Sunday, October 16, 2011

First They Came For Limbo...

Really? Hell is a negotiable concept? Who knew? Wonder what -- or who -- is next?

...The Pew Center on Religion and Public Life’s 2007 Religious Landscape Survey found that only 60 percent of Catholics believe in hell. While comparable to mainline Protestants (56 percent), that’s far below the 82 percent recorded by evangelical Protestant churches.

Though the discussion of hell as a place to be feared has seemingly disappeared in Catholic parishes, schools, and homes, the debate over hell’s existence, and whether anyone actually goes there, has been reignited among evangelical Christians, most of whom continue to affirm that eternal damnation is the fate of any person who does not make an explicit personal commitment to Christ....

...In his recent book Love Wins (HarperOne), evangelical pastor Rob Bell recalls how his church sponsored an art show on the subject of peacemaking. One artist included a quote from Mahatma Gandhi in her work. Someone attached a piece of paper to it that read, “Reality check: He’s in hell.”

“Really?” writes Bell. “Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt? And that somebody decided to take the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?”

Well, of course some of us have been pointing out certain, uh, inconsistencies for a long time. But that's not really the point. The point is that any belief -- all belief -- is rubbery and non-stick. People pick and choose all the time: they claim, for example, that the Bible makes homosexuality an abomination, but they fudge all sorts of other literalism. Only a few of those claimers, far as I know, kill their kids for dishonoring the sabbath...

Such arguments reveal the obvious: not only is everyone's faith a distillation, personally brewed to fill the bill; in that regard, all beliefs are the same. People believe adamantly in their own particular recipe, edited and modified unconsciously, while disregarding all those whose faith differs. And vice versa. (Not "disregarding," for far too many: actively hating. Wanting to kill, not rarely.)

So why not just admit it? Your faith works for you, someone else's works for her, and you need to just keep it to yourself. You don't like gay marriage? Fine. Don't marry one. You don't like knowing the earth is billions of years old, don't find it amazing and wondrous that humans evolved from previous primates? Okay. But don't feel the need to make everyone else around you stupid so yours stands out less, okay?

In a recent comment on a religious post I was (I'm pretty sure) chastised for opinionating about that in which I don't have expertise. But here's the thing: when it comes to religion, like the kid looking at the unclothed emperor, I think it takes someone not in the thrall to point out certain things others simply can't -- by definition -- see. If you're a believer in whatever, religionwise, there are certain givens that not only can't be questioned, but the idea of and the tools for that questioning literally don't exist.

And yet, there's the late-breaking news: hell is fungible. (Especially, one might assume, if it's taking a cut of the tithe.) Religious "leaders" discuss how many angels dance on the head of a pin, while religious "scholars" argue whether the pinhead is bigger than you think it is. It's self-fulfilling silliness. Expertise.

I'll never stop saying it: I think religious belief is fine, because I recognize the human need, and the fact that, for whatever reason, most people can't seem to get along without it. In a soulless (which is not to say purposeless) world, in the face of death, it helps. I know it does. It needn't; but it does.

Yet as examples abound of internal inconsistencies, of impossible rationalizations to keep it all going, might it not be possible (answer: no) at least to get to the point where people can accept their own needs as their own, and stop trying to turn the country into an echo chamber?

Wouldn't it be nice?


Anonymous said...

If there's no Surpreme being howcome those Jehovah's Witnesses showup at my front door RIGHT at the kickoff on the SEC game of the week?? And I'd ignore em, but that's the time the Dominos guy shows up to...
And I feel your strain Sid, try feelin mine...
Growin up with a Jewish Mom/Baptist Dad, Jeez-Us, I couldn't wait til Monday to go back to School with no creepy Rabbis/Ministers preachin the wrath of an Angry Jehova/Jeezus..
Except for that 1/2 year in Catholic School, when I actually hoped I'd get a Brain Tumor like the poor heathen kid in Africa we had to write letters to...
And thanks for enriching my Vocabulary..
Blame the Pubic Schools, but even though I'm fluid in 3 languages, spent a Junior(highschool) year abroad(umm didn't really have a choice), and umm thats about it..
I've never heard the word "Fungible", in fact, I thought at first it was one of those fake words, you know, like those fake towns they put on maps, so they'll know if some other Cartographer's stealing there map...
And even after Wiki-ing it, I'm confused.
Cash is fung-ible
Oil is fung-ible
Government bonds are fung-ible
Diamonds are NOT fung-ible
WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY????!??!?!??!?
Which is what I'd say to my Dad when he said I couldn't go to Tyrones birthday party...
and he wouldn't say "Because Tyrone is Black" he'd answer with this horrible "Rochester" accent which was really confusing, cause I didn't even know who Jack Beany was...
Diamonds are made of Carbon, just like Cash, Oil, and Bonds.
and there's not even a German word for it, they just put a "Heit" on the end, which means they don't really know what it means either...
But like Sister Mary Alice used to say,
I mean
"Use a word 3 times and its yours for life"
OK, I told my daughter her CornFlakes/Cellphone/TV were "Fungible"
still don't know what it means
damn you Mary Alice...

Frank "Fun-gible" Drackman

Chuck Sigars said...

Sigh. Evolution on this subject is surely happening, but it's nothing new. The "hell" that the literalists and (some) evangelicals and Pentecostals tout as a way to get kids to eat their veggies has long been dismissed by mainstream believers for what it is (ancient, shrouded in fear, and actually pretty unsupportable scripturally if you're willing to do the hard work: A Baptist minister friend of mine did such an exegesis as an exercise a year or so ago and came to that conclusion. No hell).

As for the idea that believers are under a thrall and only clear-eyed atheists see the truth...sigh again (no chastising! Good discussion! Still). I'll admit that my experience is anecdotal and personal, and obviously limited, but from what I see (and those I know, including the spouse, who has an M.Div from those fancy Jesuits at SU) ALL such questions are routinely and aggressively bounced about, up to and often including (by Christians) the resurrection of Jesus.

Again, I see no reason why you should refrain from calling it as you see it, particularly given the toxins produced by the Christian fascists who now own the GOP. But you might be interested in reading, say, Walter Brueggmann a bit to see the state of intellectual debate within the community. Spit and you'll hit a religious wacko. Pick up a book by Brueggman and you might be too interested to spit.

Sid Schwab said...

Fair enough, Chuck. I'll do it. Fact is, if as nothing more than a workout for the brain (what's left of it) I enjoy philosophical discussions of all sorts.

With respect to religion in particular, my problem is getting past first base. Good and evil? Yes. Fundamental moral laws of the universe? Yes. If a tree falls...? Yes. All of it's interesting. But when it's within the context of a beginning premise -- the existence of god/gods -- which I find intellectually impossible, it's hard to get into it.

I like a good movie, even (maybe especially) sort of mindless adventure; Jason Bourne... fun. I enjoy fantasy. But it bugs the hell out of me when the fantasy is internally inconsistent; when they don't even follow their own made-up rules; like those Saturday morning matinees when King of the Rocket Men was left in impossibly dire straits, and the next Saturday he was fine, with no explanation. (As I recall.)

So discussions of, say, why there is evil in the world, when they begin with the assumption that there's a god who seems to have allowed it, no matter how deep the argument goes, tend to leave me behind at the very start. On the other hand, the question of evil in an apparently neutral world is another matter.

But you're right: I should give it a try again.

Anonymous said...

I'm callin your bluff Old Man...
What does "Fungible" really mean?
and I don't want the dictionary meaning, just s'plain it in simple plain English that even Joe Biden could understand.
Umm, thats probably too basic, try plain English that Trig Palin could understand.
I mean, with your Big Hah-vud Brain, should be easy..


Sid Schwab said...

Okay, Frankie; I might have used the word more fungibly than strictly allowed; but you have to admit it's a great word. And, personally, I think it fits.

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