Author Topic: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant  (Read 25826 times)

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PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« on: February 06, 2009, 08:33:33 AM »
PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant

By Ted Chiang
Read by James Trimarco

It was an unexceptional visitation, smaller in magnitude than most but no different in kind, bringing blessings to some and disaster to others. In this instance the angel was Nathanael, making an appearance in a downtown shopping district. Four miracle cures were effected: the elimination of carcinomas in two individuals, the regeneration of the spinal cord in a paraplegic, and the restoration of sight to a recently blinded person. There were also two miracles that were not cures: a delivery van, whose driver had fainted at the sight of the angel, was halted before it could overrun a busy sidewalk; another man was caught in a shaft of Heaven’s light when the angel departed, erasing his eyes but ensuring his devotion.

Neil’s wife Sarah Fisk had been one of the eight casualties. She was hit by flying glass when the angel’s billowing curtain of flame shattered the storefront window of the café in which she was eating. She bled to death within minutes, and the other customers in the café — none of whom suffered even superficial injuries — could do nothing but listen to her cries of pain and fear, and eventually witness her soul’s ascension toward Heaven.

Nathanael hadn’t delivered any specific message; the angel’s parting words, which had boomed out across the entire visitation site, were the typical Behold the power of the Lord. Of the eight casualties that day, three souls were accepted into Heaven and five were not, a closer ratio than the average for deaths by all causes. Sixty-two people received medical treatment for injuries ranging from slight concussions to ruptured eardrums to burns requiring skin grafts. Total property damage was estimated at $8.1 million, all of it excluded by private insurance companies due to the cause. Scores of people became devout worshipers in the wake of the visitation, either out of gratitude or terror.

Alas, Neil Fisk was not one of them.


Rated R. Contemplates existential issues.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2009, 09:03:28 AM »
Yay!  A giant!  I'll get to listen to this on my way from Phoenix to Albuquerque today.  I just wanted to squeal in delight this morning. 

::squeals in delight::

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2009, 02:43:25 PM »
I'm halfway through this, and the story is so-so, but I really don't like the reading.  There's little to no emotion in his voice.


Edited after this.
« Last Edit: August 24, 2009, 01:20:08 AM by izzardfan »

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2009, 05:09:03 PM »
Make it stop.  I don't think I'll finish this anytime soon.  I made it to about 27 minutes.  It's dragging.  I'll try to listen to it another time, but I'm going to have to take notes.  The shift from one person's story to another's is confusing and I thought the girl with the deformed legs was whats-his-name's wife and the story was flashing back.

I absolutely love longer audio when it's good.

izzardfan

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2009, 06:15:08 PM »
Make it stop.

Amen!

I finally finished it.  The story, while unequivocally fantasy, was the worst I've experienced.  Unlike Zathras, I wasn't confused, but kept waiting for something to liven things up.  It was incredibly boring.  And the topic itself wasn't the problem for me.  I consider myself a somewhat devout Christian, and had nothing against the views expressed.

From the intro:  "... by Seattle-based author Ted Chiang, the winner of an amazing number of awards, among them the Hugo, the Nebula, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, and the John W. Campbell Award."  After hearing this story, I have to wonder what happened.

I can only hope that this week's expected Escape Pod story will be better.
« Last Edit: August 24, 2009, 01:53:11 AM by izzardfan »

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2009, 06:21:04 PM »
In the general: I did not like this story at all.

All this story really did for me was provoke thought. How would I react in a world where Gods presence was a given? It's an interesting Metaphysical question. It was just handled so drudgingly! The ideas of this story just got bogged down by a) the very flat reading b) the actual horrid subject of the story in general. All that and he still didn't get to his goal. SUCK! As someone whose religious ideology is flawed and convoluted at the best of times I am in no place to pass judgment on the religious views of the story but there was a general Preachy but not in a good way feel to the whole.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2009, 07:07:59 PM »
there was a general Preachy but not in a good way feel to the whole.

That's it exactly!  I wasn't sure how to describe how I felt without sounding defensive of my own views, but you did a perfect job.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #7 on: February 07, 2009, 01:02:18 AM »
I didn't have a problem with the reading myself--I prefer too little intonation to too much, and I thought the matter-of-factness was a nice contrast with the fantastical events.

But wow, that was a bleak ending. It reminded me a little of Immortal Sin by Jennifer Pelland. It made up for the bits in the middle when I wondered where the story was going.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #8 on: February 07, 2009, 10:16:32 AM »
I was beginning to loose faith in Podcastle until I heard this. This is one of the best stories I've ever heard and the way people interpret such conflicting messages really rings true about how holy texts like the bible can be interpreted a million different ways and different for each person.

Very good Podcastle episode.
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Swamp

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2009, 02:11:17 PM »
I have mixed reactions to this one.  While I enjoy an examination of people's reaction to God based on their life experience, I don't think it served this story very well.  The frequent dramatic public visitations of angels was a unique idea, but for most of the story, it didn't drive the plot, but served as a backdrop for documentary-style case studies about religious faith.

I also don't feel that Janice and Ethan served any real purpose, either, other than to provide more case studies.  They very much distracted me from the main protagonist, Neil.  The author says that Janice and Ethan played a big part in Neil's life, but that isn't the case.  That they were physically there for Neil's transformation it's true, but that's it.

If you want to listen to a great story, listen from time 45:45 to 1:02:47.  I really liked this part.  The imagery of pilgrims gathering at a holy place to witness a visitation and then chasing the angel down in ATV's and pickups so they could be blinded by Heaven's Light was very cool.  The first 45 minutes could have been summed up very breifly, especially without Janice and Ethan.  However, even just Neil's story for the first 45 minutes seemed repetitive.  And then the last 7 minutes of the story were spent wrapping everything in a bow when it should have been left up to the reader/listener how to interpret the events.

I understand why some felt the story is preachy.  I see it more as too much information and speculation from the author.  I think the best use of religion and faith in stories is to present the events as a foundation for questions, and then let the audience come to its own conclusions.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2009, 03:33:40 PM by Swamp »
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2009, 03:08:41 PM »
I understand why some have felt that the story as preachy.  I see it more as too much information and speculation from the author.  I think the best use of religion and faith in stories is to present the events as a foundation for questions, and then let the audience come to its own conclusions.

Perhaps it was the TMI aspect. And I wholly agree with letting the audience come to it's iwn conclusions.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2009, 03:50:20 PM »
Just commented on the blog & realized this should probably go into the forums, too - I always wanted to chime in here, so here's my first on  :)

I just don’t know what to say about this story. Some of its basic assumptions just don’t add up - wouldn’t there be more of an organized Church in this world? If it’s reflecting the Christian believe and traditions, where is the actual figure of the Christ (and the main teachings of the Gospels) or the Messiah? Are there any other religions at all?

I can go with the story’s concept of living with the proven presence of angels, Heaven and Hell, but this seemed somehow bleak. Probably religion works different in a world where you get visitations on a almost-weekly basis, but this isn’t really addressed in the story. The ending was disappointing - personal opinion, of course.

I really enjoy PodCastle and appreciate all the work the team puts into acquiring stories, getting people to read them and distribute them on the net; I also always enjoy the quality of the readings and the stories themselves. That said, this one was not a highlight.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2009, 08:05:42 PM »
That was beyond words. I can’t express the idea of it in any form of language. I stuck with because I liked the idea of the life changing angels appearing in the world. I am in no way religious, but the idea of a god that both loved and didn’t care struck home to me. The way that it was read was phenomenal, just enough emotion to not sound like a robot, and less than to sound like an over-enthusiastic ten-year-old. The ending was very, well, depressing. I wouldn’t want every podcastle episode to be this deep, but it is a fairly good change in scenery. Good Job

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #13 on: February 08, 2009, 07:41:30 AM »
I really enjoyed this too, at first the narration felt too flat and the quality of sound bugged me (it sounds as though it were recorded in a bathroom it's so tinney) but about 10 minutes in I found myself hooked. The idea of these random? manifestions having such a profound effect, not just on the individual, but on the society appealed to me greatly. In many ways the whole piece felt slightly more Science Fiction Fantasy as opposed to straight fantasy (which is perfectly fine) as the lack of regard for their manifestations by the angels had an almost alien feel to it. I guess in this context the angels were truly aliens though, at least to the world that they manifested in. Although the story obviously had overtones of "Christian" religion, underneath it felt a little like a parallel world where this wasn't necessarily the traditional Christianity that was being used, it was just that the names were the same, almost as if this religion had been created by society to explain these manifestations rather than it being an extention of the western church. I also applaud the autheor for being brave enough to give a "hopeless" ending, for Neil and Janice to have got what they wanted would have been too neat, too twee. I much preferred the idea that "God" didn't really care.

Another one that was good enough to make me sit in the car on the drive for the 12 minutes that I had left to listen to when I got home.

Was it just me or were the manifestations of Hell slightly reminiscent of the Hell open to the public in Piers Anthony's Incarnations series.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2009, 05:47:36 PM »
I seem to be in the minority here, but this was probably my favorite PodCastle episode yet. I found the combination of the surreal situation and the real dramatic tension to be very complimentary. The world seems based on a thought experiment, but I think some very interesting elements came out of it. One of the big things that I liked about the world is that even though it's so different, people are still obviously people, and they deal with very different situations in the same way that we do. That's why I thought that the light runners were the weakest element in this piece. It seemed as if the story was shrugging off its feeling of normalcy, and becoming an adventure. Although, I suppose there are people that chase tornadoes, so this could be the other world version of that.

The recording quality bugged me quite a bit at the beginning, although I was able to ignore it as I got more into the story. It sounded very tinny and kind of bleh.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #15 on: February 08, 2009, 09:36:31 PM »
Someone on the blog said they thought Chiang was an atheist. I responded:

Is he?

I am, personally. The story made me uncomfortable in parts — particularly the ending. But I showed it to several people with various religious beliefs, both atheistic and theistic. It made us all uncomfortable (I think the story is profoundly uncomfortable, which is one of the things I like about it), but we couldn’t come up with a consistent reading on the story’s opinions about religion. I, personally, find it the opposite of preachy — it presents events (very uncomfortable ones) and draws conclusions in the voice of an unreliable narrator whose conclusions are, at best, biased. There’s an enormous space of strangeness, ambiguity, and discomfort in the narrative.

In any case, I don’t know whether Chiang is an atheist or a theist. I’d find that information interesting, but I think the story works well in an ambiguous space without it.

--

Also, just in case anyone finds the information interesting, this piece won both the Nebula and Hugo awards for the year in which it was published. It's interesting that it's reception here is so rocky, since theoretically the Hugo and Nebula cover two very broad bases of fandom. The fact that other people think it's award-worthy shouldn't sway anyone's opinion, of course. I just think it's interesting to look at.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #16 on: February 08, 2009, 10:42:10 PM »
I share the mixed feelings about this story. Having been on both sides of the Great Debate myself (usually against my will, but that's a whole nother topic), I was both fascinated and disturbed by it. On the one hand, it's an interesting thing to see a world where the existence of God is a given, and manifestations of the divine are commonplace...and yet, these manifestations and their effects are random, akin to simple natural disasters. They are reduced to just another unfair thing about this unfair world that individuals having crises of faith must reconcile.

I disagree that the characters of Janice and Ethan were unnecessary. Our three main characters are good representatives of people at different stages in their spiritual life: we have one trying to reconcile his great personal loss with the notion of a loving God; another trying to make sense of a miraculous happening; and another striving to find his place in the Grand Design. I've met all three of these people before, and I think they were quite believably drawn.

That being said, the ending is still a punch in the gut.  The story puts forth a rather unappealing world view: that the afterlife is just as random and unfair as this life, and even God doesn't care. I was bothered that there wasn't even an explanation. Not even a reason given for why things happen. Ultimately it paints a picture of a God that is undeserving of the love and worship given Him by His children.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #17 on: February 08, 2009, 11:57:04 PM »
This piece had me thinking long and hard for a long time after I heard it. It has so many layers to look at. I think it does poke fun at how people will interpret mretty much anything to fit their own outlook. Like how the parents use the death of the wife as further conviction of their dislike for the husband for example. (The proper nouns of the story are escaping me at the moment)
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #18 on: February 09, 2009, 09:06:11 AM »
Also, just in case anyone finds the information interesting, this piece won both the Nebula and Hugo awards for the year in which it was published. It's interesting that it's reception here is so rocky, since theoretically the Hugo and Nebula cover two very broad bases of fandom. The fact that other people think it's award-worthy shouldn't sway anyone's opinion, of course. I just think it's interesting to look at.

You should talk to Mike Resnick, the most awarded of Hugo and Nebula Awards, about the some of the feedback his stories have received on EscapePod.  I like most of his stories, but some of the comments were brutal.

I disagree that the characters of Janice and Ethan were unnecessary. Our three main characters are good representatives of people at different stages in their spiritual life: we have one trying to reconcile his great personal loss with the notion of a loving God; another trying to make sense of a miraculous happening; and another striving to find his place in the Grand Design. I've met all three of these people before, and I think they were quite believably drawn.

I agree that these characters represented different spiritual models of how different people respond to God and religion, and I actually liked hearing their viewpoints.  Trust me, I'm all up for spiritual discussion.  I just didn't think the characters were tied together very well, or intertwined into Neil's story.  Like they were just put in to represent different viewpoints, and that's it.  What I think would be cool, would be a series of stories showing these different characters in their own stories, sharing the same visitaion.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #19 on: February 09, 2009, 10:23:12 AM »
I would probably have picked another story since this is his weakest short story imho and it would have worked better if spoken with a little more energy, but i still liked it.

For anyone who didnt hate the story completely i suggest cheking out Ted Chiang's book of short stories, it is quite amazing

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #20 on: February 09, 2009, 11:05:04 AM »
  Wow, what a depressing story. It's not that it was not good, or not enjoyable to listen to (although I felt the read and the sound quality were both a bit below what I am used to from Escape Artists podcasts), it was just a really really depressing story.

  I like the world the author built, and I don't think it was a "wrong" ending in any way; it just left me feeling a bit sad and empty. Still, a sad Podcastle is better than none at all.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #21 on: February 09, 2009, 03:20:40 PM »
I think this is probably my favorite Podcastle episode. Colin and Ishamel in the Dark would be my next to give you a glimpse into my opinions.

I enjoyed the world that the author created and the characters molded from that. A world that is nearly our own except that God is proven to exist. Of course God existing is easy, but because of the nature of God and his miracles in this world he is still an unknown and completely random quantity. Why was this person blessed and not the next? Why do people die during angelic visitations? It is a place that is very close to home but bizare enough to create a lot of places to explore.

Someone had implied that the first 45 minutes or so were useless but I would beg to differ. The last 15 minutes were the most action filled but the first 45 made the whole situation into something believable and more complex than a quick piece of fiction about religious storm chasers. Janice and Ethan provided good foils to Neil and gave his character more depth by contrasting his viewpoints.

I'm glad that the ending was not happy and perfect. Such an ending would have made for a completely different story that I feel would have been less poignant. Ending the story with Neil's problem being resolved and accepted into heaven and living happily with his wife doesn't beg the same existential questions. As a corollary to that I was also upset by the audio quality and tone of the narrator at first. The audio quality became a distant problem after about five minutes and the tone of the narrator really fed into the story.

I wonder how people felt it was preachy? What was it preaching; Judeo-Christian, humanist, atheist, or something else?

All in all, I really enjoyed this piece and thought it was both thought provoking and evocative.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #22 on: February 09, 2009, 03:34:24 PM »
I really liked this story and the issues it explored. The reactions of the people living in that world rang true. Upon witnessing a God that directly intervenes in the world in ways that were wonderful and horrible, merciful and unjust, beautiful and grotesque, some people embraced it, some people didn't know what to think, and some people shook their fist at the sky in anger.

The ending packed a punch, but it seemed so inconsistent. The premise is a being that lets people into heaven based solely on their love for him. One can imagine the heaven's light loophole working, because after that the person would love God, and then God would have to let them in, because that's what The Rules say. Okay, that's fine. Arbitrary, but consistent. And then the author has his God character do a complete 180. Arbitrary AND inconsistent. It ended up painting a much darker world, where the answer to life's questions seemed to be, "God exists, but he doesn't care, and shit just happens", which didn't seem to be the same world that the first 90% of the story portrayed.

BTW, I am an atheist, but I come from a religious background. A lot of what the characters struggle with resonates with me on a deep level. Given the uneven reaction from other posters, I wonder if I'm overlooking flaws in the story just because of my identification with the characters and my worldview. Sometimes it's hard to separate out what's "good" (good writing/characters/storyline/plot) vs what you happened to "like" (for whatever arbitrary reason.)

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #23 on: February 10, 2009, 07:00:33 AM »
An interesting tale that seemed slow in the middle but wound its way towards a more dramatic conclusion.  The strangest thing about this was my thought that "Hell is the Absence of God" belonged not here on PodCastle but, rather, on its sister podcast, PseudoPod.  This struck me more as a horror story than fantasy.  Mind you, I know that the genres bleed into one another, but I found it hard to really find how this was anything but horrific in terms of psychological, biological, social, and religious violations.

It was fascinating from a theological standpoint and I was more interested in pondering the structure of this world than listening to it unfold (until the last 10 minutes).  But it was also entertaining.

It was also more memorable than the last PodCastle Giant (which, I'm afraid, I have already forgotten).

I'm very happy that things have quieted down for Rachel and the staff at PodCastle such that we now have a return to our beloved podcast and -here- we have such an ambitious tale for the big return!

I wish the sound quality had been a bit better and not so echoey ... it made it rather difficult to listen to on my commute to work.

As for the deadpan of the author's reading, I felt it was appropriate.  The dullness of it reflected the spiritual deadness of the protagonist ... it really helped me get into his head and feel what he felt.  I'm a spiritual fellow and the voice of the reading helped convey the desperation and frustration of the main character, nicely.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #24 on: February 10, 2009, 08:03:23 PM »
[Posting this before reading any other comments, as I just finished listening to this today:]

I have two issues with this story.  First was the reading, which has me now crossing a line I drew for myself back when I first started posting on these forums ...

I could have done it much, much better.  There, I said it.

The reader sounded uninvolved and unrehearsed.  I don't know whether it was actually the writing that was void of dialogue, or if it was just the reader's flat inflection that made it seem like all narrative.  It put me in mind of an example from a writer's guide, an excerpt from a novel that read like an epic plot treatment.

* * *
Second issue: This kind of disturbing content seems more suited to Pseudopod.  As an atheist materialist, I already believe that there is no inherent justice or fairness to the cosmos, and that things happen due to simple cause-and-effect of impersonal forces of nature, and/or the actions of living creatures.  To think that there is no justice or fairness and that there exists a Deity that is a capricious and cruel son-of-a-bitch capable of treating the protagonist of this story as he was treated, is a horror that scarcely bears thinking about.  The God of this story is eminently unworthy of any love or praise, or anything other than two raised middle fingers and an emphatic "FUCK YOU!".

Apart from that, I did find the setting interesting, and wondered if there might still be atheists in the story's world, or if regular angelic manifestations and visible souls heading off to an afterlife upon death would pretty much put paid to those notions.

[edit]
Now that I've read through the comments:
That being said, the ending is still a punch in the gut.  The story puts forth a rather unappealing world view: that the afterlife is just as random and unfair as this life, and even God doesn't care. I was bothered that there wasn't even an explanation. Not even a reason given for why things happen. Ultimately it paints a picture of a God that is undeserving of the love and worship given Him by His children.
Yes, exactly my thoughts.  Best to have no afterlife at all, just oblivion.  But if there must be an afterlife, I choose this story's version of Hell.  The depiction of the Blessed in Heaven is just creepy, like brainwashed cultists. 
« Last Edit: February 10, 2009, 08:38:48 PM by stePH »
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #25 on: February 11, 2009, 02:13:59 PM »
I thought it was a great and thought provoking story.  The world presented is an interesting way to look at faith.  If you explore the religious viewpoint that all good and bad things come from God, then the world of this story isn't that much of a further stretch.  There it's just provable what comes from God, and it's both good and bad.  God is not moral or just by our standards.  So should you love him?

I'm not exactly an atheist, but I'm certainly not a Christian.  But I lead a good life.  I try to help others.  Maybe, because I don't accept God, He won't let me into Heaven.  To which I say fine - if being judged on your works isn't enough, I don't really want to go there.

I do have to agree that the reading was sub-par.  I'm not sure how I would have read it - there are probably several different ways one could have gone.  But the reader chose the least involving of those.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #26 on: February 11, 2009, 03:47:43 PM »
[...]
[edit]
Now that I've read through the comments:
That being said, the ending is still a punch in the gut.  The story puts forth a rather unappealing world view: that the afterlife is just as random and unfair as this life, and even God doesn't care. I was bothered that there wasn't even an explanation. Not even a reason given for why things happen. Ultimately it paints a picture of a God that is undeserving of the love and worship given Him by His children.
Yes, exactly my thoughts.  Best to have no afterlife at all, just oblivion.  But if there must be an afterlife, I choose this story's version of Hell.  The depiction of the Blessed in Heaven is just creepy, like brainwashed cultists. 

And my senior thesis research comes in handy; this version of Hell is actually kosher Catholicism since the early-to-mid-Nineties. They've slowly gotten rid of the imps with their burning-hot pokers (which do not make good pets — call your local Animal Control's Theological Creatures division to have them taken care of) and have focused on making Heaven and Hell states of being rather than places in the normal sense.

———

I liked it. The reading was a little bland at first, but I got into the story and it stopped bothering me completely. I see stePH's point about it being somewhat appropriate for Psudeopod, but I had no problem with it being where it was. Just because there's a horror podcast doesn't mean every scary thing goes there.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2010, 03:03:32 PM by Heradel »
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #27 on: February 11, 2009, 05:05:54 PM »
Was it not CS Lewis who said that the Gates of Hell are locked from the INSIDE?

The idea being that the Fallen Angels left Heaven by choice, and were allowed to do what they would beyond the sight of God, but beyond the sight of God they became quarrelsome, unpleasant things. That finding yourself in Hell is not so much a punishment as it is God giving you what you thought you wanted...and finding out the neighbors aren't all that nice.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #28 on: February 11, 2009, 08:18:13 PM »
Loved it. I read the story a while back, and didn't really get it, but here it bloomed into life. Loved it.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #29 on: February 12, 2009, 08:58:18 AM »
This should've been a Miniature, not a Giant. The intro with Neal's mother not having a visitation, how his physical issues were caused not by deity but by random chance, talking about visitations and such, and then Neal's wife dying in one and Neal maybe choosing Hell over Heaven... could've done it in 2000 words, maybe. The story was boring, long, distressingly free of dialogue, and hit its highest point in the beginning, when we saw that visitations were real in this world.

The addition of Janice and Ethan just made it more ponderous.

I pretty much kept expecting something to happen. I had to wait FAR too long. And then, when Neal actually sees the light of Heaven? Cop-out. It would've been stronger for Neal to descend to Hell and, realizing his mistakes, realize that he should love the deity anyway.

The tense change at the ending? Cliche and didn't work for audio anyway.

My favorite part, other than the first visitation (where Neal's wife died), was the dispassionate "accounting" of the results of each visitation -- especially the reference to insurance and "Acts of God".

The reading was extremely flat and boring. Maybe the reader is a good writer, but as a reader he leaves something to be desired. The flat tone would have worked well in the accounting points regardless. Also, when I heard the quality of the recording, I knew this story would have to be really awesome for me to overcome my dislike of people who have hollow-sounding microphones or record in echo-y rooms with MP3s that require a ton of processing to kill the echo. This story did not overcome with awesomeness.

I'm not going to address the concept of a world where we have real visitations, and where the deity is known to people. Others can argue that point far better than me.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #30 on: February 12, 2009, 09:24:17 AM »
Someone had implied that the first 45 minutes or so were useless but I would beg to differ. The last 15 minutes were the most action filled but the first 45 made the whole situation into something believable and more complex than a quick piece of fiction about religious storm chasers. Janice and Ethan provided good foils to Neil and gave his character more depth by contrasting his viewpoints.

I probably overstated my point by implying the entire first 45 minutes should be cut.  However, it could have been summed up in much less time (words) and without the documentary feel to it.  Either that or go entirely for the documentary angle by cutting between Dateline type segments and the narrative.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2009, 09:31:19 AM by Swamp »
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #31 on: February 13, 2009, 12:52:29 PM »
I loved it:-

We all know people who are convinced that gods and angels actually exist - for these folk the "spirt-world" is as real as the ground we walk on. I often ask friends of mine who are believers why it is that the world seems so entirely consistent with none of this stuff existing. But what if it DID exist - then surely the presence of such all-powerful entities would be something like this... mystical stuff would be happening all the time.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #32 on: February 13, 2009, 01:29:23 PM »
This should've been a Miniature, not a Giant. The intro with Neal's mother not having a visitation, how his physical issues were caused not by deity but by random chance, talking about visitations and such, and then Neal's wife dying in one and Neal maybe choosing Hell over Heaven... could've done it in 2000 words, maybe. The story was boring, long, distressingly free of dialogue, and hit its highest point in the beginning, when we saw that visitations were real in this world.

The addition of Janice and Ethan just made it more ponderous.

I pretty much kept expecting something to happen. I had to wait FAR too long. And then, when Neal actually sees the light of Heaven? Cop-out. It would've been stronger for Neal to descend to Hell and, realizing his mistakes, realize that he should love the deity anyway.
[...]

It's not a tragedy without the first part. The sending him to hell didn't really come off arbitrary to me — it was purposeful, if sadist. He had already been given his chances to go to heaven and the heaven's light was not one of them. You can't have anagnorisis without showing the hamartia of not believing in a god where his angels are showing up all over the place.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2009, 01:37:44 PM by Heradel »
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #33 on: February 13, 2009, 08:44:19 PM »
It's not a tragedy without the first part. The sending him to hell didn't really come off arbitrary to me — it was purposeful, if sadist. He had already been given his chances to go to heaven and the heaven's light was not one of them. You can't have anagnorisis without showing the hamartia of not believing in a god where his angels are showing up all over the place.

Belief wasn't the issue.  Loving God was the requirement to enter Heaven.  Nothing in the story indicated that he didn't believe.

And again I say, nothing but the brainwashing Neil underwent at the end could compel me to love a fuckwad of a deity like the one in this story.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #34 on: February 13, 2009, 11:44:55 PM »
I found this story and the reading of it highly effective and highly satisfying.

I enjoy the traditional dramatic structure as much as any other modern homo sapiens.  That structure does such a good job of pressing all of the right buttons so that we feel all of the right longings and satisfactions.  But there's a very real and significant part of me for which the whole thing seems rather cliched and artificial. 

Our narratives, our dreams, often seem as irrelevant as they are compelling.  And I say this as an enthusiastic native of 'ME'-land.  It's where I live.  I just can't buy the idea that it's the center of the Universe.  At all.

I've found myself exploring the idea that suffering and longing are actually the basis of much of our worldviews, particularly our senses of morality.  If someone were 'wronged' by conventional standards, but that person absolutely and genuinely did not care at all, would we really feel that s/he had been wronged? 

More likely we would feel that something was strange and unsettling about such a person, and an instinctive part of us would want the person to be harmed or punished.  (i.e., 'You're supposed to care!  That's part of the rules!')

Personally, I do care.  I care if my foot gets stepped on.  I care if I get to live.  I care if my family members are happy and are treated well.  I care if people are kind to me.  I care about all kinds of things.  And like most people I really enjoy stories that 1) make me care and 2) bring about an interesting or satisfying resolution to something that I care about.  I've accepted that this caring is part of what I am. 

Yet, another part of me simultaneously recognizes how very contrived and contingent this is.  And I'm embarrassed and even offended when people take our personal caring and use it as some sort of measuring scale of existence or the Cosmos.  It strikes me as decidedly non-Cosmic. 

So, 98% of the popular culture that I consume strikes me as somewhat benighted. 

I thought that this story did a tremendous job of painting a picture of human experience as both passionately compelling and utterly contingent.  It was a well-done thought experiment.

Part of its very point was that it was not about provoking yet another passionate reaction. 

In the world created by Peter Chiang, those who have seen 'the light of God' transcend the sorts of forces that define and structure our conventional experience.  Transcending doesn't mean throwing something away.  It means growing larger than it.  So Neal still can feel unhappiness or suffering.  But the reference point of his experience is now no longer bound to those feelings and that caring. 

Ever since I began to suspect and to become aware that such an experience was humanly possible, I found a great deal of what we do to be a little flatter.  But since people tend to imagine this sort of transcendance as a loss or as depressing, it's pretty rare to hear it described or talked about; let alone in such detail.

Maybe I'll try to clean up these ideas and present them in a more organized way at some point. 

Anyway.  I'm really glad to have heard this story.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #35 on: February 14, 2009, 12:05:38 AM »
It's not a tragedy without the first part. The sending him to hell didn't really come off arbitrary to me — it was purposeful, if sadist. He had already been given his chances to go to heaven and the heaven's light was not one of them. You can't have anagnorisis without showing the hamartia of not believing in a god where his angels are showing up all over the place.

Belief wasn't the issue.  Loving God was the requirement to enter Heaven.  Nothing in the story indicated that he didn't believe.

And again I say, nothing but the brainwashing Neil underwent at the end could compel me to love a fuckwad of a deity like the one in this story.

I was using believing in a more catholic sense than you were — it amounts to the same acceptance/loving of God.

Using a tragic hero construct allows there to be a god that isn't sadistic. God gave Neil his chances early, including his wife, the constant visitations, and Janice. When Neil sees the light it's already too late, he's already burned through his chances. He could have believed with his wife, he could have taken refuge in the religion, but he didn't. He's fine with hell until his wife is taken and he can't imagine eternity without her. In an atheist universe he's a great man that would have died as one, but in a clearly theist universe he's hubristic in consciously rejecting the love except in how it meets his own needs.

Now, obviously for this to work the other Lightseekers that have gone to Heaven have to be motivated by something other than their own needs, or god simply chose for them to mercifully die rather than give them anagnorisis.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #36 on: February 14, 2009, 12:39:24 PM »
You raise a good point, Heradel; looking at it from a theistic perspective it does have a tragic hero vibe to it, and a very Catholic sentiment: in that walking the path is the key to salvation, not just saying the right words at the right moment. Nevertheless, the fact that we have to dig to find that perspective leads me to believe that the story is not coming from that perspective. Note that we don't really get any insight into the mindsets of those who WERE saved. If we had, maybe as a reader we might have gotten a better sense that there was an internal logic. That there was a reason some were saved and others were damned. But we don't. Instead it merely paints a picture of an unfeeling universe, with an equally unfeeling God.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #37 on: February 14, 2009, 01:04:29 PM »
You raise a good point, Heradel; looking at it from a theistic perspective it does have a tragic hero vibe to it, and a very Catholic sentiment: in that walking the path is the key to salvation, not just saying the right words at the right moment. Nevertheless, the fact that we have to dig to find that perspective leads me to believe that the story is not coming from that perspective. Note that we don't really get any insight into the mindsets of those who WERE saved. If we had, maybe as a reader we might have gotten a better sense that there was an internal logic. That there was a reason some were saved and others were damned. But we don't. Instead it merely paints a picture of an unfeeling universe, with an equally unfeeling God.

Pretty much how I saw it.  In the world of the story, I'd almost certainly not be an atheist, with such abundant evidence for the existence of a deity.  But I didn't see any evidence that the deity should be loved.  All I saw was its angels showing up from time to time and causing random havoc, to the good of some and the ill of others. 

[edit]
Oh, and lets not forget causing a birth defect -- leglessness -- in a previously healthy fetus.  This doesn't sound like a loving deity who should be loved in return.
« Last Edit: February 14, 2009, 01:06:29 PM by stePH »
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #38 on: February 14, 2009, 01:24:55 PM »
Finally finished it.  The story was good, but it was too ponderous.  I couldn't get past the horrendous sound quality.  I expect better from PC.  This sounded like it was recorded on a built-in mic on a laptop, in someone's bathroom.

"You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen. We don't need Him. F- damnation, man, f- redemption! If we are God's unwanted children, so be it!"

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #39 on: February 14, 2009, 01:27:37 PM »
You raise a good point, Heradel; looking at it from a theistic perspective it does have a tragic hero vibe to it, and a very Catholic sentiment: in that walking the path is the key to salvation, not just saying the right words at the right moment. Nevertheless, the fact that we have to dig to find that perspective leads me to believe that the story is not coming from that perspective. Note that we don't really get any insight into the mindsets of those who WERE saved. If we had, maybe as a reader we might have gotten a better sense that there was an internal logic. That there was a reason some were saved and others were damned. But we don't. Instead it merely paints a picture of an unfeeling universe, with an equally unfeeling God.

Pretty much how I saw it.  In the world of the story, I'd almost certainly not be an atheist, with such abundant evidence for the existence of a deity.  But I didn't see any evidence that the deity should be loved.  All I saw was its angels showing up from time to time and causing random havoc, to the good of some and the ill of others. 

[edit]
Oh, and lets not forget causing a birth defect -- leglessness -- in a previously healthy fetus.  This doesn't sound like a loving deity who should be loved in return.

Going deep into any story is BYOS(ubtext).

The world's weird because the humans apparently believe in an omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient being and-at-the-same-time that things happen that he doesn't control. There could be a clockmaker god with a pantheon of angels that causes the effects. The humans believe that it's god causing the visitations, but it's not like we have any direct evidence that this is caused by the god and not just the angels doing things on their own. For all we know the god's dead and this is the angels trying to carry out what they think are his wishes. It's somewhat clear from the description of the fallen angel visitations that there's a multiverse outside the mortal plane we're not shown.

 
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #40 on: February 14, 2009, 03:53:48 PM »
Maybe we don't know if God is dead in the story, but either way, we know that loving him has a real effect - since everyone can see the souls of the faithful rise, and those that don't love god fall.

So I don't really see if it matter if he's still around.  You still have the choice to love him or not, and that choice matters.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #41 on: February 16, 2009, 09:58:12 AM »
I almost turned this off  2 minutes in because it was agonizing to listen to, and it was looking like we were about to be preached at rather than entertained. But I suffered through the poor audio quality and flat narration trusting PodCastle to present a good story (not a religious surmon), but I sadly realized my first fears were correct.

I can't find myself caring for these sheep who blindly follow anything, let alone an uncaring egocentric deity. Therefor I cared less and less for their plight as the story went on. Frankly I found the ending way too preachy for a fantasy story.

I keep being reminded of R.A. Heinlein's quote:
Men rarely (if ever) manage to dream up a god superior to themselves. Most gods have the manners and morals of a spoiled child.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #42 on: February 17, 2009, 04:14:27 PM »
Something I haven't seen mentioned in the comments that's long bothered me about the whole 'Heaven' thing, that I thought worth mentioning.

Why would anyone want it?  Everything is love and happy and perfect?  Honestly?  Blah.  If that's what you're looking for, start doing heroine regularly.

Are people really so insecure they want nothing more than love love love?

I _like_ being mortal and having faults and not knowing all the answers.  I like learning and reaching and growing and becoming something new and better and more beautiful.  To me, there is no greater joy than the absence of god.    I mean, if god is everything and total knowledge and perfect love, and all that then...  Really...  What's the point?

Imagine how it must be to BE God.  Everything is you.  EVERYTHING is YOU.  There's nothing to learn, there's nothing to do, there's nothing to love.  There are no questions you can ask.  You might be able to experience being each and every person, each and every atom but YOU have set the rules.  You've predestined how all this stuff is likely to play out.  Even with free will, people's behaviors are pretty easy to describe in mass societal senses and YOU exist outside of time.  You'll experience everything that every single one of them do.  You'll know it all and on some level, it's all fake, all artificial because you created them and they are just imperfect reflections of you.  You are God, and you are forever forsaken from heaven yourself because there is NO heaven for you.  You are unique.  You are eternally alone and there is nothing else out there...  Or maybe there is.  Maybe God has gods and a heaven s/he aspires to.  Perhaps the whole universe is the Buddha gazing into his own navel and man's God is just as broken and afraid as man is.

Perhaps ignorance truly is bliss because as long as you don't know it all, there is still stuff to learn.  Heaven, to me, seems far far worse than Hell.  Living, learning, growing, changing.  Life is Heaven.  I often feel a bit sorry for the devout.  They're in Heaven right now, and I imagine that if they get to the Heaven they imagine, they'll in time learn that it is Hell. :/

Neil is a fool.  He loves his wife, he loves God, but he does not love himself.  IMO, that's why he went to Hell.  He was given a great gift.  One day he might awaken to it.  Janice...  Same thing.  She was told to love herself, that her defects were the touch of God.  She devoted herself to that.  God took this away so she might learn to love herself but she was so concerned with loving God that she didn't understand it.  Her wish was granted, but ultimately, she'll probably go to Hell too.  Ethan...  I think he understood.  Having witnessed what happened to Neil and Janice, I think he understood the deeper truth.

For my own money...  I lead a good life, treat others as I'd like to be treated, try always to do what I believe is right, but really...  I'd prefer Hell or being sent back here to the standard description of Heaven.    I'd rather not be 'perfect'.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #43 on: February 17, 2009, 04:38:51 PM »
I found this story absolutely heartbreaking not only because of the tragic fate of the main character but also because I'm pretty sure there are some people out there that see the world and God like this and even more people who think this is the world that I believe in.

Unlike most people who have commented I don't think this is a world with irrefutable evidence for God.  There is clear evidence for Angels and the supernatural but I see no God in this world certainly not the God I believe in.  To me the world of the story is the titular Hell of the absence of God.  In my world God is not arbitrary and capricious although to our limited perspective it can seem that way just as a parents' rules (don't eat your boogers, do eat your peas) may seem arbitrary to the perspective of a toddler.  

The biggest differences is this requirement for getting into heaven, in the story they were required to love a god who did nothing to warrant that love, in my understanding of our world it is God who loves us, a lot!  My God does not require me to love him* although he greatly desires it.  The only absolute requirement as I understand it is that we accept HIS love and the sacrifice that Jesus made in love.  Now generally this acceptance leads to a reciprocation but it is a result not a requirement.

I apologize if I've gotten a bit preachy but I thought it important to point out just how fundamentally different this story is from what I as a theist believe.

*I use the male pronoun not because I think God is fundamentally male but simply because our language requires gender for animate beings and in his inspired scripture and the person of Jesus God chose to represent his/her/itself as a him.  I personally think God both contains all gender and is beyond gender, but that's neither here nor there.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #44 on: February 17, 2009, 05:34:08 PM »
The only absolute requirement as I understand it is that we accept HIS love and the sacrifice that Jesus made in love.

So...  If you were born into a Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, or Muslim family and maybe you don't have communication with any Christians, you're not getting into heaven?  That still seems pretty petty to me.

Jesus was just a man.  He had some nice ideas and said some nice things, but I don't think he had all the answers.

I actually was thinking about this story a bit and comparing Neil and Janice with Job and Jesus.

God was pretty friggin sadistic to Job, and the premise of the story is that he bet the devil that Job was a devout, then tortured the poor guy just to prove how faithful Job was.

Jesus on the other hand was often times a pretty errant child.  (Particularly if you read the texts that were not included in the bible)  But even in the bible, he abuses his power.  There's that bit with the fig tree, "If you will not serve me, you with wither and DIE!" and Jesus cast out his hand and the tree withered and died.

But back on Job.  Job kept worshipping God throughout.  That was the bet.  When Jesus was crucified, he said, "God!  Why have you forsaken me?"  You can take various readings of that.  The one I take is that he was failing the very test that would have cost Job his eternal soul.  Seems more than  a bit unfair.

Honestly though, Jesus was executed in large part by Hebrew law because there'd been a number of 'messiahs', false prophets, and whatnot.  Saul/Paul was the big proponent who claimed he was the son of God, but Saul had a pretty serious agenda in terms of a unified religion for Rome that would revolutionize the tax system and make Rome far more powerful.  He was really a pretty rotten guy IMO.

Still.  I'd be very careful about asserting one religion is THE path to enlightenment.  To do so implies that God is exceptionally cruel and has sent large portions of the world population to Hell for no other reason than because they were born in a land far away from the 'chosen' people.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #45 on: February 17, 2009, 09:46:42 PM »
Jesus was just a man.  He had some nice ideas and said some nice things, but I don't think he had all the answers.

I actually was thinking about this story a bit and comparing Neil and Janice with Job and Jesus.

God was pretty friggin sadistic to Job, and the premise of the story is that he bet the devil that Job was a devout, then tortured the poor guy just to prove how faithful Job was.

Jesus on the other hand was often times a pretty errant child.  (Particularly if you read the texts that were not included in the bible)  But even in the bible, he abuses his power.  There's that bit with the fig tree, "If you will not serve me, you with wither and DIE!" and Jesus cast out his hand and the tree withered and died.

But back on Job.  Job kept worshipping God throughout.  That was the bet.  When Jesus was crucified, he said, "God!  Why have you forsaken me?"  You can take various readings of that.  The one I take is that he was failing the very test that would have cost Job his eternal soul.  Seems more than  a bit unfair.

Honestly though, Jesus was executed in large part by Hebrew law because there'd been a number of 'messiahs', false prophets, and whatnot.  Saul/Paul was the big proponent who claimed he was the son of God, but Saul had a pretty serious agenda in terms of a unified religion for Rome that would revolutionize the tax system and make Rome far more powerful.  He was really a pretty rotten guy IMO.

You say all this as if Jesus were an actual historical figure.  But that's a whole 'nother barrel of fish.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #46 on: February 17, 2009, 11:08:35 PM »
You say all this as if Jesus were an actual historical figure.  But that's a whole 'nother barrel of fish.

Does it really matter whether or not he actually existed as a living being?  He's a character of parable and at least as real as Buddha, Abraham, Nasrudin, Moses, King Arthur, and so on.  Stories about him have made a profound impact on the world.  Even if he never physically existed, he's been far more 'real' than 99.9% of the people who've ever lived.
 

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #47 on: February 18, 2009, 12:55:03 AM »
You say all this as if Jesus were an actual historical figure.  But that's a whole 'nother barrel of fish.

Does it really matter whether or not he actually existed as a living being?  He's a character of parable and at least as real as Buddha, Abraham, Nasrudin, Moses, King Arthur, and so on.  Stories about him have made a profound impact on the world.  Even if he never physically existed, he's been far more 'real' than 99.9% of the people who've ever lived.
 

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Jesus was just a man.  He had some nice ideas and said some nice things, but I don't think he had all the answers.
seems to me like a pretty firm assertion that he really existed.  But I've never seen any documentation that he did, outside the Bible itself.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #48 on: February 18, 2009, 10:37:30 PM »
Yes, it was tough listen due to the understated narration and the subject matter...but I also found it one of the psychologically scariest stories I have ever heard!

I liked the examination of a world where God is a universally accepted and a given presence. How would people react to events that were definitively God's handy work?  I found a compelling tension between the concepts of blind probability and God's will. We try our best to explain events in our own world with very little to go on but faith (or lack of it) and/or science and/or an acceptance of a chaotic universe tempered by natural laws. In the world of the story, the characters knew that almost everything was ordained - and all they could do was try to figure out why they had been singled out to experience such blessings or travesties. What a burden to bear! All they can do is wait for some supernatural event to reveal where they stand in God's graces. One would naturally spend their life trying to justify or explain their personal fortunes.  It could drive a man mad knowing God had simply chosen him to suffer (or prosper...or be ignored).

The main character, Niel, was pretty much a victim of God's will - through no fault of his own. He simply wasn't given the means of redemption - and yet he also experienced the ultimate perfection of knowing and loving God. And thats the rub - There is no Hell without the agonizing tension between having known God (even for an instant) and knowing you will never experience Him again. I imagine that everyone in Hell knows that despair (at least in the story's Hell). That's a really scary and depressing concept in my book - and I am not even remotely religious!

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #49 on: February 24, 2009, 11:22:41 PM »
Woof.  This story made me not love God.  :P

But seriously, this could have been so much shorter and more interesting without so much exposition.  I took the blase attitude of the angels and the complete ambivalence of God as a given; it was the most realistic part of the story to me.  Having the characters' various (and IMHO boring) motivations and attitudes spelled out in excruciating detail killed my joy, though.  I was stuck in traffic for most of the tale, and sat in my driveway for the last ~60 seconds hoping something worse than mere ennui would strike Kneel after suffering through all of that.

At least it was a better use of my time than listening to my local NPR station ask me for more money.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #50 on: February 26, 2009, 11:45:41 PM »
Again, as important as my own feelings are to me, it seems misguided to take my current feelings as the yardstick by which I measure the Cosmos.  Even in 20 years my own feelings and awarenesses have changed fairly radically just through the conventional processes of psychological development and maturation.  If I were able to live for 300 years more, I sincerely hope that many of the convictions and commitments that are extremely compelling to me now would have become somewhat irrelevant by that point.  Because I hope that I'd continue to learn, to develop and to mature.

If I would not even bind my own future self to my current views and feelings, how can I bind the organizing principles and forces of the Cosmos to such transitory foundations? 

There's a saying among mystics and spiritual adherents.  'Take the path seriously, but don't take yourself seriously'. 

This is the perspective in which I listened to Ted Chiang's story.  I think he did a masterful job.  Chiang's 'God' is an utterly compelling force that transcends consciousness and morality.  It is neither good nor bad. 

Think about this: any 'God' that you could understand very easily would be ultimately quite a disappointment. 

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #51 on: March 03, 2009, 04:05:01 PM »
This seems to be an exercise similar to Terry Pratchet's Pyramids, without the humor.  Would it really be better if a Christian God showed his power and the mythos of the bible truly happened on a daily basis?  I think this story showed what a scary place earth would be, in his view.  I would not want to live in that world, nor worry about going to heaven or hell, and which is worse.  The final love of God by the main character was forced.  Seems to me choice really was not a part of the equation.

Honestly, this story dragged for me.  I guess I did not like the setting much and the characters did not pull me in.  I don't really like these kind of controversial religious pieces.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #52 on: March 04, 2009, 01:01:12 PM »
I think the choice of reader was really unfortunate - he clearly was not comfortable in the role, nor particularly good at it. The droning monotone made a long story seem much longer.

I gave up about midway, as the story itself failed to engage me to the point where I could overcome the difficulty in listening. Which is a shame, since I actually am interested in the themes that the story brought up. But the combination of a slow pacing with a really slow uninflected reading was too difficult to bear.

I think giants should always be given to very experienced readers who are known to be engaging. Any problem with the reading style is going to be made a lot worse by the length of the story. Test new readers out on the shorter stories.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #53 on: March 11, 2009, 12:06:30 PM »
This story makes a good mirror. Each one of us looks at it, and sees what he believes. As a Christian, I look at it and say, literally, "Thank God it's not like that." The atheists might look at it and say, "If there was a God, that must be what he's like." You can't not have an opinion about it. That's what makes it an amazing, award-winning story. Sure, we can bitch about narration quality, length, etc., but that's telling us something about you, too. It's a beautiful piece of heartache, and we respond to it in the same way that we respond to the rest of life's imponderables.

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« Reply #54 on: March 12, 2009, 09:47:31 AM »
This was a very long yawner.  I did not find any of the characters sympathetic in the least.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #55 on: March 28, 2009, 03:00:17 AM »
Yeah, at the start I didn't like the tinny sound, and the narrator seemed flat.  After a few minutes though, I didn't notice the tinny sound, and I chose to believe that the choice of narration style was intentional. 

I suppose this story could have been done in less space, but I don't believe the large length was wasted.  Sometimes if you want to make the events feel more epic, you've got to space them out more.  Neal's struggle has to really feel like it's been a long one, you can't just have the author write "he struggled long and hard" and then jump to the end.

This story messed with my head.

So we have Neal there in Hell for all eternity and loving God with all his heart even knowing that God does not love him back.  And, the narrator chose to tell us directly that this was not a punishment from God to Neal, but rather was more like capricious happen-stance.

Now to those religious folks that say "this is not how God works".  Well, ok sure you can say that, but let's be honest--if God is ultimately unknowable, then this could very well be exactly how he works.  If you claim to know otherwise, you're violating the "God works in mysterious ways" thing and you're more-or-less proclaiming to know the mind of God.   Yes, yes the Bible tells us that God loves us bunches, but it also has a fair amount to say on the wrath of God and you could read it such that he seems pretty unpredictable.

Also, to the state in which Neal was left, i.e. in a state of total adoration for a God he can never get back to--here again, there are certain versions of Bible study that match with this exactly.

But if God were to turn out to be totally random and capricious, then what use is he?  I mean why does it matter if you believe in him or love him if it has no bearing on your fate?  But then, that is what unconditional love would be.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #56 on: April 01, 2009, 03:29:21 PM »
Huh.

I've read this story before.  I know I've read it, probably in one of the year's bests.  And it had completely slipped my mind that I'd read it.  And hearing it again, it's kind of easy to see why.  It's weird because if you asked me if I like Chiang I'd say mostly yes, I find him enjoyable but not a favorite, and he nails endings.  But I'd say that without giving any weight to this story because I'd completely forgotten its existence.  I wonder how many other authors I have in my mental category of "usually like", who have written utterly unimpressive and forgetful stories that slid right out of my mind and thus go untallied in my regard for them.  Well, I suppose there's that for hearing this story again.  I'm not likely to forget there's Chiang stories I don't like after that hour plus.
 
In theory, this story has an automatic hook for me because it treats in theology and philosophy, which are subjects that interest me.  But I don't think it treats in theology deeply enough (especially if that's all that it has going for it) and so the long, drawn out theology 101 stuff was tiresome.  I'll take the theology in Cup and Table over this any day of the week.  And the problems I have with the story's treating in theology are less about "discomfort" as Rachel calls it than what I see as dishonesty.  Frex, Sarah is devout, but there's no outward sign?  None?  She never prays?  Never reads any sacred scripture?  Never fasts?  Never gives alms?  Never goes on retreats? Never sings hymns of praise?  Never meditates? Never talks about angels? So she's devout...how?  Because the author tells me so?  Sorry, not buying.

Also yes, a thousand times yes, to the much given opinion that Trimarco was the wrong reader for this piece.  The material itself was so dry and cerebral that it needed some iota of passion injected into it, and that passion should have been in voice.

Of course winning a Nebula or a Hugo in short fiction is like a disrecommendation for me because so many of the nominees' stories make me want to put a chopstick in each eye so that I never have to read again (most recently this sentiment was occasioned by Wolfe's novella "Memorare" which makes me so sad because I like to think Wolfe's a genius, but c'mon!).

For those of you who were very disenchanted by this story, I'd like to recommend a Chiang story I thought much more of, which in my opinion dealt more fairly and less abstractly with its subject matter.  Still brainy, mind you, but more elegant than this PC episode: Division by Zero.   

Don't give up on Chiang if you didn't like this one.  He can do better. 
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #57 on: April 01, 2009, 03:50:28 PM »
Huh.

I've read this story before.  I know I've read it, probably in one of the year's bests.  And it had completely slipped my mind that I'd read it.  And hearing it again, it's kind of easy to see why.  It's weird because if you asked me if I like Chiang I'd say mostly yes, I find him enjoyable but not a favorite, and he nails endings.  But I'd say that without giving any weight to this story because I'd completely forgotten its existence.
That's phenomena is related to something called "confirmation bias".  As you say, because you found this story so massively nonplussing, it didn't really "stick".  At some point, liking most of Chiang's work, you unconsciously or semi-consciously decided he was good author.  At that point, the memory of having heard this story before had almost no chance of coming back into your mind.  This is one of the reasons why I have a lot of trouble trusting people's (including my own) recollection of events.  Our brains have evolved to let us believe things passionately or not at all.  Our brains have not evolved to be good at determining what is true and what is not.  If that were the case, then science wouldn't need to be a "discipline".
 
-- snip --
I'll take the theology in Cup and Table over this any day of the week.
I really liked that one too.

Frex, Sarah is devout, but there's no outward sign?  None?  She never prays?  Never reads any sacred scripture?  Never fasts?  Never gives alms?  Never goes on retreats? Never sings hymns of praise?  Never meditates? Never talks about angels? So she's devout...how?  Because the author tells me so?  Sorry, not buying.
It seems clear then, that you and the author have a difference of opinion about what the word "devout" means.  I seem to recall reading about Socrates really getting people's goat with the word "pious".  He would go around asking people in the street, "What does it mean to be pious?  Do you know what piety is?"  So the person would answer along the lines, "Well of course I know what it is.  See the priest there?  He's obviously pious almost by definition.  And that gentlemen in yonder shop, he gives to charity every Sunday and he's honest and hard working so he's pious."  And to all of this and more, Socrates would keep pressing the point.  He would say, "but how can you know that just because that person does this or that thing that, that makes a person pious?  How can you know that the gods will see that person that way?  Ultimately, how can you presume to know what it means to be pious?"

And so on.

I think that might be what the author was going for there.  But, of course, I could be wrong.  I also like to think that if Socrates got resurrected today, and if he could speak modern English that he and I would get along famously.  But here again, I could be in error.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #58 on: May 18, 2009, 01:28:38 PM »
I expected I'd hate this story. I ended up liking it. I think if there were a god, the way the world is in this story would basically be exactly what the world would be like.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #59 on: June 07, 2009, 03:26:50 PM »
...the ending is still a punch in the gut.  The story puts forth a rather unappealing world view: that the afterlife is just as random and unfair as this life, and even God doesn't care. I was bothered that there wasn't even an explanation. Not even a reason given for why things happen. Ultimately it paints a picture of a God that is undeserving of the love and worship given Him by His children.

Maybe I'm just a softie, and prefer an ordered universe...

I think that the view of God being unreasonable, unkind and unjust was presented solidly throughout the story in the aftermath of the visitations.  That there there is no explanation makes sense, because no one in Neil's universe knew.

I don't know if Ted Chiang is a theist or an atheist, but I considered that story to be amazing, thought-provoking, and yes, a punch in the gut.  In my opinion, once Neil embarked on the light-seeking path, he could not be saved.  Had he been given both Heaven and his wife, the story would have fallen flat because he would not have fully earned that happy ending. 

It was far more interesting (though cruel) to have Neil finally discover what it is to love God and then lose all chance of being with his beloved wife and in the continued rapture of the holy spirit.  Had he earned this unhappy ending?  No.  But to have what is promised taken randomly away underscored the concept of the unjust and uncaring God presented throughout the piece.

Myself, I am a theist.  Questions of lack of justice and the unfairness of God and the universe do plague me, and often cause me to question not "Why?" of God so much of the "How? of myself.  They cause me to ask, "If this bothers you, what can you do to make things better?  How will you act in the face of injustice and suffering?"  My faith calls moments of trembling discomfort on the brink of scary questions a "leading" -- the recognition that no matter how much you might wish otherwise, you are being called into duty to act.  Leadings are uncomfortable and scary as hell.  Leadings arise out of the same kind of profoundly uncomfortable feelings that this story invokes.

I think that the true message of the story was summed up by the fallen angels (who tellingly, hurt no one when they visited) when they said, "Decide for yourselves.  It's what we did."

Thanks for airing this magnificent story.  I wish that the audio had been better, but the story pulled me in anyway.

Hmm


« Last Edit: June 07, 2009, 03:35:51 PM by Hilary Moon Murphy »

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #60 on: June 13, 2009, 05:14:58 PM »
A tough plod, and a fairly heavy, ponderous piece, but I enjoyed it. It was thought-provoking in what felt like an entirely true-to-itself (as far as an unreliable narrator can be). I especially liked the vivid descriptions and the abject refusal to give straight-forward pablum as answers. I loved the circular explanations of those who love or come to love God. This would be a lovely piece in an annotated edition. Sometimes I've scratched my head at the winners of these prizes like the Hugo and Nebula, but not this one.

Thanks for running it!

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #61 on: July 20, 2009, 03:02:07 AM »
Strike me as another person who thought this would have worked just as well on Pseudopod. The prospect that God could be so calleous as to throw people into enternal damnation for not loving him enough is very frightening and why I'm pretty much not a big fan of organized religion as a whole.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #62 on: July 26, 2009, 08:09:31 PM »
Make it stop.  I don't think I'll finish this anytime soon.  I made it to about 27 minutes.  It's dragging.  I'll try to listen to it another time, but I'm going to have to take notes. 
Yeah, that's about as far as I got. I think I will finish it sometime, but it will have to be out of some sense of duty.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #63 on: September 02, 2009, 03:44:38 AM »
Hell and the question of evil stopped being terribly interesting to me a while ago, but one thing I do like about this story is the discussion of exactly what it means to love unconditionally.  I think a lot of people of varying degrees and flavors of spirituality talk about universal love etc. without actually thinking about it.

Love, pure love, undiluted love, is nearly as terrifying in its way as hatred.  I kind of feel like we're supposed to react to the ending like its the ending of "1984," but it struck a very different chord with me. 

Interestingly, I read this story a while ago.  A friend of mine had a rather stoutly atheistic coworker who forwarded him this story with a general note of "Ah!  See THIS story?  THIS story totally completely refutes your puny 'God', so-called!"  My friend read it, went "Hunh," then "Meh," and sent it to me to check his reaction in case it really was Super Genius Ultimate Disproof of Faith.  I found the story, as someone said months ago upthread, "uncomfortable," but I was fascinated by the questions raised.  Not of faith or fairness, but of what it meant to truly see God and to truly love God.  Simply because of those varied reactions, I'm inclined to think this story earned its accolades; there is something here to chew upon which rewards thought and introspection, and that's one of the hallmarks of a good story.  It doesn't have a message; it asks a question and encourages readers to ask questions in return.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #64 on: December 10, 2009, 06:13:27 PM »
I'm surprised no one else drew this conclusion, but the random effects of the angels in this story were reminiscent of the effect of ta'veren in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.  For those of you who aren't familiar with it, if you imagine the world as a fabris that is being woven into a pattern, then ta'veren are people (threads) who affect the weave by their very presence.  The main purpose of this is to cause big changes in the world.  In the history of this world, there is a King Arthur like character who was a ta'veren because he made drastic changes to the world around him.  Other threads in the weave bend to make new patterns by their very presence.  Besides causing huge changes like the downfall of empires or the rise of a religion, or other big events, there are also lots of smaller random effects.  A child might fall out of a 4th story window and hit paving tiles without a scratch, but a man might trip on a stick, and die upon hitting the ground.  It's sort of a magnification of luck.  The good and the bad still happen in "normal" proporations, but the good tends to be really good and the bad tends to be really bad in the presence of a ta'veren. 

Anyway, on to the story.  I didn't like this story at all, which is a shame because I love the discussion of philosophy and theology, but this one didn't do it for me.

The title alone biased me against it.  It seems like it's telling me what I should believe in, which annoys me.  And that cotinues throughout the story.  This entire world seems to have been built to show that "this is how things are" and I just don't buy into that.

The biggest reason of all is that when miracles become mundane events that happen everyday and we can all see what hell is like, then theology becomes a science of measuring these measurable events rather than deciding what unknowable things like the hereafter are like.

Also, there was just a lot of really dry summary.  I listened to the point that they started telling the story of the 3rd person before I gave up, so it was quite a while, and it was all just summary of stuff that clearly happened in the past, none of the characters were particularly compelling, and it just went on and on and on.

The reader really did not help.  He sounded bored.  Which certainly didn't help my opinion of the story, since I'd already thought the dry summary boring.

So they can all see Hell, and it's just like everyday life, but without physical ailments, and without the randomly visiting angels?  Compared to everyday life, that sounds friggin great!  So what's so hellish about it?  Heck, if I lived in this world, I might be tempted to commit suicide at a young age just so I can get away from the angels!  And going to Heaven is just the privilege of going to hang out with the deity who you've never been in the presence of?  So Hell is the absence of Heaven, basically, but if you've never been to Heaven, is that really terrible?

And most of all it was just really really really long.  The part I listened to only conveyed about 5-10 minutes of actual information, if it had been compressed to such, I might've kept up the interest to listen to the rest.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #65 on: December 10, 2009, 06:23:29 PM »
My reaction to this story fascinates me: I was entirely meh about it. It didn't discomfort or move me - actually, it kind of bored me. Upon further reflection, I was able to figure out why. I'm a Jew. This story was very tied up in Christian concepts of love, faith, god, and punishment. Judaism focuses more on the world and how to be a good person in it - we're not even clear on if there is an afterlife or not - so this story kind of missed its mark with me.
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #66 on: December 11, 2009, 12:39:17 PM »
My reaction to this story fascinates me: I was entirely meh about it. It didn't discomfort or move me - actually, it kind of bored me. Upon further reflection, I was able to figure out why. I'm a Jew. This story was very tied up in Christian concepts of love, faith, god, and punishment. Judaism focuses more on the world and how to be a good person in it - we're not even clear on if there is an afterlife or not - so this story kind of missed its mark with me.

I had a Christian upbringing, though I wouldn't call myself devout, but I had a similar reaction to it.  Maybe I'm a Jew at heart?  :)

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #67 on: December 11, 2009, 03:18:04 PM »
My reaction to this story fascinates me: I was entirely meh about it. It didn't discomfort or move me - actually, it kind of bored me. Upon further reflection, I was able to figure out why. I'm a Jew. This story was very tied up in Christian concepts of love, faith, god, and punishment. Judaism focuses more on the world and how to be a good person in it - we're not even clear on if there is an afterlife or not - so this story kind of missed its mark with me.

Well, the old texts are fairly clear that you go to Sheol, but it's not really clear the the soul remains there forever, or remembers what they were except in some cases (Like King Saul having Samuel raised, who fairly clearly remembers who he is).
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #68 on: December 11, 2009, 04:08:43 PM »
My reaction to this story fascinates me: I was entirely meh about it. It didn't discomfort or move me - actually, it kind of bored me. Upon further reflection, I was able to figure out why. I'm a Jew. This story was very tied up in Christian concepts of love, faith, god, and punishment. Judaism focuses more on the world and how to be a good person in it - we're not even clear on if there is an afterlife or not - so this story kind of missed its mark with me.

Well, the old texts are fairly clear that you go to Sheol, but it's not really clear the the soul remains there forever, or remembers what they were except in some cases (Like King Saul having Samuel raised, who fairly clearly remembers who he is).

Nor are they clear on where Sheol is, what Sheol is (or, hell, who Sheol is) and whether or not it's a good or bad place. Most of the customs and traditions related to it were expunged in the first few centuries AD, when the rabbis were reconstituting Judaism as a religion that could survive the destruction of the temple.

I'll concede that there are mentions of an afterlife if you go digging for them. But the entire rest of the religion is formulated so that you don't think about it much. Jews aren't threatened with hell, they're threatened with "God will be angry at you, and that's why he wrote the law so that we get to punish you for being a jerk."
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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #69 on: December 11, 2009, 04:09:48 PM »
My reaction to this story fascinates me: I was entirely meh about it. It didn't discomfort or move me - actually, it kind of bored me. Upon further reflection, I was able to figure out why. I'm a Jew. This story was very tied up in Christian concepts of love, faith, god, and punishment. Judaism focuses more on the world and how to be a good person in it - we're not even clear on if there is an afterlife or not - so this story kind of missed its mark with me.

I had a Christian upbringing, though I wouldn't call myself devout, but I had a similar reaction to it.  Maybe I'm a Jew at heart?  :)

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #70 on: December 11, 2009, 04:17:02 PM »
My reaction to this story fascinates me: I was entirely meh about it. It didn't discomfort or move me - actually, it kind of bored me. Upon further reflection, I was able to figure out why. I'm a Jew. This story was very tied up in Christian concepts of love, faith, god, and punishment. Judaism focuses more on the world and how to be a good person in it - we're not even clear on if there is an afterlife or not - so this story kind of missed its mark with me.

I had a Christian upbringing, though I wouldn't call myself devout, but I had a similar reaction to it.  Maybe I'm a Jew at heart?  :)

You wouldn't be the first Jew-hearted Christian I've met. If you want to convert, though, it's like joining Fight Club. You need to be told to go away three times and keep coming back. Judaism: the religion that doesn't want you.

And even then you have to go Reform most of the time.

On Sheol, most of what I've read paints it as a deeply neutral place, since it's the realm of the dead and doesn't have a bifurcation of good and bad. I think existence there would probably have been a lot like Hades in the Odyssey — the soul slowly becomes a burned out wraith of its former self. The main purpose seems to be to discourage suicide rather than encourage morality.
I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #71 on: December 11, 2009, 11:02:10 PM »
Despite not liking the story, it's gotten me in a very theosophical view today, and I feel a new story a-brewin!  So that's a nice side effect.   ;D

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Re: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant
« Reply #72 on: June 26, 2011, 07:59:53 PM »
I remember the "alignment" stuff in the Dungeons and Dragons games, and liken this story to an explication of the premise:  what if god existed and was obvious in what (s)he did in the modern world, but had a "chaotic neutral" alignment?