On the Capricious and Unjustified Nature of Hell: A Multi-Genre Critique of Christian Theology

 

 

 

“Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed.
70Such place Eternal Justice has prepared
For those rebellious; here their prison ordained
In utter darkness, and their portion set,
As far removed from God and light of Heaven
As from the centre thrice to th’ utmost pole.”

-John Milton, Paradise Lost

 

Having to deal with the great and innumerable mysteries and shortcomings of this world, humanity has turned to the supernatural world for answers. Gods held the fate of humanity in their hands, arranging their fates like puppeteers with their toys. They created storms, exploded volcanoes, and decimated populations through drought, famine and plague. These entities were the focus– the embodiment– of the darkest corners of the world, from which we could offer no explanation or extract any sort of knowledge or consolation, even.  

Among these are the injustices laid upon one another by other human beings. The innocent saw themselves declared just as guilty; as long as there was an accuser, you had little escape from the irreverence of such primitive laws. The guilty may have been powerful men who sought a scapegoat– and you were the unlucky sheep taken from the flock to be sacrificed for their safety. So, to console yourself and to offer consolation, you vowed vengeance. Maybe not by you, and maybe not in this lifetime– but sometime, someone will right the wrong that has been wrought. The wicked will pay for the transgressions they got away with, and the condemned innocent shall be set free. In our time, this was our most consoling thought.

Because of this, we have paid little critical attention to it. The idea of hell seemed to be as natural and just as any other. If someone greatly wronged us or our brethren, then we secretly wished eternal torment upon them without thinking for a moment the implications of this. We were raised to think this was good– that God knew what he was doing and those our holy text condemned were, in some way, worthy of their judgments. But it is here that I plan on crumbling this notion. If this were to be my final act as a heretic, I would use it to address the judgments I am being condemned with. If I were to be made threats of hellfire, I will make my final stand like Socrates when he, himself, was convicted of the same crime. I would tackle the problem head-on and face their arguments without fear, stating that it is not just ridiculous and absurd, but unjust and even immoral.

               

 

The standard doctrine of Hell involves four basic premises weaved into this particular aspect of the afterlife. These are:

  • The Punishment Thesis:
    • The Purpose of hell is to punish the wicked, name those whose actions deserve to be reprimanded.
  • The No-Escape Thesis:
    • Hell is an inescapable judgment; once you are condemned to it, you will remain there forever (you can’t escape).
  • The Eternal Existence Thesis:
    • You cannot perish in hell; you are subject to an unending existence.
  • The Anti-Universalism Thesis:
    • Contrary to the Universalist belief (which we will be covering later on), there are people who will, in fact, be consigned to it.

In conjunction, these properties make up the Traditional Model. In essence, this entails that Hell is a place of punishment for the wicked, where one remains there, unable to perish, and there are, indeed, individuals that are subject to its tortures. Many of us are unable to find the injustice and capriciousness behind such an act due to the indoctrination that occurs during childhood, but this is the greatest philosophical evil we have yet to encounter.

There are alternatives that we will discuss later, but these involve the exclusion of one or more of the above precepts. A slightly modified version takes the form of Jesus descending to Hell after his crucifixion and rallying up the willing and the virtuous to him and leading them to heaven. Other interpretations have all souls waiting in Hell for Jesus Christ to open the gates of heaven for them mortals. This may have solved the problem where the bible states that it is only through Jesus that they will reach the Father (God) and countless people died before he arrived. Even if I grant this, however, philosophically speaking, this is a rather worthless answer. They still have to deal with those born after him who have not heard of him or those that have but don’t deserve eternal punishment for their finite deeds– it still does not solve the question of hell’s fairness.

There have been several attempts to justify this by stating that the punishment deserved is not just a factor of the harm done and intended (along with several others), but the very status of the individual being wronged. Now, since God holds the highest status– one of infinite grandeur­– then to sin against god would constitute an act of infinite evil. Thus, finite evil becomes infinite evil and deserve nothing less than infinite punishment. However, even believers themselves can see the flaw behind this logic if they took the time to look at it for more than a few seconds.

How does an offence committed harm or offend God? Defenders of this theory use the analogy of a parent-child relationship, or that of personal property. What they argue is that to commit evil against a child or to destroy someone’s property– independent from their good or bad intentions– they have wronged the parent or the owner themselves. A child, however, does not remain under the custody of the parents, so there is a point where to harm him would not carry over that evil to anyone else. Even if we do grant this claim and say that the sin is, in fact, done against the parent or the owner, it’s still ignoring other primary factors.

So, even being so generous as to grant the proposition and declare that, indeed, it was an act against God himself, it still begs the question of the circumstances, intentions, plans, goals in the individual’s mind, and other such variables.

Not all evils are willfully intended: a car accident might injure a child or punch a hole though someone’s tent– that does not mean the event is inherently evil. Killing a man is one of the most abominable things a human might do to another, but even this cannot be called sinful. Just wars have been fought just as men have died at the turn of a tragic accident– are any of those sinful acts? Should you be held as the perpetrator of a purely accidental car collision? What about killing in order to eliminate evil? To let it run free: now that is worthy of being called sinful.

The alternative methods I described earlier consists of removing a concept of this Traditional Model of hell in order to construct a better justification. This need for alternative explanation gives us a hint that even the believers themselves have already cast the shadow of doubt over the fairness or justice of hell. The Catholic Church created other “dimensions” such as Purgatory and Limbo in order to accommodate these excuses and find a way to bend over backwards to keep up the illusion of a healthy spinal cord.

It’s somewhat ironic that these alternatives that were made to avoid the problem of unfairness in the Traditional Model still see themselves plagued by the same issue.  First of these is Annihilationism, where the thesis of ‘Eternal Existence’ is abolished. Instead of suffering through the torments of hell, you are utterly destroyed. Our conception of punishment, however, considers capital punishment as a worse fate than life imprisonment.  This is much less of an issue if you say that it is, in fact, preferable to an eternity of torture– but the same problem persists, only in a slightly lesser scale.

Universalism abolishes the– can you guess?– Anti-Universalism clause. In essence, it states that it is impossible for one to be sent to hell. Even if it was metaphysically possible to end up in hell, they say, as a matter of fact, no one will. This conflicts with God’s omni-benevolence. Some might say that this Universalism is contingent, but if that were the case, then some people are, indeed, suffering through the torments of hell– undermining the notion of an all-good deity.

The third alternative, called Second Chance proposes the motion that due to the severity of hell and its infinite punishments, some might deserve to avoid it after death– or even after descending to the fiery Pitts themselves! This creates an eternal regress: what if I turn down the second one, does that mean I get a third? A fourth? A fifth? Doesn’t this go back for eternity? Doesn’t an infinite regress entail that you are to be stuck in hell forever? Isn’t the idea of Hell also supposed to grant some sort of finality rather than temporary housing? What good is the afterlife when there seems to be a state of constant change? What ever happened to immutability? If the afterlife is subject to changes, then wouldn’t its ruler change as well? Is God himself devoid of this unchangingness?

But finally, have you listened to these accounts of hell? Don’t they seemed to be hyperbolic or exaggerated examples of our own model of reality? Isn’t the world around us leaking into our belief systems- changing them? How much of this is natural? How much of this anthropocentrism toxic to our beliefs? Aren’t the accounts of lakes of fire and sulphur strangely similar to our own actively volcanic areas? What effect would the sight of a volcano have had on the ancient civilizations? Aren’t the accounts of a divine monarchy somewhat reminiscent of the government systems of the time? What about influences from other religions? Is this not taken into account when dealing with the suspicions of a new belief system?

These questions have become lost in our minds. We take things on faith– that fancy and romantic word we use when we mean simple, blind credulity– and never even bother to question them. Even if we manage to cast doubt, we say, “Oh, but God knows what he’s doing.” And thus the thought is discarded, never to be spoken of again. What’s worse, some of us who take the time and effort to resolve these questions and end up discarding the entire system are locally seen as being pitiful, unreflective creatures. We are harshly judged and labeled as lost, as if we would have no way to know right from wrong– people who just can’t do anything but sin and immorality. No! The sin here is against humanity. The system of beliefs at its core promotes injustice and blind obedience– pardon me, faith! If unbelief condemns me to eternal torment; if I or anyone else is subject to undeserved punishment, then I could not willingly follow the judge and still hold on to my integrity at the same time.

In any case, given the record of those that, according to Christian Theology are condemned to hell, then…

 

… it might not be so bad after all.

Published in: on August 20, 2010 at 9:00 am  Comments (3)  

On Divinity:

It has come to me after having read and studied what I have about history, science, religion, and the human condition– despite just how thin and frail just a few years of reading such broad ranges is and even how much is still left for me to gloss over– that the divinity humanity always searches is only to be found from within. Nietzsche said in his ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’, where “It is the chaos in oneself that gives birth to a dancing star. I say unto you now, you still have chaos within yourselves!”

In this regard, I think, we all have the capacity for the transcendent– the very reason why human beings have always experienced this. They prefer to call it spirituality, though it has nothing to do with the soul, but the essence of humanity: let’s call it, ‘The Human Spirit’. The ‘Spirituality’ of this latter sense has always been there despite our interpretations of this. It is just as innate in us as any other aspect of our condition and it is this interpretation that gives it form. If you were a Christian or any other of the Abrahamic monotheisms, it would take the shape of the god Yahweh, Jehova, or Allah (however you wish to call him, it is in essence the same deity); if you were a Pagan, you would proclaim the presence of your Pantheon; if you were a Hindu, you might say it was Krishna; if you were in China or Japan, you might even claim to feel the spirits of your ancestors or the kami that embodies the objects all around you.

In my respect, my spirituality is more Pantheistic than any other. I think that if I were to call anything God, it would have to be the Universe itself with its marvels and complexity. It is truly something to stand in wonder of; it fills me with shock and awProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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both in its gorgeous majesty and its fearsome irreverence. I’m a part of this universe just as much as those nebulae because, if you wind the clock back far enough, you can trace every single one of the atoms that make up my body to another nebula that had become enriched by the death of nearby stars. The matter in our universe is in a constant state of translocation and transmutation- ever in motion and changing forms.

I often like to think that maybe one of those bits of the Cosmos will one day make up a sentient race with its own Julians, Amzis, Evas, Krystals, Pamelas, Georges, Johnnies, Kennies, Tashies, Ashlies, and so on. And yet, when we stare at these celestial objects, we perceive them as they were hundreds or even thousands of years ago. What if they were already condensing to form more celestial bodies: the next generation of cosmic life? What if the most distant of them already had?

I really don’t need to think that I’m the object of a divine plan, or even a twisted form of destiny. To have been brought about by the laws that make up the natural world is truly majestic. To say that it was all meant to be, or that it was intended, dims the reality of cosmic events. Natural laws working together with a sliver of chance have brought splendor that gives us more wonder for every instant we continue to stare at it. And the best part of it is that it doesn’t need to be perfect– it is beautiful despite or in the face of its flaws; or even, might I add, because of its imperfections and shortcomings.

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 5:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

On White Lies and Black Truths:

Most people would recoil, utterly indignant that I would have to open a discussion on this topic. They would most rather think lies to be an evil in the world and that the truth is always superior- of course, this is taking the so-called “white lies” out of the occasion. However, this is precisely where the discussion takes place: what constitutes a white lie? If we come to the famous scenario where a Nazi comes knocking on your door to asks if you’re harboring your Jewish neighbor, nobody would hesitate to agree that to lie would be the only moral option.

However, what is it about this scenario that drives us to conclude that lying is moral as opposed to the norm that states otherwise? What is it about lies that immediately repels us? What is it about truth that demands such an esteemed value? In ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, the German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche asked us,

“What in us really wants “truth”? … We asked about the value of this will [to truth]. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance?” [1]

In the scenario I gave above, what is it about that lie that justified its use? Does it even have anything to do with truth and untruth? Is it a deeper image; a wider purpose that determines its so-called morality? Later on his first chapter, ‘On The Prejudices of Philosophers’ he goes on to say,

“The falseness of a judgement is to us not necessarily an objection to a judgement… The question is to what extent it is life-promoting, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-cultivating… To recognise untruth as a condition of life- that certainly means resisting accustomed value feelings in a dangerous way; and a philosophy that risks this would, by that token alone, place itself beyond good and evil.”

Is the morality of saving the jew not in the virtue of the lie, but through its life-preservation? Is the virtue of weaving a narrative for an ailing friend or denying her any guilt over something she was responsible, but not accountable for, not dependent on its truth or falsity, but in its ability to cultivate life- to deny them of unnecessary burden? to allow them the very self-overcoming that would bring about a life-promoting future?

They say that sometimes it’s easier to live with a false judgement rather than the brutal honesty? Is it not possible that, in some occasions, living with that false judgement promotes life while the truth may destroy it? However, does this mean that the lie will stay that way forever? Will it not come to a point, or will we not advance to a point where that lie will become more of an obstacle- a life-destroying hazard- and should thus be eradicated? If we must accept truth as a condition of life -something that we must accept in order to move on- doesn’t that mean that we also have to accept untruth as being just another one of those conditions? If we must accept the existence of white lies, should we not do the same for black truths?

Then, does this not mean that we are doomed to an eternal shuffle and re-examination of our judgements; not to determine their truth or untruth, but their value as life-promoting or life-destroying agents?

Published in: on June 9, 2010 at 3:49 am  Comments (1)  

Ask the Heretic

I’ve recently signed up for a social media website which has a questions and answer format. Basically, you would ask me a question, to which I would answer.

I’ve used this to help me warm up before I tackle my main load when it comes to writing. As you can see, the questions I’ve been asked up until now have been well thought-out and deserve an equally elaborate response.

You can use this to ask me any questions, but know that priority will be given to clear and concise questions which have a central point to which I can offer a response to. In simpler terms: be specific, don’t expect me to answer vague questions that lack a clear message.

I will obviously not entertain overly-personal questions some people seem to prefer, such as “What’s your deepest secret?”, which, by definition, shouldn’t be answered. However, you are free to ask about my life, beliefs, scientific knowledge, my views on society, etc.

http://formspring.me/jtheapostate

Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 2:37 pm  Leave a Comment  

What If You’re Wrong?

This is a question that comes up with frequency whenever I engage a stranger in an argument on religion. While it may have an innocent curiosity and well-meaning intentions, I find this question to be extremely condescending. This is not due to the question in-itself, but the underlying message that hides beneath: ‘What if I’m right?’

To some, it would seem that I’m skipping more than a few premises, but consider this: if scientists were to emerge from their experimental stations and declare to the entire world, “We have conclusively proved that it does seem that there is, in fact, a supernatural deity behind our realm,” does it really prove the Christian right? Does it not require a leap of faith to declare that, not only is there a deity, but that your god is the true one? Is it not arrogant to say that your god is above all those that preceded him? Are you not as much of an unbeliever in these gods as the Deist is to yours? I would say that you would have merely proven the Deist to be the more likely victor- for he believes in a creator god, but not a personal and intercessory one. The deity of Deism does not subject himself to human intervention and favoritism, but merely created and observed his creation or moved on to tasks more deserving of such a powerful and transcending force. Indeed, not only does the Christian face the 2,800+ gods of recorded human history, but also those we have not come up with, and even ones we cannot remotely fathom!

So, whenever a theist comes up to me and asks me, “What do you think; what would you say; what might you do if you’re wrong?” I’d happily respond, “I might not respond any worse than you if you find out you were wrong about Krishna and Shiva; Ra and Anubis; Zeus and Apollo; Jupiter and Saturn; or even, Wotan and Thor.”

Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 1:34 am  Comments (2)  

Modern Day Immortals

A Mock Research Paper

In the Persian Empire, during the time of the Greco-Persian Wars, the king had a legion of 10,000 troops which were named the ‘Immortals’. They were an elite battalion of shock troops that were granted the same equipment, which at the time had the demoralizing effect of the opponent thinking that every time you strike one down, there’s always an identical soldier ready to take his place. No doubt, this would have been very demoralizing; but this would also be the closest we’d get to achieving immortality.

Modern technology, however, has pushed these barriers even further and we find ourselves even more demoralized by the faces of new immortals than their predecessors. With the recent advent of the first Synthetic Human, or Android, we see a plethora of both ethical and emotional responses. There are countless masses vying for different perspectives: some see it as a glorious achievement of human advancement while others declare it a sin against God.

No doubt, the birth child of the science fiction genre has been the paranoid response of these robots taking over the world and exterminating the human race. However, these are purely rational beings, meaning that they do not act on greed and power-driven impulses of human beings. If they were to become far superior in strength and numbers -which will be kept in check through an intricate systems of safeguarding protocols to begin with- they would not bother to destroy something without a purely rational reason to do so. Doctor Mitzuka Kiroshi, one of the leading innovators behind the Synthetic Human project had this to say about robot insurgency:

“We have good reason to believe an android plot to exterminate the human race is extremely unlikely. Being purely rational entities, our Androids are exempt from the human drive for power and money and thus don’t wage war without good reason. Peaceful coexistence fosters mutual benefits, and as long as we maintain good relations and refrain from provoking a hostile response, we can avert a war even in the distant future.” (114)

There has also been lashings from the religious community, proclaiming that these androids -by their mere existence- are a sin against God. One religious leader, Reverend Richard Millicent, a highly respected figure in western culture said that,

“God almighty is the only one capable of true creation. These products of man’s arrogant pride are an abomination; symbols of our rebellion and idolatry to technology… [Androids] are nothing but empty shells, devoid of that Holy Spirit which He so graciously bestowed upon his sinful creation. Their very existence represents our vain attempts at surpassing his eternal power by proclaiming ourselves as Gods through the power of creation.” (47)

As useless as it might seem, the comment does bring about an important point: we have to resolve the philosophical questions that have bothered us since the dawn of philosophy. What is it to be intelligent? What is the mind-body relationship? If our consciousness is the complex interactions between neural synapses through the use of electric and chemical responses to stimuli, then it means it can be recreated; if, however, if it contains a unique and transcendent quality, then it is far beyond replication.

But, I have another question: Does it matter? Even if we do create an inferior creation, does it not deserve to be treated with the respect of a sentient being? Does it not deserve fair treatment, rights? Given that we cannot know if we are embodied in a spiritual form, does it matter that they are not? Is this not another of our negative discrimination against one another?

If faced against the question of intelligence, I would put forward the notion that if we have to stop and scrutinize on whether or not it is intelligent, than we may probably say that he is. If it has gone to a level that is so similar to our own that we must try to separate it, why not welcome and unite it?

There have been a handful of androids working among us, talking, walking and interacting with other humans. They are capable of rational thought and could serve as the unbiased voice of reason- that one thing that we are never fully able to achieve for ourselves since our emotions are constantly in the way. A race fully devoid of prejudice, fear, greed. We should welcome this new child of our technological advancement and study it with scientific scrutiny. We should continue to question our uses and the nature and purpose of its existence. They have brought with their creation entirely new paradigms of thought, and we should continue to pursue these over the coming decades. The forum has been opened- let us discuss it; you and I.

References:

Kiroshi, Mitzuka. “Response to Android Conspiracies in Sci-Fi Literature” Popular Cybernetics November 2009: 112-116. Print.

Millicent, Richard. “Theological Analysis on Synthetic Humans.” International Journal of Theology 12.3 (2009): 47-50. Print.

DiVargo, Anthony. “Contemporary Androids: Soulless Machine or Silicon Intelligence?” British Journal of Epistemology 2.1(2010): 32-46. Print.

Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 3:23 pm  Comments (1)  

Philosophy with a jolly cup of wine:

The first time I met him, it was after days of scurrying about, looking for someone to help me transfer to the Philosophy department. I needed information on the due process and someone to introduce me to my new environment. I was finally given a concrete name: Hector Hyuke.

 His office is down in Chardon’s lower lobby- the one facing the inner courtyard and Student Center. The ceiling was low and the space seemed tight in that “basement floor” and the walls were lined with scribbles: phrases ranging from the wise and knowledgeable, the silly and whimsical, to the inarticulate and even profane. Most of them, however, were grounded in deeper knowledge- something that couldn’t be said about most of the things lining the walls around the rest of the university. Looking at them and thinking about the ideas behind them makes for good intellectual exercise- it truly deserves its place in the humanities buildings.

 I think it’s safe to say that I was able to recognize him well before a formal introduction. Tall and aging -still looking like his youth refused to fully recede from his body- with curly and somewhat unkempt gray hair, the philosopher had a knowing glint behind his warm gaze that gave it all away. I felt much more at ease almost instantaneously as I’d gone to shake his hand and he invited me to his office before students could swarm him during his office hours. They say one’s environment mimics the very nature of your spirit and the office seemed to do him justice: small yet spacious, it had two large bookshelves lined to the brim with books. The space in front of the desk was open enough to accommodate a small group of students for a lively philosophical discussion. It was a small haven for wisdom, just as it is within the mind of a philosopher.

 Hector Hyuke is a full professor in the Mayaguez UPR campus, graduated Bachelor of Arts in both History and Philosophy in 1976 and a Master of Arts in Philosophy in 1977. He later attained a Doctor of Philosophy in 1987 in New York’s Columbia University. He is currently involved with the topic of Ethics and Technology and gives several courses including: Philosophy of Techology, Contemporary and Modern Ethics, and Introduction to Philosophy: A Theoretical Approach.

 Like many students, he hadn’t graduated with the same major he enrolled in. Professor Hyuke started off with a major in Architecture, though he’d soon switch to Business Management. It was during the latter that he was required to take a course in Philosophical Logic. This utterly astonished him, that there was actually a field that specialized in the systematic and rigorous argument. He fell in love, and couldn’t seem to let it go. In the end, the young Hector Huyke graduated with a double-major in History and Philosophy and continued his post-graduate studies in the latter.

 He not only serves as a professor, but coordinates the courses with the department students. Philosophy is a department that only consists of about 30 students, which means they can’t afford to host all of the courses at the same time and must divide and coordinate them with the student body. Professor Hyuke, along with his colleage, Prof. Juan Sanchez Alvarez serve as the bridge between the student and administrative bodies in order for the order of things to run as smoothly as possible and their students can graduate on time and as planned.

 He also hosts a bi-montly discussion with a group of students. I have attended to two of these discussions, taking place in a small square in a quiet corner of town. Half of it is brightly lit and in the middle stands a small monument in honor of the great man, Jose de Diego. Few people ever pass by this tiny corner of the town, and it’s conveniently placed across the street from a small bar, where the professor and several students take care to buy a cup of wine to drink and sit back and relax over a philosophical discussion. The excitement of these dialogues are by no means a small thing- the ethics of a machine that helps people make moral choices or the hypermodernism or post-modernist state of society.

 These dialogues, taking place at 8-o’clock in a Thursday night would last for several hours; the two I’ve attended took two and a half and three and half hours. During that most recent one, it was close to midnight by the time I reached my apartment- and I don’t regret staying until the last second. It is glorious to see a handful of students discuss such complex subjects, comment on them and debate the other’s present on their interpretations. The atmosphere is cool, liberating and such a relief from what might be a frustrating week. You may even attend the meeting and not have read the text- in fact, you may not even be the only one. It’s all done for fun- class is over, let us all sit back with a cup of wine and talk the night away with friends and comrades! What a glorious way to mark the end of the week.

Published in: on March 14, 2010 at 8:10 am  Comments (3)  

Video Games: Vulgar Amusement or Artistic Climax?

 

“Human, you’ve changed nothing. Your species has the attention of those infinitely your greater.

That which you know as Reapers are your salvation through destruction.

You have failed. We will find another way. Releasing control.”

-Harbringer

 

Nowadays, it doesn’t take much to say that sculptures, paintings, instrumental pieces, dances and films are works of art. How eager we are to admire a magnificent portrait or a glorious bust; a graceful dancer or a touching movie. We find ourselves attracted to the character and emotion behind these masterpieces- drawn like bees to the most sublime flowers. The elite pride themselves in such civilized tastes and display them with extravagance. However, treat video games with the same idolatry and you’ll get nothing but looks of contempt, indignation, and even disgust.

This belongs to the vulgar and tasteless crowd, they’d say while they glance at a game screen where a man’s head is torn to shreds by a combat shotgun at point-blank range. They hear nothing but how these technological outlets do nothing but indulge in the violent and perverse behavior of the depraved and uncivilized. Yet, just as most people found themselves entranced by the pointless violence of countless action movies throughout the age of filming- they do not dare to question that film is, indeed, an art form.

The Shawshank Redemption, Shindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, The Pianist: nobody dares to question the art behind them. Nobody would doubt that these are movies that bring out our humanity; forced to see these characters as if they were real- calling out to us and demanding a warm place in our hearts and minds. However, dare to mention the likes of Mass Effect, Fallout, Dragon Age, or Final Fantasy and you might as well have blasphemed their ancestors back to the classical ages of Rome and Greece!

Despite all of this emnity, while staring mindlessly at the screen of rolling credits, I recover from what I am not ashamed to call the most profound emotions that have ever struck me out of an artistic medium. Nothing I had seen would compare to that experience- no film had ever gripped me at such a deep and personal level; no orchestra had ever awakened this heightened inspiration; nor had any cast of character connected themselves with my own heart so strongly. Nothing had ever made me care about the fate of not just one race or people, but an entire galaxy, so much as this.

What brought about this feeling of elation, you ask? Interactivity. Allow me to use the very recent example of the Sci-fi epic series, Mass Effect. This is a Roleplaying shooter game, where you take the role of Commander Shepard, a man -or woman- whose history you would be able to choose, along with the single event that made him so famous. You can alter his facial appearance- something that adds to the overall digital personification. Right from the start, you are given an emotional bond with this character by making it a digital manifestation of yourself and being able to choose what made a difference in his life. How long these small details go to giving us better emotional satisfaction! And to think that this is only but a snowflake on the proverbial tip of the iceberg!

The game also frequently presents you with a series of dialogue options that will greatly influence and shape, not only the events of the game, but subsequent ones as well. At the beginning of one mission, one of your comrades is enraged by the course of action, which will result in either you killing or calming him down. Later on in that same mission, you are given a choice between two teammates- Lt. Kaidan Alenko and Ashley Williams- and you must rescue one and leave another to die. This has immediate impact in that first game. Especially more so if you’ve underdone the pains to get to know them better. This affects us even greater, when we realize that we won’t see our fallen comrades in the second installment- they’re truly dead and we can’t press restart to bring them back.

That is what lures me into these games- you’re not just given a gun and told to shoot everyone until you encounter a big monster to blow up and you’ve won. You can dig so much deeper than that- you can talk to the crew and get to know them. You see that they’re not just heroes fearlessly facing the barrel of the rather suicidal events, but real characters with their own intricate histories and personalities. They’ve experienced shame and regret; they obsess over a criminal that slipped through their fingers because of the bureaucratic crap in the security forces; they suffer from having to kill their own mother while chasing down a man that threatens to destroy the entire galaxy. And you’re not just watching it; you’re there, making the decisions on whether or not to damn a race to its extinction or to save it; you’re the one pulling the trigger to kill the mother of one of your teammates while she despairs at her new allegiance; you’re the one who makes the choice of which teammate you save and which you would abandon to death.

No single movie can ever grant you that level of personal investment; you don’t truly feel what’s at stake when you’re watching the Sith taking over the Star Wars galaxy unless you’re there making the choices. You don’t truly care unless you experience these characters and bond with them to an emotional level. If the galaxy is doomed to destruction and you’re the one able to prevent that, the developers have granted you a handful of faces to attribute it. You can’t put a face on a galaxy- in the end, the casualties are all numbers unless you have an emotional stake; an investment; a personal attachment to their fate.

When my save file was carried over to the second game, I was thrilled to see the old, familiar faces. I didn’t have the option of adding any but two of them to my new squad, but it felt great to see them. I can’t describe how thrilled I was to see that old friend with whom I came close to shooting each others head off. To see him uniting the different clans of his people and building a bright future for his race was joyful- I couldn’t stop smiling and my heart fluttered for a while.

Having encountered my love interest from the first game, I couldn’t help but feel pity to see that once gentle person being consumed by rage and vengeance. How I wanted to whisk her away from such plans and take her through suicidal missions all around the galaxy just like the good old romantic days.

When it came time to assault the enemy base, I had already developed emotional bonds with my new crew. I interacted with them and gotten to know the stories and emotions behind these suicidal heroes. They were each shareholders of an emotional investment- I had grown to care for them as individuals, and would do this last mission just for their sake, not just the galaxy.

And that last mission was nothing like any other I’ve played before. You have a real sense of what’s at stake- if you don’t make the right decisions, your crew members will die and those that perish will not be seen in the subsequent games. If you don’t adequately prepare and earn the loyalty of your crew, YOU will die beside them and you won’t be able to carry on the same character to the next game. The fate of the galaxy is at stake; the fate of your friends is at stake; your fate is at stake. And to go through the heart of enemy territory and escape without any casualties- there is nothing that comes close to describe that feeling. Not only did I achieve the impossible, but I made sure my friends and beloved comrades lived to tell the tale as well.

You want to ask me if video games are an art form? A way of expressing human emotions? I say video games like these are the unification of all forms human expression- art that has come together to deliver an experience unlike any other. One where the sculptor would give life to an entire race and species- one individual at a time; where the painter would create cities and planets and the anthropologist beside him would craft entire cultures and societies to live out of these grand edifices; a universe in which the writer would weave all of the events together in an intricate web of life. An art that combine’s film’s cinematic qualities to bring life to this theoretical world and music’s grandeur to heighten that already incredible elation into a truly epic experience.

In order for those of you that aren’t familiar or interested in video games, allow me to give you a glimpse of this final and epic scenario. This is a video showing the last scene from the final mission. It’s the last part of a six-part series depicting that last mission, as played by another gamer. WARNING: If you are interested in video games and considering buying and playing this game, I reccomend not watching it.

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 4:01 am  Comments (1)  
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A Stern Response to a Reader’s Inquiry

A/N: This started out as a simple reply to a comment left by a reader in my Atheism and Agnosticism piece. However, due to the fact that every sentence or phrase required an elaborate answer, I decided to post it in the blog as per regular. There’s also the fact that leaving it as a comment reply would make it seem longer than it is and it wouldn’t earn the attention it calls out for.

Take note that while it may sound strident or agressive, I only mean to give it the seriousness the topic deserves. Also, due to the nature of this topic, such seriousness may come off as a personal attack- please refrain from such thoughts. I do not take anything said here personally, nor do I intent to make it sound that way.

Edit: Note that I always read my responses and I often respond to them in kind. I always receive an e-mail whenever I receive a comment and I am very often found on my computer- reading articles, watching documentaries, working on essays, or playing the occasional video game. You can check back in an hour or a day to see if I’ve responded, or merely allow wordpress to notify you of any responses to your comment.

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“Certainly this is a delicate theme and almost nobody talks about this because of the thin layer that support each point of view. But in my opinion nobody will literary see or explain God. This is something you feel in a certain point of your live, when you have difficulties and cannot get away, when you’re about to loose someone in the hospital and something inexplicable happens and not even the doctor know how to explain it, I think that’s the way that God manifest on our incredulous, unfaithful society and I know that even the atheists in a certain point of their live reclaim God about the things that happen to them so; if God doesn’t exist why do they reclaim him?”

I never claim or expected God to be seen. What I mean by evidence is something that can be repeatedly tested and observed in controlled environments in order to ascertain that its origins are not natural. Explain God? Am I mistaken, or is that the first thing Christians do? Do you not only believe that he will grant you the afterlife and leave the infidels to burn among the wicked, as if they were wicked themselves?

Are you not explaining God when you say that he performs miracles, rather than admitting that it may be a natural but unknown cause? Do you not jump at the fact that medicine is a young field and there are many things we haven’t been able to tell and immediately throw in a glorious, ‘Goddidit’? If you’re going to say that God is mysterious and works in mysterious ways, then be aware of the fact that it is a double-edged sword. It can and will be used against you in the floor of rational discussion.

When you say that God is some point in your life where you face seeming insurmountable difficulties-you lose a loved one, or everything shatters around you- are you implying that it may not be true, but at least it’s comforting; at least it gives us hope? Are you saying that, ‘Well, it may not be true, but never-mind that since it can be relied upon for comfort!’ If so, how contemptible. I, for one, care about whether or not my beliefs are true because it does matter. Your beliefs influence your actions, and if they are based on false assumptions, then what does that say about both you and your actions?

If God does exist, he could be any number of the 2,800+ in human history. I’m currently expecting a poster that’s being delivered which contains a list and origin of these numerous deities- and to give you an idea of how many these are, the dimensions have to be at least 47 by 35 inches in order to be seen. If people somehow proved the existance of a god, you still have all of your work still ahead of you.  If you proved that God exists, then you would only have shown that the Deist is correct, and you would still need to make a huge leap of faith to say that he isn’t a single one of the other gods humans have believed in- including the ones that we haven’t even come up with yet. If God exists, but he doesn’t intervene- as deists believe- then it won’t really matter. To indulge you, if he does exist and even dishes out an enternal punishment just for not believing in him, then he damn well better give us something worthy to base it off. Arguments from ignorance don’t even come close to that; if that’s all he has, then I still say unbelief remains the more rational choice.

Now, should you say that it’s all about faith, then take care to notice what it is you’re asking: to believe in something despite a lack of evidence to support such a claim and even in the presence of evidence to the contrary. This is the very definition of credulity, and a god that admires that over skepticism and free-inquiry is one I would actively refuse to follow or worship. I expect him to at the very least say, ‘Even through you didn’t believe in me, I admire your honest and diligent pursuit of the truth, rather than taking what a man in a robe said for granted or believing in something for the sake of belief.’ If he does not, then I have no repect for the guy.

Incredulous society? I beg your pardon? You’re calling a society that is more than 90% Christian incredulous? If anything, our society is highly credulous. And look up Sweden if you want to see what skepticism does to society. That country, who only has 23% of their population saying that they believe in a God. A country that, just like the other highly secular ones in Europe, are among the most well-developed, wealthiest, most democratic, most free, most entrepreneurial, least corrupt, least violent, most peaceful, healthiest, happiest, most egalitarian, best educated, most charitable, and most environmentally compassionate societies in the entire world. Whereas the more religious a country is, the opposite symptoms show. I wish our society was more incredulous.

On a side note: I don’t mean to assert that unbelief has any positive impact on society- after all, correlation does not imply any sort of causation- but I do wish to repudiate the myth that a society without God is a cruel, merciless, miserable and ultimately chaotic one. This may very well be a symptom, where a more educated population are more likely to question their government and thus bring about a brighter future.

As for blaming God, (reclaim may be the translation for ‘reclamar’, but it doesn’t have the same function) that is justified given the properties you atribute to his nature. You say he’s all benevolent and invests a great deal of time healing people. If he heals blind people, then why not heal blindness, for starters? If he took the effort to cure a fellow classmate and churchgoer’s grandmother’s tumors, then why did mine suffer from the same disfiguring and painful death? Why did she have to suffer from a tumor that made her belly look as if she were pregnant and forced her to take the maximum dose of morphine and still carry on through that with excruciating pain? Why do hurricanes and tsunamis kill thousands of people? Why is our Milky Way galaxy in a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy? Why is our universe destined to rip itself apart by the sheer force of its expansion?

Such a design doesn’t entail the existance of a good and all-loving god that has the power to stop this or create things differently. In fact, if he does exist, I’d argue that he is more capricious than good. So yes, I do believe we have the right to question what is said of him. If he’s all-good, I have the right to point out to all of the chaos and natural evils in this poorly-created universe; how he apparently loves to play favorites and heal some while at the same time abandoning others.  I would even outright challenge the morality behind dishing out an infinite punishment for finite acts. No matter how much of a cruel and sadistic asshole that one guy might have been, you cannot morally justify punishing him for all eternity. Finite acts do not merit infinite judgements… ever!

Fortunately for him, any claims to his nature are merely the fabrications of his partly-rational and egotistical creation.

Published in: on March 13, 2010 at 2:08 am  Comments (2)  
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Alien Obstacles: A Most Uneasy Relation

 

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-Two young philosophers; (from left to right) The Master and the Apprentice.

I find myself stuck, facing a wall of alien appearance and nature- though strikingly familiar at the same time. I don’t know where it came from, for its origins were as sudden as they were unfamiliar. I’m overwhelmed by distress as I face this strange new barrier. I know I’ve seen it before: long has it been present in the paths of others and long have I watched them toil to cross it innumerable times. However, its presence in my own path utterly perplexes me: I feel like an American Indian being handed a musket rifle. Long has he watched his enemies stare down the sights of the iron-forged instruments- even some of his comrades have wielded that exotic fusion of lumber and steel with strange familiarity. Yet, the gift seems heavy in his hand; long trained to handle the bow with a marksman’s precision; long familiarized with the arching path of the arrow so that it can piece his target where it matters. Now, a lifetime of training and spiritual beliefs is under attack from this situation. If he’d cast away the bow and his long history with it; a new system would need to be built so it can replace the old one. A new wall would have to be built to seal off a section breached by a rogue cannonball. Yet, as I wield this long and bulky instrument- facing down the iron barrel and ill-prepared for the backlash of its recoil- I find myself asking, ‘Would this truly be a tool for my betterment?’

Allow me to step out of the metaphor and elaborate it clearly: the virtues of a contrasting nature against the backdrop of societal ‘normalcy’ and an elaborate script in a writing course led me to acquiring new relations in this new academic semester. They were interesting individuals -to say only the very least- and I enjoyed their company with magnificent splendor. Mind you, company in itself is a rare occasion in my college life. I spent some time after one of my writing courses with one of these individuals and a close friend of hers. Hilarity ensued for the better part of a few hours and I would have been very much content for a few days. However, I found myself the subject of a short and simple question- one that would launch the perplexity that seems to haunt me to this day: her friend asked us why we weren’t going out. This could have been dismissed as a joke, but her tenacity on obtaining an answer even well after the subject has been changed, not to mention the added, ‘well, you two seem to be into each other, I ask again, why don’t you two go out?’ removed any shadow of a doubt on the seriousness of her question.

To most, this would barely qualify as a dilemma, but my young life had been based on and built around the principle that my nature would set me apart from most of the people around me- that I would seem strange or eccentric and thus the object of a similar solitude that struck great minds like Nietzsche or Schopenhauer; that my relations with the opposite sex would be rare and unsuccessful. I had already drawn consolation for this from Schopenhauer’s quote that, “A man of genius can hardly be sociable, for what dialogues can be as intelligent and entertaining as his own monologues?”

I’d even grown proud of this fact: I would suffer, but I knew that I was on the right path. The struggle for truth and wisdom would arrive at a harsh, uncaring, and dangerous reality that the complacent majority would never even fathom; however, the rewards of such struggle would be all the greater. Philosophy was my lover, I would say, and while a woman would be welcomed to a threesome, ultimately she would not be needed, for I already had a relationship. I would not mourn her absence as a happily married man would not for a harem. Sure, it would be nice, but he was happy in his committed life and would consider a second woman to be well outside a necessity.

Now faced with this proposition, my level of discomfort is at a peculiar level as to transcend any sort of description. It is here that I think our language may be poor and lacking -just as it may very well be my own ability for linguistic expression- that hinders an accurate description.

It seems that I struck a barrier that plagues all of humanity at one point or another: that fear of the unknown. Within the limits of my own knowledge and experience, I’ve reached the edge of the path enlightened and I find myself facing a road darker than the very depths of the abyss. Among the endless darkness, I fear the sights of demonic faces staring back, daring me to cross the threshold and submit myself to an entirely new realm of torments.

Yet, as I write this, a part of me glares defiantly back into those dark depths, calling out the courage to explore uncharted lands and belittles the cowards within the Senate of Internal Critics –and I name it thus because of the sheer number of different entities that make up this body. It proudly points back to a work inspired by him- the letter written with the idea of becoming an Overman by facing your difficulties and overcoming those weaknesses. He taunts them by calling them out on acting like the human cowards they make themselves to be- not those proud members of a noble and wise Senate, but rabble-minded plebs and their Trinity of Fears.

They, in turn, profess that their refusal to follow that dark path is the light of reason against his foolhardiness. They claim that his reasons have little to do with romantic relationships, but a combined fear of solitude and the often accompanying loneliness; a hope for regular and possibly intimate -though not necessarily sexual- company. They claim that he’s not departing out of a genuine sense, but possibly as a last resort or an emotional response. They’d rather stand their ground and wait until the terrain beyond is better known and that they could be more certain of their reasons. To embark even on the most righteous of quests without the right reasons may be as dangerous as taking on a path fraught with perils.

War rages deep within my consciousness. I believed myself to be the lonely genius Schopenhauer addressed and a man made in the image of those who used the suffering from their solitary lives to near superhuman strength and wisdom. The pain of these situations elevated them far beyond the rest, and I fear that without this, I would not stand out or reach beyond common human limitations. That I, a man who relied on his intellect as his worth because of an absence of social, artistic, or emotional intelligence; he now sees this threatened by the emergence of a new opponent while at the same time torn over the possibility of increasing his worth through this potentially painful or elating experience.

Wars are hardly won over the course of hours or days, and I fear this won’t be an exception. It seems that through the writing of this piece, a battle has been won in favor of the aspiring Overman, but my own limbs still tremble and shake violently in the wake of crossing this doorway. Nietzsche once said, ‘That which does not kill me, only serves to make me stronger’ and while I am not so struck by emotional despair to claim that this has the potential to immolate me, I fear that I may emerge a cripple. This possibility still haunts me and I can only hope I’ll make the right choice.

In a gesture of inspiration, the victor turned to his cowardly opponents and recalled a quote even they are familiar with:

“The secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is – to live dangerously. Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into un-charted seas. Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors, you seekers of knowledge! Soon the age will be past when you could be content to live hidden in forests like shy deer. At long last the search for knowledge will reach out for its due; it will want to rule and possess, and you with it!”

And so more converts have been won to his side. A single battle has been won, and yet I can only say the stalemate continues on for the foreseeable future.

Published in: on February 28, 2010 at 8:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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