Life on the Exoplanets
Smart Ancient Syndrome (SAS) and the Evolutionist Parade

Atheist Buses and Hellfire Buses

 

It was clumsy from people who aren't known for clumsiness. It didn't ring true to form, yet I couldn't put my finger on it. Early this year, the atheists slapped this inspirational message on British buses and sent them all over England:

"There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

Richard Dawkins, the grand old man of atheism, appeared himself on launch day. Did he bless the buses as they left the terminal?
 
Now be honest. Is not your first reaction that those atheists should 'man up?' What is this milquetoast 'probably?' Either there is or there isn't. If it's just academic musing - well, then I guess 'probably' is acceptable - but no! we're authorized to take drastic action based on this 'probably.' We're to 'stop worrying' and 'enjoy life,' something none of us would dare do if there's the mere possibility of God lurking about somewhere! And what about this statement from Dawkins himself: "...if we say 'there's definitely no God' - you can't say that...." You can't? He does exactly that in his bestselling book The God Delusion. Why this pussyfooting around?
 
These folks are not milquetoast and they're not equivocal. Some of them you'll think are pit bulls should you run across them on the internet. It doesn't faze them at all to declare God a centuries-old, world-wide fraud- unfit for modern consumption. So why, all of a sudden, do they go weak in the knees? 'Probably?' And why does Dawkins put a positive spin on a mealy-mouthed message he can't stand?
 
Awake! magazine (Nov 2009) solved the puzzle. Citing The Guardian newspaper, it states "the word 'probably' is used in order to meet the rules of Britain's Advertising Standards Authority, since it is impossible to prove that God does not exist."

Ah....now it makes sense. That 'probably' is legalese! It's a disclaimer! It's like those interminable American pharmaceutical ads in which happy, vibrant, fulfilled people frolic on screen....so positively ALIVE now that they don't have to pee as much thanks to consuming this or that drug, and all the while the background announcer drones on and on with his long disclaimer of truly horrible side effects users may encounter, so that we begin to say "who in their right mind would take this stuff for ailments of mere inconvenience?" Ha, but those atheists want their message out so badly that they put up with a word that scuttles all it's impact. And we won't (for now) go into the 'impossibility of proving God's non-existence,' nor the ridiculous assertion that shedding faith is the pathway to worry-free happy life.
 
And yet listen to the words of Ariane Sherine, who dreamed up the project, and you can begin to empathize with her, and even with the grand old man Richard Dawkins:
 
"This campaign started as a counter response to advertising running on London buses in June 2008 which had Bible quotes on them, for instance Jesus died for our sins, and then an URL to a website and when you visited the website it said, among other things, that all non-Christians would burn in hell for all eternity in a lake of fire, and I thought that that was really quite strong...."
 
Yes....it really is....I see her point. Is it even more offensive than 'there (probably) is no God?' You can certainly argue the point. One side says God doesn't exist, and the other says - yes, he does, and he loves nothing more than to see those 'not with the program.' tortured forever. I like the way Isaac Asimov put it: hell is "the drooling dream of a sadist" crudely affixed to an all-merciful God; if even human governments were willing to curtail cruel and unusual punishments, he wondered, why would punishment in the afterlife not be restricted to a limited term. [Wikipedia entry on Isaac Asimov] Or, take this quote attributed to Sidney Hatch (the athlete?): “A civilized society looks with horror upon the abuse and torture of children or adults. Even where capital punishment is practiced, the aim is to implement it as mercifully as possible. Are we to believe then that a holy God—our heavenly Father—is less just than the courts of men? Of course not.”
 


 What is truly exasperating is that the Bible emerges as the source of the hellfire teaching. Those fire and wrath people have long hijacked the book and present it as their own, so that the casual observer assumes it really does teach hell. It doesn't.
 
With a single exception, all instances of “hell” stem from only one of three original language words. Find the meaning of those words, and you’ve found the meaning of hell. Two of those words are Hebrew-Greek equivalents: sheol and hades. They refer to "the place of the dead." Bad people are said to go there, but so are good people. When the patriarch Jacob was told his son Joseph had died, for example, he "kept refusing to take comfort and [was] saying: “For I shall go down mourning to my son into Sheol!” Did he really expect to burn in hell someday, or did he figure on dying and going to the grave? (Gen 37:35) Or Job, who, amidst great suffering, prayed  "O that in Sheol you would conceal me, that you would keep me secret until your anger turns back" (Job 14:13) A sensible request if sheol is the grave. Not so bright, though, if it is a burning place of torture.

How I miss the good ol Catholic Douay Bible, which consistently translated 'sheol' as 'hell!' But most translations, like the King James, only sometimes translate it as 'hell' and other times, when 'hell' is clearly ridiculous, translate it 'grave.' Why not translate it 'grave' each time, if that's what it means?
 
Or what about this verse speaking "of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption. This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses." (Acts 2:31 KJV) Now, if there is one person whom you would not expect to have gone to hell, wouldn't it be Jesus? But he was in the grave [hades] for three days.
 
The third and last word translated 'hell' is gehenna. Every instance of hellfire is 'gehenna.' The term refers to the valley of Hinnom outside the walls of Jerusalem. It served as the municipal garbage dump and fires were kept burning continually to consume the refuse. Carcasses of criminals and those not thought worthy of decent burial might be tossed over the wall into gehenna below. It even became symbolic. Giving one a proper burial presupposed they were worthy of future resurrection. Heaving someone into gehenna presupposed their death would be permanent. Thus, when Jesus denounced religious hypocrites: "Serpents, offspring of vipers, how are you to flee from the judgment of Gehenna?" he was suggesting they merited no future resurrection, not that they deserved everlasting torture.
 
The New World Translation declines to translate the three words into English. Instead, it transliterates sheol, hades, and gehenna directly from the original language into the English. This is an invaluable aid for students in uncovering what these words actually mean. One suspects other Bibles don't do it precisely to keep hidden how shaky is their derivation of 'hell.'
 
The phrase 'lake of fire' occurs only once in the Bible, at Revelation chapter 20:
 
"And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Rev 20:10 KJV) One would think it painfully obvious that we're into heavy symbolism here. Literally speaking, the devil ought have a summer cottage on the lake of fire; it ought not bother him a bit! Later (vs 14) death and hades are tossed into the lake. Are they also entities that you can torture forever and ever? Or is the lake merely symbolic for permanent destruction, the "second death?"
 
It's a little like when you accompany someone (alas, we still have a few like this) to the door, and that one is so persistent and so argumentative that the householder finally slams the door shut, and you say "I don't blame him...what else could he have done?" So it is with these born-again hellfire buses running all over the place. You can only push atheists so far. Sooner or later they'll send out buses of their own. Listen, regarding Sherine and Dawkins, I'm not their friend, nor do I understand their evangelistic zeal for spreading atheism. The same fervor Ponce de Leon used to put into finding the fountain of life, these guys put into finding the fountain of death. No, I don't like the atheist bus campaign. But as a response to religionists threatening everyone with hellfire....well, suddenly I can empathize with them a little.

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash

Defending Jehovah’s Witnesses with style from attacks... in Russia, with the ebook ‘Dear Mr. Putin - Jehovah’s Witnesses Write Russia’ (free).... and in the West, with the ebook ‘TrueTom vs the Apostates!’ (free)

Comments

BTS

The Bible certainly does speak of a Hell.

"It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched."
And in Revelation 14:11, we read: "And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name."

We also have the writings of the early Christians, outlining the teachings they received from the Apostles, and these too bear witness to the final home of the souls that irrevocably choose evil over good.

tom sheepandgoats

The first verse you quote (Mark 9:47) is one of the verses (there are eleven altogether) in which the Greek term is gehenna. It's the symbolic use of the garbage dump, as discussed above. (what would worms be doing in a literal hell?)

The second, Rev 14:11 does indeed look hellish at first sight, but so does the above-discussed Rev 20 "lake of fire." Revelation is heavily symbolic, and fire is an ideal symbol of permanent destruction....when fire is done with something, there is nothing left and no possibility of reconstructing the original.

A prophesy with similar wording occurs at Isa 34:9-10. With regard to the hostile nation Edom, the verse forecasts "Edom's streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever." (NIV)

Edom was overthrown and became desolate; it didn't burn forever in hellfire, as these picturesque verses might, at first glance, suggest. Should there any doubt on that point, one needs only to consider the next verses:

From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again. The desert owl and screech owl will possess it; the great owl and the raven will nest there. God will stretch out over Edom the measuring line of chaos and the plumb line of desolation."

Thus, neither verse indicates a literal hellfire. Admittedly, though, if one already believes in hell, they seem at first glance to play right into that view.

BTS

"Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life"
Matt 25:41-46

Scripture clearly speaks of an eternal state for the unrighteous.This is also borne out by the writings of the earliest Christians. They spoke of a place of eternal suffering.

You seem to object to Hell more on the basis of an apparent contradiction with a God of love. If God is love, how can there be hell? This is a valid question.

In following the Apostolic teachings of the earliest followers of Jesus, Christians believe that it is impossible for God not to love us. We are his earthly children. Love is his very essence (God is love) and he made us expressly so that he could love us. God loves us so much that he sent his only-begotten son to save us and demonstrate the length he would go to to show us he loves us.

Out of love for us, he made us in such a way that our deepest longings, our most profound needs, are only satisfied in Him. He made us to find our fulfillment in the best he had, which is Himself. God made us to be his lovers; thus we will never be satisfied until we are in perfect relationship with him. When that happens, we will also be in the correct relationship with all other creatures who are in relationship with him, a great loving family of giving and shared experiences. That is why God made us, so that he could love us and share his life with us. Our forefathers decided that they loved something else more than they loved God, and chose separation over union. Humans are in a state of partial separation from God since that time. This is how suffering entered the world, and why the human family suffers today.

God created us with the freedom to choose Him freely. God forces no one. We have the free will to choose God. But free will also has a flip side. Since we have the God-given capacity for choice, we must also give us the right to reject Him. If that were not true, we would not truly have free will. If we choose to go down that path away from our Creator, God will use every means at his disposal, short of violating our free will, to call us back to Him. He offers free forgiveness and He demonstrates his love for us over and over again, in hope that we might come to realize that only in full, complete relationship with him will we ever realize our potential as His children, made in His own image. But ultimately, we have the right to reject him, even to hate him, to substitute love we ought to have for Him and give it to other, lesser things. This is what Adam and Eve did.

"Hell" goes one step further, however. It is an eternal state of total separation from God. Humans were made for union in God. However, up to the moment of death, we can freely choose where we spend eternity. We can choose union with God, or we can choose separation. A state of complete separation is described is the greatest suffering. A metaphorical fire.

In the words of C.S. Lewis on this subject, it boils down to this: "In the end, we either say to God: 'Thy will be done' or God will say to us 'Thy will be done.'" God knows (because he made us) that once we get to that point, despite all his efforts to demonstrate his love for us, that our hatred will grow until we hate Him with all our heart (just as Satan does). Those who ultimately will end up hating God will seek to be away from his presence, even if they would be welcome there.

God will abandon such creatures to their own devices, and thus, they will be in what Jesus called "outer darkness". Just "where" that will be is not the point at all. Even if God were to allow such people full access to his presence, they would hate to be there. Like a Rock & Roll fan at an opera, or an opera fan at a Heavy Metal concert, the same "place", God’s presence, would be heaven for one and hell for the other. Imagery like fire is used in Scripture to represent the pain of separation from God (which is the Catholic and Orthodox definition of hell, by the way).

One more point about eternity. Eternity does not mean an endless succession of days; millions, billions or trillions of them. Eternity means being outside of time, timeless (that is the literal meaning of the word). All of our linear, sequential time is included in timelessness. One way to envision that is to think about the relationship of our linear time to the "time" in storybooks on a shelf. We can open a book and enter a particular "time", the succession of events found in that story. Then we can close the book and be completely outside of that "time", then later reopen it and be right back in it. That is how some orthodox thinkers have compared the linear time we live in to the eternity in which God dwells.

Those who reject God will end up living in timelessness also, but without the one thing they need to be happy: God. But it will be their own choice about the matter. They will not just be sent somewhere because they inadvertently broke some little rule or other. It will be because they have made a fully informed choice, of their own free will, knowing full well the consequences of their choice, to live without God, and, when offered the chance to change their mind and repent, will refuse. Those who do that will be, completely as a result of their own choice, in hell.

tom sheepandgoats

In the verse you quote, it is the fire that is described as eternal, not the suffering. Were you to fall into a fire, you would promptly be consumed, regardless of how long the fire had been burning. Fire, in the Bible, is a symbol of permanent destruction.

Your remarks speak of eternal suffering. The scripture speaks of eternal punishment, which is not the same. Death without end does not fit the description of eternal suffering. It does fit the description of eternal punishment.

It's true, I can't reconcile hell with a God of love. The comments in the post of Asimov and Hatch resonate with me. If the Bible unequivocably taught hell, I would attempt to get my head around it. But, as maintained in both post and comments, it does not.

Rather, the scriptures contrast life with it's opposite: death.

For the wages of sin is death [not eternal torment], but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 6:23 NIV

God offers us life. We can reject that gift, through misuse of our free will, as you pointed out in your comments. Should we reject it, he takes that gift away, leaving us permanent death.

Jason

"the devil ought have a summer cottage on the lake of fire;"

I love this metaphor. It's excellent. I enjoyed your post. It's well thought out and informative.

In relation to BTS - he talks about timelessness in one of his comments. I think people don't (or have never contemplated) the meaning of time and timelessness:

Time is the measurement of EVENTS. Its base unit is the Second as per the international standard, ISO 1000.

Time can measure events in numerous ways as BTS has touched on, but time doesn't measure finity or infinity. It measures EVENTS.

"Timelessness" is not a possibility in a situation where an event is taking place.

"Timelessness" is only possible where there is no event.

An example of timelessness is non-existence. A person is in a state of timelessness before they are conceived. Furthermore, they return to a state of timelessness when they die because no further event can take place when in such a state.

If one is living forever they are experiencing an event. If one is burning forever, they too are experiencing an event. Therefore, they are encompassed in time and can be measured.

So, if one is in a state of timelessness when trying to experience eternal life or eternal damnation, they would experience nothing at all because no event can take place.

Does BTS suppose that infinite events can't be measured? This question can be answered by the statement: Start counting and don't stop until you run out of numbers.

BTS' interpretation of eternity is clearly flawed. If BTS understanding of time and timelessness is distorted, is it possible his/her interpretation of hell is too?

tom sheepandgoats

Jason: Here in upstate New York, we have several Finger Lakes and many families with cottages thereon. Thus it's a familiar circumstance of life for me, from which sprung that illustration about the devil.

laceysquarepants

Probably, the atheists will not be hidden in the 'day of Jehovah's anger'. Or maybe they will, in the 800 or so buses.

Ragoth

A quick note about Dawkins and The God Delusion:

He actually makes the point there, and elsewhere, that if one were to create a scale of 1 to 7, from "I absolutely know there is a God" to "I absolutely know there is no God," he would rank himself a 6. That is, he doesn't believe in any god or God, and believes that the reasons most people do are primarily emotional. He remains open to the possibility of being convinced of the existence of a God or gods, but feels it rather unlikely at this point.

I take a rather similar tack - I am waiting for a good, incontrovertible, independently verifiable argument. The problem thus far is that arguments tend to be so vague (i.e. cosmological or ontological) that they don't actually specify anything, in addition to being poorly thought out; or they tend to rely on highly personal experience, which is rarely a good measure of reality (e.g. "experiencing God one-on-one is no evidence for me believing in any particular Christian version of God. People from all religions claim the same sorts of experience. People at rock concerts claim the same sorts of experience, and, neurologically, as far as we can measure, there really is no appreciable difference); or, finally, they tend to be poorly constructed and/or filled with logical fallacies.

In my view, not believing in any particular deity is null hypothesis - the baseline position. I don't believe in every weird thing people tell me (that Superman is real, that Allah exists, that God exists, that Krishna exists, etc, etc) until they offer substantial evidence. If you want to claim Superman is real, you'd better be able to show me a guy who can deflect bullets with his skin, fly, leap over tall buildings, and is made incapacitated by kryptonite and only krpytonite (that's an easily verifiable experiment). If someone wants me to believe in any particular deity, well, I want actual evidence to show that that deity exists, and only that deity. That's my position, anyway, as it stands now.

Hope things are good in upstate New York. Chicago's gotten cold and dreary again, but at least I finally found a new job.

tom sheepandgoats

Hope all is well in upstate NY? HA! A cold snap came so suddenly, I hadn't even a chance to drain my blood and replace it with antifreeze! (but next week, scientist weathermen say, is to warm up a bit)

Thanks for that clarification on Dawkins, I didn't know it. Seven, though, is a number that Bible people use a lot, which tends to be associated with matters of heavenly perfection. As opposed to six, (one less) human imperfection. (and 3, often indicating emphasis - thus 666, a system of things permeated with human imperfection through and through) So Dawkins makes his scale 1 -7, not the usual 1 - 10. Methinks he is tweaking believers with that adaptation. (the kind of thing (in reverse) which I like to do.)

I really don't disagree with anything else you say, though I put a different interpretation on it. I settle for demonstrating that belief in God, as portrayed by JWs, (not churches, which adopt so many unscriptural and unreasonable teachings so as to make God unknowable) is not unreasonable. If science is not able to pronounce it so, I think that illustrates the limitations of science, and not anything about God.

rosie

Your posts puts me in mind of brother rutherford's dying admonition to the members of the Watchtower society to "stick together"... I forget which member replied "We'll stick together 'til hell freezes over; and then we'll skate on it!"

tom sheepandgoats

HA! It's a response I'd love to have made.

Tobias Fong

Sorry for not visiting for so long, but I just became a University Student recently and is swamped by projects. Coincidentally, I realized that I too have read The God's Delusion and Ragoth is right about Richard Dawkins not being an absolute atheist, and he did include the ranking system.

His writing about discrimination against atheists also led me to empathize with atheists more too, though I still strongly believe in God. (I'm around a 1 or a 2 at worst) Thing is, Christians abuse and discriminate against atheists and other religions so freely, but they hypocritically kick up a big fuss when counter-attacked. There's even this "Christian" guy who killed his atheist friend "just because he didn't believe in God". What's with that?

I guess what I'm trying to say is, everyone should believe what they believe is right. Christians should continue believing in God, atheists in atheism, Muslims in Islam and Jehovah's Witnesses in their own interpretation of their Bible. But they should not go around forcing people to believe in what they believe is right. There's this kid who wore a shirt proclaiming "Islam is a lie" and I think that's pain wrong. Conversely, I also think it's not right of atheists to label Christians "stupid" just because they believe in God, which they view as outdated. Everyone's entitled their own beliefs, and we really should not be forcing ours on others.

tom sheepandgoats

Tobias:

It does me good to hear from you over there in wherever you are...is it Singapore? Maybe. I always liked your site, but never could figure it out. Alas, am I too far removed generationally? And, as I recall, it freely blurs actuality with creativity, so one doesn't know what's what. "Goodbye, everyone" is somewhat alarming ...."no one reads this blog anyway"...alas, everyone wants to write, but nobody wants to read.....but there are more posts, so the goodbye was premature.

And the ex-girlfriend who got run over by a truck at 6AM? "Serves her right...I think." HA! But "Unfortunately, this all didn't really happen" And the drawing is awesome, though you seem dissatisfied with it.

Can a student is Singapore really know about Erma Bombeck?

Tobias Fong

I heard about her, I think...is she the American newspaper columnist who wrote about funny stuff about home life or something like that? As I recalled, she died way back in 1996, when I was 8, so I don't think I have ever read her works, which is a pity.

And about the goodbye post, that was written out of depression and frustration. It was not meant to be taken seriously; I wrote that to vent out my frustrations and anger. Sorry if I worried you.

Some people beat up other people to vent their anger, others throw tantrums, or stop eating or whatever, but I don't like doing all that. I refuse to vent my anger on my family, so I used writing as an outlet sometimes (which explains all my nihilistic and somewhat...violent posts) because sometimes depression and rage cannot be bottled up for too long. If you pour too much juice in a bottle, it will crack. And I refuse to yell or vent my anger on my family. Therefore I would write it all out.

That's why, I'm sorry about worrying you. About the girl thing, yeah, I was annoyed by her, but I didn't want to yell at her or hurt her feelings or anything (no matter how much she hurt mine) and so I wrote a violent but humourous story. It's called ironic humor, or a satire of my life.

I guess that was the wrong way of going about it. And the comics, because I was aiming to be a professional comic artist one day, so I cannot be satisfied with right now. I have to keep improving or my stuff will never get published. But thanks for saying they're awesome.

tom sheepandgoats

About Bombeck, you are exactly correct. You seem to know more about America than I know about Singapore. Write me about it someday, should you find some time.

And about writing, yes...I agree...it does serve as a good outlet for all sorts of pent-up frustrations.

Tobias Fong

Well, Singapore is exposed to a lot of American pop culture, and if I run into something I don't know, there's always Internet and Wikipedia (which is not 100% accurate, but it still manages to give a rough idea about a desired subject).

Singapore is a small island in Southeast Asia, but it's a developed country (if you've read our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore: From Third World to First) who is currently trying to attract foreign talent into its land. It's made up of mostly Chinese (which I am), Malays, Indians and Eurasians, but there is a growing number of Caucasians coming into our little island.

Apparently, we speak a weird form of English, coined by the locals as Singlish.

The nice thing about Singapore is its food. You should come here and try the local cuisine some day. There's a huge variety and they're delicious. Most of them are spicy food, with a lot of chilli, so if you don't like hot stuff, be forewarned!

I'm studying in a local university called the National University of Singapore (NUS). It's supposedly internationally renowned. Have you heard of it? Probably not, but then again the Public Relations and Student Relations Department need to attract students to study here, so that's their stand. I like it here, though. It's a fun place to be in, the Professors are extremely nice, and I love most of the subjects I'm studying.

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