Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Souls of the Damned

I have a question about souls. This may be beyond the average person’s ken of theological matters but it is worth thinking about.

If souls are eternal did they always exist? I know the belief is that once they are created they last forever but I was wondering if they have a preexistence before they enter a body. That is a minor question really because my next question is the one that I really can’t get my head around.

If it is the case that a soul enters a body at the moment of conception, then why are so many souls destined to never live outside the womb? It is tricksy stuff. Evidence is not conclusive but anywhere from 25% to 50% of all pregnancies result in spontaneous abortion. Think about that: up to half of all souls never get to live outside the womb and seek salvation for the Original Sin of all men. They never get a chance to accept Jesus into their hearts. They never get to be with God. They used to go to Limbo up until recently. Some used to say that they were damned because they were not baptized.

There was/is a lot of theological hand wringing over this issue, and rightly so with the number of souls involved and the importance of the issue. Now I think it is unfair that up to half of all souls are condemned to an eternity of hellfire without even the chance at salvation. I suppose we could say it is a ‘mystery’ and that it is all part of ‘God’s Plan’, but that really doesn’t satisfy.

I am trying to work through this in my head. God creates souls. The souls enter ‘bodies’ at the moment of conception. (They really enter a couple of cells at the moment of conception, but whatever). A large percentage of those physical bodies are not born. Some could ask why God would condemn these humans to never be born and get a chance to know Him and seek salvation and avoid an eternity of Hell. One answer could be that since the Fall there are all kinds of bad things that happen (earthquakes, volcanoes, disease, etc.). It really isn’t the fault of God but due to Man’s wickedness. Man originally turned away from God and chose to know good and evil, therefore God was forced to allow suffering in the world. (I’m not too sure about why that is, but we can leave that for now). But again, to my limited human understanding, it seems grossly unfair to allow a circumstance where an individual has to suffer for eternity for a sin not committed by that individual, and without even getting a chance to do anything about it.

As I said, I have a limited human understanding of the situation. But I am forced to ask, if I am to be honest with myself, how is it that anyone knows that any of this is true? How do we come to believe that it is all part of God’s divine plan that so many souls are destined to not know Him, and that this makes sense? Actually, it doesn’t make sense but we are to believe that because it does not make sense just means that we don’t understand it but in the mind of God it makes sense because it has to because God is perfect; a paradox.

Me too.

I can only work with the tools available to me. If something doesn’t make sense, then it doesn’t make sense. To be told it makes sense because it doesn’t is the height of obfuscation.

It is a house of cards and a lie.

There is another explanation for the damnation of untold billions of souls. There is no damnation.
There are no souls.

That I can accept without compromise.
That I do accept.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A little prayer from my childhood that has firmly entrenched itself in my mind:

Oh my God
I am most heartily sorry
For having offended thee
And I detest all my sins most sincerely
Not only because of them
That I have lost all rights to heaven
And deserved the everlasting torments of hell
But especially oh my God
Because I have displeased Thee
That I firmly resolve
With the help of Thy Grace
Never more to offend thee
But to amend my life

I understand that it has been modified somewhat.
I think they took out the bolded bit about the "everlasting torments of hell".
Perhaps it was thought that was a bit much for the little children to handle.
And to think some say the Church is not kind and loving to its children.

Edit to this post as I have been thinking on it a bit.

There was something that never sat right with me about this prayer which I must have said thousands of times in my life, but what it was that bothered me just articulated itself in my mind now.

It has to do with the phrase that follow the lines:

Not only because of them

But especially oh my God

The phrases that follow should be reversed.

I was sorry for my sins not "especially because" I would displease God. I was especially sorry because I would spend eternity in the everlasting torments of hell. The only reason I cared about what God thought was because of this punishment.
So I lied every time I said the prayer.

I had intimations of what hell was all about as a child. We read James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man at some point in high school.
For anyone reading this who has never read the book I will include the relevant excerpt:

The preacher's voice sank. He paused, joined his palms for an instant, parted them. Then he resumed:

-- Now let us try for a moment to realize, as far as we can, the nature of that abode of the damned which the justice of an offended God has called into existence for the eternal punishment of sinners. Hell is a strait and dark and foul-smelling prison, an abode of demons and lost souls, filled with fire and smoke. The straitness of this prison house is expressly designed by God to punish those who refused to be bound by His laws. In earthly prisons the poor captive has at least some liberty of movement, were it only within the four walls of his cell or in the gloomy yard of his prison. Not so in hell. There, by reason of the great number of the damned, the prisoners are heaped together in their awful prison, the walls of which are said to be four thousand miles thick: and the damned are so utterly bound and helpless that, as a blessed saint, saint Anselm, writes in his book on similitudes, they are not even able to remove from the eye a worm that gnaws it.

-- They lie in exterior darkness. For, remember, the fire of hell gives forth no light. As, at the command of God, the fire of the Babylonian furnace lost its heat but not its light, so, at the command of God, the fire of hell, while retaining the intensity of its heat, burns eternally in darkness. It is a never ending storm of darkness, dark flames and dark smoke of burning brimstone, amid which the bodies are heaped one upon another without even a glimpse of air. Of all the plagues with which the land of the Pharaohs were smitten one plague alone, that of darkness, was called horrible. What name, then, shall we give to the darkness of hell which is to last not for three days alone but for all eternity?

-- The horror of this strait and dark prison is increased by its awful stench. All the filth of the world, all the offal and scum of the world, we are told, shall run there as to a vast reeking sewer when the terrible conflagration of the last day has purged the world. The brimstone, too, which burns there in such prodigious quantity fills all hell with its intolerable stench; and the bodies of the damned themselves exhale such a pestilential odour that, as saint Bonaventure says, one of them alone would suffice to infect the whole world. The very air of this world, that pure element, becomes foul and unbreathable when it has been long enclosed. Consider then what must be the foulness of the air of hell. Imagine some foul and putrid corpse that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jelly-like mass of liquid corruption. Imagine such a corpse a prey to flames, devoured by the fire of burning brimstone and giving off dense choking fumes of nauseous loathsome decomposition. And then imagine this sickening stench, multiplied a millionfold and a millionfold again from the millions upon millions of fetid carcasses massed together in the reeking darkness, a huge and rotting human fungus. Imagine all this, and you will have some idea of the horror of the stench of hell.

-- But this stench is not, horrible though it is, the greatest physical torment to which the damned are subjected. The torment of fire is the greatest torment to which the tyrant has ever subjected his fellow creatures. Place your finger for a moment in the flame of a candle and you will feel the pain of fire. But our earthly fire was created by God for the benefit of man, to maintain in him the spark of life and to help him in the useful arts, whereas the fire of hell is of another quality and was created by God to torture and punish the unrepentant sinner. Our earthly fire also consumes more or less rapidly according as the object which it attacks is more or less combustible, so that human ingenuity has even succeeded in inventing chemical preparations to check or frustrate its action. But the sulphurous brimstone which burns in hell is a substance which is specially designed to burn for ever and for ever with unspeakable fury. Moreover, our earthly fire destroys at the same time as it burns, so that the more intense it is the shorter is its duration; but the fire of hell has this property, that it preserves that which it burns, and, though it rages with incredible intensity, it rages for ever.

-- Our earthly fire again, no matter how fierce or widespread it may be, is always of a limited extent; but the lake of fire in hell is boundless, shoreless and bottomless. It is on record that the devil himself, when asked the question by a certain soldier, was obliged to confess that if a whole mountain were thrown into the burning ocean of hell it would be burned up In an instant like a piece of wax. And this terrible fire will not afflict the bodies of the damned only from without, but each lost soul will be a hell unto itself, the boundless fire raging in its very vitals. O, how terrible is the lot of those wretched beings! The blood seethes and boils in the veins, the brains are boiling in the skull, the heart in the breast glowing and bursting, the bowels a red-hot mass of burning pulp, the tender eyes flaming like molten balls.

-- And yet what I have said as to the strength and quality and boundlessness of this fire is as nothing when compared to its intensity, an intensity which it has as being the instrument chosen by divine design for the punishment of soul and body alike. It is a fire which proceeds directly from the ire of God, working not of its own activity but as an instrument of Divine vengeance. As the waters of baptism cleanse the soul with the body, so do the fires of punishment torture the spirit with the flesh. Every sense of the flesh is tortured and every faculty of the soul therewith: the eyes with impenetrable utter darkness, the nose with noisome odours, the ears with yells and howls and execrations, the taste with foul matter, leprous corruption, nameless suffocating filth, the touch with redhot goads and spikes, with cruel tongues of flame. And through the several torments of the senses the immortal soul is tortured eternally in its very essence amid the leagues upon leagues of glowing fires kindled in the abyss by the offended majesty of the Omnipotent God and fanned into everlasting and ever-increasing fury by the breath of the anger of the God-head.

-- Consider finally that the torment of this infernal prison is increased by the company of the damned themselves. Evil company on earth is so noxious that the plants, as if by instinct, withdraw from the company of whatsoever is deadly or hurtful to them. In hell all laws are overturned - there is no thought of family or country, of ties, of relationships. The damned howl and scream at one another, their torture and rage intensified by the presence of beings tortured and raging like themselves. All sense of humanity is forgotten. The yells of the suffering sinners fill the remotest corners of the vast abyss. The mouths of the damned are full of blasphemies against God and of hatred for their fellow sufferers and of curses against those souls which were their accomplices in sin. In olden times it was the custom to punish the parricide, the man who had raised his murderous hand against his father, by casting him into the depths of the sea in a sack in which were placed a cock, a monkey, and a serpent. The intention of those law-givers who framed such a law, which seems cruel in our times, was to punish the criminal by the company of hurtful and hateful beasts. But what is the fury of those dumb beasts compared with the fury of execration which bursts from the parched lips and aching throats of the damned in hell when they behold in their companions in misery those who aided and abetted them in sin, those whose words sowed the first seeds of evil thinking and evil living in their minds, those whose immodest suggestions led them on to sin, those whose eyes tempted and allured them from the path of virtue. They turn upon those accomplices and upbraid them and curse them. But they are helpless and hopeless: it is too late now for repentance.

-- Last of all consider the frightful torment to those damned souls, tempters and tempted alike, of the company of the devils. These devils will afflict the damned in two ways, by their presence and by their reproaches. We can have no idea of how horrible these devils are. Saint Catherine of Siena once saw a devil and she has written that, rather than look again for one single instant on such a frightful monster, she would prefer to walk until the end of her life along a track of red coals. These devils, who were once beautiful angels, have become as hideous and ugly as they once were beautiful. They mock and jeer at the lost souls whom they dragged down to ruin. It is they, the foul demons, who are made in hell the voices of conscience. Why did you sin? Why did you lend an ear to the temptings of friends? Why did you turn aside from your pious practices and good works? Why did you not shun the occasions of sin? Why did you not leave that evil companion? Why did you not give up that lewd habit, that impure habit? Why did you not listen to the counsels of your confessor? Why did you not, even after you had fallen the first or the second or the third or the fourth or the hundredth time, repent of your evil ways and turn to God who only waited for your repentance to absolve you of your sins? Now the time for repentance has gone by. Time is, time was, but time shall be no more! Time was to sin in secrecy, to indulge in that sloth and pride, to covet the unlawful, to yield to the promptings of your lower nature, to live like the beasts of the field, nay worse than the beasts of the field, for they, at least, are but brutes and have no reason to guide them: time was, but time shall be no more. God spoke to you by so many voices, but you would not hear. You would not crush out that pride and anger in your heart, you would not restore those ill-gotten goods, you would not obey the precepts of your holy church nor attend to your religious duties, you would not abandon those wicked companions, you would not avoid those dangerous temptations. Such is the language of those fiendish tormentors, words of taunting and of reproach, of hatred and of disgust. Of disgust, yes! For even they, the very devils, when they sinned, sinned by such a sin as alone was compatible with such angelical natures, a rebellion of the intellect: and they, even they, the foul devils must turn away, revolted and disgusted, from the contemplation of those unspeakable sins by which degraded man outrages and defiles the temple of the Holy Ghost, defiles and pollutes himself.

-- O, my dear little brothers in Christ, may it never be our lot to hear that language! May it never be our lot, I say! In the last day of terrible reckoning I pray fervently to God that not a single soul of those who are in this chapel today may be found among those miserable beings whom the Great Judge shall command to depart for ever from His sight, that not one of us may ever hear ringing in his ears the awful sentence of rejection: Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Danforth - February 1, 2009

Stuff saw on my walk:

This is for Anabanana:

A pottery shop I like:

There is a dried puffer fish in this window:

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Day 3 at OLA Super Conference

I began the day with Eleanor Wachtel. She does CBC's Writers & Company. I am in love with her voice.

Today's highlight was Justin Trudeau.

There was a delicious moment that I will get to later.

I first saw Justin's father in 1968. I was 6 years old. I remember my father gave me a rose from our backyard. Pierre Elliot Trudeau was giving a speech at the Centennial Community Centre that opened in 1967. As he drove by in a convertible car I threw the rose at him. It didn't make it to the car. I was disappointed but I remember he looked at me and smiled. He gave a speech which I remember absolutely nothing of. I was six.

The hall was packed for the luncheon. I do not want to denigrate Justin but it is hard to be anything but a pale fire in comparison to Pierre Elliot Trudeau. He was the man who repatriated our Constitution and gave us our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Justin has a good speaking voice but it seems a bit too practiced.

He talked about social justice and the importance of libraries. It was a conference of librarians and he is a politician, whaddya expect?

After the talk the floor was opened up to questions. The first woman to speak asked a question about what the government planned on doing about restricting access to the internet because she sees people accessing porn in her library. This caused a great round of 'boos' from the freedom loving librarians. Justin danced around the answer.

The next man up to speak said that he wanted to reassure everyone that librarians are staunch supporters of the free and unfettered access to information. This was greeted by great cheers and applause. He went on to say that one is more safe in a public library than they would be at a church or the Boy Scouts. There was a mixed response to this. Justin said something, perhaps damning, about the Boy Scouts which I did not hear. I did hear him say, in recovery mode, that the Boy Scouts did lots of wonderful things and were a wonderful organization. The man asking the question replied, "Yes, as long as you are not gay or an atheist." Again, a mixed response.

It made me smile from ear to ear that this type of thing is being said more widely and publicly. Librarians are a bunch who generally are in favour of more access to information. The great and the not so great and the benign and the outright offensive all have a place in the great libraries of the world. The whole of human knowledge and output should be accessible to all.

That being said, each library cannot contain all books. There is a discerning judgement that takes place in each individual library. The character of the head librarian will often be reflected in the volumes on the shelves. Our library has an excellent collect of art related books, if I do say so myself.

All in all it was a good Super Conference again this year. I may help out more next year with the planning. I may even put on a session myself.

Friday, January 30, 2009

OLA Super Conference - Friday

I had a great morning session with Will Richardson.
He wrote Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. I read that book this summer and it inspired me to have my students explore the Web 2.0 world and decide what/how we would use it. This lead to the Best Buy Proposal and eventually $50,000.
I gave him a copy of the DVD we made that was the proposal.

I also listened to Michael Enright speak.
He was okay.

The afternoon session was with Will Richardson again along with a panel discussing Web 2.0 and barriers in schools.

Here are my notes:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

OLA Super Conference

The first session I went to this morning was titled:
Nurturing Critical Thinking Through Brain Compatible Learning Environments

The presenter was Garfield Gini-Newman, Senior Consultant, The Critical Thinking Consortium.
He was good. It was a topic that interests me. I think I have been trying to develop critical thinking skills in the assignments I design for my students.
There were a few key points that I want to remember. One was the difference between 'research' and 'inquiry'. One is a gathering of facts while the other is more purposeful, requiring problem solving, decision making, and judgement.

When trying to determine the truth of a question you may have two pieces of evidence which contradict each other. However, not all pieces of evidence are equally valid.

To illustrate this point we were looking at a drawing of a farm scene. We were trying to determine when the scene was taking place. We knew the setting was Burnaby, B.C.. From the illustration we could see that the mountains were in the background, to the north. There were shadows on the east side of the house. This indicated to me that the scene was taking place in the afternoon. The shadow was not very long, so it was maybe 2 PM. Someone else suggested that it was in the morning because someone was feeding the chickens, and this is something that is usually done in the morning.

We had two pieces of 'evidence' to help establish the time. One was given more weight than the other. In fact, one -the position of the sun- trumped the other. Although chickens are usually fed in the morning there is nothing preventing one from feeding them in the afternoon - say scraps from lunch. Whereas the sun casting a shadow on the east side of a building necessarily means that it is in the west.

It kind of reminded me of Creationist arguments. They have 'evidence', it just doesn't stand up to real evidence.

We then talked about the difference between a 'Fixed Mind Set' and a 'Growth Mind Set'. Some students feel they are good or bad at something; that they have talent or they do not. They are 'fixed' in their thinking about themselves. Others see setbacks as challenges and view school as an opportunity to expand intelligence. There is good evidence that the plasticity of the brain allows for students to grow intellectually if they believe they can.

A lot of the inhibitions to learning come about because of emotional barriers.
Information coming into the brain gets processed through the amygdala. It is partly responsible for memory formation and emotional reactions. Emotion is a key gateway to learning.

During adolescence, teenage boys have amygdala bathed in testosterone. Although publicly aloof and 'cool' many teenage boys reveal a far deeper emotional side. One way to get at boys (and girls) is to approach subjects through the arts. Our emotional responses to art and literature is a key pathway to learning. This is something I have known and used for quite some time in my teaching practice. I believe the power of story is extremely useful in many different subject areas.
Daniel Pink was a keynote speaker a few years back who said something very similar.

Boys tend to read for purpose. Non-fiction is big but boys read novels too. Garfield told the amusing story of the one boy he knew who had read Twilight. He said he read it so he could talk to the girls about it.

There was a lot more ground covered. There were a lot of good practical tips. For example, if you write notes for students to copy, tell them that one of the points you made is not true. They then actually engage with the text written and it becomes a problem to solve. They try to establish criteria for evaluating the veracity of the statements.

I got a good idea out of this session that made it worth my time. I have been giving my students an art history research assignment for a few years now. I try to make it so that I do not get a boring recitation of dates and facts. I have had some success with this, and some failure. I thought of this today: I will have two students work together. They need to collaborate on the final presentation. The task will be to determine who is the better artist. Dali or Whistler? Picasso or Leonardo? Manet or Monet? We will establish criteria for determining this together. I think it will be fun. Does the fact that one of Jackson Pollack's paintings fetched the highest price ever for a painting mean he is the best painter ever? Does money determine worth? What makes a painting great? Who determines this and what criteria is used? Does the legacy or influence of an artist determine worth?
I'll flesh it out further with the students. One thing for sure is that they will not be able to just give a bio of the artist. They must think and think critically in order to complete the assignment successfully.
I am happy.

My next session was boring. Only a little interesting for me. It dealt with open access to academic papers and journals. The topic is of interest but it was highly technical and more suited for someone who wasn't me.

The highlight of the day was Richard Florida. He had way too many interesting things to say. Mayor David Miller introduced him. I don't know what to say because I do not want to reproduce his talk here and I don't want to leave anything out.
Here is a link to his site:
Creative Class

His main point was that the creative class is the way out of the world wide economic crisis. Investing in people is investing in the economy. People produce that which drives the economy.
He talked about Toronto as a city that has a vibrant economy because of its diversity and the acceptance of that diversity. He found that 'Bohemian-gay-artistic' neighbourhoods are ones that stimulate the economy. He was accused by some newspaper in the States of wishing to "undermine the tenets of Judeo-Christian society” because of his "gay agenda".

I'm not going to say any more about him other than to say he gave me a tremendous amount to think about. Maybe I'll write more later. But I still have two days of conference to go, and I'm not even done with today.

The last session of the day for me was A Thousand Words About Our Culture by Stephen Marche. He mainly talked about the book and how it was transforming but very slowly. He wondered if it would always be around. He was an extremely knowledgeable and intelligent speaker with a great deal of revelatory insights.

He entertained questions after the talk and I asked him to comment on the rise of the graphic novel. (I had borrowed a copy of Lynda Barry's What It Is? from the guys at The Beguiling to read while I was waiting for the Richard Florida talk. It is an absolutely amazing book. People must of thought I was crazy as I read it. One moment I was laughing out loud and then I'd turn the page and tear up.) He talked mainly about how authors had taken the idea of the book and tried to push the boundaries by using odd combinations of fonts, and cut-out pages, and pages that gradually changed colour, and other 'tricks'. I was wondering if he thought that perhaps graphic novels were a new direction for the novel. We talked about the acceptance of the graphic novel as a serious art form. He admitted a love of the graphic novel and then some other questions followed where he admitted he was not as expert in the field as those asking the questions.

All in all, it was a good day for me.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Apple Sam

Apple Sam:

I am just playing around with Flock, a new web browser.
It allows me to easily add images from Flickr to this blog or Facebook.
It probably does other things.
I am just playing around now and finding out what it does.

I like this image of Sam.
Very Biblical.
Why do I think of Frank Zappa?