Another year, another Hell House

Lynnea‘s still relatively new to Texas, with just over a year clocked here, and she told me she really wanted to visit a Hell House this Halloween. Long time readers may recall that I had a terrible experience with a Hell House a couple of years ago — seven of us stood in line for about 4-5 hours, for an attraction that was generally not worth it. I didn’t want to go back to THAT one.

There are no Hell Houses that I could find near Austin. There is one in Temple, TX, a place I’m unfortunately familiar with thanks to an extremely unpleasant six month software contract job (in a company where all workers are contractually obligated to adhere to “high Christian principles”). However, we’re now in South Austin, and Temple is more than an hour’s drive north of us.

Fate intervened though… Ben’s best friend had a birthday party at his grandma’s house near Temple, and we decided that the two events together were enough reason to make the trip.

We got there pretty early, soon enough to see the first group of people go in. The line this time was not five hours — it was two. We chatted up a pleasant fellow behind us, who had two kids in tow. He turned out to be an Iraq veteran who had a law degree and was going after a sociology Ph.D. He had a lot of funny things to say about being always surrounded by morons, by which I think he meant both in the army, and in Temple in general. I didn’t have the nerve to ask his religious position. I did make some wisecracks about the Hell House theme, and he laughed about it but said that supernatural stuff does scare him.

We wound up going through in a group with that guy and his kids, and about fifteen high school kids, mostly African-American and fairly loud and boisterous. I’m not going to completely rehash the experience inside, which was pretty similar to the one we went to in 2008. “Demons” — kids wearing black capes and various skull masks — pranced around various scripted scenes of “sin” and death, giggling gleefully and egging the participants on. Among the highlights:

  • A husband had an affair, and he and his mistress were shot in a bar by his betrayed wife. This struck me as an insanely stupid and random way for the wife to handle it, openly shooting two people in full view of half a dozen witnesses. Why not get a divorce and soak him for everything he’s got, instead of getting a “go directly to jail” card and leaving the kids with neither parent?
  • Our group got “kidnapped” by a black soldier with PTSD. One teenager with us, obviously a plant, was yelled at to shut up, then dragged behind a dumpster and shot. This was actually the most fun part of the experience, as we got herded into the back of a windowless van at gunpoint and driven wildly around a field, with lots of swerving. I likes me some showmanship. Despite the amateur acting, it seemed like some of the high school girls were actually fooled, as I heard many of them screaming and crying a lot. I should also mention that one of them had approached us with a worried look on her face before we went in, and asked if we had seen anyone come OUT of the Hell House. I thought that was hilarious.
  • In a scene nearly identical to my last trip, a girl met a guy on the internet, agreed to meet him at his house, and got drugged and then violently raped. (Question: why drug the girl at all if you are just going to violently force yourself on her before the drug has any time to take effect? Huh? Isn’t the point of the drug… oh, never mind.) Anyway, then in the next scene, she’s already discovered she’s pregnant, gotten an abortion, felt guilty about it, and then — with demonic encouragement, of course — she slits her wrists. The end. The moral, of course, is that she should have gone ahead and borne her rapist’s baby.
  • A kid gets picked on in school, and then shoots people in the cafeteria. Then himself.
  • We go to hell (dark room where demons gesticulate at people in the foreground, while the Devil gives us a Hannibal Lecture about how we’ll never escape). Then we go to heaven (cottony room where the torture porn scenes from Passion of the Christ play, because that’s what’s ALWAYS playing in heaven).
  • And then we get preached at, by a woman who first apologizes for scaring us so much, then talks about how Jesus changed her life, and finally she invites us to go to the prayer room and get saved. Out of our group of twenty, only one or two went to the other room. Can we call this progress? I’m thinking that at this point, far more people attend Hell House for the camp value than to actually take the message seriously.

As you can tell if you read my previous report, not a lot changes from city to city, or from year to year. They change the themes, just barely; this year’s excursion was called “Beneath the Skin,” and also featured the Devil at the beginning of the tour comparing life to a game of chess, where we mortals are all pawns waiting to be captured one by one. But really, it’s mostly like a well worn stand-up comedy set that gets polished a bit between performances but mostly stays the same.

To drive this point home, we watched the movie Hell House on Netflix instant queue the next night. The documentary was released in 2000, and it still looked like they could have been filming the stuff we just saw. I watched about an hour of it and it was interesting for a while, but I got bored of it as it was mostly just following the lives of a bunch of misguided evangelicals who really think their messages make sense.

Now that I’ve been to two Hell Houses and Lynnea’s already seen it, I think I can do without any more. In any case, here are a few stray observations from our trip.

Hell House is based on something I’ve come to recognize as one of the most standard evangelical ploys. Basically you spend an hour shouting the message “Life sucks! Life is miserable! Everything sucks! You suck!” And then in the last five minutes, you switch to: “…Unless you have Jesus.”

As a lifelong atheist, I don’t identify with it. At all. But I do see the effects of this type of thinking on people all the time. You know, it’s the people who ask “You’re an atheist? Why go on living?” Or “You believe in NOTHING?” I know exactly where this is coming from. People listen to the message “There is absolutely nothing in this life worth living for, except for Jesus.” Then, never having taken the time to look for something worth living for, they’re baffled by an atheist who doesn’t appear to be an emotional basket case.

If you take everything that is good in life and focus on aspects of it that are bad, then you can easily wind up with an attitude where perpetual misery is unavoidable. Take food, for instance. Most people enjoy the act of sitting down to a meal. But if you went to a church every week where they preached an anti-food message, they could probably make you hate it. They’d show you pictures of morbidly obese families. They’d show people with horrible table manners, shoveling in some kind of completely unappetizing food, like watery porridge and square colorless lumps of something. They’d describe the terrible food being prepared in the most graphical detail, with lard being dumped on a grill and grease dripping everywhere and burned bits flaking off, and pretty soon the very prospect of eating food could make you sick.

But this is unfair, because it doesn’t capture the experience of a delicious steak off the grill, or a fresh salad, or the way your taste buds feel when something is just pushing the limits of how much spiciness you can handle. It doesn’t mention what it’s like when you haven’t eaten for hours, all you can thin
k about is a good meal, and then you eat a feast of something you love until you’re satisfied.

Or take sex. In the world of evangelicals, sex is a filthy, nasty, disgusting business. Until, of course, you get a priest to say a few stock phrases, and hand you a piece of paper to sign. Then it’s magically transformed from an unspeakable sin to a beautiful act AS LONG AS YOU’RE NOT SUBVERTING GOD’S INTENTION FOR YOU TO GET PREGNANT, YOU PERVERT.

In Hell House (not to mention the universe of horror movie rules), all mention of sex is in the context where it is shameful, or sneaky, or dangerous, or violent. People act stupidly, and are punished and probably dead at the end of it.

The Hell House’s abortion sequence is a great case study. In the scene, the abortion has already happened, and the only question up in the air is what’s going to be done about it. And in the scene, the demon yells at her “YOU’RE A MURDERER! YOU KILLED YOUR BABY! HA HA HA!” And the girl kills herself because she can’t take it anymore. But, who told her that abortion was murder in the first place? The church, that’s who. They’re the ones showing tiny like slimy things in the shape of hands and feet, and telling her, “This was a person, with a soul.” For someone who doesn’t believe that souls exist, or that removing tissue without a fully formed brain or nervous system is the moral equivalent of being Hitler, there’s no reason to kill yourself. They’re trying to offer a solution to a problem they created.

In the scenes they created, there were a lot of opportunities for positive social messages. Like, for instance, “If you meet a dude on the internet, maybe your first visit should be in a well lit public place.” That seems like an adequate precaution, especially given that most men aren’t rapists. Or how about: “When you cheat on your wife, your lies are hurtful and the resulting bad feelings can put your family in jeopardy, which isn’t good for the kids.” That seems like a really sound, rational approach even without tacking on the whole “AND THEN SHE’LL SHOOT YOU AND YOU’LL GO TO HELL” angle. And perhaps: “Be nice to the other kids in school, even weird nerdy kids, because they have feelings too and maybe they’re worth getting to know.”

But that’s not the primary interest of Hell House. The message is that this world is a cesspool, and you’re not getting out alive, so you might as well prep for the next one.

And they say atheism is a negative philosophy.

Update: Lynnea has now written her own account of the trip.

How to Stack a Deck

Last night I watched three episodes of a program called “Paranormal State.” It is billed as “true stories of a team of paranormal researches from the Pennsylvania State University Paranormal Research Society.”

One episode was of the variety I find most disturbing. It involved a young autistic boy. I won’t examine that particular episode, but I’d like to offer the following:

Note to wack-a-loons: If you live your life in a state of paranoid freakout because you believe paranormal entities are trying to “get” you, don’t infect your kids with that fear. It’s not just a disservice, it’s mentally abusive to turn them into frightened little people who jump at shadows and every creak of an old home. If you’re truly that far out of touch with reality, do yourself a favor and buy new, because every pre-owned home or commercial building is going to come with some creaks and groans. A talk with a structural engineer, instead of a psychic, might do more good for you that you can imagine (even with your extreme level of fertile imagination). Freak yourself out till the ghosts come home, but don’t burden your kids with your personal, dysfunctional, mental baggage. I get that you “believe” it; that doesn’t make it sane.

In one of the episodes, I recall a woman was sleeping at her sister’s “haunted” house. She was in the haunted bedroom and felt a “presence” come out of the closet, approach the bed, and put pressure on her chest. She also heard toys moving in the closet.

Two words: Sleep Paralysis. It’s a condition, caused by a known malfunction of chemicals in the brain that are normally used to help regulate sleep and waking. It can cause, not surprisingly, feelings of a person/people in the room, auditory and visual hallucinations, and feelings of pressure on the chest, along with fear. It’s a common event, but it is not unheard of for an individual to have episodes only rarely. I have had episodes. And before I learned what it was I just called it that “thing where you can’t wake up.” The majority of the people I’ve mentioned it to respond with “Oh yeah, I think I’ve had that.” I’m guessing that this particular woman probably had her first episode (or first memorable episode) in this house, and due to the stories she’d heard, misattributed the incident to ghosts.

It was the final program, though, that really left me slack-jawed.

It was a historic Gettysburg home in a state of disrepair when it was purchased by a couple who intended to use it as a bed and breakfast. They put a lot of money into renovations, but didn’t really provide a detailed run down of what work had been done—what had been replaced, updated or renovated, and what parts of the home were still original. This information, I thought, should be significant if I’m investigating possible causes of unexplained noises in a home. Gettysburg, in case anyone isn’t familiar, was the scene of a lot of historic bloody battles and death. So, no surprise there are local tales of hauntings. And no surprise that the “psychic” who was brought in felt pain in his gut, saw blood and death, and believed someone there might have suffered a gunshot wound. Impressed?

Other than the minor creaks and cricks that any older home would produce, there were two really great clues that went negligently uninvestigated, which might have resulted in some solid answers and helped these homeowners out significantly. (Or, if they were investigated, the show failed to demonstrate it or mention it.)

First of all, this house presented the paranormal team with a tremendous opportunity to figure out what was happening—whether ghost or not. That opportunity was blown, blown, and blown again. But here’s what happened: Every morning at 3:02 a.m., on the money, the entire house “shudders.” This was caught on both video and audio. The concierge was the one who pinpointed the consistency of the event, and sure enough, 3:02 a.m.: brrruuumpty-bumpity-brump went rolling through the rooms.

Let’s be real here for a moment: It takes a bit of force to shake a house. If the supernatural manifested consistently (every night at 3:02 a.m.) with enough force to shake a house, it wouldn’t be so commonly considered as being in the realm of mental instability. That house shook in reality, not in somebody’s mind. But the type of force that shakes a house should be identifiable and measurable and, with an opportunity to observe it with nightly regularity, shouldn’t be any mystery. If your house shakes at the same time every night, that’s not a job for an exorcist, it’s a job for a structural engineer—the kind that inspects homes and can work with the city to figure out what’s happening with your house and your area that could cause such an event.

My first recollection was of being in a house when an aircraft flew overhead and created a sonic boom. It was extremely similar. Someone else I mentioned it to asked me if there were any trains that ran nearby? I have no idea, because that wasn’t investigated (or, again, if it was, it wasn’t presented).

Is there a train track nearby? An Airforce base? Any city pipes or lines under the street? Do the neighbors feel this tremor as well? Did anyone think to ask them? If they do, we know we’re not looking for a house ghost but something area wide that is impacting the neighborhood at large. If not, do they have the same sort of historic foundations and structural issues a restored historic building would have, or are they rebuilt as entirely new?

This house is a “historic” home—which means that there are restrictions on the types of upgrades and renovations the owners can apply to the home, unlike other structures in the neighborhood that may not be labeled “historic.” This house shudder is a consistent event that lends itself perfectly to easy and accurate identification. But if this team called the city or checked area municipal facilities, talked to a single neighbor or called an engineer to do an evaluation (which isn’t very expensive), they never showed it. And so it’s fair to say that it appears they’re completely negligent when it comes to investigating the most simple and obvious sources of things that can, and do, impact houses in the way these owners described.

If a ghost is the cause of this house shaking, and it shakes every night at 3:02 a.m. on the dot, that would be the single most credible and easy-to-confirm ghost event ever identified. It’s open to investigation by anyone, because it’s an undeniable, predictable, measurable manifestation. The first step, though, would be to actually do the leg work and hire the necessary credentialed professionals, outside the psychic community, to demonstrate the event defies natural explanation. I can’t express enough how disappointing it was that they bailed on even trying to find a mundane cause of this event before calling in the paranormal “experts.”

But the next event was just as much of a blown opportunity. The house “moans.” I’m not talking about a moan that can only be heard by audio taping in an empty room and then torturing the feedback on some machine that does nothing but distort the results until you get something akin to a moan. I find it interesting that in these voice recordings made in shows like this, the moment the “researchers” find any sound whatsoever, they go immediately to work on manipulating the ever-loving-heck out of the indiscernible noise until they get the result they want. Then they stop distorting the sound. It would appear that the sound they actually recorded isn’t what it was supposed to be. And all the variants that weren’t something that sounded like a voice saying whatever they wanted to hear, aren’t “right” either. The only “right” result, it seems, is when they get it mastered exactly to a point where, if the listener turns their head to just the right angle and strains sufficiently, it says
“get out” or “I am here” or some other such ghost movie dialogue. That’s how such sounds are “meant” to be perceived, and paranormal researchers know this because that’s precisely the sort of result they’re seeking.

So, they actually get three pretty solid “moans” on their audio/video tape. Impressive. Not just impressive, though, also somehow familiar. Familiar, as in I’ve-hear-this-sound-before familiar. My house makes this same sound. It happens whenever I forget to shut off the outside water, and then use water in the master bathroom. It’s a “sign” alright. It’s a sign I need to go back outside and shut off the outside water valve. What’s even funnier is that my house isn’t the only structure that makes this noise. At work, our office building makes the exact same “moan” on the sixth floor when the outside irrigation is running. Again, no exorcist required, just a certified plumber. Old pipes + restrictions on updates = a moaning house.

What else can I say? The other “evidence” is pretty obviously garbage:

“I feel a presence.”
“I saw a shadow.”
“I felt the room get cold.”
“I smelled perfume.”
“I heard a voice.”

I rely on my perceptions as much as the next person. But I would be the first one to admit that I’ve seen and heard things before that simply weren’t there. Ever seen a mirage on a hot road? Human perception is pretty good, but definitely imperfect. And the perceptions of a very frightened person are arguable even less reliable than those of a person that is not in a state of “you’re-in-grave-danger” brain chemical overload. Magicians and illusionists thrive on the fact that our brains can be easily misdirected. They do it on purpose for entertainment, but it can also happen quite naturally in mundane situations where nobody is actively trying to fool us.

Additionally, we don’t always understand what sorts of things might be in our environment that we’re completely unaware of. For example, electromagnetic energy can be found sometimes at high levels in homes with faulty or substandard electrical wiring—the sort of wiring you might find in an older home, especially one that has existed long enough to have a “history.” This energy has been demonstrated in controlled circumstances to cause anxiety and hallucinations—even (the perception of) OBEs. It affects your brain and your perception.

In my own home, after we’d moved in and lived there a few months, I decided to adjust the air vents in the ceiling to alter airflow in the house. When I got up close to the vent in our living room, I saw “something” blocking the vent. My husband removed the vent, and removed a bag. It was filled with potpourri. It turned out there was one of these bags of potpourri in every vent in our house. We had no idea.

We also have wild birds that crack bird seed on our roof, one especially likes to do this on our outside chimney. In the house, it sounds like something knocking/banging in our fireplace.

I have decorative “light catchers” in the trees in my backyard. They reflect lights and shimmers not just around the yard, but also in the house at different times of day. I put them in the yard, but my point is that reflections can create odd light and shadow, from across a street or from a neighbor’s yard.

There are no end to unusual things that can make smells, sights, sounds, and even feelings that we can’t immediately explain. But assuming a cause and then “investigating” only in ways that are most likely to give us the answers we prefer, rather than explain what is really happening, is something we have to work hard to avoid if we value a handle on reality over subjective prejudice.

If I want to know why my house shakes, and I call paranormal investigators, psychics and ghost energy specialists—and I don’t bother to call a structural engineer to come out and do an evaluation, no one should be surprised if I find out that ghosts are the cause of the events. I did everything in my power to ensure the results correlated to my desired outcome. I used only those tools prescribed to find a “ghost” and did not use any of the tools that might have found a more mundane (and reasonable) explanation—which might have proven to also be the accurate explanation.

While ghosts are like souls and souls relate to religion and god in the great majority of cases, and while credulity is something we examine at this blog, that’s not why I’m sharing this. I’m sharing this because a 14-year-old girl contacted the TV list recently to say that she wasn’t sure if there was a god or not. In order to find out, she read her Bible and prayed really hard. In the Bible she found a verse that said that whatever she prayed for, she’d get. So, she prayed for a “sign” from god—nothing spectacular, just something meaningful to her personally. She read and read and prayed and prayed and never got her sign. So now she thinks there is no god.

Then, just a few nights later, at the AE after-show dinner, I met someone who told me that when he was in elementary school, he can remember lying in bed, praying and crying, trying hard to believe because he was afraid that if he didn’t he’d burn in hell forever. He never got his sign, either. And eventually he told me, as he got older, the fear faded away.

I, personally, recall being about 15 when I prayed and prayed and read my Bible and begged in earnest for some “sign” to confirm god wanted me to believe and that he was there and willing to meet me halfway and help me, since I wanted so much to believe.

Unfortunately, for me, I got my sign. I won’t bore anyone with details (they’re at the ACA site in the Testimonials section if anyone cares), but I spent the next several years as a fundamentalist Christian, devoting my life in service to “Jesus.” Eventually I finally began to research the claims I’d accepted (most specifically from Josh McDowell) without examination, and I found I believed a load of indefensible false assertions. I went on as a theist, although not a Christian, for many more years, until I ultimately came to understand what I meant by “god” was just a metaphor. But for my years as a Christian, I can honestly say my life was not my own (as any good servant of the Lord will tell you—“not my will, but Thine…”) as I fervently devoted myself wholly to a fantasy. Years down the drain that I will never see again. Next time a theist tells you that if they’re wrong they lose nothing—feel free to tell them they’re wrong. If they’re devoted to their beliefs in the way the Bible demands for salvation, they’ve lost their very lives.

Meanwhile, the common thread in these tales is that we three (me, the girl, and the man at dinner) all used the methods prescribed by the church to figure out if what they were telling us to accept as true was valid. We let them stack the deck just as surely as the men and women on Paranormal State stacked the deck by not calling an engineer, but a psychic. We prayed and read the Bible and begged the very god we were supposed to be verifying. We used only those methods that would most likely yield the desired result of belief; and, in my case, I was willing to subjectively interpret just about anything as the “sign” I was seeking. Just like the homeowners on Paranormal State, we were motivated by fear. Unbelievers don’t pray and plead to the air and devote themselves to Bible study, to find answers upon which, in their minds, nothing rides. But stressed and terrified children do.

Children are convinced they’ll suffer horribly and eternally if they choose disbelief rather than belief. Then they’re told that the only way to know if it’s true is to read the Bible and pray and trust and dispel doubts. That is why, funny as many adult theists might seem, a part of my heart will always be reserved for compassion toward them because I u
nderstand firsthand the force it takes to brainwash a child and keep them that way long into adulthood. It’s quite a trick. You actually beat the child up so badly mentally that even when you’re not around, they keep beating themselves up for you.

I know that for every wingnut fundamentalist, someone’s life has been hijacked. Having lived it myself, I can’t help but feel a desire to see these people happy and well again. I want to give them back that understanding that every child deserves—that they are worthwhile and valuable as human beings—completely as they are, “imperfections” and all, without some supernatural fantasy to provide them with the sort of validation their parents and community should have provided them, but didn’t, because they participated in a religion that dehumanizes us and degrades us and teaches us to feel guilt and guile toward our very nature—with which there is nothing demonstrably wrong. Some of life is wonderful. Some of life is horrible. It’s a lot of different things rolled up into an existence that is part circumstance and part what we make it. To every child who has been or is being told that they need forgiveness for being human, that telling a lie or doubting justifies their condemnation and eternal torture, or that their will doesn’t matter, I say, “You are fine, just as you are; and if others can’t see that, it’s not your problem or your fault. The people trying to make you believe you’re nothing may have their hearts in the right place, but their heads are on completely backwards. Don’t let them tear you down and doubt yourself until you’ll trust anything except your own ability to make a judgment for yourself.”

I wrote back to the 14-year-old. I told her to consider something beyond the fact that she got no sign. I told her to ask herself what she would do if she wanted to learn about black holes. Would she sit in her room and think very hard about black holes and ask black holes to reveal themselves to her so she could know all about them? Or would she read about the data collected on black holes and the research and findings and evidence for them? What is the best way to find out if any Claim X is true? Certainly it’s not to immerse yourself only in the writings of those making the claim you’re trying to evaluate, and then repeatedly take part in a mental ritual where you pretend you believe the claim and keep beating yourself up for not believing it while you beg, tearfully, for any reason to accept it as true.

Surely anyone can see the problem with praying to the god whose existence I’m attempting to evaluate? Such a maneuver requires a presupposition that the god is actually there to begin with. That’s stacking the deck. That’s manipulating the sound byte results until I hear “get out,” or only having a psychic, not a plumber, assess the “moaning” in my house. It’s not a way to guarantee I’ll find what I’m looking for; but it’s a incredibly good way to strongly and favorably influence the possibility of a positive outcome in finding that a god exists. When I “find god” under such circumstances, it should be no more of a surprise than the psychic finding that a spirit, and not a stressed water pipe, is causing the moan.

Science fiction story

I’m sure this is not terribly original, but here’s my story.

One day, spaceships appear in the sky.  Appearing on every television screen, radio, and pool of water, the ships broadcast the following message to everyone:

“Greetings, citizens of Earth! We are a race of life forms so vastly superior to you that our ways cannot be understood by your puny human brains. We also possess knowledge of morality that is advanced far beyond your own understanding and cannot be refuted by any of your Earth philosophers.

“According to our high moral standards, which we cannot explain to you, you all deserve to die the most painful deaths imaginable.  We shall now execute this sentence. Your insides will be melted, and your eyes will explode in their sockets. Your children and spousal units will be vaporized before your eyes. Your planet will then be incinerated.

“However, our laws also require mercy, and therefore you will have one chance to save your own miserable lives. If you become our slaves and do as we say from now on, you will be transported to another planet and allowed to survive. However, your unrepentant family members will still remain behind and be destroyed.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this movie many times. It involves the entire human race justifiably uniting to fight off the alien menace. Depending on what kind of movie it is, either we’re victorious or everybody dies for nothing.

Now the question I have is: How is this scenario any less outrageous if you rename the alien beings “God”?

Ray’s threat of hell…

In today’s post at Ray Comfort’s blog,

Ray wrote:

“…but I don’t think that people should become Christians because of a fear of Hell. Rather, they should come to Christ out of a fear of the God that can cast them into Hell..”

I’ve submitted the following response and I don’t care if it gets posted there or not, it’s worth adapting for our blog as well.

Ray, you cited Luke 12:4-5 to justify your position that we should fear God. While I’d normally point out that this is still an absurd doctrine of fear that isn’t something I’d expect Christians to be proud of (and I will), you’ve attempted to avoid that response by claiming that there are two types of fear.

It’s curious that you quoted 1 John 4:17, yet you didn’t bother to note that it’s verse 18 from which you draw the idea of fear as torment.

The text of verse 18 reads:

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

So, the question, Ray, is this:

What is your authority for claiming there are two different types of fear referenced in the passage in Luke?

The same word (English and Greek) for fear is used in both references (in Luke and 1 John). The passage you quoted from Luke also appears in Matthew (10:28) and relies on the same Greek word in that instance as well.

The 1 John passage doesn’t say ‘fear (phobos) can also mean torment (kolasis)’ it says ‘fear (phobos) involves torment (kolasis)’.

The author of 1 John isn’t giving an alternate definition of fear, he’s explaining that fear has/contains (a more accurate translation of the Greek ‘echo’) torment, intrinsically.

Or, more accurately, ‘fear (phobos) does (instead of ‘can also’) mean torment (kolasis)’.

This is a subtle but significant point that will be important in a moment.

Now, I’m well aware that this word (fear/phobos) has several meanings, that’s not my point. My point is that you’re claiming that it means one thing in the first sentence and a different thing in the second sentence and you’ve provide no justification for that – nor have you offered a valid alternate definition (you appealed to some sort of ‘common sense’ fear).

Let’s re-write Luke 12:4-5 substituting your definitions (or with the most valid definition to replace your ‘common sense’ pseudo-definition):

“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid (tormented) of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear (be in awe of): Fear (be in awe of) Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear (be in awe of) Him!”

It’s worth noting that this passage is attributed to Jesus and one would presume that you consider it to be an accurate Greek representation of what he originally said.

I find it patently absurd for you to claim that this passage, is referencing two different types of fear.

Firstly, there is no indication from 1 John 4:18 that there are two different types of fear, as you claim – that’s simply an explanation that fear includes torment.

Secondly, you’re implying that Jesus was such a poor thinker that he would construct a ‘not this – but this’ comparison with predicates that have entirely different meanings and, as if that wasn’t enough, you’re implying that he was so careless with his words that translators were forced to use the same word to mean two different things (despite other words being available), even though he surely must have realized that this would lead to centuries of confusion over what he meant.

The verse is clear – ‘Don’t fear those who can simply kill you, but fear Him who can kill you and punish you forever.’

This is a clear threat of hell.

It’s clear in the Greek and in the English. Your appeal is a sophomoric apologetic that simply rationalizes your preferred softening with sophistry.

What’s worse is that even with your softened re-rendering, the text is still simply a threat of hell – because that’s the power that determines which personage one should fear.

There are only two reasons that I’ve been able to come up with for why you didn’t simply say “Yes, we’re supposed to fear God because he can send us to hell.” (A position that, while I despise it, would have at least earned you some respect for honesty.)

1. You really don’t have any firm understanding of what you’re talking about.

2. You were afraid of facing the contradiction that arises when one verse tells you to love god, another tells you to fear god and a third says that there is no fear in love.

—–

Now, as a quick end-of-post comment:

The simple truth is that the fire-and-brimstone preachers used to use this precise passage to support their message. After all, we have Jesus directly telling you to fear God because of what he can do to you after you’re dead. Ray, I believe, knows this and he knows the distaste the general public has for fire-and-brimstone preachers, so he’s twisting and turning like a twisty-turny-thing in order to convince someone – anyone – that he’s not like those guys.

He doesn’t think we should fear Hell, just the guy who can send us there – because he can send us there – but not really fear, in the sense of being terrified, but fear in the common-sense, ‘healthy respect for’-fashion.

Hogwash.

I therefore request that Fred Phelps of Shirley Phelps-Roper take a few minutes and call Ray to explain why his particular brand of exegesis isn’t Biblical. It may be more pleasant to Ray, but that’s only because he’s desperately trying to soften the message.

Ya hear me, Shirley? I’m tired of beating on Ray, it’s your turn!

Hell House trip, continued

Continued from the previous post

Room 3
Synopsis: Perils of drunk driving. Two cars are smashed up in an obvious wreck. Very happy demon hops around on both cars like a monkey. Paramedics remove one person from one car, who is horribly disfigured, while the passenger is dead. The driver stumbles out of the other car, obviously dead drunk and ranting about how unfair it is. He stumbles away. Demon continues to feel gleeful.
Most disturbing moment: Actually I thought it was a little weird that the car driven by the drunk was the one that got HIT, rather than the one doing the hitting. But it was plausibly pointed out that he could have run a red light and been at fault. Still, I find it hard to believe that he is the only one completely unscathed.
Ambiguous moral message: God will sort out the bodies, but most people are hell-bound anyway, so the guy in the passenger seat probably belongs to the demons now. Police are pretty useless, though, as they didn’t make any effort to stop the idiot driver.

Room 4
Synopsis: Part 1 of the abortion drama. Girl and boy love each other very much, but the idiots do it without protection. Boy assumed girl was using birth control; girl of course was not. Girl announces that she’s pregnant, and also that she will have an abortion. Boy is distraught, not wanting her to kill his baby. Girl browbeats boy into going along with her to the abortion clinic for moral support.
Most disturbing moment: Actually this one wasn’t particularly disturbing to many of us, as none of us heathens are particularly opposed to a little good old-fashioned lust. I’d assume that these kids are victims of an abstinence-only curriculum, although that’s not they angle the actors put on it. Their message is that no amount of precaution can save you if you decide to have sex.
Ambiguous moral message: Women are bitches. Not all that ambiguous, actually.

Room 5
Synopsis: The abortion drama continues, as the hapless boy attempts to sit with his girlfriend in the operating room waiting to kill their baby. The boy freaks out and runs from the room, unable to live with himself. The girl, realizing that she’s all alone, has second thoughts about this. However, the doctors won’t let her leave, and forcibly perform and botch an abortion on her, causing her to bleed to death. The everpresent demons, of course, enjoy this immensely. Throughout the scene, a tape loops on some overhead monitors, showing some of those scary post-abortion videos with little fetus arms and legs.
Most disturbing moment: Obviously I was most bothered by the portrayal of how abortion doctors act. Because, you know, they’re not there to satisfy their customers or anything… you came in for an abortion, and damn it, YOU. WILL. GET ONE. Oh, and as the patient dies the doctors say “Oh well, we lost another one. We’ve got lots more to get to today!” Too bad there’s no such thing as malpractice in the Christian universe, or they could stop abortions easily!
Ambiguous moral message: In case the idea of killing your baby doesn’t put you off abortion, we now guarantee that you’ll be dead too. Abortion is almost certainly riskier than child birth in that regard.

Room 6
Synopsis: I may have forgotten some by now, but for my recollection the next one is a two part molestation drama. One girl is distraught that her sister died. A friend is trying to console the survivor. The girl reads a suicide note stating that her sister was molested to death by their creepy uncle. It is implied that the mother was never present because she’s always spending time with her lesbian lover, so we get a twofer here. At that moment, the creepy uncle himself walks in. The fair-weather friend immediately leaves, despite the next potential victim begging her to stay. The creepy uncle begins making advances. Then the boyfriend barges in on them, and in a fit of rage, shoots the uncle. Fade to black.
Most disturbing moment: Did I mention that the other girl just decided to walk out, leaving her so-called friend alone with a known molester? Who the hell DOES that? She wasn’t acting scared or anything, just a fairly cold “I’m uncomfortable with this situation, I have to go.”
Ambiguous moral message: So wait a minute, a molesting uncle is a bad thing, that’s not much of a stretch. What’s up with the boyfriend? Are they applauding his actions? Or is he dancing to the demons’ tune too? I don’t get it.

Room 7
Synopsis: In part 2, the girl goes to her sister’s funeral. She’s distraught, so another friend (not from the last scene) offers her sleeping pills to help her relax. Next, dear old lesbo mom shows up, and the girl tries to embrace her mother, only to be snapped at for telling lies about her brother and trying to break up the family. Mom leaves, girl cries. She takes some sleeping pills… AND THEN DIES. (Well, I assume.)
Most disturbing moment: Um, well, dear old mom was kind of a ringer for Hillary Clinton, I guess.
Ambiguous moral message: It doesn’t matter how much pain you are in… if you attempt to seek help through medical prescription, YOU WILL DIE.

Room 8
Synopsis: We got herded into “coffins”: little narrow rooms in a line of four each. They locked the doors and told us what happens when you die.
Most disturbing moment: Some of our members are particularly uncomfortable with small spaces, and others are averse to being touched much. I didn’t have much of a problem.
Ambiguous moral message: None yet, but it’s obvious where this is going.

Room 9
Synopsis: It’s heaven! Yay! We made it! The room is brightly lit and covered in cotton. TV monitors play happy messages interspersed with graphic scenes from “The Passion of the Christ” to show who made it possible for us to get here.
Most disturbing moment: Well, it’s the Passion of the Christ. I mean, seriously.
Ambiguous moral message: Heaven is kind of boring and plays bad movies.

Room 10
Synopsis: Hell! Oh noez! A very dark dungeon with demons banging on bars! One of them freaked out some kids by coming out of the dungeon and getting up in their face.
Most disturbing moment: The message is, of course, that all the dea
d people from the previous scenes ought to be here. That includes the girl who got shot by the rampaging kid, and the one who was molested by her uncle, and the victim of the car crash.
Ambiguous moral message: In case you haven’t noticed by now, Christianity is all about buying the religion and has nothing to do with whether you’re innocent or guilty of anything in particular. In fact, the molested girl deserves hell no less than the creepy uncle.

The final room

Okay, so finally we get to The Conversion Room™ so we can all make “The Choice.” A spunky twenty-something woman was on hand to tell us all about the opportunity of Christianity. There were two doors, one unmarked door on the left, and one in front of us that said EXIT. Spunky McCurlyhair told us that if we wanted to accept Christ as our savior now, we could go through the door on our left and sign pledges.

Unfortunately, Spunky didn’t have very good crowd control skills. For starters, there were seven very rude people in the back who kept on quietly cracking jokes. Be quiet, you people! I’m trying to learn about Jesus! But never mind about us, few people were paying very close attention, which prompted Spunky to tell us all, “Ok, it’s really important to focus, people!” IMHO, when you get to that point you’ve already lost the battle. I felt kind of bad for her.

We were, of course, really hoping that we seven would be the only ones standing on our own. Sadly, though, fewer than half of our group of fifty went in the door on the left. Undaunted, Spunky said, “Okay, now you people are still left here for one of two reasons. Maybe you’re already secure in your faith in Christ and don’t think you need another affirmation. But let me tell you, it’s important to go out and spread the gospel…” She droned on like this, and by the time she was finished explaining possibility A, she either forgot or was too rushed to acknowledge possibility B: “Or you’re all hellbound heretics! What is WRONG with you people?” That remained unsaid.

I had heard that in previous years, ACA members have wound up getting in arguments with members of the cast after the show, and I for one was really looking forward to that… only it never happened either. With the ginormous crowd, the girl was forced to keep herding us along after our time was up. As a result, we wound up having to go through the door on the left anyway, rather than approaching the one marked EXIT. It made no sense to me… surely it would be symbolically powerful if us heretics got unceremoniously dumped outside and separated from everyone else. But no, there was a big guy standing right in front of the exit, and we just decided to leave quietly on the left. Mustn’t slow down the conveyer belt.

As we went out, we of course got to march right past all the deer-eyed people who were busy signing commitments to Christ. (“By accepting this agreement, you are explicitly granting the right to 10% of your lifelong income… offer not valid in California and Norway.”) It was kind of goofy, really… they’re sitting there trying to recommit to their god, and all the rest of us are filing past staring at them, as if they were the last skit for the evening.

Final ambiguous moral message, which sums up Hell House neatly:

No matter how much you might be terrified of hell, no matter what they may have in store for you, just rest assured that being there can’t be nearly as bad as the long wait to get there.

Hell House XVIII, The Revenge: Welcome to Eternity

With the very best of intentions, seven intrepid atheists took a trip yesterday to Cedar Hill, TX last night, to attend the Hell House made famous by a 2000 documentary from George Ratliff. Despite flawless planning and good attitudes all around, this excursion was a strong candidate to be the very worst ACA event ever. Be warned, mortals, for the tale which follows is not for the faint of heart, and shall surely imprint terror and foreboding in the minds of all who may dare to attend this piece of unredeemable crap in any future year.

Five people met near the Lake Creek Alamo Drafthouse at 2:00 on a Saturday: John, Tammy, Arran, Shilling, and Russell (that’s me). We knew we had a three hour drive ahead of us, but we feared not the trip, for all had heard the tales of amusement from previous attendees. We figured we’d get there around 6:00 after stopping for food, then wait for maybe an hour in line, be out of there by 8, and get home by 10.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry…

In fact we arrived closer to 6:30, and took a while to get everyone ticketed ($10) and initial bathroom breaks taken care of, but in reality there is no amount of fortitude that could have prepared us for the bone-chilling terror that was…

THE LINE

Yes, THE LINE was enough to reduce any strong man or woman to a quivering mass of leg-cramping, soul-crushing madness. It lasted four and a half hours from the time we entered to the time that we finally set foot inside of Hell House to lean gratefully against the wall and watch… a cheesy movie trailer.

The event took place at an ultra-maxi-megachurch, the kind where you see it over the horizon and you expect John Williams’ “Imperial March” to start playing. I was more than a little intimidated by the place at first, and nervous about getting singled out. Shilling was wearing his Godless Pub Crawl shirt. Arran wore some rather obvious liberal political statements. I wore a fairly garish Spider-Man shirt — I like Spider-Man, okay, and the fact that New York exists proves that Spidey exists. :) In fairness, I should say that no one ever hassled us in the 6 or so hours we were present.

Anyway, within the confines of THE LINE were thousands of people, the vast majority of them being teenagers. And not just any teenagers. There’s no way to put this delicately… they were teenagers from deep in the heart of Texas. Redneck kids. Dumb jocks who went around aggressively slapping each other in the ass. (Several of us discussed how much homoeroticism there was for such a Christian group, particularly when we some some teenager massaging another one.) Then there were peroxide blondes with way too much makeup, girls having conversations at 150 decibels right near our ears, large bearded men joking loudly about shooting cutters in line.

Meanwhile, Shilling was doing his best to make sure that everyone around us was offended by reminiscing about blasphemous stand-up routines by Eddie Izzard and Ricky Gervais. After an hour, we were joined by Brian and Amy, the last two members of our party, who were coming from somewhere local.

THE LINE did not appear to be as long initially, because although it stretched out a pretty long way, it also weaved back and forth… conveniently making the most twists right near the overpriced concession stand. For bathrooms, there were three port-a-potties that were lacking toilet paper for the majority of the night. Once we got up to the front of the line the people started to be divided up into large groups to go on a hay ride together in order to reach the site where the actual house was. Little did we know that THE LINE would continued for over an hour once we reached the house.

The exterior of hell house was extremely cheap and not at all interesting. It looked like a temporary building in some places, and others had black fabric for a wall, so we could periodically see people walking behind it when they lit up. Also, every once in a while there would be a loud “bang” sounding like a fairly unconvincing prop gun. After about 60 seconds, a second shot always followed the first. A few of us started trying to time the second shot by singing the “Jeopardy” theme song… much to Shilling’s consternation.

So we finally made it inside. We were herded in a group of 50, whereas I’m told that last year it was only 35. In keeping with the expansion that caused much longer lines, they are cramming people more tightly on the conveyer belt. Each room after the preview screens contained some sort of poorly acted skit that seemed to have an oddly twisted moral message. Most skits involve demons — guys in dark robes and skull masks — who both comment on the scene as a Greek Chorus, and serve to herd the audience through to the next room when the performance is over. I’ll try to remember the rooms more or less in order.

Room 1
Synopsis: Girl goes on MySpace. Girl meets boy. Girl invites boy over to her place. Boy rapes girl. Invisible demons in the room laugh. The end.
Most disturbing moment: The rapist was black. That didn’t necessarily appear to be a racist message, until the girl went out of her way to draw attention to his race: “Hey, you don’t look like the way you described yourself! I thought you were blonde and blue eyed!”
Ambiguous moral message: If you meet people on the internet, you deserve to be raped. It’s not like the girl actually did anything particularly forward or sinful, other than letting him come inside.

Room 2
Synopsis: Angry loner in high school holds his “friends” hostage at gunpoint. Tells them that he’s mad for they way they bullied or ignored him. “Friends” are very sorry. Demons whisper mean things in the boy’s ear. He shoots one of them, and then after some more threatening, shoots himself. Demons laugh. The end.
Most disturbing moment: The boy asked each one of the friends if they were Christians, so this was clearly an angle on the Cassie Bernall myth. Unlike the story of Cassie, he shot the one who claimed not to be a Christian. Then when somebody DID claim to be a Christian, the demons told him to leave her alone because they still have work to do on her. So here’s a guy who shoots atheists and doesn’t shoot Christians. And that says WHAT about the shooter, exactly?
Ambiguous moral message: If you pick on your friends in school, you’re bad. If you get picked on in school, you’re probably bad too.

This story is continued in part 2.

When you have no evidence, try fear

Got another TV show fan letter today, from this fellow, who voices a common apprehension (and don’t snipe at his poor English, as it obviously is not his native tongue):

whats up i been muslim for 11 years after being a roman catholic, and i was shocked but i lost my faith, i was a sunni salafi, now i cant get enough with these atheist vidoes i am still scared about hell, someone told me i should start a show. i cant shake off the fear of hell though everlasting burning

Well, you just need to realize that hell is something religion scares you with in order to control you. It should tell you something about religion, that it has to use an idea like hell as a tool of fear/control, and that it can’t just convince you of its truth through evidence and rational arguments. You don’t see scientific journals saying things like, “And if you don’t agree with our findings, you’re going to be tortured unimaginably for all eternity!” Do you?

Any religion that has to resort to a doctrine like hell to compel compliance and obedience is, by definition, immoral.

Punishing the Victim

This is a sick, twisted world that clearly needs to change:

The 19-year-old victim was sentenced last year to 90 lashes for meeting with an unrelated male, a former friend from whom she was retrieving photographs. The seven rapists, who abducted the pair and raped both, received sentences ranging from 10 months to five years in prison.

The victim’s attorney, Abdulrahman al-Lahim, contested the rapists’ sentence, contending there is a fatwa, or edict under Islamic law, that considers such crimes Hiraba (sinful violent crime) and the punishment should be death.

“After a year, the preliminary court changed the punishment and made it two to nine years for the defendants,” al-Lahim said of the new decision handed down Wednesday. “However, we were shocked that they also changed the victim’s sentence to be six months in prison and 200 lashes.”

The judges more than doubled the punishment for the victim because of “her attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media,” according to a source quoted by Arab News, an English-language Middle Eastern daily newspaper.

Judge Saad al-Muhanna from the Qatif General Court also barred al-Lahim from defending his client and revoked his law license, al-Lahim said. The attorney has been ordered to attend a disciplinary hearing at the Ministry of Justice next month.

So many things are wrong with this situation that one doesn’t know where to begin fuming, or whether to end.

On the other hand, consider the implications of punishing victims with infinite torture in Hell. Think about it: the basic tenets of Christianity are infinitely worse than the barbaric actions described in the article.

This also needs to change.

Letter from hell!

Over on GodTube, Pharyngula has pointed out this video of a letter by a kid in hell.

Yes, it’s a dramatic reading of a fictional young unbeliever about to get tortured forever. As Martin likes to put it: “Torture porn.”

You know, we frequently use the words “tortured forever” on the AE TV show. As in: “The central doctrine of Christianity is that you must freely worship God or else be tortured forever.” Frequently, we are criticized by kinder, gentler Christians for being melodramatic. Silly atheist, they say — nobody really believes in a god who tortures people forever. Hell is a metaphor. Read some C.S. Lewis.

No, actually I’m fairly certain that a great many mainstream Christians believe what’s in the video. That when I die, I’m going to be missing from this “book of life” and then roughed up by angelic thugs who proceed to hurl me into a quite literal lake of fire — in a world that’s “crystal clear, even more real than my life on earth.”

What I don’t get is this. Based on the sound effects and the spooky fonts, this video is clearly intended to be disturbing, and it’s targeted at Christians. But why should Christians be disturbed? Sure, maybe they should have done more to help their friend who is now in hell. But in the end, the friend was sent to hell because he deserved it. If he didn’t deserve it, then God, being merciful and all-powerful, wouldn’t have put him there. So shouldn’t a True Christian™ be celebrating the torment that his friend is now experiencing?