Author Topic: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant  (Read 25834 times)

Void Munashii

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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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