christianity: a security blank with thorns
When my 3-year-old asked some probing questions about death recently, it occurred to me that if I was a Christian, the answers could tumble more freely from my mouth. “Grandpa’s gone to live in heaven with Jesus. When we get to heaven, we’ll all be together again.”
“His body is still here but he doesn’t exist” doesn’t quite bring the same sense of easy answers, hope and happiness. How do you explain to a child with such a vague grasp on the basics of life, what it could mean to not exist? How much easier would it be to say we will all see each other again in a place of eternal bliss?
Here’s how I managed my way through it:
- giving her examples of things she’s seen dead, like snails and birds
- explaining that most people die when they are old, tired and sore, and ready for it (I think it’s too early to deal with the absolute tragedies)
- explaining the natural cycle of life of all animals, like in this video
Like most children, she was less perturbed by the answers than I was in finding them. I’m sure I’ll learn as I go on this one.
But as I pondered the seemingly easy security blanket that Christianity might provide, I remembered some of the thorns, that even as a child, could bring a serious dose of discomfort:
- believing that if you don’t behave appropriately, or ask for forgiveness in the right way, you’ll be tortured for eternity
- believing all the people you love who don’t share your religion will be tortured for eternity
- believing that most of the people you see around you will be tortured for eternity along with almost all of the people in other countries you see on television who will never have the chance to even get to know about your religion because their leaders chose the wrong religion
- believing that there is an evil invisible spirit trying to trick you into being bad
- believing that you could be possessed by any number evil invisible spirits who will make you do bad things against your will
- believing that your god has the power to take away the suffering of people you see around you, and in the world at large, but he usually has a plan that doesn’t involve helping in any way
- believing that at some point in the past, killing little animals made your god happy
- believing that your god shows his love to humans in rainbows, after murdering almost every living creature on earth because he didn’t like the way they behaved after creating them in the knowledge they would behave like that
- believing that images of someone being tortured to death are a reminder of how good your god is
- believing that gay couples and unmarried couples are breaking your god’s laws, and would have been justly killed in prior centuries
- believing that women are inferior to men, that they should stay silent and submissive, and that men are naturally in charge of families and churches
I’ve probably made my point by now. But feel free to add any other of nasty thorns that confuse children while they are feeling comforted that we’ll all cheat death and live happily ever after. Quite frankly, however starkly I explain the basics of existence, it’s got to be more comforting than Christianity.
Thanks to Myisleofserenity for prompting me to think more on this topic.
Hit her with the truth… Grandpa is a bird, a fish, a bridge, a leaf, a drop of rain and a billion other things today, and one day, again, he will be star, just like you.
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That’s lovely! You should do a scientific YouTube video without pretty cartoons for children. That would make things a lot easier for me. Thanks John, look forward to seeing it. 😀
Oh, a kids book! I’m already working on with my artist sister-in-law: “My Furry Cousins”… But a Death Book for Kids could be fun 🙂
Cool! Honestly, it would be a total hit because it’s a topic that needs a happy yet factual angle. Speaking of death and kids though, the oddest thing they were singing at my daughter’s nursery the other day … have a look:
Zombies for kids
Oh, oh, hippity-hop,
Oh, oh, hippity-hop.
I like that.
When Russell Crowe portrayed Moses in the recent Noah movie, he portrayed Moses as a bit of a psychopath. Crowe’s rationale was what sort of person would just leave all these other people to die. I had never thought of it that way, it can be interesting to take off the rose coloured glasses that apply to much of the traditional Christian interpretation of the Bible message.
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Good point. The honourable thing for the character to have done was die with everyone else.
Should that be…?
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I know you were just checking to see if we were paying attention – like the old joke that asks how many of each animal Moses took with him on the Ark… 😉
My new answer is he didn’t either.
Being Lakota and believing in God this discussion isn’t too hard northern thorns to my god. We believe that God created everything you see it’s all energy and it’s all interconnected. Every plant every animal every world every planet all of space every star it’s all energy. When we die our energy is merely transformed back into its original state. We become one with creation yet again.
Energy may change its form for consistency but it cannot ever be lost. So I loved ones that lived and died have simply become a different form of matter a different form of energy. I don’t have to die to know my god he’s here with me now we are all part of his energy there no hell to the Lakota.
So where is grandpa look around she’s the trees in the plants is energy is and always has been part of everything you see and why you no longer see him is energy still here. Twe Lakota death is not permanent it’s merely a transition of energy from one form to another.
It’s important for me to remember and I remind my child actually now children that we don’t own the earth we borrow it from our children. And when the time comes that I die my energy will become part of the greater whole of creation. It’s really that simple it’s a transition from one stage of life to another stage of life from one form of energy to another.
I’m back baby..
Great to have you back Michelle! Your Lokota god sounds much more intelligent and pleasant than the Christian god. Is your god a she or a he? Did she/he ever want animals or people killed to please her/him?
God is sometimes called father because earth is mother. But no god to me is not seen as a physical gender. The great spirit, the great creator is not even a physical being. Merely the force that began creation. God does not play with us like puppets, demands nothing of me. The great spirit merely asks that I live the best I can and respect his creation to the best of my ability.
Nothing more, nothing less. 🙂
So god is my father if he earth is my mother but since neither have physical sexual parts the terms are merely so we can relate the concept easier.
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Not being able to rationally understand or accept death but instead use cult ideas to pretend you’ll go to a magical place in the sky.
How could something be termed ‘heaven’ if you know it doesn’t contain some of the people you love and they’re instead being tortured?
That would be no heaven to me.
Maybe that’s why some denominations like to shun apostates. Makes it easier not to think about that afterlife conundrum if you’ve written them off in real life already.
Excellent post and list of negative side-effects, Violet. Leaving Christianity was like removing a huge iron claw from my brain. I think, when I was a Christian, I had become accustom to the pressure from the claw. But, when that pressure was lifted, the relief was intense.
My friends from Scandinavia weren’t raised with fairy tales regarding death. I think it is healthy to teach children that death is a part of life. I like how you explained it to your child. Very age appropriate. I think we tend to have a greater appreciation for life when we face our mortality.
To add to your list — John did a great post today about theists not believing that Earth is their home. A question is asked on GotQuestions.org: “How can believers be in the world, but not of the world?” and the answer was “Pleasure is no longer our calling in life, as it once was, but rather the worship of God.
I’d also like to note a comment made by Myisleofserenity in her post stating: “atheism seems to ask one to ignore a basic human instinct to ponder the universe and all that it might mean.”
First of all, curiosity may be instinctual, which non-theists most certainly have, and non-theists can ponder the universe without attaching meaning. If you are a Christian, however, there is no pondering on what it might mean. You believe you already have the answers.
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“Leaving Christianity was like removing a huge iron claw from my brain.”
I totally get that. I think we all still have claw scars …
Thanks for the link to John’s post, I’m way behind on reading and would have undoubtedly missed it.
And that’s a great point about Christianity teaching people they already have the answers. We’re the real ponderers … 😀
Hi neuronotes, I agree – curiosity may be instinctual to all. My comment was actually meant to be specifically about pondering meaning – as a christian I absolutely ponder the meaning of life, death, relationships, suffering, beauty and do not for an instant think I already have all the answers, nor do I think that God provides all the answers…
“For we know in part….For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13
“non-theists can ponder the universe without attaching meaning” – I don’t know, I’m pretty driven to find meaning. I love studying and observing the universe, but I’m pretty darn keen on what it all might mean. And as I said above, I do not think I have been given/found out about what everything means. I have heaps of unanswered questions!
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Hi Serenity, my point about already having the answers was in regard to creation. “God did it.” — Your god. Not the thousands of other gods. Your god, specifically. How do you know this? Because the bible tells you so. Amirite?
Oh, ok – thanks for explaining that you were referring to who created everything.
How do I know that the God I follow is the one responsible for creation? I would say that I don’t know for sure, I don’t see that there is 100% undeniable “proof”. The bible yes, is fairly informative on the matter. For me personally, I also use my reasoning (deductive and inductive), historical fact (where it exists), personal experience and observation of human nature. Are you right? Partly 🙂
The great thing about the truth is when you come to a part or topic you do not fully understand you can simply say ‘I don’t know” and generally a kid will say, ”Okay”.
Religion has more baggage that Terminal 1 at Heathrow, and you probably don’t want to know what’s in half of those bags, right?
And when they ask about the bible – tell them the truth.
“I don’t know” isn’t cutting yet, I’ll embrace the day it does. Having a three year old makes me feel really ignorant, there are so many things I don’t know the answer to. Thank goodness for Google!
I’m trying to remember to emphasise that everything I tell her is my opinion, and not necessarily fact, and also present other points of view. I don’t want her thinking there is Absolute Truth and that I’m the holder.
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Have you been asked yet why the sky is blue? Or why there are rainbows?
Swat up … you will be asked! 🙂
Yes and yes. You can see how all these superstitious stories got made up. I’m so tempted to say the fairies painted them. Not so much that it’s a promise from an invisible god not to kill us …
Fairies can be fun. My granny used to take us for walks in a local wood on the heath at her home in Royston and used to call it the Fairy Wood.
We had to whisper while we walked down well-trodden paths the fairies had made for humans so as not to disturb the animals. And we were only allowed to pick a few bluebells and other wild flowers.
But even then, we knew gran was just having a bit of fun and we all played along.
But the scientific reason can be just as much fun if not more exciting. Think how Carl Sagan talked about astronomy. His method of delivery was mesmerizing. Kids like that sort of thing. Maybe not too sciencey at three years old, but enough to elicit a few Ooohs and Aaahs.
I agree with you violet (and arkenaten) – I don’t know is an answer I use a lot (and they do get to accepting that as a valid answer pretty quickly 😉 ) I also point out that what I am telling her is my opinion and that other people have different views. I defiantly don’t want to set up a situation where my children think I’m the only holder of an absolute truth. I also often use the question – what do you think? to encourage her to think for herself.
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I can’t think of a simpler nor more honest answer than, “I don’t know, Sweetheart, no one does.”
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Well, it’s not got to that kind of question yet. We’re on the basics of explaining the obvious difference between a person when they’re dead and alive. So I have to explain where the face, hands and legs are, for example, and confirm that he’s no longer eating and drinking anything …
Thanks for sharing your explanation. I hope to have kids someday and it’s encouraging to see nonbelieving parenting success. Great post.
Thank you! I’m not sure it’s a success, but I guess it’s a start.
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Violet, I found your post rather ubiquitous because I recently read this post where the writer claims that even a child is able to understand the gospel. Whaaat???
Rather than repeat myself here, you can see my response to this claim at the blog.
Probably one needs to determine the age we’re talking about when we use the term, “child.” IMO, it would be up to around 5 or 6 (before s/he learns how to read).
In any case, I think you did magnificently with your response.
P.S. I tend to agree with the Lakota outlook. 🙂
What, what, what? You’re converting to a religion? Interesting. Michelle is a good saleswoman!
Violet, I’m so sorry that your perceptions of Christ were so damaged by your childhood experiences. I wish I could fix it all for you, but of course I can’t.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18
@Insanitybytes22. How is it, that your god was either unable, or alternatively unwilling, to fix these “damaged” perceptions of Christ? Is it not logically more likely no said god even exists and all these perceptions are all just human cultural constructs? – Given, that not even remotely objective information of said god, or any gods for that matter, exists. Or does it? Could you present any? There are just the subjective feelings of individuals relating mostly to their individual cultural heritages and the ever so suspicious demand for blind faith. Quite revealing, would you not say?
Hi Rautakyy what puzzled me was that when I started to study Christian theology I found that there was disagreement on so many important issues throughout the Church. It puzzled me why some of these issues had not been made clearer in the Bible.
One among the plethora of issues is that of Baptism, both its mode and whether or not it should apply to infants or adults only. This has so split the Church over the centuries. God could have removed so much difficulty by adding a few additional verses to the Bible to clarify the matter.
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Yes, indeed Peter. One could raise a good number of such issues from just about any religion. The gods seem all equally uninterrested – for reasons unknown – to explain people what they really want. But people do make up their minds on what their particular gods want based on no objective information on these gods. Rather on their subjective intuition and emotions on what they would prefer themselves. Sometimes they are more abiding to their cultural norms and heritage on what their gods want and sometimes their individual experiences go against the standards of the norm.
For example Insanitybytes22 once explained to me that the demands to slay women and children in some particular chapter of the Old Testament were just the product of the writer and not at all of the god alledgedly influencing scripture. But then that raises the question, of how to dissect from these scriptures what gods really want. Wich would be important, if any of their existance could be ever be presented on any even remotely objective level of information.
I do understand why people say Christians are afraid. I mean after all you believe it’s Christ or eternal suffering. So there is fear used which keeps people in the faith. Mine has no hell because a true and loving god would never let you or I suffer even if we rejected god. My son could reject me and as his mother i’d still always love him and wish the best for him. How could god be that much different? After all we are made in his image aren’t we?
I never understood this need for hell because of that. If my love for my son is so absolute then wouldn’t it be reasonable to think a perfect love would be even more absolute? But people need things to fear it seems. For Christians that is hell and it keeps them in line just fine it seems.
My 2 cents on why people think Christians are so fearful.
/hugs IB and much love
“Violet, I’m so sorry that your perceptions of Christ were so damaged by your childhood experiences. I wish I could fix it all for you, but of course I can’t.”
Sorry for letting this odd comment languish for so long. I’ve been away and having a spell of child sleep problems. But I have no idea what you’re referring to. What in the list above could be construed as a damaged perception and why?
As I keep saying, Christianity is wider.
When the Jews heard Jesus, they would have thought of The Kingdom of God as a new political settlement here on Earth. Part of the problem in their wars with the Romans was that they expected God to intervene, and devoted a great deal of energy to forcing other Jews into Orthopraxis so that God would, rather than into harrying the enemy; and similarly for me it is for us to build Heaven on Earth before death. The Act of God creating this possibility is the Crucifixion.
Etty Hillesum: we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.
This is Biblical Christianity: consider Luke, the Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven mixed all through the dough. Etty is leaven, and hearing her words my dough rises.
Grandad lives on in the effect he has on all the people he touched, and in their memories and their love.
I’m not convinced Christianity is wider. Your understanding of life is wider than Christianity.
Well. Kant and Pascal, specifically working out Christianity: that is a fairly wide understanding of life. Christianity is more than just “Bible-based” evangelicalism.
I think Christianity can be wider than just the Bible bashing evangelism, and that the understanding of Clair Flourish is a lot wider, than what Christianity usually is to most Christians, but she represents Christianity at least as much as some bigot, though a lot better. 🙂
But “wider” may also incorporate all sorts of not so savory views and practices, many of wich have – lucky for us – died out after the advent of secularism and various religious movements trying to be more moral. It seems to me, that Christianity itself was born as a Jewish religious minority movement trying to be more moral, than the contemporary religious bigots both in Judaism and in the rest of the many religions within the Roman empire. It is quite human to try to be more moral, a trait natural to us as the social animals we are, and good for us. It gives us hope for the future and that hope has a meaning to us as that is how we are, regardless wether if there are any gods who set it that way, or not…
But this is akin to the problem of evil, as it is unclear, why would a benevolent creator entity with almost limitless power demand faith from us humans in any particular social system, that is fundamentally flawed with so many typically human failures? Ultimately, the answer would have to be, that we do not know – anymore than we know, that this benevolent entity is actually benevolent, nor that it actually exists.
Sorry for taking so long to reply to your post – things are busy here with sick kids.
Firstly, lovely photo 🙂 Secondly, I’m glad my little blog posts gave you some inspiration for a post of your own. Thirdly, I (frustratingly…there are never enough hours in the day!) don’t have time to respond to your dot points today. Suffice to say, I am very sorry that you were ever taught anything remotely like your above list with respect to christianity.
One thing – I want to clarify the nature of my daughter’s questions. She was probably closer to 4 1/2 at the time and she had a good grasp of the finality and irreversibility of death (having had pets die and watched them being buried, and having known relatives who had died). After the death of yet another pet (a duckling) she started with the questions about my (her mothers) mortality. And I want to emphasis that her main concern was loss of relationship (not where I or she would be when we died). She was grieving in advance (she cried as she asked her questions) the loss of relationship. That’s what lead me to answer in the way I did. (I also think the answers you gave your daughter were lovely).
Thinking broadly about what you call the “thorns” of christianity (hopefully I’ll get a chance soon to reply with specifics) – from where I stand, the thorns of christianity are not in the misunderstandings you list above, christianity is not a set of rules to be followed with the sting of death is the rules are not perfectly followed.
If there are thorns in Christianity, they would be the painful reality that we can’t keep the law (the law that was given to show our consistent inability to attain the standards needed to co-exist with God). The gospel of Jesus is that he came to bear the crown of thorns himself, and took our place, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that we can be right with God. The thorns are gone.
And because of this, death has lost it’s sting:
“For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15
I also wanted to say again, I’m sorry for your loss.
@Myisleofserenity, you wrote: “If there are thorns in Christianity, they would be the painful reality that we can’t keep the law (the law that was given to show our consistent inability to attain the standards needed to co-exist with God).” Wich law is that? Is it the same set of laws that requires us not to eat pork and shellfish? That should not be too hard, should it? Have you kept it? Are we talking about the law that tells us not to wear mixed linnen and cotton? This is a bit trickier, I admit, but still possible to hold on to. Yes? You have kept it, have you, or did Jesus sacrifice himself to himself in order to be able to forgive to you for you not being created as such, that you are not being able to keep to it? :p
This is the law you refer to, that tells us to stone to death male homosexuals caught in the act and unruly children, is it? Are we talking about the law wich defines the recompence in silver for the father of the raped girl for his loss? Is it the very law, that defines how much one can beat their slave and how long the slave has to survive the beating before dying, so that it would not be considered a transgression of this law? 😉 Yes, I suppose I would be in need of a bit of forgiveness for not holding the law, for at least eating pork and shrimps…
I have heard, that some of us humans get the mercy of braking a law, that supposedly we are unable to keep to, through believing in a particular cultural suggestion about a god, with blind faith? Does this really work and how exactly? Who is responsible for us being created unable to keep to the set of rules you refer to as the “law”? Does that even make any sense?
“Is it the very law, that defines how much one can beat their slave and how long the slave has to survive the beating before dying, so that it would not be considered a transgression of this law? ;)” Even having just recently reread Gen-Deut, I’m no expert on all the Mosaic laws – where is this one you are referring to?
1. I don’t entirely “get” the whole of the Mosaic Law. Some of it is very offensive or ridiculous. But one can’t get one’s knickers in a knot about it by pulling out specific verses and declaring them to be utter madness. Those who have studied the history, the culture, the purpose of that law, the covenantal nature of it, the provisions made within it etc etc – such people can point out and explain/shed light on some of the various oddities and seemingly downright awful laws…But rautkky, really, it’s a slice of history a section (and a section only) of a much bigger story within a story – there are reasons for the Mosaic Law and reasons for why it no longer exists.
“does that even make any sense?” I think you and I are running into the same problems that VW are running into – perhaps we should, for arguments sake, consider both positions i.e. the Christian God position and the atheist position (we could include other positions like the Buddhists etc but we’re not evaluating those here), as theories. I can elaborate on the christian theory of the universe, perhaps you could also elaborate on your atheist theory too?
The christian theory sees earth, the universe etc and assumes a creator. Then based on revelations by this God, in history and over time, in addition to the historical person of Jesus – the christian concludes some basic points about life (NB the christian does not have all the answers, but these are some elements that are fairly clear in the christian theory – God created all that we see (our galaxies and the galaxies beyond), people in his image (only, as far as we now, on one tiny little planet in all this great expanse), and said it was all very good. Then he established the parameters of our existence, with “the law” at its most basic – enjoy God and all He created but don’t try to take the place of God yourself (Gen 2:17). That’s the essence of the law from day dot.
[Sure there’s the Mosaic/Covenant Law, then the essence of the law as Jesus puts is (Love God and love your fellow human beings – Matt 22). But the essence is – God is bigger than you, respect that. And God gives his beings complete free will to decide whether to enjoy creation under his authority or to choose to reject his authority and live life as we see fit. Are we able to keep it, the law, this basic law of recognising God for who his is? Perhaps we would have been able to keep it…the story in Genesis says human kind was fairly easily tempted to mistrust God…]
In any case, the christian theory of the universe is that God created beings to relate to him (i.e. enjoy creation with him) who also had the freedom to reject him (which they did). The christian theory is that although creation and people are brilliant at times, creations is also hopelessly flawed/broken (tsunamis, famine) and people are hopelessly flawed/broken on a big scale (e.g. war) but also on the much smaller scale (e.g. relationship breakdown) The christian theory is that this is and “original” problem and also an “actual” problem (i.e. we actually do get angry at each other, treat each other with contempt from time to time).
So, “Who is responsible for us being created unable to keep to the set of rules you refer to as the “law”?” – I’d say we are.
4. With our inherent bent towards rejecting God as God, desiring to only serve ourselves
Sorry, ignore point 4. above! didn’t mean for that to be part of the above comment – have yet to figure out how to edit one’s own comments?
@Myisleofserenity, thank you of your thoughtfull response. These are delicate matters, and I hope you are not going to be offended by my comments. Rather that you take them as honestly and seriously as I make them.
It has been more than two decades since I read the Bible through (my dad – an atheist himself – actully told me to read it, as he had enjoyed it while incacerated in a military prison, where they had no other books awailable), and I really can not remember the exact place where the bit about beating up your slave was. It was shocking enough for me, even though I never thought there was any actual gods giving such laws, so that what I do remember is the point made, that the owner of a slave is not considered a transgressor of the law as long as the beating did not kill the slave withing next two days. But you got it right, it is one of the over 600 Mosaic laws as supposedly straight from the creator deity to the so called chosen people. What I find equally shocking how many Theists who claim to have read the book have totally managed to miss it and a number of equally immoral laws and stories in the book. What sort of trick does the mind play to a person, that leads them to ignore or totally forget to have read such strikingly inhumane legal rules, when they are committed to the idea that the god who alledgedly set up these laws is a loving and benevolent entity? That is, if they do agree that such rules are actually terrible.
Even more shocking to me is when people try to excuse such laws as moral. As if the creator entity of the entire universe, who is alledgedly benevolent towards us humans, would not have been able to come up with a better set of laws even to a rather primitive lot of people and as if for example slavery was some sort of social benefit… In such apologetics I smell the distinctive foul odour of fascism and neglect for human wellbeing as long as the humans these laws applied to are not us, or our loved ones… A sort of moralistic double standard of nimbyism.
1. I have studied said history and the culture, but I do not buy into the apologetics trying to white wash the Biblical horros through cultural relativity. Cultural relativity should not be an issue, if we are talking about the morals of an all foreseeing, all creator god entity. Should it? It is not even a very sound moral argument even if we are talking just about human behaviour.
Have I told you I studied archaeology and religion studies in the university? The cultures of ancient Levant are not my prime subjects, but they do give an interresting reference point as the farming, civic culture and writing were invented there and subsequently we do have a plenty of information on the cultures on wich predate the Bible and on wich the collected Biblical stories are based on.
Yes, there were reasons for the Mosaic laws. They were obviously products of primitive minority culture struggling to hold on to it’s own identity and the social positions of it’s religious leaders. The laws may seem ridiculous to us, but they were all about segragation between the members of the tribes and all the other people, to whom the religious leaders were affraid their subjects might relate to, affiliate with and ultimately assimilate to. Wich would have lead to the loss of power and social position of the very human lawgivers. That is why eating pork, shelfish and keeping other gods, than the one tribal god of the ancient Hebrews are explicitly forbidden as are many other practices of the neighbouring nations, like for example homosexuality. That is also why so many of the laws and all of the idealism behind the entire Bible, not just the Old Testament, is so tribally moralistic. But many of the laws are also obvious cultural loans from wider and mightier cultures in the area, like the very well known loans from the vendictive laws as according to Hammurabi, of wich you may have heard of.
2. I have no specific atheist theory of the universe. My atheism is merely the rejection of any god claims without any actual and even remotely objective evidence to back them up. If you have any, I would be curious as to what it is? I am genuinely interrested in what compels you to believe in a god and why?
Atheism is merely a single position about the alledged, but as of yet unproven, supernatural entities and existance. In addition there are many other things that define my worlview, as I expect you are not merely just a Christian. Perhaps, we have some common ground on some other views. I am a humanist, because that is the one moral ground and social movement, that has never caused any harm to humans and the goals are opposite to any harm. My humanism has led me to also be a liberal socialist, because that is the political view, I expect to best lead to most humane social solutions. In that respect I am not so different from the very earliest Christians who were in a sense socialists in their views on property. I am also a skeptic, the by-product of wich my atheism is, though I have never been a religious believer either. A skeptic does not accept any wild claims about the reality at face value, but rather sooner weights the evidence for and against. I bet you are a skeptic about a great many things in your life too, but perhaps you make an exeption in the case of your religous feelings, and believe stuff on faith alone? Or maybe not and you have some compelling evidence for your god to present to me. Do you?
I am an agnostic positive atheist. Agnostic in the sense, that we are not really able to know if there are some unimaginable entities living in an alternate existance, that we could describe as gods, if we were ever able to estabish them, but positive atheist in the sense, that I do not think any such are likely at all…
Look, we are both non-believers about fairies, are we not? I mean there could be fairies, but we do not believe in them, because we have not had enough of evidence that we should believe in any, right? But fairies are a lot less extraordinary claim, than that there are any gods, because fairies – that we simply do not know about – could somehow be a part of this material universe, and even if they were immaterial and super natural, they would still be a less extraordinary claim in comparrison to any gods, let alone a god that created everything, is everywhere and controlls everything. However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Do we agree on that?
I see no reason to assume a god, no more than I do to assume fairies, though I think they are a bit more likelier to exist, because they challenge the realtiy as observable around us just a little less. People assume all sorts of gods, most according to their own cultural heritages, and it is not really surprising, that many religions that have had early on contest and connection to other religions also threaten people for doubt and disbelief with the most imaginary and competingly terrible things in the imaginary afterlife, from wich no person has ever returned to tell us what it is like. What is your reason to assume a particular god?
I have really hard time to fathom how any particular religious text or scripture, no matter how ever old, historically accurate in some respects, clever, or even humane (and many of them are all of these things), could be a “revelation” from any gods. I can see how ancient and mostly illiterate people percieved “scriptures” as magical messages from deities, but as revelations go, they are quite lacking and feeble. Do none of these gods have any more effective and less obviously human made ways to reveal themselves to mankind, if they really want to reveal something to as many of us as possible?
The idea that we humans, of whom our current science has with best possible objectivity shown us we are the products of natural processes we call evolution, are an image of this galaxy achieving all creator entity, seems obsolete, antiquated, absurd, awfully andropocentric and downright selfrighteous. Does it not?
3. What is there to respect? No evidence of any gods. If the essense of the Mosaic law is love, then it is a quite a sadist version of love. Have you ever read it? Jesus is an interresting character, but his version of Judaism is that of the underdog. When some of the Old Testament stories are full of self righteous proclamation how the Jewish god supports them in battle (exept against people who have iron chariots, as those are obviously too much for even the creator of galaxies) and justifies the most horrid acts they do on their defeated enemies, poor old Jesus lived in time and age, when the Jews could not possibly prevail against their oppressor the Roman Empire. And as presented before in the Old Testament, when the Jews were subjects to the Babylonians, Jesus character has to reconcile between the all-mighty Jewish god not really helping the alledgedly chosen people against overwhelming odds. But the New Testament was written and edited very much also to satisfy the political needs of the Roman empire, that had turned into Christianity and subsequently had to separate itself from simply being a sect of Judaism some 300 years after the assumed life of Jesus.
The free will argument is rather tired. Does your god have free will? If yes, then does that allow said god to choose between good and evil? Could your god choose evil? Could that choise explain why your god first chose to hand down rather vile laws for a randomly chosen people to obey? But did your god then later decide, that these laws were poor and gave Jesus for some humans to worship as an alternative? Is there free will in them Heavens? If yes, is there evil there too? Or are people bound to choose good over evil in Heavens? If it is possible for humans in their afterlives to only choose between two good options, what then is the purpose of the entire exercise of life here on earth? Think about it.
You wrote: “… the christian theory of the universe is that God created beings to relate to him (i.e. enjoy creation with him) who also had the freedom to reject him (which they did).” I am sorry but I have hard time to even understand this. Maybe you could explain it to me. Most people who have ever lived have not had the chance to choose your god. And even the ones who have had information about your god, did they really make a choise? Most were born outside the cultural sphere where Jesus et all are taken at face value. Those who have been born into Christian culture have not made very aware choises either, now have they? Rather most of them have been nurtured into faith. Correct? I have never had the choise to embrace, or reject any gods. For as long as I can remember, they have seemed to me merely as absurd claims by people. As I have learned more about them, the more they look like human made cultural constructs to me. Have you chosen between some gods to embrace the one you do, or to reject any gods? Was it an aware choise? Did you actually have two equally plausible options, between wich you randomly chose? Or did you somehow autosuggest one option to be true? Or did something compell you to believe as you do when and if you made the choise? What was it, if any? How do you feel about the fairness of this demand for a choise, when obviously we start from very different angles to the choise?
Why would we call a god that creates earthquakes, tsunamis and polio as “benevolent”? To worship such a monster is merely bowing down to tyranny and calling it benevolent merely licking up to power. But what is it, when we have no evidence of any even remotely objective sort to even establish as much as that this entity even exists?
How can we possibly be responsible for alledgely having been created unable to live up to the standards set up for us? You would not set up a standard too high for your kids to achieve and then punish them for not being able to, would you?
Sorry that this is again so long, but these are big and complicated issues, would you not agree? 🙂
@rautakyy – I know this is nearly a month later but just haven’t had a chance to sit down and give you a thoughtful reply til now.
1. I am not in the least offended by your points and comments, but I do thank you for so politely explaining that you do not set out to cause offence.
2. “I have studied said history and the culture, but I do not buy into the apologetics trying to white wash the Biblical horros through cultural relativity. Cultural relativity should not be an issue, if we are talking about the morals of an all foreseeing, all creator god entity. Should it?”
If you are implying that God’s “morals” (if he exists) should be absolutely consistent across time and history – I agree.
With respect to the cultural relativity argument – do bear in mind that God, Jesus, the Bible, Christianity – are not at all about morals. It is a view of understanding the world (the physical and mortal, as well as the spiritual an immortal) (and it goes without saying that I am convinced it is the true view) – a viewpoint that says the world (and everything in it) is beautiful broken and God is acting to repair it and reconcile it to Himself. It has nothing to do with mere moral behaviour – it is far more profound than that. It is about the broken lost heart heart in us all that is perishing (i.e. we all will one day die) while it remains apart from the source that gave it (and gives it) life. Morals may come into it, in a way, but not at all in the way you suggest.
3. “I have no specific atheist theory of the universe. My atheism is merely the rejection of any god claims without any actual and even remotely objective evidence to back them up. If you have any, I would be curious as to what it is? I am genuinely interrested in what compels you to believe in a god and why?” My answer: Many reasons, objective evidence of the kind I imagine you are seeking -I most likely have none. So I shall offer you some of my reasons – love would be the first. Might sound a little strange, but love is probably one of the main reasons. Many people in my life have told me that there is a God and that He loves me, and these same people have also loved me with a kind of pure and unconditional love that is sadly often uncommon in this world. I know it doesn’t happen all the time but when people practice love both in word and deed it is, at the very least, a powerful example. (And when I say love, I do not mean mushy fluffy love, but self-sacrifice love, the kind of love that always puts another first, before your very own needs) – e.g. “We love because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19.
Hope is another major reason for my belief. Especially, hope for those who have suffered unjustly in this life. No other religion offers hope (in this life and beyond) for unjust suffering in a profoundly wholistic manner. e.g.”You LORD, hear the desire of the afflicted, you encourage them and listen to their cry” Psalm 10:17. There are more reasons, but these would be two most important to me.
4. ” I bet you are a skeptic about a great many things in your life too, but perhaps you make an exeption in the case of your religous feelings, and believe stuff on faith alone? Or maybe not and you have some compelling evidence for your god to present to me. Do you?” – I am most certainly have a healthy dose of scepticism about almost all things – especially including religion – and especially anyone who writes or speaks about religion/history/God etc with any hint of authority (just ask my husband – I’m especially the worst at christian conventions where they tend to have big “hot shot” preachers, I am always especially skeptical about those. And big “hot-shot” atheists too…anyone who is getting a degree of “fame” or notoriety of some sort from their research, body of written work, etc – always somewhat skeptical about those…
5. “However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Do we agree on that?” – Yes, good call. So the extraordinary evidence we have for christianity is firstly the things like, the claim of Jesus to be God-in-flesh submitting to death and rising three days later – only a claim? agreed. Historical “proof”? None, I suppose. Evidence enough for most historians to agree on the existence of a Jesus and some basic facts about his life and death. The claims of resurrection are clearly spelled out in the gospels (arguments about the accuracy of the gospels will have to wait until another day). Suffice to say, they are there and people believed, and followed in the Way (as the first christians were called), sometimes to their death (even to this day). Point being, if true, the Jesus bit of christianity is at last one piece of extraordinary evidence presented.
6. “I have really hard time to fathom how any particular religious text or scripture, no matter how ever old, historically accurate in some respects, clever, or even humane (and many of them are all of these things), could be a “revelation” from any gods.” – Me too. It is a bit weird. But we do have all these religious texts floating around, and we can read them and ponder them and decide if they make sense or not. Or is it not weird, and is it kind of amazing that maybe we do have something that truly contains revelation from a God. either way, strange or not, we do have all these religious writings and texts, and so we ponder (or reject them all outright as as useless as information about fairies!). “Do none of these gods have any more effective and less obviously human made ways to reveal themselves to mankind, if they really want to reveal something to as many of us as possible?” – I don’t know, good question! What do you suggest? How you reckon a God could or should communicate? I agree, using such a human method is, in a way, a bit clunky? Unexpected? Using mere mortals to convey divine truth? It almost suggests that the God who would do that is so confident of himself and his ability to communicate with his creation that he could even use his creation (and their life events) as part of his process to communicate with them…
7. “The idea that we humans, of whom our current science has with best possible objectivity shown us we are the products of natural processes we call evolution, are an image of this galaxy achieving all creator entity, seems obsolete, antiquated, absurd, awfully andropocentric and downright selfrighteous. Does it not?” – I suppose it does, in a way.
8. “The free will argument is rather tired. Does your god have free will? If yes, then does that allow said god to choose between good and evil? Could your god choose evil? Could that choise explain why your god first chose to hand down rather vile laws for a randomly chosen people to obey? But did your god then later decide, that these laws were poor and gave Jesus for some humans to worship as an alternative? Is there free will in them Heavens? If yes, is there evil there too? Or are people bound to choose good over evil in Heavens? If it is possible for humans in their afterlives to only choose between two good options, what then is the purpose of the entire exercise of life here on earth? Think about it.” I have thought about it. Lots. And, not that my thinking is necessarily better than yours or the next person, but I do beg to differ – I think the notion of free will is not tired, but exceptionally important. Granted, a God who creates beings with free will poses many questions, but I don’t think the ones you are asking are the most important kind to be asking.
9. “You wrote: “… the christian theory of the universe is that God created beings to relate to him (i.e. enjoy creation with him) who also had the freedom to reject him (which they did).” I am sorry but I have hard time to even understand this. Maybe you could explain it to me. ” – Again, it’s a strange notion, I know! But, as I said, the idea is that the universe, the world was created by a being a God and he decided to put people in his creation and they enjoyed creation together i.e. God and people related to each other happily – enjoyed “the garden” together. The best analogy I can think of is family – like the way parents enjoy the company of the children they “created” together.
“Most people who have ever lived have not had the chance to choose your god. And even the ones who have had information about your god, did they really make a choise? Most were born outside the cultural sphere where Jesus et all are taken at face value. Those who have been born into Christian culture have not made very aware choises either, now have they? Rather most of them have been nurtured into faith. Correct?” – No chance to choose the right God? Well, this I freely admit – I do not know. We are told that “eternity” is written in the hearts of men, and “all creation” reveals God’s glory so that none are without excuse – but what does this mean exactly? I don’t know, I’m not God, and I take it that he can work out what is fair and just.
More importantly, “I have never had the choice to embrace, or reject any gods.” – but you have studied archaeology and religion, and you have (a long time ago) read the bible, and you are now in conversation with christians on this blog who are telling you about this God.
“Have you chosen between some gods to embrace the one you do, or to reject any gods? Was it an aware choise? Did you actually have two equally plausible options, between wich you randomly chose? ” – I have used everything at my disposal to make my choice, with the free will given me. I have used my rational thought, my heart, the access I have to freely read about many many religions and philosophy and history, the power of observation (of nature, people and their behaviour). I have used all these things, and continue to use all these things to make my choice.
10. “Why would we call a god that creates earthquakes, tsunamis and polio as “benevolent”? To worship such a monster is merely bowing down to tyranny and calling it benevolent merely licking up to power. ” – I’m not sure why this word benevolent get used all the time – what do people mean when they use it?…kind, kindly, kind-hearted, warm-hearted, tender-hearted, big-hearted, good-natured, good, gracious, tolerant, benign, compassionate, caring, sympathetic, considerate, thoughtful, well meaning, obliging, accommodating, helpful, decent, neighbourly, public-spirited, charitable, altruistic, humane, humanitarian, philanthropic; generous, magnanimous, munificent, unselfish, ungrudging, unstinting, open-handed, free-handed, free, liberal, lavish, bountiful, beneficent, indulgent….???
God is revealed as all powerful AND is THE good (not described as good) in the same way he is described as love (as in, God is not loving, he IS love). Now the problem of suffering and pain etc will again have to wait for another day – suffice to say – yes every inch of creation is broken in someway and the God christians follow says he is/and has fixed it.
11. “How can we possibly be responsible for alledgely having been created unable to live up to the standards set up for us? You would not set up a standard too high for your kids to achieve and then punish them for not being able to, would you?” – Very insightful and interesting point. Another day I’m afraid (it’s after midnight here and those kids you’ve mentioned need at least a semi-rested mamma tomorrow 🙂 )
Big complex issues, I agree. I’ve enjoyed your comments and questions – hope you find my answers so long after you posted them!
@myisleofserenity, there is no hurry. These are big questions, and I do appriciate you have taken time to reply me. 🙂
1. That is a relief. I fear, that I may offend people with my views on the religious issues. Religions are often such a big part of personal identity of people, that when questioned, people tend to take it personally, even when not intended in that sense. But it is nice to delve into discussions with people when they are able to separate themselves from the issues enough to view them in a more analytical sense.
2. I do not see the world as any way “broken”. To me the universe seems more like something that is constantly evolving into different shapes. If there is some imaginable perfect world, it is not something we have left behind and that is only reserved in the future for some members of a club they were most often chosen to be members of by mere accident of birth. I doubt it is a usefull suggestion as such. As we have the ability to see the world as not perfect, it is best seen in the light, that it makes us able to make it ever better. Hopefully based on the best possible and as such most objective information we can achieve. But thinking that it is already broken, or that it will be repaired by something we have no objective information about for us by sheer power of blind faith, seems inherently degratory and dangerous view, because it really relates to nothing in reality, exept that we do not live in a perfect world. It is dangerous also because it is serving for an excuse not to even struggle to make it better. Not of course all and I expect not someone like you, but many still…
I can see from what sort of ignorance of the ancient people in their very limited capacity to observe the reality of the universe this sort of thinking stems from, but we are stepping out of that box. It has come the time for humanity to grow up and take responsibility over ourselves and the entire planet – our home, and not a day too soon.
3. Well, for example, Hinduism and Buddhism actually do offer hope “for unjust suffering in a profoundly wholistic manner”, but you may simply see them as culturally alien and not recognize that they do. However, such hope does not warrant believef of anything to be true, unless you are a fan of wishfull thinking. Are you?
There is a great social danger in accepting such hope, because it eases the conciences of people down, from the mutual responsibility we have towards each other and our selves in actually taking action to make the world a better place for everyone, since there is immaterial hope based of wishfull thinking offered instead of actual hope based on material reality. It may serve, and often enough serves, as a very dangerous excuse for people to satiate their conscience. Does it not?
4. I salute your skepticism. Yes, there is a danger of using a religious matter (for anyone discussing it – atheist and Theist alike) as a stepping stone to fame and fortune – wich seem overtly valued in the western society. Not all public figures are demagogues though. A good number of religious leaders do themselves sincerely believe in the justification of their cause (even when it is to collect money for themselves) and many an atheist has stepped out into the spotlight just to balance the religious beliefs being taken at face value, even when they were already famous and fortunate in some other field of life. It is not so much about the hypocriticism of people making the claims as it is about the claims themselves. Is it not? Do the claims stand or fall despite their advocates as individuals?
5. I do not see the Jesus story as any sort of evidence of anything supernatural, or unnatural. On the contrary. At best it is a superstition ridden myth based on some actual human being who told people to act humanely, like so many have done before and after him. (It is curious and sad how often we need to be reminded to do so, is it not?) At worst it is a fabrication to a political ruse to set common folk at ease within the Roman empire starting from the restless Jews.
The story about the alledged resurrection is in itself (quite ordinary) evidence of there not having anything super- or otherwise unnatural having happened. Especially so, as not to advance a cause for people to believe that Jesus was the son of a god, or a god himself, or both, nor either. If it indeed was supposed to serve as the extraordinary evidence of him being divine, why on earth, did this alledged resurrection happen precisely when nobody was even present to bear wittness to it?
Contemporaries believing a resurrection happened, ignorant and superstitious people believing in supernatural explanation to a mystery, or even later the same people who had already invested their identies heavily on the teaching of this of this Jesus character and on him being divine and having actually resurrected, when he did a disappearing act, are not extraordinary evidence of anything, exept their gullibility.
Nazi stormtroopers being ready to waste their lives for the ideals of an Aryan race and Herr Hitler in the ruins of Berlin in 1945, when they really had nothing to gain from such, is no evidence – extraordinary or otherwise – for the truth of their beliefs, even though it speaks loud and clear on their conviction. If there have been people ready to throw away their lives for such inhumane ideals as those of Hitler, why not some people equally mistaken about the divinity (because of a confusion about the circumstances around his execution) of a man who actually gave some humane advice, like Jesus is said to have done?
6. I am having hard time to see a divinity even a lesser divinity than a creator entity of the entire universe being so incompetent, that if this entity wanted to convey a certain message to as many people as possible, it would submit to assuming a book will do. Clearly it is not a sufficient, or even very succesfull method. Or is it? What ever the message from this god entity is, it is unclear even to the adherents of the book. Many of them have claimed such clarity on the subject, over the eons of the book being first published, even to the extent that they have been ready to kill people who got the message somehow wrong, who often were equally convinced of their own interpretation or perhaps that it is an entirely different book that conveys the actual message.
I do not know what would convince me, of my need of salvation, or belief on any god that has alledgedly authored or participated in authoring a book, but surely the creator of the universe at very least should know what would convince me and use that method, if that god is indeed interrested in my beliefs, or my salvation from what ever terrible fate, that very same god has alledgedly planned for me incase I am not convinced. Right?
7. Well, then does it not seem much, much more likely, that humans have created the idea of these gods, as images of ourselves? Or better yet, in the image of those dudes who got to define these gods onto the pages of the books as alledged revelations from these gods, than that we are actually some sort of selfie by a divinity that can project a universe into being by the power of mind?
The human mind is a remarkable, but quite natural force, capable of coming up with all sorts of gods, but they are all in one way or another projections of the minds who made them up. Are they not?
8. What then is the most important question about the free will to be asked in your opinion? To me the argument seems merely like an excuse to a dilemma produced by unverified contradicting claims about a particular equally unverified god.
9. You wrote: “the idea is that the universe, the world was created by a being a God and he decided to put people in his creation and they enjoyed creation together i.e. God and people related to each other happily – enjoyed “the garden” together. The best analogy I can think of is family – like the way parents enjoy the company of the children they “created” together.” Thak you for your effort to try to explain this to me. It seems more like an analogy relevant to us as the biological agents that we are, because we are a social species of animals that forms around familygroups. I can see how this might resonate in human spyche, but there is absolutely no reason to assume any of it is actually true.
You wrote: ‘We are told that “eternity” is written in the hearts of men, and “all creation” reveals God’s glory so that none are without excuse – but what does this mean exactly?’ I am no god either. However, I have a pretty good picture what it means. It means the writer had a notion of the problem about not everybody starting on equal ground to accept his assumed god, and as he realized that this makes up a very unfair system, he came up with an excuse for himself and his chums to ease down their consciences about the blatant inequality of the demand for blind faith in any particular culturally relative god suggestion.
You wrote: “I have used my rational thought, my heart, the access I have to freely read about many many religions and philosophy and history, the power of observation (of nature, people and their behaviour). I have used all these things, and continue to use all these things to make my choice.” Indeed. People believe stuff that they are convinced of. People are convinced only through reasons they themselves percieve to be good. The actual question may be, are the things that convinced a person actually relating to anything even remotely objective. Most of our core beliefs stand on many legs, so that just one of them braking may not result in a crisis of having to face the possible false beliefs any of us hold.
A nother question is, why would a divine god that alledgedly is interrested in having as many people believe right about this god, be unable to convince all of us, not to mention actually most of us? And indeed, why would such a god demand blind faith?
10. It is indeed a good question that you pose when you ask what do people even mean by benevolent. For some reason people are quite willing to call a god that they attribute their athleets foot being cured, when said god at the same time has obviously done nothing to billions of victims of starvation, AIDS, polio or what ever horrid disease. It seems this god gets to be praised for what ever positive happens, but not blamed for anything bad, even though alledgedly this same god, call it Allah, Vishnu, Yahweh, or Jesus, has the power to make all things better.
This alledgedly all powerfull god created the universe to be “broken” and all creatures in it to suffer, for what ever end and is – as it seems – not answerable for this terrible reality to anyone as if might made right, while the subjects are expected to yell praises for this creator entity supposedly saving them in return for worship and gullibility after they are released from the “broken” reality. Does that make sense to you? Honestly, any sense at all? Why would anyone call this sort of divinty love? I have a rather different view of love. If you excuse my expression, I think my view of love is both much more beautifull and verifiable. Love is an emotional electrochemical response, that both causes us to propagate our species, individual gene combinations, and adds to our general wellbeing as the rather self aware biological agents, and social animals, that we are. Perhaps you share some of my view? 🙂 I shall await for you to extrapolate on your views on this, with much interrest.
11. Thank you. It is good to know that at least someone thinks my thoughts may have some insight to them. 🙂 I do appriaciate you did not just brush these points of mine aside, but that they did evoke some interresting contemplations in you.
To me, this is all about learning to understand other people. My cultural heritage from my atheist parents is to try to understand others and to try to make the world a better place for everyone. Sometimes it is hard, and sometimes one meets a person, like yourself, who has the patience to explain their views in a polite manner and is willing to have a discussion, that is meaningfull, hopefully to the both of us. Religions, like all big questions about identity, are delicate matters, but even so they need to be addressed, if we want to make a better world for all of us.
Yes, these needy kids keep getting in the way of blogging! 🙂 Mine has gone hyperactive and refuses to sleep till two hours after her normal bedtime. I thought it was a phase, but 6 weeks later I’m losing hope of regaining my evenings for the foreseeable future.
Anyway, yes, our kids were coming from different angles and had different concerns.
“the thorns of christianity are not in the misunderstandings you list above”
In what way are they misunderstandings? Do you think that the majority of human beings who have existed are going to heaven? Without believing in Jesus? Do you not believe in the existence of the Devil or demons as described in the Bible? Do you think the laws about stoning those perceived to be sexual immoral were unjust? I could go on, but I don’t get why you think I’ve misunderstood anything.
“The gospel of Jesus is that he came to bear the crown of thorns himself, and took our place, the righteous for the unrighteous, so that we can be right with God. The thorns are gone. And because of this, death has lost it’s sting”
I don’t want to be rude, but I’d struggle to find any other way to say this: that’s totally meaningless. Took our place for what? Being punished for being bad because the deity that created us (who knows everything) doesn’t like what we do? And only for a very small minority of humans that exist, and only (until recently) available in geographically specific parts of the world? I mean, come on …
Ah yes, VW…kids… hope yours are sleeping better this week.
“I don’t want to be rude, but I’d struggle to find any other way to say this: that’s totally meaningless. Took our place for what? Being punished for being bad because the deity that created us (who knows everything) doesn’t like what we do? And only for a very small minority of humans that exist, and only (until recently) available in geographically specific parts of the world? I mean, come on …”
Good on you for being honest and blunt about it all. I don’t think you’re being rude. But I do disagree 😉
I think perhaps you are thinking here and in your bullet point list of a “divine command theory” of ethics – which is not what the christian religion is about, that’s one place where I think we are misunderstanding each other..but I’ll get to that in a minute.
I’ve only got time to answer the first few of your original points
“believing that if you don’t behave appropriately, or ask for forgiveness in the right way, you’ll be tortured for eternity; believing all the people you love who don’t share your religion will be tortured for eternity; believing that most of the people you see around you will be tortured for eternity along with almost all of the people in other countries you see on television who will never have the chance to even get to know about your religion because their leaders chose the wrong religion”
Firstly, I think hell/eternal punishment must be understood together with respect to things like justice and judgement, because I think they are linked. And on this note I would like to emphasise –
I am most interested in what any other religion or philosophy has to say with respect to the state of humanity. I’d love to hear what you or others here, as an atheists, or others of different religious background have to say about the human condition, especially with respect to suffering and justice –
Anyhow, your bullet points!
Anyway you look at it the idea of hell is horrific.
Let’s be specific about what is clear in the Christian theory of the world/the Christian worldview and what is not.
What is fairly clear – the notion of people being created as eternal beings; God being described as merciful and just (unjust actions do not go unnoticed before God (e.g. “The LORD said “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground….Gen 4:10); God lamenting over people, God seeking after people, even though they reject him (e.g. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matt 23:37), God’s faithfulness (e.g. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there; if I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, eve there your hand will guide me, your right hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me”, even then the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” Psalm 139).
Another point that is clear is humanities rejection of the creator’s authority – as you would know, from the Genesis story, people are created by God to enjoy him and all creation and are given freedom, except the freedom to determine for themselves what is good and what is evil (“…but you must not eat from the tree of determination of good and evil, for when you eat from it, you will surely die” Gen 2:17) – that prerogative belongs to God alone.
In the Christian religion – it is God’s authority to reveal what is right and what is wrong. NB. “good” and “bad” are NOT arbitrary categories of God’s preferences. This is not a “divine command theory” of ethics. NOR is it the case that there is some external moral law under which God himself sits. The Christian perspective says: God himself is “the Good” and that he ordered the world as a reflection of his own good character. Therefore, that which God commands and that which is good are inherently one and the same. To defy God, as Adam did, is to defy the Good. Or as I think I said to rautakky above, the reject the author of life is to ultimately reject Life itself.
These things are fairly clear in Christian thinking.
What is not made entirely clear – the exact nature of hell (e.g. Protestants and Catholics differ with respect to purgatory, Protestants don’t all agree on the notion of eternal conscious suffering etc), exactly who “goes” where after death, and how God decides. There certainly is plenty of material in the bible about these things, but do we know specifically – only God does.
Basically, all are agreed – no one “like” or even “agrees” with the idea of eternal punishment of some kind, it is truly awful to consider. But part of creation it seems to be.
Hell may be a future reality, and yet, to me, equally awful is the reality that people are born every day into what could be described as an earthly hell – there is no fairness in that either.
That is where I think perhaps we have to consider hell and justice at the same time.
This book looks like an enlightening read : http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-skeletons-in-gods-closet
I haven’t read it yet, but the review is thorough, and this book seems to express my best reading of the bible on this topic:
“In The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, and the Hope of Holy War, Joshua Ryan Butler argues the provocative thesis that these are teachings not skeletons in God’s closet—indeed, they are evidence that he is goodness all the way down to his bones. The pastor of global outreach at Imago Dei Church in Portland, Oregon, Butler writes as one who came to faith in Christ and found hope but was then faced with the shock of a Bible that didn’t fit his initial ideas of love, goodness, and justice. But in the course of looking at the bigger story of Scripture, wrestling with theology, working against global oppression, serving on missions to rescue girls stuck in sex trafficking, and spending time in Native American reservations, he began to find in doctrines like divine judgment both hope and healing for creation’s brokenness and human evil.”
That’s all I’ve got for the time being with respect to those points you raised.
Indeed God pleas with His creation even though we have ‘every one turned to our own way.’
You are entirely correct, God is merciful, and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.. The monstrous deeds are always, always on the end of man. God can not be criticized one whit.
Where in God’s creation did the idea of slaying a mans brother come from? Yes, it came from a crooked heart, one in which God allowed, but is blameless Himself for the depraved acts of people.
The real question on the table is How God is able to justify sinful man, without compromising His own intrinsic eternal perfection. Scripture tells us, and so you do.
Great thinking btw. 😉
@ColorStorm, who – if anybody – is responsible for creating the ebola and the polio etc. and allowing for many such to exist?
Thank you for recognizing that the whole creation groans, even until now.
The effects of sin are rather diabolical, yes? Yet, God is gracious through the discoveries of men.
Thank God for many beloved physicians.
@ColorStorm, no. No, thank not gods you can not verify. Or can you?
The effects of sin are as your god has set them, if “he” even exists. There are and never were any others responsible for them? Were there?
You simply can not blame the Adam character for his actions having the alledged results, if the story is true, that claims that he was set up by this god of yours, not really even to be able to make a better choise. Not to have any knowledge on what the results of his choise even might be. Further more, you simply can not blame any of the descendants of this Adam character for what he alledgedly did. That is absurd. Is it not? Or do you consider yourself responsible for the actions of your grandad? Of course not…
Blind obidience is not a virtue. Is it ever? It may be something, that keeps a child alive, but we are not children – you and I – are we? Adults are responsible for their own actions, because they have no one else to lean onto in their moral choises. Like religious people around the globe are trying to lean on their gods, what ever those gods may be…
Bringing ebola and polio into the world were not human actions. Were they? Could your god have chosen for those not to exist? If your god could and acutally even exists, then that god of yours is the sole responsible one for these to exist, or can you point out a nother?
Ultimatlely, even if your god could somehow claim the achievements of human physicians as “his” own (wich remains not shown on any level of even remotely objecive evaluation), said god would still be responsible for the agony and anguish of all the people who have suffered and died of those. With greater power naturally follows greater responsibility and with ultimate power the responsibility is again naturally also ultimate. Is it not? Or is this some sort of rule of nature and logic your god, once again, can somehow escape and break?
Thanks @ColorStorm 😉
You betcha. Daylight is necessary and delightful 😉
I would be curious how you can claim your god as just with all the destruction this pe4cefect, a powerful, all knowing and in comet control of everything has caused.
He sees all, knows a and directly controls our every action. Your bible is fu of wierd shit about free will and in the next breath god is sovereign aND in complete control. You can’t have it both ways. Either you are this sovereign gods puppet or you have free will.
Why does your just god allow suffering especially of his own people? Wierd how quick Christians say god did all the good but this all powerful god allows evil to exist. He couldn’t even kill satan, how powerful is he then really?
Be honest he killed all of humanity several time save for a few insestuous and sinful people like Noah. Besides that everyone was killed. But he can’t do the same to satan?
I call bullshit.
I was born atheist in the third generation. There are now atheists in the fifth generation in my family. My niece told her few years old daughter, who asked about death when her great granpa (my dad) died, the most simple of answers: “Yes, everyone dies, but you or I will not die for a very long time.” Funny how little children are quite satisfied with the most simple and honest of answers. What the child wanted to know, was death going to have an impact on her life any time very soon. Nothing else. To the child a week is a very long time, especially during Yuletide.
In this respect of the reality, it seems the religious notions of claiming that the dead are not really dead, are not so much for adults protecting their kids, as much as they are for the adults who tell the original lie to the kids. It comforts them, as they are more aware of death, than the little kids. But in doing so, the adults excuse their lies, much the same way the Santa Claus story is excused. That the kids will have ample time to learn better. The kids may be terrified of good ol Santa, but the adults like to play their game to the finnish. What apes we humans are? But what if the kids never learned that the Santa stories were bogus? Just imagine it. Their parents would die and subsequently the gifts stopped from appearing, but the kids all grown up would continue to believe the story because they learned it from the authority they came to trust, as the parents kept them alive when they themselves yet could not. Would they come up with all sorts of clever apologetics to excuse Santa for not giving any prezzies no longer? I bet they would. I bet they would excuse Santa as not a mythological character, because he is loosely based on a historical story about St. Nicholas. And then we would have a completely new religion, most of wich adherents would not give up on their core beliefs and identity, even if they had some dealings with the rest of the world, in wich the Santa Claus is seen as a mythical entity in service of advertizing.
I was never told by my parents, that there is some form of eternal life, any particular form of god, or other superstitious nonsense. I was not terrified by death as a kid, nor am I nowadays. I have never been affraid of hell or gods. Death has seemed very natural to me for as long as I can remember back, life has seemed all the more valuable as I am pretty sure we only have this one. I have had some close encounters with death and still it does not terrify me, though naturally I fear it enough to avoid it, like all sentient beings. Honestly, I am not the best person to evaluate how not being told any particular mythical fairy tale about an afterlife as a kid affected me, but from where I am standing, it did not damage my curiosity towards the mysteries of life and the universe in wich life resides in any imaginable way. On the contrary, it seems, I was given a set of critical thinking tools in a very young age. How I have wasted them is my own matter. 😉
I love your comments Raut. Have you got kids? If so, how have you dealt with Santa?
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No, I have no offspring of my own. I find myself a much better uncle, than a parent and try to stick to that. 😉 Now, for a few years I have literally been a great uncle and my uncle is the great, great uncle.
I have been together with my wife for over two decades and you can just guess how it rubs me the wrong way, when those bigots who oppose gay marriages make the claim, that the only purpose of marriage is to have children… It is a lie, they never would have even thought up, unless they needed a secular excuse for their claims, since they realize that the religious one is not enough, nor very good in the first place, for the modern society – seemingly oblivious to the fact that their real reason is mere ikky about something, that is the private business of other people, who do not harm anyone by being different…
I was fooled with the Santa story when I was a kid, and my parents did not even think of it twice. They had been fooled like that when they were kids and naturally they did not think it even might be harmfull. But my dad would never play the role of Santa, not after he had done so when he was a youth, run hard into his uncle in a snow blizzard on a bicycle who incidently was also playing Santa and was totally drunk (drinking was a very typical “method of relieving” PTSD in his generation, that had almost to a man been to war) and the two of them got into a fistfight, because my dad’s uncle thought he was being attacked and since both were wearing masks, they could not recognize each other…
Hence, it was most typical in our household, that the Santa did not appear in flesh, but only visited while we were at the sauna (the Christmass sauna is a special thing to us Finns, and as typical is attended by the entire family – but naked, wich for what ever reason seems unnerving to most Indo-Europeans). One of the adults was left a bit behind with some excuse about all the food that needed to be prepaired, or other, and one could just almost guess, that it was them and not the Santa, who had put the prezzies under the tree while we were at sauna…
At age seven I had just learned, that the Santa story is bogus, when I realized, that there are actually adult people who take the Jesus story as for true and at face value. You can guess how surprized I was. It just seemed too odd. Since, I have learned that there are a lot of things adults can be overtly gullible, like other sorts of pyramid schemes other than religion…
Nice to hear, you like my extensive rants. 🙂
Good post, whenever I feel that atheism may make some people feel uncomfortable, I remind myself that I’m simply forgetting the horrors of religion.
And if not the horrors, certainly the general oddness …
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