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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

NPR has a new story about the Quiverfull Movement – a sect of Christianity that believes they should have as many children as they can. (Come to think of it, that’s a bit like Mormon teachings – which says families should have as many children as they can handle.)

It’s originally based on Psalms 127:3-5

Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

Ignoring the obvious gender preference here, the verse is essentially saying that having sons will enable you to beat-back your enemies with superior numbers.

From the article:

Among some conservative Christians, a movement is giving new meaning to the biblical mandate to “be fruitful and multiply.”

The movement, called Quiverfull, is based on Psalm 127… Those in the Quiverfull movement shun birth control, believing that God will give them the right number of children. It turns out, that’s a lot of kids.

I have to admit that it’s irritating when people believe God will intervene to bring about the right situation – and then use that to avoid any planning. This kind of action could easily lead to overpopulation. I don’t know how many people the earth could support, but if everyone did this, the global population would skyrocket.

“We just started thinking, ‘God is sovereign over life and death. God opens and closes the womb,’ ” Kelly says. “That’s what his word says, so why we’re trying to fiddle around and controlling ourselves, we need to stop doing that.”

This lack of foresight and personal responsibility is galling.

Their friends do, too. The average family at their evangelical church has 8.5 kids. They are children who the Swansons hope will spread the message of Christ.

Wow.

That’s also the hope of Nancy Campbell, a leader of the Quiverfull movement and author of Be Fruitful and Multiply.

“The womb is such a powerful weapon; it’s a weapon against the enemy,” Campbell says.

Campbell has 35 grandchildren. She and her husband stopped at six kids, and it is her great regret.

“I think, help! Imagine if we had had more of these children!” Campbell says, adding, “My greatest impact is through my children. The more children I have, the more ability I have to impact the world for God.”

A Christian God, that is. Campbell says if believers don’t starting reproducing in large numbers, biblical Christianity will lose its voice.

How about actually coming up with some decent evidence to convert people? I guess indoctrinating children is a whole lot easier when it comes to dominating the world with your religious views.

“We look across the Islamic world and we see that they are outnumbering us in their family size, and they are in many places and many countries taking over those nations, without a jihad, just by multiplication,” Campbell says.”

Admittedly, I think it is scary how fast some parts of the Muslim world is reproducing. However, fertility rates actually vary from one Islamic nation to the next, and the fertility rates have been dropping – Iran, for example, is down to about 1.71 children born/woman. Thirty years ago, that was much higher. The right-wing media likes to play up the high reproduction rates of some Middle Eastern nations though – because they’re very big on promoting fear.

Global Fertility Rates:

“They speak about, ‘If everyone starts having eight children or 12 children, imagine in three generations what we’ll be able to do,’ ” Joyce says. ” ‘We’ll be able to take over both halls of Congress, we’ll be able to reclaim sinful cities like San Francisco for the faithful, and we’ll be able to wage very effective massive boycotts against companies that are going against God’s will.’ “

Yikes. These people and their legion of indoctrinated children are hoping to take over. It’s like some bad Christian Dominionist fantasy.

When [Misty and Seth Huckstead] were 23, already with four children, he had a vasectomy. But they searched the Bible and concluded that sterilization was an affront to God.

An affront to God? Well, I guess all the logical arguments in the world can’t make them change their minds – they’re doing what god wants.

Misty says she’ll have as many children as possible. She loves having babies and believes it’s the proper role for women.

The proper place for women: barefoot and pregnant.

By the way, I just noticed The Friendly Atheist has a short post about the Quivefull Movement.

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Interesting story over at the BBC. I’m sure the common myth is that religious people are the most gracious at accepting death, while the nonreligious hold on to life like scared children, after everyone else knows it’s futile. (Actually, I think I remember Lee Strobel making some argument based on the quiet confidence of believers on their death beds as evidence for Christianity.)

Pious ‘fight death the hardest’

People with strong religious beliefs appear to want doctors to do everything they can to keep them alive as death approaches, a US study suggests.

Researchers followed 345 patients with terminal cancer up until their deaths.

Those who regularly prayed were more than three times more likely to receive intensive life-prolonging care than those who relied least on religion.

The researchers from the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute found these people were the least likely to have filled in a “do not resuscitate” order.

As well as receiving resuscitation, they were much more likely to be placed on mechanical ventilation in the last few days of life.

While previous US research has shown that the religious tend to support intensive end-of-life care, little work has been done to show whether they actually receive this.

Source: BBC

I’m have to wonder about the causal relationship here. Are people who fear death more likely to cling to religion? Does belief in religion make people worried about the afterlife (perhaps because they doubt their own salvation)? I always found it slightly odd that religious people put up much of a fight against death if they believe they are going to heaven to meet God. It also puts the religious’ phrases like “sanctity of life” and opposition to euthanasia in a new light – they are worried about their own continued life.

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In this clip, Michael Ruse says that Creationism/Evolution is really just one piece of the larger culture war – the fight over society’s views of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. I don’t think that’s entirely accurate, although I do think the culture war is certainly a part of the Creationism/Evolution “debate”. And, Creationists often like to argue from consequences (e.g. if everyone believes in evolution, then they’ll behave like Nazis; they won’t believe in God or morality; etc).

Hearing him reminded me of stuff in Ken Ham’s book “Evolution: The Lie” (1987). Ken Ham is the president of Answers In Genesis, the major young-earth creationist group in the world. If you want to get a feel for how popular these guys are, I recommend comparing their alexa stats against, say, Panda’s Thumb, Discovery Institute, and Uncommon Descent:

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It’s amazing the level of stupidity they get away with while still managing to stay relevant and popular. (Personally, I think this says something about humanity’s willingness to accept any stupid argument as long as it promotes and supports their pre-existing beliefs, which is rather sad.)

Here’s some of Ken Ham’s wonderful arguments against evolution. You’d think I was making this stuff up, but I’m not.

First, the front and back of the book. Note the implication here: Evolution is the lie in the same way that eating the apple in the garden of Eden was a lie given to us by Satan.

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Most of the book is written text, but it’s punctuated with cartoons illustrating his ideas. I’m going to stick to the cartoons – they’ll give you a pretty quick understanding of what his arguments are, and they are heavy on the “cultural consequences”. Maybe you can play a game called “spot that logical fallacy” at home.

Chapter 1 – Christianity is Under Attack

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Chapter 2 – Evolution is Religion

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Chapter 3 – Creationism is Religion

Ooh – look at all the badies up there on the stage. They’ve banned one religion (Christianity) and replaced it with another religion in the schools.
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Chapter 4 – The Root of the Problem

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Chapter 5 – Crumbling Foundations

Argument: If a literal interpretation of Genesis is undermined, then Christianity is undermined.
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And if Christianity is undermined, then all kinds of bad things – like homosexuality – are okay. Uh oh. Remember homophobes: you won’t be able to condemn homosexuality unless you stick with Creationism. (Does this smell like the culture war, yet?)

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This comic actually reminds me of my friend Chris. When he came out as gay, his dad tried to argue that homosexuality is wrong – using the Bible to back him up. My friend wasn’t very impressed – since his dad never went to church with the rest of the family. But, the Bible suddenly turns into “the good book” as soon as you want to condemn something as evil.

Chapter 6 – Genesis Does Matter

Only the Bible literal interpretation of Genesis provides a moral foundation for wearing clothing. Without the Bible, nudists aren’t doing anything wrong.
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Chapter 8 – The Evils of Evolution

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I thought I’d leave in the text at the bottom – it’s the next section which claims Male Chauvanism is really based on Evolution, and the Bible has nothing to do with it. There are other sections linking Evolution with: Nazism, Racism, Drugs, Abortion, and Social Darwinist Business models. (Hmm, I wonder if the producers of “Expelled” read this book as research for their movie.)

Here’s an excerpt from the section on Drugs:

Many people would not think of evolution as being in any way related to the taking of drugs. However, the following letter of testimony from a man in Western Australia shows clearly this relationship …

My naive belief in evolution had three important practical consequences:
1. It strongly encouraged me to look to drugs as an ultimate course of comfort and creativity.

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The balloons above the “Evolution” castle read: Euthanasia, Divorce, Homosexuality, Pornography, Abortion, and Racism.

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Update: I just discovered that Answers In Genesis lets you read the book on their website. Unfortunately, it seems that they’ve removed the cartoons. Here’s something else to check out: the Amazon page for “The Lie: Evolution”. About 50% of the voters gave it 5 stars. Sit back and marvel at the people writing comments in defense of the book.

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If it seems like I’m joking around by writing “World Breaking News” in the title, but I’m only copying what an Australian news agency wrote.

World Breaking News
Face of Christ ‘appears in cushion’ at Jesus-Misericordieux church Reunion

THOUSANDS of people have flocked to a Roman Catholic church on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion after believers said they saw the “face of Christ” in the pleats of a church cushion.

Church officials limited access to the Jesus-Misericordieux church in eastern Saint-Andre’s Cambuston district to a few minutes per visitor as traffic in the area ground to a halt.

Believers and curious onlookers pulled out cameras to take pictures of the cushion attached to the priest’s chair.

Antoinette, an 82-year-old parishioner, said the face was a “divine phenomenon” as tears welled up her eyes.

“This church is a holy site,” added Lise-May, another worshipper.

Saint-Andre authorities put up four tents outside the church on Saturday afternoon so the faithful could follow mass.

A group of about 30 parishioners who had joined a Christian ceremony ahead of the Easter holiday had been the first to notice the particular setting of the cushion.

“This is not a miracle, it’s a sign of God,” said parish priest Daniel Gavard.

Reunion Bishop Gilbert Aubry has so far not commented on the occurrence which came within days of outbursts of violence over the high cost of living on the island whose economy depends on tourism and subsidies from the French state.

Source: news.com.au

Lonesome Mongoose has a picture of the ‘face’.

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On one of my recent posts, a commenter claimed that the Bible predicts that the United States will split into four parts. I’m always interested in tackling claims about Biblical prophecy, so I looked it up. His claim is based on Daniel Chapter 8. Now, supposedly, the book of Daniel was written during the Jewish exile in Babylon – around the sixth century BC. Daniel has a number of visions and interprets them. I’ll say up-front that the interpretation that Daniel 8 involves the United States is ridiculous fantasy; I won’t even deal with that idea because it’s not at all reasonable. However, it seems to involve a prediction about ancient Persia, Greece, and Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC – or about 250 years after Daniel’s vision. Daniel 8:

1 In the third year of King Belshazzar’s reign, I, Daniel, had a vision, after the one that had already appeared to me.

4 I watched the ram as he charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against him, and none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great. 5 As I was thinking about this, suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground. 6 He came toward the two-horned ram I had seen standing beside the canal and charged at him in great rage. 7 I saw him attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against him; the goat knocked him to the ground and trampled on him, and none could rescue the ram from his power. 8 The goat became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off, and in its place four prominent horns grew up toward the four winds of heaven.

17 As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. “Son of man,” he said to me, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.”

19 He said: “I am going to tell you what will happen later in the time of wrath, because the vision concerns the appointed time of the end. 20 The two-horned ram that you saw represents the kings of Media and Persia. 21 The shaggy goat is the king of Greece, and the large horn between his eyes is the first king. 22 The four horns that replaced the one that was broken off represent four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power.

Now, if you look at the prophecy, it says Persia becomes powerful. Then Greece comes and destroys Persia. Then Greece splits into four kingdoms. As it turns out, this seems like a fairly good prediction of history. (You can see an animated history of the Middle East here.) Persia did become powerful, but a century or two later, Alexander the Great comes along – he’s Greek, he conquers Persia, he dies in 323 BC, and in 301 BC his kingdom is split into four parts. So what’s wrong with it?

Well, the first problem is that no one is quite sure when Daniel was written. It very well could have been written after Alexander the Great, and then claimed as a ‘divine prophecy’. It’s not just the fact that Daniel “knows” the future that makes people question the sixth-century date. Daniel’s knowledge of the sixth century BC seems a bit fuzzy:

What we do know is that Daniel was written before the first century BC because it is included with the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some scholars put the book of Daniel’s writing between 167 and 164 BC. (Christians, of course, continue to argue against that, but articles I’ve read on the subject seem remarkably weak at arguing for a sixth-century authorship.) If the later date is true, then these predictions become unremarkable (and deceptive) post-dictions.

The second issue here is the fact that this prophecy concerns “the time of the end”. Obviously, the world did not end shortly after Alexander the Great. But, if Daniel was written after these events, then the writer of Daniel apparently believed he was living in the end times. (Which hardly seems surprising – it just goes to show: people often think they’re living in the end times.) The Bible makes numerous predictions about the end of the world, and it has a bad record when it comes to accuracy. Even Jesus and the New Testament authors believed they were living in the ‘end times’:

Jesus predicting that he will be “coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” before “this generation” dies:

30 At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. 32 Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 33 Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. 34 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. (Matthew 24:30-34)

And Paul instructing people not to marry because the end times is upon them. And, if they are married, people should live as if they aren’t married – so that they can more effectively preach the gospel before the eminent end of the world:

27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. 29 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:27-31)

Christians like to claim that fulfillment of Biblical prophecy confirms the Bible’s divine authorship. I’ve looked into these claims of ‘fulfilled prophecy’ and found them woefully exaggerated. They also like to ignore all the unfulfilled prophecies. It just goes to show that the Bible isn’t a divinely-inspired book. Of course, it’s exactly what all the other religions do as well – but everyone ignorantly believes their own religion’s “fulfilled prophecy” claims.

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Ah, I’ve been buried lately with work deadlines, and they’re still a few months away. I feel like a negligent blogger. But, here’s some stuff to check out:

Take a guess: From The Onion or CNN?
Gov. Sarah Palin said Wednesday that she would be honored to help President-elect Barack Obama in his new administration, even if he did hang around with an “unrepentant domestic terrorist.”
Via: The Intersection (Answer here)

Also from Sarah Palin:

“You know, I have — faith is a very big part of my life. And putting my life in my creator’s hands — this is what I always do. I’m like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I’m like, don’t let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is. Even if it’s cracked up a little bit, maybe I’ll plow right on through that and maybe prematurely plow through it, but don’t let me miss an open door. And if there is an open door in ‘12 or four years later, and if it is something that is going to be good for my family, for my state, for my nation, an opportunity for me, then I’ll plow through that door.” (Source)

And, I’m sure you’ve already heard about the latest display of ignorance: she didn’t know the three countries involved in NAFTA, and didn’t know that Africa was a continent, and still hasn’t figured out what the Vice-President’s job was.

Sorry, I should probably just stop talking about Sarah Palin now that the election is over. I just can’t stand her. Sarah Palin : Political Power as Golem : “My Precious”. She doesn’t care what she has to do, she just wants and needs to be president – i.e. the most powerful person on earth (isn’t that a terrifying thought). It would be easy to ignore her except that so many Republicans (e.g. Bill O’Reilly) still are going out of their way to build up her image. They apparently love this sad excuse for a politician. Unbelievable. I have to agree with this guy, when he says that Republicans are the party of ignorance – abstinence-only education, anti-global warming, smoking isn’t necessarily addictive (Bob Dole, 1996), evolution is a lie, and are less likely to even have a passport (i.e. see the world outside our glorious Jesusland), etc. Palin has established herself as more ignorant than anyone else – and that makes her a Republican celebrity.

(Admittedly, I’m an economic moderate, so I don’t have big problems with fiscal conservative Republicans – just social conservatives and the attempts to twist/ignore reality. And I don’t see the Republican party letting go of the ignorant wing of their party.)

On the positive side, at least we know the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012 – which will still be inside Obama’s first term. 🙂

One thing I’ve been thinking about lately, though, is how these Evangelical Christian Conservatives (which is, by the way, the version of Christianity I was raised in) are like little busy-bodies. They believe God will “make a way”, so they can’t even evaluate the situation or their likelihood of success. In some situations, that can be devastating if failure has terrible consequences – e.g. the Children’s Crusade, or wars in general. (It also reminds me of a lot of Muslim militants – who believe Allah will ‘make a way’ – but in reality, they’re just stirring up trouble and starting a fight they can’t win. For example: Taliban abandon surrender plan after ‘prophetic dream’. It’s magical thinking in both cases.) It also means that being qualified for their job as president isn’t a big priority. (Just pray, and God will lead you!) On the other hand, the fact that they are disconnected from reality makes them little busy-bodies constantly trying to interject themselves. Here in Colorado, a 21-year old Christian busy-body got a proposed Amendment onto the ballot to define a personhood as beginning at conception. It got completely shot down (nearly 75% of voters said “no” to the proposed Amendment) – showing just how out-of-touch she was, and how she never considered her objective chances of success. But every once in a while, they get lucky with their pot-shots. Even worse, they’re gaining experience and we’ll have to shoot them down again in the future.

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(This is continued from The Case for Faith, Objection 6, Part 2; where Strobel raises nine objections to hell. The Complete Series can be found here.)

I’ve been thinking about Moreland’s presentation about hell. There’s really only two ways to dispute Moreland’s ideas about hell:
(1) Is Moreland accurately representing the Biblical description of hell? If he strays too far from the Biblical description, then he’s not really being an apologist for Christianity anymore.
(2) Is hell just? (If God is a just God, and hell is not just, then God cannot be a just God.)

Christians have a variety of opinions about what hell is. Some claim that there is no hell, and the people are simply annihilated (no consciousness). Moreland, claims that hell is just separation from God in the afterlife (people’s opinions on whether this involves pain varies). And, then there’s the traditional hell-fire and demons version of hell. It’s worse than the worst thing you can possibly imagine, and it continues for eternity.

Christians also have some different ideas about who goes to hell and who goes to heaven.
– Everyone goes to heaven (which is regarded as downright heretical among many Christians)
– People of many different religions will go to heaven (God will count their non-Christian piety as if it was Christian piety)
– Many different people are “chosen” by God to go to heaven whether or not they know it (and some Christians are not chosen by God)
– Everyone who hasn’t heard of Christianity will be saved because they never had a chance to accept or reject it (which put missionary work in a weird light, since it opens the possibility for people to reject Christianity, when previously they would’ve all been saved)
– Conversion to Christianity is allowed in the afterlife – lifting people out of hell and into heaven.
– Mormons believe in levels to heaven and hell, based on your actions in this life. Christians and Mormons (especially) get bonus points that get them into higher states of heaven.

Some of these ideas are hinted at in the Bible. Others require a heavy dose of re-interpretation. My own observation is that people pick and choose which they want to believe. If they have a hard time rectifying “God is just” with the injustice of hell fire, well, they can pick one of the options that suits their particular feelings. (Apparently, their so-called “relationship with Jesus” does not allow for the type of communication which settles these questions.) Personally, I find the “theology shopping” to be a bit distasteful.

The traditional descriptions of hell seem unjust. I don’t believe anyone has done anything to warrant eternal torture – not even Hitler. Further, the claim that someone must accept Jesus in order to avoid hell seems strange. Earlier, we saw Moreland try to imply that everyone who isn’t a Christian is willfully denying Christ and therefore deserving of hell. I think you’d have to be incredibly self-involved to claim that all religious non-Christians are somehow willfully denying Christ and following their religion because it is easier and more convenient. I actually think many non-Christians have worked far harder at their religion than most Christians living in the United States. The claim that they are willfully choosing the easy and convenient path is absurd, and could only be believed by someone who is terribly ignorant of other people.

There’s another reason the “must accept Jesus to be saved” seems strange: if God loves us and wants people to avoid hell, then He has a strong motivation to make the truth of Christianity obvious. It isn’t obvious. We can therefore conclude that one of the following must be true:
(1) God doesn’t actually love people very much, and He’s perfectly fine with people burning in hell because they made the innocent mistake of choosing the wrong religion
(2) Christianity is false.
(3) It’s not necessary to be a Christian in order to go to heaven.
(4) The people who are Christians exactly coincides with the people God wants in heaven. If you’re not a Christian, then God doesn’t want you (not even the Christian version of you). There are a few reasons this seems like a made-up answer. A quick look at the geographical clusters and absence of Christian belief over time and location doesn’t look like the result of divine will, but the normal pattern of religious growth.

Obviously, most Christians won’t accept any of those four options. In one conversation, a Christian argued that it’s not “being a non-Christian” which puts you in hell, but it’s sinning that puts you in hell. God is merely offering a life-jacket (Christianity) after you screwed up and jumped in the water (sinned). That answer still doesn’t work very well. If God wanted to give the “lifejacket” option of Christian salvation to the world, then why give it to some people (people living near Israel twenty centuries ago) but make other people wait for centuries (after billions of people died)? Why didn’t God give Christianity to pre-Columbian Native Americans? I don’t know about you, but if I was God, and I cared about Native Americans and Christianity was the only way to heaven, then I’d give them Christianity long before Columbus arrived. Fifteen centuries is a long time to wait. Are we supposed to believe that God sat back and went, “Oh, those poor Native Americans. If only they had Christianity. Oh well – what can I do about it? I guess they’ll have to wait another 40 generations until Columbus and some Christian missionaries arrive.” Are we really supposed to believe that the God who knows when a sparrow dies (Matthew 10:29) is the same God that let 500 million (pre-Columbus) Native Americans live and die without the possibility of salvation?

Getting back to Moreland and Stroble — Moreland takes the “separation from God” viewpoint. People aren’t burning in hell, but they’re all very, very sorry that they didn’t convert. Your sorrow is like the burning of hell fire – but it’s all psychological. Further, you can’t accept Jesus in the afterlife. Why not? Because of free will. (Huh?) You “chose” to be a non-Christian in the physical world. God is “honoring” your free-will. But, the “decision” you made in the physical world is the only one that matters. Decisions in the afterlife are not good for anything because… uh, nevermind. Moreland’s point about “free will” and “decisions” being binding when you make them in the physical world but not in the afterlife are actually pretty inconsistent.

Objection 5: Why Doesn’t God Just Snuff People Out?

(Interesting tidbit: the Jehovah’s Witnesses preach that people are just ‘snuffed out’. There is no eternal life in hell.)

Another aspect of hell that’s especially troubling to people is that its duration is eternal. But what if hell didn’t last forever? Instead, what if God annihilated people — that is, snuffed them out of existence — instead of forcing them to be consciously separated from him forever and ever?

“Surely,” I said to Moreland, “that would be more humane than an eternity of regret and remorse.”

“Believe it or not, everlasting separation from God is morally superior to annihilation,” he replied. “Why would God be morally justified in annihilating somebody? The only way that’s a good thing would be the end result, which would be to keep people from experiencing the conscious separation from God forever. Well, then you’re treating people as a means to an end.” (p.254-255)

I really don’t understand why Moreland says annihilation = “treating people as a means to an end”. At the same time, he says that God must honor their free will choice of “rejecting Christianity”. Why can’t self-annihilation be a free-will choice? Further, a few pages earlier, Moreland claimed that the reason people exist is:

He had made us with free will and he has made us for a purpose: to relate lovingly to him and to others… And if we fail over and over again to live for the purpose for which we were made … then God will have absolutely no choice but to give us what we’ve asked for all along in our lives, which is separation from him.” (p.241)

To me, there’s something about “he has made us for a purpose” that equals “treating people as a means to an end”. Apparently, Moreland doesn’t see it that way.

There’s also some problems with his “Why would God be morally justified in annihilating somebody?” claim. First of all, God kills lots of people in the Old Testament – pre-flood humans, Egyptians, Canaanites, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. In many cases, this is because they were “bad”. So, apparently, God is morally justified in killing people (even children), but not annihilating their souls. I’m unclear on why God can do one but not the other. Also, by phrasing the question that way, he places the onus on the listener to come up with a reason. If you can’t come up with a clear answer, then you’re supposed to conclude that Moreland is right. But, most people probably couldn’t provide an answer to “Why would God be morally justified in killing somebody?” By Moreland’s logic, we should therefore conclude that God isn’t morally justified in killing someone. But the Bible tells us that God did kill people. Therefore, God acted immorally?

Second, in an earlier chapter (“Objection #4: God and the Killing of the Innocents”), Norman Geisler argued that God can kill anyone because God owns all creation (in the same way that you own the bushes in your yard):

“People assume that what’s wrong for us is wrong for God. However, it’s wrong for me to take your life, because I didn’t make it and I don’t own it. For example, it’s wrong for me to go into your yard and pull up your bushes, cut them down, kill them, transplant them, move them around. I can do that in my yard, because I own bushes in my yard.

Well, God is sovereign over all life and he has the right to take it if he wishes. In fact, we tend to forget that God takes the life of every human being. It’s called death. The only question is when and how, which we have to leave up to him.” (p.168)

If Geisler was right, then I don’t see how God would not be “morally justified in annihilating somebody”. I always find it amusing when Christian experts claim to have the one unassailable truth, but then their arguments step on the toes of other Christian “experts”. It just shows how internally inconsistent their answers are.

But some theologians claim that annihilation is what’s taught by the Scriptures. They say the Bible teaches that while the punishment of hell is eternal, the punishing isn’t eternal. [My note: in other words, the punishment (unconsciousness death) is eternal. It isn’t a perpetual, conscious torture.]

Annihilationists like to cite Psalm 37, which says the wicked “will be no more,” “like smoke they [will] vanish away,” and “transgressors shall be altogether destroyed.” And they point to Psalm 145:20, where David said, “The Lord preserves all who love him; but all the wicked he will destroy.” And Isaiah 1:28: “Rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed.” They also contend that the metaphors used by Jesus are evidence of annihilationism: the wicked are “bound in bundles to be burned,” the bad fish are thrown away, and the harmful plants are rooted up.

Moreland stood firm. “No, it’s not the biblical teaching,” he insisted. “Whenever you’re trying to understand what an author is teaching, you begin with clear passages that were intended by the author to speak on the question, and then move to unclear passages that may not be intended to teach on the subject.

“Now, how about these passages concerning hell? The Old Testament has clear passages on hell being everlasting. Daniel 12:2 [“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.”] says at the end of the age, the just are raised to everlasting life, the unjust to everlasting punishment. The identical word for everlasting is used in both instances… And that passage is clearly meant to be teaching on this question.

“In the New Testament, in Matthew 25, Jesus offers a clear teaching where he’s intending to address the question of the eternal state of heaven and hell, and he uses the same word everlasting to refer to both. [Matthew 25:30 “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”] (p.256-266)

Looking up the context of Daniel 12 and Matthew 25 does show that they are teaching about the afterlife. Although, Matthew 25 is also full of metaphors. Unfortunately for for Moreland, these same chapters seem to imply actual punishment in the afterlife (not simply separation from God and psychological regret). Moreland seems to pick and choose.

But, I pointed out, the annihilationists also cite the biblical language of fire as evidence that people are destroyed rather than languish forever in hell. As well-respected British pastor John R. W. Stott put it: “The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable,’ but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructable. Out expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever.”

Moreland, however, was adamant. “The flame language is figurative,” he said. “In Revelation, we are told that hell and death are cast into the lake of fire. Now, hell is not something that can burn. It’s a realm. That’s like saying heaven could be burned. Heaven’s not the kind of thing that burns. And how can you burn death? Death isn’t something you can set a torch to and ignite it. (p.266)

Actually, I don’t understand why a realm can’t burn. Rome burned. Jerusalem burned. As for death being cast into the Lake of Fire, that would have to be figurative. Revelations is saying “death” will cease to exist – it will be annihilated. (Is Moreland arguing that “death” will merely be separated from God?) In any case, I’m wondering why Moreland needs to be so adamant about anti-annihilationism. It seems to be a tangent, with no real bearing on the question of whether hell is just. If people were annihilated, it’s not like anyone could suddenly argue that God is being unjust. (I actually find annihilationism more morally acceptable than eternal torture.) It seems that Moreland is just off on a tangent defending his own definition of hell. And, even though Moreland goes on about how “flames” are just figurative, the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t have any Biblical references to support his claim that hell is separation from God. All he has is the repeated claim that the fire is figurative, and some half-logic to argue that God couldn’t annihilate anyone.

Of course, there are always verses that aren’t brought into the argument (showing just how dangerous it is if you rely simply on Moreland’s Biblical references).

And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

Moreland’s definition of this verse seems to be “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was separated from God”. That seems like a stretch.

And Revelations 14:9-11:

“If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.

I think this is a very much a pro-eternal torture verse. Not the little “separation from God” + “deep psychological regret” that Moreland promotes. In fact, in many places, it seems that God actually delights in heaping terrible punishments on people in the afterlife. This is different from the God Moreland describes earlier with “God will have absolutely no choice but to give us what we’ve asked for all along in our lives, which is separation from him”. In Moreland’s description, God seems regretful and sorrowful over people’s fate – which is more useful if you want the blame on the sinners and minimize how bad the punishment is. Moreland’s God is going out of his way to avoid punishing people, and separates people from Himself only because He has to. Of course, as we get into the nastier eternal punishments, it becomes harder to defend the morality of God. But, I’m sure the talk of nasty punishment does a pretty good job of scaring people into converting to Christianity.

Objection 6: How Can Hell Exist Alongside Heaven?

“If heaven is supposed to be a place without tears, then how can there be an eternal hell existing at the same time?” I asked. “Wouldn’t those in heaven mourn for those who are suffering forever in hell?” (p.258)

This is a pretty good argument. I remember Charles Darwin using this as a pretty good argument against Christianity:

I can hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine.

If Christianity were true, then many Christians would have parents, children, spouses, etc who are in hell. I suppose one answer might be that God “drugs up” everyone. If you were on morphine in heaven, you wouldn’t really be in a state of mind to feel the least bit of sadness about anyone else. Of course, your feelings would be a lie (based on a psychoactive substance), and you’d be incapable of feeling bad about it (which hints at suppressing free-will). I’m guessing most Christians wouldn’t like the morphine comparison because of that. Or maybe he could justify happiness in heaven with a little “out of sight, out of mind” (you aren’t thinking about people in hell, so you aren’t unhappy). Of course, people will still occasionally think of their loved ones in hell unless God does some sort of brainwashing (though, most Christians would also find that answer distasteful).

“First of all, I think people in heaven will realize that hell is a way of honoring people as being intrinsically valuable creatures made in God’s image,” Moreland said. (p.258)

Ridiculous. Keeping people alive when the pain is so bad that they’d prefer to die is “honoring people”.

“Second, many times a person’s ability to enjoy something comes from growing older and gaining a more mature perspective. When my children were young, one child was not able to enjoy a gift if the other child got a present that she thought was a little bit better. When they got older, they were able to enjoy their present, irrespective of the other person’s. In fact, if they were worrying about what the other person got, they would be allowing the other person to control them.” (p.258)

I really don’t think the “I can’t enjoy my present because I have envy” situation quite compares to the “I can’t enjoy heaven because I’m feel sadness for the suffering of my parents/children/friends in hell”. He frames it as “maturity”, but I don’t think that’s a step in maturity. In fact, I would think the opposite would be true: when you were young you could ignore the suffering of others more easily. As you got older, you began to feel more empathetic towards them. That’s part of the reason children can be so cruel – they can be oblivious to the suffering of others. And the last sentence about “allowing the other person to control them” also doesn’t compare. Are we supposed to believe that “feeling bad for your child in hell” amounts to “your child is controlling you”? Should we feel the same way about crippled children in wheelchairs: “if I feel bad, I am allowing that child to control me”? Or homeless people: “If I feel bad for that homeless person, I am allowing them to control me”? By using the word “control”, Moreland is getting people to react in a knee-jerk way (i.e. wanting to resist that control). Does Moreland seriously think that people suffering in hell are “trying to control” people in heaven – as if they don’t have enough problems of their own?

“C.S. Lewis said hell doesn’t have veto power over heaven. He meant that people in heaven will not be denied the privilege of enjoying their life just because they’re consciously aware of hell. If they couldn’t, then hell would have veto power over heaven.” (p.258)

“hell doesn’t have veto power over heaven”? That sounds remarkably jingoistic – a neat little soundbite that’s designed to lead people to a predefined conclusion without much thought. What is it supposed to mean? That your sadness for people in hell will never diminish your happiness in heaven?

“You have to remember that the soul is big enough to have an unperturbed sense of joy, well-being, love, and happiness, while at the same time having a sense of grief and sadness for others. Those are not inconsistent states in a person’s life, and it is a mark of a person’s character and maturity that they’re able to have those states at the same time.” (p.259)

I don’t know. If I was in heaven, and I was actually aware of the suffering of people in hell, I think I’d have a hard time maintaining perfect happiness. I don’t think that’s a lack of maturity.

(There are still three more objections to hell in this chapter.)

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Christian and Gay

[Via ExChristian.net] Ray Boltz, a Christian singer recently came-out as gay:

Ray Boltz, who sold about 4.5 million records before retiring from Christian music a few years ago, came out of the closet Friday to announce that he’s gay.

In an interview with the gay magazine The Washington Blade, Boltz said he came out to his family and some close friends in December 2004, but only now decided to go public with the news.

“I’d denied it ever since I was a kid,” Boltz, 55, told the magazine. “I became a Christian, I thought that was the way to deal with this and I prayed hard and tried for 30-some years and then at the end, I was just going, ‘I’m still gay. I know I am.’ And I just got to the place where I couldn’t take it anymore … when I was going through all this darkness, I thought, ‘Just end this.’”

“This is what it really comes down to,” he says. “If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be … I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.”
(Source)

I feel bad for the guy – he spent decades suppressing his homosexuality because that’s what he was “supposed to do”. Christians like to say it’s just a choice, but getting that heterosexuality to stick on some people seems impossible. (In fact, several prominent ‘ex-gay’ Christians have been caught soliciting gay sex. Whoops.)

Video of Ray Boltz (and more videos here):

Looking around on blogs, plenty of Christians have been very judgmental about his coming-out (surprise!).

Of course, the two options available to Christians aren’t simply: accepting homosexuality, and thinking that homosexuality is “just a choice”. When my oldest brother came out as gay, my parents thought it was some sort of spirit or demon of homosexuality that was plaguing him. They thought that it could be prayed-out. (They never attempted an exorcism, but given their ideas about homosexuality, I don’t know why not – other than an aversion to exorcism.) Again, this attitude and approach to homosexuality seems incredibly naive and ineffective at accomplishing anything. Also, I could never understand why a “loving God” allowed evil spirits/demons to exist. (Did God think it was too easy to get into heaven, so he added a few obstacles? You know – to trip up the people he “loves”?) I think the problem for Christians is that they don’t quite understand how these “bad” homosexual desires can exist. It’s kind of an enigma, and they’re searching for ways to explain it without accepting it (which is a “sin” in their eyes). It also poses a problem for New Testament teachings which state:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Yet, this “new creation” seems remarkably like the old version – complete with the same homosexual desires. (What, Christianity has no transformative power? How can that be?)

Speaking of “just a choice”, I was recently at a coffeeshop when a guy asked me for help connecting to the internet. Turns out that’s he’s gay, and he moved to the US recently – from Iran. Quite a few Middle-Eastern countries kill people for being gay, and the fact that there’s still gay men and women living secret lives in these countries should give Christians pause when they claim it’s “just a choice”. (More on that topic: Struggle for gay rights in the Middle East, Iran: Gay Teens Executed by Hanging)

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This American Life has a story I found pretty interesting:

The Devil Wears Birkenstocks.
Some people battle inner demons, but contributor Dave Dickerson went one step further. Dave tells the story of the time he took on an actual demon in his college classroom. (10 and 1/2 minutes).

MP3 Available here

(The full hour podcast is here, available for free.)

The stuff the the story about missionaries encountering real demons and miracles is stuff I heard growing up, too. I can’t recall any specific details about who exactly these missionaries were, and I don’t remember any missionaries actually claiming it happened directly to them. The vagueness made these stories a bit like urban legends – impossible to verify, and no one actually claimed first-hand experience. (Admittedly, there are some people who claim first-hand experience, but some of them have been proven to be liars.)

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The Friendly Atheist has a bunch of posts up about Sarah Palin (McCain’s Vice-President choice). I liked this part:

In 2006, a questionnaire was sent to all candidates for the gubernatorial race in Alaska.

One of the questions was this:
11. Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?

Here is Sarah Palin’s answer:
SP: Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.

No word on whether Sarah Palin also thinks that “If English was good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for me!”. But seriously, it shows how much the Christian right is immersed in ignorance and historical revisionism.

Friendly Atheist posts:
The Real Question: What Have Sarah Palin’s Pastors Said?
Sarah Palin is Mistaken About “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
Gov. Tim Pawlenty Just as Scientifically Illiterate as Gov. Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin: Not Conservative Enough for Creationists
Atheists’ Worst Nightmares: Sarah Palin, Bananas

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