*frowns at the tip jar
... gets caught doing it by some patron ... starts whistling to self and pretends he was wiping off the counter instead*
Believe it or not, this post was shortened a bit from its first draft. :( Sorry dude! It's a curse, my loquaciousness.)
Okay, this is a "catch up" post, going back and trying to cover all the points in Starlequin's posts that I wanted to cover, and doing it as quickly as I am able, without fussing over the quality of the writing too too much, as I often do. What I said in my last long post
is probably much more important than what I'm going to say here, so if you only have time to read one post or the other, read that one, please. :)
Star: you sent me a PM or two long ago that I intended to reply to and never did. Sorry about that! I enjoy PMing, but other things like this blog have monopolized my Elliquiy time lately. I hope our conversation here has been enjoyable for you instead. By now, you've probably heard far more from me than you ever wanted to, right?
For several days, I've contemplated whether or not I should leave a reply or a comment in this blog. I know you've asked for feedback repeatedly, and I've been glad to see that you've received it from others, but until now I haven't felt as if I've had anything of value to contribute. Of course, that may still be the case; that judgement will be made by the readers.
As it happens, I too have recently begun examining my own beliefs with a more critical eye than I've ever brought to bear on the matter. In fact, I suppose I was encouraged or inspired by some of the same discussions in the P&R thread that probably motivated you to start this blog. But whereas you appear to have taken the path of strengthening or bolstering your faith, I have begun to systematically dismantle mine.
So glad you decided to post here, and glad you've put critical thought into such important topics that many people never get around to.
After an unpleasant childhood upbringing in the Baptist church and the obligatory teenage occult interest, I grew up and spent about ten years as what many would term an 'apatheist', which is to say I didn't know whether a god existed, and I really didn't care anymore if it did or not. I had reached the conclusion that any superior being that could exist in such a state as to be completely undetectable to an inquiring mind would almost certainly be absolutely incomprehensible to that mind, and so it mattered to me about as much as thermonuclear physics matters to a penguin. God exists, god doesn't exist, just shut the hell up and pour the friggin' Cheerios.
Heh. This isn't an unreasonable position. The Christian response as far as I know would be to say that the Bible and Jesus's incarnation were both huge efforts by God to connect with people, to make himself detectable and known. I'm sure you knew about that claim already.
Perhaps two years ago, I discovered the idea of pandeism, the concept that the whole of existence is the result of God (for lack of a better term) 'self-destructing', blowing himself to smithereens and creating what we've come to know as space, time, matter and energy as a result. (Which is supposedly the cause of the Big Bang.) I'm sure smarter people than I can pinpoint other flaws in this theory, but for me, the fatal flaw in this model of reality is that it's ultimately useless. To say that God is the universe is tantamount to saying the universe is the universe, which is saying the same thing, which is redundant.
This theory is totally new to me and strikes me as hugely funny. :) No offense to anyone who takes it seriously; I'm sure there's a way to do that, and hey, to each his own.
Now, after several weeks of consideration, deliberation, aggravation, meditation, investigation, condensation and relaxation by masturbation, I've begun to approach a new conclusion: atheism. I've spent hours upon hours (uponhoursuponhoursuponhours) poring over philosophy, evolutionary biology, geological history and astrophysics, and although I'll admit I've had to take the word of several ladies and gentlemen with disgustingly long strings of impressive and respectable letters after their names, I've become more and more convinced that there simply is no need for any supernatural 'First Cause', or 'Creator'. To stare into the face of the evidence that has been collected so far (and that is currently being gathered), nearly every piece of which has a natural, physical explanation (or will soon), and still say 'Nope, uh-uh, God dun it' is to claim that either every scientist who has ever tackled the mysteries of origin has been a liar or wrong, or that God is just the ultimate champion of Hide and Seek -- and he's cheating.
As a Christian, I believe that God created everything that there is, but I have no qualms whatsoever with evolution or any other major part of science, nor am I comfortable at all with religious people who dispute established science based on crappy pseudo-science. Also, more importantly, I can't think of anything about the origins of the universe that amounts to a key, central
claim of Christianity, so anyone who asserts otherwise is getting sidetracked by unimportant stuff, in my opinion.
And now let's talk about the Abrahamic faith, from which your beliefs appear to spring. If we take the Bible as the perfect, complete, incorruptible and infallible Word of God, then we must reject not only our own sense of reason and logic, but centuries of conflicting accounts and evidence. It seems pretty widely accepted that most of the books of the Bible weren't even written by their supposed authors, or during their supposed time frames. There are so many contradictions in this book, so many falsehoods and errors that I won't even attempt to catalog them; instead, here. Skeptic's Annotated Bible. Knock yourselves out.
So if the Bible is so rife with mistakes and contradictions, how can it be perfect? If it's not perfect, why cling so tightly to it?
I don't see the historical scholarship about the Bible's authors and origins as an important factor at all with regard to those key claims of Christianity ... No matter who wrote the Bible or how messed-up the Bible got over the years or how many contradictions it contains, it still includes a few key propositions about reality and about Jesus that each person needs to decide either to believe or disbelieve. Those are the parts that really matter to me. I care about all of it, somewhat, but in terms of relative importance
-- the key claims are the ocean
; the rest is just a drop.
If the key claims are false, then anything else about Jesus or the Bible isn't all that important to me, except as historical curiosities. If the key claims are true, then I feel that I have to make Christianity the focus of my existence; that's what I've attempted to do.
It occurs to me that I really should specify the key claims I'm referring to. I'm going to write up the key claims soon for a post here, just so I can refer to it in the future. I'm starting to think there's just too much confusion in the general public (even in the USA, and even among Christians) over which claims are key and which aren't, and obviously, that distinction is extremely
important to me.
My next points will deal with Jesus directly. Leaving aside the debate over whether the character of Jesus Christ even really existed (there is a surprisingly large community of biblical and historical scholars that believe he didn't), why are you so certain your interpretation of his teachings and actions are accurate?
This to me is the most crucial question you asked, which is why I did a couple posts before trying to address this question at length.
Among those who accept his existence, some suspect that his teachings had nothing to do with God and Heaven, but instead were concerned with freeing the Jewish people from the Roman Empire. The character of Jesus was and is widely regarded as a political radical; it's entirely possible that's because he was just a leader of an all-too-earthly Jewish resistance against Roman rule and occupation.
Again, only the key claims really matter; if they're false, then the rest becomes academic and uninteresting to me.
And that's not even mentioning the point that if you accept the evidence of evolution, then there was in fact no Adam and Eve to eat the apple, no fall from grace, no original sin, and therefore why send Jesus to die for it?
I don't see evolution as being at odds with the idea that people are fundamentally tainted with sin. Whether the Adam and Eve story is historical or allegorical or just a fairy tale, the point of the story is to show the background for that flaw in humanity. I think you could throw out that story altogether and still accept the idea that people are all sinners (tainted/flawed), so the details of the Adam and Eve story are -- once again -- something of a side issue, in my view.
Now, whether or not humans are sinful/flawed is
a key issue, and I accept the claim that they are; partly I accept it based on faith alone, but partly I've seen in my own life supporting evidence of that inescapable, basic flaw: no matter how hard I try, I fail at many things and hurt others or hurt myself, and no amount of effort stops that from happening for very long.
I don't think it's dishonest or unreasonable for other people to imagine that humanity is fundamentally good or at least has the potential for good; I just think that isn't the way things really are. There are well-known arguments on both sides that anyone can find and consider, and I'm not half as smart as some of the people who put forth those arguments. At the end of the day, based on my limited knowledge and personal experience and observation, I choose to believe the Christian claim of human sinfulness. Others don't.
And then, there's the concept of heaven and hell, and celestial judgement. Sooo much wrong with this, where to begin. I'll start with the point you raised, that God's sense of moral right and wrong is so superior to ours that it makes ours seem broken by comparison. This really sounds like moving the goalpost, changing the definitions of right and wrong until it fits your idea, but I'll accept it for now. So the question now is, if there was no literal fall from grace and no original sin, how did we get 'broken'?
Christianity claims that we're each born with a sinful nature that we inherited, but it also claims that even if we didn't inherit that, we would each make the same wrong choice and end up sinful anyway. Sounds like a bit of a whopper, I know; hard to prove, damn hard. I accept it, with some reservations.
I find it pretty easy to believe that I'm not perfect
that means; and it doesn't matter much to me what word is used for that human imperfection (you could say people are sinful, or flawed, broken, incomplete, tainted, etc.). The idea sounds right and feels right to me; it makes some deep sense. Whether I'm an "evil"
person or not is much easier for me to question or doubt; but whether I'm perfect
or not? Nah, that I ain't. I accept that God is
perfect as a simple matter of faith; Christianity says he's real and he's perfect. No proof at hand that you could touch or see, not direct proof, at least.These are not simple or easy or unimportant questions.
People smarter than you or I have disagreed over the answers; people have literally killed each other over the answers. You know that of course, but it's worth mentioning.
Honestly and frankly, I want to know why reality is set up the way it is; even though I accept Christianity's claims about reality, I do not pretend to understand why things had to be that way. I've heard pro and con arguments and found all of them sorely wanting. It does matter to me; I care about it, a lot; but for me, not having every
answer is not
a good enough reason to reject the answers we do
have -- the key propositions about reality given to all of us in Christianity.
Were we just created like that? If we're created 'broken', then how can we be justly punished? And if we're created 'broken', why not provide an easier or simpler method of repairing ourselves? If we're dealing with an almighty and omnipotent being (which is another contradiction that couldn't logically exist -- omnipotence is the limitless set of all powers, limiting the scope of power is considered a power, omnipotence includes the ability to limit itself which therefore precludes limitless omnipotence, you can see how it basically eats itself), then the idea of having to follow some grand plan is ludicrous.
You're asking good questions; don't stop, and don't accept answers that you find unsatisfying or unacceptable in any way. If the truth is the truth, and if the truth can be found, then none of us should hesitate to ask the hard questions or to hone our sense of reason and then apply it as rigorously and unsparingly as we possibly can. That process can get you pretty far ... There are answers to your questions that other Christians have proposed, and you may find at least some of their answers plausible.
It's fairly certain, however, that you will not ever get an acceptable answer for every
question. You will inevitably be left with several unanswered questions and several answers that you can neither prove nor disprove
. Other people have walked this long path before you and I, and others will walk it after us. At the end of the intellectual journey, each of us has to choose to believe or not to believe, and either
choice will be a matter of faith. I know that many of those who choose not to believe Christianity will fight tooth and nail to claim that there's no faith involved in that. I think those people have an inadequate appreciation for the limits of human and scientific knowledge.
Let me reiterate: I know that you have heard Christianity's claims before and rejected them, and that's your right; I don't want to push you to change your mind. You must do what you think is best, and I will respect your decision even if you choose differently than I did. What I don't want, however, is for anyone to reject Christianity without looking into it for themselves and understanding what it is really about. Many people turn away from Christianity because they get distracted by unimportant side issues, or because the people telling them about Christianity are jerks or hypocrites, and that's tragic.
Jumping to other posts ...
The reason I've been so hesitant to post any comments in this blog of yours will probably sound ridiculously arrogant to anyone reading it, but here it is: I'm aware (well, I have an inkling, at least) of how important your faith is to you. And I really, really don't want to break it. I'm sure you think there's no way I could do something like that; you probably think it would be like the wind shattering a mountain. But I've broken the beliefs of a few people before (including a pastor at the church I was raised in), and I know that it's both possible, and not pretty.
But from what you've written, I'm left with one of two conclusions: Either nothing I can say will ever get through to you and I'll never change your mind or even put a dent in your faith, or you really, really need someone to break you out of it. I don't mean to attack you personally; in my experience the only reason conversations like these get heated like they sometimes do is because both parties genuinely care about each other. But I can't help but feel, perhaps as you did, that this post deserves a response.
Here is mine. ...
I do care about these issues and about you and about your views, and I appreciate and thank you for the care and concern you've shown by participating in this dialog, despite whatever hesitations you've had, and despite how much of your time and effort this must have eaten up.
My faith is strong, although it hasn't always been as strong as it is these days. I've lived through a few experiences that felt worse than anything I would wish on any other person, and my faith survived and sustained me through that. Very often it didn't
feel that way at the time, but I can look back and see it now. Now my life is a wonder and a blessing, every day. (Sorry for the churchspeak; blech. It's hard to always avoid.) I still feel awful as fuck sometimes; but I also know that I'm happy, truly happy, and I think I know what that actually means. It's a gift so great and valuable that I can't help but wish that everyone I know received the same gift, because it is freely available to everyone. So, that's where I come from and where I'm at.
Let me touch on this:
As for me knowing things you don't...I doubt it, lol. But as long as you don't want me to hold back, I do have one more question to toss your way, and then I'll shut up and let you start working on your response.
If the god that you worship is so ultimately good, perfectly loving, all-powerful and omnibenevolent (I'm presuming here, since these attributes are most commonly ascribed to the Judeo-Christian God)...then why did he need/want/choose something as vicious and barbaric as human sacrifice as the *only way* to offer us salvation and forgiveness? It would have been effortlessly simple to make literally anything else the way to salvation. A ritualized dance, pilgrimage to sacred locations, sacrificial totems, magic springs of genuine living water placed conveniently around the world, a fucking cookie recipe, anything would be better than demanding a payment of blood and pain and death in exchange for human beings being human. That just doesn't sound like the idea of a supposedly perfect, all-knowing being that wants to 'save' humanity. It sounds like the idea of primitive, barely civilized men who wanted to control their fellow tribesmen.
Well, I don't disagree, really. I think the image of the crucified savior on his cross is grotesque and disturbing. It amazes me that very conservative, quaint, sweet, kind people will put up pictures in their houses of Jesus being tortured and murdered in the most ghastly fashion. It strikes me funny many times.
(I've probably used this answer enough to make it sound like a total fucking dodge
to you, but ...) I think this kind of question is not directly relevant to whether or not one accepts the key claims of Christianity. The proposition that God is perfect (holy, perfectly good) is a proposition that ultimately must be accepted or rejected on faith. That's not a satisfying answer, but there isn't a better one that I know of, and maybe that's how it's supposed to be.
We will always have some unanswered questions like the ones you've posed; they're great questions, and if my answers struck you as bullshit, then keep asking until you get answers you can live with. If you're honest with that process, and you still end up as a non-Christian, well ... No matter what I think, you have to be honest with yourself and seek the truth on your own. If the truth is really the truth, and if the truth can be found, then you and I will each find it, if we each look hard enough. I believe that as firmly as I believe anything.
Why do different people seem to arrive at different and mutually-exclusive "truths"? That is pretty damn close to the top of my
personal list of unanswered questions. But, having that question hasn't stopped me from choosing to believe. And honestly, I haven't had all my questions suddenly and miraculously answered just because I chose to become a Christian. We've all been told as much as we need to know in order to believe and reconnect with the one living and real God.
I believe he isn't some sicko sadist who amuses himself with stories about Jesus's gruesome death. He is far wiser and more loving than I, and he does many, many things I do not understand. Some day I expect to understand all of it, but not in this lifetime.
Why a blood sacrifice as the means of redemption? I don't know, but maybe it has something to do with showing all of us just how much greater and more perfect God is compared to us. The sin that stains humanity is not a trivial problem; it is extremely important. We see its tragic consequences all around us; it is at the root of all the suffering in our lives. It cuts us off from God in a profound way, a way so serious that only a blood sacrifice could fix it. If God can do anything, why didn't he choose something else? I honestly don't know; I too would like to know. Am I
smart enough to decide what God should or shouldn't do, about sin or anything else? I'm not.
He does a lot of things I think are fucking horrifying; namely, he allows all the horrors in this world to take place. It upsets the hell out of me; why would, how could he do that? I don't have that answer. What I do have is his promise that he is wise and loving, so it's not random; he isn't being capricious or cruel, because that would go against his loving nature.
You and I are children compared to God. Picture a young child lecturing his father on proper parenting methods. The wise, loving parent doesn't do whatever the kid thinks is best; he knows and does whatever is best for the kid, even when it seems all fucked up or unfair to the kid. If the child is small enough, it is completely incapable of grasping the father's reasons; the child's intelligence is far too little compared to the parent's.
Here's another way of looking at it: would you want a God to be so small that we humans could make total sense of him and fully grasp him, understand all his ways and motives and methods? What sort of God would that be? Similarly: would you want the method of redeeming human sinfulness to be trivial and quaint compared to the sins themselves? What sort of an act could redeem the atrocities committed in the Jewish Holocaust, or the suffering in each of our lives? Those are just some of my thoughts.
Everything I've said here is almost certainly stuff you've heard elsewhere, and you may have already rejected these ideas. I hope you'll keep telling me about your ideas sometimes, even when they're at odds with mine, because I know there's plenty more I can learn from you and others here who disagree with my beliefs.
If you got through all that, or most of it, thanks for doing so, and sorry if it bored you or enlightened you in no way whatsoever. If I failed to cover anything important, let me know. Any responses you have, including negative or critical ones, would be of great interest to me, but there's no obligation to respond either. Same goes for anyone else who read anything.