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May 18 2013

Thinking about heaven, hell, purgatory, and other ways to waste your time

There is a conference scheduled to be held to try and bring together Catholics and Evangelicals to see if they can resolve their differences on heaven, hell, and purgatory. The announcement says:

The final end of humanity and the universe is a subject of perennial interest, especially for Christians. What are we promised? How does that promised end relate to history? Will anyone finally be left out of God’s intentions to bless humanity? What sort of transformation will be needed to enter the presence of God? These questions have been at the heart of Christian teachings about last things. The 2013 Pro Ecclesia conference of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology will focus on the theme “Heaven, Hell, . . . and Purgatory?” Topics will be examined from a variety of perspectives, representing a variety of Christian traditions.

I find it in incredible that grown people who seem to be quite rational in other areas of their lives, actually take such questions seriously. All that time devoted by Jewish, Islamic, and Christian scholars to pore over their texts seeking to find answers to questions that make no sense to be even asked strikes me as a colossal waste of intellectual effort.

But having said that, I cannot afford to be too judgmental. I am embarrassed to admit that at one time in my life, when I was a believer, I too would have thought these types of questions were important and merited discussion, although concerns about the end of humanity were not that high on my list of concerns. But it shows how narrow one’s view can become when one is deep inside a well.

Fortunately I realized the error of my ways before too much of my life was wasted. I can still see the appeal of such discussions if they are done purely in terms of historical, sociological, and textual analysis of religion, where people examine the origins of such beliefs and how it came to be that people took them seriously. But as real concerns? No.

What would be fun is to have panel discussions along the lines of this one from That Mitchell and Webb Look to very quickly resolve such issues.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    where people examine the origins of such beliefs and how it came to be that people took them seriously

    Well, really. “St Augustine made it up” isn’t good enough for you?

  2. 2
    R Johnston

    How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    Theologians will claim they don’t debate this question, but that’s a lie as it’s isomorphic to all theological questions. Heaven, hell,purgatory, rapture, angels dancing on the head on a pin; they’re all the same incoherent gobbledygook from an outsider’s point of view.

  3. 3
    voidhawk

    There are more important uses of time, for instance, when is it right for Starfleet to violate the Prime Directive in Star Trek?

  4. 4
    bad Jim

    Welcome to heaven… Here’s your harp.
    Welcome to hell… Here’s your accordion.

    Gary Larson

  5. 5
    sailor1031

    “What sort of transformation will be needed to enter the presence of God?”
    Apart from I’m sorta feelin’ you’d have to be dead (at least a little bit) how can any of this shit be answered? They don’t have any facts. No information. Nobody ever came back with the data. No – not even Yeshue bar Yussef!! As for Augustine he didn’t work alone….Acquinas made up a lot of the christian BS. And people like Plantinga are even now making up more.

    And you can tell they’re not really interested in getting answers, just trying to get their stories to agree, because they haven’t invited any buddhists or egyptians, boith of whom have “books of the dead” that lay it all out in detail…..

  6. 6
    Argle Bargle

    The best line from the Mitchell and Webb sketch: “I can think of two yes-or-no answers just off the top of my head.”

  7. 7
    Mano Singham

    I really miss Gary Larson and his weird take on life.

  8. 8
    Corvus illustris

    I find it incredible that grown people who seem to be quite rational in other areas of their lives actually take such questions seriously.

    Having spent about the first 20 years of my life with these people, I think the operative word is seem. E.g., a little below the rational surface that the professors of theology at my alma mama maintained, one could perceive some remarkable nests of snakes. They are quite blind to the possibility of deep irrational motives for playing their rational axiom games, and the last question the Pro Ecclesia gang will ever ask is “why do we feel a need to believe this stuff?”.

  9. 9
    allan

    Every week in the original series.

  10. 10
    allan

    Heaven’s going to be great. No sex, food, alcohol or dumb action movies. Non stop worshipping stretching into eternity.

  11. 11
    MNb

    “one could perceive some remarkable nests of snakes”
    I haven’t spend 20 years among them, but this is my impression too after 5 years of reading and debating some highly educated believers. Apparently homo sapiens is very capable of skepticism in one respect and critique-less acceptation of prejudices in another.

  12. 12
    Rain

    What sort of transformation will be needed to enter the presence of God?

    I thought God was everywhere. Yay play-pretend is fun.

  13. 13
    Corvus illustris

    Oh, I was taking great exception to some of their stuff by the age of about 8, but protective coloration was necessary. Viewing from outside–and at a considerable distance in time–one doesn’t see the closed society that the RCC succeeded in creating, particularly in the North American wilds, before Vatican II. In many ways it resembled the Hasidic bell jar about which Mano has written in other posts. Exit before grad school, if only for economic reasons,would have been impossible for me. But I got a first-class mediaeval education, back in the 1950s.

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