Archive for the ‘christian’ tag
This post stems from a conversation over at Bunch about biblical contradictions, particularly related to the creation story and man’s fall from grace in Genesis.
For simplicity’s sake, I am mostly going to be speaking here of the Judeo-Christian conception of God, known as Yahweh in the Old Testament and God the Father in the New Testament, but a good portion of this will apply to the God of Islam or any other deity that man has created with certain transcendent, otherworldy characteristics, such as omniscience.
The following is the first definition of “god” from the Merriam Webster:
capitalized: the supreme or ultimate reality: as
the Being perfect in power, wisdom, and goodness who is worshipped as creator and ruler of the universe.
I would wager that because of our general acceptance of religion in society, “goodness” continues to be part of our working definition of what we mean when we say God. But does this necessarily have to be the case? The ancient Greeks completely understood that although humans might label a being as a god does not mean that this being is actually good just because he commands powers that might appear mystical to us. Indeed, the Greek gods were in some cases capricious, childish and downright vile in some of their dealings with humans and each other. Take the rape of Europa, for instance (see illustration).
Yahweh, likewise, is certainly capricious, jealous — by his own admission — and overbearing, and thus, not much different than his Greek counterparts in being wholly a human creation.
In any case, let’s briefly take the Bible’s word for it and assume for argument’s sake that the Judeo-Christian god is basically good. The Bible directly tells us in many places that God is good, not the least of which are Psalm 100:5, “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” and Psalm 107:1, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His loving kindness is everlasting” and Matthew 19:17, “And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? (there is) none good but one, (that is), God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”
But it seems these passages belie God’s actual actions if we look at the Jewish and Christian narratives in totality, which in turn, make the strong case, once again, that the Bible is wrought with inconsistencies. First, let’s take the Jewish tradition from the Old Testament. Since there doesn’t seem to be a coherent consensus in Judaism about the afterlife, and particularly, heaven and hell, we can just look at the behavior of Yahweh toward his “chosen” people. Although the argument that God is good may be up for debate, as I argue here, the notion that he is omniscient and all-powerful are not, otherwise, we must change what we mean when we utter this three-letter construction.
If God is omniscient, he would have known there in the black chaos before speaking anything into existence that man would be seduced by the serpent and ultimately fall from grace. He would also know, in his omniscience, the precise time and place that Satan would tempt Eve to eat the fruit. He knew there in the black chaos that man would be exiled from the Garden as a result of the fall (and his seeming lack of concern that Satan infiltrated Eden) and would be relegated to a life of toil and birth pains. He knew there in the black chaos that man would soon after the fall become wicked in his sight. He knew he would have to flood the entire earth, kill untold numbers and preserve only one pious man and his family. He knew there in the black chaos that his “chosen” people, Israel, would betray him time and time again by falling into idol worship. He knew his beloved Israel would become slaves in Egypt. He knew of the wandering, the despair and the bloodlust on display against rival tribes in his name. He knew there in the black chaos that someone claiming proprietary knowledge would advocate the burning of random women believed to be witches and of stoning gay people. He knew of the impending Inquisitions; he knew there in the black chaos that Hitler, wanting to purge the world of his own “chosen” people, would maim, starve and slaughter 6 million Jews.
Moving beyond the Old Testament into Christianity, God knew that he would one day send his son for the atonement of man. He knew of the intense suffering that Jesus would endure. He knew of the intense suffering and persecution that early Christians would endure. He knew that one day, he would have to watch as millions, exercising their “god-given” reasoning capabilities, would not be able to believe in the historicity of Jesus or accept his gift of salvation and thus be cast down to perdition to burn forever and ever.
Regardless of whether any of this is true in reality and if we take these stories at face value, God saw the misery, the suffering, the despair, the waste of life and loss that would ensue once he spoke creation into being. He saw it all in the beginning. His mind’s eye envisioned this vale of woe in the chaos, and with a poker player’s blank stare, he went about the business of creation anyway. This alone, notwithstanding any arguments we might make about unnecessary suffering and an all-loving deity, renders God evil at best and sadistic at worst.
Some folks within the nonbelieving community have suggested that the History Channel’s series, “The Bible,” may produce an adverse effect than what its creators may have anticipated, as “casual” believers or fence-sitters see depictions of the mass murders and other atrocities that Yahweh in the Old Testament either caused directly or ordered through his followers. It just occurred to me that today we call the deaths of thousands of people, like on Sept. 11, 2001, a tragedy. Yet, God orders the mass slaughter of nonbelievers in the OT, and no one raises an eyebrow. Some of the people murdered on Sept. 11 were believers; some were not. Their deaths were, by all accounts that I have heard the last 10 years, tragic. Yet, a deity can order the slaughter of thousands of nonbelievers and somehow that’s OK. Today, we would call that terrorism. I’m amazed at religion’s power to desensitize so-called “morally upright believers” to violence, rape, incest and genocide.
But in any case, a question over at Bunch has been raised whether “The Bible” will turn off believers because of the many deaths the series depicts that are directly attributable to Yahweh. Matt O. wrote:
I suspect, and I might be wrong, that History’s The Bible mini-series might be one of the best things for atheism to happen in a long time. As the Bible is actively read by some 16% of Christians this is giving millions an opportunity to see parts of the cannon that are morally objectionable attributed to their god.
And he then listed numerous scenes in “The Bible” in which Yahweh wipes out mass amounts of people from Earth in the OT, to which I replied:
It may turn off some “casual” believers, but it won’t make much difference to the “church every Sunday” crowd. They know full well what Yahweh did and commanded that his followers do in the OT, and they believe anyway because any amount of wickedness or depravity can be justified in their eyes since we supposedly live in a fallen world and God’s law is supreme no matter how morally bankrupt it appears to us.
How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn’t seem to do the loving thing? If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?
The capitalization on the personal pronoun “he” is telling enough, but these questions must have sprung into the minds of Christians across the nation after the shooting in Connecticut. At least, I hope they did.
Here is O’Neil:
One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence. When my younger brother, Brian, died suddenly at 44 years old, I was asking “Why?” and I experienced family and friends as unconditional love in the flesh. They couldn’t explain why he died. Even if they could, it wouldn’t have brought him back. Yet the many ways that people reached out to me let me know that I was not alone. They really were the presence of God to me. They held me up to preach at Brian’s funeral. They consoled me as I tried to comfort others. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.
So, let me get this straight. God is experienced in family and community. Yet God isn’t actually experienced as God himself in reality? God is somehow made real through family and friends? I don’t get that. Family and friends, according to Christian dogma, are subject to original sin, and even Christians can sin — a well-documented point — so I doubt that, theologically, family and friends can take the place of Yahweh himself. But O’Neil admits it. He admits that family and friends were the “presence of God” to him and believers, so my question is: Is he also admitting, implicitly, that God isn’t actually real and that he’s really only a type of positive energy associated with fellowship?
O’Neil then concedes this point:
We are human and mortal. We will suffer and die. But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.
So, people’s relations with one another determines whether God actually bestows his “comfort” on people who are dying? What strange theology is this?
The ending is the best part:
I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.
So this “presence” performs all these indispensable tasks, yet when the water hits the wheel, we still need family and friend to carry us through the hard times. Funny how that works.
Warren seems to be attempting to make a resurgence by taking advantage of the 10-year anniversary of the work’s publication, which outlines the five “purposes” that people, specifically Christians, have in life. He is releasing a new edition of the book with a couple new chapters and well as some accompanying links to extra audio and video content, no doubt hoping to add more millions of dollars to the surge of book sales (and related instructional material) that he got from the first publication.
I was still a believer when “The Purpose Drive Life” first came out, and I can still rattle off the five main “purposes” off the top of my head: worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism and ministry. Indeed, my particular church had purchased long-wise banners that were hung around the sanctuary walls, almost like — cough — a graven images.
In any case, at the time, I was really struck by this purposefully vague and simple first sentence of the book and continue to be, if only for a different reason and in a different context:
It’s not about you.
Now, obviously from a Christian perspective, the sentence takes on a spiritual nature, reminding believers that they should not adopt the faith exclusively for their own gain but that they should approach Christianity looking outward to find ways to reach out to their community by way of discipleship, evangelism, ministry, etc. But from a secular perspective, the idea behind this opening can’t completely be scrapped. While I realize putting a secular spin on it would lift it completely out of the context I just mentioned, perhaps we can rework the sentence to read something like:
“Live selflessly” or perhaps “Leave the world a better place than you found it.”
This is, in my view, the more noble cause than the one purported by Warren because living with other’s people’s interests at heart does not need to be muddied by the auxiliary goals of trying to coerce people to believe in the Christian god or wasting time in worship and squandering resources that could be used to feed hungry mouths. The marriage of secular goals like helping the poor, feeding the sick and bolstering communities with spiritual ones is really an unholy union of counter-playing ideals because there’s no secret which goals take absolute precedent from the Christian worldview: if people are bound for hell, what difference does it make whether they have their carnal needs met?
I realize there are plenty of faith-based organizations feeding hungry people regardless of their “spiritual condition,” but reaching people for Christ is the mandated purpose of Christians based on the Great Commission. If their primary goal is anything else, they are simply not living up to the commands in the New Testament. Thus, while Warren’s PEACE Plan (Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, care for the sick, Educate the next generation) and others like it may have some laudable goals, the work that will make concrete differences in people’s lives must necessarily take a back seat, and that is the danger of any Christian-based ministry, no matter how benevolent it may seem.
Clearly, this makes a lot of assumptions, and Rosa outlines a lot of them in the post. First, it assumes that God and Satan are actually real.
Second, it assumes that Satan is able to act as his own agent and that he has freewill. According to Christian teaching, he presumably does have freewill since he disobeyed God and revolted against him. Third, it assumes that God is either unwilling or unable to squash his great nemesis. Finally, the question assumes that Satan is an able creator in his own right. For instance, he can create false gods to lure humans away from Yahweh, he can create false impressions in people’s minds and he can create feelings of hate and contempt in the hearts of potential believers in an attempt to draw them away from the fold.
OK, with those assumptions on the table, since Satan has all this power, why doesn’t he create a place that rivals heaven as a great postmortem destination? Why doesn’t Satan create a hell that can compete in the afterlife free market of ideas. It could be the Key West of the afterlife; heaven without all the groveling and singing. Instead of all the weeping and woe and fire and brimstone that has given hell a bad rap for hundreds of years, Satan could create a hell that’s actually better than heaven, with waterfalls, mermaids, no illness or loss of life, sex without the threat of pregnancy or AIDS, endless buffets, wine and beer on tap 24-7 and perfect weather.
That would make one hell of a spiritual travel brochure.
I thought the following cartoon went well with the Bertrand Russell quote in the banner of the website.
That’s about right.
This essay is lengthy but well worth a read about how the Southern Baptist Convention is in the process of rebranding itself to be more “marketable” here in the year 2012, you know, roughly 1,979 years after Christ supposedly said that “this generation” will not pass for the kingdom of God will come (also Matthew 16:28). It opens:
The Southern Baptist Convention is a force to be reckoned with. As the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, with over 45,000 affiliate churches, it have been shaping and channeling conservative Christian sensibilities since the Civil War, when Southern Baptists split from the North so they could advocate on behalf of slave owners. They fought to keep slavery and lost. Then they fought for Jim Crow laws and lost. Then they fought for segregation and lost. Now, faced with eroding membership, the Southern Baptist leaders are fighting against irrelevance. Unfortunately, they have committed to a strategy that will make it harder for their members – and for all of us—to move toward a future based on collaboration, compassion and practical solutions to real-world problems. …
… Whether they win or lose from the standpoint of re-filling church pews and bank accounts remains to be seen. What is regrettable, either way, is that by choosing to be competitive they have once again pitted themselves against the moral arc of history. Whether humanity can flourish in the 21st century will depend largely on whether we can move beyond competition to collaboration. Population growth, resource depletion and weapons technology have carried us to the point that there are fewer and fewer “winnable” competitions. Humanity desperately needs to find common ground in our shared moral core and dreams for our children. Just as they did on the questions of slavery and the full humanity of women, the Southern Baptists have positioned themselves as moral dead weight, which is a loss for us all. — Conservative Christianity’s Marketing Gimmick to Keep Its Old-Time, Heaven-and-Hell Religion Afloat
Here is a debate between Susan Jacoby and Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza. I didn’t watch the full question and answer session at the end, but I did catch the full debate. I would have to give Jacoby a solid B on her performance here. Certainly good, but I think Richard Dawkins or the late and great Christopher Hitchens could have shredded D’Souza’s frayed arguments with more precision and eloquence.
And if you are interested, you can
of Reasonable Doubts for reactions to the debate.