Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – The case against Hell

gervais hellThe Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has some ads broadcast on CNN recently.  The spokesperson, Ron Reagan, ended the ad with the phrase ” “life-long atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.”    The FFRF has an excellent blog post addressing the outcry about that particular phrase and the idea of “hell” here.

I have not much to add to the FFRF post about hell.  I find the idea of a hell, in any religion, to be nothing more than violent sadistic fantasies indulged in by people who want anyone who disagrees with them punished.  Many theists have retreated from their more violent versions to say that their hell is just “separation” from God a la C.S. Lewis, and insist that it’s the choice of the non-believer in whatever religion to go to hell since they don’t want to be around this god anyway.  However, that is just one more fiction to add to the myth.

What the Boss Likes – a new book, One Nation Under Gods

one nationA new book, One Nation, Under Gods by Peter Manseau, is one of the best books I have read in a long time.  Mr. Manseau reviews the history of religion in the United States of America from 1492 (with some info on religion in North America before the Europeans came) up to the present day.  It is a very easy-to-read book, despite being full to the brim with facts.

I think I am fairly well versed in history but this opened my eyes to many more new facts.  I never knew that Cotton Mather (yes, *that* Cotton Mather) advocated for an early form of vaccination, a fair number of the Africans brought to the US were Muslims,  slave owners wavered between teaching Christianity to their slaves and forbidding it, that Thomas Jefferson wrote a favorable letter to a Seneca (a Native American tribe) religious leader, a Muslim slave might be the origin of the black colored kachina in Zuni folklore, Hindu leaders were giving speeches in the US in the 1800s, etc.

I’m only half way through the book.  🙂

This book does a lovely job in dismissing the delusion of some American Christians that the US was only established by their version of Christianity and is only for them and them alone.  It does treat religion fairly, showing its benefits and does not hold back at all at showing its warts.  Everyone should read this book if they want to know the deliciously complicated religious history of America.  It is more than worth the price of admission.

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – geology, poster style

I decided to do a riff on a webposter I saw on Mike’s website here.

dear god geology1


This is an amazing example of layers and cross-bedding, where the direction of the propelling force (in this case both wind and water) changed repeatedly over time, a lot longer than 40 days and 40 nights.  This webpage is a very good overview of the stratigraphy of Zion National Park.

If you’d like more info about the flood nonsense, this is a very nice video from potholer54.   You can also use the search function on my blog and find where I’ve discussed the flood.

What the Boss Likes – Antibiotics, I love them and the science that discovered them!

Microsoft clip art
Microsoft clip art

(warning: may be a little more medically graphic than some care to read)

Humans aren’t impervious. We can get infections from a lot of things.   The germ theory allowed us to get into hygiene, and then determined scientists got us arsphenamine, penicillin, and so many more antibiotics. When I watch a historical documentary, especially about a war, I am horrified to think that most of these were before antibiotics. People constantly died of infections we think nothing of because science takes time /and or is determinedly ignored or attacked. Happily, we have them now and I am of a generation that hasn’t had to worry too much about what often killed my ancestors.

Right now, I am recovering from a nasty deep abcess in my groin (yes, that may be too much information but there’s no reason to be embarrassed by it). No idea where it came from but oh boy, it was there. It’s been a while since I’ve had such pain (the pain from my gallbladder attack still wins but not by much)Our bodies do what they can to fight invaders, and my body did its best, white cells died by the thousands or millions, but that wasn’t enough. So, I had my abcess drained, thank you Doctor! Thank modern medicine! I am on three antibiotics, Bactrim (which also has a sulfa drug in it), Keflex and Flagyl. These are all very powerful, they can have side effects, but that’s better than courting sepsis.

I will of course take all to their last pill (and these aren’t small) because I don’t want any little buggies developing a resistance and either re-infecting me again or infecting someone else, which would be worse.

Take all of your antibiotics. Don’t ask for antibiotics for any little thing or for something that is a virus. Get your vaccines if you are medically able. The life you may save may not be your own.

Don’t be embarrassed to tell your doctor exactly what is wrong and where. They’ve heard it all before. There is no need to suffer pointlessly.  Which reminds me, I love painkillers too! Percocet is a wonderful thing when you need it.

Here ends the public service message.  Now excuse me while I nip off and get some much needed sleep.  🙂



Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – room for another debate

Rather than take up space on another’s comments area, I’ve brought a debate over here.   I’ll post Seth’s post, and in comments, I’ll put my response.

After a discussion here, this is Seth’s reply to my comment (the italicized bits are parts of my comment):

“What awesome, thought-provoking questions! I’ll be intentionally brief, so clarifying follow-ups are welcome 🙂

If you would, tell me what was your reason to be a Christian?

In short, I became convinced by personal experience (and somewhat by academic study) that God exists and that Jesus is whom He claimed to be. I’ve posted a very short version of my story on my blog:

Could you also tell me what sect you are…?

I’m non-denominational Protestant. I believe in the Nicene Creed and the authority of Scripture. OT laws are in effect insomuch as Christ’s work on the cross did not legitimately overturn them; examples of such laws that are no longer in effect would include ritual law (like performing animal sacrifices and refraining from shellfish, Acts 10) and civil law (such as laws regulating slavery and stoning for civil offenses, Romans 13); the third section of the law (the moral law) is still in as much effect now as then. I believe in the spiritual gifts (miracles, healing, prophesy, etc.). I believe in a literal heaven and hell. Haven’t quite made up my mind on young earth vs. old earth — leaning toward the latter, since the science is convincing and seems compatible with a conservative reading of Genesis. Happy to answer any other specific questions if you would like a clearer picture 🙂

If religious experience isn’t entire conclusive when comparing one religion to another, what would you suggest using?

These kinds of questions, I think, is what got me interested in apologetics — I wanted to compare Christianity to other religions in arenas such as history, archaeology, philosophy, etc. For example, I don’t think I could be a Muslim because I think their take on who Jesus was is historically false; I reject Hinduism, in part, because I think their cosmology doesn’t line up with what we know of the origins of the universe; I don’t believe in Mormonism because nothing in their historical sacred text seems backed up by archaeology; etc. I actually was a Hindu (sort of) for awhile, when I left the church for awhile and was experimenting with other spiritualities, and there were experiential differences as well that helped further convince me that there was something special about Christianity.

How can someone say that someone else is mistaken to the cause of an experience?

This occurs even within my own religion. For instance, though our church doesn’t make a big deal out of the spiritual gift of tongues, we believe it can be a legitimate expression of God’s love. I’ve heard people admit that they would do things like speak in tongues in order to be a part of what other people are experiencing. They didn’t necessarily recognize at the time that they were doing these things on their own (psychology is tricky that way), but later on, after experiencing what it’s supposed to feel like, they were able to admit that the experience they were having wasn’t something from God, but it was something from their own desire to “fit in”.

I see that you believe that your god can touch people of other religions. How does it does this and why doesn’t it tell these people that Chrisitianity is the only right one, an idea which I would assume you believe if you believe that one can only be saved through Jesus Christ.

Two things:
1) I believe He does do this, exactly. It seems that people in the Muslim world, for example, are coming to Christianity in pretty significant numbers because of visions or dreams of Jesus telling them where they can find missionaries who will tell them more about Him.
2) Believing that one can only be saved through Christ is not the same as saying one can only be saved through belief in Christ. I think there is Biblical support for the idea that God is more interested in our level of response to the revelation of Him that we have received than He is about what we say we believe on a creedal level. C. S. Lewis gave a nod to this idea in one of the Narnia books, where one of the “bad guys” ends up in Aslan’s Kingdom, much to his surprise and others’, since he technically served another deity — yes Aslan, seeing the sincerity of his heart and knowing that he had no opportunity to learn directly about Him, counted his worship for the other god as if he had done so for Aslan. John 10:16 comes to mind, but there are other passages as well.

You also claim that this god loves people, which would not be supported in the bible, from this god’s actions against those people who do not believe in it.

This statement seems to assume that sending unbelievers to hell is unloving. What makes you say this? If hell is just punishment, then it has nothing to do with love, it has to do with justice — it’s not “unloving” of society to send criminals to prison. Also, I think, in a way, hell in itself is a manifestation of God’s love for unbelievers, for He is honoring their decision not to be separate from Him. To force them to come into heaven and be with Him for eternity would be an even greater hell for such people, I think.

It is interesting that you believe in other supernatural entities. Do you believe that they are all “evil” since they are not of your god?

I believe the Biblical revelation about the existence of angels and demons, so they’re not all evil — just the ones that are trying to lead people astray and give “false” experiences and visions.

Can you do any of these things?

I am not the personal eyewitness to the sort of “mind-blowing” miracles spoken about in the New Testament, but I have seen quite a few “smaller” occurrences (some of which I had a hand in) that I would consider miraculous to convince me that such things do happen. I also know people who claim to be eyewitnesses to such things, and there’s also resources such as Keener’s book on miraculous healings that provide documented support that such things still occur.

Can you show any evidence for the essential events in the bible?

I probably don’t have much new for you in this arena — I have an interest in history, but I am no historian. I am a fan of Gary Habermas’ minimal facts argument for the resurrection of Christ, however — since, really, the only miracle that really makes-or-breaks my faith is the belief that Christ rose from the dead.

If someone claims that their god talked to them, or did a miracle, why would you not accept that it was the god they claimed, and not some other interpretation that you might put on it?

Because I have to reconcile such data that comes in with other evidences. For instance, I don’t believe in ghosts — and yet I believe that some poltergeist activity is legitimate. When someone claims to have had contact with a dead relative or something, I process that claim in light of other such experiences that, if allowed to continue, led to more demonic activity, where the “spirit guide” or whatever they thought it was would show its “true colors” at a certain point. I believe along the same lines when it comes to things like UFO sightings and alien abductions — I believe they can be legitimate experiences, but I don’t believe aliens are actually making contact with us, for the data seems to better indicate a demonic trick.

What would make someone’s philosophy “well-rounded” and “mature” to you as opposed to something that wasn’t either of those things to you?

It’s sort of a vague question, but I think I get the gist — forgive/correct me if I’m wrong. I guess the reason why I use such language is because it seems to me that most errors in forming one’s worldview come from a myopic processing of data — i.e., giving one piece of truth more weight or significance than others. It’s the root of biases, in my opinion. I’ve often said that when it comes to most people I speak with on any subject, we can generally agree on most of the facts — we just weight their significance differently. It’s like ethics, I guess — less a discussion of “what is morality?” and more about a discussion about conflicting definitions of “the good”. I feel I am in danger of rambling, and I doubt I am answering the question well 😛 I guess it comes down to weighing all the evidence, not just the evidences that sound good, or that line up with our upbringing — going out there and seeking out the whole truth, and rather than ignoring data that doesn’t fit with our worldview, finding a way to incorporate such data into it. I hope that makes sense.
Same to you! Thanks for the discussion.”

Below, I’ll put my reply and we’ll keep discussing.   Comments are welcome from observers. As always, support your claims with evidence.

Not So Polite Dinner Conversation – follow those laws….or not

This week, there were a couple of fascinating columns from the usual theistic suspects, Rabbi Gellman and Billy Graham.

Billy has a column on the “ten” commandments.   The querent asks why we should follow them now. Billy asks in return “which of them would you do away with if you could?” as a challenge, because how could anyone want to get rid of “you will not steal”? Of course, he forgets to mention the commandments that require that everyone worships his god and that says that everyone is damned by the sins of their parents. He asks if the querent would dare to want to get rid of the other commandments, the ones that “demand we put God first in our lives or even the one safeguarding the family by commanding sexual purity.”   Oh yes, that one that says that homosexual should be killed.   According to Billy, if we ignore any of these commandments we will end in chaos. So what does that mean when Billy ignores those commandments he doesn’t like?   The one that says to pay your employees every day? The one that one isn’t to wear mixed fibers?   Do you think Billy has never eaten a shrimp? Pork? A cheeseburger? Where is Billy trying to kill those who dare to work on Sundays?   Where’s his beard? How many menstruating women has Billy chased out of church? How many divorced men and women has he tried to kill?

Yep, we don’t see Billy following those silly rules either, those ones that he says that we must follow or, you know, chaos. Thanks for leading the charge to chaos, Billy! Of course, this all nonsense, and the usual “do as I say, not as I do” from a hypocrite.

Then we have Rabbi Gellman who says something quite different, at least on the surface. The querent asks about the practice of creating a “eruv” by Orthodox Jews, an “enclosure” that observant Jews do not leave during the Sabbath. The eruv mentioned is a town, Westhampton Beach, NY. In the bible, in Exodus 16, it says “29 Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.” This is in reference of keeping the “Sabbath” holy and not working during it, one of those commandments that Billy mentioned.   It is inconvenient to be stuck at home and to be forbidding to carry things, so the eruv gets bigger and bigger dependent on the needs of the believers.

The querent asks if this is “bending the rules” that this god gave. The rabbi gives quite an answer. You can read the entire thing here, but it can be summed up by one of the sentences “All religions alter supposedly unalterably laws to help people more easily find God in their lives.”

Now, I’ve always wondered about a god that is so interested in such ludicrous minutia.   Why would an omnipotent, omniscient being care about what humans do with their genitalia.   One idea I came up with is that if you can’t do something so simple, as follow a law like “don’t eat shrimp” why think you could do anything harder or more complicated? The rabbi does mention the obvious problems with his attitude. If this god really did give these laws, how can humans ignore them or change them?   He excuses this because those laws were inconvenient for people so they needed to be changed because one just can’t have people unable to use strollers or lock their homes. This seems to assume that God didn’t think of such things and humans need to make sure that they are comfy.   The rabbi says “It’s the natural consequence of living with laws and compassionately altering them when their intent was being thwarted by their implementation.” Which is the typical claim of a theist that they know the intent better than anyone else, including others of their religion.

Not so amazingly, Gellman defends the Christians who also change their god’s supposedly immutable laws, saying that it was perfectly fine for the Catholic Church to invent “annulments” to allow “In Catholicism, for example, the laws forbidding divorce and remarriage in the Church have caused many Catholics great pain because they feel excluded from being in communion with the Church they love.”

Funny how the rabbi doesn’t suggest that the Church should just ignore those bits about homosexuality to allow gays and lesbians to be in the church that they love.

As always, people make gods and make up what those gods really “want”.   The rabbi and the pastor want to be the ones to tell everyone that it’s okay for them to say what their god wants.

From the Kitchen – off to warmer climes in my mind, tom kha gai

tomkhagaiWhee, it’s snowing again here in PA. 😛 I wanted to try to make a soup, so I got out my copy of Wright’s The Best Soups in the World, and tried to find something I had most of the ingredients for.   As luck would have it, I had most of the ingredients for tom kha gai, Thai coconut chicken curry soup. You can guess how odd my pantry is in that I had everything except lemongrass.

My recipe is a riff on the one I found in the cook book. To us, it tastes very much like what we get at our local Thai restaurants.

¾ pound of chicken thigh meat, all fat, skin and bone removed, sliced thin

5 cups of coconut milk (I made mine from Chao Thai coconut cream powder, made up as 3 tbsp to one cup of warm water. BTW, I get my Thai ingredients from

8 thin slices of ginger (I had no galangal and it’s hard to get around here. I keep my ginger root in the freezer and slice or grate when needed.)

6 tbsp of fish sauce. (This stuff is salty. What I made today had 10 tbsp and it was right on the edge of being too salty even for me, the salt monster. Ten may be perfect for a very hot and very humid climate.)

4 tbsp palm sugar (this has a different taste than regular cane sugar, and I recommend getting it)

4 stalks of lemongrass (I used Gourmet Garden’s squirt tube of lemongrass paste, 4 tbsp of it. I love these little tubes. They last a very long time.)

1 tbsp grated lime zest (the recipe calls for kaffir lime leaves but again, they are hard to get here.)

2 tsp. fresh lime juice

1 tbsp red curry paste (I use Mae Ploy brand.)

Chopped fresh cilantro leaves.

Mix coconut milk, ginger, lemongrass and lime zest. Bring to boil. This stuff will boil over quickly, so keep an eye on it. Reduce to medium, and add chicken, fish sauce and sugar.   Cook until chicken cooked through.

Add lime juice, and curry paste and stir to combine. Serve. If you like cilantro, I find it a very nice addition. The recipe in the book had adding crushed fresh thai or Serrano chilies. For me, the red curry paste is hot enough to make my nose run plenty. Of course, any of these ingredients can be varied in amount to suit your tastes. I think it would be good with shrimp, firm tofu, pork, etc.

We also made a classic roast beef dinner. Lots of leftovers for the week!

Eat well!