Thursday, June 08, 2006

The God Blogs strike back

In Trolling the God Blogs I linked to a post on Adrian Warnock's blog about the New Attitudes Conference and this quote from C. J. Mahaney:
Who killed Jesus?

The Father. The Father killed the Son. Feel God's love for you revealed in this verse. He crushed his son. For you. He crushed Him. He bruised him. He punished him. He disfigured him. He crushed him. With all of the righteous wrath that we deserved. That's what the Father did.

So great was his love for sinners like you and me.

Thanks to a heads-up from Peter Kirk on his Speaker of Truth blog, I discovered that Warnock has responded to my post:
"If any single quote could encapsulate why I am not a Christian, this one, by C. J. Mahaney, has to be it. The sheer, hideous inanity of a god that demands a blood sacrifice from an innocent in repayment for the sins of the guilty is beautifully captured here. It is a theology that captures the worst aspects of an archaic moral worldview, one that promulgates the barbaric idea of blood guilt and blood sacrifice."

The gospel is veiled to the perishing . . . .

Well, Adrian got one thing right. I am perishing, as are all mortals.

96 Comments:

Blogger Brit said...

It took me a while to twig that "The gospel is veiled to the perishing..." WAS his response, and not a link to a full response somewhere else.

A more tetchy version of the classic argument-ender: "God moves in mysterious ways."

June 09, 2006 1:14 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Brit:

God moves in mysterious ways is the other way to say "On account of because."

June 09, 2006 4:15 AM  
Blogger Tom G said...

God's mysteries are not the equivalent of "on account of because," or "I don't know and I don't need to answer." Here's why:

First, that God is mysterious is not an ad hoc addition, thrown in to scrambled a scrambled worldview. That God is higher and greater than we are is essential to the whole thing. If there was a God we could fully understand, then he/she/it would be worshiping us, not vice-versa.

Second, there is enough evidence of God's character in what is clearly revealed about him, that we do know what kind of God he is. He has demonstrated his power, his love, his grace, his justice.

Third, every person moves in mysterious ways. Have you never shaken your head at your spouse (if you're married; otherwise I'm sure you can imagine this) and said, "I don't know why he/she just did that"? For God to do mystify us is not so out of line, then, is it? But because we do know what kind of God he is, we have information enough to trust him--just as you do (I hope) with your spouse.

Finally, the case of Jesus being sacrificed for our sins is not complete without knowing that he did it "for the joy set before him" (Hebrews 12:2). He did it freely and willingly, and for his own joy. I suppose you've sacrificed something in your own life for the purpose of gaining your own long-term greater joy. Did you think that was a horribly immoral thing to do? Of course not. Neither was Jesus' sacrifice immoral.

June 09, 2006 6:51 AM  
Blogger Adrian said...

I have a slightly fuller reply over at my place and am open to furthering this discussion!

June 09, 2006 6:55 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Tom:

Thanks for the answer.

I don't doubt that God, if He exists (which I do doubt), is extremely mysterious.

My observation is that Christians seem all too ready to claim understanding and to answer metaphysical questions either through reason or by reference to scripture, up until a certain point where they can't answer intelligibly a question. Even, or perhaps especially, childish questions.

At this point, Mysterious Ways provides an incredibly useful Get Out of Jail Free card.

For an example, "why did grandad die" is easy enough to answer: "because his time had come and God called him."

"Why did God allow the Holocaust?" requires the Get Out of Jail card.

Which is fine and understandable, but I'd prefer the more humble 'Dunno' to be used across the board.

June 09, 2006 7:29 AM  
Blogger Tom G said...

brit, I appreciate the response. "Dunno" is a great answer when we don't know.

I do find that some Christians use the easy out you speak of here. I find the same kind of thing happening on the other side of the issue, too: rather than, "that's just the way it is because God made it so," it's "that's just the way it is because nature made it so." Or things like that. It's a matter of context: are we setting our questions in the perspective of there being a God or not?

We all need to speak of what we understand when we understand it, to admit what we don't understand, and to explore in the gaps between.

June 09, 2006 7:46 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Tom:

Those of us who take the 'nature' route for explaining things are even lazier than that. We are entirely mute on the 'Why' questions.

In fact, for the most part we don't even acknowledge that the question has any meaning at all.

June 09, 2006 7:57 AM  
Blogger M Ali said...

The obvious response to "Why did God allow the Holocaust to happen?" would be "Why is humanity composed of so many utter bastards?"

June 09, 2006 12:46 PM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

M Ali;

You've just moved it back to "why did God create a race so full of utter bastards?".

But back to the original post, I still just don't get what was so bad. I mean, are you saying that Jesus is dead? If not, he wasn't really killed, was He? As for His suffering, if You are a Being Who exists forever, then any finite experience is infinitely brief. A few trillion years from now, will it still seem a big deal to Jesus? If not, why was it ever?

June 09, 2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger Dave Routledge said...

Dear Brit

In response to the why?/dunno syndrome.

Please consider the following:

"Why is sex fun? Reproduction surely doesn't require pleasure:Some animals simply split in half to reproduce, and even humans use methods of artificial insemination that involve no pleasure. Why is eating enjoyable? Plants and the lower animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds.
Why are there colors? Some people get along fine without the ability to detect color. Why complicate vision for the rest of us?

It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never seen a book on "the problem of pleasure." Nor have I ever met a philosopher who goes around shaking his head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a huge question - the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians. On the issue of pleasure, Christians can breathe easier. A good and loving God would naturally want his creatures to experience delight, joy, and personal fulfillment. We Christians start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?"

Taken from Philip Yancey's introduction to "Orthodoxy" by G.K.Chesterton

Does anyone who has made contribution here, have an answer, other than "I dunno", to the question; "why do human beings experience pleasure?"

Many thanks
Dave

June 09, 2006 4:15 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, yeah, I do, but since although I am an atheist I don't consider the world meaningless, I don't feel any obligation to present it.

First you have to prove to me, Dave, that atheists live in a random and meaningless world.

As for Adrian: For me, it wasn't any less veiled whan I was a believing Catholic with hopes of heaven.

In fact, its veiledness, or in other words, inanity is part of what led me out of the church.

Ya know, guys who say, 'Ha ha ha, I've got the secret decoder ring and you don't' strike me as the kind that Jesus would have spurned. He was pretty big on telling his would-be disciples that they didn't understand his message. (Thanx and a hat tip to 'The Five Gospels' by the Jesus Seminar.)

June 09, 2006 8:25 PM  
Blogger Dave Routledge said...

Hi Harry


Harry Eagar said...

"Well, yeah, I do, but since although I am an atheist I don't consider the world meaningless, I don't feel any obligation to present it."

"First you have to prove to me, Dave, that atheists live in a random and meaningless world."

I need to clarify some points.

First: the description of atheism as a meaningless and random world, is Philp Yancey's, not mine. Nonetheless, it would seem to be a reasonable conclusion to draw of someone who says they do not believe that someone created an ordered world, and gave instructions of how to live and messages of hope to the poeople He createed.

If, as you say, you do not consider the world meaningless, then, in order for me to understand atheism, I will need to know what meaning life has for you. Or, in other words please defdine what atheism means to you, then I can conduct the argument out of that understanding.

Secondly:

"First you have to prove to me, Dave, that atheists live in a random and meaningless world."

Is this a condition you are asking me to meet before you will provide the answer that you say you have to the original question about "pleasure"?

God bless
Dave

June 10, 2006 12:12 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Dave:

So your question is, "Why would pleasure in the act of procreation be successful in evolution?"

I would suggest that if the atheists at whom you've thrown this little grenade have replied with blank looks, it isn't because they lack an explanation.

June 10, 2006 5:57 AM  
Blogger jwd said...

Susan's Husband:

"But back to the original post, I still just don't get what was so bad. I mean, are you saying that Jesus is dead?"

Jesus was dead. Once the Romans were set on executing someone, they were not likely to take them down because they were sick, as some have suggested. He did indeed die on the cross, and his body was placed in a tomb.

"If not, he wasn't really killed, was He?"

Jesus was killed, and was subsequently raised back to life.

"As for His suffering, if You are a Being Who exists forever, then any finite experience is infinitely brief. A few trillion years from now, will it still seem a big deal to Jesus? If not, why was it ever?"

It is a big deal not only because of the physical death, but because of the spiritual punishment for sin. As Duck said, all of us die. We all die a physical death. But beyond that, I believe, as a "Christian," that we face the potential of suffering for eternity because of our sin. I say "potential" because I believe there are two alternatives - try to atone for my own sins, which is futile because I can't "take them back"; or trust in the sacrificial death & resurrection of Jesus on the cross on my behalf. Being the Son of God, He was able to offer a perfect sacrifice (in accordance with and fulfilling the Old Testament/Jewish Law) to pay for sinners.

I don't understand exactly what it was like for Jesus to be punished spiritually for sins of scumbags like me.

Brit has an extremely valid observation: "My observation is that Christians seem all too ready to claim understanding and to answer metaphysical questions either through reason or by reference to scripture, up until a certain point where they can't answer intelligibly a question."

We can try and argue and reason all we want about the truth of Christianity. But as we've all come to know, it's not something to be proven, or disproved, despite the evidence. And it's not that I've figured it out and can explain and convince anybody or everybody.

I don't want this to sound like a cop-out, but I know it probably will: the "certain point where they can't answer intelligibly a question" comes down to faith, which the Bible teaches is a gift from God. It's not about our own ability to understand something that doesn't seem to make sense. It's about being given the faith that lifts the veil and allows us to look at this with a new understanding.

June 10, 2006 7:39 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Second, there is enough evidence of God's character in what is clearly revealed about him, that we do know what kind of God he is. He has demonstrated his power, his love, his grace, his justice.

Tom, if it was clearly revealed, then we wouldn't be having this debate. Even conceding that revelation took place, which I'm not, it was far from clear, what with all the claims of special revelations from God in all of the various faiths and sects around the world. On what basis does one accept the revelations of God to the Apostles but reject His revelation to the Latter Day Saints? Or to Mohammed or J Z Knight, for that matter?

Third, every person moves in mysterious ways. Have you never shaken your head at your spouse (if you're married; otherwise I'm sure you can imagine this) and said, "I don't know why he/she just did that"? For God to do mystify us is not so out of line, then, is it? But because we do know what kind of God he is, we have information enough to trust him--just as you do (I hope) with your spouse.

There is a difference between the mysterious ways of a spouse, and the mysterious ways of the universe, for which the believer seeks to understand through some set of motivations of a personal supreme being from which such ways supposedly emanate.

And that is the problem I am having with the killing of the Son by the Father doctrine. Religious explanations are supposed to dispel some of that mystery by explaining those personal motivations of the supreme being, motivations that ordinary people can relate to because they are personal, they are person-like, they are similar to motivations that we all share. I can't relate God's supposed motivations for killing his son with any of my own fellings or motivations, or those of any people I know or authority figures that I respect or would consider good, moral people.

For one thing, lets start with the need for a sacrifice at all, with the doctrine of Original Sin. I can understand why God is upset with Adam and Eve. But why hold that against his descendants? I really don't understand the motivations for this. This is the mentality of blod guilt. I know that there were archaic societies that accepted this, and some of those societies exist to this day. But I don't understand them.

Okay, so now if we accept Original Sin for the sake of furthering the argument along, I don't understand why the debt must be paid by one without this taint of sin. How does that make sense? It is the opposite of what makes sense. Debts should be paid by debtors, punishment belongs to the guilty.

So for some reason God has come to the conclusion that the debts just can't be paid, because the debtors just don't have the spiritual funds to pay. Fine, it is a bad debt, so the smart thing to do is just write it off, forgive the debt and move on. But God's accountant side (maybe that is what the Holy Spirit does) says, "no the books must be balanced". So in order to balance the books, God creates a new account that has sufficient spiritual funds to wipe out the debt, in the form of his Son, then closes that account and transfers it to the debt account. The debt is paid, and the Auditors are happy. Which is the same as just forgiving the debt, because the real debtors never paid back a dime.

This may have made sense to the accountants at Enron, but again, I can't relate to a personal Supreme Being running his spiritual finances that way.

June 10, 2006 9:48 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Let's see, jwd, your god of his own free will refuses to give me faith, so he's going to torture me for eternity for HIS behavior?

Only a person without self-respect could worship such a monster.

++++

Dave, I don't know or care who Philip Yancey is.

And, yes, I am putting a condition on providing my answer.

Recall the old joke about the man wildly beating on a drum. 'What are you doing?'

'I'm keeping the elephants away.'

'There isn't an elephant within five thousand miles.'

'See, it's working.'

Your challenge is like that.

June 10, 2006 10:23 AM  
Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Duck, I am sad to see that you have understood some rather particular expressions of the Christian faith as if they are the only ones.

The view of original sin which you rightly ridicule goes back to St Augustine of Hippo, who had to rely on a rather poor Latin translation of the Bible (before the Vulgate) which confused the issue. The true biblical teaching on original sin is that what we are all guilty of is not Adam's sin, but the sin which each one of us has individually committed.

And if you have a debt which you cannot pay, someone gives you the money as a free gift, and you pay the debt, there is nothing wrong with the accounting. A public company, even Enron, can write off its bad debts if it wants to, as long as it does so openly. Why can't God do the same? I don't know where you got the idea that "God creates a new account that has sufficient spiritual funds to wipe out the debt", maybe from someone's speculative theology (but no one orthodox says that God created Jesus). If that bit doesn't ring true to you, just say that God wrote off the debt - and if you like that the director responsible for that debt got fired for it, and then reinstated. Well, don't take that last part as serious theology!

Meanwhile the "did God kill Jesus?" debate continues on Adrian Warnock's blog.

June 10, 2006 1:56 PM  
Blogger Dave Routledge said...

Dear Harry

"And, yes, I am putting a condition on providing my answer."

I was under the impression that an atheist believes he is living in a random and meaningless world. If you don't think you are living in such a world then I don't have to prove to you that you are not because I would then be in agreement with you.

There, I have done my best to fulfill your condition. I am truly interested in your answer to my question,"why do human beings experience pleasure?"
As I am really not that clever, could you please not answer with a riddle like you did with the elephant story. Plain, simple English is all my brain can cope with.

God bless
Dave

June 10, 2006 3:38 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'S funny, Peter Kirk, I went to Catholic school for 14 years, and nobody ever said Augustine was out of date.

Or are you like those Calvary Chapel Christians who says Catholics are not Christians?

As someone mentioned yesterday, this blog is a spinoff from Orrin Judd's. If you visit Orrin, you'll find a militant Christian who explicitly and endlessly delivers Augustine's version of Original Sin.

I spent a few years on that blog, and there were lots and lots of Christian commentators, and not one of them, ever, told Orrin he was wrong.

In fact, I have never in my life encountered your 'real' version of Original Sin, which appears to be idiosyncratic to you individually. (Wouldn't apply to me anyhow, I've never committed a sin. I have heard that Christians do things that they believe are wrong, but I've never been tempted that way.)

June 10, 2006 3:39 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

The true biblical teaching on original sin is that what we are all guilty of is not Adam's sin, but the sin which each one of us has individually committed.

Peter, as with Harry I grew up Catholic, and so I am unfamiliar with the notion that Augustinian's view of Original Sin is in error. Although the Church does move slow on these matters, as demonstrated by finally admitting that Galileo was right some 300+ years after the fact. Now that they endorse a form of evolution and admit that the Genesis account of creation is allegorical, it wouldn't surprise me if they change their doctrine of Original Sin (or should I say "clarify", since the Church never admits to changing any of its doctrines).

Your version of Original Sin is closer to a doctrine that athiests can accept (except maybe for Harry). Noone can seriously argue that humans don't have an innate nature that includes the capacity to do good as well as evil. Even conceding this, there is still a sticking point with regard to Christ's sacrifice. Such a substitution of payors for a debt may be acceptable in the financial world. Debts can be refinanced, and debts moved from one creditor to another with ease, or in a case like we are talking about here, can be retired with a gift from a third party. It makes no difference to the creditor where the source of funds is, only the denomination of the remittance.

But in the realm of sin, or to use a more secular usage, crime, or "bad deeds", the source of the remittance is all important. The analogy with finance breaks down. The only way to keep the analogy alive is to hearken back to archaic social norms, where sins and their concommitant guilt were collectivized. Families, clans and nations shared the guilt for the transgressions of any of its members. Patriarchs could repay these debts and wipe away the collective guilt using any of the "resources", or people, that belonged to him. If his favorite son killed a neighboring clan's member, and the patriarch didn't want to part with his favorite son, he could offer one of his lesser sons lives as restitution, or maybe one of his daughters as a bride along with 5 goats and a cow. These things were negotiable.

Read this account from my post on James Bowman's book "Honor, a History":

All honor cultures make women’s honor—by which is meant their chastity or fidelity—the property of their male family members, for it is up to fathers, brothers or husbands to protect it, and to challenge other men who threaten it. The process is all bound up with status, of course, but we see this in a particularly virulent form in a primitive and tribal honor culture like the one in Pakistan. The woman “sentenced to be raped” had done nothing wrong, but apparently her younger brother had been molested by some men belonging to a higher caste family. When he refused to keep quiet about it, he was charged, almost certainly falsely, by the other family with having done something to compromise the honor of one of their women, so his sister had to be raped in revenge. It was their way of reasserting the family’s superior status and wiping out the stain on their honor of the boy’s accusation. It all makes a weird kind of sense in that culture in a way that it never would have done in the West, certainly not when chivalry towards women still had a good name among us.

We've done away with such barbaric notions of collective guilt and fungible justice, but the idea of Christ's sacrifice mirrors this archaic notion of justice.

June 10, 2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Dave, your impression that atheists live in a random and meaningless universe is incorrect.

You might ask an atheist if his world is meaningless.

Mine's not. So your original question has no point. A question framed as: 'why did pleasure evolve?' does have a point.

Let me ask you this about meaningful lives. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that there is a Big Spook, and you can placate him by avoiding pleasure during the lifetime we know about, and be rewarded later on.

Your avoidance of pleasure -- a vow of chastity is one popular form -- would be meaningful if you got paid back for your losses, with interest, later on. I believe this was the estimate the late Mr. Zarkawi was making.

On the other hand, let's say, for the sake of argument, that there is no Big Spook, and when you die, that's it. How meaningful was your avoidance of pleasure then? How much more meaningful was my pursuit of pleasure, making much of Time, as Marvell advised.

Explaining pleasure is easy. Explaining why religious people avoid pleasure and, in some cases (flagellants, for example) inflict pain on themselves (not to mention on other, uninvolved bystanders) is what needs explaining.

June 10, 2006 6:49 PM  
Blogger jwd said...

Duck:

If God exists, why do you get to define Him and decide how He can treat sin, or a sinful person? Granted, I'm coming from a place of different "assumptions" than you may be coming from. I "assume" God does exist, and the He has revealed Himself to us through the Bible. I didn't write the Bible, and I'm not trying to define God, but am trying to understand Him through the Bible. I understand that there are differences in opinion when it comes to subjects of doctrine or interpretation of the Bible, but I believe most people who care about the Bible are honestly trying to learn the truth, not to define it.


Harry Eager:

Are you under the assumption that all religious people avoid pleasure? I agree with your assessment that flegellants could use some explaining, but as a "religious" person, or a "Christian," I can't say that I avoid pleasure. There are some scenarios of avoidance of certain "pleasures" in my life - chastity before marriage, and not drinking alcohol to name a couple. But these are more an avoidance of something I felt offered more negative experiences than pleasant in the long run.

A man by the name of John Piper has written a book titled "Desiring God" that explains what he calls "Christian Hedonism." In it he speaks out against Christianity as an avoidance of pleasure. He explains it as more of a different set of pleasures. I see this in my own life. Some of my co-workers and friends get the most pleasure in their week by hitting the bars on Friday night, or for happy hour. For me, the most pleasure-filled two hours of my week often occur Wednesday nights when I meet with other men from my church to study the Bible. This may sound dull, boring, and a waste of time to you, but it's awesome to me.

June 10, 2006 7:46 PM  
Blogger Dave Routledge said...

Jwd

Thank you for your response to Harry's notion that Christians are meant to avoid pleasure, I hope your explanation helps him to understand our wonderful creator a little better.

Harry

'why did pleasure evolve?' does have a point.

I am assuming your thought process goes like this:

I experience pleasure;therefore pleasure exists.

There is no God:therefore pleasure was not ceated.

Therefore pleasure has evolved.

My question is:"evolved from what?"


"Dave, I don't know or care who Philip Yancey is."

Yancey, is merely reflecting the thoughts of G.K. Chesterton, who, presumably you have heard of.

June 11, 2006 1:40 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Apologies in advance for trying to join the conversation after a couple days away.

Way, way, up there, Tom Gilson said:

God's mysteries are not the equivalent of "on account of because," or "I don't know and I don't need to answer."

Those mysteries are the equivalent of "on account of because" (OAOB) because they are indistinguishable from OAOB. For instance, why do humans have an appendix?

If you look up the definition of "useless" in the dictionary, there will be a picture of an appendix to bring home the point. Before modern medicine, the appendix was a source of completely random suffering so prolonged and agonizing as to make a several day stint on the cross a doddle in comparison.

God, or OAOB?

As soon as you assert God's mysteriosity, you wipe out the distinction between the two. When you make the further step of asserting there is enough evidence of God's character in what is clearly revealed about him, that we do know what kind of God he is. He has demonstrated his power, his love, his grace, his justice, you put yourself in the realm of materialism. While the antecedent and consequent can be trusted with each other, they gang up on the conclusion.

If the words "power," "love," and "grace" have any meaning whatsoever -- and as they are human terms, presumably used by God to describe Himself, they darn well better -- then there is no possible explanation for the appendix.

The get-out-of-jail free card here is "mysterious." However that serves only force the original question:

God or AOAB?

Since you can't tell the difference, they are equivalent. As Brit noted, such God as their might be is mysterious to the point of absolute inscrutability, making all religions castles built upon sand.


You also said

Finally, the case of Jesus being sacrificed for our sins is not complete without knowing that he did it "for the joy set before him" (Hebrews 12:2). He did it freely and willingly, and for his own joy.

Beyond the moral calculus that would be malignant in any other context, just what kind of sacrifice is entailed if it is done for the purpose of "joy?"

M Ali:

The obvious response to "Why did God allow the Holocaust to happen?" would be "Why is humanity composed of so many utter bastards?"

Because God has, in so many words, told a specific subset of humanity to be utter bastards to the rest of humanity for no other reason than faulty fealty.

jwd:

There are some scenarios of avoidance of certain "pleasures" in my life - chastity before marriage, and not drinking alcohol to name a couple. But these are more an avoidance of something I felt offered more negative experiences than pleasant in the long run.

Based upon that alone, I award the rank of Materialist, Second Class. Divine diktat is conspicuous in its absence here. Instead, you illustrate the distinction between dissolute and "moral" behavior: the ability to ascertain and act upon the long term material consequences of your actions.

Dave Routledge:

That Christians are to avoid pleasure is not a notion originating with Harry. Nearly all religious orders are based on abnegation to varying degrees, some quite extreme, all in pursuit greater holiness. The conclusion is inescapable, and in the case of mendicants, astonishingly selfish: their holiness is attainable only through others' worldliness.

'why did pleasure evolve?' does have a point.

But not the point you think it does, and, at the risk of speaking for Harry, his thought process goes nothing like you think it does.

There are a few unfortunate people who, through some genetic anomaly, are completely unable to feel pain. Without constant supervision, that condition is invariably, and quickly, fatal.

Without fear of contradiction, I assert that all life has some means to flee from, or defend against, threats.

Also, without fear of contradiction, I assert that all life exists in tension between opposites. In this particular case, pleasure is nothing more than the flip side of the pain coin. The "pull" to do something (eat, procreate) is as essential to survival as the "push" to avoid something else.

To take an obvious example, which life form do you think will leave more descendants, one for which procreation is a pleasure, or one for which it is a nullity?

Which, when you distill your question, is really what you are suggesting: the pull of "pleasure" is functionally indistinguishable from the null alternative.

You had best make that case before asking "evolved from what?"

June 11, 2006 6:09 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yes, I know Chesterton. Clever but shallow. Also, nothing he ever wrote attempted to come to terms with anything discovered about the way the world works since about 1670. He thought he was encountering modernism, but with no scientific education, he lacked the tools.

++++

Yes, Skipper, I thought Christian Hedonism sounded materialistic, too.

Chastity before marriage is one case, but avoiding alcohol is akin to my avoiding ice cream. I love the stuff, but as an insulin-dependent diabetic, I calculate that in the long run it might cost me my legs, and I like them even more.

Calculating cost/benefit ratios is not about pleasure.

++++

I suspect Dave has some more cosmic definition of 'pleasure' than I do, which makes it troublesome for him.

As a strict materialist, it's easy enough to understand.

Put on your track shoes, we are going to move fast.

Start with microbes avoiding or attracted to chemical gradients (eg, salinity). They do not experience pleasure, but they do benefit from spurning or grasping, which is a simple physicalist definition of pleasure.

The evolution of increasingly complex nervous systems has been well described if perhaps not as well understood.

Anyhow, fast forward to a hen in the barnyard. I don't suppose my hens feel great transports of pleasure, but their cackling when they lay an egg sure sounds like pleasure. Their squatting for a rooster definitely signals not just experience of but anticipation of pleasure.

Fast forward again to mammals and especially Us. Notoriously, we evolved one rather clunky neuroanatomy that has to serve four, sometimes antagonistic functions. The neuroanatomists describe these as the Four F's: Fleeing, Feeding, Fighting and Making Love.

This system is problematic, because outward inputs (lion, sexy woman) send the same chemical inputs, which are occasionally misinterpreted, with bad results. Also, the outside inputs have simultaneously to compete with internally generated inputs.

We find also that there is no Ideal Pleasure.

When I am tired, I find pleasure in sleep. I don't then sleep forever. Eventually, I want to be pleasurably active.

This varying pleasure is mediated by simple chemicals, like melatonin. These are only somewhat under our conscious control, and for some unfortunates, with wildly erratic endocrine systems, not under either conscious or unconscious control.

We then get the narcoleptic whose Pleasure Apparatus has to deal simultaneously with orders to Sleep Now and Flee Lion. (In America, Sleep Now or Drive on Los Angeles Freeway.) These choices can be heavily selected for, pushing evolution in non-random directions. (O yes, I haven't forgot; besides, the mere fact that even atheists seek pleasure and avoid pain reduces any randomness in the Universe.)

Anyhow, animals with low forms of intellectual integration obviously respond to pleasure and to pain, but they cannot override their signals.

I am not prepared to say when the ability to override evolved, but probably not to any extent among the monkeys. But it happened among the apes, to some extent, and of course We have nearly complete discretion to override both pain and pleasure.

There are limits (sometimes we break under torture) or miscalculations (the thirst-crazed wanderers in the desert who drink too much upon rescue and die), but they are extremely broad.

For most purposes, the acceptance of pain (dentist's office) or avoidance of pleasure (terrible headache if I have one more drink) is based on a cost/benefit calculation.

Grasping for pain without a distant motive is usually considered to be a sign of serious mental aberration. For reasons I will not try to explain because I cannot, the analogue behavior among religious people of avoiding pleasure for the pure motive of avoiding pleasure is not also considered (by them) a mental disease.

Lastly, even if Dave's pleasure avoidances are mild and somewhat calculated, that does not absolve all the rest of the nuns, priests, sadhus and other pleasure avoiders of explaining their bizarre and pointless behavior.

Religion is the only motive I know of that causes people to avoid pleasure for the sole purpose of avoiding pleasure.

June 11, 2006 10:59 AM  
Blogger jwd said...

Harry:

No, your avoidance of ice cream is not akin to my avoidance of alcohol, because I do not love alcohol. I can't believe so much has been made of my personal experiences of abstinence.

Grasping for pain without a distant motive is usually considered to be a sign of serious mental aberration. For reasons I will not try to explain because I cannot, the analogue behavior among religious people of avoiding pleasure for the pure motive of avoiding pleasure is not also considered (by them) a mental disease.

I agree with you here, and of course Christian Hedonism sounds materialistic. I initially thought so, too - it sounded like more "health & wealth" theology/philosophy. I worship Jesus Christ, "who for the joy set before him endured the cross". I seek this joy, which goes above & beyond mere physical, material happiness or pleasure. I do not seek pain, but know that pain may come, but I am able to endure pain for this joy that comes through Christ. That is Christian Hedonism - not to avoid pleasure, but to seek the ultimate pleasure that brings lasting joy greater than any material or physical pleasure I am able to experience. I believe Piper coined the "Christian Hedonism" phrase to wake us up to realize that Christianity isn't all about avoiding pleasure for the sake of avoiding pleasure, or trying to placate "the Big Spook."

June 11, 2006 3:06 PM  
Blogger Dave Routledge said...

Dear Harry

To avoid us going round in ever-increasing enigmatic circles; let us cut to the chase.

Pleasure is a God given glimpse of His eternal purpose for those who accept the free gift of salvation.

If you reject God then you will condemn yourself to a state of unimaginable, eternal suffering, from which there is no escape.

Make your choice my friend.

God bless
Dave

June 11, 2006 4:07 PM  
Blogger David said...

So, Harry, cheated on your wife lately?

June 11, 2006 5:49 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

jwd:

I agree with you here, and of course Christian Hedonism sounds materialistic.

By materialistic, I meant that the moral acceptability of choosing to take part in some pleasurable act was based solely upon its material consequences, as opposed to some divine (or allegedly divine) diktat.

In essence, you are saying "no harm, no foul". Just like a good materialist.


Dave Routledge:

Pleasure is a God given glimpse of His eternal purpose for those who accept the free gift of salvation.

Beyond the problematic issue of those who experience pleasure while declining the free gift of salvation, you must really acknowledge the flip side of the coin.

To whom do we give thanks for, say, bone cancer?

June 11, 2006 6:59 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Well, I didn't bring up alcohol.

Avoiding what you don't like cannot store up very much merit for the hearafter.

And the question is not what Dave does as an individual but whether Christians (and Hindus and many other religious types) have done and are doing -- which is avoiding pleasure.

Similarly, questions about my marital behavior are irrelevant, insulting and none of your business.

We are not here trying to explain how individuals come to terms with feelings of immanence but how religion, and organized form of groupthink handed down from generation to generation works.

Even if it were true that Augustine is out (someone, tell Orrin), that does not explain how Augustine's weird beliefs were embraced by the best and brightest of Christian apologists for century after century.

All very well for you in the 21st century to say, 'I'm not so dull, I've figgered it out.' What about the dead saints. Are they somewhere kicking themselves and saying, 'I coulda had that hamburger on Friday, too.'

And you still haven't straightened out the question of 'free gift,' which I never was offered. Maybe it's a free gift to the first 100 in line, but what about the rest of us, the ones the Big Spook doesn't bother to give gifts?

June 11, 2006 7:13 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Harry:

I have to pay tribute to your “Put on your track shoes…” post above: it was bitchin’.

Sadly it has been shown here once again that you’re never more than a few steps of ‘theological debate’ (ha!) away from separating the seemly believers (‘God moves in mysterious ways’) from the monster raving loonies (‘repent or burn in Hell for all eternity, heathen scum!’ – thanks, Dave).

I can speculate quite a few possible answers to your question about how religion has managed to persuade people to avoid pleasure for the sake of avoiding pleasure. As I’m sure you can (a means of keeping the plebs in order; a version of “eat your greens or you won’t get any pudding” writ large; an initiation rite for joining the tribe etc).

Since I rule out “because God actually does want us to suffer” our religious friends won’t like any of them, but they’re not all ignoble.

There are different levels of pleasure. Mountain climbers and marathon runners suffer because they value the grim satisfaction of achievement over the joy of a comfortable bed.

Voluntary self-denial and self-sacrifice are not always traits to be sneered at. They are part of what makes humans worth a damn. (There’s an appropriateness test there of course. I don’t count people who blow themselves up on the promise of a load of virgins in heaven – they’re non-humans. But I do count kidney donors.)

----

jwd:

I appreciate your not slipping into the "burn in Hell, sinners!" routine, but Harry is attempting to point out a rather troubling element in your argument.

It's this:

the "certain point where they can't answer intelligibly a question" comes down to faith, which the Bible teaches is a gift from God. It's not about our own ability to understand something that doesn't seem to make sense. It's about being given the faith that lifts the veil and allows us to look at this with a new understanding.

So what about those of us on whom God has chosen not to bestow this 'gift' of faith?

If He's rejected me, why should I bother to worship Him?

Or more to the point, since He's rejected me AND He's going to torture me in hell forever because of it, why should anyone worship Him?

June 12, 2006 1:59 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

For most purposes, the acceptance of pain (dentist's office) or avoidance of pleasure (terrible headache if I have one more drink) is based on a cost/benefit calculation.

I see we are witnessing a debate between people of robust faiths here.

Although I couldn't disagree with you more, I understand your logic, but it only works for those "pleasures" we chose in some way. Surely a rigorous rationalist like you wouldn't compare the unforseen pain of a child's cancer or tsunami deaths with that second piece of black forest cake we have carefully and dispassionately calculated to be a net benefit on the old cost/benefit meter. What about unforseen and unchosen pleasures, perhaps better named "the sublime"?

June 12, 2006 5:18 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

The question at hand is very much the avoidance of choosable pleasures, the apparent sine qua non of a monastic existence.

What about unforseen and unchosen pleasures, perhaps better named "the sublime"?

Given that they are beyond the realm of choice, what if they are also conspicuous in their absence?

June 12, 2006 7:38 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

All in good time, Skipper. First, tell us where materialism says they come from.

June 12, 2006 8:00 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I didn't think the discussion was about when bad things happen to good people. I thought it was about when good people avoid good things.

I don't think the Universe is entirely random, but it is largely unpredictable. Not the same thing.

All sides, for once, are agreed on one thing: Death is inevitable. We start to disagree over the proposition: 'We owe god a death.'

June 12, 2006 12:14 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I'm not sure if I've ever experienced the sublimee. Maybe I wouldn't recognize it. Is it anything like taking peyote?

I know where I got that.

Once, a colleague was showing me a map of her hiking vacation in the Idaho Rockies, and there was a mark on it: 'Where Victor (her boyfriend) saw God.'

Victor is as atheist as I am, with rather more justification: he's the last living remnant of what was once a large family of Jews living in Serbia.

I appreciate a well-turned ankle as much as any man but find nothing transcendant in it.

June 12, 2006 3:51 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

First, tell us where materialism says they come from.

At one time I had a stepbrother my age who was schizophrenic. In his less lucid moments, he related visiting the Sun, Venus and Pluto. He talked to God.

Do you suppose he really, actually, truly, talked to God and visited those places?

I doubt it. I will be so bold as to answer for you and conclude his recollections, no doubt completely real to him, were totally psuedo experiences that no fly on the wall would ever have observed.

I suspect many mystics were high functioning scizophrenics, or consumers of various hallucinagens.

Does anyone know for sure? Clearly not. Does anyone know what causes schizophrenia? Again, no.

Unless you are willing to ascribe the vivid experiences of schizophrenics to some skull invading God favoring, or afflicting, some far more than others, perhaps it is worth at least entertaining the notion that all such experiences are materialistic.

Especially if you really care to know the actual cause.

June 12, 2006 5:02 PM  
Blogger jwd said...

Brit:

Some good questions you pose:
"So what about those of us on whom God has chosen not to bestow this 'gift' of faith?

If He's rejected me, why should I bother to worship Him?

Or more to the point, since He's rejected me AND He's going to torture me in hell forever because of it, why should anyone worship Him?"


Should I just break right into "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."?

I doubt I will be able to answer you convincingly, but for the sake of discussion, I'm willing to give it a try. Would you prefer scripture, personal theory (hopefully informed by scripture), or other possible theories? I know I don't have this all figured out - especially to the point where I can explain it to another person. But I enjoy discussing it, because it makes me really think about what & why I think what I think.

June 12, 2006 5:03 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

jwd:

So you are completely willing to suspend your moral sense -- presuming you find it otherwise distasteful to condemn someone to eternal torment for something over which they had no power, nor did any harm to anyone else -- simply on account of the Bible's say so?

It isn't at all clear to me how this differs from the "good German" defense.

What is clear, though, is that it speaks volumes about divine command morality.

None of it good.

June 12, 2006 6:29 PM  
Blogger jwd said...

hey skipper:

This probably doesn't surprise you, but I don't think I'm suspending my moral sense on account of the Bible, but that I get my moral sense from it. If it were about a mere mortal condemning people "to eternal torment for something over which they had no power, nor did any harm to anyone else", then yes, I would find that extremely distasteful.

However, this is not about one mortal (or group of mortals) deciding another's eternal fate.

If there is no God, and the Bible is just a book of fictional stories, then by all means, have pity on me. But if God exists (as I obviously believe He does) He does not answer to us, any more than a potter answers to the lump of clay in his hands.

I believe that God has revealed Himself to us through the Bible. I also know that there are just as many people "in the church" who try to define or limit God to human terms as there are "outsiders." (Please excuse my pathetic labels.)

That being said, if you believe God to be a monster, as Harry suggested, and have no desire to worship Him, so be it. I don't want to rashly use the "agree to disagree" discussion ender, because I believe that Christ's death & resurrection is the most important thing in all of creation, and in all of history; more important than life & death. But I know that I am not able to explain it well enough, or convince you of what I believe is The Truth, especially somewhere as impersonal as on a blog.

June 12, 2006 7:44 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I understand how you think, I think. I grew up on that.

My question is, if the behaviors attributed to 'God' in the Bible were attributed to any other being (Allah, Vishnu, Stalin, you name him), would you shrug and say, 'I don't really understand why he does that, but I've been told it's OK according to a plan that's secret from me, so who am I to question?'

(It's really hard to square the behavior of God to Lot's family with any conception of goodness.)

June 12, 2006 7:50 PM  
Blogger David said...

You mean saving them?

June 13, 2006 7:17 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

That's not what my Bible says he did.

June 13, 2006 9:16 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

jwd:

You believe that Christ's death & resurrection is the most important thing in all of creation, and in all of history; more important than life & death.

I have always drawn a complete blank on this whole concept -- the Jesus' death as an atonement for humanities sinfulness struck me as a complete non-sequitor.

So work with me on this. For arguments sake, let's say you discovered a way to travel through time, and thereby gained first hand knowledge of Jesus' life and death.

And, in the process, you discovered that Jesus was "only" someone like Dr. Martin Luther King who died as a martyr, but a very human one.

How would that change your world view, and why?

June 13, 2006 1:05 PM  
Blogger jwd said...

Skipper:

If Jesus was found to have been just a man, and was not resurrected, then he would be a freakshow - part magician, part lunatic, I guess.

As for how it would change my worldview, it's hard to say. I get frustrated by the talk of a "Christian worldview" as if "Christians" have cornered the market on everything that is "right" or "good." But for me personally, it's hard to imagine me being different than I am. I wouldn't go to church or be involved in Bible studies, and I guess I'd probably be more selfish/self-centered. (Who knows, maybe I'd be a Jew still waiting for the Messiah.)

How about you, Skipper? If you went back and heard the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, saw the miracles He performed, and witnessed His death & resurrection, how would that change things for you?

June 14, 2006 3:26 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

jwd:

Thank you for that thoughtful reply.

However, this part surprised me:

If Jesus was found to have been just a man, and was not resurrected, then he would be a freakshow - part magician, part lunatic, I guess.

My reference was to Dr. King, hence the irony quotes around "only." If Jesus was a mortal "only" as great as Dr. King, then he was far from a freak show or a lunatic, and can scarcely be blamed for the subsequent cult of personality.

While it is hard to deal in such hypotheticals, my guess is that your world view wouldn't really be particularly upset, because the value of the core message really doesn't depend upon the authority of the speaker.

How about you, Skipper? If you went back and heard the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, saw the miracles He performed, and witnessed His death & resurrection, how would that change things for you?

I would be well and trully torn. On the one hand would be the temptation almost certainly beyond resistance to go down on bent knee in the hope of life eternal.

On the other, the core value of Jesus' message is independent of the authority of the speaker. I would be ashamed of myself for kowtowing to a being as obviously immoral as God must be if He exists as Christians percieve He does.

Think about it: if you were God, had any knowledge of human nature, and desired to be ringside for endless rounds of sectarian slaughter, what better way to that end than geographically localized revelation?

June 14, 2006 5:04 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Even less of a problem for me. As a member of the Unchosen People, the Big Spook is gonna have to get along without my worship, no matter what.

His choice, my self-respect.

June 14, 2006 7:49 PM  
Blogger jwd said...

Skipper:

I think Jesus was a freakshow to many in the area during His time. I expect there were many people going to see Him to see what "trick" He would perform next - is He going to heal a leper? an invalid? a blind man? Will He feed several thousand from a few fish & loaves of bread? Will He turn water into wine again?

And here's the reason I say part lunatic. Imagine Dr. King saying these quotes:

- I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!

- If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.

- The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life-only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.

- I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.


As C.S. Lewis has written, if Jesus is supposedly "only" a great moral teacher, then Him saying things like this would put Him "on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg."

While I agree with you that, morally speaking, the "core value" of Jesus's teaching is independent of His authority, I would disagree with you and say that His core teaching had very little to do with morality. I think His main moral teaching is that we are all moral failures in some respect or another, and because of that, we fall short of God's holy standard of perfection. And I think His most important teaching was His foretelling of His death for sinners, through which we are offered eternal life - because of His righteousness.

To the apostle Paul, this was "of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time".

Have you seen Bruce Almighty? While I may have some issues with some of the theology it represents, I think it offers a unique glimpse of what it means to be God. Jim Carey simply cannot handle the responsibilities - or even the knowledge - of God. I think it was a decent portrayal of how God is not like us - he's not a man who is in charge of everything - like the ultimate boss of everybody. He is God. He is not figured out merely by human reason, nor does He operate on human reason & logic.

I know that many Christians have many skewed views of God. I'm sure I do, too. So while I believe what I believe (namely that Christ, the Son of God, died for our sins and was raised to life to offer eternal life to sinners like me) to the point that I would die for it, that doesn't mean you should believe it just because I say so. I believe it to be true with all my heart, and I do hope that you would think hard on what Paul labeled "first importance," but it's not up to me to make you change your mind - about anything.

June 14, 2006 8:15 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

jwd:

My phrase "cult of personality" obliquely addresses the sorts things you have brought up, and are implicit in my hypothetical.

Jesus would have been a nut case saying those things while being in fact mortal. But there is more to it than just what he said, there are also the miracles attributed to him. If Jesus was in fact a mere mortal, then certainly the tales of miracles are embellishments. The assertions of divinity attributed to him may just as likely fall in that category as well.

I have seen Bruce Almighty. It is as good an argument for Deism as I have seen in quite some time.

Most importantly (to me, anyway), is it demonstrates the clear distinction between God and religion. It is very difficult to come away from that movie and conclude any instance of the latter has anything whatsoever to do with the former.

To the apostle Paul, this was "of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures..."

Of the many things that turned me away from religious belief, that assertion is right up there. It is a non-sequitor practically without parallel, unless one lives in a culture where sacrifices, animal and otherwise, are routinely offered to propitiate deities.

June 15, 2006 3:27 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

GWB got a whole avalanche of snidey guffaws in my country for his claim that his favourite philosopher was ‘Jesus Christ.’ But not from me – and believe me, I can snidily guffaw with the best of 'em - as moral philosophers go, Jesus is second to none.

He wisely pointed out that if we ignore the majority of the utter moral garbage in the Old Testament and stick to some basic, common sense Golden Rules, mankind will be much the better for it.

(For example, what lesson can there be from the Story of Lot other than that buggery is wrong but father-daughter incest isn’t, and that God is a malicious, double-crossing trickster who hands out punishment in a purely arbitrary fashion – which humans have always known about their Gods or the Fates, when they really just meant dumb luck and the process one damn thing after another.)

That Jesus got associated with immaculate conceptions, resurrections and other hocus pocus is unfortunate, because it dilutes the message. But humans en masse have always seemed to need a bit of the supernatural to beef up their moral backbones.

June 15, 2006 3:33 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

What I took away from Bruce Almighty* is that we all have some of the power of God. We can all make a difference right now, wherever we are, whoever we are.

We don't have to save the whole world, we just have to make our piece of it better.

At its core, the main power of God is to create. Well, we can do that too.**

Even Death-Row-dwelling murderous former gang leaders can write children's books warning kids not to do as they've done.



* A good but no-more-than movie - many laughs, but it gets bogged down in the middle, and the Bruce character never really tests out his divine powers. It's as if he temporarily got the thunderbolt powers of Thor, and then spent all of his time plinking at cans with lightning bolts.
A sequel, about a modern-day Noah, is due out soon.

** Whether that's an innate ability of humans, or due to reflected, channeled, or loaned Divine Power, seems to me to be irrelevant, except that it's more of a waste and insult to not use our talents and abilities if they're a gift from God.

June 15, 2006 5:03 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Oro:

You've been quiet recently...

I can live with what you're saying, but what if one's main gift lies in rubbishing religion in the internet?

June 15, 2006 6:11 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Ha.

Carry on, brother. As long as you think that it makes the world a better place...

June 15, 2006 7:21 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

As C.S. Lewis has written, if Jesus is supposedly "only" a great moral teacher, then Him saying things like this would put Him "on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg."

Religious people, which is to say practically all people throughout history, have always been receptive to the idea that some among them are gods or descended from gods. They haven't been receptive to the idea that some among them are poached eggs. There have been charismatic figures throughout history that have had the ability to make people suspend their powers of critical thought and accept almost any proposition. As one of those charismatic figures, Adolph Hitler, explained, it is easier to get people to believe big lies than small lies. Not that what Jesus told about himself was a lie necessarily - I'm quite willing to accept the fact that he believed himself to be divinely inspired,if not conceived. There is nothing incongruous with the idea that a person can be viewed as simultaneously a wise teacher and a person who makes unbelievable claims of his own divinity.

While I agree with you that, morally speaking, the "core value" of Jesus's teaching is independent of His authority, I would disagree with you and say that His core teaching had very little to do with morality. I think His main moral teaching is that we are all moral failures in some respect or another, and because of that, we fall short of God's holy standard of perfection.

I would disagree with that. Many of his parables deal directly with moral questions, questions about how we should act towards one another. You can read them purely from that standpoint without introducing any metaphysical considerations. That is shy he continues to be considered a great moral teacher, even by those who disclaim his divinity.

I think one of the biggest problems with the Judeo-Christian tradition relates to this idea that God expects us to be perfect. What that does is set up a mraol equivalence between all gradations of sin. Murder is on par with white lies, and the white liar is no more deserving of salvation than the murderer. You are right in that the main idea that Christians have taken away from Jesus's life is not his moral teachings. It is this obsession with sin as offense against God rather than as a moral act between people. Which is ironic, given that Jesus tried to turn the attitudes of the self-righteously religious of his day away from how they dealt with God and toward how they dealt with other people. This problem is clearly evident in these debates surrounding the atonement. A man's moral character has no bearing on his ultimate fate with God. All that is relevant is the fact that he has the taint of sin from being human, a taint for which his free will has no ability to change in any way. The salvific act for Christians, accepting Christ as your savior, has no moral component. It is a purely ego-driven act.

June 15, 2006 10:42 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I doubt whether there ever was a single person Jesus -- sort of like the argument over whether 'Homer' was one guy.

But for people who accept that a preacher did exist, there is the big question: What did he preach?

I wouldn't expect jwd and people coming from his perspective to swallow whole the conclusions of the Jesus Seminar; and I'm not sure how much even Duckian skeptics would buy of it.

But as an exercise in textual criticism it's pretty impressive (I disagree with its basic premise, but that's just me).

If it is accepted that the Seminar has successfully stripped off illegitimate accretions and whittled Jesus' teachings down to a valid transmission -- but that leaves only 20% of the purported text! -- then the question of whether Jesus was a moral teacher, and what kind, becomes very different.

June 15, 2006 12:44 PM  
Blogger David said...

I think one of the biggest problems with the Judeo-Christian tradition relates to this idea that God expects us to be perfect. What that does is set up a mraol equivalence between all gradations of sin. Murder is on par with white lies, and the white liar is no more deserving of salvation than the murderer.

Duck, with all due respect, that nonsense. The Judeo-Christian expectation is exactly the opposite: All men are sinners. Moses disobeyed G-d; King David disobeyed G-d; Jonah tried to evade G-d. What chance do any of the rest of us have?

Nor do the Judeo-Christian religions think that all sins are equal. We all distinguish between the venal sin and the mortal sin.

Again, you disbelieve in a god that you've made up.

June 15, 2006 6:19 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

What happened to humanity when Adam & Eve weren't perfect?

Maybe I got the facts wrong, but I thought it was expectation disappointed, followed by collective punishment.

June 15, 2006 6:36 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

As I read the Bible, the Big Spook seems to have expected the Hebrews to be perfect, or else; and he punished the Unchosen whether they were good or not.

Also, he didn't make any significant distinction between mortal sins of intent (worshipping golden calf) and sins that were less than venial because not even intentional (seeing father's nakedness).

Damned if you did and damned if you didn't.

Who was it, Jefferson, who said he trembled to think that God is just?

Whoever it was, it was the stupidest thing any Christian ever said. (OK, Jefferson wasn't a formal Christian.)

June 16, 2006 12:47 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,

Read the comment from jwd for which my comment was a response:

I think His main moral teaching is that we are all moral failures in some respect or another, and because of that, we fall short of God's holy standard of perfection.

OK, my comment was aimed more at Christians than Jews, but being a Jew, have you ever taken a serious look at what Christians believe? The very idea of the atonement is based on this premise, that all men are condemned to death because of Sin. Not because of serious sin, but the mere existence of Sin. There is no merit in being a good person who sins a little but compensates for it by many acts of goodness. The scale of judgment has only one setting - guilty of sin. That's why they need to maintain this elaborate, Rube-Goldberg contraption of a doctrine that we are saved by no act of our own, but by the gift of Jesus in paying for our sins.

June 16, 2006 6:03 AM  
Blogger David said...

I have to admit that I can't make any sense out of what you guys are saying.

Jeff: What happened happened to Adam and Eve. Plus, and I hate to shatter your preconceptions, the story is allegory. While we might as well avoid the Fortunate Fall, there is no sense in which all of us were punished as none of us would exist but for the expulsion.

Harry: Nuh uh.

Duck: I know more about Christianity than is good for me, having spent a lot of college studying Western Civ, which is synonomous with Christianity. You are right that salvation is a problem with the Christians, mostly because of the sophomoric question of whether, for example, Hitler would have been saved had he accepted Jesus on his deathbed. The various correlaries to this problem lead to their long dispute over salvation through grace or works. However, the dispute seems to be over now and grace has won. Sinners can be saved despite being sinners; indeed, as we are all sinners, this must be true. However, G-d is not our puppet. We can't force him to save us.

As is constantly true, you guys miss the implications of omniscient and omnipotent and of creation.

June 16, 2006 12:56 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Sinners can be saved despite being sinners; indeed, as we are all sinners, this must be true.

No, it must'nt. There is no reason we must believe that anyone will be saved. The whole idea that mortal people can be immortal is ridiculous on its face. The only reason that it is accepted so widely is due to the human trait of being very gullible in regards to wished-for things, such as winning the lottery, gaining an inheritance from African royalty, or living forever.

However, G-d is not our puppet. We can't force him to save us. You're missing our point if you think that is what we are trying to say. None of us expect to be saved (except Oro, of course).

That distinction applies more to the Christian theologians among us. How else do you explain a theory that says believers will be saved for no other reason than believing that they'll be saved? They've gotten rid of any real incentive to be good on this world, because good works carry no weight on the scales of Judgment. It is really amazing that Christians deride athiests with the contention that we have no incentive to be good because we don't believe in a Judgment, since by their very theology they are saing the exact same thing of themselves. They've taken good and evil totally out of the picture. Talk about a sweetheart deal!

As is constantly true, you guys miss the implications of omniscient and omnipotent and of creation.

Please explain. You are free to tell us we are clueless, stupid, or anything else in that vein, but proper blog etiquette reqires you to explain exactly why we are so. I doubt it is that we miss the implications, rather that we find the idea that these traits exist in some being utterly illogical.

June 16, 2006 2:18 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

How do you tell which parts of scripture to read allegorically and which parts to take straight?

When it comes to exegesis, I am a Fundamentalist, which is the only intellectually responsible way to read scripture.

Either all of it is what it is, or none of it.

I think none, but I never argue on the basis of that. Only on what the scripture does say.

I don't really care who wrote it.

Nor am I interested in how powerful and omnipotent god may be, only in how he tells us he will use whatever power he does have.

June 16, 2006 5:33 PM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: I'm not saying that you're stupid or clueless. I might be saying that you're blind men with strong opinions about color schemes. I might even be saying that the gospel is veiled to the perishing.

It is not, however, like this is the first time we've batted these ideas around. You keep assuming that this world (this existence) is all that there is and that it is random. Believers believe in a G-d that is outside existence; that is enveloped by existence. As Moses Maimonides put it (and as I've quoted to you at least twice), Jews believe in:

The existence of the Creator, be He Blessed, who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists.

G-d's absolute and unparalleled unity.

G-d's noncorporeality, nor that He will be affected by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling.

G-d's eternity.

Among other things, G-d is not subject to time. He is no older now than when He made the universe. The moment of creation and this moment are both now to Him. He knows all of creation -- He comprehends all of creation -- as a single, unitary fact. He does not have intent or purpose; He is that He is.

As for salvation, take that up with the Christians. It's not really a Jewish thing (which of course puts paid to your patronizing dismissal of religion as a way to deal with the fear of death). Having said that, if G-d wishes a part of us to survive past death, than it will. This is something upon which science cannot comment.

Harry: You don't get a vote.

June 16, 2006 6:47 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Duck:

How else do you explain a theory that says believers will be saved for no other reason than believing that they'll be saved? They've gotten rid of any real incentive to be good on this world, because good works carry no weight on the scales of Judgment.

Are we talking about God or Santa Claus here? The reduction of good works to a systematically-priced ticket to Heaven is a very old-fashioned Catholic idea that seriously corrupted the Church in the Middle Ages. Protestant notions of predestination were a direct response to that corruption, but they hardly led to the Protestants throwing lifelong slap-and-tickle parties. Your whole argument seems to hinge on the strange notion that goodness is a real drag that no sane person would indulge in if there wasn't a pretty juicy prize in the end, which I do not believe is a universal religious impulse beyond the age of twelve and I don't detect it in much modern Catholic writings either. Rather than focussing on what a drag good works are and demanding God post a bond for His part of the deal before you deprive yourself of all that fun, why don't you take a lesson from our Jewish friends and reflect (as in meditate--not argue) on the joys of goodness and obedience in this world and see where it takes you. The Psalms are a pretty good place to start, although it is wise to keep Job handy for when you start to get uppity. David has said it many times: He is that He is. Suck it up.

Harry:

How do you tell which parts of scripture to read allegorically and which parts to take straight?

It's tough, all right, but on what principle of logic would one reject all of them for that reason? Are you mad at God today because he didn't provide us all with copies of "Scripture for Dummies"?

June 17, 2006 2:46 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

...good works carry no weight on the scales of Judgment.

That's not exactly true.

Good works are a necessary but not sufficient part of being "saved".
In other words, it's belief that opens the door to Heaven, but sinners cannot pass through. Thus, at the very least, one cannot do net harm* on Earth, even if one does precious little actual "good".

The "Get Out of Jail Free" card is that one could spend a lifetime raping, pillaging, and murdering, and as long as on the last day of life one sincerely repents, then one is "saved".

However, that's rarely done, because rather few people know when the last day of their life will be, and evil people hardly ever sincerely repent. They may be sorry, at the end of their lives, that they spent their time in such a manner, but that's not the same as repentance, which is more than just fear of punishment.

Further, the above is a simplification of what actually happens. Mormon Celestial organization is nicely rich & complex, and virtually everyone is "saved", in the sense that virtually everyone ends up in Paradise.
However, there are levels above "Paradise", and that's where "good works" come in. It's not about earning, it's about demonstrating. No one gets points for seniority. (At least, not that I'm aware of, but God has failed to report the fine details to me).

As for the "scales of Judgment", they are perfectly just, which is not a terrible thing, but rather a blessing. God takes into account every factor that affects our actions and decisions; no judgement is arbitrary.
God grades on a curve.


* "Harm" being defined by culture and individual, which means that some "saved" people were "evil" by other "saved" people's Earthly standards. Hey, we just do the best that we can with the hand that we're dealt.

Are you mad at God today because he didn't provide us all with copies of "Scripture for Dummies"?

The subtitle of "Scripture for Dummies" is "Free Will", is it not ?
So I think that maybe She did.

June 17, 2006 4:36 AM  
Blogger David said...

Harry: To be a little less snarky, each generation gets the Bible it needs.

June 17, 2006 6:14 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Among other things, G-d is not subject to time. He is no older now than when He made the universe. The moment of creation and this moment are both now to Him. He knows all of creation -- He comprehends all of creation -- as a single, unitary fact. He does not have intent or purpose; He is that He is.

This description strips him of any attributes that would enable him to have a personal nature, yet you continue to refer to him with a masculine pronoun. This is all fine, yet it seems most believing Jews continue to invest him wiht personal qualities, as with Dennis Prager.

Neither can you reconcile this concept of God with those things written of him in the Old Testament, such as those that describe his wrath, or taking pleasure in certain things. A non-personal being cannot have a relationship with personal beings like us, cannot become angry by anything we do, and cannot give a whiff whether we acknowledge, praise or worship him or not. So you really have to decide on this personal/non-personal question.

Religion really has little meaning outside of this assumption that the Universe has a personal face. The very quest for transcendent meaning in the universe is a quest to identify some intentional actor behind the scenes, some purpose for existence beyond whatever personal meaning we invest in our own lives. Only a personal being can invest the universe with a purpose that other personal beings can accept. Because inevitably that purpose is centered on people. No matter how much religious people say 'it isn't about me', their beliefs betray them, because they assume that it is about them. Creation is about them, God's will is centered on them. This world is here for them. God sacrificed His son for them.

To say that there is no personal God is to really say 'it isn't about me'.

June 17, 2006 7:05 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

I agree with Harry. Once you give in to the idea that the stories of the Bible can be read literally or allegorically, you've stripped them of their ability to represent objective, absolute truth. You put the reader in the position of interpreting the meaning, which subjectivizes any truths gained.

Which is fine, objectivity is overrated, especially in reagards to morality. But then it puts the believer in the same boat as the unbeliever. The Bible literalists get this point.

June 17, 2006 7:13 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Are we talking about God or Santa Claus here? The reduction of good works to a systematically-priced ticket to Heaven is a very old-fashioned Catholic idea that seriously corrupted the Church in the Middle Ages.

No, I think that works were seen as a supplementary way to lessen the time spent in Purgatory, not as primary method to acheive salvation. The Sacraments were still seen as the primary entrance criteria. But you are correct that the Medieval church corrupted the idea of works through the practice of indulgences. And works weren't seen so much as acts of charity towards one's fellow man, but acts of piety, such as visiting shrines and relics, and, finally, paying money to the Church.

Protestant notions of predestination were a direct response to that corruption, but they hardly led to the Protestants throwing lifelong slap-and-tickle parties.

Granted, they didn't. Yet strictly looking at their theology you wonder why they didn't. This gets back to that whole question of whether ideas have consequences. The anti materialist argues that the implications of materialism must lead to lifetime slap and tickle parties. The non-Christian argues that implications of the Christian 'get out of Hell free' card pre-paid by Jesus for everyone must lead to lifetime slap and tickle parties. Yet neither is the case. Which just proves my point that cosmologies or world views do not determine behavior.

Your whole argument seems to hinge on the strange notion that goodness is a real drag that no sane person would indulge in if there wasn't a pretty juicy prize in the end, which I do not believe is a universal religious impulse beyond the age of twelve and I don't detect it in much modern Catholic writings either.

Yet you continue to use that argument against anyone who does not believe in an afterlife (you collectively as Christians, that is). If what you say is true, you may want to enlighten your Christian brothers and sisters who continually use this argument to club us non-believers. There is one brother in particular that I have in mind.


Rather than focussing on what a drag good works are and demanding God post a bond for His part of the deal before you deprive yourself of all that fun, why don't you take a lesson from our Jewish friends and reflect (as in meditate--not argue) on the joys of goodness and obedience in this world and see where it takes you.

I'm not demanding anything of God. I don't believe in Him, remember? Meditating on the joys of goodness (obedience has nothing to do with it) in this world is all that I meditate on, since I have all this free time from not worrying about how I'm going to save my eternal ass.

June 17, 2006 7:39 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: Who do you think wrote the Bible? It was written by people and people are imperfect. Not to repeat myself, but the tools of reason are just not relevant.

G-d didn't sacrifice His son for me. You'll have to take that up with a Christian.

Again with this personal god. Again, the god you don't believe in is a very specific god, upon whom you insist with as much ferver as any believer. I don't believe in that god either. Our minds can't contain G-d; He conceived of us, we cannot conceive of Him. Any language used to describe him is metaphor. Some metaphors work well for a given time, or to portray a particular aspect of G-d. "Lord" and "King" worked well in the past, but don't work at all, now. "Wrath" is a metaphor, as is "Jealous."

As far as I can tell, by "personal G-d" you mean something that can be contained, that can be understood, that operates for logical reasons accessible to us. That is predictable. None of those things are true of my G-d. Frankly, you seem to disbelieve in Zeus.

I have no idea what Dennis Prager believes. I've never heard of him, other than through Daily Duck and nothing you've said about him has made me go research his philosophy. But whatever metaphors he uses, I doubt that he believes in a G-d that is just a more powerful human being, which is what you seem to mean by a personal G-d.

I also don't know what you mean by: To say that there is no personal God is to really say 'it isn't about me'. I don't know what "it" is, but if it has to do with G-d or creation, then no, it's not about me. Do I think that G-d cares about me? Yes. Do I think that G-d prefers that I not sin? Yes. Do I think that G-d sits in judgment upon me? Yes. But (a) "cares", "prefers", "sits" and "judgment" are all metaphors, my best attempt at understanding that which cannot be understood and (b) all that is true of you, too (although, as a gentile, you have it much easier).

June 17, 2006 7:42 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,
OK, I think I understand you better. By what you said, I'd have to conclude that you are an agnostic. By using the personal language of God and at the same time admitting that the language is metaphorical, it is hard for me to see how your beliefs differ that much from mine, except that I refuse to use the language of religion metaphorically.

Maybe a better term to use for you would be "metaphorical deist".

It would probably make it easier to fit into American culture by affirming the god language. But this kind of understanding of God is really alien to American usage. It is much more sophisticated, and Americans are just not that sophisticated. The Zeus conception of God is really little different than the Christian conception, except that He is more powerful. Christianity is really inconceivable without the idea that God has the attributes of anger, love, caring, etc in a real, non-metaphorical way. I think that many Jews would see their own faith in the same way.

Prager has had a radio show for some twenty years or so, and had a short-run tv show in the early 80's. Granted, he is not the Jewish Pope, but you Jews run a very flat organization and don't really have anyone you could call your Pope. He's probably one of the most influential voices of Judaism in America, at least to gentiles.

June 17, 2006 8:26 AM  
Blogger David said...

Agnostic? I don't think so.

June 17, 2006 10:35 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Duck said, 'cosmologies or world views do not determine behavior,' but I think he meant to say something like, 'saying you embrace a cosmology is no guarantee to your neighbor that he can trust you to behave as that cosmology instructs.'

Or perhaps that is too simplistic, so that we can say that 'the behavior induced by holding a world view is random: not all Muslims react to the Mohammedan world view the same way that bin Laden does.'

That is more truly a random world than any David accuses me of living in.

++++

If the Bible was written by people, then indeed, I don't have a vote. There's nothing to vote on.

June 17, 2006 11:14 AM  
Blogger David said...

I don't know if it's random, but certainly there is a range of responses to the same cosmology.

Of course people wrote the Bible. Didn't they get as far as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in your catechism class?

June 17, 2006 11:58 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Christians, at least, tend to say they believe that the deity guided what they wrote.

The Evangelists were more or less like telegraph operators, passing on a message from a distant source.

I used to work for an editor who, when challenged on a word usage or whatnot with a dictionary entry, would slap the book and snort, 'One man's opinion!'

You've reduced scripture from Holy Scripture to sacral blogging.

June 17, 2006 3:31 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Meditating on the joys of goodness (obedience has nothing to do with it) in this world is all that I meditate on...

Oh sorry, Duck, I fogot that you guys are your own definitions of good and evil.

June 17, 2006 5:33 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

And yours are taken from a bunch of yokels of extremely limited experience, many of whom were schizophrenic?

I think I prefer my source. I don't have to hear voices.

I think all of you -- Orrin definitely included -- are far too sophisticated to slip easily into the great American religious heritage.

You're subversive and far more dangerous to the common culture than an outright enemy like me.

June 17, 2006 7:34 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

If it is obedience to the rules of decent behavior, then I'm all for it. But obedience in the religious context is not in reference to rules and laws, but to a personality. This is where I part company. Once you tie yourself to a personality, you give up your commitment to goodness. I thought that Brit did an admirable job in making that point.

June 17, 2006 7:48 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I think I prefer my source. I don't have to hear voices.

Sure you do, Harry. Your own, shouting down all others. But I told Mom you though I was subversive and she wasn't pleased at all. Became quite sharp with me, as a matter of fact.

I may be losing the thread here, but I am wondering whether David and I are not now arguing with a bunch of lapsed Catholics who reject faith but have pretty particular views on what those who don't must believe. It is sort of what I imagine it would be like arguing with a group of anti-American Americans who become very agitated if anyone suggests that his country is even worse.

June 18, 2006 4:44 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

And on the other side, a bunch of Unitarians who are afraid to speak its name.

Were we talking about idiosyncratic spiritual notions or a widespead cultural phenomenon?

June 18, 2006 11:08 AM  
Blogger David said...

Peter: I think you have diagnosed the problem.

Duck: Of course it's a sophisticated understanding of G-d. Of course it's not shared (knowingly, at least) by many G-d-fearing people. Similarly, the sophisticated understanding of Darwinism you guys fall back on when challenged has nothing to do with the popular conception of Darwinism. One difference is that my G-d is more powerful, and more to be feared, than the popular G-d, where as your Darwin has shrunk to almost microscopic levels.

Harry: Neither agnostic or Unitarian. Rather, I worship a G-d more powerful than any you can conceive of.

June 18, 2006 3:22 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

Heck, I can't make any sense out of what you said. The notion of the Fall is said to be fundamental (check with OJ if you are unsure), yet it is also allegorical. We aren't punished because we wouldn't exist otherwise, as it existence were somehow comparable with a complete nullity. And I guess we should ignore for the moment God's afflicting women with painful and dangerous childbirth as a collective-guilt consequence of Eve's transgression.

If that isn't punishment, what is?

Also, as seems to constantly true, you miss the distinction between God and religion. Even if there is a God, and It is omniscient etc, those qualities are no justification for any organized religion. I have no conclusions whatsoever about God; no matter which you choose they run head on into each other before getting out the door.

Religion is an entirely different matter; it is very much a material thing about which we can say a great deal, much of it bad.

With regard to what got this threat going, it seems there are as many profoundly correct notions of Jesus's resurrection as there are theologians with noses. Whether Arminianism or Calvinism is "correct," both seem to leave out a rather crucial factor: what of all those people born in places guaranteeing no exposure to the Chosen People or Chosen Religion?

Again, this is not a discussion of God, but rather religion. Imagine how much different the world would have been had Christianity decided that God didn't give a tinker's darn about fealty, but rather thought that a half-dozen or so pretty simple rules were, all in all, a pretty darn good idea to live by.

You also said Who do you think wrote the Bible? It was written by people and people are imperfect. Not to repeat myself, but the tools of reason are just not relevant. That is exactly the same POV taken by the President of Patrick Henry (?) College, a Christianist college in Virginia -- according to him, and, apparently, you, we are to read the Bible devotionally. Unfortunately, if any of it was written by men (as opposed to taking dictation), then the whole thing is larded with misapprehensions, which we can ascertain only through reason.

So we can't, but we must.

The Bible is literally true, but allegorical throughout. G-d is beyond our comprehension, but theologians comprehend Its motives and desires -- for all Its vaunted inscrutability, they seem to an awful lot of scruting.

June 18, 2006 7:00 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

You got me there, David.

As an editor, if I were inventing a god, I'd have made him a better communicator, though.

June 18, 2006 10:37 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

check with OJ if you are unsure

Skipper, David and I have the greatest respect and affection for Orrin, but unlike you guys, we don't quite see him as the infallible fount and ultimate arbiter of all monotheistic thinking.

And I guess we should ignore for the moment God's afflicting women with painful and dangerous childbirth as a collective-guilt consequence of Eve's transgression.

Truly it amazes me how you can froth in rage at the injustice of such a misogynist deity, while shrugging blandly at the notion that nature selected such horrors for women so men could look over the grass and hunt more efficiently.

Harry:

if I were inventing a god, I'd have made him a better communicator,

That's funny. If I were inventing man, I would have made him a better listener.

June 19, 2006 3:26 AM  
Blogger David said...

Peter: LOL. That's great.

Skipper: I'm not denying the expulsion from Eden, or its seminal place in shaping western civilization. I'm just saying that the story can't be understood except as allegory. What was man's original sin? Maybe having the temerity to evolve. Maybe having the temerity to invent agriculture.

Jews don't put as much weight on the expulsion as Christians, however. Jews believe that each person gets their sole directly from G-d, and each sole is as pristine as Adam's. On the other hand, man being what he is, none of us will have any better luck avoiding sin than Adam did.

It is a commonplace that there are as many Judaisms as Jews.

What exactly Eve's punishment was, and why, is a nice theological question. Here's what my Etz Hayim has to say:

16. We can see God's pronouncements to Adam and Eve as punishments for disobeying the diving command. Or we can see them instead as the consequences of acquiring a knowledge of good and evil, which makes a human life infinitely more complicated than the life of a beast. Food and mating are relatively straight-forward for animals, but work and sexuality can be terribly painful -- and profoundly gratifying-- for humans.

in pain shall you bear children The Talmud suggests that the verse refers to both the physical pain of childbirth and the emotional pain of trying to raise children.... The Hebrew word etzev is not the usual biblical word for "pain." It recurs in 6:6, referring to God's regret at the way humanity turned out in the days of Noah. Could the recurrence of the word imply that God, contemplating how human beings sometimes turn out, can sympathize with the pain Eve and her descendants will feel when they cannot be assured that their children will grow up as they hoped?

So, another understanding of the story is that mankind set itself apart from the beasts and suffered the natural consequences of that choice.

June 19, 2006 1:36 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

if I were inventing a god, I'd have made him a better communicator,

That's funny. If I were inventing man, I would have made him a better listener.

If I were a god designing man with a certain ability to hear a message, and designing a message to transmit to man, I'd take into account the listening ability I gave him when designing the message.

June 19, 2006 2:00 PM  
Blogger jwd said...

My, oh my, what a guy misses when he's away for an extended weekend. So much to discuss, I'll try to keep it short.

Duck:

No matter how much religious people say 'it isn't about me', their beliefs betray them, because they assume that it is about them. Creation is about them, God's will is centered on them. This world is here for them. God sacrificed His son for them.

I take umbrage at this. (Big surprise, huh?) If "it" is about me; if Creation is about me; if God's will is centered on me; if the world is here for me; and if God sacrificed His Son ultimately and only for me, then doesn't that put me above God? Doesn't God cease to be God then?

I believe Creation is about God. For who appreciates a masterpiece, like the Mona Lisa, for its qualities rather than acknowledging the artist from whom those qualities come? Likewise, Creation is not about any single created thing or being, but ultimately about the Creator.

Ephesians clearly teaches that Christ died according to the purpose of God's will (not mine or any other human's), and to the praise of the glory of the grace of God (not to my praise). So while yes, I believe Christ died for me (but not just me), I believe the reason He died for me is to reveal the riches of God's glory.

John Piper has a couple of interesting articles I think are worth checking out. The first is the text of a message he delivered last fall about suffering - human suffering in general, and Christ's suffering in particular. The second is an article he wrote for World Magazine in response to viewing Christ's death on the cross as "cosmic child abuse."

June 19, 2006 6:24 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

jwd,
Normally if you miss a week of the Daily Duck, you don't miss much. The last week has been quite out of the ordinary.

Please don't get too defensive, I was using that argument as a counter argument to the argument used against nonbelievers that we refuse to believe because we are so self-centered. I can't peer into every believer's heart and say that they are self-centered, but if you have to, there is certainly a way to make the argument that religion is more 'about me' than athiesm is.

For instance, which belief seems to imply a greater concern with the self; a belief in immortality, or a belief in mortality?

Here's a quote from Karen Armstrong that makes my pooint a little more eloquently:
It's really only Christianity and Islam that are obsessed with afterlife in this way. It was not a concern in the Axial Age, not for any of them. I think the old scenarios of heaven and hell can be unreligious. People can perform their good deeds in the spirit of putting their installments in their retirement annuities. And there's nothing religious about that. Religion is supposed to be about the loss of the ego, not about its eternal survival.

June 19, 2006 9:23 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

jwd

I read the first Piper article. Sorry, that goes even farther away from what makes sense to me.

I believe the entire universe exists to display the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. I might have said more simply that the entire universe exists to display the greatness of the glory of God. That would be true. But the Bible is more specific. The glory of God shines most brightly, most fully, most beautifully in the manifestation of the glory of his grace. Therefore, this is the ultimate aim and the final explanation of all things—including suffering.

God decreed from all eternity to display the greatness of the glory of his grace for the enjoyment of his creatures, and he revealed to us that this is the ultimate aim and explanation of why there is sin and why there is suffering, and why there is a great suffering Savior. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came in the flesh to suffer and die and by that suffering and death to save undeserving sinners like you and me. This coming to suffer and die is the supreme manifestation of the greatness of the glory of the grace of God. Or to say it a little differently, the death of Christ in supreme suffering is the highest, clearest, surest display of the glory of the grace of God. If that is true, then a stunning truth is revealed, namely, suffering is an essential part of the created universe in which the greatness of the glory of the grace of God can be most fully revealed. Suffering is an essential part of the tapestry of the universe so that the weaving of grace can be seen for what it really is.


My first question is: if God knows how great and glorious He is, why does he need to demonstrate it?

My second question is: how demented is it to intentionally inflict suffering on a people only to show them how great you are?

If this helps some people cope with their suffering, more power to them. To me, it only gives me the creeps. I much prefer my random universe than the universe of this God. At least I don't have to take my suffering personally.

June 19, 2006 10:03 PM  
Blogger jwd said...

Duck:

Point taken about your self-centeredness argument. Sorry I sounded so defensive - in my skimming the past several posts in the discussion, that argument stuck out to me, and I felt like defending myself, even though it obviously wasn't a personal attack. (I still feel the same way, though.)

As for your two questions:
1. I know on some level this concept makes God sound like a big arrogant egotist, but then again, you have to realize that God is not a man, so He operates on a different level. I believe He demonstrates His glory for us so that we may bask in it and enjoy it in ways that nothing else can satisfy. C.S. Lewis has said "it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

2. To answer from an elementary standpoint - how do we know what "good" is if "evil" does not exist? How can we experience joy if there is no sorrow?

I appreciate your taking time to check out the article. I'm sorry I don't understand this better so that I could better explain it.

June 20, 2006 3:27 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'so that we may bask in it and enjoy it'

What if I don't enjoy it? We Philistines never have a nice day.

June 20, 2006 4:53 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

jwd
I know on some level this concept makes God sound like a big arrogant egotist, but then again, you have to realize that God is not a man, so He operates on a different level. I believe He demonstrates His glory for us so that we may bask in it and enjoy it in ways that nothing else can satisfy.

Well, it makes him sound like a big, arrogant egotist when you portray him that way. You hit the nail on the head by saying he is not a man. But people still want to see him as a personal being, and the only way to think of a personal being is to think of a man. But when you think of a being who operates on a different level as a man, but think of him as a man, you're setting yourself up for unresolvable contradictions.

This image of God that Piper portrays is an image of a very powerful man, a king. We expect kings to do things that glorify themselves. We expect them to demand admiration, adoration, even worship. But kings do this because they know deep down that they are men. They don't demand to be exalted because they know how much greater they are than the common man. They know that the adoration is the only thing that keeps the common man from realizing that the king is really no different than he. He knows that he could be replaced by another man quite easily. The demand for worship is not a sign of greatness, it is an admission of weakness.

I don't think that you can look at the universe as the manifestations of the will of a personal being without coming to the conclusion that that being is cruel, or sadistic, or just totally indifferent. To say of a personal god that he is good is to judge him by personal standards of goodness. And that is why the problems of theodicy will never go away. Terrible wars and natural disasters will always make people ask "how can God allow this suffering to occur"? The only way to make those questions go away is to give up on the notion of a personal god.

June 20, 2006 8:51 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

To answer from an elementary standpoint - how do we know what "good" is if "evil" does not exist? How can we experience joy if there is no sorrow?

That is a good question. You are right, the two are inextricably linked. The only way to deal with this fact is to accept that this is a brute, impersonal fact of the universe, that there is no other way for the universe to exist than in this way.

I think that the theory of evolution gives a more understandable answer to why there is good and evil in the world than Genesis does. Genesis makes sense if you read it allegorically as the story of evolution. Evolution used carrots and sticks to motivate humans for survival; desire and fear. It drove us to compete for reprodictive success as individuals, but also to develop cooperative skills as social beings to maximise our survival. Our soul is split by this tension between individual striving and group solidarity.

The "Fall" came when our minds developed to the point to allow consciousness and self reflection. We could then question our own instincts, and make decisions that overrode them. Self-reflection led to empathy, the ability to identify with the other. Which led to the realization that we were capable of doing very harmful things to the other out of our instinctual drive for dominance and survival. That was the realization of good and evil. As the wise man put it "we have met the enemy, and he is us".

June 20, 2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

To say that god's actions or motives are not understandable because he is so unlike us seems to put an end to the apologetics business, doesn't it?

I mean, if you want to argue that god's apparent unfairness and wanton cruelty are not understandable and may, in some cosmic sense, not be cruel or unfair, then you must also allow that his alleged goodness and love are not understandable but that, properly understood in the right non-human (or, in my view, inhuman) context may not be love or goodness.

If we can only be uncertain or mistaken, then where is it written that the misunderstanding must redound to god's credit?

June 20, 2006 9:50 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

you must also allow that his alleged goodness and love are not understandable but that, properly understood in the right non-human (or, in my view, inhuman) context may not be love or goodness.

So, argue that, then. What I don't understand is why those who don't think He is loving or just conclude as a result that He doesn't exist. You can hate your father for his cruelties but isn't it a strange reaction to declare oneself an orphan?

June 21, 2006 2:34 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I was not arguing that for myself. I do say he does not exist.

I'm just asking why people who do argue the argument from no argument don't apply it evenly.

June 21, 2006 10:07 AM  

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