Statesboro, GA, USA
Ok, maybe the're not wacky, or at least not wackier than, say, reincarnation or the fountain of youth. They may have an appealing internal logic, but they are figments of the imagination.
As a religious dogma, I don't think re-incarnation is wacky at all, though I would say it is mistaken. Probably what I would ask you to consider, is the question of why people of most cultures have tended to believe in some kind of reward/punishment paradigm? It seems to be a bent of our race to think there is more to life than just the here and now, and that what is done in the now matters beyond the moment. To a Christian, this is existential evidence that God has given a general awareness of something more perfectly revealed in the Bible.
Probably the only fatal flaw (no pun intended) with reincarnation is its incongruency with the Hindu-Buddhist world-view in which it sits. An ultimate reality which ultimately says that good and evil are illusions, can hardly support the kind of standard that Karma presupposes.
And likewise, my response to atheism would be to ask whether or not all human value becomes prone to the charge of being only "internal logic"? In the face of absolute death, everything is relative transient and absurd. And an atheist only overcomes this awareness by imposing arbitrary values. It is interesting that these values invariably concord with those proposed by the Judeo-Christian view ... love, benevolence, giving, goodwill, etc. In one world-view these are by design, and our adherence to them are therefore fitting and understandable (though not without mystery). In the alternative view, they are only contrived attempts to make meaning. I still think Nietzsche, for this reason, was the most unflinchingly honest atheist, who realized (for good or ill) that heart-values in an atheist universe is just an intramural subterfuge. So, if you're going to have faith in that much (else embrace the nihilism of Nietzsche), God is no unthinkable leap. Some may end up thinking that our humanity itself is doubtful. But Christians believe that this general tendency to "faith" is a signpost to something much greater.
Hell, or the way many Christians might think of it at the moment, was specifically a figment of Dante's imagination. It doesn't fit with a Biblical definition or hell, because, as far as I know, there isn't such a definition in the Bible.
The popular imagination about hell, in art or otherwise, is symbolic. But the reality is more terrible than the symbol. And the difficulties inherent in a simplified symbol shouldn't make anyone skeptical of the reality, unless they insist on the strictest kind of literalism they often reject in some fundamentalist circles. The common understanding of the atom as taught in beginning science class, for example, is fraught with error, and entirely symbolic too. I don't think a case against atoms can be made from pointing out the frailty of analogy.
As far as the question whether there is a fairly unambiguous "doctrine of hell" inherent in the Bible, I believe I could show you there is. What about where Jesus spoke of "gehenna" as the fire that is never quenched, and the worm that does not die ... and about it being preferable to enter heaven maimed than to enter hell with all of one's faculties? Not to mention the many scriptures of the apostle Paul on the subject, and the description of the lake of fire in the book of Revelation? I would say to you that a plain reading of scripture would reveal a provocative portrait of a fiery hell, and that predating Dante quite a bit.
The Bible also doesn't limit the conception of hell to externally imposed punishment, but also as a state of being. This is the most unsettling aspect of "hell" to me ... though for others perhaps literal flames do the trick. If anything gets someone to do an about face, then I can't criticize the means to that end.
One can at least think of more subtle descriptions of hell than a medieval furnace. Consider Dostoevsky's words from "The Brothers Karamazov":
"(From Talks and Homilies of the Elder Zosima)
"Fathers and teachers, I ask myself: 'What is hell?' And I answer thus: 'The suffering of being no longer able to love' ... People speak of the material flames of hell. I do not explore this mystery, and I fear it, but I think if there were material flames, truly people would be glad to have them, for, as I fancy, in material torment they might forget, at least for a moment, their far more terrible spiritual torment. And yet it is impossible to take this spiritual torment from them, for this torment is not external but is within them ..."
And here is an article entitled 'Seeing Hell through the Reason and Imagination of C.S. Lewis' that might interest you, if you're willing to explore an orthodox view about hell that is different, but not necessarily contradictory to more material descriptions. I guess I would conclude by saying that all of such views (whether of St. John, Dante, Dostoevsky, or Lewis) are incomplete at best.
Me: The atrocities we've seen just in the last century speak of the plausibility of hell.
Jim: Nah. The atrocities we've seen in the last centrury only speak to the fact that we haven't learned much about the consequences of committing atrocities, just gotten more efficient at it. Most of human history, at least the parts that get recorded, involve one atrocity or another.
I agree. I wasn't saying that the last century has the market cornered on atrocities. I was rather making an a minore ad maius argument, that if such horrors have been caused by people in just one century (which might at least make the notion of Hell plausible), then how much more if one considers all of history?
Me: And the laughter of a 3 year old, the plausibility of Heaven
Jim: Sure, or at least the plausibility of worldless-ness, which may indeed be a Heaven like state. Nirvana, in a Buddhist, not Hindu state, is another example of this.
I honestly can't see how the laughter of a child would remind one of a worldless state. To me, it is makes me think of a heavenly joy with its feet on the earth ... making most connection with the Christian doctrine of a good creation (in spite of the fall), and the hope of resurrection, not eternal disembodiment.
There's not much difference between the "experience" Edwards is describing and the experience of "satori," except that in once case God has something to do with and in the other case God doesn't. Neither belief nor disbelief have anything to do with experiencing the experience.
I would say "experience" divorced from a coherent context makes the distinction. What is the metaphysical ground for joy or bliss in a monistic system, if all such distinctions (and even individuality itself) are meaningless?
And I would simply disagree with your statement that faith/belief is not connected to Christian spiritual experience. Scripturally we are told explicitly that it is, even if we cannot unravel the mysterious interplay of human will, belief, and God. And even if you wanted to defend the strict causal Calvinism of Edwards (which has its short-comings), I'll bet he didn't say that the New-Birth was divorced from human will and belief ... even if that will and belief owes completely to the divine will.
Whether the eggs were the product of God's incredible imagination, of two hummingbirds having had sexual relations, it was still pretty nifty.
I'll bet that was quite a sight!
I would say that secondary causes (Mr. and Mrs. Hummer) would not rule out a primary cause and significance, such as the creative brilliance of God.
it's always a pleasure for me to chat (if you can call it that), with such a nice guy.