Saturday, September 26, 2009

Heaven, Hell and the Behavior of God

As we enter Autumn here in Chicago and contemplate Winter, I thought a post about death and imagined suffering appropriate.

This past year for me has been one of existential grumbling. It started with our economic melt-down and gained momentum when I was asked by a friend if I've ever heard a faithful person use the concepts of Heaven and Hell as anything more than a carrot or a stick.

I've discovered that the contemplation of this type of blunt suffering is a specific branch of theology known as theodicy. Theodicy looks to justify the behavior of god.

David Hume in his Dialogues concerning Natural Religion says it this way, "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then evil?"

True believers rationalize all sorts of answers to defend their faith and justify their god or gods. There are many and they range from the concept of free will to the concept of impotence. None of these theories however provide me a workable answer to my friend's question regarding the use of Heaven and Hell. A person's imagined concept of each, based on my experience, has been nothing more than either a carrot or a stick to get people to behave in the face of fearful unknowns.

I recently have entered dialogue with a true believer regarding the concepts of god and afterlife who said that, "looking at it without the lens of Christianity- simply by looking at the vast expanse of the universe and realizing our very small and tiny place in it---you must admit that we are not in control."

I agree with him and in observation see this recognition as why we invent concepts like Heaven and Hell; to control our fear in the face of randomness.

Scientists that deal with randomness call this pre-supposition, the availabilty heuristic and it is a fallacy derived from our ability to conceive outcomes.

The theory of the availability heuristic states that simply, "if you can think of it, it must be important." For example, A person argues that cigarette smoking is not unhealthy because his grandfather smoked three packs of cigarettes a day and lived to be 100. The grandfather's health could simply be an unusual case that does not speak to the health of smokers in general

The availability heuristic provides good explanation for our attachment to Heaven, Hell and the Behavior of God. We manifest our personified understanding of a better self in an imaginary relationship with a character in a book (e.g. Jesus, Allah) and then we take actions against fellow humans to protect these imaginary relationships (e.g. The Inquisition, 9-11).

To be frank, I find most of theology to be unjustifiable rhetoric and all of it ignores the exclusivity of its own claims or, to be direct, the historical injustices done in the name of their exclusivity. At a certain point it seems like it has the same importance as discussing what color light saber cuts better, blue or red?

History shows that the enlightened thinker Denis Diderot was correct when he said, "Men will never be free until the last king is strangled in the entrails of the last priest."

There is nothing unfalsifiable or self-evident in the claims theologies make and they rely on a non sequiter.

Major Premise: The universe is a chaotic environment beyond the control of sentient beings

Minor Premise: Humans are sentient beings

Conclusion: God is in control of human beings

This is an argument from ignorance. Thinking people realize they can't control the randomness of the universe and therefore assign meaning to it by creating a more powerful personified "other" who can control it for them.

They place this imagined "other" in control to minimize the conscious understanding they have of their own death. This imaginary relationship then defines their sense of courage and morality which, by definition, delegitimizes all other relationships that don't share their imaginary one.

I can understand the psychological motivation to do such a thing and even accept it as a human need to order our consciousness but, reject the implication that this type of fear ennobles the imagined "other" we create.

The concepts of Heaven and Hell extend from this imaginary relationship. They only serve the one imagining the relationship because they serve to ennoble the imagined "other". This service often comes at the expense of intrinsic life (e.g. The Inquisition, 9-11).

Superstitious revelation becomes the weight-bearing mechanism to leverage the unknown. These superstitions contradict the virute they purport (e.g. "It takes courage to recognize that we need a God").

No, it takes courage to realize no one is coming to save us yet, our common welfare demands that we submit to the self-evident truth all people are valuable regardless of their race, creed, sex and sexual orientation.

They matter because they live and they will die. Their worth is not predicated on how they give god his/its glory.

Theology and religion deny the self-evident truth all people are created equal. They demand sanctioned attitudes, beliefs and behaviors to legitimize intrinsic life and, by doing so, create violent seperation between us.

They are products of our imagination to minimize our fear and therefore will be fearfully defended (e.g. The Inquisition, 9-11) when someone attributes them to be what they are, imaginary.

I've lived within the world-view faith purports and now, am living outside of it.

I feel a greater sense of morality knowing that my exercise of kindness, accountability, respect, and love extend from my humanity rather than some imagined divinity. For me, Heaven is simply a metaphor where I find the authentic freedom to live my life and let others live theirs.

Unfortunately, true believers take ritualistic actions where this metaphor's possibility becomes obscured due to the haggling over its meaning.