Opinions on faith and life

Cross-examination

2011-01-07

That’s a title loaded with meaning for Christians of course. But today I’m using it to refer to arguments against theism and especially the Christian faith. We all have a tendency to take the first or first few rounds of a debate as all there is to discuss, and then form conclusions based upon what may be incomplete information. But if we follow the wisdom of Prov. 18:17, we know we must keep going back and forth until no new arguments can be made. That’s the ideal of course, but I think we frequently quit too soon.

Below is a direct quote from a message board, name withheld to protect privacy. My response follows and presumes I have accurately understood the poster’s arguments. Even if I have not, I think it might be a good reference should the points I argue against come up in the future. Also to clarify, the quoted comment was not directed at me personally, so when the commenter refers to past arguments made s/he is not referring to anything I had said.

I still think that assigning emotions to a God is very...Greek. Zeus had his way with my wife last night should not be a basis for a modern belief in a Creator. Yet, God with His personality can and will have His way with your wife if that is what it takes to get “through to you”, right? From your own words, He will even invade your Free Will and start throwing out things like Pride, Self-Determination, and Drive. (Which always made me wonder how pro athletes can have any type of relationship with this God?).

Faith, Hope, and Love are the things that pushed me out of religion. I can’t have a God that REACTS to the place and person I live in! How is Neptune sending the Kraken to destroy Jopa any different than God rooting around in your life like Job? It’s not. The same flesh that created Zeus also created Jesus. Because neither of the two is benign. They CAN be good to you...or, they CRUSH your life to make a point that they are GOD!

Love is from Awareness. A dog owner will swear to you that the basic building blocks of love are even there in the animal kingdom. Just look at their dog.

Another point you make and is often made is that there is basically no point to life if there is no God. Nothing matters and lets all rape and kill each other. Ok, let’s be real here, your not gonna do that and just look at the vast number of people who DO believe in a God...that rape and kill. For God sakes that is a terrible argument. All the things that matter in your life now will remain of paramount priority the next second after you realize the incarnation of the Person God is utter bullshit. Your kids will still matter, actually, now that the concern for the afterlife is over you start to really panic about making your time on earth count. That’s a drawback I’ll be honest. As I write this I’m wasting 10 hours of my life at an office. Such is life.

I am puzzled about how much stress a “loving” God puts on you though. I know...He doesn’t. But, it will occur to you someday that it does. You’d be amazed at how much strain it places you under being attached to Him like a child. I see it in my eldest son’s eyes as he vexes himself over impressing me. I know that it will never be entirely possible for him to let that go, no matter what I say or do. God should be better than that, but He ain’t. It’s in that relationship that I learn that I’m projecting my life into the Art of God. Art imitates Life; God imitates Life. Like Art, that is why He seems so real. Look at it...my God that looks just like a flower..it looks real. Religion is a another form of Art that imitates Life; it does not birth Life.

Free Will/Awareness...we are actually very young as a species in dealing with them. I’d give anything for an alien species much older than us to show us how they dealt with Awareness, but then they’d just kill and eat us. Such is Life.

Now I’ll list the points I see in this quote and respond.

1. God is without self-restraint or a character that restricts His actions

Unlike the Greek pantheon-- the lenses through which you seem to view all religions-- the God of the Bible is described as being the very definition and standard of love, justice, compassion and mercy. But many don’t realize that being just or holy necessarily involves opposition to that which is not just or holy, hence the wrath of God and hatred of all that is “wrong”. Some might say that God has no right to be or set the standards, but then who does? Are we to dispense with all notions of right and wrong or justice, simply because anyone who does so is allegedly arrogant? And if not even God can set the standards, then we have put ourselves above Him as His judges, and thereby shown the greatest arrogance of all. Can it be anything but arrogant to say that our Creator cannot make rules for us?

You mentioned that we should observe the behavior of dogs; that works for this issue very well. Do humans own, train, and restrict dogs? That is evil by your definitions and judgment of God. Yet we know that any pets we have benefit by our restrictions and rules, because we know more of the dangers of the wild than they do. Can it be so hard to admit that maybe God knows of spiritual dangers we cannot see, and by listening to Him we are safe from them? Here again we face the issue of whether we have the right to judge God.

As for faith, hope, and love, you’re actually arguing that people shouldn’t love either, because it’s only action/reaction on the order of amoeba. But who are you to decree that God must not interact with His creation? And if you’d read Job to the end, you’d see that when a puny human shakes his puny fist at his Creator, that Creator laughs at such an incredible display of ego and self-delusion. Yet you call this a matter of God “rooting around” in our lives, as if He is a rodent or mosquito. Should your dog order you to stop “rooting around” in his life by decreeing what he shall eat and drink and when he shall relieve himself? Talk about a control-freaky god!

As for your dog’s love of you, understand that dogs are pack animals who are loyal to their pack (whether dogs or people) and bow to the authority of the alpha or leader. In the wild they know nothing of the level of love humans experience, because their brains simply cannot grasp such a level of abstraction. Sure, some of them can be impressive in their ability to learn our commands and we become very attached to them even for such a little thing as being cute. But when dogs show by nature a devotion we seldom exhibit ourselves, do you actually believe they are conscious of what they’re doing, and that they could choose not to love us when we are hypocritical toward them? Apples and oranges.

2. God invades a person’s free will

Some Christians believe that; I do not. They distort the sovereignty and power of God so much that it is divorced from His character, to the point where He actually more resembles Satan by forcing people to be sinners and then punishing them for sinning. I view this belief, commonly known as Calvinism, with the deepest contempt.

You mention Pride, but pride in and of itself is not what God hates, but only pride in self. God gives us life and gave up His own life for ours, so what can we brag about? It’s that kind of pride, the kind that says “who is God to rule over me?”, that God hates. You wouldn’t keep a dog that continually snarled and snapped at you, and if it also attacked others you might even have it euthanized so it would no longer pose a danger. In the same way, per the scriptures I’ll list under point 4, God does not kill people out of some twisted sadistic pleasure, but to limit the amount of damage such people can do to others. And that’s only when He directly intervenes. The general mortality and hardships of life are due to the sin of the first human who was made from the earth. And God, in His allowance of our free will, did not keep it from happening, for a love and obedience that is forced is fake and artificial. I have other posts in my blog that go deeper into that issue.

You also cite self-determination and drive as things God allegedly hates, but on what basis do you make this charge? Does the Bible not hold up as role models those people who stood strong, showed boldness and conviction, and stepped out in faith when others were afraid to budge? Does the NT not tell us to strive, contend, and race to win? This charge is completely false; it is a straw man. It shows that you lack understanding of the faith you are criticizing.

3. Judging God by His followers

As you’ve observed, you can’t judge any god or philosophy by its followers, because there are people in every such group who do things against their own group’s teachings. So I agree that using the behavior of the followers of any given religion as an argument is not wise. What we **can** do is judge them by their own standards, but the problem there is in making sure we know what those standards are. A frequent counter-charge is that the outsider does not understand the teachings, and that is a much stronger argument. As a lifelong student of the Bible, I can vouch for the fact that even many Christians don’t grasp what it says, largely because of poor logic or an inadequate grasp of ancient grammar, customs, and figures of speech. Many believe that the criteria I just listed are wrong in themselves and not to be used. So people being fallible as they are, and sentient beings with wills of their own, it should come as no surprise that there are differences in how people practice their religions or philosophies.

For the record, the NT teaches Christians to “die to sin”; the apostle Paul forcefully refuted the argument that we have “a license to sin”. If we love God and claim to be reconciled to Him, how can we then ignore Him or continually irritate Him? Would we treat any human being that way if we claim to be reconciled to them? So the “license to sin” argument is another straw man. Christians are told in no uncertain terms to live cleaner, holier, morally superior lives compared to the rationalistic self-indulgence of the world. And as for how we live generally, nobody has more purpose and motivation than the Christian, for we are charged with not only good stewardship of all God has given us, but also with telling others the Good News that instead of having to work or earn a place in heaven, we simply must trust God by accepting the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as the means of our reconciliation. Because of those things we are to live each day in an effort to please our Savior.

4. The alleged “stress” of pleasing God

I think you may be equating “pleasing” with “appeasing”. The gods of most religions are to be appeased only; that is, the people view their gods much like Zeus with his handful of lightening bolts waiting for an excuse to throw them, eagerly watching like a vulture to see if anyone slips up (many Christians mistakenly view the God of the Bible this way). So the people walk on eggshells, fearing and hoping that whatever trinket they presented will stave off the punishment and buy them some time. But the God of the Bible is not Zeus; He does not enjoy punishing people and “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 18:23, 32, 33:11), and waits for people because “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Pleasing God is a completely different matter. Those of us who have freely chosen to return God’s love feel no stress in pleasing Him, but enjoy doing so. If you’re married, do you feel stress in making your spouse happy? Only if the relationship isn’t what it should be, which makes it not pleasing but appeasing. But if the relationship is close and healthy, each spouse pleasing the other is not only without stress but very enjoyable. It is the same with children; they only feel stress if they are not pleasing their parents but only appeasing them. As one enjoying a lifelong close relationship with God, I can tell you I feel no stress but only joy in pleasing Him.

5. The alleged collective consciousness of our “species”

... meaning we as humans possess a single shared memory, such that our experience with free will/awareness can be called “young”.

I have watched nature shows on Discovery Channel that made me laugh out loud because of the ridiculous notion that animals can know whether other animals have “been around” for a short or long time, evolutionarily speaking. An animal has no collective memory; it has no clue whether another animal is its historical adversary or a recent one. It only knows instinct and possibly the training it received from its parents, and whatever personal experiences it has already had.

Likewise, people only know the past by what they’re told from others. If a group of people has a long history of rejecting the idea of free will, then they will think anyone who believes in it is a crackpot; the reverse is true for a group holding to free will. This is the only sense in which being “young” as a group (not a species) can influence how people deal with ideas like free will and whatever “awareness” means (I presume sentience or self-awareness). I see no evidence for any single, collective, species-wide consciousness that determines our ability to deal with these issues.

Closing Thoughts

People are easily persuaded, and non-theists are no less vulnerable to that fault than theists. It can take a lot of effort to dig up all the pertinent arguments on an issue, or as I like to put in the signature of my message board posts, “Those who know all the answers haven’t heard all the questions”. One of the things I appreciate about the internet is how it exposes us to a wider variety of opinions than has ever been possible before. But as the movie line goes, “With great power comes great responsibility”, and so it is with the vast amount of information available to us today. “Choose wisely”, as another movie line says, and that is done by thinking through the ideas you hear. And on the matter of our eternal souls, this practice takes on great importance.

4 Comments

Deb Hurn

Very helpful, Paula, thanks. Readable too :-) Protests like these are sometimes the result of church abuse, projected onto a caricature of God, in order to protect one from ’having’ to enter another church situation where abuse might recur. But it is a lonely, sad, angry ’place’ to stay. It helps to be coaxed out of it with reason, as you are patiently and calmly doing here.

SaberTruth

I hope it helps someone, Deb. Thanks!

SaberTruth

I received a reply in the message board:

Not exactly. In the case of a monotheistic God who is the creator of everything I don’t believe It would be a benefactor in the sense that any Abrahamic religion has set up. So in order to be the God of Love, It would also need to be the God of Hate. There are not two rivers of creation, one of Love from Him and then another that brings Hate. That would then setup a Neutral God. It’s a Creator only, not personal. The creation matters, not your life or happiness. An emotional God or one with a nature has already been done a millions times from Thor to Neptune. All emotional gods are driven by their natures. See, the Abrahamic religions don’t deviant from that formula. They just nip it all up into One God opposed to many. In the OT God is still seen as distant and he interacts with only a few at a time that then afflicts millions of others who have been either faithful or unfaithful. It’s Zeus releasing the Kraken all over again with a few principal players like Perseus. The more things change in global religious movements, the more they stay the same. So there are two possible truths for me left. Either this is accidental or there is a neutral creator who I’m never going to "meet" like I’m never going to meet a rain drop. Either one drops my view from the heavens back down to the earth. I got a little time here, I’m going to make the best of it. All in all i was dealt a cosmic accident of a good hand. It would be an insult to everyone who wasn’t to waste it. I will just say... that no where in your comments was I moved to love God, again. I find your thoughts and methods out-of-touch. And I’m afraid that the notion that the internet will help your cause is again, out-of-touch. Your dead ideology of God and religion is quickly being weeded out by the internet and new media far faster than you realize. The information age is the death knell of religion. There just does not exist the choke hold that the pulpit and it’s pack had over people. There are still pockets, but the younger generations are being "exposed" to common sense and reason every day through social media and other sites. It’s inevitable. If you believe in a Devil then it’s name is the Internet. Nothing in the world will do more damage to the Christian bible than this thing. Best thing that ever happen to the human race to date, IMO.
My response:
You seem to see things in a very black/white way, i.e. if God is this he must also be that. But just as darkness is not a thing in itself but merely the absence of light, Hate is the absence of Love. For God to be both would be an absurdity. You also boldy assert that "all emotional gods are driven by their natures", but give no reasons for anyone else to accept your assertion. In other words, "Says who?" You can’t just declare it so. And your characature of the OT God is quite skewed and simplistic; I’m not sure how anyone can read the OT with an acceptable degree of reading comprehension and come to the conclusions you do. Again, with your "two conclusions", everything is black/white, yin/yang, a two-dimensional universe. You think like the classic "flatlander" in that universe, having no means of describing anything coming from a third dimension. Please try and consider that you’ve arbitrarily stuffed the supernatural into a tiny, sealed box, and thus severely limted the number and scope of concepts you might be able to grasp. I’m sorry I was unconvincing, but I honestly believe it’s because of your "flatlander" worldview. But again, the straw man you’re burning ("churchianity") is the only thing the internet is destroying. You keep chasing that particular brand of windmill and think it is Christ who is being slayed, but in reality many more people are coming to faith in Him through the internet. Those who see a much wider world than the flatlands know this to be true. Jesus said "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free", and that’s exactly what’s happening. Consider this fact at the very least: I’d never have had this conversation with you without it, and my faith is all the stronger. But not through the kind of denial you exhibit, but through the fact that your counter-arguments are all emotion and not even basic philosophy. Inevitable? What’s inevitable is that those who refuse to acknowledge that God is God will get exactly what they demand: an eternity without Him.

Deb Hurn

"I will just say... that no where in your comments was I moved to love God, again." I would be genuinely interested to know what kind of comments would move you to love God. Everyone has a different ’handle’ to pick them up by (all other handles pull out)... and sometimes one approach works when another one doesn’t. I also have/had a lot of struggles as to what I still believe after a faith crisis, and some arguments leave me quite unmoved, while others take hold a little better.