Saturday, March 22, 2008

Got a One-Way Ticket...But to Where?

In this post, I present a thought exercise for Christians and any other individuals who believe in a deity who passes judgment following corporeal death. I realize, according to Christian doctrine, only god is allowed to judge and any assessment made by a mere human would be guesswork. However, I believe the answers—tentative and uncertain though they inevitably shall be—might be instructive for my readers. With that housekeeping note out of the way, the remainder of this entry shall be a summary of the life of Henry Toole, a character whom I invented for this exercise. I shall be as detailed as necessary, so the case can be properly adjudicated.

Henry Toole was born to a family of Southern Baptists living in Arkansas. His maternal grandfather was a preacher and, thus, even though his parents were not especially devout, Henry was taken to church at least once a week throughout his childhood years. Aside from occasional bouts of fidgetiness, which are so typical among children, young Henry was enthralled by the stories of Jesus and his miraculous doings. For a few years, he even entertained notions of dedicating his adult life to the church. [The life of a preacher was in close contention with game show host, scientist and garbage collector.] As he became older, though, his rapt interest began to decline; when his parents brought him to church on Sundays, he found his mind wandering to other things, ranging from principles learned in science class to that night’s dinner plans. He still believed each of Christianity’s truth-claims; he simply felt as though he had heard it all before, and everything had the faint odor of sameness.

Over the next few years, doubt began to enter Henry’s mind. The tales of Adam and Eve, a global cataclysm flooding the planet and corpses rising from the tomb no longer seemed as convincing to Henry as they had when he was ten. He married a girl from his town, Patricia, who was moderately religious. By the age of 28, Henry had lost all faith and adopted the label of atheist. His abandonment of his religious convictions was not the result of a personal tragedy or being influenced by skeptics around him. Rather, he simply came to the firm realization that he no longer believed any of the dogma with which he had been raised. He ceased all churchgoing activities; Patricia, under no pressure from Henry, adopted an agnostic stance three years later.

Henry and his wife had three sons, none of whom was raised Christian. Henry never addressed the subject of religion with his sons. In fact, he never discussed religion at all; he was not the type to badmouth the church or blaspheme the deity in which he no longer believed. When they started their family, both Henry and Patricia agreed they would not push their children in any direction with respect to religion, choosing instead to let each find his own way. And, in fact, all three sons eventually became Southern Baptists. Henry and his wife never expressed any objections, and joyfully attended each son’s religious wedding.

Henry and Patricia had a happy marriage, which lasted 58 years. Although there were occasional temptations, neither one ever strayed from the other. Henry was a loving, generous, attentive and supportive husband, as well as a dedicated father who provided all he could to his family. In addition to his work schedule, for roughly half a dozen years, Henry found time to volunteer at a local children’s hospital. A fitness enthusiast, he also regularly participated in walkathons and marathons for charitable causes, ranging from treatment of chronic disease to elimination of poverty. Perhaps his most selfless moment was when one of his sons needed a kidney transplant. With little hesitation, Henry agreed to donate a kidney to his son.

Throughout his life, Henry never regained his religiosity, and neither did his agnostic wife. He died at age 83 and had a secular funeral ceremony, as he specified. His family, including many grandchildren, was devastated, overwhelmed with grief from the loss of “pop-pop,” as he was affectionately known.

Where shall Henry Toole be sent?


Blogger Tommy said...

But Jolly, we already know how they're going to answer, don't we?

8:42 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

I felt the need to make a post like this ever since Rhology said the following about Jeffrey Dahmer, who was a serial murderer, rapist, necrophile and cannibal:

"On a related note, I believe it is documented on better-than-urban-legend grounds that Jeffrey Dahmer converted to Christianity shortly before his death. If that is true, if he placed his faith and reliance on Jesus Christ to forgive him of his sin and give him eternal life, he is my brother in Christ and will spend eternity in heaven in the presence of Jesus. I am a great sinner, Jesus Christ is a greater Savior."

8:57 PM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

Well, here is an excerpt from an exchange that Choose Doubt had with Rhology a few months ago:

CHOOSE DOUBT: You say the eternal suffering of billions of people who might be in every way decent and pleasant is entirely right simply because you believe that something more powerful than you says so.

RHOLOGY: Well, Jesus says so.

Rhology goes on to add:

Biblically, God gives you what you want in the afterlife. If you want to be with Him, you get to be. If you don't, you don't get to be.

9:19 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

I think Rhology's chief misunderstanding of atheism is his fallacious contention that, underneath it all, atheists are just theists in denial or rebellion. More than once, Rhology has informed me that I actually do believe in god, but just am rebelling against the deity by feigning disbelief. Therefore, in his mind, I am choosing not to go to heaven in the afterlife. But, as you well know, for most atheists, neither self-trickery nor rebellion is involved. That is, atheists can be taken at their word: We genuinely, truly do lack a belief in god.

That being the case, we neither want to spend time with god nor want to be apart from the deity. Such a dichotomy is as nonsensical to us as the following choice would be to Rhology: Would you, Rhology, rather be in the Ethereal Cosmic Catfish's wondrous tank after you die, or the mold-infested antithesis? Rhology would have no opinion because, in his mind, the question is utter nonsense. The same for atheists with regard to god.

Rhology's question is nonsense for an individual who lacks belief.

1:01 AM EDT  
Blogger Laurie said...

I'm an ichthyologist! Why did I not hear of the Ethereal Cosmic Catfish before I pledged allegiance to The Invisible Pink Unicorn?? She would trample me with her Holy Hooves if I forsook her.

I'll have to ask the FSM to protect me.

11:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Do you really not know what a biblical Christian would say?

I think I've made it clear several times before, but no problem presenting it again.

Given that every human being has sinned and thus fallen short of the glory of God, where one spends eternity is based solely on whether one has saving faith in Jesus Christ. That's why Dahmer (IF he had such faith) is in Heaven, and Mother Theresa (IF she didn't, and she probably didn't, given what she has written and given the fact that she was a pious, devoted Roman Catholic) is in Hell. (I'm just using M Theresa as a useful counterexample here.)

Oh, how barbaric! How IMMORAL!

Just according to you. Big whoop. I simply stipulate the contrary. We're back at an impasse, as all atheists must be if they hold consistently to an atheistic moral standard.

And you're right about the Catfish - it doesn't exist, so, whatever. Jesus DOES exist, though, so...


4:33 PM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

You are quite right, Rhology: Any Bible-believing Christian already knows the answer to the question posed. If one does not have faith in Jesus, so the dogma goes, one is damned to hell. This type of thought experiment is designed to separate the true believers from those who identify as Christian but do not slavishly adhere to scripture.

I would argue that, for most people, the idea of sentencing Henry Toole to an infinite term of hideous torture would seem quite unjustified--even barbaric. After all, my character was a loving husband, devoted father and upstanding community member. He simply happened not to believe in god--a genuine, heartfelt lack of belief (as opposed to self-trickery or contrived rebellion). In a sense then, from your perspective, Henry was damned, because one cannot force oneself to believe something.

I wish for Christians to recognize what I consider to be the abhorrence of their doctrine. Then, they either may embrace that abhorrence or run screaming from it. You should appreciate this: Given your dedication to scripture, you should loathe “one foot in and one foot out” difference-splitters.

Anyway, as already stated, the hell thing is but a false threat. I can conceive of no way in which a wispy, incorporeal essence, lacking a nervous system and tissue, could suffer agony (let alone weep and gnash its teeth).

7:14 PM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

Mother Theresa (IF she didn't, and she probably didn't, given what she has written and given the fact that she was a pious, devoted Roman Catholic) is in Hell.

Then you are really going to love this forum!

1:29 AM EDT  
Blogger Soldier4Him said...

Well Jolly as for a spirit feeling agony I guess you have never lost a dear loved one and felt the heart ache that creates, I would argue that that is such a case where an ethereal part of us also experiences agony.

1:40 AM EDT  
Blogger John Morales said...


First, there is a difference between physical agony and mental anguish.

Second, the grief to which you refer passes in time.

Third, I take it from your pseudonym that you are a militant theist. :)

7:32 AM EDT  
Blogger The Jolly Nihilist said...

Although mental anguish is distinct from physical agony, it seems to me that one's nervous system is absolutely essential for each.

Name an entity, which lacks a nervous system, which experiences mental anguish.

12:51 PM EDT  
Blogger John Morales said...

JN: Name an entity, which lacks a nervous system, which experiences mental anguish.

Only if I can get science-fictiony with you.

A system emulating a consciousness might, hypothetically, edit pain and anguish out of the subjective experience. Sometime after the Singularity.

Hm, this seems hightly speculative.

OK, in all honesty, I can't.

7:22 AM EDT  
Blogger Rhology said...

Just FYI, the Bible teaches that all will be resurrected, all will have a physical body for eternity. It will not be perishable, but will be physical.

Of course, your objection is weird - IF there's an omnipotent God and IF He said Hell will mean eternal suffering for its denizens, whether they are physical or incorporeal would make no difference.


12:17 PM EDT  
Blogger Tommy said...

And where do children fit into all of this? Does an 8 year old go to hell if he or she has not accepted Christ? Maybe the child's parents weren't Christian, so the child never had a chance to know about Christianity, let alone understand it. What about the mentally disabled? Do they get a pass? If not, then why would god deliberately allow people to come into this world who lack the mental faculties to accept Jesus Christ as their savior, thereby guaranteeing an eternity of suffering in the afterlife?

What is weird is the idea that our lives on this Earth are nothing more than a testing ground so that some deity determines whether or not we deserve happiness or suffering in an afterlife, with the most important criterion apparently being whether or not we believed that a virgin Jewish teenage girl gave birth to a child some two millenia ago and that this child grew up to become a man who cast out demons, healed lepers, and then rose from the dead after being crucified.

Put it another way. If I found your wallet in a parking lot, found out where you lived from looking at your drivers license, and then went out of my way to personally return the wallet to you with all of its contents intact, will it matter to you what my religious belief or lack thereof is, or are you just going to be happy that I returned your wallet to you?

3:42 PM EDT  
Blogger Stan said...

I haven't decided whether I want to "go to Heaven" when I die. Rhology says all of us "...will be resurrected, all will have a physical body for eternity. It will not be perishable, but will be physical." So I need to know a few things, like 1) Where is Heaven? Is it in another Universe or in this one. If my body is physical, I suppose the physical constants must be the same as this one. 2) What's it going to be like. You see, I tend to get bored easily. I would imagine that in this next life, I would pretty quickly run out of new things to learn and new things to do (by "pretty soon" I mean in a few thousand or maybe a few million Earth type years), so how do you suppose I can remain interested in continuing to exist for another million billion years more? 3) That physical body, by the way ... what will it be like? Like when I died, old, with all the aches and pains? Probably not. So, when I was 20? I'm hoping there's sex in this Heaven. But with whom? Anyone I choose? What if the one I want doesn't want me? That's not Heavenly. If she has no choice, that'd be Hell for her. Is there baseball? I hate baseball. There better not be. Anyway, i think you get the point. I need more info. I really don't think that i want to float around on a cloud, playing a harp for the next 9,000,000,000,000 years or so.

11:51 PM EDT  
Blogger libramoon said...

You are invited to help to form what we become:

[if the links do not take you to the web pages, please cut or copy and paste
them into your web browser or return email me.]

Chironic Vision

Part I

The future descends
from the fear-embroidered skies
the vision is of holocaust -- when everybody dies
A new day is dawning, but is it sun or storm?
We have a chance to make our mark
but is it right or wrong?
The military marches
The anti-warriors too
We take our stand in battle
The many and the few
Spinning tales of magic, of wizardry and fate
We want to know just how it ends before it's all too late
We sing our song too late
We right our wrongs too late
We want to know the date
To find a better fate

Can I tell you?
Can I help you to know or understand?
Can I utter the words that will make you see me?
Standing here before you, I want to take your hand
to be swirled up into a magical dancing
to be taken to worlds of beauty entrancing
to give you the will and the wonder to set you free.
Can you see me?

Laurie Corzett - libramoon's observatory (blog)

10:32 PM EDT  

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