Sunday, August 27, 2006

Personal Religious Revelation As Evidence for God

As promised, I am going to be posting a series of thoughts on religion. I realize this isn't everyone's cup of tea, so as I post them I'll put the bulk of the content below the fold. Just click on the button if you're interested in reading more, or ignore it if you're not.

Jeff

This is one of a series of posts in response to comments made at http://nerdcountry.blogspot.com/2006/08/church-chat.html#comments

GeoPoet Said:

That definition of agnosticism is interesting - I always thought of it as not really having an opinion either way (Scott Peck calls it laziness born of immaturity)


I run into this attitude a lot, on all sides of many issues. It's very tempting to infantilize someone whose beliefs are contrary to yours, but in my experience it's a really bad idea. For example, you can easily see how arrogant and misguided that statement is if it is changed to read “religion is laziness born of immaturity”. When I have in the past found myself thinking in the kind of simple-minded, black and white, condescending way exhibited by Peck's quote (which happens more often than I want to admit), I have generally found it a significant barrier to wisdom and understanding. Oversimplifications scare me.

GeoPoet Said:
Certainly, if one has actually experienced what they absolutely believe is the presence of God, then this is a reality that cannot be denied without prejudice.


Subjective, personal experience of God is often held up as powerful evidence for His existence. But if such intense subjective episodes are in fact divinely inspired, what do they tell us about the nature of the divinity -- or divinities -- responsible for them?

First, they are common to humans throughout the world, in a variety of religious traditions. A Hindu feels that same subjective sense of God as strongly as you do, as strongly as a Muslim does, as strongly as a Mormon does, as strongly as those Aztec Sun-God Worshippers did. Can you doubt that their strong subjective religious feelings were as valid and as powerful as yours? That they believed as completely as you do? How can one tell the difference between the "real" sense of God you feel as a Christian from the "false" sense of God felt by that Muslim, Hindu, Aztec, or Mormon?

If religious revelations do spring from divine sources, therefore, any religion that claims there is only one aspect to God must be mistaken on that point. Why would a singular god appear to affirm the essential rightness of multiple religions? The most logical conclusions you can draw from that (in my mind at least) are either a) there are many gods, or b) there is only One and He doesn't particularly care which religion He inspires people to follow, or c) there is a physical, non-supernatural explanation for the experience.

One of the most moving treatments of this subject is by someone named Mark I. Vuletic, here. I'll quote just a small part of it, but I found the entire essay one of the most moving I have ever read, on any subject.

The second problem doesn't have a name that I know of, but its essence is captured by a question I had wondered about long before I began to have personal experience of god: what would things seem like to me if I had been raised in Iran? Well, no doubt I would be a Muslim, and believe in Allah, my mother told me. And of course, she was right. Now, this was not much of a problem in my liberal days, because all religions worshipped the same god, and were thus equally legitimate. But when I started to have personal experience of the Christian god, this knowledge took on more of an edge. I viewed it as a given that Islam and Christianity could not both be true, and that Christianity was true, and that Islam therefore must be false. But could I imagine a Muslim who experienced the reality of Allah in exactly the same way as I experienced the reality of the Christian God? If I could, then that would mean that it was possible for a person to seem to have an absolutely convincing experience of a deity, and yet be mistaken. But if it was possible for an absolutely convincing experience of a deity to not really be a true experience of that deity, then wouldn't that imply that my experiences might not be true? Could I blithely assert that perhaps it might be possible for Middle Easterners to deceived, but that I was so much better than them that there was no chance of my being deceived?


Second, we would need to discover if there are any other times the same intense personal sensation can occur without being tied to divinity. Those experienced in transcendtal meditation report many of the same feelings when deep in their practice, and brain scans performed during the meditation seem to confirm this. The same is true of many people when their temporal lobes are stimulated by intense magnetic fields. There is no way to absolutely compare subjective experiences, of course -- what person A describes as touching the face of God may be completely different from what person B describes as the same thing -- but what evidence we do have indicates the experiences are very similar.

So, given that personal revelations can occur across all cultural and religious divisions, and that those who are non-believers can experience the same sensations when not engaged in religious pursuits of any kind, I am inclined to believe that these phenomena are not divine in nature. If they are, then the picture that emerges of the divinity (or divinities) responsible is far different than advanced by any Western religion, and certainly precludes the traditional Christian conception of God as being jealously singular and completely intolerant of any other form of worship (i.e Commandments 1-4).

In my opinion, therefore, personal religious experience is not particularly compelling evidence of the existence of some sort of divine being, at least of the kind put forward in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

17 comments:

Geopoet said...

Interesting how we can agree on the same things, but come up with completely different conclusons. Let's take your points. First, that humans throughout the world and all times and religions have this same experience. This is exactly true, as you have observed and exactly what you'd expect from a living God (per my first comment). It is a mistake however to assume that these experiences can't be divine because some in a particular religion may say the other person's experience is false. The essay for example is an example of talking oneself out of a reality because an erroneous presumption. You go on to give three limited options and then defer to your non-supernatural option, relying on observatons from a science experiment as if that's proof all these ancient cultures were bombarded by electromagnetic fields or were the first yogas. To me, this seems almost like you've predetermined your conclusion by using flawed alternatives and atheistic testimonials rather than considering all the options.

I would offer this alternative way of looking at your observations. Consider that the entire religious question centers on one's relationship with a living God, a God that is more like a person than a system or philosophy. Thus I found all your earlier "problems" with Christianity to basically read something like this (excuse my paraphrasing, but I'm trying to understand) "Unless God is obvious to me, fair according to my rules and the world makes sense to me, I won't believe in Him." I would say that you are inventing a God to fit your preferences and if you find one, it's probably not God. However, if there is a God, He exists outside of your invention. God would be whomever and whatever He chooses to be, He runs the universe as He set it up, and He reveals Himself to whomever He chooses. He's the Creator, we're the creation. Stomping our feet and complaining He's not doing it right or not paying attention to me does nothing to change that reality. (Not unexpectedly, most religions would agree this disagreement with God is the source of all our troubles, aka "the fall" in Genesis.)

At first this seems cold and distant, until the pivotal (albeit subjective) "experience" and the culminative coming of the Christ in which we realize that God is love incarnate. He's not about rules, or fairness or who is right or wrong - rather God chooses to love us individually and completely simply because we are worth loving in His eyes. "Truth" is then just another word for how close one is to the Personhood of God. Thus all experiences of God have validity, and all religions in which He is manifest has some basis of truth. The completeness of truth is measured only by how close we come to know Him as He truly is. Certainly religions differ on how to get to Him (this is after all THE most important journey there is) but in no way does a particular religion negate the validity of experience just by saying it has the complete truth (Catholics don't even say that!). That is a false presumption if you are looking at things from afar; unfortunately, many look at these differences and let it deter them from deeply seeing God on a personal level. It also appears that you have oversimplifyied Christianity into a black and white religion, a type of view that scares you most, but may be more of your creation than you'd care to admit. (also, you took Scott Peck completely out of context, and it probably is my fault for not being clearer in that he was talking about the failure of some to grow in maturity).

Now for your conclusion. The science phenomenon you refer to proves absolutely nothing (I say that as a scientist actually) and it is an untenable stretch to say it disproves religious experience any more than knowing how a flower grows disproves God's existance, or telling your wife you don't love her because you read about pheromones. We actually would expect nothing less than God using our biology to communicate (it's not magic) any more than I would expect that lips would be used to show love or music would cause rapture (all gifts from God). In other words, why could you not just as easily said that the brain activity "proves" that God is talking to us? Again, you seem predetermined with your conclusion using atheistic views rather than being open to a different view (e.g., what the saints might say about it.) As Jesus' incarnation shows, God likes creation - he made it - and used (cross) it to make exactly this point. This is what Christianity is all about - that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, simply because we are loved.

There was one person who cut through all the competing philosophical and religious clutter. It was Jesus who made it clear that religion has only one purpose - to lead us to a loving relationship with the Father. He is present in some manner in every experience, at every time and culture in history, and in every person, drawn by a truth that is called God and that has its expression in human love. We Christians believe Jesus is both the way and the destination. In order to know who we are, it comes down again to Jesus' question for each individual - "who do you say that I am"? Thanks for the honest discussion so far.

Jeff Hebert said...

Lots of stuff there, but I hope you will indulge me by clarifying a few things.

Thus all experiences of God have validity, and all religions in which He is manifest has some basis of truth. The completeness of truth is measured only by how close we come to know Him as He truly is. Certainly religions differ on how to get to Him (this is after all THE most important journey there is) but in no way does a particular religion negate the validity of experience just by saying it has the complete truth (Catholics don't even say that!).

How do you square that with "I am the way, the truth, and the light, there is no way to the Father but through me?" If there is no way to God (whatever God might be) except through Christ, then that would seem to indicate that all other religions are false ways. I don't understand how that gibes with your explanation that all religions are paths to God. Are you saying (as it seems you are) that Christ as Christ is not a necessary component of salvation? Or are you saying that Christ is actually a part of all religions and thus, whether they know it or not, Hindus and Jews and Moslems and Aztec Sun God Worshippers are all secretly Christians?

Consider that the entire religious question centers on one's relationship with a living God, a God that is more like a person than a system or philosophy.

That's interesting, because that's exactly the way I've approached trying to figure this whole thing out. I look at the way the world is, then I try to figure out how that relates to an actual, person-like God.

And yet, whenever I do that and come up with a conclusion of some sort that differs from traditional theism, I am told that I am not fit to judge the Creator, that I simply can't understand a divine being and am "stamping my feet" or “inventing a God to fit [my] preferences”. And yet I feel I am doing the exact opposite, that I am trying to disregard my religious upbringing and to make some kind of judgment based not on indoctrination but on the way the world appears to be.

So I would ask you, since it appears I am not allowed to use the only tools I have at my disposal (standard norms of human behavior, the inherent “moral compass” C.S. Lewis holds up as powerful evidence of a divine being, trying to apply the universal standard of “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”):

1. What tools are appropriate for use in figuring out whether or not there is a God?
2. If there is in fact a God, what are acceptable ways for us to determine His nature and His wishes?
3. Are we allowed to judge Him using human standards or not?

I look forward to hearing your response to those questions and to the “I am the way, the truth, and the Light” issue I raised above. I appreciate your time and I know you are approaching this from a position of love, not condescension or hatred. That’s one reason I can have this discussion with my brother, whereas with a random person on the internet it might be a lot more difficult.

I also hope you don’t mind that this is being carried out in public – give me a holler if you are, we can do it privately if you prefer. This isn’t nearly as important to me as you are.

Love,

Jeff

jx5_austin said...

" 'I am the way, the truth, and the light, there is no way to the Father but through me?' "

What an outrageous claim!

Given the straightforwardness of it, is there evidence that supports the authority of the claimant to be so bold?


Pardon the intrusion, but I have been following along for the last week or so. You can blame the cow whisperer for pointing me in this direction. I appreciate honest, open dialog and will try to keep my comments and questions short. (I am NOT a good typist)

Observations:
A) I am of the opinion that an a/theist, by definition, claims that God does NOT exist. Obviously, this would be a logical impossibility, since one would have to "know" all things to make such a claim.
B) An a/gnostic, IMHO, claims to not "know" whether God exists, and may or may not be open minded about the possibility. (I find it interestng that the Latin word for the Greek "agnostic" is "ignoramus" - no offense intended)
C) So, are there reasons and methodologies for believing (trusting) that God exists and that perhaps even came to us ine the person of Jesus. I thinks so (see below). Are these foolproof and above debate? Probabaly not, but taken in chorus, they provide a "strong enough" body of evidence for me to "humbly" put aside my doubts and self-interest and "believe".

First, we live in a world that has unity, order and design.

Second, confronted by order outside ourselves, we crave order within.

Third, where does human personality come from? I never see personality come from matter and energy or from the impersonal.

Fourth, the existence of values suggests that reality is bigger than simply cold matter and hot energy.

Fifth, why do we trust our reason? If reason springs from chance mutations and natural selection, why do we trust it to put us in touch with reality? What gives us the confidence that our reason is an accurate indicator of that which is true. If we do not believe there is a God, we must exercise blind faith in order to trust our reason which springs from chance.

Sixth, Conscience - a built-in warning system that clicks in whenever we sense ourselves doing something we ought not to do. If there were no God, if everything were relative and situational, we wouldn't need this system; there would be no use for it. We also experience moral indignation over such things as child abuse, rape, apartheid, and the wanton destruction of human life.

Seventh, If there is no God, only the natural is real, love is simply a chemical reaction, a biological drive, an animal instinct. We are the result of chance mutations and natural selection. Reality is comprised of matter and energy evolved to different levels. Love is a chemical reaction. It is the sex drive or the drive to preserve the genetic pool. Reality does not include a real value of love. You cannot get the value of love from matter and energy.

Eighth, Anthropology shows that every culture has had some kind of belief system. Humankind is incurably religious. You and I have an appetite for food. There is food to satisfy our appetite. You and I also have a drive to know God. God created us to know him.

Ninth, the historical evidence of Jesus. The evidence of his sinless life, the quality and clarity of his teachings, the love that flowed from him even during his painful death, and his historical resurrection from the dead point to Jesus being who he said he was-God in human form.Christ reveals that God does care and wants to know us personally.

Finally, consider that people around the world have claimed that this historical figure, Jesus, has radically altered their lives. It's not a White-Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. People of different racial heritages and diverse economic and educational backgrounds claim that Jesus has forever altered their lives and their thinking.

Thanks for indulging my buttinski, I look forward to reading more of this discussion.

Jeff Hebert said...

I wrote this incredibly long, four page reply to you, jx5, and somehow it's been lost. I'm too heartbroken to rewrite it. The one time I didn't save my reply in the Word document I composed it in, and disaster strikes. Aaaaaaarrrrrggggghhh!

To make things worse, lightning struck the wireless tower for my internet provider at home, so I have no way to access this tonight.

Maybe there IS a god and He's pisssed at me, so he struck the broadband tower!!

Or it could have been that guy who downloads so much porn every day that no one else in the area can get on the net for hours at a time. Hmmm ...

Jeff Hebert said...

oooooooo, I had the text still in the clipboard, wahoo!! Gotta love cut and paste. Not sure if this was the latest, latest version, but it's good enough for 6:00, gotta head home.

Jeff

---------------------

Pardon the intrusion, but I have been following along for the last week or so. You can blame the cow whisperer for pointing me in this direction.

Well then howdy! Thanks for coming by and taking the time to make a post. Contrary to what most people seem to believe, atheists don't bite and we don't eat babies, so no worries on that score. I'll try to be friendly, it's not just the Texas way for driving any more :-)

A) I am of the opinion that an a/theist, by definition, claims that God does NOT exist. Obviously, this would be a logical impossibility, since one would have to "know" all things to make such a claim.

I meant to touch on this with Johnny's post but it was already running long. There is no way to "prove" anything in a scientific sense except when it comes to math. The best we can hope for scientifically is to at some point judge a theory as tested enough to accept as provisionally true. All knowledge, in the scientific view, is provisional – you can’t really “prove” anything, you just support it with the best available evidence and stand ready to change your mind when new data come in.

Furthermore, you can't prove a negative, so I can't prove there is no god any more than I can prove that that unicorns do not exist.

Traditionally, however, if you are going to make a positive claim about something (i.e. "Look, a unicorn!"), then the burden is on you to provide some evidence for it. It is not incumbent upon me to refute your claim, since I am the one being asked to believe an assertion. You generally hear this put as "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".

Are these foolproof and above debate? Probably not, but taken in chorus, they provide a "strong enough" body of evidence for me to "humbly" put aside my doubts and self-interest and "believe".

Why would you claim you have to put aside your self-interest to be a believer? An excellent case could be made that it is very much in your interest to at least claim to be a believer, since as I pointed out in another post, atheists are the most reviled minority group on the planet. The smart money is on shouting your allegiance to God from the middle of the Town Square, there’s not much mileage in either humilty or atheism.

First, we live in a world that has unity, order and design.

Yet the world also has disunity and disorder, and design is a purely subjective judgment. If unity and order are evidence of a Creator, then why is disorder and chaos not evidence that there is no Creator? Is order possible only with direct divine intervention?

Second, confronted by order outside ourselves, we crave order within.

That very much depends on the individual. Have you visited a college freshman dorm room recently? Let’s just say the only order being craved there is for an extra large Domino’s. And again, if order is a sign of divinity, why is there disorder? If God desires order as you claim, then would he not have the same desire to abolish chaos you claim for us? And yet, chaos exists.

Third, where does human personality come from? I never see personality come from matter and energy or from the impersonal.

So you’re claiming human personality is a supernatural phenomenon? That every single human being has been the receiver of a direct, ongoing, and supernatural miracle to provide them with a personality? How then do you explain animals’ personalities? They have no souls (according to mainstream Christian theology), and yet they definitely have personality.

Fourth, the existence of values suggests that reality is bigger than simply cold matter and hot energy.

Again, why do animals seem to put more value on certain things? A mother bear will protect her cubs at the expense of another animal’s – clearly they value their own offspring more. Other animals will exhibit the value of self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives for the greater community. Is self-sacrifice not a qualifying value?

Fifth, why do we trust our reason? If reason springs from chance mutations and natural selection, why do we trust it to put us in touch with reality? What gives us the confidence that our reason is an accurate indicator of that which is true. If we do not believe there is a God, we must exercise blind faith in order to trust our reason which springs from chance.

We trust reason and the scientific method for the simple fact that it works. It can’t explain everything, but when it comes to the physical world, science and reason – basing conclusions on testable hypotheses – has had unparallel success at predicting and explaining what we see around us. I tell you what, I’ll take a computer with a good ballistics program modeled on real-world physics and you take a whole chapel full of monks praying, and let’s see who can predict where a cannon ball will land. Religion has been an abysmal failure at explaining the natural world, starting with the idea that lightning bolts are hurled by angry sky giants and continuing right on down through the flat earth and the motion of the planets. We trust reason because reason has proven, time and again, to be worthy of trust, because it makes testable predictions with observable results that can be objectively repeated again and again by anyone regardless of their personal biases and belief systems.

Seventh, If there is no God, only the natural is real, love is simply a chemical reaction, a biological drive, an animal instinct. We are the result of chance mutations and natural selection. Reality is comprised of matter and energy evolved to different levels. Love is a chemical reaction. It is the sex drive or the drive to preserve the genetic pool. Reality does not include a real value of love. You cannot get the value of love from matter and energy.

Are you saying that love is a supernatural phenomenon that must be divinely maintained at all times? Why then does a mother dog, to all appearances, love her pup? Why do swans mate for life? If animals have no soul (as Christianity maintains) then are all of these beings of matter and energy fooling themselves, or in some way acting out a bizarre play with no real substance?

And if love is only possible with God, what about the other emotions – hate, rage, jealousy, anger, pettiness, cruelty, sadism, all the vast array of “evil” thoughts that drive us? Are these also divinely maintained and created? Am I to understand that every single emotion I have is possible only if there is a God ordering each and every one?

If that’s the case, then I am nothing more than a puppet in some macabre and obscene play orchestrated by a being I have no control over, being filled with emotions that are not mine, but which nonetheless drive me and for which I am (according to Christianity) going to be damned.

Eighth, Anthropology shows that every culture has had some kind of belief system. Humankind is incurably religious.

This is simply untrue. The best evidence indicates that cultures only develop religion when they reach such a size that the more fundamental ways we organize ourselves and recognize “kin/friend” from “stranger/enemy” no longer work. The human mind is capable of keeping track of (on average) something like 125 ally/kin relationships at a time. Once a community grows larger than that, some other mechanism is required to hold them together, to make them identify as the same tribe.

In addition, if your assertion were true then atheism would be impossible. I can’t go for too long without eating, but people can and have lived entire lifetimes without believing in God. Something like 30% of people worldwide are atheists – how have they found a “cure” for this unquenchable and divinely inspired thirst?

Ninth, the historical evidence of Jesus. The evidence of his sinless life, the quality and clarity of his teachings, the love that flowed from him even during his painful death, and his historical resurrection from the dead point to Jesus being who he said he was-God in human form.Christ reveals that God does care and wants to know us personally.

This is the second time someone has claimed the absolute historical fact of Jesus’ life and resurrection as proof of the existence of God, but you’re using the very thing under debate as a proof. This would be like me claiming that because Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, saw golden tablets in his magic hat, that is proof that there is a God and he’s a Mormon. But if you don’t believe Joseph Smith really saw golden tablets in a magic hat, then this point has no weight at all.

If there was an actual historical figure we know as Jesus (which I doubt), there is horrifyingly scant evidence of either his existence or his physical resurrection. The Bible claims that other people rose from the dead at the same time as Christ and walked the streets of the city:

32 Matthew 27:52-53. "And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."

Surely such an extraordinary occurrence would have earned loud exclaim and documentation throughout the region, yet there is no mention of it whatsoever in contemporary accounts.

None.

People got up out of their graves and appeared to many, yet not one single person thought this remarkable enough to write down.

Do you see how someone who is not already a believer would doubt the events described in the Gospels? Not to mention, of course, that the Gospels themselves do not agree on exactly what happened (see http://ffrf.org/about/bybarker/rise.php). Most scholarship indicates that the early Christians believed not in a physical resurrection but rather a spiritual one. The actual rising of the dead body appears to be a later addition.

Finally, consider that people around the world have claimed that this historical figure, Jesus, has radically altered their lives. It's not a White-Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. People of different racial heritages and diverse economic and educational backgrounds claim that Jesus has forever altered their lives and their thinking.

Many Muslims report the same thing happening with converts to their religion. As do Buddhists, Mormons, Dallas Cowboy fans, Alcoholics Anonymous, secular humanists, and about a bazillion other belief systems. Humans are hierarchical, social animals, it does not surprise me that most people instinctively look to some sort of alpha figure to tell them what to do. It’s far more indicative to me of a long history of adaptation and evolution than it is the direct influence of a divinity so ham-handed and bumbling He can’t even settle on one single religion to build into us.

Look, I’m happy that lots of people have used religion to lead happy, productive, loving lives – I really am. But you’re kidding yourself if you think that religion is the only belief system that can lead to this – it demonstrably is not.

I am an atheist, and yet I lead a very happy, very productive, very loving life. So do millions of other atheists around the world. If religion is what makes you happy, good on ya! Really. I’m honestly, sincerely glad for you. But to suggest that I am mistaken in my belief that I am happy and loving because, clearly, anyone who doesn’t believe in God is fooling themselves, is insulting.

Denise said...

One thing’s for sure – politics and religion do fuel some incredibly interesting conversations! Jeff, I will commend you for bringing up a topic that is difficult to discuss because it is so personal. Religion discussions can be accusatory, divisive and polarizing, and that you delve into it is quite amazing. The questions you’ve raised, and everyone who’s posted here, are illuminating because no matter which side of the crucifix or fence we find ourselves, we are always learning, searching and trying to discover new answers. Discussing, dissecting and probing into why we believe certain ways can be an alienating path; however, the discussions here have been so openly honest and personal, I find no intended falsehood in anyone’s posting – all I see are honest postings from everyone.

As a person who loves analogies, here is mine: When we listen to music, some of us hear primarily the instruments and some of us hear the words. Ask afterwards what is remembered, and you’ll get two different opinions. Was the music wrong? No. Was the interpretation wrong. No – we heard what we were listening for. But go back and listen for the other side, and you’ll hear that. I would ask you to continue searching out answers, but to also read some of the Christian writers who have grappled with this issue and come up on the side of believing in God. I’m sure you have, but I find it easier to take the “negative” side in a discussion rather than the “affirmative” side (I just judged a Lincoln-Douglas debate tournament, so these words are in my head, not a judgment of spirituality.) Your last paragraph summed up the conclusion I’d thought you’d reached. As I’m quite a bit older than you (sigh), one thing I’ve learned is I am continually learning and changing my perspective on things. And point of view is crucial in that on-going internal dialogue.

I show my CCE kids slides, and one is of the skyline of New York City. To some people, that looks like the land of opportunity – lots of jobs, an incredible blending of cultures and the huge metropolis. To others, it’s absolutely terrifying – the big city, the noise, the streetcars, etc. Some look at that skyline from the deck of a ship, like Gidi did, and believe they are looking at the land of milk and honey. Others look at it and see what they can destroy – I say this because my photo has the Twin Towers in it. But every time I look at that slide, I see something different, something I didn’t see before. I’ve learned that the journey toward spiritual enlightenment is never over. And for me, faith is like the tide – sometimes, I’m standing on the shore and the waves are crashing over me in their power. Other times, I can stand there for hours and never get my ankles wet. I know the tide will come back in and go back out. That is how I define my faith. God is a wonderful presence in my life – He’s a personal friend, a father figure, a guiding light and a definite source of strength. I continue to search and wonder, and at times, my faith is shallow. But it comes back, and I am refreshed.

Please continue on your quest and be open (as you are) to what might be farther down the path. As Johnny said, life is a journey, and we find out so many things we never expected as we proceed along this wonderful pathway of life. And, dear brother, you are opening dialogue between people, just as philosophers have done for centuries – this is a great discussion and one that I’m finding enlightening and challenging. For something as personal as faith, all the posters have kept personal attacks out of it – bravo. Let’s keep the dialogue going – it’s what will allow us all to probe our thoughts and see what other people think.

Geopoet said...

______________________
Jeff wrote to Geopoet: How do you square that with "I am the way, the truth, and the light, there is no way to the Father but through me?" If there is no way to God (whatever God might be) except through Christ, then that would seem to indicate that all other religions are false ways.
__________________

Geopoet says: Hmmm, after your blistering statement to jx5 that you do not even believe Jesus ever actually existed, I question why you’re even interested in what Jesus (supposedly) said. Nevertheless, I’m going to assume you’re still open and interested in other views and that you’re not just being polite (or patronizing) to us. So, let’s explore what you said. You are obviously versed in history and culture, in fact you probably do not doubt much written by Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans; you believe in the existence and deeds of Sargon and Cyrus, Ramses and Alexander. Modern archaeology and historians are continually finding corroboration to an amazing degree of the events recorded in the Old Testament, hundreds of years before Christ. Yet, you doubt the existence of Jesus and what was written about Him even though it was written much later, was corroborated by other non-Christian historians who witnessed it (e.g., Eusebius), and to date have yet to find a single recantation by anyone since. I would ask you to step back and think about how unlikely (I’d say impossible) that is from a strictly scientific and historical standpoint alone. If nothing else, history further indicates that certainly his followers deeply and resolutely believed everything He said and did, each of them going to martyrdom or exile absolutely convinced He was the savior of the world with clearly no selfish motive to do so. Critical historians further state that the Gospels possess none of the attributes that one would expect from a fabrication (the apostles for example openly describe their shortcomings). All together there were thousands who actually saw and heard Jesus, yet we do not read of a single instance in the first few centuries after Christ that it was some type of fiction or hoax (in fact the opposite is true). The insignificant variations in the details in the Gospels you mention is simply due to the recollections of the authors; pointing to these as a basis for claiming the whole thing is made up simply stretches credulity by any measure, including the historical-critical method of literature. If you’re going to be scientific, be consistent - of His existence there is no doubt. He actually lived, spoke, did the deeds recorded, and died. As witnessed by many, He reportedly also rose from the dead, an event that even His disciples weren't expecting at the time. This was indeed witnessed, recorded and written down, first by Paul’s letters, then the Gospels of Mark, then Matthew, then Luke and finally John, written in as authoritative a means as there was at the time and overall remarkably similar in content. So we come again to the question – who do you say He is?

Now let’s go back to your question regarding “No one comes to the Father except through me”. I think you are making a false presumption – i.e., that this indicates all other religions are false ways, but that is not what Jesus is saying at all (it seems like you are ready to see everything in sectarian terms). Consider this – Jesus said that “I and the Father are One” and “Why do you ask me to show you the Father? - He who sees me sees the Father”. If this unity is true, then it is evident then that anyone who comes into the embrace of God the Father also experiences the Son since they are inseparable (what we Christians call Persons of the Trinity). It makes no sense to say you’re going to see God but you plan somehow to go around Jesus, no matter what religious heritage you may have come from, if they are indeed One. I’ve used this analogy before, but if you were planning on going to the capital of Texas, you wouldn't say you're going to avoid Austin to do it – they are the same reality.

Now you asked whether this means all religious types are “secretly Christians” or whether Christ is necessary for salvation. And so you rightfully and understandably return to the “edge” of the salvation question. On that I honestly don’t know (thank goodness it’s not my job) exactly how God will judge people, but certainly all who come to see God as He truly is in the next life will see and finally comprehend this unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and either reject the Trinity or accept it. There will be no division of love between them; a yes to the Father is a yes to the Son. Thus Christ is indeed just as necessary for salvation as is the Father since they are One. Jesus's statement makes perfect sense and must be true if they are indeed One. I think too many read this passage and put it into some type of narrow condemnatory statement like “Unless you’re a Southern Baptist pre-millenial post-tribulation born-again Christian (from my church) then you’re going to hell”. There is a higher truth to it than. All that ecumenical stuff being said, there is an “edge” to this that Jesus was very clear about – those who come to know Christ and outright reject Him will also be rejected by Him in heaven. In the context of unity with the Father however, what that person would be saying is that they reject even God Himself.
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Jeff wrote to Geopoet: So I would ask you, since it appears I am not allowed to use the only tools I have at my disposal (standard norms of human behavior, the inherent “moral compass” C.S. Lewis holds up as powerful evidence of a divine being, __1. What tools are appropriate for use in figuring out whether or not there is a God? _2. If there is in fact a God, what are acceptable ways for us to determine His nature and His wishes?_3. Are we allowed to judge Him using human standards or not?

Geopoet says: Actually, I think that your questions and the tools that CS Lewis points to (human behavior as an indicator) are extremely helpful and, in our opinion, leads us to this Divine being as long as we let God be God. But you asked my personal opinion, and I would suggest a much more interior set of questions since the external world makes a lot more sense if we understand ourselves. Since I was quite young, I found these 4 questions dogging me: 1) Who am I? 2) Why am I here? 3) Where am I going? and 4) How do I get there? I have come to believe that only one person, Jesus, truly knew these answers from the beginning and have also come to believe His answers are the key to my own. Jesus knew exactly who He was – the Son of God. I too am a child of God, loved for no other reason than He made me. To allow one’s self to be loved without condition is the greatest of all experiences, albeit difficult, and this is the key to any true joy or future spiritual growth. As one author put the question to God that held him back – “Why am I afraid to let you love me?” Secondly, Jesus was here to do His Father’s will - He had a mission of love to accomplish (the salvation story). We too have a purpose, and that is to do the Father’s will (which is basically to know Him and to love Him) simply because this is what love requires of us. Point 3: Jesus knew He was on a journey back to the Father, and we too are on a journey to be united with God in this life and the next (we call ourselves the “pilgrim church”). Last point, Jesus knew He had to go through the cross to get there. I too must “suffer” in a great sense by laying down my selfishness and vices out of love for God and His children, picking up my cross every day an following Christ. Now, glossing over these 4 questions is a gross simplification of the spiritual life to be sure, but the point is that rather than trying to find God by first making sense out of the world, we can find God within ourselves, and then the world begins to be seen through His eyes and things become much more clear. For us Christians, the perfect model is Jesus, and as you read His words and life, these four questions (at least for me) come ablaze with personal answers.
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Jeff wrote to jx5: And if love is only possible with God, what about the other emotions – hate, rage, jealousy, anger, pettiness, cruelty, sadism, all the vast array of “evil” thoughts that drive us? Are these also divinely maintained and created? Am I to understand that every single emotion I have is possible only if there is a God ordering each and every one?__If that’s the case, then I am nothing more than a puppet in some macabre and obscene play orchestrated by a being I have no control over, being filled with emotions that are not mine, but which nonetheless drive me and for which I am (according to Christianity) going to be damned.

Geopoet says: You KNOW I love you, so I’m going to ask you to reflect honestly for a moment – it comes across to me that nearly all of your choices on various topics are filled with anger. In the options you’ve considered for nearly every point, rarely is God given even a little bit of credit. I find that very interesting, maybe worth exploring offline. Again, consider another option here: If God is pure love, and real love cannot be forced, wouldn’t the loving thing be to give you the freedom to choose Him or not? Rather than being a puppet, we have been given free will. When we choose to practice the virtues of love, it leads us closer to God. When we make decisions contrary to love, we find ourselves further from Him. All of our emotions are in fact from God; at times they each actually can be quite useful, depending on the situation; what makes them evil is the intent – selflessness or selfishness in most cases. Once again, we see the same evidence and come up with completely different conclusions.
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Jeff wrote to jx5: Humans are hierarchical, social animals, it does not surprise me that most people instinctively look to some sort of alpha figure to tell them what to do. It’s far more indicative to me of a long history of adaptation and evolution than it is the direct influence of a divinity so ham-handed and bumbling He can’t even settle on one single religion to build into us.

Geopoet says: Consider from your own (angry) statement that the evidence could just as easily indicate that God placed this “instinct” in us (to be social and hierarchical beings, prewired to seek our loving God), exactly as one would expect if God exists. But I think you miss the point here – it’s not about telling us “what to do,” it’s about coming into a love relationship with Himself. Finally, the “ham-handing” and “bumbling” is obviously our fault, not his. As far as differing religions, is that a fault, and is it His fault, or ours? Are you asking Him to step into the world and force us into unity of belief, as if we’re robots? That would not be love - that would be totalitarian. These views of God as being both manipulative yet aloof, diabolical yet stupid, just don’t fit the “Abba” that Jesus reveals to us so well. Read the gospels again. If God is guilt of anything, it seems to me He just doesn't seem to give up on us.

Thanks again for sharing. This takes a lot of courage and I admire you for it.

Jeff Hebert said...

Hmmm, after your blistering statement to jx5 that you do not even believe Jesus ever actually existed, I question why you’re even interested in what Jesus (supposedly) said.

Because I think there is wisdom in what Jesus is credited with teaching. I find much to admire in the philosophy shown in Christ’s words, and much that can be applied to me and my life, and the lives of people around the world. Much the same way I have found wisdom in the teachings of Buddha, in the Hindu holy texts, in the nature cults of the Celts, and in the way Mormons raise their families and worship at their churches. In each of those there’s a lot of chaff to be discarded in my opinion, but also kernels of great truth and wisdom, and I would be foolish not to search for those and take from them what I can. Just because I reject many of the conclusions modern Christianity has reached from the same starting point doesn’t mean there’s no value there at all. That would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

All that ecumenical stuff being said, there is an “edge” to this that Jesus was very clear about – those who come to know Christ and outright reject Him will also be rejected by Him in heaven. In the context of unity with the Father however, what that person would be saying is that they reject even God Himself.

I'd like to nail this down before going on, because I think it's crucial. You've written this to me before and I interpreted it one way, but maybe I mistook your meaning.

Do you mean that it is your understanding that if someone has the chance to learn about Christ, and then rejects him, that person will be rejected by Christ in heaven?

In other words, if a Muslim boy grew up knowing only Islam, but then later was evangelized and learned all about Christ but did not come to believe in Christ -- if he rejected Christianity in favor of Islam -- would that person be rejected in Heaven? Or are you saying he would get to heaven and be shown that Jesus and the God he worshiped are actually the same, and so would still be able to get into heaven if he accepted that Jesus was really his god all along? Give me your best guess, I understand and appreciate that ultimately the decision is God's, but as you said there does seem to be a pretty clear edge to Jesus' words here and at some point we’ve kinda gotta place our bets, you know?

… you doubt the existence of Jesus and what was written about Him even though it was written much later, was corroborated by other non-Christian historians who witnessed it (e.g., Eusebius), and to date have yet to find a single recantation by anyone since.

I do not accept it as “absolute historical fact”, but if I were a betting man I’d probably put money down that he really lived and had a life at least somewhat like what is described in the Gospels. But you keep presenting it as a package, that a) if he lived and was a real historical figure then b) everything he is said to have done is absolutely true. First, it is not universally accepted that he was a real historical figure (you can think those doubters are idiots if you like but they exist, and have some solid arguments to consider), but even if he was, (b) does not necessarily follow.

Let’s take a more recent example to show the distinction. No one doubts Joseph Smith really lived, for example, and yet do you accept that he saw magic tablets from an angel in a magic hat that explained how there was a vast civilization here before the Indians, made up of exiled Jews? Historical existence does not mean everything ascribed to someone is true, even in the modern era of newspapers, novelists, and now even TV cameras.

We all know L. Ron Hubbard really lived, but does that imply everything he’s said to have done really happened, that he was right about billions of aliens being nuked in pre-history, that he can heal with his mind? And yet millions of people take Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard absolutely at their word, just as you do Jesus, and believe their benefactors had miraculous powers of prophecy and wonder, and absolutely believe that everything ascribed to them is cold-hard fact.

Geopoet says: You KNOW I love you, so I’m going to ask you to reflect honestly for a moment – it comes across to me that nearly all of your choices on various topics are filled with anger.

Finally we get the “angry atheist”! I’ve been waiting, since I see this from virtually every single Christian apologist sooner or later in every single discussion with an atheist. Why am I “filled with anger” if I point out that there is a negative side to the world?

Let’s review here. So far you have called me or my thinking “angry”, “patronizing”, “lazy and immature”, “erroneous”, and that I am “Stomping [my] feet” like a petulant child. I have honestly tried to be reasonable and respectful, and to approach the topics at hand with logic and reason. I’ve re-read my posts and they don’t seem angry to me. That certainly isn’t the feeling I have when I am writing them, and I find it ironic given the words you’ve used that I am the one who is accused of being angry here. That gave me a good chuckle.

Well, wait, that’s not entirely true – the “stamping your feet” and Scott Peck reference did piss me off when I read them because they came across as really, REALLY patronizing and condescending, automatically assuming that since I don’t agree with you then I clearly either haven’t done any thinking about the subject or am a complete idiot. But I took a deep breath and reminded myself that you’re a very kind and giving person and probably didn’t mean it in the same way I read it. Text is hard that way – you don’t get any nuance, it’s all just raw black and white, so I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.

I’d appreciate the same courtesy from my readers and my family, but to each their own.

Look, I’m not denying that there is goodness and light in the world – clearly there is, and I am the joyful recipient of much of it – but it doesn’t make sense to me to pretend that there aren’t shitty things out there, too. God always gets credit for all the good stuff, and none of the blame for the bad stuff. The Bible clearly says in many places that God is directly responsible for what, were He human, would be considered some of the greatest evils in history. He killed off the ALL LIFE ON THE PLANET except for those on the Ark. All the people, all the animals, all the plants, all the babies, everything. That’s the greatest genocide in history, making the Holocaust look like chump change. He directly ordered His people to slaughter babies, rape women, enslave virgins, commit incest, and all other manner of unspeakable acts. When Pharoah was ready to let the Jews go, God deliberately hardened his heart so he would reject Moses’ plea. And why? Because God wanted more glory to reflect on him:

The key question: Why does God prolong the Egyptians' suffering? Why would God keep hardening Pharaoh's heart so that He can inflict yet another monstrous plague? God tells us why. Listen carefully:

For I have hardened his heart … in order that I may display these My signs among them, and that you may recount in the hearing of your sons and your sons' sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I displayed My signs among them—in order that you may know I am the Lord.

What an appalling reason! He's causing the plagues so that we can tell stories about the plagues. He's torturing the Egyptians so that we will worship Him. What kind of insecure and cruel God murders—murders first-born children—so that His followers will obey Him, and will tell stories about Him?

"Blogging the Bible", Slate.com


So when someone tells me “God is all loving”, I can’t help but be puzzled. It doesn’t make me angry, it makes me think that maybe you and I have a different definition of what “all loving” means.

I feel like people are saying “Except for being a serial killer, Bob’s a great guy – he donates money to charities, helps the poor, feeds the hungry, and cured cancer, you should really go out with him.” Well, yeah, those are all great things, but HE’S A SERIAL KILLER! You can’t just ignore the bad things someone has done, even if that someone is God, especially when the claim is that this someone is all-loving.

People tell other people they love them all the time, but sometimes that’s a lie. Actions matter, how you treat people matters, what you’ve done to show your love matters. I look at what God is said to have done, and I ask myself, “Is that how someone would treat someone they love?” To me, whatever else the Christian god is, He isn’t all loving to all of humanity equally, even given just what’s written in the Bible, much less what I see happening around the world every day. He may have love in Him, he may love in His own way, but He absolutely is not ALL-loving, unless that means something completely different when applied to a god than it does for humans.

Jeff Hebert said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Geopoet said...

Actually, all of my references were in the context of humanity in general, I wasn't specifically targeting you are anyone in particular, so there is absolutely no disresepect or discourtesy intended, you know that about me so I appreciate the benefit of the doubt. But the anger observation was how it seemed to me just reading it, the choices appearing to be all negative when it seemed like there were clearly other more traditional and positive theories on the "God" side (see my last paragraph below) that are equally valid. You're the judge of that however, not me, and I just wanted to be fair to both sides before reaching any logical conclusions.

On the salvation question, my feeling is that it's more of whether a person rejects Christ Himself (versus say Christianity as a system) either in this life or the next after meeting Him. The critical point of rejection is only known between us and God. Maybe an analogy - you know your wife loves you and you meet a girl and lie about being married; you've chosen to reject her and she rightfully can do the same. Love freely given requires a response either way. So I don't waste effort on how a Muslim or Jew will make out - I am being asked whether I can accept the invitation given to me personally, right now and every day. In fact, the more I know and love Him, the more critical perhaps my response becomes.

The view you have of God in the Old Testament who's evil, vindictive, proud, is from looking at history from the outside. How different reality is if we could see things from the interior of God or the people of the time. In other words, as difficult it may be to understand salvation history, some things become much clearer when seen from the eyes of faith. As kids, we got mad at our parents for things they said and did, then later found out it was done out of love and fashioned us into fuller human beings. If we were observing another family from afar, it's even more difficult to understand. We can't know the mind of God fully, but knowing He loves us personally allows us the humility to let His will be done and faith to trust that He sees things as they really are.

Perhaps our entire difference througout this blog series in how differently we see the world is raised in your question/statement:

"Actions matter, how you treat people matters, what you’ve done to show your love matters. I look at what God is said to have done, and I ask myself, “Is that how someone would treat someone they love?”

I look at the cross and have the exact opposite response and conclusion - this shows me in concrete actions the pinnacle proof of a God who loves me - offering Himself to die out of sheer love, open to the entire world equally and without pre-condition, smiting or vice. "No greater love is there than to lay down one' life for a friend." God laid it down and He called me His friend. That's a view of "all loving" that must be considered individually and personally. In fact I think it's crucial to deal with this level of self love in order to try and make sense of how God's love extends throughout space and time.

So perhaps we just agree that we see the world and God's movement (or absence) in it from two opposite points of view. That's just where we are now, and life is a journey, as I've said.

Thanks bro. You may not see it, but your gifts are just dripping from the love God has showered on you, and we're all better for it.

Johnny

Jeff Hebert said...

That makes sense to me, and is the clearest thing I've read so far, thank you. I think I get it, at least a little bit, now.

This has been very instructional and eye-opening, thank you for being so open and honest with your perceptions (you meaning Johnny, Denise, Russell, and Russell's friend as the main posters). I've got a lot more stemming from that initial post that I need to get to at some point as well, but I'm pretty happy with the way this has gone -- everyone was civil, open, and honest, and even though we don't agree I think we've come to at least understand better where the other is coming from.

Love,

Jeff

jx5_austin said...

Jeff asked, "Why would you claim you have to put aside your self-interest to be a believer?"

Short answer! Given my druthers, I’d rather put my interests ahead of anything else. And why not? Natural selection! Survival of the fittest! Get mine before they get me. Eve and I share a common problem. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” – sounds good to me! I’d much rather do what is right in my own eyes. My goodness, “take life easy; eat, drink and be merry”, would be my preferred lifestyle.

However, the Bible is pretty clear that such an attitude a) does not please God and b) is not consistent with what Jesus taught.

No time for more now. Maybe later!

jx5_austin said...

Jeff said, "Yet the world also has disunity and disorder, and design is a purely subjective judgment."

Subjective? Not quite sure what you mean, but I'm pretty sure that you want a surgeon who is well trained in the order and design of the human body to perform operations rather than me. (Trust me!)

"If unity and order are evidence of a Creator, then why is disorder and chaos not evidence that there is no Creator?" - Fair question and one that is clearly addressed in the Biblical consequences of "The Fall"

"Is order possible only with direct divine intervention?" - Order and design are evidence of an intelligent mind as opposed to randomness.



"Have you visited a college freshman dorm room recently? Let’s just say the only order being craved there is for an extra large Domino’s." - an amusing flippant answer, but as I recall all my Sociology books talk about anomie and its effect on man (and animals)

"And again, if order is a sign of divinity, why is there disorder?" - sin? ("Could it be ...Satan?) ;^)

"If God desires order as you claim, then would he not have the same desire to abolish chaos you claim for us? And yet, chaos exists." - Yes it does! And evil exists. Biblically, I can tell you why it exists (the fall, sin, separation from God, etc.) What I cannot tell you (or myself) is why God allows it to continue after all this time. I 'spect there will be a long line of folks wanting that question answered - on the other side.

More later! The lunch bell just rang!

Denise said...

jx5 in Austin had an interesting question -- "Why does God allow it to happen?" As a believer in free will, I'd venture to say God has to let life, with its triumphs and tragedies, to happen or else free will is not really free choice at all -- life would be already predestined, written in stone and not to be altered, and I don't think life would be that planned out. On the other hand, I see works against God all the time, so how can life be pre-destined? Also, if God is omnipotent, then doesn't he know that we'll fall, rise, be sinful or prayerful? But then doesn't that go against free will and choice? These questions go around and around, and I'm glad we're all looking at the whole question. I'm not a scholar by any means, and I actually had to use the online dictionary to look up a good portion of the words and terms used in some of the posts! I do know that this discussion, while sometimes venturing on the verge of an argument and polarization, have raised great and wonderful points -- some I agree with, some I disagree with -- and all worth looking into with an open mind. As a philosopher once said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," and that's what's been happening here for the past few days. I've learned a lot from the postings, mostly that we can all look at the same event and/or idea and come away with different thoughts and conclusions. Faith without questioning isn't growing and evolving, and I hope to do that on a regular basis, although I'll probably be on the sidelines, just reading. Jeff, going out here and stating what you believe is difficult, especially for something as volatile as religion, and I commend you for that. And to all the posters, I am blown away by your knowledge, your genuine sincerity and your willingness to put your personal faith out there for others to examine. That takes courage. Thank you.

Adam Hebert said...

uncle jeff once told me at a family get together that catholicism is like judaism: you're never not catholic if you're born catholic. there's nothing that you can really do about it, so why try? we were joking, but i think it's kinda true. i've learned 1st hand that whatever else you believe, you're still, for better or for worse, catholic.

so enjoy catholathiesm, because that may be as good as it gets :)

ooh wait: athieolic...caitholic....i'm sure i can think of more...

The Cow Whisperer said...

Wow...it seems like the conversation has wound down by the time I had a chance to sit still long enough to read it.

Of course, I cannot remain silent (I only whisper to cows....)

I think this is a great exercise and Jeff, I really appreciate you for not being the same as the folks I used to see on west campus belittling Christians. Often Christians get a bad name as being provocative, condescending, etc. But I can tell you as one not afraid to wear my faith on my sleeve...I have been on the receiving end of the "you're stupid" attitude quite a bit too.

You mentioned that being a Christian is the best place to be in America (paraphrasing you). I beg to differ. I would re-phrase that to say that being somewhat spiritual, but unwilling to take a stand for fear of offending someone is the "best" place to be in America. America does not want to be challenged on moral issues. With experience ranging from persecution from my own parents (who believe that anything beyond going to Heaven because you are a "good person" is "Holier than thou" attitude) to watching a good friend get fired from Dell for sending an email asking that corporate America stop forcing homosexuality down our throats as "diversity." Being a Christian in the Biblical sense opens us up to monumental amounts of persecution. I admire you for disagreeing with me and yet treating me with more civility than my own mother and step-father, who buy into some form of religious ambiguity.

Of course, I could get on ya about calling my God "ham-handed," but you know...you're a great guy...so stuff like that just needs to be water off a duck's back. I suppose if God wanted to smote you with lightning for that He could, but then He'd have to strike lots of folks....(read: light-hearted tone in this paragraph.)

On to the meat of my thoughts….

I think one aspect of God that has really been missing from this conversation is "Holiness." I think the word "Holy" is not really something that we can fully comprehend as humans. I do know this: It doesn't mesh with sin. On Mt. Sinai, God told Moses that He could not see His face or he would die. Why? Because sin and death are inextricably linked.

You ask questions that are troubling to Christians and non-Christians: Why was Saul commanded to wipe out an entire race? Why did God rain down the flood on all of creation? All this would seem like so much butchery were it not for the fact that holiness does not tolerate sin.

It is a difficult thing to comprehend holiness. The situations that I can think of where God killed entire populations (i.e. the flood, Sodom & Gomorrah, 1st Samuel, and so on...) all included a human rebellion. These were not people that were reading scripture and seeking God. These were people who put the desires of their own flesh ahead of everything. Yes, there were babies. But the Bible says that the sins of the father are visited upon the son. In other words, my actions will affect the generations after me. God is not to blame for the death of those babies. The actions of their people (and the associated rebellion against God) are what's responsible. Thusly, I have a tremendous part to play and responsibility as to relates to my own lineage.

Our culture puts God in a box when we say "All loving God" and other rosey-cheeked images of him. This is not to say He is not loving.

I have a son. If I shower my son with blessings and expect nothing from him, he becomes spoiled. Is this all-loving? Have I prepared him for life? No. I have prepared him to believe that he can do whatever he wants and the world will cater to him.

The aforementioned is the same mentality that expects God to turn the other cheek and "just love us." I do not spare my son the rod BECAUSE I love him. In so doing, I (hopefully) am creating a future man that will contribute to society rather than just take from it. True love requires accountability. I love my son more than I love my own life. I would die for him this instant.

If my son rebels against me repeatedly, should I kill him? Of course not. I am not Holy. Rebelling against me means something entirely different than thumbing his nose at God.

So...should God kill him if he rebels against Him? Well, if this were Old Testament times, then perhaps He would. But we are under a new covenant in Christ. Redemption from sin has always required the shedding of blood. (Remember, sin brings with it death.) Christ's blood was sufficient in its divinity to bring Grace to us – to make us Holy.

Suppose it's 1944 and the Allied Army is advancing across occupied France. My son is in the rank and file of the army. Suppose he is caught in the woods giving secrets as to the army's weapons, position, etc. to the Nazis. He is guilty of treason, for which the penalty is death. He has CHOSEN death by choosing treason. We all chose death the first time we sinned. Christ offers us a reprieve, but it must be satisfied with His blood. Otherwise, we remain with our choice. Heaven or Hell is OUR choice.


But what about my son's rebellion? Well, at this point, I'd say to revisit geopoet's comments about rejecting Christ. If we reject Christ, then we reject eternity with Him.

As a Christian, it is not my place to point to anyone and condemn them to hell. Hell may have flames and torture and that, but the ultimate torture is that of being eternally separated from God. In other words, I don't condemn people. People's choices condemn them or save them. Like your brother said...Christ asks "Who do you say that I am?" My answer: The only truly Holy human. The only one whose blood could save me from the (eternal) death my sin would ultimately lead me to. In order to dwell in a Holy place (Heaven), I must have ALL the stain of sin washed clean by Holy blood. Otherwise, I have no place there. I'm a good guy, but I'm not that good. Nor was Ghandi, the Pope, Mother Theresa, or even Vince Young. (Darrell Royal...hmmm....well....okay, even him. He was close, but he DID play his college ball at OU.... :) )

I guess I just couldn't let this end without bringing up "Holiness." Like the line from Princess Bride "I do not think that means what you think it means..." I think we get caught up in a loving God idea and we miss all that "Holy" really is.

Geopoet said...

Thanks Cow Whisperer. I've been thinking a lot about the major points Jeff brings up regarding this entire discussion and I thought I'd keep the discussion going if anybody is interested. Jeff, I'm not sure if I'm capturing it, but my perception of the bigger points seems to be the following:

1. To what extent must we step outside of the culture and time we're born in to be objective in our understanding of God, if He does exist?
2. How do we reconcile the God of the Old Testament versus the Abba Jesus shows us so clearly? If we cannot, does that mean it's fiction?
3. How do you decide what's truth and what's not when faced with "prophets" who all say they've had revelation from God? If there is no way to decide, again, is it all fiction?
4. Which came first, God or mankind evolved socially to invent one?

Here's my two cents, and I'd be curious to know what others think. These thoughts are very general and refer to humanity in general, but also myself, as I've thought about this in various ways over the years:


Issue No. 1: I've found that no matter what area of knowledge people work within, the academic exercise is to step outside and beyond the science/event/experience and look at it super critically. This is certainly necessary from a scientific standpoint. However, the result often is that the questioner takes on almost an "ownership" of the topic, from a position of extreme objectivity that can border on superiority. In other words, by "owning" the topic from beyond, the human nonphysical factor is eliminated and all things become relative to a benchmark of one's own making that is only as good as the science or theology of the viewer. When everything is objectivized, no standards apply. An example is love; by understanding the role of biochemical reactions, we can know exactly why we love our wife and we actually can become aloof, denying (or missing) the supernatural or metaphysical aspects and, in extreme case, missing out on the fruits and higher levels that selfless love can bring. One has to ask, which of these two positions of observation are closer to reality? What if we are the critical object of the "experiment" and by taking ourselves out of the lens we lose any ability to reach the definitive conclusion?

Similarly, we are born with experiences that very well may be God operating in our life. If we feel that we must disengage from these experiences to be completely objective, perhaps we've stepped outside of the experiment so much so that our objectivity cannot even see the realities. We cannot see what we look like because we do not trust the mirror.

Issue No. 2. As Cow Whisperer pointed out, love without standards (holiness, the fullness of God) and justice (love that requires a response one way or the other) loses its meaning. The Old Testament quite often shows entire cities or peoples being destroyed. Is God being evil, or are those peoples and their children being judged for rejecting God? Is that fair to the children or those born in a particular culture? Or is there an "evolution" of thought in play here - God basically teaching us how interconnected (and mutually responsible for one another) we are as Cow Whisperer suggests and dispensing justice in a way the ancients could understand at that point in salvation history? The possibility that God is evil is anathema to Judeo-Christians however. We Christians are taught that the definition of "hell" was different in OT Judaic vernacular, more of a netherworld, and that Christ descended and opened the gates, freeing those to enter His heavenly home when He rose. In the light of how the understanding of salvation and justice "evolved" for God's people as they could best comprehend and live it, perhaps this OT God is then not so different after all from "Abba", Father.

Issue 3: Stepping way out on the spectrum of objectivity would indicate all these "prophets" are equally valid. They all existed and have believers of some sort, aren't they then equally to be considered valid? This would subscribe to the relativity of morality (that there is no absolute truths). Truth thus loses any meaning in this case. Major religions reject this hypothesis however, and say that truth and morality have absolutes - goodness and evil are measured against God's nature. Not everything or everyone has or speaks the truth of God, regardless of the claim. Thus, the revelation given to us from Jesus and His disciples may be considered complete while the prophetic books written by Joseph Smith and Mohammed may very well be fabrication or imaginative deception. On the other hand, the sayings of Confucious may contain truths that are in harmony with Christianity. In other words, there is no shame or intolerance in stating that there are certain realities that are more "true" than others when it comes to who God is, and who He is not. Even we Christians argue all the time about Jesus and His nature, what was fully revealed and what was not part of revelation, but this is because we desire so much to know the truth (and nothing but the truth) when it comes to knowing and understanding Him.

Issue No. 4. The chicken or the egg theory? We cannot go back to prove even the earliest solitary humans had a concept of God (notwithstanding Genesis); however, there are so few exceptions of ancient up to current cultures believing in God(s) that it seems even a scientific method would be biased to conclude it's a social invention (of course, such a "scientific" hypothesis is nonobservable, would cause ridicule among their peers and thus could never happen). If it's evolution-based, then this proves nothing because certainly God could have "evolved" us to that point of recognizing him if that is what He desired. Added to this body of continuous and widespread belief are the lives of literally billions of human beings that attest to a supernatural experience and documented stories of intervention and "miracles" (Exodus, Christ, healings, etc.). In other words, science cannot prove God exists either way as Jeff says, but the evidence of experience and universality is so heavily laden that even objective considerations would, at least to me, acknowledge something is going on that is beyond statistical sociologica and anthropological theory.

Your thoughts?