Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Giant Pyramid Scheme

There is a spectre haunting Europe, the spectre of empty maternity wards and closed-down schools. Europe is dying - its people have lost confidence in themselves and choose a life of pleasure-seeking over procreation.

And for four decades they have bought the good life, with five-week holidays and retirement at 60, by hiring low-paid, invisible immigrants to do the dirty, dangerous and demeaning jobs, each generation of migrants then joining this giant pyramid scheme once they are granted citizenship. Now Europe is paying the price.

Ignore the exaggerated scare stories about Islamic growth in Europe - the raw statistics are disturbing enough. France and Holland are already 10 per cent Islamic, but that ignores the age gap between native and migrant - Britain is only four per cent Muslim but among new-borns that figure is 11 per cent; the top seven boys' names in Brussels are all Islamic; at current trends Germany and Austria could be majority Muslim by mid-century.
So begins an interview with Christopher Caldwell in Britain's Catholic Herald.

It's here.


Unknown said...

We get it, Gil.

Quoting from the Caldwell article:

"....For one, it makes life more "crummy", taking away the comfort and stability of communities. "Diversity may be one of the causes of the isolation and atomisation of modern man," he says, quoting sociologist Robert Putmann, author of Bowling Alone, the famous study which revealed that people in multi-ethnic neighbourhoods were unhappier than those in less diverse areas."

Translation: A neighborhood is stable and happy only when everyone looks the same, speaks the same language, believes in the same religion and shuns birth control.

An alternative approach to this demographic winter xenophobia is an Article in the Guardian called, "The Culture of Fear" by Indian writer and political essayist Pankaj Mishra.

Some highlights:

"Ordinary Muslims in Europe, who suffer from the demoralisation caused by living as perennial objects of suspicion and contempt, are far from thinking of themselves as a politically powerful, or even cohesive, community, not to speak of conquerors of Europe. So what explains the rash of bestsellers with histrionic titles - While Europe Slept, America Alone, The Last Days of Europe? None of their mostly neocon American authors was previously known for their knowledge of Muslim societies; all of them suffer the handicaps of what the philosopher Charles Taylor, in his introduction to a new collection of scholarly essays entitled Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship, calls "block thinking", which "fuses a very varied reality into one indissoluble unity". Certainly, the idea of a monolithic "Islam" in Europe appears an especially pitiable bogey when you regard the varying national origins, linguistic and legal backgrounds, and cultural and religious practices of European Muslims. Many so-called Muslims from secularised Turkey or syncretistic Sindh and Java would be condemned as apostates in Saudi Arabia, whose fundamentalist Wahhabism informs most western visions of Islam."

"Multi-ethnic Europe is an immutable fact, and needs, appropriately, a more inclusive, open-ended identity, one derived more from its pluralistic and relatively peaceful present, and supranational future, than its brutishly nationalist and imperialist past. Writing in 1937 about the minority then most despised in Europe, Joseph Roth predicted that "Jews will only attain complete equality, and the dignity of external freedom, once their 'host nations' have attained their own inner freedom, as well as the dignity conferred by sympathy for the plight of others". This proved to be too much to ask of Europe in 1937. But the moral challenge has not gone away - civilisation remains an ideal rather than an irreversible achievement - and the dangers of leaving it unmet are incalculable."

Read the full article here.

Gil Bailie said...


A) Quote: "Translation: A neighborhood is stable and happy only when everyone looks the same, speaks the same language, believes in the same religion and shuns birth control."

That is both silly and slanderous. Grow up.

B) It is not xenophobia to ask those who immigrate to adapt to the way of life of the society whose social, political, and economic benefits they have freely chosen to enjoy.

Be serious.

Unknown said...


Okay, some serious:

In two of your recent concurrent posts you managed to scold the White House administration, the Europeans in general, the Germans specifically, liberalism in general, liberal Jews specifically, Chicago politics, community organizer Saul Alinsky, those unnamed souls who are responsible for the death of marriage (that would be all of us, I think) British writers, "the Gentry" (whatever that still is) sexuality, both hetero and homo (a constant) paganism, ecologists, British conservatives, birth rates (too low), immigration rates (too high), euthanasia, cremation and funerals. A minimum of 20 targets in two posts! That's a lot ah' shootin' there, Tex. Now add the gloating little finale about Van Jones and it's epiphany time. Don't you dare talk to me about slander.

If Christianity were mired in the past, the church would still be offering indulgences for sin, slavery would be mandated by the state without reference to a constitution because we’d all be living under a repressive theocratic regime (long before Islam offered a new one) church leaders would still be burning astronomers at the stake as heretics, personal property would be non-existent, woman would be political and social non-entities living under a chattel system like they have in Afghanistan, and science as we know it would not exist. There’s a difference between having a heritage that provides for dissent, adaptability, intellectual inquiry and free moral agency, and one whose primary emphasis is on reclaiming the lost glories of the past out of resentment, fear and a distrust of the present. Islam has yet to imitate us in that regard, unless perhaps they are native born Americans.

I loathe Islamic terrorism. Any sane and rational person would. But I also know that this country that you and I love and share is stronger than your oft expressed doubts about its moral resources and that it will not EVER submit to an insane fringe no matter how covert, insidious and diligent the attempt. And that includes the media version of it which poses a greater threat than any we've recently faced.

Mike O'Malley said...

Dean wrote ... If Christianity were mired in the past, the church would still be offering indulgences for sin, slavery would be mandated by the state without reference to a constitution because we'd all be living under a repressive theocratic regime (long before Islam offered a new one) church leaders would still be burning astronomers at the stake as heretics, personal property would be nonexistent, woman would be political and social nonentities living under a chattel system like they have in Afghanistan, and science as we know it would not exist. There's a difference between having a heritage that provides for dissent, adaptability, intellectual inquiry and free moral agency, and one whose primary emphasis is on reclaiming the lost glories of the past out of resentment, fear and a distrust of the present. Islam has yet to imitate us in that regard, unless perhaps they are native born Americans.


The Church continues to offer indulgences. The practice is unobjectionable since the reforms of the Counter-Reformation. In fact I received indulgences by partaking in a pilgrimage during the Jubilee Year.

The North Atlantic slave trade to America was in no small part an Enlightenment institution. John Locke, an important English Enlightenment figure, founded the Carolina colonies on the institution of enslaved African blacks. The British Royal Africa Company an Enlightenment institution ran the West African side of this trade. However, significant Christian antislavery movements emerged repeatedly in the Western Church, in 9th Century France, 11th Century Ireland, a 14th century Pope put any Roman Catholic taking part in the international slave trade under a condemnation of automatic excommunication. The Spanish OUTLAWED slavery in their empire due to the efforts of Catholic clergy. Perhaps the last Christian crusade was Wilberforce's War in the early 19th Century, lead by British Evangelicals. It ended the international slave trade. The liberation of America's slaves in the mid-19th Century was a Christian project.

We'd all be living in a repressive regime?! Western democracy was born in the "back of thousands of Catholic churches in Europe during the Middle Ages. Rule of Law and human rights were public works projects of the Church. The American democracy and Constitution are in informed by the teachings of St. Aquinas and modeled upon the governance of Presbyterian and Congregationalist Protestant churches.

Astronomers were not burned by Church leaders as heretics. The Catholic Church encouraged and invested heavily in basic scientific research (astronomy) for centuries. In fact the Catholic Church built and maintained the world's very best astronomical observatories well into the 17th century. The Church constructed astronomical observatories in its Cathedrals! The protection of personal property was a project of the Church. In fact the Roman Church's protection of personal property from the predations of the state in the British Isles was one of the contributory causes of the English Reformation.

Women political nonentities? In time the Church placed women on all of the major thrones of Europe. Catholic abbottesses had nearly identical authority as Catholic abbot in their respective communities. Indeed female owned & management organizations, manned entirely by women dominated several European industries for centuries, such as primary education and textiles. By the later Middle Ages the advancement of the rights of women was one of the public works projects of the Catholic Church, as was life-long companionate marriage.

Anyone who truly values a heritage that provides for dissent, adaptability, intellectual inquiry and free moral agency can thank the Classical Greeks, Early Church Fathers, the Gregory Popes, the Dominicans and the Franciscans.

On the other hand there was Al Ghazali ...

Mike O'Malley said...

Dean said... Translation: A neighborhood is stable and happy only when everyone looks the same, speaks the same language, believes in the same religion and shuns birth control.

An alternative approach to this demographic winter xenophobia is an Article in the Guardian called, "The Culture of Fear" by Indian writer and political essayist Pankaj Mishra.

One hopes that you were not insinuating that our host Gil Bailie is some kind of xenophobic racist. I'd like to think the best of you Dean.

Calling Pankaj Mishra a Indian writer and political essayist seems misleading. Pankaj Mishra is Muslim. He is an Islamic apologist whose polemic against Hinduism as a religion and the modern history of nationalist movements among Hindu people in India have earned him a reputation of being anti-Hindu and of "pandering to white pro-Muslim audiences in the West". Moreover Pankaj Mishra seems to have engaged in the dark Islamic art of taqiyya and negation of Muslim crimes against humanity defending the Al Queda branch Lashkar-e-Toiba by blaming Hindus. I find that Pankaj Mishra's Occidentalist essay is largely a superficial gloss. Mishra seems to spend much of his effort poisoning the well by distorting the positions of those with whom he disagrees. His arguments employ Islamicist tropes about Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza etc. He fails to address Islamic involvement in the Holocaust. He also fails the address the fact that the Serbian not-so-ex-Communists responded, during the breakup of Communist Yugoslavia, to initial instances of Islamic genocide by Al Queda against Bosnian Serbs with much the same genocide technique for which the Communist Serbs got a pass on after WWII when they brutally pacified Croatian and Muslim Bosniak Fascist war criminals and other non-Communists. It seems that Mishra's Hindu critics and I find the Mishra's distortions and historical omissions pander to white pro-Muslim audiences in the West.

Dean can you cite for us the Muslim majority countries in which non-Muslim minorities live securely, with full equality, without Islamic oppression and with full religious freedom?

Unknown said...

Interesting to learn that the Church continues to offer indulgences. The popular conception of indulgences is that they purchase partial remission of punishment for sin. I don’t know if that is the exact or best definition that Catholics would offer these days, however. When I read explanations of indulgences, I run into words like “purgatory” and “salvation,” and I’m not sure exactly what they mean now, in this time. Medieval church art depicted the damned suffering in Hell, but it seems unlikely the modern Church could still include eternal suffering in its teachings about the afterlife. Maybe someone can clarify.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mike writes, “Astronomers were not burned by Church leaders as heretics.” Giordano Bruno, an astronomer, was tried and found guilty of heresy in matters of dogmatic theology—in particular for his belief in the “plurality of worlds”—and he was turned over to secular authorities for punishment. He was burned at the stake in 1600. It’s unclear what kind of “understanding” the Church had with the so-called “secular” authorities about such matters, but it’s possible that the latter were less squeamish about having blood on their hands. This showed real foresight on the Church’s part and made it possible for Cardinal Angelo Sodano, on the 400th anniversary of Bruno’s death, to maintain that the inquisitors “had the desire to preserve freedom and promote the common good and did everything possible to save his life” (by persuading him to recant and appealing the capital punishment). Clearly, without the trial, he would never have been burned, and the inquisitors must have known full well what Bruno’s fate was likely to be if he was convicted. They covered their tracks nicely in that age when reformers were breathing down their necks. The secular authorities had their uses.

There is some dispute about the role that Bruno’s heliocentric views played in the affair. But it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that he was burned at the stake because he held opinions that were considered heretical. Among these were (1) denying the virgin birth of Jesus, (2) disputing claims of Christ’s divinity, (3) holding erroneous opinions about transubstantiation, and (4) denying the trinity.

The Spanish theologian and scientist Michael Servetus, author of De trinitatis erroribus (“Errors of the Trinity”) had been burned at the stake in 1553 for similar opinions. He was sentenced to burning by the French Inquisition, acting on information supplied by Jehan Calvin, but he escaped prison in Vienne and headed for Italy. Then for some bizarre reason he laid over in Geneva, where his arch-enemy Calvin was running a theocratic state. Calvin discovered his presence and had him imprisoned and tried. The French Inquisition wanted him back so that they could burn him, but Calvin insisted he should be executed in Switzerland. Servetus’s fascinating story is told in a book by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, “Out of the Flames” (NY, Broadway Books, 2002).

My understanding is that heliocentrism wasn’t actually declared heretical until 1616, at the time of Galileo’s trial. It was the “Qualifiers” (theologians commissioned by the Inquisition) who issued this declaration, and Galileo was then ordered by Pope Paul V to abandon Copernican opinions. He recanted. Can there be any doubt that he would have publicly held to his views if there had not been a realistic threat of ending up like Servetus and Bruno?

It wasn’t until 1758—two hundred and fifteen years after the publication of Copernicus’s “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres”—that the Catholic Church stopped prohibiting books advocating heliocentrism. In 1990, Cardinal Ratzinger said in a speech delivered to La Sapienza University in Rome, “The Church at the time of Galileo kept much more closely to reason than did Galileo himself, and she took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo’s teaching too. Her verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and the revision of this verdict can be justified only on the grounds of what is politically opportune.”

The Spanish Inquisition lasted from 1478 to 1834. During the period 1560 to 1700, there were 49,092 trials, of which 14,319 were for heretical propositions. I won’t go into the history of torture and autos-da-fe. It makes fascinating reading if one has the stomach for it.

All this information is freely available on Wikipedia.

Mike O'Malley said...

One must wonder, if Wikipedia isn't deemed sufficiently authoritative will Mr. Remy trot out Jack Chick? ;-)

Doughlas Remy said ...The Spanish Inquisition lasted from 1478 to 1834. During the period 1560 to 1700, there were 49,092 trials, of which 14,319 were for heretical propositions. I won't go into the history of torture and autos-da-fe. It makes fascinating reading if one has the stomach for it.

I've read and spoken with historians on this topic and, ironically, in their view the Inquisition was the only indigenous Western Institution which could have prevented the Holocaust.


Yes, across three and a half centuries and over the expanse of an empire on five continents...

There has been a revolution in the study of the Spanish Inquisition. Modern history has discarded the Black Legend and finds something quite different. The Spanish Inquisition left unusually good records and modern historians have made effective use of them. Over those three and a half centuries around 125,000 persons were investigated by the Spanish Inquisition. Depending upon locale the condemnation and subsequent execution rate ranged between 1.1% to 2% of those accused. I expect that Gil's readers can do the necessary math. Herni Kamen, a respected authority (and modern hardliner) used to put the Spanish Inquisition's death toll at around 3,000 based on 150,000 investigations/trials. Kamen would then bump up his estimate to 4,000 to 5,000 "for safety". Although as of the last time I checked Kamen accepted the lower number of 125,000 investigations/trials. Other specialists put the death toll lower, roughly around 2,000. SP. Inquisition trials were the models of liberality for that time even granting defendants the right to counsel. The use of torture was restrictive and rarely used by the Sp. Inquisition, at a time when torture was commonly used across continental Europe in criminal investigations (1). And these were serious violations of the law, generally equivalent to treason. Having experienced eight centuries of Islamic horror the Old Christians of Spain were in no mood to risk losing their country again. By comparison, damaging the shrubbery in a public park in Elizabethan England was a capital crime. Contemporaneously, local secular courts outside of Spain that tried persons accused of witchcraft convicted and executed 97% of the accused. And by comparison the French Enlightenment judicially murdered between and estimated 15,000 to 40,000 people during the ONE and A HALF years of the Reign of Terror.

You see Mr. Remy I don't rely on the Black Legend or Wikipedia for what I know about the Inquisition ;-) So I'll recommend for Gil's readers: The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, by hardliner Henri Kamen and Inquisition, by Edward Peters. There is an out of print work which I have not yet read that is highly recommended The Witches' Advocate: Basque Witchcraft and the Spanish Inquisition (1609-1614 ) by Gustav Henningsen

Doughlas Remy said...There is some dispute about the role that Bruno's heliocentric views played in the affair.

Indeed! And that would undermine your tenuous counterpoint Mr. Remy, would it not? ;-)

... and not a word about those cathedrals being used as astronomical observatories!

I'm more familiar with Galileo than Bruno, familiar enough to note that you have grossly misrepresented the history of Galileo and the Inquisition. But there is just so much time in a day and I find Normaburns' inquiry intriguing...


(1) Source: Inquisition, pages 65 and 92, Dr. Edward Peters

Mike O'Malley said...

Thanks for your expression of interest Normaburns. With talent available in this forum I expect that we can rely on Gil and/or Athos to address your questions directly and well.

For my indulgences I prayed, fasted, made a good confession, traveled to a designated Pilgrim Church during Millennium Jubilee Year 2000 attending mass and receiving communion there.

Your question Normaburns evoked a memory of an on-line discussion I had with a chap who was brought up in a Mormon household and who then converted to Buddhism after studying with Buddhist monks. This chap seems to only have been acquainted with Evangelical sorts. He was disturbed that Christianity seemed to give Christians who did evil stuff a total pass. He was OK with sinners receiving salvation but he was morally offended by what he felt was a license to commit evil. We went a few rounds on the topic and after I provided an explanation of Purgatory this good fellow exclaimed approval and excitedly asked why know one had told any of those Evangelicals about something that made as much sense as Purgatory! I was stunned! I couldn't continue the discussion without dragging this good fellow through the history of the Reformation. Fortunately another Catholic picked up the ball I had dropped. I'll never forget the reaction of that American Buddhist!

Doughlas Remy said...

Mr. O’Malley: So quick and irresistible is your initial impulse to “smear the source” that you’ve become a little careless. You’ve quoted Wikipedia yourself at least three times since June.

If you visit any of the Wikipedia articles on Bruno, Galileo, Servetus, or the Spanish Inquisition, you’ll find an abundance of notes and references. The sources look pretty good to me: Catholic Encyclopedia, Studi e testi, Renaissance Quarterly, Modern Philology, histories published by Cambridge and Stanford University presses, the National Historical Archive of Spain...

Most amazing of all, your own three “alternative” sources—Henri Kamen, Edward Peters, and Gustav Henningsen—are in fact heavily cited in Wiki’s article on the Spanish Inquisition. Of the first 15 footnotes, 11 cite Kamen. A huge table shows the “Henningsen-Contreras statistics for the period 1540-1700.”

I hope this will improve your opinion of Wikipedia.

There are various estimates of the numbers of people tried and executed, and it’s hard to match them up because they refer to different geographical areas and historical periods. Kamen, whom both you and Wiki cite, estimates around 2000 executions in Spain up to 1530. Henningsen, also cited by both you and Wiki, estimates 87,000 cases for the period 1540-1700 in all lands ruled by Spain, with at least 1080 executions.

I find nothing in your comment to suggest that the history of the Spanish Inquisition is repellent to you. You seem ready to give it a pass. (“Inquisition trials were the models of liberality for that time even granting defendants the right to counsel.”) After all, it wasn’t as bad as what some other folks were doing at the time, or would later do. (“And by comparison the French Enlightenment murdered between an estimated 15,000 and 40,000 people...”) Using your metrics, maybe we should conclude that the Terror wasn’t so bad because it came nowhere close to the numbers of the Holocaust.

Your earlier defenses of the Bush-Cheney administration’s “enhanced interrogation tactics” suggest you believe torture isn’t really so bad when it is administered for some noble purpose. I guess the safe-guarding of religious tradition and doctrine would qualify as such a purpose, provided the tradition and doctrine in question are those of Catholicism.

Unknown said...

Mr. O’Malley, I sense that your pilgrimage in 2000 must have been an uplifting experience for you.

I have a strong scientific bent, and when I encounter words like those I inquired about (“purgatory,” “salvation”), I always want more precision. Take purgatory, for example. Is it really a place? If so, it is spiritual or physical? If it is physical, where is it located? In either case, is there suffering there? If so, what is the nature of the suffering? If purgatory is a spiritual place, then I assume the suffering must also be spiritual. But if the suffering is physical, then I’m interested in knowing what it consists of.

Or take salvation. Salvation from what? We have all seen Medieval art showing the saved looking down from Paradise upon the damned writhing in Hell. But are these terms now understood in a less literal sense?

Last Winter, I attended a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, which I had heard many times in recordings. But for the first time, I really looked at the words, which are chilling in their expression of sheer terror at the prospect of death and judgment.

Ingemisco: “My prayers are unworthy, but in pity let me not burn in the eternal fire. Give me a place among the sheep and separate me from the goats.”

Confutatis: “When the damned are cast away and consigned to searing flames, call me to be with the blessed.”

Offertorium: “Lord, Jesus Christ, king of glory, deliver the souls of the faithful departed from the pains of hell and the bottomless pit. Deliver them from the jaws of the lion, lest hell engulf them, lest they be plunged into darkness...”

How are we to understand all this? Verdi’s Requiem weds powerful music with words that alternately inspire terror and comfort. Do modern-day Catholics experience their faith in the way that Verdi apparently did?

And what about the references to hell? Does Catholic theology still consider it a real place where unrepentant sinners suffer for eternity? My impression of Christian theology in general is that it is very undecided about these questions concerning the afterlife. And my experience is that Christians become very vague and sometimes seem embarrassed when asked about them.

Mike O'Malley said...

Doughlas Remy said... Mr. O'Malley: So quick and irresistible is your initial impulse to "smear the source" that you've become a little careless. You've quoted Wikipedia yourself at least three times since June.

Smear? LOL! Even half the moonbats I've argued with know Wikipedia is an unreliable source! And they've scolded me for using it on more than a few occasions. Wikipedia management knows that its material on Catholicism requires significant improvement! That's why I always compare the easily retrievable text in Wikipedia to what I know form a reliable source. I also consider and disclose if necessary an unusual risk of unreliability or bias.

As you can see I've read and cited the most respect modern researchers in this historical field of study. I even included a footnote for you Mr. Remy :-)


Doughlas Remy said... I hope this will improve your opinion of Wikipedia. There are various estimates of the numbers of people tried and executed, and it's hard to match them up because they refer to different geographical areas and historical periods. Kamen, whom both you and Wiki cite, estimates around 2000 executions in Spain up to 1530. Henningsen, also cited by both you and Wiki, estimates 87,000 cases for the period 1540-1700 in all lands ruled by Spain, with at least 1080 executions...

The range of those numbers fall within the parametters of/and confirmed by my more extensive readings. Not surprisingly the very first outside authority to raise objection to the unexpected scope and harshness of the Spanish Inquisition was the Papacy. The Papacy had anticipated only a small number of investigations it seems. Rome received numerous complaints from Spanish Catholics so the Pope interceded with Spanish King. The King rejected the Pope's interference and at that point, about a year and a half after the Pope authorized the Spanish secular states to run an Inquisition, the Pope lost all influence over the Spanish Inquisition for over a decade. Indeed no few papal allies including a Spanish bishop of Jewish extraction were unfairly brought before the Sp. Inquisition in a power struggle between the Spanish Monarchy and the Papacy. It was during those early two decades that the bulk of the 125,000 or so cases were brought and the bulk of the executions, by the secular Spanish state mind you, took place.

I was unaware that Henningsen provides a lower estimate of 87,000 trials as you will note I've yet to read Henningsen's full book. ;-) I'd like to consider his estimation technique and parameters.


Doughlas Remy said... Using your metrics, maybe we should conclude that the Terror wasn't so bad because it came nowhere close to the numbers of the Holocaust.

Nice try Mr. Remy but no. Please note this time the information I provided about contemporaneous comparative practices in Europe. Moreover you see, the Secularist/Enlightenment Reign of Terror was followed by both the tremendous death toll of Europe's first Great Nietzschean War of the Spirit, the Napoleonic Wars, and the French radical Enlightenment-Imperial genocides in Haiti. Among other atrocities, the French used gas chambers to execute large numbers of captured Black Haitians. I expect thoughtful people may find in the radical French Enlightenment the model and pattern for the radical Secularist anti-religious horrors of the next two centuries.

Unknown said...

Hello Norma,

Jeremiah 3:12
I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever.

Jeremiah 17:4
Ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.

Notice the problem there? Mike of course can respond however he chooses, and I'm sure that he will. :-) But I'd like offer my own viewpoint, which you are free to agree or disagree with. I hope you wont be offended at this, but this seems as good a time to talk about this as any. I've tried to leaven this with humor, because I think stand up comedians make better theologians than the church produces.

The Bible tells us to be like God, and then on page after page it describes God as a mass murderer. I'm guessing that means that we've succeeded beyond our wildest expectations in the imitation of deity. We venerate violence in part because the same book that teaches us to dispose of it, simultaneously insinuates that it is divinely decreed. Well, is it or isn't it? And if it's no longer decreed, who made the mistake of assuming it was decreed in the first place and assigning God with the authorship of that decree? Doesn't this at least provoke the question of how people can ever discern his "true" voice, since the people entrusted with delivering that voice to us were, to quote the Jewish comedian Louis Black, "ten hairs short of a Baboon?" (Warning: Explicit language. Also very funny, so please proceed at your own risk). If the voice of God were as clear and discernable as the voice that people continuously mistake for it down through history, I'm guessing there would be far less evil in the world and far fewer "splendid dupes" to use Athos' borrowed phrase. If the voice of the devil is the voice of God heard through ego consciousness, then what voice was the ego consciousness of the founders of Jewish monotheism listening to almost continuously? Is it a different God now? Or is he just taking anger management classes? Black, in comparing the violence of the Old Testament God with the birth of Jesus in the new, suggested that, "maybe the birth of his son calmed him down..." Well, sure, until Ananias and Saphira came along in the New Testament.

The same God who is credited with demanding that a man be killed for gathering sticks on the sabbath, ordering his people to smash the heads of infants against rocks, cut open the bellies of pregnant women with swords, encouraging his prophets to eat human and animal feces, smite opposing tribes with blindness and hemorrhoids, decapitate the heads of enemies, vivisect concubines and send the severed pieces to the twelve tribes, cut the hamstrings of horses, lash wolves together and set them on fire, murder 20,000 here, 80,000 there, 120,000 over the same God that Jesus called Father. If it's not, then I haven't been able to locate him in scripture, or convincingly separate him from all the nasty stuff that He seems to be buried neck deep in.

By what measure of strained belief, conflation and orthodoxy is this "God" translated into a life preserving deity who believes in the sacrality of life, hates abortion and never condoned it in the first place? Are we just supposed to scoop all this crap out of our memory and proceed along the lines of, "Oh...well the Bible is just a candid exploration of human folly and stupidity! It's no reflection on deity!" Then why bother basing one's life on it? Jesus authorized the Old Testament by pointing to it and affirming it before fulfilling it and finishing it on the cross. Let's see now...He was born so he could die at the hands of men who believed they were appeasing the God who would otherwise kill them by mistakingly killing what they were trying to appease. That's some fancy footwork there. There are people who forbid their children from reading the Bible because of its violence, yet we're to believe the God who bathes all the pages of it in blood has a soft spot in his heart for the unborn?

Unknown said...

Part II
To paraphrase Louis Black, "What God? Where?" If we're just inventing God as we go along, why not invent one that is at least consistent throughout time? And if God has been consistent throughout time, and we just keep misinterpreting what He says, what does that say about our present understanding? As we get progressively "better" (a tenuous proposition at best) surprisingly, God seems to get better too, or at least, more like we would wish him to be if we had any say in it.

I suppose the diplomatic way of saying it is that our God, no matter how much we may distance ourselves from our crude beginnings and early conceptions of Him, is always too small and in need of revision. But fortunately, and somewhat mysteriously, He seems always gracious enough to meet us halfway and accommodate us by revealing that what we hoped for was always true. There's a quote attributed to the German mystic Meister Eckhart: "Our idea of God is the last obstacle on the path to knowing God." I hope he's right. The great Mark Twain said, "A man is accepted into a church for what he believes and he is turned out for what he knows." I hope he's right, too.

The church, by the way, is historically divided between two major eschatological traditions with radically different expectations. One view sees the collapse of social and cultural traditions as a prophetic harbinger of God's “wrath” for the failure of the Gospels to move men to a repentant state in large enough numbers to forestall judgment (a judgment that neo-conservative Christians nevertheless seem overjoyed in hastening, as their bloody revelatory Christ consumes the tares on the threshing floor, and they are raptured to a safe ringside seat in the heavenly realm to watch the carnage) and the other view points to the erosion of the existing order as apocalyptic proof that the Gospels have not only worked, but robbed society of the necessary tools for stability that had formerly been achieved only through officially sanctioned acts of violence. The “wrath” of God in human affairs is simply God’s divine non-interference. We’re are, by that reckoning, doing it to ourselves, and God, or so it is argued, will simply not take the blame for it anymore. Even a cursory study of the Old Testament reveals that the Hebrew people had a primitive, apotropaic conception of God as a violent, avenging, deity that had to be constantly appeased lest he pounce like a vampire. Thus the death of Jesus for charges of sedition and blasphemy. As their conceptions slowly evolved and refined, their own violence, sacrificiality, superstition and fear diminished accordingly. But it's also hard not to notice that the God who was present in the early record of the Hebrews in such a visible way also disappeared from history around the same time they began to become "enlightened". The major revelation of the Hebrew people was the worship of one God. And today, we apparently have the same dualistic problem. Which (one) God is it? And which one does Jesus represent? Did Jesus proclaim love? Yes, he did. But this strange intermingling of loving words and peaceful wishes with imagery of horrendous metaphysical violence and torment, in not merely paradoxical, it's insane.

I leave you with this thought: The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely preferable to the presence of those who think they've found it.

Mike O'Malley said...

OH MY Normaburns! What a delightful response! And I'm so short on time and I'll be traveling for the better part of a week.

I can't do your post justice right now, but so you know that I'm thinkin-about-yah let me post something one this topic written by Avery Cardinal Dulles:

The constant teaching of the Catholic Church supports the idea that there are two classes: the saved and the damned. Three general councils of the Church (Lyons I, 1245; Lyons II, 1274; and Florence, 1439) and Pope Benedict XII's bull Benedictus Deus (1336) have taught that everyone who dies in a state of mortal sin goes immediately to suffer the eternal punishments of hell. This belief has perdured without question in the Catholic Church to this day, and is repeated almost verbatim in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC §1022, 1035). Several local councils in the Middle Ages, without apparently intending to define the point, state in passing that some have actually died in a state of sin and been punished by eternal damnation.

The relative numbers of the elect and the damned are not treated in any Church documents, but have been a subject of discussion among theologians. Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem are typical in interpreting passages such as Matthew 22:14 as meaning that the majority will be consigned to hell. St. John Chrysostom, an outstanding doctor of the Eastern tradition, was particularly pessimistic: "Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old."

Augustine may be taken as representative of the Western Fathers. In his controversy with the Donatist Cresconius, Augustine draws upon Matthew and the Book of Revelation to prove that the number of the elect is large, but he grants that their number is exceeded by that of the lost.


Several studies published by Catholics early in the twentieth century concluded that there was a virtual consensus among the Fathers of the Church and the Catholic theologians of later ages to the effect that the majority of humankind go to eternal punishment in hell. Even if this consensus be granted, however, it is not binding, because the theologians did not claim that their opinion was revealed, or that to take the opposite view was heretical. Nor is the opinion that most people attain salvation contradicted by authoritative Church teaching.

Mention should here be made of a minority opinion among some of the Greek Fathers. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa sometimes speak as though in the end all will be saved. Origen, the most prominent representative of this view, is generally reported as teaching that at the end of time, the damned, now repentant and purified, will take part in the universal restoration of all things (apokatastasis)...

About the middle of the twentieth century, there seems to be a break in the tradition. Since then a number of influential theologians have favored the view that all human beings may or do eventually attain salvation. Some examples may be illustrative...

In a "reverie" circulated among friends but not published until after his death, the philosopher Jacques Maritain included what he called a "conjectural essay" on eschatology, in which he contemplates the possibility that the damned, although eternally in hell, may be able at some point to escape from pain. In response to the prayers of the saints, he imagines, God may miraculously convert their wills, so that from hating Him they come to love Him.

you can read it all here:

The Population of Hell
Avery Cardinal Dulles
May 2003

I'm sorry that this is so impersonal but I don't want you to wait long for a substantive answer from me. Maybe I can find a moment to return before next week. Until then be well.

Unknown said...

Very interesting. Thank you, Mr. O'Malley.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mr. O’Malley, let’s face it. No source is “reliable” unless it supports your presuppositions, even if it cites sources that you consider reliable. Does that seem like convoluted logic? It is. We have fallen down the rabbit-hole.

Wikipedia cites your preferred sources, Kamen, Peters, and Henningsen. But Wikipedia is not reliable. Does this mean that Kamen, Peters, and Henningsen are not reliable?

You cite Kamen, Peters, Henningsen. But they were cited by Wikipedia, and Wikipedia is not reliable. Does this mean that you are not reliable?

You do not accept the IPCC’s verdict on climate change or the American Psychological Association’s findings on homosexuality. For climate change, your sole “reliable source” is the Wegman Report, which has the fingerprints of the oil and gas industries all over it. You are a committed apologist for the Catholic Church.

We are then supposed to rely on you to point us to reliable sources of information about the Inquisition?

Wikipedia is fine as a portal for “pre-research,” and it is almost universally accepted as such in colleges and universities. It points us to other sources. I don’t know anyone who really expects more of it than that. We read it critically and we keep an eye on the footnotes. It’s not perfect, but show me something that is. Have you got a solid gold source on the Spanish Inquisition? And why is the Henningsen table more reliable when it appears in his own published book than when it appears in Wikipedia? Is the Catholic Encyclopedia reliable when it is pulled off a dusty library shelf but unreliable when it is quoted in Wikipedia?

Questioning sources is fine, but reflexive smearing of sources that are used to oppose entrenched viewpoints smacks of union-hall tactics.

Unknown said...

And thank you, Dean. I'll have comments later.

Doughlas Remy said...

Mr. O’Malley, it would appear from your account that the Church never really wanted anyone to get hurt in the Spanish Inquisition, but those mean and nasty secular authorities just got carried away. And there was just nothing the Church could do about it. Oh-h-h. Why does this remind me of “good-cop, bad-cop” routines? Plus ça change.

And those secular authorities, what were they? Secular humanists? Hindus? Baptists?

I spent a good part of the afternoon reading about the background and beginnings of the Spanish Inquisition. There can be no doubt that the Inquisition was Catholic through and through. The political tugs-of-war between the Church and various “secular” power centers were conflicts among Catholics. The goal that united them was to rid Spain of Jews, Moors, and heretics. It hardly matters how they divided up the task or what quarrels they got into. They were in complete agreement about ridding Spain of non-Catholics and about enforcing Catholic orthodoxy.

I am not interested in defaming the Catholic Church. But history is something that belongs to all of us, and the only way we can learn from it is to know and respect the truth. This means that we don’t stop processing evidence when it collides with doctrine or with personal loyalties.

Dan Florio said...


I echo your concerns about the violence in scripture, but have you not read any of Girard's work or Gil's book, Violence Unveiled? I had pretty much arrived at your conclusions about the angry God in the sky, but discovering their work gave me new hope as a Catholic. Many passages of scripture are immensely troubling at face value, but that there is violence in scripture at all is very telling and significant, for this is what separates it from myth; namely, while myth seeks to sanitize, hide, or transform violence into something pretty, or to pin blame elsewhere, scripture slowly, uncertainly at first, unveils, disrobes, and reveals violence rather than hiding it. The God who seems so awful in the Old Testament and even sometimes in the New is the illusion of those in the stories who are still at least partially trapped in the logic of violence, and even the writers of scripture had only partial vision at best. The Bible itself, in my understanding, is in no way a perfect articulation of the nature of God from beginning to end; rather, it's more like a snake shedding its own skin over centuries until Christ stands as the non-violent one, the fulfillment of all the Bible has thus far pointed to in a piecemeal, broken, partial, veiled way. Scripture erupts out of the chaos of myth, but it's a slow, ugly process. Scripture reflects mankinds journey, and was written by those on that journey--under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to those who believe, of course--but the Bible is as human as it is divine. We shouldn't be surprised that it contains insanity. But the most moving thing about the Bible is that IT PROVIDES THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING ITS OWN MISTAKES! How could something written over hundreds of years be so coherent in its trajectory if not for the movement of a greater spirit?

Mike O'Malley said...

Upon reading your post again I like it even more, Normaburns!

Yes, Hell is a real place where for us the possibility of eternal seperation from G-d exists. G-d risks profound loss and suffering for Himself by giving us the freedom to eternally separate ourselves from Himself. What will be the population of Hell? It could be many or it could be few and perhaps we may pray and dare to hope that it might be none. Normaburns, I hope you enjoyed Avery Cardinal Dulles's essay on this topic.

Hell fire is an iconographic metaphor conveying for us a sense of the distress of eternal seperation from G-d. You can ponder Normaburns just how one might convey to pre-modern concrete non-abstract thinkers a vivid sense of say the present value of negative infinity on some kind of consumer satisfaction index. It seems to me that an image of Hellfire does an adequate job.

But from where do we get this iconographic metaphor of Hellfire? From a garbage dump outside of the early Israeli city of Jerusalem, in the valley of Hinnom. That does add more flavor (shall we say) to the metaphor does it not? ;-) The early Israelis discarded stuff including the unclean unwanted unburied bodies of non-Jewish aliens (strangers) there. (Now that adds more vividness to the metaphor does it not?) Without doubt Normaburns you know the chemistry and physics of methane release in a garbage dump. At some time an underground fire started in that dump and it just never ever seemed to go out. Well there we have additional imagery of eternal Hellfire, but on occasion the Israelis did horrible things there too. They mimicked the behavior of their pagan neighbors and murdered their very own children in the Valley of Hinnom. (Now the meaning of this metaphor takes on a profoundly disturbing aspect) Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, is a place where one might purchase personal benefit and/or momentary peace and unity to one's society by murdering one's own children. Can you feel the profound sense of creepy evil of that place? This is the place where, as the cryptic Biblical description says, one particularly bad king of the Southern Kingdom made his son "pass through the fire" (1).

Catholicism has gifted the 20th Century with several brilliant anti-Nietzscheans of which Girard is one. J.R.R. Tolkien is another. Tolkien engaged in thought experiments about the human condition, immortality and death (the Gift of Men). From these anti-Nietzschean thought experiments Tolkien provided us with additional literary metaphors for Hell: the Nazgul and Gollum; who are sterile, distressed and eternally alone. Tolkien perhaps anticipating the thought of later Catholic theologians, philosophers and anthropologists who perceived that we could have no satisfying meaning within the coreless emptiness of ourselves but that we can only find fulfillment and happiness for our lives in relationships with others by emulating the communal love within the Trinity.




footnote # 1:

2 Kings 21: 1, 2, 3 & 6

(1) Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem; and his mother's name was Hephzibah. (2) He did evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD dispossessed before the sons of Israel. (3) For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them ... (6) He made his son pass through the fire, practiced witchcraft and used divination, and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD provoking Him to anger.

Mike O'Malley said...

Doughlas Remy said... Mr. O'Malley, let's face it. No source is "reliable" unless it supports your presuppositions, even if it cites sources that you consider reliable. Does that seem like convoluted logic? It is. We have fallen down the rabbit-hole.

I'd guess you're not inclined to view my straight forward thinking in a favorable light today Mr. Remy? ;-) Some might hope that I might come upon a "reliable" source and adjust my "presuppositions" to fit the new "reliable" information as I hope is my practice. That seems to be my expereince. That would seem logical, would it not? Rabbit-holes are so unpleasant!

Say Mr. Remy why don't you read the several books I've recommended and dare to adjust your "presuppositions". I'll add an additional two recommendations that do a good job of addressing Galileo:
How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
Galileo's Mistake: A New Look At the Epic Confrontation Between Galileo and the Church, by Wade Rowland


Doughlas Remy said... Mr. O'Malley, it would appear from your account that the Church never really wanted anyone to get hurt in the Spanish Inquisition, but those mean and nasty secular authorities just got carried away.

Ahh yah, that's pretty simplistic but it's not entirely unfounded, except that the Spanish people had REALLY GOOD reasons for not wanting to re-experience the horrors of Islamic domination again. And they were well within their rights of insist that their government not allow any such horror to reoccur. The primary purpose of the Spanish Inquisition as far as the Church was concerned was to save and to restore.


Doughlas Remy said... And there was just nothing the Church could do about it.

Not a lot given that the Spanish Monarchies' long held veto power over the selection of Spanish bishops and other Spanish church officials. Moreover the Reformation had significantly weakened the Papacy's hand in this regard. The Pope couldn't just excommunicate a mishaving monarch and expect things to work out well. BTW - your failure to address this reality and obvious historical examples speaks poorly of the quality of your earlier effort to blame the Holocaust on the Catholic Church.

Moreover you seem unwilling to factor into your thinking contemporaneous comparative conditions and practice.


Doughlas Remy said... Oh-h-h. Why does this remind me of "good-cop, bad-cop" routines? Plus ça change.

errr ... may I venture a guess? ... Because you're stuck on the Black Legend and because you are unwilling to reconsider your own "presuppositions".


Why don't you spend some time with the resources I've recommended while I'm away traveling. ;-) Fare well for now.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Mr. O’Malley, for the information about Christian eschatology, and thanks also to Dean for his excellent bio of God, to which I will return shortly. But first, re: Mr. O’Malley’s comments:

The article by Avery Cardinal Dulles is useful in understanding the “constant” Catholic teaching about who goes to hell (i.e., “the damned,” and “everyone who dies in a state of mortal sin”) and approximately how many that is (probably the majority of humankind). And we discover that hell is a place of “eternal punishments.” The notion that the damned will be restored in the apokatastasis was a minority view held by Greek Orthodox fathers. Some 20th century theologians, you report, believe that all human beings may or do attain salvation (eventually). Jacques Maritain contemplates the possibility of some relief for those suffering in hell.

All this confirms for me that Catholic theology includes a place of eternal damnation where most humans probably end up and from which, if they learn to love God, they may be delivered. But that last part seems to be a minority view.

In your second comment on this subject, you say that hell fire is an iconographic metaphor about distress at separation from God, and that the base for the metaphor was an actual place, a burning garbage dump in the valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem.

But we are still talking about “literary metaphors,” as you point out in your reference to Tolkien.

Does this mean that hell is not an actual place but only a state of emotional or psychological distress endured by those who are separated from God?

If it is an actual place and the sufferings of the damned are physical, then where is this place, and what is the nature of the sufferings? Or does only God know the answer to these questions?

As you may remember from earlier exchanges, I am an atheist. I ceased believing in God less than ten years after I stopped believing in Santa Claus, and I am now in retirement. So I have spent many decades (I won’t say how many) “separated from God,” as Christians like to tell me. I have had a mostly happy life with the usual ups and downs. No DUIs, no felonies. I haven’t experienced the “coreless emptiness” that you described. Does this mean I am not a very “deep” person?

You reflect the view of Catholic theologians that “we can only find fulfillment and happiness for our lives in relationships with others by emulating the communal love with the Trinity.” This just makes me scratch my head. I have experienced lots of fulfillment in life, and there are so many wonderful people in the world who have no experience of the Trinity. The Asian countries are full of them. Are they going to hell? At what point will they begin to experience the distress of separation from God?

Christian eschatology developed during centuries when Christians had very little or no contact with people outside of Europe and the Middle East. Could it be that a new global perspective is needed? Otherwise, what to do with all those Asians?

Later, I’ll share with you a useful metaphor for eternity—one that helps us “visualize” how long it is and what eternal suffering might mean. Meanwhile, just try to remember how you felt the last time you had a toothache or an upset stomach.

Unknown said...

At last to Dean (sorry for the delay).

Your two quotations from Jeremiah (“...I will not keep anger for ever,” and “...mine anger...shall burn for ever”) bring to mind the discussion between Mr. Remy and Mr. O’Malley about the reliability of sources. In these two short verses, God blatantly contradicts himself concerning his own nature. So my question is, “Is the Bible a reliable source of information about God?” In quoting the Bible, are we quoting an unreliable source?

If we think of God as eternal and immutable, then the Bible is obviously not a reliable source because it contradicts itself. If God’s nature, or “character,” changes through time, then the Bible may be a reliable source. And God’s nature does appear to change through time. Bigtime.

Jack Miles, one of the keynote speakers at the COV&R conference a couple of years ago, wrote “God: A Biography.” My brother, who teaches philosophy and is not given to hyperbole, recommended it as one of the best books he had ever read. Having now read it myself, I can heartily recommend it as well. Miles sees God as a literary character who, like most literary characters, develops during the course of the action. The book's chapter titles tell the story: Creator, Destroyer, Creator/Destroyer, Friend of the Family, Liberator, Lawgiver, Liege, Conqueror, Father, Arbiter, Executioner, Holy One, Wife [Yes, wife!], Counselor, Guarantor, Fiend, Sleeper, Bystander, Recluse, Puzzle, Absence, Ancient of Days, Scroll, Perpetual Round.

As I said earlier, I have been an atheist nearly all my life, so I don’t spend any time at all puzzling over God’s true nature. But I read books like the one by Jack Miles because I am fascinated that so many other people do puzzle over such matters, and because I am interested in anthropology, which by necessity includes a study of religion. My interest in the Bible was rekindled through reading Girard’s “Things Hidden...” It was through Girard that I came to understand what an amazing anthropological resource the Bible was and is.

Emil Durkheim said that God is the community, and I believe this to be a foundational insight. God expresses the community’s values at any given moment, and as the community changes, so does God. In this view, God is a projection, and monotheism was a way of stopping the proliferation of projections and building consensus about community values and goals. Of course, this understanding of “God” has to be protected by a taboo (the “totem” taboo). To even suggest that God is a projection is a violation of the taboo (i.e., blasphemy). For the projection to function as it should, everyone has to be on board. No one must question God’s existence. Else, there is danger that the “spell” will be broken.

So I would agree with Louis Black (whose video I viewed earlier): “What God? Where?” And I am also inspired by Meister Eckhart’s view that “Our idea of God is the last obstacle on the path to knowing God.” But I would just add that the “God” one finally knows after getting past all those “ideas” of God bears no relation whatsoever to the God of the Bible, so why even call him/her/it by that name? By the time we attain such a knowledge, haven’t we left Judeo-Christianity behind altogether? J-C, after all, is just a succession of “ideas” about God.

I like what Dan Florio wrote. I’ve read Gil’s book and Girard’s major works, and I agree that there is in the Bible an unfolding revelation about violence. I don’t agree, however, that Christ consistently stands as the non-violent one. Mr. O’Malley (or his source, Avery Cardinal Dulles) has just highlighted some of the violent sayings of Jesus for us (about damnation). And there’s plenty to be said about the apocalyptic visions toward the end of the NT, as well as St. Paul’s references to hellfire. So I think Dan is correct in pointing out that there is a process under way, but I don’t see that it is completed.

Doughlas Remy said...

Dean quotes Jeremiah 3:12: I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger for ever.

and Jeremiah 17:4: Ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.

Norma Bruns writes, If we think of God as eternal and immutable, then the Bible is obviously not a reliable source [of knowledge about Him] because it contradicts itself. (And, I might add, if God changes through time and can even do so between chapters 3 and 17, that is a very quick change indeed.)

There, you see, Mr. O’Malley, you have quoted an unreliable source. Avery Cardinal Dulles is unreliable because he quotes the Bible, which is unreliable because it contradicts itself in the two verses that Dean quotes.

Granted, I have quoted both Dean and Norma Bruns. They may not be reliable.

But Wikipedia is reliable, mostly.

Unknown said...

OK, here is the metaphor about eternal suffering that I promised earlier. But first, if you haven’t already done this, you must spend a few moments recalling the pain of your most recent tummy-ache or tooth-ache. If that doesn’t do it for you, then recall a severe burn or other injury.

So, while you’re doing that, I’ll just preview this metaphor by saying that it is a spatial metaphor about time. It takes a temporal concept (eternity) and transposes it into the spatial dimension so that we can visualize it. And then, if you really use your imagination, you might be able to fill that space with the memory of your pain. This will help you with the concept of eternal suffering, which, as we have seen, is a very difficult concept.

Ready? Now, imagine you are standing in a desert at the top of a high dune. You can see for miles around you, and all you see is more dunes under a canopy of sunlit sky.

You pick up a grain of sand and look at it closely. This grain of sand represents the span of your life on earth. Then imagine your tummy-ache that lasts your entire lifetime and that has you constantly throwing up. Think of the nausea, the chills, and the convulsions.

Put the grain of sand back. Try to remember where you put it.

To grasp the concept of eternal suffering from your tummy-ache, you have to now imagine counting all the other grains of sand that exist, everywhere. Each of them is the equivalent of a new lifetime filled with pain.

Look around you and try to estimate the number of grains of sand you see. We’ll call that number “N.” For the moment, try to think of N as eternity, and try to imagine having your tummy-ache for that long.

But N isn’t eternity yet. You have to visualize more grains of sand. The ones that you see are only on the surface, and that the little section of desert you’re standing in is only a small part of the entire desert. Do the numbers, and don’t forget to factor in the pain.

And there are even more grains of sand elsewhere, in other deserts, on beaches, on the floor of the oceans, and on other planets in our solar system. We have to add these to the total. And don’t forget the pain.

But that’s still not all the grains of sand. Scientists estimate there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, each with its suns and its planets. Add in all those grains of sand that are on these planets and do the total. Imagine how many digits the number might have. Don’t forget the pain. In fact, magnify the pain. Imagine something more horrific, like burning. Endless burning.

Now, quickly! Force your attention back to the grain of sand that you held in your hand and that you replaced on the ground. Can you find it? Again, it represents the span of your life, a life filled with pain. A life in which you did something that displeased...God.

That’s it. Metaforo finito. Grazie, signore e signori. You can do this meditation again at home or when you’re at the beach. And now, before you leave, please consider these two questions:

Why would an omni-benevolent and omnipotent creator punish anyone for that long for any reason whatsoever?

Why would anyone worship such an unforgiving and wrathful deity?

If you’re so inclined, you can have fun drawing out all kinds of other interesting questions and conclusions.

It’s amazing to me that theologians speak so glibly of eternal damnation, as if hell were just some cardboard cut-out in a medieval mystery play and the audience were illiterate peasants.

Doughlas Remy said...

Dean and Norma: You may enjoy this passionate essay about the current mess in Washington.

Dan Florio said...

This particular thread has probably digressed enough. But I've been thinking about all the hell-talk on here. I hate the idea of hell and judgment as much as anybody. But is it possible that it's not a "violent" God threatening us with "eternal" "punishment", but a loving God telling us hard truths out of love? If you love someone, and they are heading for trouble, you warn them. I can't really accept lakes of fire. But I believe there has to be some kind of "karmic finale." For strip the idea of hell completely away, and what is left?
A world in which all behavior, good or bad, leads to the same result; a world in which nothing truly is at stake; a world with no drama.

But the idea of hell that terrifies believers and is rejected as nonsense by nonbelievers can be seen in another, more fully developed way: as gift.
God gives us a gift through hell. He is saying to us: “Your words matter. Your actions matter. YOU matter. And your words, actions, your very self, will always matter. You are not inconsequential; you are important. If the possibility of judgment didn’t exist, it would mean I pay you no mind. It would mean that I do not care what you do, how you act, how you treat each other. It would mean that I will not defend any principle or any person, no matter how egregiously and flagrantly violated they have been.”

Hell is God’s compliment to us. He is saying, “I respect your decisions. I give them weight. I honor your life, just as you have lived it. I respect your power—it is true power, and I see it truly. I do not engage in pretend-games regarding your very being. I see you as eternally valuable. If this eternal value could never be warped, if I took no notice of this warping, it would truly mean I do not love you, for I would eternally disregard you in that case. Eternal disregard is not my way. I do not live a lie. I do not pretend.”

It's just a thought.

Unknown said...

Hi Dan,

Thank you for your comments, I really appreciate your response.

I'm sure many people will have a different synthesis for this, but if you don't mind, I'd like to start with my own ham fisted analogy from Stanley Kubrick's film, 2001, A Space Odyssey: In the famous Dawn of Man sequence an ape overcomes his fear and touches the monolith, which has suddenly appeared during the night, a sentinel planted by some unseen and vast intelligence. There is a sense of numinous awe in the film, as the mysterious black basaltic slab appears over and over again throughout the movie. This is the divine agency of the film. The burning bush. The ape in the initial scene then turns bones into tools. He learns how to use his new "tool" as a murder weapon against a rival tribe of apes, and although that was not the intention of the caretakers who imparted the knowledge, the rival apes at the business end of a jagged thigh bone may have thought differently.

A Klaxon is sounded, as the sentinel telegraphs its message to the stars signaling the changed status of the apes. From that point on, the monolith patiently stands as a silent beacon, through aeons of time, in different locations, awaiting the next visitation in the distant future when it will impart a new chapter of knowledge further along the evolutionary path as the unseen caretakers surveil our progress from behind the scenes. The tree in Genesis as well as the cross at Calvary and the Monolith in Space Odyssey are essentially the same: preparations for participation in a grand mystery. But the agency behind that mystery remains unseen, or seen only through a glass darkly, which is the central tension both of the film and of our lives. Each discovery emboldens us to go another step further on our personal and collective odyssey.

As we attempt to move away from our own violent beginnings, we find ourselves returning to them over and over again, which I also suspect was not the intention of our benefactors (if we have any) but the beacon trip wire in anthropological history that signals the next step. In Girardian terms, when the distinctions and boundaries that define culture begin to collapse, the most painful dilemma in that deconstruction is the undermining of the primitive sacred with its cohering mythology of fear and divine justice. The ape overcomes his fear; we do too. There is an initial sense of relief as the last vestiges of that fear become sufficiently muted to thwart its continuance, and then a subsequent despair as increasingly violent and chaotic challenges to its eroding sense of authenticity are accelerated proportionate to the lack of any discernible resistance from it. People are both pleased that an angry, wrath-laden deity does not exist, but sufficiently enraged at the same time to act as surrogates for the vengeance they believe it would unleash if only it could see what we are doing to ourselves.

If there is an apocalyptic process or some kind of evolutionary momentum at work, it seems, if I understand it at all, that we are at this stage: We have dispensed with an angry God by creating a scenario in which he would seem to be welcomed; and dismissed the possibility of a loving one who could be perceived as audacious or apathetic enough to conspire in the revelation of his love through such a painful, violent and lengthy process. A process in which he gives us such apparently complete control over the ultimate, and by no means, optimistically assured, outcome. In other words, it's a long way from bone tools to Europa and Jupiter. Whether Hal chooses to close the pod bay doors on us is anyone's guess.

Unknown said...

Part III
The sick are healed, not because they’re cured of their physical infirmities, but because they’re awakened to their calumny and personal participation in a myth; the multitudes are fed, not because the loaves have been increased, but because their dietary scrutiny has been blunted sufficiently to allow them to share a meal without killing each other; and the dead “rise” not because they are restored to life, but because everyone recognizes their personal culpability in murdering them in the first place. To “arise” then, is to awaken to a new revelation, but the revelation is grudgingly sparse in its talk of a literal resurrection of the body, which is Paul’s defining proof for faith, and which he further proclaims is meaningless and foolish without it. Of course, Paul also expected the return of Jesus in his own lifetime, and shaped the urgency (and I would guess the proscriptions) of his letters around that fact. I wonder what he would have said in those same letters if he knew they would be read 2,000 years into the future?

Gone is the God of anger and wrath who takes vengeance on an uncaring world, to be replaced by a people of anger and wrath who take vengeance on each other in the name of an uncaring God. Gone is the promise of Heaven and eternal life and the hope that makes life endurable; to be replaced with the rice paper eschatology of scrupulous avoidance and the careful manipulation of mimetic desire as we wend our torturous way to an earthly heaven. In fact, seen in this light, Girardian theory poses the threat of becoming a kind of Christian McCarthyism. I can see it being used as a litmus for interpreting, defining and adjuticating every suspicion about human nature. It runs the risk of becoming like a Möbius strip, twisted and tied at both ends, and feeding on itself in a hermetic ritual. The measuring process becomes a kind of Heisenburg quantum entanglement on the anthropological level. There is no point of observational distance and imagined immunity and knowledge if you live in a community with other human beings. Trying to reduce every function of human existence to a theory, no matter how prescient and elegant it may be, does not render life solvable in any meaningful way or remove the observer from participation. All these tools for examining life becomes just another method for collapsing the wave function, without bringing us closer to anything that could be called the truth. Diagnosis is not cure.

I don't know if the gentleman from Avignon believes in a personal resurrection or not, although I know he's a Christian. I'm certainly not trying to misrepresent him in any way. These are my own insights based on what I've read both by him and about him. I'm sorry to say that his anthropological ideas shed very little light on my personal struggles with faith, and I think they would have by now if they were going to. I don't mean for that in any way to be a distraction from your own odyssey or anyone else's here.

How do I wrestle God and Jesus from the clutches of the Bible? For me, belief in God is my way of saying I bow in reverence before the mystery of the universe. A universe that it is not "solvable" or "reasonable" in any terms that will finally result in our comprehending it in some meaningful and satisfying way as though it were a destination that we had finally reached. It is a mystery, because like God, we cannot touch it. But as a Christian, I believe that God can touch us, and by so doing confer on all our questions and doubts the reasonable expectation of some meaning in the silence that reaches the restless din of our own souls and proclaims by the power of love that we are not alone. All I have to do is look into the eyes of people who love me to be assured of that.

I'll close with words which I think would be great if anyone ever does a cryogenic commercial for Nobel Laureate sperm donors: "Many are called, but few are frozen".

All my best Dan

Unknown said...

Hi Norma,

Thank you for your response. I think God as a literary character that develops over time is a reasonable one. If there is a God, we are given fitful glimpses at best, even in the expressed nature of Christ, from whom we get the biggest glimpse of all. I go with the God-is-bigger-than-we-can-imagine scenario, rather than the no-God-at-all scenario. I don't puzzle over God's nature much either, because I think we can only approach it tangentially through parable, analogy, and metaphor. Which is what I think the writers of the Bible were attempting to do. Because of the strange mixture of violence and virtue I don't regard the Bible as anything approaching an owner's manual for living. It's just too self sabotaging in that sense, in spite of the good intentions of the writers. I think we're meant to live our lives and to see God or what we call God in our experience. After seeing Waco, Texas, Jones Town Guyana, and several dozen other biblically based experiments in studied insanity, using the Bible as a prescription for living a "holy" life is asking too much.

Unknown said...

Doughlas: Should you wish to use the meditation, your suggested revisions are hereby approved. Thx.

Unknown said...

Hi Doughlas,
Thanks for the article. I cringed when I read it, because there's a lot of truth there. But then, I don't really expect politics to ever be anything but disappointing, even though I try to hold my cynicism at bay. In the mean time, wont someone please get Mr. Cooper some affordable health insurance!?

I decided I'm voting for this guy in the next election, cause I like his campaign poster. ;0)

Unknown said...

Part II
Apocalyptic events are neither new, nor perpetually genial if they go unrecognized long enough. Was the new world Noah helped to create any different in its fallen nature than the one it supplanted? Jesus pointed to the Noah story as a prototype of the last days. If Jesus is truly the "lamb of God" shouldn't he stop pulling the "wool" over our eyes by lending his status and corroboration to a myth that uses violent metaphors as a way of ingratiating us to a "loving" God? What does this say about Jesus? What does this say about God? What does this say about us?!

Lot is another example of a potential victim surviving the culture that would victimize him. How is that survival to be interpreted, unless it's at the hand of divine justice? Again, we have Jesus corroborating it. If the event described is a mythologized or sacralized account of what actually transpired, it seems that very little of the entire text of the Bible is to be trusted as anything more than a eulogy to the warped religious impulses and sentiments of a perpetually cruel people, and the God whom they believe inspires them.

Then we have Gideon—a true example of the outsider, who becomes the custodian of mimetic violence against 135,000 Medianites, and dethrones the cult in the "old fashioned" way, with the help of a God who we are told now despises violence? If these are mythologized texts, what value can they impart to true experience, if our willingness to be moved by them is compromised by the knowledge that they never happened, and therefore cannot happen again? (I would be relieved to know that they never happened, but then I would be suspicious about the revelatory character of a book that uses as object lessons stories that have no apparent value or relation to the thing they're trying to convey). Is this the way God teaches us to love? By telling us stories that are filled with violence? Has it worked? Can He be strong enough to save us, if He's unable to deliver an uncorrupted message to us? Why is there any violence in His message at all? Are we supposed to be shocked into a renewed sensibility by a candid and tedious display of what we already know about ourselves? Unfortunately, I don't know. I'm just an ape at a watering hole with a bone in my hand. Should I use it as a weapon or a tool?

Before the concept of eternal life was embraced as a religious creed, only grudging and protesting victims were accorded divinized immortality through the transcendentalizing of mimetic contagion and violence. Yet living on in the memory of those who murder you seems a pitifully cheap legacy which is hardly worthy of comparison with what people long for when they speak of the power of the resurrection. People turn to Christ primarily because he promises eternal life, not because he possesses a precocious anthropological sensibility. When men become gods, they live only until replaced by other “gods” who are like them; when God becomes man and dies at men’s hands, men live forever through the one they killed. But the nagging question remains, is this just symbolic speech, invoked to reveal a merely anthropological insight, or is it more? In light of these ideas, is the good news of the gospel anthropological, metaphysical or both? And how are they reconcilable?

If the socio-anthropological reading of scripture is true, then the mystical and metaphysical reading is certainly at odds with it. Gone is the Jesus who performs real miracles: walking on water, raising the dead, healing the sick and feeding the multitudes. In its place is a savvy anthropological spiritual genius who diverts scapegoating rituals, reconciles rivalistic combatants and scolds the duplicity and obfuscation inherent in the machinery of victimization.

Doughlas Remy said...

Norma, I thought I submitted this hours ago; here’s another try, but without the questions you’ve now answered via e-mail and here. It is in response to your meditation and the two “questions” you posed:

When I was a child, I asked my Christian mother such questions, more out of curiosity and concern than defiance. She would shrug and say, “Well, there’s nothing God can do about it. He loves you and wants you to be in heaven, just like we do.” And then she would smile sweetly.

It was as though eternal damnation were not much worse than getting a spanking and being sent to bed without dinner. God is good. He doesn’t want you to suffer. He only sends bad people to hell. But don’t worry. You won’t go there. God loves you.

“But Ma, the preacher says bad people burn in hellfire forever!”

“Don’t worry. Just be good, love and obey God, and you won’t go there.”

I shut up, but I fretted, “What if I do end up there? What if I’m bad, or I don’t love God enough?” I had quite a lot of anxiety about this until I had an opportunity to work through it with a college therapist. I don’t worry about it any longer, thank...goodness.

Doughlas Remy said...

Dean, I really liked your piece about “2001, A Space Odyssey” and would like to re-post it on my own blog site at, with your permission. I might be able to find a nice graphic to accompany it (a still from the film?) And you could certainly revise or adapt it for my site, as you please. Cheryl and Norma have recently contributed to The Bent Angle, as you will see. It’s a new site and I haven’t built up much readership yet. You can message me there if you prefer. (Just leave a comment.)

Unknown said...

So much to respond to, and so little time... Here are a few random thoughts.

Dan, I am looking first at your comment about hell as a gift. (“God gives us a gift through hell.”) I think it would work for me if you were only not talking about God and hell but about an ordinary father and son relationship. In this relationship, the father punishes the son because he loves him and because he wants him to know that his “words, actions, [his] very self, will always matter.” I can hear the voice of the loving father in your script for him:

You are not inconsequential; you are important. If the possibility of judgment didn’t exist, it would mean I pay you no mind. It would mean that I do not care what you do, how you act, how you treat each other.

That sounds to me like good parenting.

But sending one’s children into eternal hellfire does not seem like very good parenting. I hope you read my meditation about eternity and suffering. I offered it in the hope that you might just pause to think what suffering for all eternity might be like. As I said, hell is not a card-board cut-out in a medieval mystery play, and now I'll just add, it's not turning over the car keys to Dad. If the words “eternal” and “hellfire” mean what I’ve grown up thinking they mean, then there’s infinite pain there. It is inconceivable to me that anyone, even the worst monster, could deserve anything so horrible.

I do not believe we should teach children that there is a hell. Not only is it an unnecessary concept, but it may actually harm them psychologically. The world is full of good people who have grown up without such an idea in their heads, and I know many of them myself. We do not need to be threatened with hellfire in order to do what is good.

And think of the damage that it does. I don’t know where the words to Verdi’s Requiem came from (see my quote, above), but they are full of the most intense anxiety, and one can easily hear that anxiety, or terror, in the music itself, especially toward the end. I left the concert hall feeling thankful that I did not share Verdi’s world view.

Belief in hell is the perfect setup for a life of anxiety, because the rule book (for staying out of hell) is so “unreliable,” to use a word that’s been bouncing around a lot here. I liked Dean’s assessment, where he wrote, ...I don’t regard the Bible as anything approaching an owner’s manual for living. It’s just too self-sabotaging...” Exactly. So how is a believer to feel secure in the knowledge that he or she is satisfying God’s requirements? If God can change his nature between Chapters 3 and 17 in the Book of Jeremiah, how is Joe Christian gonna sleep at night? And then he hears people theologizing and speculating about God’s nature, he thinks it’s all up in the air. Anxiety. Where’s the peace that passeth all understanding? We have enough things to worry about already, who needs to lie awake worrying about hellfire?

I think hell is a fascinating subject, one that many modern-day Christians seem uncomfortable talking about. But it is, in my view, a disturbing background that needs foregrounding, bringing out in the open. I have a lot more thoughts about it but will stop there for now.

Dan Florio said...


It's funny because every time I've performed Verdi's Requiem I've left the concert hall grateful for any world-view that could produce such a work of wonder and beauty.

Hell is a toxic concept, I agree. I hate it, as I said before. And I don't sit around worrying about it. But before we even get to that subject, life is difficult to begin with. You can protect children from the notion of judgment, but you can't protect them from everything. The fact that we all must face death is, to me, kind of a raw deal, but it's the deal whether we like it or not. That's a toxic thing for kids to grow up with. But it's real. When they learn about it and really absorb it depends on culture, circumstances, parents, etc, but ultimately at some point we all have to embrace the reality of our limited, finite, and mortal natures. Undoubtedly the thought of death has caused psychological damage in many people, even to the point of insanity. But there it is. There's no way around it. We would all like reality to be other than it is, with death, aging, disease, abandonment, tragedies, being commonplace, but there is no way around reality. So if we tell children there is no judgment, perhaps they will indeed lead happier, less psychologically toxic lives. But they would also lead happier, less toxic lives if we tell them they will never die, never get old, never face horrible heartache or tragedy, never lose someone they love, never feel that all they've worked for is meaningless, never have their dreams crushed. But will they be better off, really?

I like to believe all will come through the trial and join in the great Oneness of love forever. I really do. But the idea that we should cancel the whole concept of a karmic finale, wherein all things hidden are made known, simply because the idea hurts people's feelings, doesn't hold up for me. Understand, again, I hate the idea of any kind of hell. But I also hate a lot of the earthly "mini-hells" that are undeniable and real, and the sooner I grow up and accept life as it is the sooner I can find something like psychological and spiritual health and joy, WITHIN the framework of life's horror, instead of just avoiding it and pretending it isn't real.

All that said, my only real answer to this, childish and unsatisfying as it may be, is that I know that I am loved.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your patience, Dan. I know this is a difficult subject.

Verdi’s Requiem is indeed a sublime work of art, and I always find it very moving—now more than ever because I have finally paid attention to the text. But I am also in awe of the late medieval Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. I can only enter fleetingly into his world through his paintings, but I would not like to get lost there. With reference to Verdi, you said you felt “grateful for any world-view that could produce such a work of wonder and beauty.” I can only say that I am grateful we have such artful expressions of these world-views.

I’ll share with you a personal moment of vulnerability. Yesterday, I read a very powerful article about torture as practiced in U.S. detention facilities since 2001. Here is testimony from an FBI officer who visited Guantanamo Bay:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more... On another occasion,...the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. Not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

When I read this, I just wept.

And it is not even the worst of the torture scenarios that the author described.

Why am I bringing up torture in a discussion about hell? I hope the connection is obvious. The scene in the prison at Guantanamo Bay must be infinitely mild by comparison to hell because hell, by most accounts, is eternal. Eternity is time without end, like all the grains of sand in the universe.

The words of Jesus would have us believe that there are far more souls in hell than in heaven. What I cannot understand is that those souls in heaven do not spend every waking minute weeping. Surely, the Christian life is not just about finding peace and joy for oneself!

We teach our children not to hurt others, but we teach them to worship a god who does hurt others in the most monstrous way imaginable. And then we exhort them to “be like Jesus,” who is God incarnated. It’s no wonder that Christians spend so much time agonizing over the nature of God. The complexities and contradictions could tear any sane person apart.

Teaching children about hell is not comparable to teaching them about death. We know for certain that death is a part of the human condition, and we must help children deal with that. But hell is not a reality. It’s only part of the mythological thinking that sustains the sacred. Remember Girard: The sacred rests on three pillars: myth, ritual, and prohibitions/obligations. Hell is for the guilty, heaven is for the innocent, and heaven is a place of perfect harmony only because the guilty have been expelled to hell. Again, this is a model for the community. Social order—the perfect society—comes only when it is purged of undesirable elements.

If you’re stuck on the idea that hell really does exist, ask yourself why you know this. Is it just faith, is it personal revelation, could it be something that you were once taught but never questioned, or could you be getting your information about it from an unreliable source?

It strikes me that very few people who say they believe in eternal damnation have really thought much about what it means or tried any kind of visualization of the kind I proposed. We don’t like to look at it, just as we don’t like to look at torture. But it’s one of the fundamental issues of faith and should not be backgrounded. Hell is perhaps the ultimate expression of victimary thinking, and it is a remnant of the old sacred, whose workings Girard would have us to believe were revealed in the Passion.

Unknown said...

To use your example, if we told our children they would never die, experience and observation would soon tell them that we were lying. Then their unhappiness would be transfered from the reality of death to the deceit of their well intentioned parents and they'd be doubly unhappy. We would be protecting them from the future while despoiling the present. The actor Klaus Kinski said, "I once asked a Gypsy girlfriend whether she ever went to the theater or the movies, and she replied: 'When I was fourteen, two men fought with knives over me. One stabbed the other to death. I touched the dead man; he was really dead. The other was really alive.' That's the difference between make-believe life and real life. Mine is real."

There is a saying in Hebrew: 'אין שמחה כשמחה לאיד' "There is no joy like schadenfreude". Taking pleasure in other people's discomfort and misery is why we invented hell. And it's a rather late invention, too. There is no metaphysical tinge to the concept of hell as Jesus used it. None whatsoever. Thomas Aquinas, the model of scholastic scholarship for men studying for the priesthood, said, "...that the saints may enjoy their beatitude and the grace of God more abundantly if they are permitted to see the punishment of the damned in hell." This is the same theologian who proclaimed that reason is in harmony with faith?! Now if only he could abolish his mental slavery to such "reason", perhaps his known repugnance for human slavery would have have been more meaningful and less ironic. But probably the most influential figure for implanting the concept of hell in the Western tradition is Dante, munching on back brains, swimming in rivers of frozen blood, hopeless suffering, etc., etc. The combination of poetic skill, and the use of real historical characters didn't help. Here's a little
quiz that will quickly tell you which level of Dante's inferno any of us can expect in the afterlife. Please lock the door behind you on the way in.

Too often religious faith is forced to bend or crumble under the hardship of existential reality. Observation gives way to designation; and what is believed is shaped by the multiple and conflicting impressions received by anyone whose agonies have compelled them to seek solace in the midst of events that have few beneficial effects and fewer known causes. What is it that God actually does? “God cured my cancer”. God is therefore merciful and loving. “God let 6 million of his chosen people die in a holocaust”. God is therefore mysterious and unreachable. Those who bear the claims and promises of faith also bear witness to the hard fact that they are not usually witnesses of the truths they proclaim; merely announcers of the nomenclature in which their chosen truths uncomfortably reside. One person is healed of their illness. Another suffers unrelenting agony unto death. One sleeps in velvet bedding attended by tireless servants; another rummages through gutters looking for crumbs cast off by strangers. The loose ends, broken spirits, frayed nerves and gaping wounds aren’t always amenable to quick fixes and easy answers. The overriding question is, has God shown himself. “in sundry and diverse ways and times”, or is this merely another example in the endless catechism of deflected presence, a presence that can never be pinned down to specifics; whose charity and apathy at times seem indistinguishable from one another until God is shaped to fit the cruel experiences from which he seems absent, and therefore defined by terms that ultimately render him as nothing more then an idol constructed out of meaningless hardship and unassignable suffering? If, as Churchill said, you are going through hell, keep going. In the meantime, God promises to be there with us. Even if we make our bed there.

Dan Florio said...

This will be my final response, on this particular thread at least. You can all have the last word. Dean says, "The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely preferable to the presence of those who think they've found it." Exactly--this blog is full of people who think they've found the truth. You can include me if you like. But in any case I'm not seeing a whole lot of intellectual humility from anyone on here.
Norma writes to me, "If you’re stuck on the idea that hell really does exist, ask yourself why you know this. Is it just faith, is it personal revelation, could it be something that you were once taught but never questioned, or could you be getting your information about it from an unreliable source?"
It's a pretty condescending paragraph, considering she knows nothing about me. I'm hardly the poster-boy apologist for hell. I grew up in a nominally Episcopalian home. Hell was never discussed. I never felt afraid in that way. In my 20's I found Christ, had a conversion, got religion, whatever you want to call it. It was largely an experience of my own sinfulness, the first rays of light breaking through my ego-structure, and I still think it was an important experience. But I admit that fear was mixed in: What was God going to do to me? Forgive me, yes, but…what if it all goes horribly wrong?
I admit, still, this essential terror that seems baked into the religious cake, no matter how you slice it, the eternal threat hanging over our heads, has been the most difficult part of my spiritual journey to live with and ultimately overcome. I hate the idea that life is a test or trial we must pass. I echo everyone’s disgust at how this sort of thinking can affect children and adults.
Later, I found the Catholic faith, which many of my relatives already shared. And again, it was a beautiful, important experience when I entered the church. I was in love. It was intellectually, culturally, sacramentally and psychologically more satisfying than the Protestant fundamentalism I was toying with or the anemic mainline Protestantism I grew up with ever could be. But yes--there was fear mixed in. What if I didn’t get to confession in time? What if was in mortal sin but didn’t really know it? (I know—mortal sin requires consciousness to be mortal—but still, worry knows no logic.)
Then, after discovering Gil's book, reading Girard, reading and meeting Richard Rohr, and reading Henri Nouwen, among many, many other influences, some I can recognize and some I’m sure I don’t even know about, I had what I still think of as my Break-through: I came not only to know intellectually that God loved me; I came to know his love for me in a deeper, more profound way. I felt accepted at all moments. It was beautiful. The ego games of life held little interest for me. The “recordings” I had played in my head, year after year, were tossed out the window. I had new thoughts. I had new joy. I knew I belonged, was loved, I knew the universe was better off with me in it—not from ego, though ego remained, of course—but because the source of all life and love had willed my existence. I wish for everyone an experience like this, an experience of belonging. Hell for me no longer existed, or at least, it was a place not worth worrying about. God desired to love me in a way that precluded all fear.
But, back in Church, in prayer groups, in homilies…I wasn’t hearing about this experience. I continued to hear about fear. I continued to hear about a plodding, scrupulous way of spirituality. I looked around me (judgmentally, to be sure) and saw lethargic, blind people, either not really believing in anything in particular, or believing in order to have eternal fire-insurance. (part 2 to come)

Dan Florio said...

So, I left the Church for 6 years. I decided I would no longer make any spiritual moves that involved fear. Whenever a voice creeped in that threatened hell, or told me to pray, what about the Rosary, etc, I shouted that voice down in no uncertain terms. And those 6 years were very valuable, a time of trusting in God’s love for me without worrying about rules, consequences, punishment. It was beautiful.
My continued reading of Girard lead me to a place perhaps similar to Norma, Dean, and Doughlas (though different I'm sure) in which the Catholic faith and religion in general became useless to me, superfluous, unnecessary, as I wanted to destroy and throw out all the stupid, archaic ideas I had learned about God. Christ became more of a "spiritual activist" than savior. Even Hitler was in heaven. How could he not be? God was a marshmallow; he only ever wanted to hug us forever, irrespective of our behavior.
But a couple of things happened. I found that without the practice of my faith, without confession, without considering that life requires moral structure—I begin to dissipate in some ways. My newfound “freedom,” beautiful as it was, came with a cost. It had become more of a freedom from something, instead of a freedom for something. I know many non-religious people lead virtuous lives, and many religious people do not. But in my case I was so obsessed with my newfound trust in God, irrespective of my behavior, that my behavior suffered! I knew that trusting God so much that I didn’t need to strive to be a better person or worship or pray was beautiful in a sense, but it had its limits. And so I began to feel a need again, a hunger for the Eucharist and for a liturgical life. But this time—it was not based on fear of eternal consequences. It was based on desire and hunger to worship in spirit and truth, and based on my own need for peace, for a community.
Then, my mother died. I watched her all the way to the end, and sad as it was, it was one of the most profound things I have ever witnessed. All the BS was stripped away—it was very simply, a person getting ready to meet her maker. This was life at its most fundamental level: a person slipping away, with money, fame, power, and everything else about earthly life meaningless at that moment. And I have no doubt that my mom is at peace, biblical “statistics” and Cardinal Dulles be damned. (pun intended)
And I went back to Mass. It’s still a struggle sometimes: hell, fear, church politics, hypocritical Catholics, our chequered history. The questions will never end—whether it’s about gay people, or hell, or Catholic history. If you demand 100% intellectual and moral satisfaction you will never have faith. But it’s there, in prayer, in Church, in the Eucharist, that I’m fed. It’s there that I prepare for my final moments, whenever they come. Not from terror of judgment, but from need, from necessity, from hunger. I hunger for something.
So, again, far be it for me to be hell’s apologist. On many levels I don’t believe in it. The idea of God torturing people is insane. And eternity is not endless time—it’s no “time” at all. The idea of picturing thousands of years of torture is useless. But what may not be insane, though I don’t know for sure, is the idea that God does not rape us with love. We can resist it. And we can keep resisting it. Who would do that, and keep doing it endlessly? Nobody, I‘d like to think. But we don’t really know, do we? But how dare any of us say we can understand the mysterious interplay between divine grace and human will? Do any of you really know, and understand the eternal ramifications? If I write about hell on this blog, you can be sure I’ve come through my own fire to even be able to mention the subject. I try to defer to the Church, but at least I’m willing to say: Gosh—I don’t really know for sure. Anybody else?

Unknown said...

Thank you for your very thoughtful response, Dan, and I hope you won’t leave the conversation. I know I do push people on this subject sometimes, but I see it as a kind of “calling” to challenge conventional notions of hell because I have experienced some personal hurt around the matter and empathize with others who have been similarly hurt. My own mother has often told me, in veiled terms, that I can expect to suffer the torments of hell because I left her faith. This is always like a knife in the heart, even though I know there is love and concern mixed in with the reproach. She is indirect about it and will drop the subject if pressed, but she and I both know what the theology is and how fervently she believes it. During a trip to Canada with her many years ago, she tried to convert a rather seedy-looking prostitute who approached us in the street. My mother basically tried to scare her with stories of hell-fire. All this makes me sad and, I must admit, angry. Why must the price of eternal life be someone else’s eternal suffering? Your earlier comment that “God gives us a gift through hell” did come across to me as an apology for a very toxic concept, and in my attempt to dampen down my reaction, I came across as condescending. Condescension wasn’t half of what I felt, however.

I always hoped to convince my mother that hell wasn’t a reality so that she wouldn’t worry about me. But I never succeeded, and my apostasy has been a major—and so unnecessary!—disappointment in her life. She is now very old and, statistically speaking, she cannot live much longer. I know how important her faith is to her, and when her times comes, I realize she will need comfort from someone who can give her reassurance about the afterlife, if only to agree with her that she is going to heaven. I will not be able to fulfill that role for her, but fortunately there are others who can.

It has become unfashionable to engage in all this “hell talk,” as you put it. But I see a grave danger in allowing hell to become a part of the repressed content of faith. If our understanding of God is to continue evolving (and I am still defining God as Emil Durkheim does), then it seems to me we’ve got to talk about these vestiges of the Old Sacred that wormed their way into Christianity to become even more toxic than before. I hope this conversation will continue.

Dean, I took the quiz you recommended. It shows that I would be in the second circle of Dante’s Inferno. I also appreciated your paradoxes about God and have added them to my collection. You will enjoy the Web site, “Why won’t God heal amputees?” at

Mike O'Malley said...

Normaburns wrote: My own mother has often told me, in veiled terms, that I can expect to suffer the torments of hell because I left her faith. This is always like a knife in the heart, even though I know there is love and concern mixed in with the reproach. She is indirect about it and…

You remind me of one of my Jewish relatives who tells of his Orthodox great grandmother that he always felt a strong twinge of “Jewish guilt” upon visiting this elderly matriarch. ;-)

Normaburns wrote: During a trip to Canada with her many years ago, she tried to convert a rather seedy-looking prostitute who approached us in the street. My mother basically tried to scare her with stories of hell-fire. All this makes me sad and, I must admit, angry.

Forgive me, Normaburns. This is sad. It sounds like religious malpractice. It is hard to imagine a positive outcome resulting from such a reproach. I’d guess that you are troubled by an evidence lack of Christian empathy.

Normaburns wrote: I always hoped to convince my mother that hell wasn’t a reality so that she wouldn’t worry about me. But I never succeeded, and my apostasy has been a major—and so unnecessary!—disappointment in her life. She is now very old and, statistically speaking, she cannot live much longer. I know how important her faith is to her, and when her times comes, I realize she will need comfort from someone who can give her reassurance about the afterlife, if only to agree with her that she is going to heaven. I will not be able to fulfill that role for her, but fortunately there are others who can

Wisdom, discretion, empathy and charity would seem appropriate if she is that elderly. I recall an African American acquaintance born in the 1960s in wealthy integrated Prince Georges County, Maryland. Her elderly working class African American father was a harsh dominating parent. She resented her father but she grew up in the security and easy of an affluent liberal community while her elderly father group up in a Black neighborhood in Jim Crowe Washington DC. Back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s a son of a prominent White family such as Pat Buchanan could throw a punch at a White DC cop and have all charges dropped the following morning. However, a son of a black DC family might well be “pushing up daisies” if he didn’t “know his place” with white DC cops back then. It seems that this particular elderly Black father was teaching his daughter survival skills for a bygone age.

Mike O'Malley said...

Doughlas Remy said ... You do not accept the IPCC's verdict on climate change

Ahhh, there is something we just don't see often enough! The noun verdict in associated with the uber-corrupt UN and its appendages.


Doughlas Remy said ... For climate change, your sole "reliable source" is the Wegman Report, which has the fingerprints of the oil and gas industries all over it.

Fortunately, I DO indeed have "reliable sources" unlike the IPCC. Unfortunately, you apparent haven't read you haven't read my prior post with enough care to understand that I rely upon multiple sources. ;-)


Doughlas Remy said ... For climate change, your sole "reliable source" is the Wegman Report, which has the fingerprints of the oil and gas industries all over it.

This seems to be one of those instance where I find that you are no longer trying to persuade me. Instead you seem to be trying to keep "the AGW faithful" on board with a worn out ad hominem attack.

Let's check Wikipedia ;-) if you will ;-) . Wikipedia says in part:
"Edward Wegman is a statistics professor at George Mason University and past chair of the National Research Council's Committee on Applied and Theoretical Statistics. He holds a Ph.D. in mathematical statistics and is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association and a Senior Member of the IEEE. (The National Research Council (NRC) of the USA is the working arm of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the United States National Academy of Engineering, carrying out most of the studies done in their names.) (The American Statistical Association (ASA), is the main professional US organization for statisticians and related professions. It was founded in Boston, Massachusetts on November 27, 1839, and is the second oldest, continuously operating professional society in the United States. The ASA services statisticians, quantitative scientists, and users of statistics across many academic areas and applications.)

Edward Wegman, a Saint Louis, Missouri native, received a B.S. in mathematics from Saint Louis University in 1965, he then went to graduate school at the University of Iowa where he earned an M.S. in 1967 and a Ph.D. in 1968, both in mathematical statistics. He held a faculty position at the University of North Carolina for ten years. Dr. Wegman is credited with coining the phrase "computational statistics" and developing a high-profile research program around the concept that computing resources could transform statistical techniques. He joined the faculty of George Mason University in 1986 and developed a master's degree program in statistical science. He also has been the associate editor of seven academic journals, a member of numerous editorial boards, and the author of more than 160 papers and five books ...

Dr. Wegman assembled an ad hoc panel of himself, David W. Scott of Rice University and Yasmin Said at Johns Hopkins University to prepare the report on a pro bono basis. At the hearing to present it, Wegman said "We were asked to provide independent verification by statisticians of the critiques of the statistical methodology found in the papers of Drs. Michael Mann, Raymond Bradley, and Malcolm Hughes published respectively in Nature in 1998 and in Geophysical Research Letters in 1999." and "We were also asked about the implications of our assessment. We were not asked to assess the reality of global warming and indeed this is not an area of our expertise. We do not assume any position with respect to global warming except to note in our report that the instrumented record of global average temperature has risen since 1850 according to the MBH99 chart by about 1.2 degrees Celsius, and in the NAS panel report chaired by Dr. North, about six-tenths of a degree Celsius in several places in that report.""

Help me here Mr. Remy. I just can't find those oily and gaseous fingerprints ...

Mike O'Malley said...

Doughlas Remy said...Mr. O'Malley, let's face it. No source is "reliable" unless it supports your presuppositions, even if it cites sources that you consider reliable. Does that seem like convoluted logic? It is. We have fallen down the rabbit-hole... You do not accept the IPCC's verdict on climate change... For climate change, your sole "reliable source" is the Wegman Report, which has the fingerprints of the oil and gas industries all over it. You are a committed apologist for the Catholic Church.


Hmmm, well it took Canadian statistician Dr. Stephen McIntyre about a decade to find purposefully hidden data but once again the question of scientific fraud surfaces behind the "IPCC's verdict" on anthropogenic global warming. Is the IPCC mounting a beggar the developed world scam that makes Bernie Madoff look like an ameteur? Yes we have more indicia of fraud [and more evidence of my prudent good judgment ;-) ] among the IPCC climate modellers.

I'll quote from UN Climate Reports: They Lie by Marc Sheppard at American Thinker (Oct. 5, 2009)
For years, claims that UN climate reports represent the consensus of the majority of international scientists have been mindlessly accepted and regurgitated by left-leaning policy makers and the media at large. But in the past week or so, it's become more apparent than ever that those who've accused the international organization of politicizing science and manipulating data have been right all along.

This latest disclosure again concerns what has become the favorite propaganda propagation tool of climate activists -- the infamous "Hockey Stick Graph." The familiar reconstruction, which deceitfully depicts last millennium's global temperatures as flat prior to a dramatic upturn last century, has been displayed and touted ad nauseum as irrefutable proof of unprecedented and, therefore, anthropogenic, global warming (AGW).

Despite its previous debunking, the embattled AGW poster-child continues to languish in UN climate reports, which are unduly revered and quoted as gospel by all manner of proselytizers. In fact, just last week it had the bad timing to show up in a desperate UN compendium, released just days before Climate Audit published facts that promise to be the Hockey Stick's (HS) long overdue epitaph. And those facts not only assuage any doubt of the chart's fraudulence, but also of the deliberate and devious complicity of its creators, defenders and leading UN sponsors.

Sheppard continues:
the original and by far most ubiquitous version of the HS graph, was derived from a 1998 paper by Michael E. Mann, Raymond S. Bradley and Malcolm K. Hughes (MBH98). It was promptly met with challenges to both its proxy data and statistical analysis methodology. Of these, various papers by two Canadians -- statistician Stephen McIntyre and economist Ross McKitrick -- stood out in dispelling the AGW-supporting hockey-stick shape arrived at by MBH, claiming it the result of severe data defects and flawed calculations, particularly an invalid principal component analysis...


Mike O'Malley said...

PART II - Continued from above:

One of McIntyre's chief complaints when auditing MHB98 was Mann's refusal to provide his data, methods and source code. The Hockey Team's most dreaded opposing goaltender has been reporting the same deceptiveness from Briffa, who for years refused to release his Yamal measurement data. This, despite the fact that HS-defending papers relying solely on Yamal continued to be published in major science journals.

But last year, Briffa used the data in a paper he published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Journal. As the journal adheres to its strict data archiving rules, McIntyre convinced one of its editors to help get Briffa's data released. And late last month, the data was indeed published at CRU.

Last week, McIntyre analyzed the CRU archive Yamal data and proved that Briffa et al. had cherry-picked and manipulated data, intentionally omitting records not friendly to their position. In fact, when Briffa's hand-selected figures were replaced by a broader dataset for the same Polar Ural region (much of which he had deliberately dropped), the Hockey-Stick suddenly disappeared, revealing no significant trend in the 20th century whatsoever!

Marc Sheppard concludes

And without the Hockey Stick's counterfeit portrait of runaway 20th century warming, climate crisis peddlers' credibility levels are reduced to those of used car salesmen. Not where you want to be when hoping to sell the instinctively absurd premise that the actions of mankind can influence temperatures in either direction.

So they cheat. And they lie. And they have from the very beginning.

In 1989, climate scientist Stephen Schneider told Discover magazine:

"To capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest."

Twelve years later, Schneider was a lead author of the IPCC's TAR, the same UN report that formally introduced the delusory Hockey Stick Graph.

In his masterpiece work, Heaven and Earth, Ian Plimer assessed the cadre whose own assessments form the foundation of virtually every climate-related scheme, law, tax, regulation and treaty throughout the globe thusly:

"The IPCC is clearly an ascientific political organization in which environmental activists and government representatives are setting the agenda for a variety of reasons including boosting trade, encouraging protectionism, adding costs to competitors and pushing their own sovereign barrow."

Add lying perpetrators of fraud, and I'd say that about sums it up.

Speaking on the Senate floor in July of 2003, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla) rightly called the threat of catastrophic global warming the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.".
read it all here:

UN Climate Reports: They Lie by Mark Sheppard at American Thinker (Oct. 5, 2009)

It would seem that the verdict on UN + IPCC +AGW = FRAUD


Gil, the devastating economic impact of the Kyoto Treaty is not unknown. If implemented in full the Kyoto Treaty will cripple developed economies worldwide casting a billion and more people back into abject poverty. The scope of this evil deception and power grab is indeed breathtaking!