance but secular reason, as more intellectually dishonest than the belief of literalists in a real, eternal fire.

The official doctrine of the Luteran Church, at least that of its two biggest branches—is that hell is a real place, a place of “eternal fire,” and you’ll go there if you either don’t get baptized or don’t accept Jesus as your personal savior. How a liberal person can believe such doctrines defies me.

But I digress; here’s today’s Jesus and Mo on the topic:


h/t: Michael

45 thoughts on “Jesus ‘n’ Mo ‘n’ torture

  1. Time for some “sophisticated theology”. The priests that I talked to (back when I was a Catholic) told me:

    1. We don’t know what the population of hell could be zero.

    2. Even if people go there, it could be for a temporary period of time; the idea is to “get ready” to “be in the glory of god”.
    (sort of a spiritual boot camp, if you will)

    This doesn’t make any more sense than the usual notion of hell, but at least it is more palatable of a fairy tale.

    1. I gather that a few years ago the Pope closed the door on Limbo but the conservative rearguard have remained unhappy and the Vatican is now backtracking. They may reach a definite conclusion within the next 800 years.

      1. They may reach a definite conclusion within the next 800 years.

        you missed out your emphasis tags. [GRIN]

      2. Perhaps more relevant here, how are they going with Purgatory?

        (If you want unintentional Purgatory humour, listen to Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, based on a poem of Cardinal ‘the Blessed’ John Henry Newman. The Devil definitely has all the best tunes.)

    2. What, Catholics really believe in universalism? Someone should tell the Vatican.

      If the population of hell is zero, then the concept of ‘salvation’ seems to lose its super-specialness. It would only remain important if people would have all been destined for hell if Christ had not made His great sacrifice.

      Which now leaves you with the same kind of problem: reconciling a God of Love with a situation where every one of His creations OUGHT to be tormented. The mercy of a God which hands out universal salvation first requires a belief that not torturing people is astonishingly merciful. They are so torture-worthy, all of them.

      The Abrahamic religions have always looked to me like the sort of ideas seriously abused children might come up with.

    3. Even if people go there, it could be for a temporary period of time

      Those priests need to read the Catholic Catechism:

      1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, “eternal fire.”

          1. Even if hell were like Shangri-La, or any other kind of Paradise, the eternal aspect of it would eventually become a psychological torture that would incite a raging demand for escape.

            As Hitchens said, its bad enough being commanded to leave the party, just when its getting interesting. What’s even worse though is being at a party from which you can never ever leave.

    4. If Jerry gets to heaven and Hitler’s there, there’s going to be trouble (of course, he’ll have to get in a long line that got there first).

      1. Hitler accepted Jesus as his saviour, so he’s in heaven. Gandhi didn’t, so he’s in hell. Religion is just.

      2. If God existed and had a perverse sense of humor, he might very well might arrange for Hitler to be in Jewish Heaven, tied to a stake as a target for them to bash him or stab him or whip him or spit on him at will.

        Such a fantasy is of course too good to be true.

  2. Hello,

    How can “Separation from God” (I shall trademark this phrase) be possible at all when God is suppose to be omnipresent? Can a state of affairs ever be achieved whereby there would be people in hell and God not know about it? Similarly, would those in hell eventually realise that they have been silly not to believe in God and regret this decision? Would they feel separated from God?

    1. Yep, it’s one of those paradoxes.

      Can an omnipresent being create a place where he is not present?

      Like creating a rock so heavy he can’t lift it (hat tip: Ben Goren).

  3. I can’t think of a better definition of my personal hell than to have to spend eternity surrounded by a bunch of sanctimonious bigots.

    I’d rather be in hell with Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson.

    And Dr. Seuss. L

  4. In my home and church community growing up we were taught that it’s not God who does the torturing. It’s rebellious humans getting what they want (and deserve). The real torture is the total absence of God. That’s when it started getting really metaphysical, with how the fires of Hell aren’t actual fire but more like the pangs of remorse and regret magnified infinitely. Now that I’m an atheist I can’t really follow how those things are separate, but if you don’t think too hard about it, it sort of makes sense.

    1. It sort of makes sense only if you don’t keep on thinking of the damned as real people. Real people who are sensitive enough to miss God’s love would be sensitive enough to reach out and love each other. And when we love each other — is God still “absent?”

      Ah, but what if the damned are sensitive enough to want God but not sensitive enough to give one small little pang of thought for anyone else in Hell? What if they are all a weird aberrant style of cartoon villain, bad guys without any redeeming shred of fellow human feeling or compassion or growth and yet oh — they wish they were basking in the warmth of God’s eternal love? What if that, huh?

      Wait. That’s stupid.

      It’s easier for the saved to explain what the damned must be like when they’re explaining it to each other, and it’s about people who aren’t like them.

    2. How does it make sense? If Hell is “rebellious humans getting what they want” how can it be a place/state of punishment and suffering? If someone genuinely prefers Hell to Heaven, and chooses Hell because he prefers it (instead of having it imposed on him against his will as punishment for his sins), then, for that person, the worse fate is not Hell, but Heaven.

      1. From what I’ve seen this justification of Hell is a bit closer to “rebellious humans getting what they THINK they want but boy, will they ever be sorry when they find out how ill-equipped they are to make it on their own.”

        The familiar analogy is where a rebellious 14 year old child is finally allowed to move out to someplace where they don’t have to follow any authority or obey any rules … and discover, to their chagrin, that a vacant house filled by a bunch of spoiled, bad-tempered teenagers is cold, dirty, mean, and dangerous. It’s a hell-hole because they’re all fighting, stealing from each other, and nobody seems able and/or willing to do the cooking or clean the bathroom.

        It’s the “you made your bed, now you lie in it” justification of Hell. No use whining about it now.

        But if this really IS “what they want,” then they really only want it in opposition to having to do chores and live under parental authority. It’s a choice between bad or worse — meaning, they can never be happy. They’re their own worst enemies.

        This line of reasoning does appeal to motivations and situations we can understand. It has that virtue, at least. The problem though is that the motivations and the situations have to be really exaggerated and extended beyond anything we’re familiar with. This is supposed to go on literally forever.

        A loving parent would allow a sniffling and now wiser child to return, at any point. And delinquents who prefer to create and live in a hell of their own making and never ever reform or improve sound like sociopaths with serious psychological issues requiring therapy and treatment — or fictional characters. Actually, it sounds like both.

        The damned aren’t really given a lot of dimension.

        1. I don’t think either of those twists solves the basic contradiction between an omnipotent God of love and the doctrine of Hell (including the variation in which Hell is chosen or self-imposed by the sinner).

          If someone chooses Hell only because he thinks he wants it, and wouldn’t choose it if he knew what it was really like, why doesn’t God just provide him with that knowledge?

          And if Hell necessarily involves suffering but someone chooses it anyway because choosing Heaven would involve greater suffering, why does God force that dilemma on him? Why doesn’t God provide him with an option that would not involve suffering?

        2. Yeah, I’ve had many discussions about hell with Christians and the “God doesn’t send you there, you choose to go there…you don’t want God in your life so He’ll let you exist in a place bereft of His presence, which will entail this eternal suffering.
          God’s can’t be condemned for hell; It’s all on you.”

          I keep pointing out that this is just the type of two-dimensional thinking you get when you believe the Bible. The Christian accepts a cartoon version of people to be put in hell – so utterly God hating and recalcitrant that they would rather suffer eternally than accept amelioration from a God. Throughout the bible you get these cartoon-level depictions of people who are worthy of God’s smiting, so it’s par for the course.

          I always say “Look, you are not describing real people. I’m an atheist and in your doctrine I will be in hell, and stay there, because I choose it. But it’s not true. I have contemplated eternal suffering and there is literally nothing more abominable to me. If I really thought such a possible fate awaited me you can be damned sure I would avoid it. And I sure as hell would not CHOOSE it and STAY there forever, if I actually had a choice. So what does your theology say about actual people who think as I do, vs the ones you are supposed to imagine in hell?”

          This usually causes some collar loosening, grunting, shuffling of feet and attempts to
          re-direct the conversation. But to the extent the Christian stays on subject, it often tends to put them in the mind of trying to make God better: “Well, I don’t know for sure how it will all work. Whose to say God wouldn’t listen to you and give you another chance?’

          Which is a start…


  5. Reminds me of the vile Ann Coulter’s comment that “I defy any of my co-religionists to tell me they do not laugh at the idea of Dawkins burning in hell.” Such Christian charity.

    Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.

    1. As Michel Onfray says in his Atheist Manifesto, “the love of one another knows no boundaries.”

      This Mark Twain quote is the best answer to “Ya’ll burn in hell” I’ve ever seen.

  6. Are those soft drink cans on the arms of the couch?

    I love the way these two omniscient beings are always getting their news from the mass media.

    1. Curious, these two characters don’t appear to be omniscient; maybe they are imposters? One thing that seems to be lacking here is the recognition that in both temporal and eternal ‘torture’, the one being tortured has made a choice. That is not to say that it makes the consequences any more palatable, but all one has to do is make the correct choice, and avoid the torture.

  7. My local paper runs a Sat. religious column written by area ministers. Last Sat., the author was having an orgasm over how sinful we are and how we’re going to suffer in hell. It was truly a nasty article. I was so tempted to ask him 2 things:

    1. Do you have low self-esteem?
    2. Are you a psychopath/sociopath?

  8. “Those people are ignoring the literal description of hell in the Bible. I see such cherry-picking, impelled not by theological advance but secular reason, as more intellectually dishonest than the belief of literalists in a real, eternal fire.”

    This really stood out to me. One of the main reasons I don’t believe in any religion is beyond really because most believers are wacky hypocrites (on the not practicing what you preach bit), contradictions, or the soundness of science and evidence. It’s just that no one follows their religion to a T.

    Or even close to it.

    They cherry pick, and then remove the pits, can it, and take it out when they’re ready.

    Not like I want them to, but they’re supposed to stone homosexuals, adulterers, and so on and so forth. Evolution is not compatible with nearly any religion. We can go on and on with the allowances people make for no good reason other than it will make their lives easier in the real world.

    And I’m like, if you want to pick and choose to suit your lifestyle, why are you getting on me about my pickings? How can you say you are following a god’s word any better than I am? How can you say you’re going to heaven and I’m not.

    Hell is supposed to be real and eternal. If you believe anything otherwise, you are as atheist as I am. Ah… This is long enough.

  9. Most of what we think about Hell comes from Western theology, primarily Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions.

    A bit of irony, maybe, is that the hell concept is totally different in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, which in many ways is the tradition in which the Bible was canonized.

    If you have the time and enjoy reading theology, you could check out Alexandre Kalomiros’s talk “The River of Fire” here:

    It’s worth reading to see how the East differs from the West on the nature of divine judgment, salvation, heaven, and hell. The short story is that God is indeed omnipresent, and that heaven and hell are both the experience of the total presence of God and the congregation of angels and saints — it’s just that some people find God’s presence hellish.

    It’s similar to Sastra’s “rebellious 14-year-old” analogy from above, but turned on its head: it’s more like the rebellious 14-year-old that knows he’s wrong, and who can’t stand to be around the parents — who have done nothing but love him — because their loving presence is a constant reminder of how wretched he is.

    But you don’t get to run away! (There is a hint in the tradition, e.g. with Origen, that even the wretched could change their attitudes eventually and, with God’s help, bring themselves back into the fold even after death, but those views became heresies pretty quickly.)

      1. Yeah, and with the ultimate put-down (contrasting Heaven with North Korea) – “At least you can fucking die and leave North Korea”.

    1. He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

      George Orwell, 1984

  10. Objecting to torture while believing in the fires of Hell is a great contradiction.

    Perhaps an even greater hypocrisy is found in those on the Christian right who favor torture and yet claim to have accepted the love of Jesus into their hearts.

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