Author Topic: PC040: Hell Is the Absence of God - PodCastle Giant  (Read 34312 times)

internalogic

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 33
Reply #50 on: February 27, 2009, 04:45:41 AM
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. 



Dwango

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 166
Reply #51 on: March 03, 2009, 09:05:01 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.



eytanz

  • Moderator
  • *****
  • Posts: 6109
Reply #52 on: March 04, 2009, 06:01:12 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.



Aquarello

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 3
Reply #53 on: March 11, 2009, 05:06:30 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.



supergrover

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 4
Reply #54 on: March 12, 2009, 02:47:31 PM
This was a very long yawner.  I did not find any of the characters sympathetic in the least.



wyrder42

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 7
Reply #55 on: March 28, 2009, 08:00:17 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.

--
Furry cows moo and decompress.

--
Furry cows moo and decompress.


Anarkey

  • Meen Pie
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 703
  • ...depends a good deal on where you want to get to
Reply #56 on: April 01, 2009, 08:29:21 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. 

Winner Nash's 1000th member betting pool + Thaurismunths' Free Rice Contest!


wyrder42

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 7
Reply #57 on: April 01, 2009, 08:50:28 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.


--
Furry cows moo and decompress.


Paranatural

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 44
Reply #58 on: May 18, 2009, 06:28:38 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.



Hilary Moon Murphy

  • Palmer
  • **
  • Posts: 76
  • Proving the inherent superiority of purple hair
Reply #59 on: June 07, 2009, 08:26:50 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, 08:35:51 PM by Hilary Moon Murphy »



JoeFitz

  • Matross
  • ****
  • Posts: 258
Reply #60 on: June 13, 2009, 10:14:58 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!



DarkKnightJRK

  • Peltast
  • ***
  • Posts: 139
Reply #61 on: July 20, 2009, 08:02:07 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.



Planish

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 772
  • Fun will now commence.
    • northernelectric.ca
Reply #62 on: July 27, 2009, 01:09:31 AM
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.

I feed The Pod.
("planish" rhymes with "vanish")


Scattercat

  • Caution:
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 4904
  • Amateur wordsmith
    • Mirrorshards
Reply #63 on: September 02, 2009, 08:44:38 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.



Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #64 on: December 10, 2009, 11:13:27 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.



ElectricPaladin

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1005
  • Holy Robot
    • Burning Zeppelin Experience
Reply #65 on: December 10, 2009, 11:23:29 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.

Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.


Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #66 on: December 11, 2009, 05:39:17 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?  :)



Heradel

  • Bill Peters, EP Assistant
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 2938
  • Part-Time Psychopomp.
Reply #67 on: December 11, 2009, 08:18:04 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).

I Twitter. I also occasionally blog on the Escape Pod blog, which if you're here you shouldn't have much trouble finding.


ElectricPaladin

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1005
  • Holy Robot
    • Burning Zeppelin Experience
Reply #68 on: December 11, 2009, 09:08:43 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."

Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.


ElectricPaladin

  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 1005
  • Holy Robot
    • Burning Zeppelin Experience
Reply #69 on: December 11, 2009, 09:09:48 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?  :)

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.

Captain of the Burning Zeppelin Experience.

Help my kids get the educational supplies they need at my Donor's Choose page.


Heradel

  • Bill Peters, EP Assistant
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 2938
  • Part-Time Psychopomp.
Reply #70 on: December 11, 2009, 09:17:02 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.


Unblinking

  • Sir Postsalot
  • Hipparch
  • ******
  • Posts: 8729
    • Diabolical Plots
Reply #71 on: December 12, 2009, 04:02:10 AM
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



wherrera

  • Extern
  • *
  • Posts: 1
Reply #72 on: June 27, 2011, 12:59:53 AM
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?