An Eternity of Torment

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At what point would you let your child take his own life?

My friend Gelo decided to respond to an example I brought out last week, of a parent stopping his child from committing suicide. He asserted that the reason for stopping the child is that the parent still holds out some hope that the child would see the error of his ways and change his mind.

“But what if there is no such hope?” asks Gelo. “What if your child has his mind set on taking his life and will keep attempting until he does so. Do you tie him up to make sure he won’t? To what extent are you willing go to stop him? See, I suspect there will be a point where you’ll decide to let him be. Chaining him to the ground will arguably be worse, after all. And, basically, that’s the point of hell.”

Another friend, Nicky, pointed me to an article from Catholic Answers entitled, “What is Hell?” which briefly reminded me of a poorly-worded church announcement that said, “The topic for next Sunday’s sermon is ‘What is Hell?’ Come early and listen to our choir practice.”

Anyway, I get what Nicky and Gelo are driving at — that hell is not a place of torment but an eternal state of separation. In short, if you decide you don’t want to be with God, then God respects that choice and lets you be — which is the essence of freedom. Will there be pain and suffering? Well, the Catholic view is that the pain is more of the pain of isolation and loneliness, rather than the pain of being roasted alive — like standing and facing the corner of eternity while everyone around you is dancing and partying.

It was interesting growing up as a Protestant in a Catholic school. I remember a church sermon where the pastor seemed to take delight in describing how much hell was going to hurt — what being burned feels like, and how the fires of hell were going to be much worse. And then I got the “separation” explanation from the priest in school and I remember thinking how wimpy Catholic doctrine was.

But back to Gelo’s point — assuming that is the case, what if the child could communicate with you after death and says that he regrets his choice and would like to live again. If you, as a parent, had the power to restore him to life, would you do it?

I suspect that no parent in his right mind would say, “No, he made his choice, it’s too late now.”

In fact, I know of a dad who has a daughter, but does not approve of the daughter’s choice of husband-to-be. Yet, he does not fight with his daughter over her choice though he did provide plenty of warnings and advice. Still he allowed her to make her own decision.

In that way, he said, he keeps a good relationship with her and she will always feel free and welcome to come back to me should the marriage turn sour or his husband turns out to be a wife-beater or worse.

So whether one believes that hell is a place of active torment or simply a state of separation, why should that state be eternal? That is what I do not understand.

Why would we not have the freedom to make different choices after death? If a human father could be considerate and forgiving to a daughter who defies his wishes, how much more should a heavenly father be considerate and forgiving as well, especially after the child has fully experienced the consequences of his actions and has come to regret them?

And so regardless of whether the pain is physical or emotional, the question would be why a loving God would allow it to go on and on for all time. Would it not be more an act of mercy to simply snuff that soul out of existence?

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Good News

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“Share the gospel! Preach the good news!” is something I would often hear while growing up in church.

But what is this gospel? What is the good news?

Very often it would distilled into one Bible verse: John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Countless sermons have been written and preached on this one verse alone. I remember hearing one about a bridge operator who brought his son to work one day. His job was to sit in a booth and control the mechanism which raises a bridge when there is river traffic and lowers it when there is none to allow land vehicles to pass through. On that day, he saw a tourist boat full of people approaching the bridge so he started the machine which would raise the bridge. As the bridge slowly went up, he heard his little boy cry out and to his horror, found him caught in the mechanism that was raising the bridge. If it opened fully, his son would be crushed. He was about to stop the machine but he saw that the boat was fast approaching and it would crash into the bridge if it was left unopened. With tears in his eyes, he allowed the bridge to open, crushing his son while allowing the boat of happy people to pass through, blissfully unaware of his huge sacrifice.

Stories like this, especially prevalent during Christmas and Easter,  are meant to highlight the love of God in giving up his only son to suffer and die in our place, for our sins. All we have to do in order to avoid this terrible fate, as the verse says, is to believe.

What is rarely questioned is why or how we were destined for this fate at all, but there is a ready answer for that nonetheless — the doctrine of depravity — that we were born imperfect, stained with the “original sin” of Adam and Eve; that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we strive to be good, “all our righteous acts are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and we will never be good enough to stand in God’s presence UNLESS we accept the sacrifice of his son.

Otherwise, it’s off to the torture chamber for us – hell, endless suffering, eternal separation with God, and so on and so forth.

But let’s back up a bit, who created this system anyway? Who is the architect of all these? Isn’t it God as well? The Christian belief allows no other being to rival God. In other words there is no “evil God” that is equally as powerful and locked in a cosmic struggle with him. Satan is depicted as a fallen angel, just one of God’s creations, that he can actually disintegrate any time he likes so he doesn’t really count. In fact, Christians like to say that God is in control of everything and that includes the devil — that the only reason he hasn’t been blown up to bits is because God still has some purpose for him to play in his grand scheme.

So if we are to follow this logic, it is really God sending people to hell unless they believe that he sent his son (who is also himself) to this little backwater town in the Middle East, to be one of them and to suffer and die for them. And he did this all at a time before TV, radio and the internet were invented. And so all those generations of poor folks in China or on the island of Hawaii, who never heard of this story until hundreds of years later have been fed to the fires of hell just because they didn’t believe. But it’s ok because even though it is hard for us to understand, we just need to have to trust that it is all part of God’s divine plan and that all things will come out just fine in the end.

“But God doesn’t send people to hell,” some people would argue with me. “That is the logical consequence of their choice. If they don’t want to be with God, that is not God’s problem anymore. In fact, that is the essence of freedom — God will not force people (who do not want to be with him) to be with him.”

Well look, people do not choose to go to hell. Though some might jokingly say hell is more interesting than heaven, but what people choose is other beliefs, which is largely a product of the geographic location and culture they were born into. And if you really think about it, they don’t even get to choose. They are indoctrinated from day 1, when they don’t even have the mental and intellectual capacity to understand what is going on. And God is sending them to hell for this?

And that other thing about God not forcing people — well let me leave you with this example — if a parent sees his child about to hang himself or jump of a cliff, is the parent going to stand idly by and say, “Well, kid, look, I really can’t stop you if this is what you really want. I mean, I should know better but I don’t want to impinge on your freedom, you know.”

No, the parent would do everything possible to save the child, freedom be damned.

If God exists, then he has the power to forgive and accept people as they are, whatever their beliefs or  choices are. Heck, ordinary people can do this, why can’t God? There is no need for a hell except for the doctrine of depravity which ought to go there.

Now that would be good news.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Blind Item

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A few months ago, someone started sending me emails. At first, he was simply asking questions about things I had written and so I answered him. It became quickly apparent though that the person was not really interested in what I had to share as he was trying to bait me into his way of thinking. Still I humored him and tried to respond sincerely and respectfully.

But after a few exchanges, I had to tell him, “You are asking questions not because you are truly curious as to what I want to say or you want this or that matter clarified. You are asking me questions because you want to forward your own agenda, to twist my answers in order to say what you want to say. I’m sorry but I have no more time for this.”

Still he persisted and sent me another email, saying that since I invited my readers to email me, I am obliged to answer their questions.

I responded for the final time with this: “I am no more obliged to answer your email than you are to send one to me. Yes, I invite readers to write to me. I also have the prerogative to decide whether they are worth my time answering or if they are just nuisance mail.

You are welcome to think whatever you wish of me and hey, if you think you have a message worth saying, go apply to write your own column in a newspaper somewhere, even Sunstar. I have no interest, however, in these silly games you are playing with me. I feel no obligation to convince you to accept my views though you seem hell-bent on convincing me about the truth of yours.

So no, unless you show that you are capable of meaningful discussion instead of just pushing your own agenda, this will be my last reply to you.”

Still he persisted  and sent me more email, with subject headings such as “Don’t give up. Defend your belief,” but I just laughed and ignored him as I said I would. The emails stopped coming after he finally realized that I meant what I said about that being my last reply. I am not so insecure with my own opinions that I feel I should always debate with everyone who challenges them.

In my 44 years of life, I have come to terms with the fact that people will always have their differences and no amount of argument or persuasion will bend others to your point of view, even with family…and sometimes, especially with family.

So if there are irresolvable differences, I don’t dwell on them but find ways to move forward despite the disagreements. Instead of focusing on what doesn’t work and what is unacceptable between us, let’s see how we can work together and have that basic human respect, at least, in getting on with our plans and our lives.

What I find bewildering is some people torture themselves with this and demand that the other person change his opinion or else.

During the last election season, there was someone whom I didn’t even know personally who started criticizing my social media posts about the candidate I supported — to the point that even my non-election related posts were given a political twist by this person. So I said something like, what’s the problem here? And she replied with, “I’m so sick of seeing your posts on my newsfeed.”

Oh my, if that was the problem, she could have easily turned off my feeds by unfollowing or unfriending or even blocking me, as I have done to some people who were really obnoxious and annoying. But she would rather point the blame on me like it was my fault for expressing my opinion on my page.

Some people are just too blinded by their own anger to see that they themselves are the cause of their own unhappiness.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Forgiveness

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Many people do not understand forgiveness. They think that forgiving someone is dependent on the other person’s repentance. “How can I forgive if the other person is not sorry?” is their battlecry.

At a seminar long ago, I encountered a woman I’ll call Linda (not her real name). Linda was in her mid-30’s and worked in middle management in a firm in Makati. When she started sharing, the anger in her voice was thick and palpable. She talked about her job and how she felt she was being unfairly treated by her boss — how she had been expecting a promotion twice already but had been bypassed in favor of people who were her juniors.

The facilitator, I’ll call him Gary (also not his real name), asked about her childhood and so she talked about her mother, who had worked as an OFW when she was around 6 and later ran off with another man. She had never come back, leaving her father alone to raise Linda and her brother. Every time Linda saw her father drunk and crying in the kitchen, her hatred for her mother grew more and more.

“But now that you’re all grown up and are already a mother yourself, have you forgiven her?” asked Gary.

“How can I forgive her when I don’t even know if she’s sorry for what she has done?” said Linda.

“You know what, Linda? Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. It’s about you. Forgiveness is about not letting the pain of your past affect your present. You are obviously holding on to your anger. What benefit do you get out of it?” asked Gary.

“I don’t know, nothing, It just stresses me out,” said Linda.

“That’s not true,” said Gary. “If you weren’t getting anything out of it, you wouldn’t be holding on to it for so long. Here, let me demonstrate.”

Gary walks over to a table and picks up a rubber ball used in a previous activity. He gives it to Linda and asks her to grip it tight, which she does. “Don’t loosen your grip,” said Gary.

After a minute or so, Gary asked, “How does your hand feel?”

Linda says, “Tired and tense, can I let go of the ball now?”

“Sure,” says Gary, “Just open your hand and let it drop.”

Linda drops the ball.

Then Gary says, “You know, Linda, your hand felt tired and stressed after just a minute of gripping the ball. And yet your heart has been holding tight to this anger since you were 6. That’s around 30 years. Like I said, you wouldn’t be holding on to it if it did not benefit you in some way. Letting it go would be as simple as letting that ball drop. You want to know what you’re getting out of it?”

“Yes,” said Linda.

“What you’re getting out of it is that you have someone to blame — and that’s a tremendous benefit” said Gary. “When your life goes wrong, you look back and remember your mother, who didn’t love you enough, who left you and your father and brother to fend for yourselves. It’s her fault your life is a mess. It’s her fault you grew up this way, and so on and so forth. And very often, that anger is what drives you to push yourself to succeed, to prove to her that you can make it without her, that despite what she did, you will still win.”

Linda nods.

“But remember that anger also carries a heavy price. It takes a toll on your mind and body. Just as your hand grew tired of gripping the ball, your body also suffers because of your anger, and it even radiates to those around you.”

Gary turns to the rest of the attendees and asks, “How many of you felt Linda’s anger the moment she started speaking?” Everyone of us, including me, raised our hands.

“See?” said Gary. “That is the price you pay. Maybe that’s why your boss doesn’t promote you, because he feels that anger too, and may deem you unfit or emotionally incapable of handling the higher position. Maybe that’s why you get frequent headaches and tire easily. Linda, you are now an adult and you have made something of yourself. You have made a lot of life decisions that have nothing whatsoever to do with your mother. So why do you continue to let the memory of what she did haunt you? Let it go now and be free.”

We then had some more activities during the rest of the seminar and Linda did let go. She forgave her mother and was a very happy woman at the end of the seminar. Even today when I get the occasional chance to talk to her, she seems very different from how I first perceived her. She still talks about her past, but it is just normal storytelling with no more overtones of hate or anger.

Genuine forgiveness brings a person into a space of real joy and peace.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

Bitcoin: Beyond the Hype

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Is it the right time to buy? Isn’t it too expensive already?

These are the questions I most often hear from people asking me about bitcoin. I heard this question back when bitcoin rose from a lethargic $200 to upwards of $300. I heard it when bitcoin hit $700, then $1000, then $2000 and $3000 and I’m still hearing it even until now.

When I began writing about cryptocurrency last June, the price of bitcoin had hit an all-time high of $2,800. Today, it is December and bitcoin had just broken past $10,000. That means if you had bought bitcoin last June and simply held on until today, you would have made four times your money’s worth in six months.

This year alone, I have seen more people becoming interested in bitcoin than I have in the previous 2 years combined. The reactions are varied — some want to jump in immediately while others are skeptical and holding back.

Just this morning, I read two articles — one was from a local politician warning people against investing in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies and the other was a comparison between bitcoin and email.

The warning had some valid points — that people should not pour their life savings into this, that prices are volatile and have no safeguards in place — this is sound advice that I myself also give to others.

The politician further said that, “Investors stand to lose everything overnight if exchange platforms for cryptocurrencies shut down or when the consumer’s virtual wallet containing confidential information is hacked or stolen” — and while that is true, there are also safety measures one can take to prevent that. The risk you take in leaving your currencies with an exchange is similar to the risk you take leaving your money in the bank. If the bank shuts down, there goes your money as well. Besides, it is possible to take your cryptocurrencies out of exchanges into your own private offline wallet – so that is virtually unhackable.

Life is one big risk. The key to investments, like life, is not avoiding risk, but managing it — and one manages risk by increasing one’s knowledge about the matter. The more you know, the better your decisions will be.

So yes, if you are too lazy, too unmotivated, or too uninterested to learn about cryptocurrencies, then I suggest you heed Mr. Politician’s advice and stay away. As my friend says, “Crypto is not for the weak of heart. It is an emotional roller coaster ride.”

The other article was more interesting, as it pointed out that for all the hype surrounding bitcoin, still less than 1% of the world’s population are using it, much less really understand it. The writer compares bitcoin today as similar to email, which was invented as far back as 1972. Twenty-two years later, in 1994, only 0.25% of the population were using it, but it quickly gained traction after that and another twenty-three years later today, well, who hasn’t heard of or learned to use email?

What is essential to understand about bitcoin is that it is not just some kind of money that sits on thin air. Its value does not rest on pure speculation alone. Yes, there are many casual investors jumping on the bitcoin bandwagon wanting to get rich quick.

But beyond that, bitcoin is built on the revolutionary technology called the blockchain and those who understand what that is all about know that will forever change the landscape of how programmers understand how information is stored and transmitted, how transactions can be truly “trustless”, and how decentralization works.

For those who understand, that is what we are putting our money on, and that is the vision you must embrace when you are in it for the long term. It’s not just about buying low and selling high. It’s about seeing a future where we pay and get paid in currency that we control, not our banks nor our governments.

So is it the right time to buy? Is it too expensive? I don’t know, it depends on how you see the future. Perhaps you’ll decide to take the plunge, or perhaps you will still be asking yourself the same question at this time next year.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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