Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Great Debate, Part Deuce

More back and fourth between my worthy advisory and myself. It's raw, fresh and hot of the press ladies and gentlemen. You probably need to review the first one if you hope to get the full gist of the second one.

My opponent:

Okay, let me address your mischaracterizations and misunderstandings, as well as any lines of argument you advance.These will come quickly, as space constraints limit me. First, traditional and biblical Christian teaching has never been that we are allowed to get comfortable while others suffer. The Gospels are so against this that it is unbelievable one could get this from them. The early Christians held everything in common, and everything above necessities and basic conveniences BELONGED to the poor and were faithfully given to them. The best Christians try to approximate this practice today. Do not let the comfortable American pseudo-church convince you that this is someone true Christian teaching. OF COURSE God does not care about me, or any other Western Christian, more than He does people in third world countries. I am commanded to give all that I can to the poor, and if I don’t, my eternal salvation is in jeopardy before a holy God. I’d say God cares about the poor. The only point Jesus’ is making is that we should trust God for our wellbeing as we do His will – that is, as we feed the poor and help ameliorate the world from the effects of OUR sin! We should be concerned about our necessities, but not unduly concerned, which is Jesus' point (worrying, which is counter-productive and will keep us from doing good for God). Otherwise the only issue here is the problem of evil, which is difficult, but not impossible to reconcile with a perfectly good God. God knows we will abuse our free will, but he granted it for a good reason, and in the end he will make right whatever we screw up.

Second, sensitive Christian theology does NOT teach that we are literally blamed or held culpable for the personal sin of Adam. That is a minority position, and millions of Christians don’t go along with it. What most teach is that personal sin has a negative communal effect, even throughout generations, which is empirically true. If children are dying of starvation, it is not because of God’s favoritism, but human rapacity. And of course God will recompense everyone for their deeds and their suffering in the end – something that is IMPOSSIBLE on atheism.

As for the Samuel story, the text is clear elsewhere that God first tried to get people to leave for FOUR HUNDRED YEARS. The guilty parties were the ones who stayed, and they were killed (and scholars dispute that children or babies were killed, as I noted – the fact that all were not killed is evidence that this was hyperbole). If an innocent person was killed, it was not Yahweh’s intention, and like all sin it will be judged. God’s conversation with Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah makes it clear that God “will not destroy the guilty with the innocent.”

Now as for your central arguments about divine clarity, hiddenness, and the like: While Christians do and have disagreed on the interpretation of various biblical texts, they have overwhelmingly come to agreement on matters central to the faith and salvation. Of course there WAS some debate about central issues, particularly in the early church – and of course there will always be fringe groups who deny central teachings - but the consensual creeds are decisive evidence that God was amply clear about central matters. His revelation was a success. And this is was not just a result of "who was in power” – by the time counsels were convened, consensus had already emerged from the GROUND UP. So YOU may find all of these contradictions on central matters and other matters, but the church has gotten the memo. I’m not going to go text by text with you. I have responded to the Matthew passage, and you have not substantially engaged that. Similar plausible defenses can show that you are just reading these texts uncharitably, looking for contradictions.

And finally and more generally, I hope you are not arguing that disagreement implies that there are no objective standards! Will we say, then, that since 50 or so percent of American does not believe in evolution (which, btw, I do, and I judge it to be fully compatible with the bible), that therefore there are no objective scientific standards with regard to evolution?! No – the point about objectivity is that even if EVERYONE doesn’t see the truth, it is still the truth.

Now as for Hitler and the like (gotta love it) – Yes “Christians” have done horrible things in the past, but this does absolutely nothing to count evidentially against Christianity, since they did so AGAINST their principles. Martin Luther, too, was NOT “following biblical teachings” by being an anti-semite. He was misreading the text, as most Christians have rightly judged. The Bible’s message is clear that Christ died for all and desires the salvation of all. Jesus called the Jewish LEADERS “children of the devil” precisely because they were doing all of the things you railed against in your post: fleecing the poor, being self-righteous, and breaking God’s commandments for justice. And in fact, Christianity from the earlier and purer age was a force of liberation FROM slavery and the oppression of women, as any historical study of early Christian societies will attest.And of course I am quite aware of the reality of religious pluralism. But whereas you interpret one way, I interpret it as saying human beings are longing for something divine. This could very well be part of a cumulative case for theism. And finally, the Bible is not intended to teach us precisely how the world works. It uses metaphorical and phenomenological language. Christian fundamentalists – and non-Christians whose way of reading the Bible is eerily similar to fundamentalism - err when they try to make the Bible into a science text book.

My Reply:

I wasn't trying to argue that 'Christians are allowed to get comfortable while others suffer'. I was trying to argue that there is an unjustice when Jesus stated that we ought not worry about anything as long as we follow his will. It seems cruel that he would presumably take care of the Christian's need 100% of the time if they follow him while ignoring the cries of the fatherless or starving. Jesus said those who seek him would have their needs met, so it must be a fact just like the sun is shining right now is a fact. Yet, children born in less fortunate circumstances are not taken care of in the slightest. Children who, at no fault of there on, live on the street and die on the street. I understand and commend those Christians and secularists that help the poor and the needy but this doesn't imply that it's because of some divine calling that there are a few who get their needs met. It's just people seeing a need and wanting to help their fellow human being. You say that we are commanded to give all to the poor but that was not the picture given in the O.T.. If you followed the Lords will in the O.T., you were given great wealth for following the Lord. The formula seizes to be effective in the N.T. where Jesus strongly condemns wealth and compares it to a camel trying to walk through the eye of a needle--as how difficult it is for a rich person to enter heaven. Why would this perfect, unchanging god suddenly alter his philosophy on wealth so drastically? In the O.T., the wealthy thrived that were doing the will of the Lord. You could have your cake and eat it too. The problem of evil can't be answered with Free Will since god already knows the path we will choose. He is omniscient isn't he? Yet, he still creates people that he knows will make others suffer like Adolf Hitler. I understand that the problem of evil is a theological and philosophical question that has been debated vigorously down throughout the ages and stands out as a 'thorn in the side' for many Christians. Thus, they have to take it on faith that redemption will ultimately 'repair' the damage that people incurred in this lifetime. There is some evidence that the church added heaven and hell later just for that very reason. It wasn't original to the gospels. The O.T. says almost nothing about heaven or hell.

The Bible is contradictory on generational courses as well. Some passages in the O.T. state that we are cursed for the sins of of our fathers for multiple generations. Others state that we will not be held culpable for the sins of our father. We can't have it both ways so again the communication is poor. I still believe that this is indicative of the Bible being a man made product and not inspired by god. God shouldn't have Dissociative Identity Disorder. On the issue of Adam, the bible doesn't say anything about 'original sin' but this is a theme well represented in the church and I'm pretty surprised that you say millions do not concur with the 'idea'.

On the Story of Samuel, you like to use the dart board effect. You throw a number of possibilities out there and hope that one hits the target. Are we also to assume that the Mosaic and Levitical Laws are exaggerations, metaphors, hyperbole, science-fiction, accidents etc..? The law says that an unruly teenager must be stoned, first by the parent and then the rest of the community. The law says that a female who fails to cry out loud sufficiently while being ravaged within the city limits must be stoned as well. The law says that a female found to not be a virgin on her wedding night must be stoned. I argue that this is barbaric and this god is unmerciful. To create humanbeings with the capacity to sin and to destroy them for doing so is an unjustice on a massive scale. But, he loves us?!!? His definition of 'love' is a very different defintion from my own, and I don't mean in a positive sense.

You say that I am looking for contradictions as if I'm some sort of detective searching for anything that I can get my little paws on. I'm not having to try very hard. The text speaks for itself. Just for example, there ARE passages that state baptism is how one is saved and, conversely, there ARE texts that leave baptism out completely. Again, you can't have it both ways here and it is NOT clear. The gospel of the trinity isn't even in the Bible but you presumably believe it as do others. This was a theological theme only incorporated after much debate. It's also a logical absurdity. They are distinct but they are the same. The first three gospels do not speak of Jesus' divinity. This was emphasized in John once it was clear that Jesus wasn't coming back as soon as the disciples had thought and he prophesied--since they have long since died. The emphasize switched to Jesus' divinity in John and how we would once be reunited in heaven upon physical death.

"And in fact, Christianity from the earlier and purer age was a force of liberation FROM slavery and the oppression of women, as any historical study of early Christian societies will attest." Please read your O.T.. unless you are a supporter of Marcionism. You can paint Jesus with a loving brush but you can't deny that the O.T. has given Christians fuel for the fire to feel justified in bringing about mass conversion through any means necessary just like the Isrealites did. Again, god foresaw all of this before it happened and still let it happen. He also knew that people who were the guilty party in these acts would spend eternity in HELL. I don't know where you're getting this notion that Christianity was once a liberator for women and slaves. Paul himself speaks about how women are to remain silent in the church and can hold no important position. Of course, he contradicts himself later but that's probably because both authors were not really Paul.

Yes, people are looking for something to explain the awesomeness of the universe which is why I earlier appealed to its grandeur and majesty. It's understandable that people would want to seek out a deity for things which they can't explain, but it doesn't make a sound argument for the case of there actually being a deity. Plenty of empirical evidence showcases humanities propensity for pattern seeking and magical thinking. We seek comfort and control in a world that is so unpredictable and terrifying. God(s) provide a 'comfort blanky' when things get too troublesome or anxiety provoking. Myths pass down generation to generation. The Jesus myth has many similarities to other ANE myths of the time and before that time. Jesus wasn't the only show in time that claimed to be messianic as Apollonius of Tyana can attest. The O.T. myths are so strikingly similar to other Babylonian and Sumerian myths which proceeded it. From the creation of the earth to the noah's flood, stories like the Epoch of Gilgamesh hold striking similarities. I'm arguing that this is just a case of oral transfer by people who hold to magical thinking and superstition when science couldn't lend helpful guidance. The scientific falsehoods in the Bible are the result of what people REALLY thought back in those times and, again, points to the fact that the Bible is a man made product. God could have certainly inspired the authors to write that the earth rotates around the sun and not vice versa.

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