Saturday, September 12, 2015

“…it’s easy to imagine all the saved in heaven…”

It’s a particularly delicious treat when apologists unwittingly make damning concessions. Of course, this happens quite routinely, only it often has a subliminal effect since most non-Christians are as clueless about fundamentals as Christianity requires its adherents to be.

For example, when a Christian makes a statement like, “just because you don’t believe in the resurrection doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” he along with most non-believing skeptics apparently don’t recognize how the believer is making use of a fundamental principle which directly conflicts with the metaphysical foundations of Christianity.

Or consider when apologists make the absurd claim that they begin with the assumption that the bible is true. For example, when Jason Petersen writes (details here):
I guess let me just explain my epistemology, if you don’t mind. I start with the revelation of Scripture. I view Scripture as sufficient.
Such statements are simply an admission that their beliefs cannot possibly be rational, since their very starting point constitutes a radical departure from reality. They only multiply this absurdity when they assume the truth of what they later come along and claim to be able to “prove.”

There are other ways in which Christians give away the game that may easily be overlooked by the casual observer. Consider the following statement by a believer who posts under the moniker “ANNOYED PINOY” trying to make some point or another against “universalism” when he stated (here - underline mine):
A miscarried zygote may not have been loved because he/she wasn't known to have existed, but it's easy to imagine all the saved in heaven conferring with each other and agreeing to pray for all miscarried children that they had. Since, if they knew they existed they would now love them now that they are in heaven.
Here the believer openly reveals the central role which his imagination plays in contemplating Christianity’s notion of “heaven,” explicitly acknowledging the ease involved in construing it in whatever shape or form he chooses.

Heaven, you see, conforms to the believer’s will, not because consciousness holds metaphysical primacy over reality, but because volition holds creative primacy over the imaginary. The imagination is the one compartment of our consciousness in which we can completely abandon, even defy, the objective reality which we perceive around us. And it is here, in this subjective realm which each individual can control according to his own whims, that the believer is encouraged to build up his “treasure.” As ANNOYED PINOY admits, “it’s easy to imagine” all sorts of things about heaven, including the fantasy that there’s a mansion waiting for him there for after he dies.

Indeed, given all the wonderful things that await the believer in heaven after he dies, why live? Why go through the trouble, the toil, the struggles of this life, especially since the believer is to count his days on earth as a mere “vapor”?

The problem for believers in particular and for Christianity in general, a problem that I have been pointing out for years now, is that while it’s true that “it’s easy to imagine” people in heaven, people in hell, people cuddling in Jesus’ bosom and whatnot, neither the believer nor anyone else has any alternative but to engage his imagination when contemplating what Christianity calls “Heaven.”

We cannot perceive heaven. Nor can we rationally infer it from what we do perceive. This pretty much cuts the notion of “Heaven” off from any objective source of input. We cannot discover “Heaven” by looking outward at the facts of reality.

However, we can all imagine “Heaven”! We can all look inward and fantasize what “Heaven” might be like, and since our imagination is completely based on volition, we can imagine “Heaven” however we’d like it to be, to suit our preferences and even make ourselves feel better. And even though hell is for believers, imagining “Heaven” can make the believer who’s riddled with fear, guilt and doubt feel better, if at least for only a spell or two.

I too can make concessions. For example, I admit that I can imagine heaven (indeed, I have no choice but to rely on my imagination if I’m going to contemplate what Christians describe as “heaven”), and I can imagine all kinds of things happening there. I can imagine that all the people there are quaking in fear under a terrifying god; I can imagine this god randomly picking up people from the crowd and dangling them over a fire pit, much like Calvinist Jonathan Edwards described in his sermon Sinners in the hands of an Angry God - after all, a god which is angry and yet “unchanging” is an eternally angry god whose wrath can never be quenched; I can imagine all the people in heaven conspiring to launch a revolt against the authorities, taking their cue from the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 – only in this case, they’d have no chance since the Christian god, like Orwell’s Thought Police, sees and knows all, and would have conspicuously devious punishments ready for the rebellious. Selah.

One thing that I do find hard imagining (and many others have complained about this as well) is that heaven would be anything other than a dismally boring place. In a so-called “eternal life,” those conditions that make action necessary in life that we know here on earth as biological organisms would be completely absent. There would be no goals, no ideals, no struggle, no risks, no chances for failure, no successes, nothing to accomplish, nothing to fuel personal pride (which provokes jealousy in the Christian god like nothing else), nothing to measure progress, no progress to be made in the first place. As a place where there’s no want and no need to act, no goals to pursue and no deadlines to miss, heaven sounds like the ideal leftists have in mind, where everyone’s just automatically fed, clothed and sheltered, free healthcare and free stereo systems, etc. You don’t even need food stamps because you never need to eat, bathe, brush your teeth, get a haircut, etc. Even sporting matches are out of the question.

And since Christianity leaves us with no option other than to concoct fantasies about heaven in the confines of our imagine, shut off from the outside world as it is save for the “inspired” descriptions of what hell must be like which we find in our bibles and learn from pulpits, I’ve often wondered how a person could ever be happy there. In my experience (perhaps I’m unique, but I doubt it), I find great joy and happiness in successful action, whether it’s success in my career, success in my marriage, success in raising my daughter, success in my intellectual pursuits, success in my pastimes, success in my life overall. But with the pursuit of success comes the possibility of failure, and without this possibility of failure, I don’t see how success could have any value.

By contrast to the life we have on earth, heaven as it is described by Christianity seems utterly fatalistic and dreary. To drive this point home, I’ve taken a one-act play written originally by Bev Eyre and elaborated it with some extended dialogue (the original can be found in my 2003 exchanges with none other than presuppositionalism’s finest, Peter Pike – see my Contra Pike Files).
(a short play in one act)
Characters: Bob and Stan.
Scene: A neighborhood pub in Heaven  

STAN: Hey Bob, ol’ boy! What are you up to today?  
BOB: Oh hi, Stan. Well, the usual, just sitting around doing nothing.  
STAN: Wanna come out and sing some more praises to the Almighty? The Lord is good, y’know!  
BOB: I would, but what’s the point? The Lord’s heard all my praises already, and it’s not like it accomplishes anything. It’s not as though I can score any points or give the Lord any pleasure that He doesn’t already enjoy.  
STAN: You’re right, I realize, but what else is there to do?  
BOB: Well, I can think about my Janie and our two kids I s’pose.  
STAN: Hey, yeah, update me. How are they doing?  
BOB: Never better, I guess. They’re still roasting away in hell. Will be forever, y’know.  
STAN: Yeah, too bad or them. I guess they better get used to that!  
BOB: I know. It’s pretty sad, actually. I was so in love with Janie, and I loved my little girls, Tina and Mary Sue. I still remember holding them in my arms after they were born. I still remember my wedding day. It was a good life.  
STAN: Hmm…. Something’s wrong there, Bob.  
BOB: Why’s that?  
STAN: Well, I think you remember too much about pastlife.  
BOB: In fact, memories are all I’ve really got at this point. I didn’t realize it then, but those really were the good ol’ days. My memories are something that’s truly mine.  
STAN: Yeah, those sure were good times. And what was so cool was that, no matter what we did, we couldn’t lose our salvation. You know, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints and all that.  
BOB: Right! As we used to chant in our youth group…  
[Together]: Once saved…. Always saved!  
STAN: Yeah, I had good times too. But, we were chosen. The Lord chose us, Bob.  
BOB: Yep, He sure did.  
STAN: I mean, you see, Bob, I love my family as well. But my Ruth and her son Caleb are also roasting away in hell for all eternity.  
BOB: It’s sure no picnic, I can tell you that.  
STAN: Yeah, the Lord sure does know how to torment, I’ll give Him that! Whatever, there’s nothing we can do about it.  
BOB: Right. It’s a total crap shoot.  
STAN: Yep! Some get chosen, some get damned. God’s good pleasure, y’know.  
BOB: I suppose that’s what’s got me down, though.  
STAN: What’s that?  
BOB: What you said – there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re just as stuck as they are.  
STAN: Yeah, in a way that’s true, but we get to sing praises all day and lounge around on clouds. Meanwhile, our wives and kids are charbroiling away for all eternity. Which would you rather have?  
BOB: That’s just it, none of us had any choice in this to begin with. Like you said, some get chosen, some get damned. There’s nothing any of us can do about it.  
STAN: Might as well enjoy it while you can…  
BOB: Which is… forever.  
STAN: Yep!  
BOB: Sometimes I can hear little Tina screaming from hell. The Lord took her when she was only five, you see. She never really had a chance. I know the Lord is just and all, but something about that just seems…  
STAN: Ha! I know the feeling! Sometimes I hear my stepson Caleb cursing and gnashing his teeth. He was a rotten scoundrel, a total scammer, worse than a used car salesman!  
BOB: And my little Tina’s got the same fate. I had no idea William Lane Craig could be so wrong!  
STAN: Hey, that reminds me!  
BOB: What’s that?  
STAN: [walks over to the TV] It’s time for Hellavision!  
BOB: Oh great!  
STAN: All this talk of pastlife makes me nostalgic! I wanna see if I can spot Ruth. I really hope she’s getting what she deserves!  
BOB: But that’s just it, Stan. Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.  
STAN: Oh, yeah, I keep forgetting… Well, whatever… Praise the Lord! Bob: Praise the Lord indeed!  
[They share a brew and watch as the damned broil away in this week’s episode of Hellavision]  

(For the reference to the notion of “once saved always saved,” see here; for the reference to William Lane Craig, see here; for the reference to the line "deserve's got nothin' to do with it," see here.)

As this mock dialogue demonstrates, the capricious fatalism of Christianity’s determinism is inescapable.

In fact, it seems that in heaven, as Christians have imagined it, the only pleasure that might be possible is that which one might derive from other people’s suffering. But this would require the type of character that delights in other people’s suffering. That is what Christianity might very well be suited to attracting. So perhaps without realizing it, when a person desires to go to Christianity’s heaven upon death, he’s really looking for some way to relish other people’s suffering with impunity.

Such is the worldview that is Christianity.

by Dawson Bethrick


Unknown said...

" most non-Christians as clueless about fundamentals as Christianity requires its adherents to be."

I assume you mean

" most non-Christians are as clueless about fundamentals as Christianity requires its adherents to be."

Bahnsen Burner said...

Thanks, Cameron. Yes, you're correct - I left out the verb! It's been corrected now. And now it's even better!

Also, I had forgotten to include a citation for the reference to "Unforgiven" - it's there now, with a link.

And now it's even better than it was before!


samonedo said...

Interesting. Heaven is not a hope for a better life but for its total and final destruction, a place where life loses all its meaning. This is the ultimate Christian desire

johzek said...

The idea of heaven seems to quite often reduce to the basic thought of "Well at least I'm not totally dead", and this may account for the rather bland type of existence which is imagined and which the one-act play describes. Although hell is frequently described by some believers as unending torture and pain and suffering, when it comes to heaven we don't get similar extreme scenarios. No unending orgasms or the eternal feeling of your sports team winning the championship. We recognize this extreme on the heaven side as essentially not who we are as human beings but on the hell side, as you point out, too many seem to embrace such outright inhumanity with open arms.

If hell were the exact counter part of a heaven as uneventful and bland wouldn't hell be something more like having a constant toothache with nothing much happening to even take your mind off the pain. Hellavision probably just wouldn't be the same though.