In closing

The last respondent to my last post wrote: “I don’t know how you could present your theories…in greater detail.”

Believe me, Dana, I could, but I sense a readiness on the part of many readers to move on, so I’m going to content myself with one last post on the subject for the foreseeable future.

My previous efforts occasioned a great many responses but none of them in regard to the points I raised. I’m not sure what to make of this, but I’m not easily discouraged, so I will close with two other objections to theism. First is the logical contradiction. It arises from God’s commonly supposed attributes such as omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence, and examples can be thought of by the dozen. Here are a few.

Can God create a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it?
Can he do evil?
Can he will himself to die?
Can he choose to not know something?
Can he create a being greater than himself?
Can he be somewhere that he isn’t?

A final, somewhat related, objection to the type of God whom most people worship concerns suffering, and has inspired its own branch of theology—theodicy. It was an early concern of mine, and I have never found an explanation that made sense to me. I’ll present it in three parts.

(1) If God is omniscient, he knows exactly where, when, and how much every creature suffers. (2) If God is omnibenevolent, he doesn’t want any creature to suffer. (3) If God is omnipotent, he has the power to eliminate suffering without eliminating any benefit that suffering might bring.

Why, then, doesn’t he? All of the answers I have seen denied one of these three attributes. Of course, some people seek to avoid the problem altogether by throwing up their hands and claiming that God is inscrutable, but this approach has problems too. For one thing, it amounts to an admission that the case against God looks awfully bad. For another, it raises the question of whether moral behavior is whatever God says it is, or whether it exists independently of God. If morality is whatever God says it is, then it would be perfectly moral for him to tell you to lie, cheat, and murder your children (all of which are things he has actually done, according to the Bible at least).

Indeed, it is this second way of thinking about God that enables people to do absolutely horrific things in his name everyday of the week. Suicide bombers think they doing God’s will. Men who murder their daughters for “honor crimes” are likewise trying to please God. All of the people who shunned me when I lost my faith thought that turning their backs on me was what God wanted them to do, as did the people who threw my brother out of the church for playing music in a place that served liquor.

There is nothing that so angers nonreligious people as the observation that those who worship God often stand ready to throw compassion and justice out the window in a heartbeat if they think it will please him. For example, the opposition to abortion regardless of the circumstances; the cover-up of pedophilia by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church; George Bush’s willingness to violate the law in order to route taxpayer money to religious charities that discriminated and proselytized; and families that disown their children for marrying outside “the faith.” Slavery, genocide, religious intolerance, discrimination against women and the disabled, the murder of nonbelievers and homosexuals, and so on and so on, are all solidly rooted in Jewish, Moslem, and Christian scriptures. And, no, nothing that Christ said changed that. So it is that people who seek to excuse God by virtue of his “inscrutability” as also excusing the crimes done in his name.

I have tried to be fair in my criticisms throughout these posts, yet this is a subject that is as emotional to me as it is to many of you who stand, as it were, on the opposite side of the fence. I therefore apologize for whatever ways I might have failed. I have likewise generalized my comments to only apply to the supernatural deity in whom I once believed, and in whom most Americans appear to believe. In closing, I can but thank those of you who have hung in there with me despite the offense I have surely occasioned.

40 comments:

Rob-bear said...

A semi-quick answer.

Your recognize yourself the first problem is illogical, so I don't have to deal with that. Illogical is illogical. Period. Or, to put it another way, is infinity greater or less than infinity?

Second, you're using Greek thinking to describe a Hebrew God. Les Shestov, a Jew, deals with that issue in his book Athens and Jerusalem, which is a very heavy read. From my perspective, what you're suggesting is like trying to describe blue, by using analogies related only to pink. It doesn't work.

From my perspective as a Christian, those terms you have introduced are meaningless. They provide no assistance to me in understanding God at all. It seems that you're trying to play with infinity, which strikes me as self-contradictory, illogical.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that your last bit sounds like the heresy of voluntarism, though I would have to do more research on that. (Voluntarism, basically, is the notion that God wills things which contrary to the divine nature — which is, again, self-contradictory and illogical, and regarded as profoundly at odds with what is generally accepted i.e., heresy).

I don't think defining Christianity on the basis of what Christians generally reject (i.e., heresy) is particularly useful.

One thing I have found, from personal experience, is that people often do one of two things.
A) They make God too small, by trying to make God an over-sized person. J.B. Phillip's book, Your God Is Too Small, deals with that problem. It's basically a problem of turning analogy into fact.
B) They make God too big to be relevant to everyday life, but great for philosophical debate.

I, of course, I find both of those positions unhelpful.

Putz said...

i want to say you are right, about god commanding murder, etc to suit his purposes, and i could see this argument coming so i have stayed away from the fray, and the only iest reason for commenting now is just to say" i just don't know"">>>i am christian wh just doesn't know>>>i am mostly pacafist{SP} and don't know what that can be when god can destroy life at his command>>how can i be one of his soldiers????no answers , only questions

rhymeswithplague said...

My own experience is limited, of course, but I have never before heard of God's omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence. That third one is a new one for me. The three chief attributes of God (and there are, of course, other attributes also) that I've always seen in print and heard in sermons are that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Quite different.

There is that little cheer some people do: "God is good...all the time. All the time...God is good." I suppose it is based on the first part of Paul's statement in Romans that "All things work together for good..." but it's not true for everyone, just "...to them that love God, are the called according to His purpose."
That's quite different from saying that God is omnibenevolent. Does He call some and not others? Beats me. But only Abraham was called out of Ur, not the whole city.

We do read that "His love endures forever" and "His mercy is from everlasting to everlasting."

But clearly, if God is omnibenevolent, God's definition of "good" and man's definition of "good" are also quite different.

I'm not saying He's not, I'm just saying I never heard that before.

You can't make me argue with you, Snow, and you can't stop me from praying for you.

ellen abbott said...

I'm really sorry that this series of posts came at a time in my life when I did not have the time or presence of mind to participate. I have read them all but have not commented or read the comments beyond scanning through. I am not, personally, an atheist although many people would consider me so. I do not believe in the Judeo/Christian/Muslim concept of god and so in that sense, I guess I am an atheist. I personally believe that religion is the worst thing that ever happened to humanity. I certainly don't believe in religion. I won't try to articulate my personal beliefs here beyond saying that I believe all existence is one, sort of the way our body is one but made up of individual cells and the thing that binds it all together is what I loosely conceive of as 'god'. Very esoteric. I don't believe in hell or the devil or the lake of fire. I don't believe 'god' is compassionate or benevolent or any of that stuff because it is the sum total...the good and the bad. It is all experience and in that way it is omniscient. It doesn't bother me that some people don't believe in anything, any form, are atheists. What bothers me is people who do believe who think they know the end all, the be all from a book or series of books written thousands of years ago by men for men for the purpose of controlling men and then go about imposing their personal beliefs on the population at large. The hypocrisy astounds!

Tiffany said...

I for one am glad to read the things you have to say, and I thank you for putting in to words the things that I wish I could. You express yourself so eloquently, so thoughtfully, I can't understand why people would be offended. Well, I suppose I can see that people would be offended by the subject matter. But as I see it, it's your blog and they are free to click away to something else. Not to say no one is entitled to their opinion, but I don't think you should stop talking about the subject matter that is so obviously important to you simply because some are offended. I appreciate your thoughts and look forward to your posts (especially since I am a new follower of your blog.) But, I do also appreciate that you care enough about the people who read your writings that you'd want to not offend them. And they say atheists have no morals...

nollyposh said...

God (in my book) is that part of yourself that keeps looking for answers... i don't see 'God' as a concept that is a separate identity... i see it as the common theme/thread that we all have of the intangible that links us to one another ...and i believe each of us in our own time, and in own way come to understand it in the way that suits us each individually best... Perhaps your 'God' for instance is your humanity and the patience that you have with people who have different ideas to you... Jesus spoke of such things... i think the problem will always be there when we try to made the concept of 'God' as the tangible... Rather it is that intangible part within each of us that inspires us, that gives us our humanity towards each other, that is our creativity... God is like trying to explain Love... (Funny that) it's just a feeling, a sense of deep knowing, and it is hard for me to explain what i feel... But i do like how science is now evolving and managing to give us a better understanding with Quantum Physics... Because i Believe that God is an energetic force of sorts... What do you think of that idea?
Do you also believe that you have no Soul and that in death you will simply cease to be? And being an atheist does this mean that you are completely comfortable with this? ...What do you think of ghosts and spiritual encounters and/etc... Are people who have them deluded? What about those who have such encounters who are well (emotionally) and non-believers in such things?

Lorraina said...

Like Tiffany i am glad to read what you and anyone else believes or dosn't believe and if anyone is offended they should be ashamed as this is a free country after all. It would be awful if we were all the same! I really love reading and learning about other peoples takes on life, love and their pursuits of happiness.
Keep talking to us Snow.

Marion said...

Part of the beauty of God's love, for me, is the Mystery. There's so little mystery left in life, that I'm drawn to the mystical side of Christianity. I don't waste my time even thinking about other people's religions or lack thereof.

I hope you're feeling better, Snow. I've been praying for you. ;-O Love & Blessings!!

rhymeswithplague said...

This just in on the goodness of God: I woke up this morning thinking of the first chapter of the book of Nahum in the Old Testament and the eleventh chapter of the book of Romans in the New. Verrrry innnterrrresting.

Bernie said...

Hope this finds you well Snow, and free from pain.....pain can wear you down for sure.......:-) Hugs

Strayer said...

Well, I was constantly fondled by a church deacon, SDA, my father. I was nearly killed when beaten by staff on a psyche ward run by SDA's. They did not apologize ever. Even after years of sending them a letter each December, requesting such. I started each letter with their own shining Christian mission statement.

I just got about 16 cats fixed for a compulsive lying lazy woman in Albany. She wanted me to go to her church which goes to several times a week, very conservative church. I said "No thank you. You go to your church and tell them, "Hey how come it's the infidel putting her time and money helping me catch and fix my cats when you guys, my churchmates won't but should be?""

I'm not much of a believer that church going makes anybody much better than, more honest than, more moral than, anybody else. In fact, I think churches are havens for pretenders, the mouth flapping moralists.

Snowbrush said...

I'm awfully tired at this late hour, but I think I'll enjoy getting a start on my responses to what you wrote. I've actually spent many hours over the past two days working on my next post, but I realized tonight that I'll probably throw it out--I frequently do that.

I'm also behind in visiting other people's blogs, mostly because of the time I've been spending on my own--both writing posts and responding to your thoughts. I feel badly about that, but don't have any great ideas about how to remedy it.

Rob-bear said: "your last bit sounds like the heresy of voluntarism"

I'm unaware that I've portrayed God as possessing any attribute that isn't generally ascribed to him, at least by Christians.

Rhymes said: "omnibenevolence...is a new one for me. The three chief attributes of God...are that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent."

As you call tell from the roots, omnibenevolent just means that he wants what is best for his creation. Do I presume too much in suggesting that most Christians believe this? The three things you listed have to do with power rather than intention. They could be said of an infinitely evil being as well as an infinitely good one.

Rhymes said: "But clearly, if God is omnibenevolent, God's definition of "good" and man's definition of "good" are also quite different."

Are you saying that when you see people--and animals--homeless, sick, injured, and starving after a war, tsunami, hurricane, or earthquake, that you consider it an example of God's goodness at work, but that we are simply too limited to comprehend the benefit that a dying infant, for example, gains by its brief and miserable existence? I think I represent you correctly in saying that you believe our understanding of right and wrong comes from God. The suggestion that he himself can violate the very standards he gave us, and still be good himself is what caused me to ask (in the above post) whether ANYTHING God says is good IS good simply because he said it, no matter how horrendous it might appear by every standard that he himself gave us.

Rhymes said: "you can't stop me from praying for you."

Given your belief system, I can well understand why you would consider me in need of prayer, but why you feel the need to tell me you're praying for me is less clear. I rather think that some people tell me this because they're passive aggressive, but I have more regard for your maturity and goodwill than to think it of you.

Snowbrush said...

Ellen said: "I personally believe that religion is the worst thing that ever happened to humanity."

I think you're probably right. I say probably because it would be darn hard to prove since we can't know for sure what would have happened without it.

Ellen said: "I believe all existence is one, sort of the way our body is one but made up of individual cells and the thing that binds it all together is what I loosely conceive of as 'god'. Very esoteric."

I've heard this before, and I believe it's accurate on some levels, but the devil is in the details--in this case trying to figure out exactly what the statement means, and what it's actual significance is given that we're still discrete individuals who are separated, it would appear, by even more things than the ones which connect us. My wife in the next room right now. She could die there in silent agony, and my own life would go on exactly as before until I found her body--THAT'S how separate we are in terms of anything approaching a mystical connection. If you have the time and interest, perhaps you could say more about the significance you find in the material(?) commonality you share, not just with other people, but even with rocks on distant planets. The most that I can get out of it is that our parts are recycled endlessly, and that IS cool to ponder, yet the thought that the elements in my body once lived in the body of an ancient fern isn't greatly meaningful to me because no awareness of that fern remains in me just as no awareness of the person I now am will remain in things that exist fifty million years from now.

kylie said...

snow,
you know i cant engage with these arguments, i dont have the answers but i believe what i do so theres not much more to say.

to comment on your comments, i have always refrained from telling people i'll pray for them if they dont want prayer. it seems a very arrogant approach, along the lines of "i know better than you"

hopin you're well, darl

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, what I meant about the praying was that no matter what you tell me you believe or don't believe, I am praying that you will get relief from your physical pain, that your doctors will find the right medicines to help you, that your physical situation will be greatly improved, that you will be completely healed from the top of your head to the soles of your feet. That's what I pray. Even if you think that is foolish, I will continuing praying that way. (If I also pray that light shines in your darkness -- I don't mean to be offensive -- then that is another matter altogether. And you may be hoping that the same sort of transformation happens to me. We can just agree to disagree.)

But about the "goodness" of God, I was trying to echo Isaiah 55:8-9, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the Lord, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." I think we err in setting ourselves up as judges of God. He is our ultimate judge, no matter what we think of Him. It's not the other way around. Mankind has spent millenia not understanding God's ways. Your point of view is not new.

In trying to explain what I mean I often just make things worse. Please forgive me if I just did it again.

geek said...

I haven't read all the comments yet, but I'll come back to do so. I'd be thinking and reflecting more about your posts at this time since I am taking Anthropology of Christianities (which still disappoints me because it's supposed to be Comparative Religion). I'll just say for now that I agree with what you say about religion. I, myself, have seen too much hypocrisy with my own two eyes. As for the question of God's existence, I don't know if I can answer that right now. I am far too immature and inexperienced to give a definite answer. But surely, I'll be ruminating on it quite more.

Hope you're doing well.

All Consuming said...

As ever I'm in awe of the mental energy you put into both your posts on this subject and the comments that result from them. I always enjoy reading them even if I have to do it in short bursts due to my own energy crisis at the moment. xx

Matawheeze said...

Glad to hear you are leaving the religious stuff, at least for a while. What we believe is so personal as to make it difficult to describe/share and prolonged attempts become their own sort of preaching - though you do it well.

Snowbrush said...

Tiffany said: "I don't think you should stop talking about the subject matter that is so obviously important to you simply because some are offended."

I have sometimes thought that if anything would make me quit blogging altogether, it would be this subject. Few people appear to give any thought to what I have to say, and that's assuming they even read it before they respond. As Kylie (somewhere below) wrote, "i dont have the answers but i believe what i do so theres not much more to say." This is faith at work. Show me where its virtue lies. Tell me why God would prefer that we worship him out of ignorance. All I can think of it that it's we humans who extol unsubstantiated belief because we are afraid that if we go too deep, we will find that there's nothing there.

I don't need people to agree with me, but I do long for a connection beyond our beliefs. Some of the responses to this post show more thought and openness than much of what I have received, and I am gratified by that.

Lorraina said: "if anyone is offended they should be ashamed as this is a free country after all."

I believe that freedom within a given country--and even within a given area within a country--is always relative, and is dependent both upon the laws and public opinion. Atheists--and others--in America face persecution everyday. And remember, we are all taxed to support religion, either directly or indirectly through having to make up for what religious groups don't pay. I would object to religion far less if it really were nothing more than a personal matter as so many claim.

Nollyposh said: "Rather it [God] is that intangible part within each of us that inspires us, that gives us our humanity towards each other, that is our creativity..."

Why call human virtue God?

Nollyposh said: "Do you also believe that...in death you will simply cease to be? And being an atheist does this mean that you are completely comfortable with this? ...What do you think of ghosts and spiritual encounters and/etc... Are people who have them deluded? What about those who have such encounters who are well (emotionally) and non-believers in such things?"

No, Nollyposh, I don't believe we live after we die. I don't know enough about the human brain to explain why some people see, and even talk to, ghosts, but I don't think they're necessarily insane anymore than I think most religious people are necessarily insane. As for nonbelievers who believe in ghosts, I don't know of any. I do know that nonbelievers have experienced NDEs and had their world views unchanged by them. As for my comfort level with death, please refer to my last post, somewhere within the first third of it.

kylie said...

snowy,
you have referred to my comment and talked about being afraid to dig deep and find nothing and maybe in my case you are right. i can only say that my spiritual endeavours bring comfort and make me a better person. ultimately, if i am experiencing the placebo effect i dont mind.
what i am starting to worry about here is that i want connection, as you do, but it's not happening with this subject and the longer we try the more the gulf seems to be widening......

Snowbrush said...

Marion said: "There's so little mystery left in life, that I'm drawn to the mystical side of Christianity."

The issues I raised go beyond mystery/mysticism in my mind. I can well imagine that a believer might find it rewarding to meditate upon the meaning of the Eucharist or the proverbial question of how many angels can stand upon the head of a pin, but to ponder whether God exists and whether he deserves our worship if he does exist is another matter. As for there being little left in life that is mysterious, I would offer that there is as much as there ever was since everything we learn opens up new avenues to explore.

Hi, Bernie.

Plague, I haven't looked up your verses yet.

Strayer said: "Hey how come it's the infidel putting her time and money helping me catch and fix my cats when you guys, my churchmates won't but should be?"

Churches have little if any interest in animal welfare or in environmental issues so far as I'm aware. I suppose some liberal groups might make a statement about good stewardship from time to time, but the Bible clearly takes the stand that we were put here to serve God, and everything else was put here for us to use. We're definitely not fellow travelers with other species as the Bible sees it, and this is another of the big problems I have with it.

Kylie said: "i dont have the answers but i believe what i do so theres not much more to say."

I was critical of this statement further up the page, yet it's exactly the kind of faith that Job displayed and that Christ said was essential. The problem, as I see it, is that followers of any religion might say the same thing, and with reason and evidence out the window, so to speak, there is no way whatsoever to examine truth claims. Is there?

Rhymes said: "Mankind has spent millenia not understanding God's ways."

When if ever does doubt get to be a deal breaker in your mind? True, a person can say, "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord," to everything that happens, but doesn't this throw you back to the sort of faith Kylie wrote of, and do you have any thoughts what I wrote to her in response?

Geek said: "As for the question of God's existence..I am far too immature and inexperienced to give a definite answer."

When I was about your age, I bought a set of Robert Ingersolls's writings from the widow of a black fundamentalist preacher, and they opened up a whole new world of thought for me because, prior to reading them, EVERYTHING I had ever heard or read about religion came from believers. I still wonder from time to time why the heck that preacher had those books, and what use he made of them.

Snowbrush said...

All Consuming said: " I'm in awe of the mental energy you put into both your posts on this subject and the comments that result from them."

Thank you. I put what seems to me to be an inordinate amount of time into thinking and writing, but I enjoy it from the standpoint of sharing my thoughts with others (and hearing theirs in response), and because writing helps me to clarify my thoughts. I would prefer writing to talking any day.

Matawheeze said: "What we believe is so personal as to make it difficult to describe/share..."

I wonder why you and I are on the opposite ends of the spectrum here. I think that if people are unable to articulate what they think and why they think it, ESPECIALLY in regard to their personal beliefs, then they're living pretty superficially, at least in regard to the area that is under consideration.

Kylie said: "you have referred to my comment"

And I apologize. I should have included you in the conversation instead of talking about you--in your presence, as it were--to someone else. I am truly sorry. I got too caught up in the logic of what I was trying to say to take your feelings into consideration.

Kylie said: "i want connection, as you do, but it's not happening with this subject"

It has been intense, maybe moreso for me since you are only talking about it with one person, whereas it is the only topic on my blog at the moment. I said somewhere up the page that if I were to ever quit blogging, it might because of this subject because I can spend hours putting everything I've got into it without even knowing if more than a fraction of my readers bother to read what I wrote. Even when people respond, few of them respond to anything I said, so I wonder if they just read enough to tell that we disagree, and then proceeded right on down to the comment section. It's an undeservedly cynical thought, perhaps, but it has come to me more than once.

Again, Kylie, I am so sorry for my thoughtlessness toward you. In regard to my thoughts about your faith, as Rhymes said, "We can just agree to disagree." Sometimes, it must come down to that, but I want you to know that, in criticizing your position, I don't mean to criticize you personally. This might sound like too fine a distinction for you to make sense of, but I'm real clear on it in my own mind. I hold you in high regard; truly, I do.

Strayer said...

Snow, do you need a kitten? There was this young orange feral female, I got fixed a few weeks back and returned to a trailer park. She was lactating at spay. So tonight, I go over to catch others, and they tell me the orange female is moving her kittens desperately every day. There's no water out for the cats, rarely food, people into drugs, drinking, that stuff. Suddenly, I turn around, and that young mother cat has brought them to me, and deposited the four tiny kittens near my car, then moved off. She couldn't do it. Couldn't take care of them, knew I would. I took them. Stuffed them in my purse. They are darn cute, four weeks old, very dyhydrated, two orange boys, two orange girls. Want one, Snow? I know you're a dog person, but these are pocket kittens--tiny. They would turn you to our side, the cat people side, but more importantly, they'd make you laugh a lot. I'm pretty sure they're agnostics, if you want to give them a tag of that sort. You'd love them.

rhymeswithplague said...

Just for the record, I read every word you write and every word in the comments. If I don't always respond to everything, it may be (a) I'm overwhelmed by the sheer volume or (b) I recognize that arguing is futile because we each have our own opinions (and who wants to keep going around in circles anyway?).

Upstream you told Kylie "it's exactly the kind of faith that Job displayed and that Christ said was essential." Yes. That's the whole point. If it could be explained (rationally or irrationally) there would be no need for faith. Faith is the substance of things we hope for, the evidence of things not seen. We can't put them under a microscope; we can't look at them through a telescope. A hungry man just eats, he doesn't demand to examine the individual nutrients and to understand fully the digestive process first. In that direction lies starvation within arm's reach of the banquet table.

kylie said...

snow,
i read everything you write

Snowbrush said...

Strayer, I don't usually "allow" totally off topic comments no matter who they're from, but yours will give me the chance to introduce you as a fellow infidel who is far nicer than myself. So, to those who read this, Strayer spends her life rescuing abused and abandoned cats without compensation despite the fact that she's dirt-poor. She is forever crawling under houses and through filth-strewn buildings to catch cats, frequently injuring herself in the process. Naturally, she can't afford medical care. Her furniture--and sometimes her appliances--are other people's throw aways and she lives in a small rental in a rundown neighborhood. I know that some of you truly believe that she's going to burn in hell because she doesn't love Jesus, yet she has more compassion in her toenails than most of us have in our entire bodies, and she does more to alleviate suffering in a week than most of us do in a decade. How you can consider a God who would condemn Strayer to be worthy of your worship, I don't know.

As to your question, Strayer, Peggy and I talk a lot about getting a cat when the dogs die (our heeler is 12.5, and our schnauzer 10.5). The problem with getting one now is that we both have a strong suspicion that it would drive the schnauzer completely out of his mind because he is completely and utterly obsessed with cats and squirrels--and I don't exaggerate. Of course, if he lived with one, he would hopefully get used to it, but we don't think so, and while it's still little, he could even kill it. As for me being a dog person, I see a lot of good in dogs and cats. I'm listening to an audio book entitled "Animals Make Us Human" by Temple Grandin, and when I got to the cat section, I thought of you and hoped you would be able to get it.

Rhymes said: " If it could be explained (rationally or irrationally) there would be no need for faith."

I know you read everything, Rhymes. You're a "follower" to kill for. As to your point about faith, this still leaves me to wonder why a person couldn't just as well put his faith in Mohammed, Astarte, or Sun Myung Moon as in Jesus. According to my childhood church, God would lead anyone who truly sought him anywhere in the world to the Church of Christ, but this would have to mean that most people who truly sought him just happened to live bunched together in the American South.

Kylie, thank you!

rhymeswithplague said...

Snow, I suppose a person could put his faith in Mohammed, Astarte, or Sun Myung Moon as in Jesus, but to what avail? We have free will to put faith in whatever or whomever we wish, but only one of those ever said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me." (So he was either who he presented himself as: son of God, or he was a lunatic, not a "Great Teacher" -- paraphrasing C.S. Lewis here).

I have a slightly different twist on Jesus' words than your average evangelical diehard. One possible interpretation is that whoever discovers in the end that he has come to Father God will also discover that it was through or by His Son, Jesus, despite what route the person may have thought he or she was or was not taking. That is, it is by Jesus consciously or it is by Jesus unconsciously. Repeating certain words over and over does not get us there, and not repeating certain words over and over does not prevent us from getting there. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart. (Truth in arguing: that last sentence in context refers to the prophet Samuel's choice of David over the other sons of Jesse to be king if Israel in Old Testament times, but hey, "out of context" works for me sometimes!)

I also realize that among the Church of Christ folks back in Mississippi, the entire previous paragraph might be considered heresy of the highest sort. Thank God neither you nor I have to please the Church of Christ folks back in Mississippi.

Snowbrush said...

Rhymes said: "only one of those ever said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by Me."

If I can prove to you that other religious leaders made similar claims to exclusivity, do you think it possible that you will follow one of them?

By the way, the gospel of John from which you quote is generally accepted by scholars to have been the last of the gospels. It was almost certainly written in the second century A.D. (or the last decade of the first century at the earliest), which means that the author didn't even know Jesus. It therefore comes to you, at best, as hearsay three times removed--and this is assuming the Jesus was even a real person.

As you probably know, the other gospels are called synoptic because they are largely similar, whereas the gospel of John stands out for its claims of Christ's exclusivity and for it's low regard for the Jewish people. This was because, the church, which had originally been just another Jewish sect, had by now split off completely from Judaism, and was primarily constituted of Gentiles. Much of the persecutions of the last 1,900 years can be attributed to this gospel and passages such as the one you quoted.

Rhymes said: "So he was either who he presented himself as: son of God, or he was a lunatic, not a "Great Teacher" -- paraphrasing C.S. Lewis here"

I find it odd the Lewis only considered these three possibilities. After all, Jesus could have been misquoted for reasons already given, or he could have been a fictitious person, or the meaning of his words could have been lost.

Rhymes said: "I also realize that among the Church of Christ folks back in Mississippi, the entire previous paragraph might be considered heresy of the highest sort."

They would say that your pride in your own intellect has caused you to turn aside from the plainly revealed word of God and to follow the wisdom of men, and that there will therefore be no place for you at the banquet table of the Son of Man when he has come again in clouds of glory to judge both the quick and the dead. Millions have faith that this is true, Rhymes, and I came from a line of men who taught it from the pulpit, at least one of them near where you live. Once a week, he walked clean across Sand Mountain to preach the Good News.

Finally, Rhymes, there is a disagreement about the meaning of the statement you quoted. Not everyone believes Jesus was talking about himself as a person but rather about the body of his teachings. But even if he was talking about himself personally, he didn't spell out what he meant. That was done later by various unknown writers and by church traditions. Protestant Christians often forget that the very existence of the Bible as we know it came to us through Catholicism some 300 years after Christ. It was then that they decided who Jesus was and what his words meant, and correspondingly threw out writings that contradicted their beliefs.

rhymeswithplague said...

See there, didn't we have a nice conversation? You sound very much like what is often referred to these days as "post-evangelical." And so do I sometimes.

We are probably more alike than different, except that none of my forebears walked clean across Sand Mountain preaching the Good News. I did have an uncle on my father's side who was a Moody Press colporteur in Iowa, though.

You ought to read Flannery O'Connor's short story Good Country People.

Even if you proved that other people made the same claim to exclusivity that Jesus is reported in John 14 to have said, the answer is no, it is not possible that I will follow one of them. None of them were the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, or were crucified, dead, and buried, the third day arose from the dead, ascended into heaven, or sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

With me, it's a done deal. Sorry to disappoint you in that regard.

Both of us like to write and to talk, and even though I enjoy our exchanges (and I think you do as well) I don't want your readers to become bored.

Billy Graham said one time that no one was ever debated into the kingdom of God.

Snowbrush said...

Rhymes said: "Even if you proved that other people made the same claim to exclusivity... the answer is no, it is not possible that I will follow one of them."

You did, of course, cite his claim to exclusivity as the basis for your belief.

The first chapter of the following book is about Billy Graham. I think you would enjoy it:

"Walking away from faith : unraveling the mystery of belief & unbelief" by Ruth Tucker

R. J. said...

Interesting discussion--well said.

Anvilcloud said...

As a newbie to this blog, I am probably not going to go back and read the whole thing, which I probably pretty well agree with. I'm a former theist, who now tends to agree with my former-theist BIL who has proclaimed that all religion is a form of mental insanity (or something like that). That's harsh, and I guess I don't really agree with him despite what I just said, but I do get what he's driving at. It's brave of you to post these thoughts. Carry on.

Vagabonde said...

I think I told you before that being raised in Europe I never knew anyone who went to church so I never thought much about it until I came into this super religious country. I tried to read some of the Bible and also did some research on it but I stopped when I realized that so many passages had not been translated correctly and that now, because of computer and research, the translation can be adjusted, but people don’t want to hear of it. I also cannot understand that people want to enforce what they like in the Bible (like against homosexuality) but will not enforce the passages they do not like.
I think that your post is very eloquent but you will never change what people believe or even have them see your point of view. It is called “faith” and what is faith? Is to believe in something that cannot be proven, that is not logical or rational. It is the choice to believe in an idea when there is no evidence for it, like something that appeals to you but is not really compatible with reality. If someone has never been brought up in a religious family and ask reasonable questions, there are no reasonable answers when it comes to religion – you need to close your brain and ask no questions. You need to have a lot of credulity or have been brain washed as a child to believe I think because no evidence is given. I think it all comes down to cultural indoctrination and that is quite hard to get rid of, or even to question. When I was in Thailand I read a very interesting article in the international issue of an American magazine. It was about a neuroscientist who had found the place in the brain where, if it can be touched (like in an accident) it makes you feel as though you went through a religious experience. I found the same magazine in the US when I came back, but they had not published that article in it. I guess the public here would not have liked it. I find religious people to be afraid of any evidence that could shatter their “faith.”

Snowbrush said...

R.J. said: "Interesting discussion--well said."

Thank you, R.J.

Anvilcloud said: "As a newbie to this blog, I am probably not going to go back and read the whole thing"

WHAT! Why that's an outrage! Can I interest you in just the last 300 posts then?

Anvilcloud said: "all religion is a form of mental insanity"

I, too, know what he means. Whether Tertullian really said, "Credo quia absurdum est," or not, the making of unverifiable faith into a virtue implies that the greater the reason to not believe, the greater the virtue.

Vagabonde said: "you will never change what people believe or even have them see your point of view"

Whether they can be reached depends upon how firm their faith is. Robert Ingersoll had a tremendous influence on me when my faith was in doubt, and a great many atheists report having had similar experiences upon reading--or hearing--a detractor of faith. Yet, you are right in general, as the responses to this blog attest. I am literally finding it hard to continue blogging after these posts due to the fact that I tried to hard to reach people on a rational level yet failed so miserably. I don't take it as a personal failure but rather a failure of my species to move beyond its primitive origins. Perhaps, despite its destructiveness, religious faith still serves some evolutionary function.

Vagabonde said: "a neuroscientist who had found the place in the brain where, if it can be touched (like in an accident) it makes you feel as though you went through a religious experience"

This and similar studies have received a great deal of attention in the U.S., but believers claim that they only indicate the part of the brain where we experience God (as opposed to proving that our experience of God is purely physical). I find it interesting that nonbelievers rarely become believers based upon such experiences, and that believers who have them typically interpret them as proving that their version of God is the correct version. For example, among those who see religious figures coming to greet them during so-called NDEs, Catholics are likely to see the Virgin Mary, whereas Protestants NEVER SEE HER--they tend to see Jesus.

Rob-bear said...

Interesting comment, Snow:

"I'm unaware that I've portrayed God as possessing any attribute that isn't generally ascribed to him, at least by Christians."

There's a lot of nonsense that gets bundled up with Christianity, by "Christians," that isn't Christian at all. Just because "somebody" said something "somewhere" doesn't mean that it actually conforms with the gospel.

JOE TODD said...

Maybe God/god just laughs at the follies of man

Dale said...

This comment thread alone manifests the weird quality of Christianity wherein people just flit along and define it, shape it, reshape it, read into it, and otherwise interpret it according to vagary and whimsy. Pick a passage here, pick one there, whatever the situation calls for -- a Bartlett's book of quotations that can also serve as a history, a morals guide, and a prediction manual. Or something.

God commands this here, but can't be held to the obvious entailments of what he commanded there, until someone's mood changes and that passage now seems to call for a literal reading. It's wearying.

Deut 12:32: "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it."

This means you have to be considering stoning the disobedient kids to death, and putting to death neighbors who work on Sundays. And so on.

Later in Matthew, Jesus insists that he has not come to overthrow the old law but to fulfill its every jot and tittle.

So if the Bible is not to be taken literally, could someone please outline the consistent and authoritative rule by which to interpret it? And please add the source by which you consider this method to be the one authorized by god or whoever?

To be clear: I think the Bible is a work of fiction, and the tendency to take it too seriously -- as more than just another clssic text -- has wrecked far too many lives, swaddled far too much ignorance. Taking it as more than a book should cease if we are to be self-respecting, civilized people. (Don't even get me started on the Koran.)

By now, we have better books. Keep the old ones, but consider the broader collection -- by now the volumes number in the millions. Throw out the bad, keep the good.

These "sacred books" are nothing but lore. They're fables and sloppy histories. They're just-so stories, the result of ancient primitives trying to make sense of the world. To treat them as more than this is to invite confusion and pain.

Snowbrush said...

Rob-bear said: "There's a lot of nonsense that gets bundled up with Christianity, by "Christians," that isn't Christian at all."

Individual Christians are unhappy if I criticize their particular version of Christianity, but they're also unhappy if I criticize someone else's version of Christianity while ignoring theirs. As they see it, the former is to commit blasphemy, and the latter is to completely miss the point. Suffice it to say that I don't accept ANY version of Christianity, not Luther's, or Calvin's, or Wesley's, or Joseph Smith's, or Kierkegaard's, or Pope John XXIII's, or the Apostle Paul's, or Shelby Spong's, or Jesus Christ's. As I see it, all of versions of the religion are a sickness of the mind, the only difference being that some are more virulent than others. I fully believe that the only reason that people like myself are not killed for our opinions is that modern day Christians lack the political power to so do legally, and, so far, none have wanted to do so illegally badly enough to carry through.

Joe Todd said: "Maybe God/god just laughs at the follies of man."

I'm sorry, Joe, but I don't understand what this means.

Dale, thanks very much for your comments. We are mostly in agreement.

Dale said: "They're just-so stories, the result of ancient primitives trying to make sense of the world."

I think there's more to it than that. For example, ancient Israel's social elite sought to use religion to legitimize their power, whereas the outsiders--as represented by the prophets--sought to use it to subvert that power. The same has happened through all of recorded history--during America's Civil Rights period, for example, as in its slavery period. More than anything, religion is about the preservation--or the usurpation--of power. Invariably though, religious groups that succeed in taking power from other religious groups behave as wickedly as their predecessors.

Abhid-d said...

Hi Snowbrush. I'm a Hindu from India. I too am not overtly religious, but I do believe in the Hindu philosophy that there is a "higher power" that governs the Universe, and everything around us.

We know the laws of Physics, but we don't know WHY they are the way they are. This is also a fundamental question that has to be answered, apart from other questions about the Big Bang and 'dark matter'. If we answer this, I think we would crack the mind of "God".

Thank you.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Snow,
Wow, an interesting point to jump into your place here, and certainly some thoughtful reading, comments, and things to ponder. I guess I also need to work backwards here a bit into your prior posts. For various reason I lost my interest in religion as a teen ager, and only in the past few years have found my interest in faith, God,and all that, a more interesting subject as I wander about the mountains here in New Zealand. Not that I have found many, or even any, answers, but it seems at least of some benefit to even be asking the questions - if not to take my mind off steep climbs.
Appreciate your stopping by, hope those knees hold up. I have a blogging friend whom I met here in NZ, a former mountaineer, artic traveler, marathon runner, long distance rower ect, now in his early 60's and he had just had both knees replaced. He is now back walking, tramping and planning to climb a mountain. Knees can be a bit more problematic than hips, but sometimes I wonder about the US medical system looks at what can be done with new joints from a more negative point of view than positive. My surgeon never suggested to me my tramping days were over, perhaps how I climbed and tramped might have to be adjusted but never that I shouldn't be as active as possible. Activities like tennis and running are not advisable, but his only advice in terms of what I could do and not do was to listen to my body. I had pretty major osteo arthritis in the hip joint, and to pain free and more mobile, as I wrote, is priceless. I will be 50 in a matter of days so will never move like I did at 25, but then again last year at this time I was moving like I was 75, so life is pretty good. Kia kaha my friend.
Cheers,
Robb