Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

For viggorlijah

viggorlijah demurred at my previous post on the grounds that "Eternal torment doesn't exist in the pop culture sense in orthodox theology because (afaik! I am a rude beginner) because hell is the separation or refusal of God's presence, not an actual poke-you-with-sticks place. Well, there are two short answers to that, the first of which is that, just as being forced to stand against a wall without sleep for forty hours is still torture, being made to spend eternity not only without the God you have issues with, but without (presumably) many of the people you care about is still eternal torment, just a classier kind.

The second response is that most believers throughout history have entirely endorsed the 'poke-with-sticks' version of eternal torment, from Tertullian claiming that one of the pleasures of Heaven was watching sinners fry, to Jonathan Edwards ("The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked.") to the sort of Catholic preaching that James Joyce describes so eloquently in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Now, here's the thing. I have known one or two fairly wicked people - they were also a bit mad, but not that mad. Not wicked on an Adolf Hitler/Pol Pot sort of level, but pretty nasty. One of them, Linda, was a friend of friends and while I was mostly scared of her, I remember occasions when I enjoyed her company in small doses, because she had charisma. I also remember a sense of relief when I heard she was dead, because she had probably killed one of our joint acquaintance - and got away with it mostly because the police don't care much about dead transwomen junkies - and was always liable to hurt other people badly. She is someone whom I did not wish well - but the thought experiment is, would I want her to be in eternal pain? No, not even twenty years of Purgatory. Probably. If there were an afterlife, would I enjoy it more if a less messed-up, less crazy, less dangerous version of her were around in it? Probably.

All of this is setting aside the large body of Christian thought which states that I myself will burn eternally for who I sleep with and who I choose to be. I suspect that to a more intellectual kind of believer. I am in any case in more danger over the arrogance that makes me demand of the Creator a different set of rules to those he allegedly supplies, not merely in respect of my sex life, but in respect of the eternal destiny of Linda, whom I disliked. I stand with Eugene Debs, kinda - 'while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.'

If I ever finish the blasted book, this is an important part of what it is about, BTW.

As for Original Sin, I regard it as one of the brilliant but also dangerously stupid ideas you would expect an intelligent man like St. Augustine to come up with. Human beings have a multitude of drives, and some of them are perverse and aggressive - 'I see the best, and I approve of it' says Ovid ' but I follow a worse course'. Augustine made the determination that humans had an innate tendency to evil and that this was one of the consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve, who bound their descendants to a faulty nature, and to punishment for that sin, and all subsequent sins, and to the guilt of that sin.

The redemption of Christ's sacrifice - Augustine argued, as I understand it - removed the guilt of Adam's sin. It also created the possibility for each human soul, though not the probability, that a gift of divine grace might enable that soul to avoid enough of the consequences of fallen and innately sinful human nature to find their way to God, and away from eternal torment.

As a result of Augustine, and earlier thinkers who did not formulate all of this nearly as elegantly, most believers have always thought of themselves as the only group with any hope at all of salvation from torment, and with the odds against them even so. We could get into predestination here, but let's not.

Augustine specifically rejected the idea that human effort or will or actions could make up for the absence of grace; that possibility - as preached by his rival Pelagius - was one he ruled out. Of course, you could argue that a tendency to perform good works would be evidence of grace in action, but Augustine rejected that possibility as discounting the inherent corruption of human nature. He did not want anyone to think that they could charm their way into Heaven by being nice, or thinking well of themselves; he wanted everyone to be a self-hating neurotic, for starters.

What any of this has to do with the Sermon on the Mount is a good question. Belief in original sin has led to the emotional torture of children, the denigration of women (who by bearing children pass on Eve cooties) and being horrible to other people as a matter of course. Belief in Augustine's doctrine has, objectively, been throughout history what I was brought up to think of as an occasion of sin at least as much - I would say more - as it has been a prompter to heroic virtue.

And those are two important areas in which I could never adhere to most Christian churches. Sorry 'bout that.

I am no expert on any of this - I have been away from the Church for a long time - and will regard correction by the better informed as a good place from which to start dialogue.
Tags: religion
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