Saturday, May 30, 2015

On the origins of Hell

First, let me say I believe in nothing supernatural, no gods, no afterlife, no ghosts, no magic, nothing. And while I would never believe Hell existed in my worldview anyway, there is actual evidence that proves Hell is man-made and not an actual thing. In a recent discussion with a theist, he claimed to ACTUALLY know about Hell, so I called him on it. Of course he just told me to read the bible and backpedaled on giving me real evidence. When I told him real research reveals how Hell came to be known as a place of eternal damnation without actually existing, he asked me for proof, so here it is:

It's not surprising that "hell" in the New Testament is used as a vehicle for control and fear, and it's no less surprising that it is the product of mistranslation and misunderstanding. To get to the root of its origin we MUST begin with the OT. The Jews wrote the Old Testament, thus starting the Abrahamic religion, and they use the term Sheol, described as a morally neutral place people allegedly go after they die. It literally means "world of the dead; a subterranean retreat, a grave or pit." In fact, in the KJV, the Old Testament term Sheol is translated as "Hell" 31 times and "grave" 31 times (translated as "pit" three times).

What's that you say, there is no Hell in the OT and the Jews don't believe in Hell? No lake of fire, no eternal damnation? Well isn't that very telling? The Greeks originally translated Sheol as Hades, their underworld, which already is skewing the original meaning. The KJV translates Hades as Hell 10 times, and as grave once. Nonetheless, Hell's origin can still be traced to the OT, but let's take a quick detour to the NT for a second.

Obviously the Jesus character was a Jew, as were his followers/apostles, and in the Greek translations of the NT, Jesus uses the term Gehenna for Hell. Some say Gehenna is not Hell, but originally was a grave and in later times a sort of Purgatory where one is judged based on one's life's deeds, or rather, where one becomes fully aware of one's own shortcomings and negative actions during one's life. But if you follow the steps of translation back to the original Hebrew, you'll learn Gehenna (English) comes from the Greek's Ge'enna (γέεννα), which is a phonetic transcription of the Aramaic Gēhannā, which of course comes from the Hebrew Ge Hinnom, which literally means Valley of Hinnom.

This Valley, aka Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, was used during Roman times (and before then) for burning bodies and trash. A little more research uncovers this Valley was used for child sacrifices by Jews and Canaanites, and these sacrifices were to Molech, Baal and even Yahweh. The Valley of Hinnom is below the southern wall of ancient Jerusalem, which is telling in and of itself, that the location is below Jerusalem. Many biblical scholars will say Gehenna is a metaphor for Hell, but of course we have the actual history of the location and no real evidence of a hell itself.

But the imagery is easily transferable even if mistakingly done so: an underworld, below Jerusalem, where the unwanted things (people and garbage) go to burn. One part of the Valley was known as Tophet, the "fire-stove" or furnace, where the children were burned alive. Excavations from 1975-80 found remains of nine burial caves, and in earlier excavations of the dump, the fire was still smoldering after centuries.

So, we have Hades and Gehenna, and when the bible was translated into English in Medieval Times, both terms became Hell, which in fact doesn't exist. It literally started as just an OT description of where bodies were buried, mistranslated to mean underworld, then it was an actual place where bodies were sacrificed and burned, located below Jerusalem. And it was during the Medieval Times the Christian church manipulated Hell as a weapon for controlling its followers with fear of eternal damnation.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Why Christianity is most popular

On one of the forums I frequent, the comments discussion drifted somehow to which religion had the most members globally. Someone tried to say it was Hindu/Buddhism and I of course had to correct him. Christianity is first with Islam a close second. I then made an off-hand comment that we all know why Christianity dominates and it's not because it's the one true religion. One of the theists took umbrage with this remark and wanted to know my feelings as to why this is true. I poked a little fun at him by asking how he didn't know why his own religion was the most popular, and he just up and left the discussion before I could offer my answer. So here is what I would have said to him:

The reasons are plenty and these aren't in any particular order of importance:

Convenience: If you want to be a Jew, there's the hassle of learning Hebrew, there's a dress code, you must attend Temple services, the food you can't eat is tasty and you must deal with bigotry.

If you want to be a Muslim, you must go to Mecca, pray at least five times a day, you can't eat certain foods, if you're a woman you must live your life covered from head to toe while living in fear as a subservient human. Plus there's the whole jihad bullshit instilled in Muslims.

Other religions have the same or similar restrictions on lifestyle that adds up to one huge inconvenience. But in Christianity? You don't have to do anything and you can still call yourself a Christian. Just ask for forgiveness while you watch your favorite reality shows featuring Real Housewives. Do whatever you want, just as long as you make an attempt to be a good person. You can do this in perpetuity. And don't worry, if you fail, just ask for forgiveness and get a clean slate.

One Christian group can accept evolution (Catholics) while another can dismiss it as the devil's handiwork (Young Earth Creationists), yet both remain Christian and both are considered correct. One can hate homosexuals, one can accept them because Jesus was loving, and both are correct. The bible is figurative, the bible is literal, doesn't matter, you're Christian. Want to pray today? Go ahead. Don't want to? That is OK, too.

Power: Christianity had/has the most power behind it, including weaponry and hierarchy (think Constantine, Crusades, Inquisition). Why are there so many Christians? If you didn't convert to Christianity, you were killed. Simple math. People believed or they died. And as families continued to raise their children that way, the numbers grew exponentially. You kill those that don't believe and you nurture and raise those that do. Again, simple math. It is easy to outnumber other religions when you are killing everyone who wasn't like you.

Money and missionaries: Christianity preys on the needy. "We will build a hut for you, but first let's gather round and discuss the miracles of Jesus. Are you hungry? We'll give you that sandwich just as I tell you the good news."

How many religions send missionaries out into the world to convert non-believers? Christians try to convert every non-believer or non-Christian they know. It's considered their duty. The other religions don't do that. It's easy to outnumber people when you have recruiters all around the world promising you stuff for your conversion, especially if you're desperate.

Christianity craves money more than any other religion, easily. How many times has a Jew knocked on your door to ask if you have a minute to talk about Yahweh? Any Muslims ringing your bell for a chance to discuss Mohammed? Maybe a Hindu has approached you to discuss Shiva. No? You don't say. Christianity loves money, it needs it, and in America it gets tax breaks so the more money they get, the more they keep. These people aren't trying to convert others for love and peace, they are being forced out to increase the flock, to increase the cash flow. And don't even think about bringing up charity, because that still ultimately benefits Christianity, and you don't need religion to be charitable.

So, you take all of these factors and it adds up to Christianity outnumbering all religions, but even with all of these reasons, Christianity is still dying and won't be on top for long. A recent PEW study shows Islam will overtake Christianity in the next few decades and non-believers will catch up as well. So, it turns out that even the threat of death and the promise of eternal bliss isn't enough to keep Jesus lovers in first place.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Learn to think critically

Take a moment to reflect on the things you believe in your life, especially the important things. Now honestly ask yourself, "Why do I believe that?" Is it because you carefully weighed all of the pros and cons of that particular stance and truly arrived at what is best for you? Or are you merely a product of your environment, following what you were told to like, think and believe as a child?

Perhaps you looked up to someone and wanted to impress them, so you liked what they liked, you believed as they did. Think about that for a moment today. Children should be taught HOW to think, not what to think. Critical thinking is the first step to becoming the real you, and the younger a child is when they learn this the happier that child will be in life.

Why be a sheep when you can be the shepherd?