What kind of Morality is that? Is God Evil?

While I was doing my own studying, I came across this context of Scriptures.  2 Samuel 21:1-10.  And it really disturbed me.

The Gibeonites Avenged

 1 During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

 2 The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) 3 David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the LORD’s inheritance?”

 4 The Gibeonites answered him, “We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.”

   “What do you want me to do for you?” David asked.

 5 They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, 6 let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the LORD at Gibeah of Saul—the LORD’s chosen one.”

   So the king said, “I will give them to you.”

 7 The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the LORD between David and Jonathan son of Saul. 8 But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Michal, whom she had brought up to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9 He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning.

So the context of the scripture goes like this, David goes to God about a famine in the land.  God says it is because of King Saul you have this famine.  So David makes a deal that seven of Saul’s grandsons shall be sacrificed before the LORD to calm the famine.  (If using the KJV or NKJVversion.  It gives an impression that God even chose which seven to be sacrificed.)

Wait it gets worst.

Not only did God and David chose the seven descendants of Saul.  David is married to one of Saul’s daughters.  So he isn’t just allowing any random stranger to be killed.  He is allowing his own family to be slaughtered.  This is somewhat sick.  (Now depending on how you interpret my previous post.  http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/did-michal-have-any-children/  He is either allowing his own sons or his nephews to be slaughtered for a sacrifice.)  How can any man allow his own family to be killed like that.

And I think out of all the things, that are disheartening about this passage, is that GOD is okay with this.  He even encourages it, by picking out the seven innocent family members of King David to be murdered.

P.S. Now I ask myself.  Was God just in his actions to the seven men in allowing them to  be killed for something their father did?

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About M. Rodriguez

When I first received Christ salvation, I made it a priority to read the whole bible and I did. But it was the Bible that made me question my faith. For I found it flawed and lacking. Due to this I launched a personal inquiry/investigation into my faith, and ultimately realized that the Christian God of the Bible was indeed man-made. Now I Blog about those findings and life after Christ.
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109 Responses to What kind of Morality is that? Is God Evil?

    • Brenda says:

      BibleReader

      I’m curious whether you had a chance to read the post that I linked to. I thought she made some excellent points but I’d be interested in hearing how those came across to you.

      • unkleE says:

        G’day Brenda, I too have been troubled by what WL Craig says on this matter, and I disagree with his views. But I think the article you link to hasn’t been entirely fair.

        The article paints Craig as being a monster by quoting his comments selectively. The author ignored all the initial comments Craig made, where he discussed how difficult and terrible the whole matter was. For example, he says:

        “These stories offend our moral sensibilities. ….. The Bible itself inculcates the values which these stories seem to violate.”

        “The command to kill all the Canaanite peoples is jarring precisely because it seems so at odds with the portrait of Yahweh, Israel’s God, which is painted in the Hebrew Scriptures.”

        “It is precisely because we have come to expect Yahweh to act justly and with compassion that we find these stories so difficult to understand. How can He command soldiers to slaughter children?”

        “if God could not have issued such a command, then the biblical stories must be false. …. If we Christians can’t find a good answer to the question before us and are, moreover, persuaded that such a command is inconsistent with God’s nature, then we’ll have to give up biblical inerrancy.”

        He then goes on to try to justify God’s apparent actions. I think he is mistaken in this, and his other alternative – give up Biblical inerrancy (which I have never held in the first place) – seems preferable. Or maybe there’s a position in between (as I think there is)?

        What do you think?

      • Brenda says:

        unkleE

        Didn’t see a reply button under your comment – I hope this reply gets to the right spot.

        I think that was part of her argument – the fact that it can offend a Christian’s moral sensabilities but they will push on to have it make sense somehow. Because a Christian must defend the Bible – it puts them in a place where they can’t just look at a passage like that and say, ‘That’s awful!’ and walk away. They have to justify it either by defending the act itself or trying to explain why something that horrible is in their holy book at all (and the Old Testament is filled with such passages).

        As far as choosing the path of saying the Bible is not inerrant, she did address that:

        “Now, progressive and moderate believers usually go the cherry-picking route. But that requires its own contortions. Once you acknowledge that your holy books really aren’t that holy, once you admit that they have moral as well as factual errors, then you have to start asking why any of it is special, why any of it should be treated any differently from any other flawed books of history or philosophy. You have to start asking why — since your religion’s holy books are just as screwed-up as every other religion’s — your religion is still somehow the right one, and all other religions are mistaken. You have to start asking how you know which parts of your holy book are right and which parts are wrong — and how you know that people who disagree with you, who’ve picked the exact opposite cherries from the ones you’ve picked, who feel their faith in their hearts exactly as much as you do, have somehow gotten it terribly wrong. You have to start asking how you know the things you know. And to do that, and still maintain religious faith, requires its own contorted thinking, its own denial of reality, its own sticking of one’s fingers in one’s ears and chanting, “I can’t hear you! I can’t hear you!”

        She also says,

        “Of course, if you’re a progressive/ moderate/ non-literalist believer, you’re not stuck with defending every tenet of your holy book. You can say, “No, no, God didn’t command these horrors. He couldn’t have. The Bible is an inspired but flawed document, and it must be mistaken here when it says this command came from God. The Israelites wanted to slaughter the Canaanites, so they went ahead with it and told themselves the order came from God. But my God is good, and my God would never tell anyone to do any such a thing.”

        But then we’re back to the cherry-picking problem: How do you know? How do you know which parts of your holy book are the ones that God meant? The Bible, and indeed most other religious texts, is loaded with instances of God commanding his followers to commit murder or worse. How do you know that God really wasn’t giving those orders… but he really was giving the orders to love our neighbors and give to the poor? No two Christian sects agree on which bits of the Bible are God’s true word and which bits are the “Just kidding” bits. And every sect has just as much “feeling in their heart” about their interpretation as you do.

        So in order to pick those cherries, you have to twist yourself into just as many contortions as the fundies do.”

      • Hello, Brenda

        Sorry I didn’t respond to your post earlier, even though it was the first, I just got distracted by the other post.

        I did read the post, and it shocking that craig did say something like. I do have to agree that he isn’t a wingnut, he is the best christian apologist out there in my opinion. When I ever I have heard him debate an atheist he present his argument very well and very sound. So I’m a lil shocked he would say something like that.

        Now when I first went through the OT reading these scriptures, I just took the assumption that he is God and his will is just and reasonable. That he must have had a reason for his actions and that these people were punished for their disobedience to god. (Which was something common in many parts of OT like the Exodus.) And to a certain degree I still believe this.

        Now when I started this blog I said in my first post..I didn’t want this blog to be about if God or the Bible was moral, because in my opinion that is somewhat irrelevant in the topic of is the bible perfect or inerrant. And even further irrelevant on the topic of Does God Exist? http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/so-it-begins/

        However in all honesty I find this being hard to stick to, because a large amount of apologist using the argument of morality to prove the existence of God and the necessity of Christianity. Furthermore my Favorite apologist to listen to William Lane Craig uses the argument of Objective Morality to prove the existence of God, so it is hard to get away from the topic of morality. However I can tell you, I won’t be putting up alot of post on the issue of morality, objective morality, or subjective morality. (And this is because I think it takes away from my true intention of; Is the bible inerrant/perfect? Can be it trusted as a reliable source for God’s Word? Can the bible trusted as spiritual inspiration into God/Yahweh?)

        Now, I posted this post/topic because in it, there was a slight bible contradiction. http://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/did-michal-have-any-children/ And secondly I found it mind blowing that God would be okay with David having his own family members killed. The combination of those two things, led me to making this post.

    • Brenda says:

      Bible Reader

      I can understand that whether you can trust the Bible or not is your focus – but you are right – it’s hard to keep things compartmentalized like that. I know for me one issue snowballed into another and another and another. You know where to find me if you want to discuss issues other than just the Bible itself.

  1. This is one of the many examples showing that the old-testament god is not a very just man.

  2. unklee says:

    Hello again. I too have worried about some of these Old Testament passages, but I wonder whether you have considered all the options here? For example, is it possible that God revealed himself step by step, and this is at a time when his revelation was incomplete? Or perhaps the Old Testament reports what people believed God was saying, but they didn’t always get it right? Those ideas might be shocking to some, but surely we need to consider them? For more ideas on this, you may like to read Who’s afraid of Yahweh?. Best wishes.

  3. unkleE says:

    A few further thoughts.

    1. In the passage you have quoted, God has no part in David’s actions after he points out the reason for the famine in v1. You have blamed God for what David did! (But, to be fair, there are other passages that you could have used to make a similar point.)

    2. I have found a curious thing in the Old Testament. It sometimes gives conflicting accounts of who is responsible for actions. For example, 2 Samuel 24 says “the Lord …. incited David to take a census”, whereas 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that “Satan …. incited David”. Now how do we understand this? Did the writer not know the difference? Did he think Satan was the means God used to do this? Or did they attribute to God or to Satan in some spiritual sense any good or bad action actually done by a person, to stress the spiritual implications of human actions? I don’t pretend to know. But what I think we can say is that interpreting passages like this as if they were modern factual reporting is surely inadequate.

    3. In the end, we are dealing with a time and culture very far removed from our own, and which has little relevance to us now. We are christians, followers of Jesus, and the New Testament is our book. The OT is no longer binding on us, and we don’t really understand it. I accept there will be things there I cannot understand, and focus on understanding the NT, which is more important and more relevant.

    That’s where I have got to so far in thinking about this.

  4. Ryan says:

    unkleE you wrote:

    “We are Christians, followers of Jesus, and the New Testament is our book. The OT is no longer binding on us, and we don’t really understand it.”

    We should not dismiss The Old Testament. Christ refers back to the OT. In Christianity and Judaism the OT is a part of The Bible and therefore relevant.

    Matthew 5:17-48

    Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

    For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

    King James Version (KJV)

    • Correct the We are no longer under and judged by OT law, however all scripture is good for edification a d reproof. So we should not dismiss, but we should understand it because it provides deep insight into culture, history, tradition, prophecy, and the new testament scriptures.

      For example any scholar/pastor will tell u if you want to better understand the book of revelations, you should read Daniel.

      Now in regards to this post, I think even thou it is OT, it is still relevant and still needs to be understood

  5. Ryan says:

    Sorry, to clarify:

    The Hebrew Bible, also called Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament, or Tanakh is considered to be THE Bible in Judaism. The Old and New Testament divisions are within Christianity.

  6. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    Hello Bible Reader,

    I’m afraid you may have been duped to believe in the idea that that the Bible is literally inerrant, which seems to be something of a national ideology in some reasons. Though I am Christian, I believe that the Bible isn’t just not literally inerrant, but also that it isn’t inerrant at all.

    That might be surprising for you, but the Bible is for me not the inerrant Word of God, but the inspired Word of God. God works through the writers and their conceptions of God and history to let his own light shine through. So taken whole it is not a perfect guide to morality either, since it reflects the moral beliefs of the time which are of course obnoxious to us. However I do think that the core of Christian ethics should not be sought in the Od Testament, but in the New Testament ethics of Jesus.

    But if the Bible has fault, error, or contradications how do we deal with that? Do we accept them? and ignore them? or even worst justify the contradictions……(like I think most christians do) or Accept the truth, that the Bible is not perfect/inerrant?

    The final option, of course. What is known to be false should not be believed.

    And that my GOD, Christianity may be one big lie?

    Speaking modally, it might, but I don’t think it is.

    • This sounds like a post topic: Can Christianity be true even if the bible is not inerrant/perfect?

      I think I will research that and have a post out about that in a few weeks

      • IgnorantiaNescia says:

        Cool! If you wouldn’t mind me giving you a pointer, I would suggest to consider what Karl Barth said on inerrancy.

        Also, there’s an error in my post above: “reasons” should read “regions”.

  7. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    Oh, another comment about Matthew 5:17-48:

    Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

    For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

    That’s true, but we have to keep in mind that Jesus was an observant Jew. For gentile Christians, the Law has never been binding.

    King James Version (KJV)

    You might want to use a different Bible version. First of all, the King James Version is a concordant translation, meaning it often translates words literally while completely skewing the meaning. Second, it is written in a now archaic version of English, early modern English so that is another pointless barrier. And third, it’s textual basis is not as good as modern translations, it’s New Testament is still based on the Textus Receptus.

    • In my own personal reading I use the nkjv, however after after doing my study on textual criticism and the history of the bible I know the kjv/nkjv is not the most precise bible.

      Knowing that when I ever I go into study mode I will typically use a version that was translated directly from the manuscripts like the nasb, niv, esv or the hcsb.

  8. Nate says:

    Ryan, Galatians and Hebrews both make the argument that the Old Law, while necessary, was done away with in Christ’s death. That’s why Paul spends so much time talking about the “New Law.” It’s also one of the main reasons why Christians don’t offer sacrifices and can eat pork. It’s also why Paul spent so much time telling early Christians that circumcision wasn’t necessary.

    That being said, let me also state that I am not a Christian. But the above point is still something you might find useful.

    On the subject of Yahweh’s morality, there are many horrifying examples we could choose from. The one that’s always been most disturbing to me is in Numbers 31, where God tells Moses to completely annihilate the Midianites (men, women, children), EXCEPT for the virgin girls, whom they could keep for themselves. If you have a family, just imagine being a Midianite for a moment. I have a 3 year old son and two daughters (ages 8 and 6). It’s a story that makes me absolutely sick to my stomach.

  9. IgnorantiaNescia says:

    whereas 1 Chronicles 21:1 says

    Well, that’s Chronicles for you. ;) Chronicles are two post-exilic books (written after 400 B.C.) that are basically a bit of a biased repeat of Samuel and Kings. That isn’t the worst error or change in Chronicles, really!

    • Ryan says:

      IgnorantiaNescia

      You wrote:

      “God works through the writers and their conceptions of God and history to let his own light shine through. So taken whole it is not a perfect guide to morality either, since it reflects the moral beliefs of the time which are of course obnoxious to us. However I do think that the core of Christian ethics should not be sought in the Od Testament, but in the New Testament ethics of Jesus.”

      I don’t understand how the New Testament can be considered without the Old Testament (if we have access to both) since the NT refers to the OT. The two are directly linked. We can’t merely cut one out because it is inconvenient.

      • IgnorantiaNescia says:

        “I don’t understand how the New Testament can be considered without the Old Testament (if we have access to both) since the NT refers to the OT. The two are directly linked. We can’t merely cut one out because it is inconvenient.”

        Fair question. I’ll spell my position out in some more detail.

        The core of Christianity to me is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This is described in the New Testament, to which we should turn for the writings and teachings about Jesus.

        The New Testament cannot be read separately from the Old Testament. I’m not advocating a Marcionite view. Important stories, songs and teachings about God are in the Old Testament.

        Both the Old Testament and the New Testament form the canon of the Bible. Both are inspired and both are errant. Not everything in them is historical or to be taken literally. There are entire books that are fictional (Genesis, Job, Jonah) while other books strongly represent the beliefs of a particular group (like Proverbs). Nevertheless I believe God uses fictional, biased or even reprehensible passages to give us messages.

        The most important thing about Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus. If all but the resurrection could be shown to be guff I would still have to be a Christian. It is the resurrection that shows that Jesus was vindicated and that commits one to his teachings.

        So as for morality, I think the place to start for Christian ethics is Jesus and to consider his teachings without proof-texting. In this respect the rest of the NT is secondary to me and the OT is tertiary. I do not claim my moral beliefs are 100% Biblical (which I think is not possible and I distinguish between personal ethics and societal ethics anyway) nor that my praxis reflect them in any way but impurely, in any case it is important to rationally make one’s own moral considerations in life, but these are my priorities for the portions in my beliefs that could conceivably labelled “Christian”.

      • Nate says:

        Hi IN,

        I think you make some interesting points. You and I would agree that the Bible is flawed… so why do you still think Christianity is true? Do you also believe that other religions contain basic truths: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, etc? Or is it just the resurrection that you find divine? And if it’s the latter, why do you believe the resurrection is an actual historical event when you don’t find the Bible to be completely accurate?

        Sorry for all the questions; I’m just interested in your point of view.

        Thanks!

      • IgnorantiaNescia says:

        Hi IN,

        I think you make some interesting points. You and I would agree that the Bible is flawed… so why do you still think Christianity is true? Do you also believe that other religions contain basic truths: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Mormonism, etc? Or is it just the resurrection that you find divine? And if it’s the latter, why do you believe the resurrection is an actual historical event when you don’t find the Bible to be completely accurate?

        Sorry for all the questions; I’m just interested in your point of view.

        Thanks!

        Hello Nate,

        Those are good questions, though I’m not sure what you mean with basic truths. I’ll start with the resurrection first (but I’ll try to keep it brief – though you can always ask about a particular issue), which I think the legitimation of Christianity. I think the resurrection of Jesus is the likeliest explanation of the four fact approach advocated by William Lane Craig (mentioned before in this thread):
        – Jesus was crucified and buried
        – His tomb was found empty
        – His followers experienced post-mortem visions of him of whatever nature though the accounts are disparate
        – His followers came to believe he was resurrected from the dead
        I think that the latter two facts are difficult to explain by naturalistic means. The post-mortem visions could be explained by hallucination, but group hallucination leading to the same vision, not to mention on several occasions, is not likely at all. Belief in the resurrection is sometimes explained by cognitive dissonance (quite reasonable) but it would also require the suggestion that he was resurrected, which is also unlikely. While Jews at the time did believe in powerful historical prophets who could raise people from the dead and believed in a resurrection of the righteous at the end of time, they didn’t believe in the resurrection of a single Messiah at all. I think it was unlikely that an unusual idea like the resurrection of a single person would have beeen arrived at by suggestion.

        William Lane Craig debated it in his debate with the great New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman (he sometimes get a lot of anger from conservative evangelicals, but I like his writing): http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/p96.htm

        While I don’t think the Bible is entirely accurate, I do think some books provide historical information that can be analysed by historians. So historians can arrive at a reasonable reconstruction of Jesus’ life and teachings. There are different interpretations and accents by various historians, but that is not very surprising for ancient history.

        As for other religions, while I think that many are mutually exclusive with Christianity, I don’t think they are the work of the devils and they might contain important truths (some possibly influenced Christianity, like Zoroastrianism and Mandaeism). For Abrahamitic religions, this is obviously even more the case. I regard it as completely possible that some miracle claims in other religions are true, by the way.

        I hope that helps and best wishes.

      • Nate says:

        Yes, that’s a big help — thanks! Personally, I don’t think the evidence is strong enough to think the empty tomb was real, etc, but I get your point. I also don’t find it a stretch to think that the legend of the resurrection could spring up within a decade or too.

        But aside from that, I don’t have any real objections to the kind of Christianity that you and unkleE are talking about. Thanks for providing all the additional information — I’ll definitely look into it.

    • Well the idea of putting more focus on Jesus and not just doctrinal issues of Old or New Testament is not a new idea. Actually it is considered Red-Lettered Christianity. RLC is about putting a focus on Jesus words, and what Jesus says and putting on the legalism, doctrine, politics, and traditional nonsense ASIDE. It was put to together by Tony Campolo, one of my Favorite speakers, very powerful, and preaches with love and compassion which is not seen from many ministers now adays.

      Here are some links where you can learn more about it:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tony-campolo/who-are-red-letter-christ_b_86887.html

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red-Letter_Christian

      Here is youtube video of Tony Campolo, talking about what is Red Letter Christianity.

      I really enjoy listening to Mr. Campolo.

  10. unkleE says:

    My, so much has happened overnight.

    Ryan said: “We should not dismiss The Old Testament. Christ refers back to the OT. In Christianity and Judaism the OT is a part of The Bible and therefore relevant.”

    You have misunderstood me Ryan. I don’t think we should dismiss the OT either. I said “it is not binding on us” and “we don’t understand it” (because we are so far away from that world).

    “Matthew 5:17-48″

    Exactly! The OT law remains, and must either be followed in full or let go. Most christians try to have a bit but not all of it. But to see this, you need to read the parallel passage in Luke 16:16-17:

    “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.”

    You see what Jesus is saying? The law applied up until his coming, now the Jews have a choice, to stay with the law, the whole law, or let it go and hear the good news of the kingdom of God. So the OT is of value to us, but it is no longer binding on us.

    You can see this in Paul’s teachings too. Romans 7:6 says we have been released from the law, and verse 7 includes the Ten Commandments in this. 2 Corinthians 3:6, and whole slabs of Galatians & Hebrews say the same.

  11. unkleE says:

    “So we should not dismiss, but we should understand it because it provides deep insight into culture, history, tradition, prophecy, and the new testament scriptures.”

    I agree with this. I think I mustn’t have made myself clear. The NT and Jesus are primary and the OT is not written for us, but for those in the old covenant (testament & covenant mean much the same). The OT is still part of God’s revelation, but not binding on us, and it is superseded by the NT. So it is secondary for us.

    “Now in regards to this post, I think even thou it is OT, it is still relevant and still needs to be understood”

    I would like to understand it. I have been considering such passages and asking God for understanding for two years now. My comments were trying to make two points:

    1. I don’t yet know the answers, but there may be more possibilities than you were considering – your possibilities were a little black and white, and didn’t consider some shades of grey.

    2. We don’t need to worry so much about the answers because the OT was written to and by those who signed up to the old covenant, whereas christians have signed up to the new covenant which is based on the NT superseding the old.

    • On a personal level, I don’t post everything on have grips with, just the things that don’t make the most sense to me. Just things that I feel that should have atleast a commonsense answer

  12. Ryan says:

    Question:

    Did anyone as a part of the tribe of Israel have a choice when they were given the Law? Could they walk away and not be killed?

    Or was it because they were a people set apart, to be holy, that so many of the people died when they turned away to images or idols?

    I mean, in the NT it seems people (depending how you understand the NT) have a choice, they can either believe in Christ as Lord and The Son of God or they can choose not to believe.

    According to the NT the consequences of these decisions are to be done when Christ returns.

    However when Moses was given The Law, or Abram or Abraham made a covenant with God (or rather God made a covenant with Abraham).

    Did Moses or Abraham have a choice? Could they have said no? I mean Jonah tried to flee from his responsibilities, and to flee form God.

    Its like, you have a choice? But if you choose to turn away then the consequences will be unpleasant. Is that really a choice? Turn to everlasting fire, or death? Is that a warning, or is that a choice?

    • Nate says:

      Interesting question. I think the answer depends on which part of the OT you’re looking at. During the time of Moses, God punishes the people quite often when they don’t obey him. But from Judges through the rest of the OT, you rarely see that happen. And I’m not aware of it happening at all once we get to the period of the divided kingdom. Interestingly, this is also the point where history starts to support portions of the Bible.

      The other interesting thing about this is that the OT doesn’t talk about Heaven or Hell at all — that’s only found in the NT. And this is also why the penalty for not obeying God in the OT was physical, not spiritual in nature. Of course, the OT does talk about Sheol, but both good and bad things are said about it in the OT. Seems to be a generic “realm of the dead” (or maybe just the grave), rather than something like Hell.

      A final point is that no matter which testament we’re talking about, the idea of a choice is a bit misleading anyway. I definitely agree with you here. When someone is robbed at gunpoint, they have the choice of handing over their wallet. But considering the consequences of not complying, none of us would really call that a choice. There’s a good video that makes this point here:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv9IvCpiHxA

      • Sounds like another topic post: Choice and Free-Will. However I would have to do in two parts, because even though I do believe God gives each person a level of free-will/ choice. There are Christians (Calvinist- And I have lot of Calvinist friends) who don’t believe in free will.

  13. Ryan says:

    I understand it like this (I know this is a simple analogy but that doesn’t mean its not relevant):

    Fling yourself off a bridge; there will be consequences, unpleasant consequences. Unpleasant is a huge understatement.

    But you still have that choice. There are choices we can and do make that have direct consequences on both us and other people.

    There are consequences to what we buy, how we buy it, what we eat, what we express, how we express it. In turn certain people will be earning money, the consequence being they can feed themselves, or their families.

    Life itself is a series of moments and we connect these moments to consequences. We understand and make sense of the world around us through the consequences that exist within relationships.

    For example a redback spider is marked with a particular marking and that’s how many people recongnise to be wary of such a creature (if they have been told or are familiar with the spider). People know this spider can potentially make you very sick.

    So if life is a series of actions and consequences shouldn’t we understand faith to have such consequences? We don’t jump in front of cars because we know there are consequences to this. People (not all people) treat this life with such consideration and care? Shouldn’t we also carefully consider what are the consequences after we have passed on?

    1 Corinthians 13:12
    King James Version (KJV)

    For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

  14. Ryan says:

    I’m trying to make sense of things – If the bible is merely a collection of man made traditions and morals then I want no part of it.

    Yet I personally have not found the Bible lacking, I’ve found it confusing at times. But from what I’ve read I haven’t found it to be a mere collection of man made traditions. I’ve found it to be confronting and very powerful.

    The Bible reads states that:

    If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

    Romans 10:9
    New Living Translation (NLT)

    There are a lot of passages in The Bible that that I don’t understand. But that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed as man-made. After all, this is considered by many to be Revelation from God. The question is, is The Bible Revelation from God?

  15. Nate says:

    Is the Koran revelation from God? Many people believe it is… If not, why not?

    And to the point of choices, let’s say you have the choice between two jobs. One job will provide you with a nice salary so you can provide for your family, and the working conditions are favorable. Another job will provide you with a nice salary for your family, but at the end of 6 months, they’ll shoot you in the head. Is that a real choice?

    You’re right that life is full of choices. But when two options are presented that are so ridiculously skewed in consequences, NO ONE who is sane will choose the bad one. No one, for example, gets bitten by the redback spider on purpose. It’s always an accident. The same could be said for Hell. In my opinion, Hell is the biggest problem for Christianity. A just and loving God would not send people to a place like Hell, because it’s not corrective in nature. The Bible says God loves us like children, so let’s use that example. When we punish our children, it is in an effort to help them do better the next time. With Hell, there is no next time. It’s eternal anguish. That’s not punishment, it’s torture.

    I understand your desire to know what’s true. It’s the same thing that drives me. It’s not an easy path, but kudos to you for walking it.

  16. Wow, I’m pleased to see that this post has opened minds and dialogue. I’m glad everyone is enjoying. (I do my best to reply to any comments or questions that are directed to me, however sometimes I can’t always answer all in a timely fashion
    .)

  17. Ryan says:

    Nate:

    I’ll answer your question

    But first I have a question for everyone, since I am trying to make sense of this:

    The Old Testament doesn’t seem (as far as I know) to refer to the lake of fire?

    This is just a thought, but is it because God became Man that Hell now exists?

    Because God has revealed himself in human form? Because in the New Testament Hell is stated as a place of gnashing of teeth and weeping.

    Does hell exist because God has made The Sacrifice? and since he has reveled Himself, if people turn away there rejecting the Only Son of God?

    and to turn away from this Ultimate gift of Grace means that There is a place in the NT now known as Hell?

    becuase of the Justice of God for those who reject His One and Only Son? the Word made flesh? Is hell a result?

    did the people who were killed off in the Old Testament by Israel go to Hell? Or did they get an oppourtunity to believe in Christ?

    Was the Good news shared with them after they had died? were they given the option to hear the Truth of The Good News?

    Paul says as far as I remember that all are without excuse since Gods invisible qualities are evident.

    does this mean that People who believe in God, yet dont believe in Christ are to also go to heaven?

    For how can they know Christ is God based on Gods invisible qualities, unless God has revelaed this to them?

    If someone lives and dies as a Muslim for example, and never hears the good news, does God take that into account?

    or are they without excuse?

    Is the Good News Preached to them after death?

    Doubting Thomas saw and therefore believed, but from memory Christ expressed that blessed are those who believe without seeing?

    What about those who are so intellectually disabled that they seemingly can’t comprehend such beliefs?

  18. Ryan says:

    Nate:

    Please be patient and I’ll answer your question in a few days :)

  19. Good Question, I would not know how to answer it….I hope others have answers to it

  20. unkleE says:

    Brenda said: “Didn’t see a reply button under your comment – I hope this reply gets to the right spot.”

    Yes, these nested comments are supposed make things easier but I’m not sure. I couldn’t find a button under your post, so I decided to go straight to the bottom! : )

    My main point was that she was unfair to Craig – we need balanced and fair criticism!

    “progressive and moderate believers usually go the cherry-picking route”

    I think it is amazing how emotive language can change one’s perceptions. Suppose I said I believed truth was revealed through revelation and our observation of the world, and I refine my understanding of truth as I get new information. I realise I will never know perfectly, but remaining open to new ideas helps me get closer to a fuller understanding? That would sound reasonable would it not? And that is what I try to do.

    And suppose someone also said “scientists go the cherry-picking route. But that requires its own contortions. Once you acknowledge that your experiments really aren’t perfect, once you admit that they have statistical errors, then you have to start asking why any of it is special, why any of it should be treated any differently from any other flawed science. You have to start asking why — since your experiments are just as screwed-up as every other scientist’s — your results are still somehow the right one, and all other researchers are mistaken.”

    You would say the second comment is an unfair representation of science, and I would agree. But see how emotive language covers up a multitude of factual and logical sins and assumptions?

    Your source seems to have adopted a binary paradigm – religion is somehow different to everything else in life, and either we have absolute certainty or we have cherry-picking. Most christian believers don’t take that view, and inerrancy is only a relatively recent phenomenon, and not even today held by most branches of christianity. Once you accept that we humans get by with uncertainty by going with what seems most probably right, you can see this can be true in religion as elsewhere.

    God is perfect, we are not. We misunderstand quite often – even Jesus was misunderstood – and we would misunderstand and distort even an inerrant Bible. But God can cope with that and get us along the way if we are willing. And so normal christians read the Bible, try to act on the bits that are only too clear, study and pray and question the bits that aren’t too clear, and God leads us forwards. Your source can call that cherry picking, but I call it common sense.

    That’s how I see it. Thanks.

    • Brenda says:

      UnkleE

      I don’t think that we have to have absolute certainty or cherry picking. I cringe to link to the same author, but another one of her posts is what came to mind after reading your reply. It discusses how religion is different from other ways of looking at the world (whether that’s science, politics, etc.) So when you equate religious methods of discovering truth to scientific ways of discovering truth I just can’t agree. Science comes up with hypotheses that are wrong all the time – no doubt there – but it invites other scientists to go out of their way to find the errors and then corrects itself. Its claims are testable. Even if religious people wanted to use a similar methodology – they couldn’t – because there is no way to test any of it or prove or disprove it.

      http://www.alternet.org/belief/143912/the_top_one_reason_religion_is_harmful_?page=entire

      • unkleE says:

        Brenda, you have opened up a whole new topic here, and it really is off-topic for this post. So I’ll just say that:

        (1) I don’t “equate” religious and scientific truth, I was just illustrating a point.
        (2) We don’t use the scientific method for lots of things (ethics, politics, relationships, history, even some science) so there must be other valid ways to decide and know things.
        (3) We cannot ‘prove’ science either, only show it is statistically likely to be true. Christian belief can also be shown to be probably true (IMO), just as we say ethical or political beliefs may probably be true.

        Where’s the problem?

  21. unkleE says:

    Ryan said (a while back): “I’m trying to make sense of things – If the bible is merely a collection of man made traditions and morals then I want no part of it.”

    Ryan, I feel you are sort of seeing things in a binary way: either the Bible is from God and without any error, or it is “merely a collection of man made traditions and morals”. But there are more possibilities than that.

    Clearly the Bible was written by people. Clearly some parts of it are “inspired” (in whatever way we might understand that) and originate from God (e.g. jesus’ teachings). The question is, how are these two mixed together. And there are obviously a wide range of possible answers.

    My view is effectively the same as CS Lewis’, who was possibly the most influential christian of the 20th century. He believed, as an expert in ancient language and literature, that the OT began as myth, but “God’s myth”, and then became more and more historical as it went on. He believed that many of the pre-David narratives combined factual and fanciful, and the picture gradually came into focus. He still believed the Bible was God’s revelation to us, but he believed that didn’t mean everything in it was factual, or written as God’s truth. For example, some of the “imprecatory” Psalms reflect how sinful people react to adversity rather than what God said. He could believe all that and still be a spokesperson for christianity who is still widely read today.

    I suggest the starting point is Jesus and the NT. We have good assessments of its historicity from secular scholars, enough to make a decisions whether we trust the authors and the Jesus they portray. I believe strongly that we can. Then we go on from there, and make the best sense and use of the OT as we can, and we’ll all disagree a little. But it doesn’t matter if we believe in Jesus because we are in the new covenant, and the OT is not binding on us. It doesn’t solve all the problems (I still agonise over some issues) but it is a good basis.

    That works for me! Hope that helps. Best wishes.

  22. unkleE says:

    Ryan, I must have a go at answering your question:

    “The Old Testament doesn’t seem (as far as I know) to refer to the lake of fire? This is just a thought, but is it because God became Man that Hell now exists?”

    The OT never talks about hell, as you note, it just recognises that people die. There is the hope that after death, some will live with God (e.g. Psalm 23: “I will dwell in God’s house forever”) but it isn’t very strong.

    At the time of Jesus there was a belief in hell, and there were 3 views: (1) it was a place of everlasting punishment of ‘sinners’, (2) it was a place where everyone was purified before being reconciled to God and (3) the most popular view, that after death sinners forfeited their life but ‘the righteous’ went on to live with God.

    Jesus was almost the only person to talk of hell in the NT, and his references seem to fit most with (3). I think he talked about it because people of his day were talking about it, but I note that neither Paul nor the other apostles ever used the idea of hell to push people into faith. I think it is over-emphasised today. Those who want God will find him and live on in the next age, those who don’t want God go back to nothing, because that is what they have chosen.

    Most christians seem to go with (1), but there are growing numbers who feel (2) or (3) better reflect God and the NT. I go with (3) myself.

    That is what I think is the NT teaching on the matter, and you can read more in Hell – what does the Bible say?

    I hope that helps a little.

  23. Nate says:

    unkleE,

    I appreciate your take on inerrancy and Hell — I even hope you’re right. With your view, I see no real consequence in whether someone believes or not. I always believed that the Bible had to be inerrant. If it wasn’t, what really separated it from everything else? In one of your comments, you said this:

    My view is effectively the same as CS Lewis’, who was possibly the most influential christian of the 20th century. He believed, as an expert in ancient language and literature, that the OT began as myth, but “God’s myth”, and then became more and more historical as it went on. He believed that many of the pre-David narratives combined factual and fanciful, and the picture gradually came into focus. He still believed the Bible was God’s revelation to us, but he believed that didn’t mean everything in it was factual, or written as God’s truth. For example, some of the “imprecatory” Psalms reflect how sinful people react to adversity rather than what God said. He could believe all that and still be a spokesperson for christianity who is still widely read today.

    But it seems to me that this is exactly what we would see if the Bible wasn’t inspired at all (which is my view).

    Your position on Hell is interesting, and definitely preferable to what most Christians believe: that Hell is a place of eternal torment. If they’re right, then I think the Bible would have to be inerrant just so most people could recognize it as truth.

    • IgnorantiaNescia says:

      Nate, I am afraid you might be right that most Christians see Hell as a place of torment. Like UnkleE, I’m an annihilationist so don’t believe in “existence” in Hell, but I think it’s fair to say that, at least in the Protestant tradition, Hell as a place of torment was rejected quite early by the Reformers, so I think that Protestants who believe in a Hell of torment have went quite far into an obnoxious direction (the WBC end of spectrum). They believed in Hell as existence separate from God, not as a place of torture. Since they also believed in immortal souls, they thought that the dead persons condemned to Hell would be aware of their separation and thus experience grief, but not active punishing.

      • Brenda says:

        I tend to think annihiilationists take their position because it’s easier to swallow for them, but even if you take that stance – does it still sound like a great plan from an all-knowing god who could have created any type of scenario he wished? I guess personally I just keep going back to the basic story line of Christianity and wishing Christians would question the fundamentals and not spend their time haggling over the details which just seems like a safe place to distract themselves from confronting bigger issues with their religion.

      • Nate says:

        I tend to agree. But this version is certainly less harmful than those of the fundamentalist variety.

      • IgnorantiaNescia says:

        Hi Brenda,

        “I tend to think annihiilationists take their position because it’s easier to swallow for them, but even if you take that stance – does it still sound like a great plan from an all-knowing god who could have created any type of scenario he wished?”

        I can see why you think that, because annihilationism is generally seen as a milder position and milder is often regarded as less authentic (though the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are anything but mild, also favour annihilationism, but that’s hardly an endorsement!). But when I read the gospels, I see very little evidence of penalism. That could be the lense through which I view it, but for me the words, “destruction”, “fire” and the belief in mortal souls sooner imply annihilation than eternal pestering to me. I am afraid that the hellish view that is in vogue among fundamentalists might be based on cultural accretions emanating from non-Christian epics.

      • Brenda says:

        IN:

        I’d love for you to discuss annihilation some more – flesh it out a bit. Does it sound like something an all-knowing god would plan? Why do any souls need to be annihilated? Could there have been some other plan that didn’t require that?

        Nate:

        What bothers me about a position such as annihilation of souls (which is just one example) is that it cherry-picks the nice bits of the Bible and rationailzes the rest (or dismisses them altogether). I was pondering why this bothers me so much. It’s because it lulls people into accepting the Bible (and Christianity) if they can just fall on the ‘nice’ side of the tough issues. It can stay very comfortable and then they aren’t forced to face what’s really IN the Bible. Every tough passage that comes up – well we’ll just fall on the ‘nice’ interpretation of that one .. and the next one .. and the next one. We’ll just make it ALL ‘nice.’ I want Christians to read their Bible like an alien from another planet who has no preconceived notions of what it’s supposed to be interpreted to say. In all honesty – I want them to be horrified by a passage like the one that started this post (like I think an alien would be) – not spend time figuring out how they can read it in their holy book and still accept that holy book as the basis for their worldview.

        Thoughts?

      • Nate says:

        @Brenda:
        That’s a good point. It’s really hard to look at things objectively, but I agree that the world would be a better place if people could. I don’t understand the desire to hang on to the idea of inspiration in the Bible. It doesn’t bother us that Shakespeare isn’t divinely inspired, or even our constitution. We still get value and meaning from those things. The Bible has some real value to offer — if we can accept it for what it is. But assigning divine inspiration to it can lead to lots of problems. Believe me, I know — I live in Alabama! :)

        I do think that the liberal view is much less dangerous than the conservative one — but I agree that my real preference is that we all finally put this on the shelf where it belongs: the mythology section.

      • IgnorantiaNescia says:

        I’d love for you to discuss annihilation some more – flesh it out a bit. Does it sound like something an all-knowing god would plan? Why do any souls need to be annihilated? Could there have been some other plan that didn’t require that?

        Maybe there could, maybe there couldn’t. That is an extremely underwhelming response, I know, but I think I should flesh a lot out to explain that. I’m willing to do that later, if you’d like, though. For me, the important thing is first following the evidence where it leads (and I think that’s Christianity) and trusting the outcome is coherent. I suppose that, too, is faith? In any case, I would emotionally prefer universal reconciliation to annihilation and, though I sometimes fail, I try to hope that even for people that completely revulse me with their actions, if universalism is what you’re hinting at?

        I want Christians to read their Bible like an alien from another planet who has no preconceived notions of what it’s supposed to be interpreted to say. In all honesty – I want them to be horrified by a passage like the one that started this post (like I think an alien would be) – not spend time figuring out how they can read it in their holy book and still accept that holy book as the basis for their worldview.

        This part was very interesting for me, Brenda, because you touched on some very interesting subjects. I see it linking to three important issues: Bible and language, aliens and morality and the Word of God and errancy.

        Preconceived beliefs and the Bible are interesting bedfellows. I recall coming across an article in Christianity Today that seems to imply how being forced to change one’s preconceived beliefs about the Bible results in changed political beliefs. Nevertheless, while correction is important, it is more important to read the Bible with an idea of how to interpret it. We need to know what kind of text it was, how it compared to texts in the surrounding cultures, how readers at the time would have understood the text. People wrote in a language that was living then and that makes the Bible, as a diachronic, constantly edited book a challenge to interpret. I am afraid our extraterrastrial friend would often miss the point when reading.

        About aliens and morality, I don’t think that if naturalism was true, we could expect the alien to roughly share our morality. Our ethical intuition is a product of evolution and I see no reason why evolution would yield the same results on a different planet, in a different context, as a blind process. So I think that believing that an alien would be abhorred is quite an assumption.

        I’ve already spent a few word on the Bible and inerrancy, but maybe I’m overdue to tell how I see the Bible being errant and the Word of God. There is errancy everywhere in the production line. While writing, the author or editor of the text may have represented God in a way we find revolting. While transmitting the text, a scribe may have made an error. While reading wwe also may make errors. But I also see the Bible as accurately reflecting beliefs about God. Think of the fictional story of Noah. I know many non-believers find that story extremely vile because God drowns most of humanity in it for their sins. Now I wouldn’t see God as that either so in that sense the Bible errs in depicting God. But compared to the Mesopotamian myth, where the gods kill most humans because they can’t sleep because of the noise those people make, the message of this otherwise harsh passage gets clear. God didn’t kill people for his own gain (and our God does not sleep! ;)) but for what they did, admittedly harsh, a bit like a cosmic Judge Dredd. So God minds what human do on Earth and he doesn’t regard them a expendable. Aside this, there are more clearly polemical parts in the Noah story that target the Mesopotamian religions.

      • Brenda says:

        IN

        No – I wasn’t really hinting at universalsim although I had completely forgotten that I’d gone through a stage where I obsessively read up on that hoping that it was really what the bible was teaching. I just want Christians to question the basic Christian storyline. In this case why did any souls have to be punished or ‘fixed’ at all? I guess I wish I could get Christians to evaluate the Christian story without referring back to saying ‘because the bible says so.’ But since the bible is so central to them – that isn’t likely to happen. But there are so many things that Christians just accept about their religion’s story.’Well of course people are sinners and deserve punishment. Of course God can’t co-exist with them. Of course the only solution to that is the sacrifice of a perfect life. Of course that can’t just cover us – we must accept it. ….’ I’d love for them to be willing to question these things that they just assume are the only way things can be.

        As far as the alien comment – maybe I should have just said outsider. I just meant someone who could evaluate the bible with as little bias as possible. There are awful things in the Bible and it seems that Christians get used to excusing them just because it’s in their holy book. I would like them to think about how they would judge passages like that if they were in some other religion’s holy book (maybe that’s a better way of explaining what I meant.)

        I reached a point where I just didn’t think a book like the Bible is the way an all-knowing, all-powerful god would communicate vital information to mankind, so that pretty much sums up my views on it. But I find it interesting that you said that, ‘I also see the Bible as accurately reflecting beliefs about God’ even though you see it as having errors. With the Noah example, you’ve decided that God is a certain way and that story doesn’t line up with that so you assume the error is in the story. Maybe that story is the true reflection of God’s character and the parts you’ve accepted are not true? So I ask in all earnestness – I really am curious – how do you ever know which bits are true/from God and which bits aren’t?

        Thanks for your comments.

      • IgnorantiaNescia says:

        Brenda, thanks for your reply.

        If you don’t mind, I’ll respond to your first paragraph tomorrow, it’s probably going to be long. You’re right that it is an important issue.

        As far as the alien comment – maybe I should have just said outsider. I just meant someone who could evaluate the bible with as little bias as possible. There are awful things in the Bible and it seems that Christians get used to excusing them just because it’s in their holy book. I would like them to think about how they would judge passages like that if they were in some other religion’s holy book (maybe that’s a better way of explaining what I meant.)

        Fair enough (though I still think there would be a cultural lense in play, but nvm that). Personally, I’m not very familiar with the texts of other religions (and there would be some side issues with trying to evaluate those texts), but I try not to impose my own interpretations on those texts. Just selecting some prooftexts from the Qur’an and making a movie about how awful it all is, is reprehensible to me because it is intellectually dishonest to Muslim believers. I am thinking of Geert Wilders and his Fitna movie here. So if I were to make such statements on it, I prefer to understand the different interpretations of the text first. But I am not very interested in condemning other religious texts, since that is something of a beams ‘n’ motes issue to me.

        I reached a point where I just didn’t think a book like the Bible is the way an all-knowing, all-powerful god would communicate vital information to mankind, so that pretty much sums up my views on it. But I find it interesting that you said that, ‘I also see the Bible as accurately reflecting beliefs about God’ even though you see it as having errors. With the Noah example, you’ve decided that God is a certain way and that story doesn’t line up with that so you assume the error is in the story. Maybe that story is the true reflection of God’s character and the parts you’ve accepted are not true? So I ask in all earnestness – I really am curious – how do you ever know which bits are true/from God and which bits aren’t?

        Well, there are a few considerations that are important for me here:
        1. The Noah story is a deliberate revision of a Mesopotamian religious narrative. The writer did this to make a theological and polemical point. He was using it to contrast his God with the Babylonians’ on purpose, so it makes sense to zoom in on the differences as the content of the message, while the similarities can be explained as the form of the message.
        2. There is a rather obvious conflict in character with Jesus, whom I not only consider to be a prophet of God, but part of God. So what I perceive as the clearest and most tangible revelation of God would be a better starting point to learn about how God is like.
        3. Based on the moral argument, I believe that God includes objective morality in his nature and that he cannot produce evil. I know some apologists allow God to circumvent his own commands, but, even if the killed would go to Heaven, that is just trying to have it both ways. I prefer to choose a clearer route: God cannot do evil.
        4. Did the ancient Hebrews believe their myths? I do not know, but I do know that there is a long Jewish tradition of non-literal interpretation. I consider it therefore reasonable to allow such a non-literal interpretation from a historical point of view.

        Have a good day

    • Nate says:

      Could either of you list some passages that back up an annihilationist view? I’ve read about it before, but I find some of Jesus’ language to really give credence to the notion of a literal Hell that’s eternal and agonizing.

      Thanks!

    • unkleE says:

      Nate said: “I see no real consequence in whether someone believes or not.”

      I honestly cannot see how this follows at all. We can choose to follow Jesus and our lives change deeply and wonderfully, and we can make a positive difference in the world and people’s lives – and we get to continue to live with him in the next age. or we can choose to live without Jesus and miss out on many of the wonderful things in this life and risk missing out in the next. I’d say that’s an amazing consequence!

      “But it seems to me that this is exactly what we would see if the Bible wasn’t inspired at all (which is my view).”

      Perhaps it is the same, I don’t know. That doesn’t mean it isn’t inspired. I think it clearly is inspired, and I think Jesus and the apostles show that.

      • Nate says:

        But secular people and people of other faiths can also make a positive difference in the world and change people’s lives. All that really takes is humanism. Now sure, living beyond this physical life would be great, but there’s no guarantee that there is such a thing as an afterlife. That’s why I don’t think there’s a whole lot of consequence one way or the other. I already think I’ll cease to exist when I die, so I don’t really lose anything else by not being a Christian.

        And sure, it could still be inspired even though it looks like it’s not, but that seems very unlikely to me. I mean, we could make that claim about any religious text. Maybe the Koran is the true “word of God” — there’s no way to tell. Because even though portions of it look like they’re not inspired at all, we can’t use that as a basis for dismissing it.

  24. Nate says:

    Ryan,

    Lots of big questions there. :) I think the NT tries to paint the picture that Hell was always there for the wicked. 2 Pet 2:4 says, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment”. I think this was an event that was supposed to have occurred before Creation. So I don’t think the NT writers viewed it as a late addition.

    Of course, that creates a problem — why didn’t God make sure people in the OT were aware of it, if it was there all along? Why did he only warn them about physical consequences: losing Canaan, dying, having no descendants, etc? More importantly, why do we only read about Hell in the Bible after the Jews had been influenced by the Persians and the Greeks, who did believe in a place like Hell?

    You raise a lot of big, important questions. When I was a Christian, I believed that Hell had always been around. Because of Acts 17:30, I believed that people who lived during the OT, but weren’t Jews, were saved by some type of moral law or something. But going forward, once people became aware of the gospel, they were subject to it. If they didn’t accept it, then they would go to Hell. So I believed that anyone who had heard it, but didn’t believe it, just wasn’t being honest with themselves. I now think that I was totally wrong about all that, but it’s what I grew up believing.

    That being said, I think if I were you, I would look into whether or not the Bible (and the teachings on salvation/Hell) was even true before I went too much further into those more complicated questions. Not to say that you haven’t studied those things. I can tell from your comments that you’re quite knowledgeable. But it may be that you’ve only really studied this stuff from one point of view — that’s how I was. Once I broadened my base a little bit, I feel like some of this became clearer to me.

  25. unkleE says:

    Nate said: “I think the NT tries to paint the picture that Hell was always there for the wicked. 2 Pet 2:4 says …..”

    The Greek word in 2 Peter 2:4 is tartarus, which means pit or abyss, not necessarily the hell that Jesus speaks of, and the only use of this word in the NT. And it doesn’t mention people, only angels. I don’t think we can draw too much from this verse.

  26. Ryan says:

    I posted the same questions to humblesmith’s blog

    Here is his response:

    1. The lake of fire is only specifically mentioned in the New Testament. But the OT does mention that the dead will experience fire, Isaiah 66:24. This could be poetic, but it does mention it.

    Hell, however, is a bit stronger in the OT, for the word for grave (sheol) is sometimes used in the OT to mean something deeper, stronger than mere death. Also see Daniel 12.2

    2. Hell exists because God respects the image of Himself He placed in mankind. God gave us the freedom to love Him or not. If we do not love God, He allows us to go away from Him for all eternity. Since God is good, going away from God is torment. Some people take issue with hell, but what kind of God would force people to go to heaven against their will, when they don’t want to go? People cannot stand to go to church one hour a week….what kind of God would send them there for all eternity?

    3. Hell was not created in the NT. The concept is taught in the OT, as I showed above.

    4. The people who died in the OT are judged just as the people of the NT: those who put their faith in the Salvation that God provided will be with God for eternity, and those who did not, will not.

    5. We are not told specifically about all peoples in the OT, but we do know that some did hear God’s message. In Jonah, the prophet was sent to another country with the specific message to repent and follow God. Other prophets were sent outside of Israel also, such as David and Daniel. So we can conclude that a loving God provided a way to those outside of Israel.

    6. People who deny Christ will not be in heaven. (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). This goes for everyone, period.

    7. The Bible says we are given one life to live, then when we die, comes the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Every adult who dies will be judged by what they did with Jesus while they were alive.

    8. Paul, in Romans 1, says that all people can observe the world and know there is a God. This is enough knowledge so that they can know that God exists, but not enough to tell them of Jesus. They cannot know about Jesus unless God reveals it to them. God reveals it to whom He wills, and to those whom He reaches through Christians. It’s God’s job to do the revealing and the saving, our job is to merely do what He says.

    9. As to those who are mentally disabled, keep in mind that it does not take much to be saved….you do not have to know every detail of doctrine to be saved. Even mentally disabled people can understand the gospel. To those who are so low level that they cannot understand, they would be considered like babies, which the Bible tells us will go to heaven.

    Thoughts?

    http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/the-reason-rally-followed-by-atheist-at-church-day/#comment-925

    • Nate says:

      What he laid out is very similar to what I believed as a Christian. However, I came to see that there are some problems with it.

      First of all, unkleE was right that the OT doesn’t really talk about Hell — at least not the way the NT does. The OT uses the word sheol, which usually meant grave or pit. And it was not just a place for the wicked.

      Genesis 37:35 talks about Jacob when he thought Joseph was dead:

      His sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.

      Did Jacob believe Joseph was bad enough to go to Hell? I doubt it — he just thought his son was dead.

      Job also mentions Sheol:

      Oh that you would hide me in Sheol,
      that you would conceal me until your wrath be past,
      that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!

      Would you want to hide in Hell in order to escape God’s wrath? Talk about jumping from the frying pan into the fire…

      The only OT reference I know of that mentions the idea of reward or punishment in the afterlife is in Daniel 12:2. And most scholars think Daniel was written during the Maccabean period around 167 BC. Does it seem logical that God would allow the Israelites to undergo everything they experienced in the OT from the Exodus through the judges, the united kingdom, the divided kingdom, and captivity before he finally told them about Heaven and Hell? That just doesn’t make sense to me.

      As for the rest of his post, about why God sends people to Hell and who can expect to go there, we’ve already talked about that to some degree. He mentioned the choice thing again, and I feel like we covered that pretty well in the comments above. Anyone who is given the choice between Heaven and Hell will absolutely choose Heaven. The real problem is that many people aren’t convinced they even exist. That’s not choosing against the god of the Bible — that’s being convinced that he’s not even real.

      Do any of you expect Zeus to send you to Tartarus when you die? Do you worry that he might think you denied him? That’s how I feel about the god of the Bible and Hell.

  27. unkleE says:

    G’day Nate, just a few responses ….

    “But secular people and people of other faiths can also make a positive difference in the world and change people’s lives. All that really takes is humanism.”
    Of course they can, and do. But we’re not just talking about making a positive difference, but being part of God’s new world and being led by Jesus. That makes a big difference.

    “That’s why I don’t think there’s a whole lot of consequence one way or the other. I already think I’ll cease to exist when I die, so I don’t really lose anything else by not being a Christian.”
    Without God, I believe you will indeed cease to exist when you die, which is as much as most unbelievers expect. But you miss eternal life. If you don’t like God (I don’t know what you think, that’s just an ‘if’), that will seem like no loss I guess, but if you appreciate God, that’s missing out on an enormous good.

    “And sure, it could still be inspired even though it looks like it’s not, but that seems very unlikely to me.”
    We can’t start by assuming it’s inspired. But I think the logic goes this way:

    1. Start by treating the NT as a normal historical document – to be tested and evaluated.
    2. The secular historians have done this and found we can know quite a bit about Jesus’ life – see Jesus in history.
    3. On this basis, we can consider what we conclude about Jesus – and using only what secular scholars consider to be well-based, we can reasonably conclude that Jesus was divine – see Jesus – son of God?.
    4. Once we draw this conclusion, it is reasonable to believe that God, having sent Jesus, will give us reasonable information about him, so we can trust the NT (not as inerrant, just as reasonable). Whether we call that inspired or not, whatever we call it, it is quite enough for my faith to go on.

    Best wishes.

    • I think this is a reasonable approach to scripture, to deduce truth and faith.

    • Brenda says:

      Why would the God of the Universe need me to have the ability to do all this reading and research and weighing of different claims to come to conclusions about Him?

      • Ryan says:

        This “weighing” is not done by everyone. Some people simply trust in Christ and live their lives. Faith involves trust. I don’t think the God of the Universe need people to have the ability to read and research and weigh. I think this is more about individual people wanting to consider different questions. Some people are content with not having to know all these different considerations. And sometimes I think maybe that is the healthier way, to trust God. I mean even when people do attempt to consider these questions, they don’t always get answers. So who is in the healthier (and more peaceful) position? The person who decides and then continues to trust God and lives their lives or the person who considers questions that they pur energy into studying and contemplating, to either reach no complete answer, or an answer that leads to only more questions? I think this says more about individual people than is says about God.

      • unkleE says:

        Brenda said: “Why would the God of the Universe need me to have the ability to do all this reading and research and weighing of different claims to come to conclusions about Him?”
        I agree with Ryan’s reply. The Holy Spirit is quite capable of convincing people whose heart is open. The story of Jesus is believable and convincing for many people without anything more, but some of us require more external evidence as well.

      • Nate says:

        I’ve looked into the historicity of Jesus before. I think he was probably a real person. But I find nothing in our historical records to make me think the most likely scenario is that he actually rose from the dead. In fact, that’s probably the most unlikely scenario.

  28. Brenda says:

    How will they know which version of god to put their trust in if they don’t read, research, and weigh different options?

    • unkleE says:

      “How will they know which version of god to put their trust in if they don’t read, research, and weigh different options?”
      Again, I agree with Ryan’s reply – he should now be afraid! : ) If a person reads the NT and believes the gospel writers and believes in Jesus, they don’t have to look anywhere else – no other religion makes the claims that christians make about Jesus, based on his own claims.

    • Nate says:

      But this assumes the claims about Jesus are true! That’s Brenda’s whole point.

      Everyone feels confident in their own beliefs. Why should Mormons look beyond the Mormon faith? Why should Hindus look beyond the Hindu faith? Why should Christians be any different than these other groups?

      • unkleE says:

        Nate said: “But this assumes the claims about Jesus are true!”

        No it doesn’t assume that, it is a conclusion I have come to, based on my assessment of the evidence. And my statement was that “If a person reads the NT and believes the gospel writers and believes in Jesus” (as I have done) then certain things follow.

        “Everyone feels confident in their own beliefs. Why should Mormons look beyond the Mormon faith? Why should Hindus look beyond the Hindu faith? Why should Christians be any different than these other groups?”

        Like I said, “no other religion makes the claims that christians make about Jesus, based on his own claims”. In most other religions (say Buddhism, Islam, Baha’i), the message could have been brought be another person and it would make little difference because they were all prophets or teachers, or whatever. I can believe that each of those teachers (the Buddha, Mohammed, Baha’u’llah) lived and the stories of their lives are historical, and it makes no difference to the truth or otherwise of their teachings. So there is no real evidence for their teachings.

        With Jesus it is different. because he claimed to be more than a human teacher and because it is claimed he was resurrected, believing his life was historical (as the evidence points to, in my judgment) gives his teachings authority and credibility.

      • Nate says:

        Sure, but these are still just claims. Why should we see the claims of Christianity and assume that they match up to the way God would do things, but see the claims of other religions and assume it’s not how God would do it? Especially when the text that teaches us about Christianity is demonstrably fallible? It’s like taking the word of a known perjurer and swearing that it’s absolutely true. We should feel some hesitation about accepting those claims.

        As an example, why aren’t you a Mormon? We have much better historical evidence that Joseph Smith existed than we do for Christ. And while Joseph Smith obviously had some character flaws, how is that different than the witness of the Bible?

  29. Ryan says:

    Brenda you wrote:

    “Why would the God of the Universe need me to have the ability to do all this reading and research and weighing of different claims to come to conclusions about Him?”

    Maybe I wasn’t explaining myself as clearly as I could have.

    I think people struggle with the idea of certainty. People want to “know” in compete understanding in order for them to make decisions in their lives.

    However our day-to-day lives don’t unfold like this, we make choices all the time based on a certain amount of information. We don’t have the time to pause life, and begin to study and weigh the evidence in each decision we make. When it comes to the big questions, the desire to want to “know” and be certain before making a decision I believe stems from the desire humanity has to control.

    However in reality control is something we don’t really have, we are dependent on so many things.

    Brenda you also wrote:

    “How will they know which version of god to put their trust in if they don’t read, research, and weigh different options?”

    To know requires action. It is not necessarily “weighing”. People can trust in the accounts as being from God. But it is trust that in the end determines someone’s decisions. We all make appeals or gather information from who or what we see as trustworthy. Whether they are doctors, sports stars, University lecturers, TV presenters, authors, scientists or movie stars.

    Not all those trusted as experts, truth sharers or authorities are necessarily reliable.

    So it is important to consider.

    But ultimately: whether you trust a source that is expressing truth or reality – Or a source that is expressing falsehood or deception

    It is still a decision that is ultimately based on trust.

  30. Nate says:

    I think this is a view that really minimizes God and devalues people of other faiths. Muslims believe in Allah just as strongly as you believe in God. And imagine for a moment a Muslim couple in their 70’s who don’t belong to any brand of extremism, but are just typical “good people.” They love their children and their grandchildren. They are decent members of society. But they’ve been raised Muslim and live in a Muslim culture. They have no real reason to convert to Christianity.

    Now if Christianity is true, and these good Muslim people will miss out on Heaven because they don’t believe in Jesus, let’s explore the reasons why they should recognize Islam is false and Christianity is true.

    Both religions are based on holy texts. So the Christian text is more noticeably divine than the Muslim text? Well, no — they both have substantial errors.

    Okay, so Christians live more morally than Muslims? Well, no — that can’t be demonstrated.

    Oh, so God has spoken to Christians directly and not Muslims? That’s how they know Christianity is true? Oh, no. Not at all.

    So now we’re left with the problem of culture. God is going to send only the people that believe in Jesus to Heaven, everyone else will be annihilated. God has left no real definitive evidence that he even exists, much less any real signs to show which religion is the right one. If this is really the scenario, then the Bible is incorrect when it claims God is no respecter of persons. He most certainly shows favoritism, because the vast majority of Christians will be cultural Christians. Not led to Christianity by any real truths or evidence, but because Christianity is what feels most right to them. How interesting that it happens to be the religion most of them were raised in. This puts everyone else at a severe disadvantage. I hope he has an affirmative action plan…

    • Ryan says:

      Sorry Brenda if that last post came across as rude, I didn’t intend it to, but re-reading it now I think it could be seen as that.

  31. Pingback: Would I Ever Return to Christianity? « Left Christianity

  32. Brenda says:

    Ryan

    No worries! I don’t offend easily!

    As far as who to trust – that’s probably where we part ways. I no longer put my trust people who tell me they know things about some other world. That really cuts down on who I listen to and trust.

    • Ryan says:

      Brenda

      wanted to ask you, if you dont mind.

      How did it feel to lose your belief in Christianity, so to speak?

      • Brenda says:

        Ryan

        Thanks for asking actually. It’s easy online to forget that each of us has our own unique story. You can read my story at:

        http://www.leftchristianity.com

        Leaving Christianity was the most traumatic experience in my life so I don’t take any of this lightly. I know people who found it easy to leave – it either happened gradually over time which made it easier or for whatever reason it just wasn’t very troubling to them. I realized this morning that partly why my exit was difficult was because there was a fairly long span of time between when I decided I couldn’t believe it anymore and when I was able to shed the fear of hell. That was a long process and it meant that there was a long period of time where I didn’t believe in Christianity and was leaning towards atheism but wasn’t really sure so I still feared that if I was wrong I would go to hell.

        I still miss the illusion of certainty that Christianity provides. It was nice thinking I had inside answers to all those big questions and I no longer have that. I’ve had to make peace with uncertainty. I also miss the feeling of being loved by the creator of the universe although now I don’t see the god of Christianity as loving – but for all those years I did and that was a loss. But I’ve learned to focus on the wonderful things and people in my life and that’s enough for me now.

  33. Ryan says:

    Just to mention as well I appreciate how respectfully people treat each other on this blog. There seems to have been no attacks, no name calling and no accusations on character so far, which is fantastic.

    • Brenda says:

      Yes! I’ve never really taken part in online discussions much other than my own blog. I was talking to my husband about this blog and why I’ve been drawn into these discussions and a big part is how respectful everyone has been and that they stay on topic without falling into insults and name calling.

  34. unkleE says:

    Nate, there is a major assumption in your comments that I don’t share.

    “Now if Christianity is true, and these good Muslim people will miss out on Heaven because they don’t believe in Jesus”
    Many christians would say this, but many wouldn’t. The Bible in several places suggests that people of other faiths may also be saved through Jesus’ death – see Can only christians be saved?.

    If this is the truth, then everything is different.

    • Nate says:

      Well, if this is true, then it’s hard to see how very many will go to Hell (obviously, that would be a good thing). Even people like Brenda and I would be okay. Despite being atheists, we are both very sincere in our beliefs and are just trying to do what’s right. Not to belittle others, but I can guarantee that we’ve searched for truth and wrestled with scripture much more than many of those who fill pews every Sunday. If God is saving those who try their best, then I think we’ll be okay.

  35. unkleE says:

    Brenda,

    I didn’t realise you had a blog. Thanks for telling us about it – it was very informative. And it raises interesting questions that I have been pondering for a while.

    I am 66, and my wife and I have a role in a local church as members of the team which runs a large youth group (ages 15-18 approx) of about 120 kids every Friday night. The leaders are all about 19-25, so they asked us to attend just to be older people around the joint. In the 15 months we’ve been doing that, I’ve had the chance to observe and think.

    One of my concerns is the undoubted fact that many kids choose to be christians during this time in their lives (it seems most people choose their values and worldviews at these impressionable times) but then leave the faith when they finish school, or finish university, get married, start work or whatever. It seems that major milestones (whether joyful or traumatic) commonly cause us to re-think, and can lead to changes – conversion or deconversion. Your life obviously has some similarities, though your deconversion was later than many.

    As a christian, I am not happy to see people depart from what I believe is the truth, but I am also not happy if people believe in the first place without really understanding what they are doing. So your story is further ‘grist to the mill’ for me to consider. Thanks for sharing it.

  36. Brenda says:

    UnkleE

    “I am also not happy if people believe in the first place without really understanding what they are doing.”

    Very happy to hear you say this. I wish more Christians had this attitude. I hope it carries over into your work with the Youth.

    You and I have both caused each other to think through our positions and that’s good for both of us. Thanks for the exchange. I apologize if I came across as abrasive at all – I’m the nicest, sweetest mom around – until you get me talking about religion :D I try to be respectful while being honest at the same time – but I don’t know if I cross a line sometimes.

    • Ryan says:

      Brenda,

      I for one haven’t had the impression that you have come across as abrasive at all :)

    • unkleE says:

      Brenda, again Ryan and I agree. I never thought you were abrasive or crossed any lines.

      When you first posted I thought you were fairly strong-minded and insistent, but those aren’t bad qualities, and later I saw the more human or sensitive side. I agree with someone (was it you, I forget now?) who previously said how they appreciated all the comments on this blog were respectful towards those of different viewpoints. I think this is true, and somewhat remarkable, and I appreciate it.

      I also appreciated that you said that you had nothing against christians. Many atheists are very critical of christians, and while I have found some on the internet who I also find obnoxious, in my daily life I find most christians to be very nice people, and in fact I get on well with most people – e.g. at work where i was often the rare christian surrounded by people not really interested, agnostics and the rare committed atheist.

      One question out of curiosity. Did your husband travel the same route? Or was he never a believer, or still one?

      • Ryan says:

        I think Brenda touched on this question near the beginning of the conversation thread :)

      • Brenda says:

        My husband was a fundamentalist Christian like me. The best title I’d give to describe my husband’s views now is agnostic. My doubts and journey definitely changed his views away from Christianity – but he’s always been more comfortable than me with just saying, ‘I don’t know.’ But whenever we discuss issues related to my atheism we usually agree.

  37. unkleE says:

    Brenda said (way back): “I guess I wish I could get Christians to evaluate the Christian story without referring back to saying ‘because the bible says so.’ But since the bible is so central to them – that isn’t likely to happen.”

    I understand how you feel, but many christians do, myself included. We look at all the evidence and conclude that Jesus really was divine (and we can discuss that with you without making assumptions about the Bible). Therefore we commit ourselves to him and the truths that he told. Therefore we accept his and the Bible’s teaching on matters that are clear even if we can’t fully understand, but we grapple with the things that aren’t clear.

    “So I ask in all earnestness – I really am curious – how do you ever know which bits are true/from God and which bits aren’t?”

    I find this is one of the most common questions asked by non-believers, but surely the answer is simple. We don’t “know for certain” very many things in this life, and we get by just fine, so why stress about this? The Bible gives us some very clear teachings (e.g. Jesus was the Messiah, we need forgiveness, we should forgive and not hold grudges, etc) and we can easily understand and run with them. On other matters, things aren’t so clear, but we have our minds and our experience and each other and (most importantly) the Holy Spirit, so we generally work things out OK. There is lots of diversity, but that doesn’t always matter, and we make mistakes, but God can cope, and we live our lives learning and growing and maturing, which is the purpose.

    I think too many unbelievers think we need certainty when we don’t, think that certainty must be one fixed truth when it doesn’t always have to be, and forget the Holy Spirit is just as important as the Bible (maybe more so) in leading us into truth.

    I hope that gives you an idea of how some christians think, though I admit some would disagree. Best wishes.

  38. unkleE says:

    Nate said (way back): “Sure, but these are still just claims. Why should we see the claims of Christianity and assume that they match up to the way God would do things, but see the claims of other religions and assume it’s not how God would do it?”

    Nate, of course we shouldn’t assume anything! But after investigating matters, I have concluded that christianity (or more accurately, the Jesus of the gospels) is true. I have good reasons for that conclusion which you can consider, but of course you can conclude differently.

    “Especially when the text that teaches us about Christianity is demonstrably fallible? It’s like taking the word of a known perjurer and swearing that it’s absolutely true.”

    I don’t think that’s a fair statement of the situation. As a christian, my prime interest is in the NT, especially the gospels, and they are amenable to historical analysis. And the majority of historians conclude they are adequate historical documents from which we can draw some fairly assured conclusions. There’s no talk of any perjury, though there are some apparent mistakes and many aspects that are not amenable to historical analysis. We base all of our historical knowledge on similar analysis, often with far less documentary basis.

    “As an example, why aren’t you a Mormon? We have much better historical evidence that Joseph Smith existed than we do for Christ. And while Joseph Smith obviously had some character flaws, how is that different than the witness of the Bible?”

    I don’t doubt Joseph Smith lived and did the things recorded of him (apart from getting golden plates) just as I don’t doubt the Buddha, Mohammed and Baha’u’llah all lived and did the things recorded of them. But (1) nothing in the facts of their lives gives me any reason to believe they told the truth in their teachings, and (2) it doesn’t really matter whether they lived or not because they are not important, it is the teachings that are important.

    But Jesus is different. He is more important than his message and much of his message wasn’t unique anyway – his ethics are common to many teachers, though developed a bit further. He is important because he claimed to be divine (none of those other teachers claimed this) and gave plausible (to me) reasons to believe that claim, he died for our sins (none of the other did that) and he was resurrected (ditto) – for which there is plausible historical evidence. THis gives his teachings credibility and authority.

    So Jesus was unique, made unique claims, did unique things. Christianity is primarily about him more than his teachings, so once I come to believe in him, I can know he is more important than all those other teachers, worthy though some of them may have been. All taught truth to some degree at least (less sure about JS, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt) but Jesus embodies truth in ways that the others don’t.

    You can choose to disbelieve all this, just as I have chosen to believe it, but I hope you can see and understand that it hangs together, it is based on evidence, and some of the things you think about it are mistaken. I hope than helps. Thanks.

  39. unkleE says:

    Nate said: “Well, if this is true, then it’s hard to see how very many will go to Hell (obviously, that would be a good thing). Even people like Brenda and I would be okay. Despite being atheists, we are both very sincere in our beliefs and are just trying to do what’s right. Not to belittle others, but I can guarantee that we’ve searched for truth and wrestled with scripture much more than many of those who fill pews every Sunday. If God is saving those who try their best, then I think we’ll be okay.”

    Nate, it sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Just live your own life and God will look after you in the end. And maybe that’s how it will be, I certainly hope so. But maybe it won’t. I don’t know you, or Brenda, beyond what I read here, so I cannot and won’t personalise what I say. But I think this is a far from secure way to look at things.

    1. How does anyone know they are sincere? I often ask myself if I am really being honest as I defend my belief, and I have no answer to that. I think I am, I try to be, I hope I am, but in the end my mind is not really capable of judging itself. But Jesus said we know a tree by its fruits, and a person by their actions. So do people’s actions show they are sincere, or not? (That includes both believers and non-believers.)

    2. Jesus said his sheep know his voice and follow him. If someone knows about Jesus and doesn’t respond to him, what does that say? It may be that they really want to, but need a little more evidence, but I have my doubts. If they really want to, they’d follow anyway, even if they said they couldn’t be sure. If they really want to, I think they’d be searching things out very diligently, praying and asking God (if he’s there) to show them, giving it a try to see if it works, holding on even when things are unclear, or something.

    3. Being a christian is about following Jesus – trying to live as he did, trying to serve others, trying to make the world a better place in the ways that he showed us, and in the process becoming better people, more mature, more refined, more loving, more forgiving, etc. Getting to heaven and avoiding hell are not really the main part of Jesus’ teaching, although we naturally emphasise those bits sometimes. But life in the new age is a continuation of life here. If we’re going to be happy to live with Jesus there, why miss out here? If we’re not happy to live with Jesus here, why do we think we’d be happy there? I honestly think atheists like Christopher Hitchens got one thing right – if they hate God as he said he did, he’d rather die that go to live with him forever.

    So I’m inclined to think that everyone who truly wants to live with Jesus/God will get there, but ‘truly wants’ is not a simple and easy thing. People who don’t know about Jesus in any meaningful way will surely (I believe) not automatically miss out, but I’m less sure about those who know but don’t follow or believe.

    I don’t wish to be nasty, I have tried to say nothing about your motives, because I don’t know them, but that is what I think. Best wishes.

    • Nate says:

      Why do you doubt the golden plate story when it comes to Joseph Smith? Is it because even though we have good historical information about him, you find that particular part of the story difficult to swallow because it would have been a miracle? I think it was Tacitus that recorded some great history of the Roman Empire, but also included accounts of Caesar performing miracles. Even though scholars believe that Tacitus wrote reliable history, no one takes the miracle stories as true. I think the Bible belongs in the same category. I have no doubt that it records some historical events accurately, but I don’t think that’s good enough evidence to believe the miracle claims.

      Also, I don’t think belief is something you choose. People are either convinced of things, or they’re not. For quite a while, I did exactly what you list in your 2nd point. I hung in there even though I had stopped believing. But I finally realized that I wasn’t accomplishing anything — I simply didn’t believe it anymore.

      And don’t worry — I know you’re not trying to comment on my own motives. I appreciate the distinction there. I hope I haven’t come across wrong either; I’m enjoying the discussion.

  40. unkleE says:

    G’day Nate, thanks for the positive comments.

    “Why do you doubt the golden plate story when it comes to Joseph Smith? “

    I am naturally a fairly sceptical person – for example I am very wary of believing and recounting christian miracle stories when I don’t have reason to be confident of the sources. So being sceptical about Joseph Smith would be the default.

    There are big differences between Smith and Jesus. Jesus convincingly (to me and many others) claimed divine authority; Smith did not. His life was admirable ethically; Smith’s was not. So Smith is not a reliable reporter nor someone we would feel merited God’s special attention whereas it seems entirely appropriate that Jesus would be raised. There is historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection that even secular scholars recognise (while mostly not believing in the resurrection itself, they mostly accept the tomb was empty, the disciples saw appearances of Jesus and this motivated them) whereas there is no evidence Smith ever had any plates. And the disciples persisted with their claims even under great persecution whereas (from memory) more than half Smith’s witnesses later recanted.

    There is no doubt about it, not just in my opinion, but in reality – Jesus was a unique figure who made unique claims that are uniquely believable. Doesn’t necessarily make him true (though I obviously I believe he was), but it certainly makes him different to anyone else.

    “I don’t think belief is something you choose.”

    This is a much debated question, and I think I agree. But there are many aspects around belief that we can choose – what assumptions we’ll make, what evidence we’ll consider, what sources we’ll read, how much we’ll trust our own judgment, how much we’ll allow our emotions to lead us, and (most importantly) what we’ll focus on. I don’t agree with anyone hanging in there once they’ve stopped believing, but I do think there are different ways to manage that process.

    For example, the strongest argument against God (IMO) is the evil and suffering in the world, which I can’t explain, so it is a problem for me. On the other hand, the two arguments from the universe (cosmological and teleological) are both very strong when presented properly and scientists and unbelievers really have no satisfactory explanation for the facts and no real answers to the arguments. If I focus on the evil in the world, I can easily lose my belief, whereas if I focus on the arguments from the universe, belief seems very assured. And what I focus on is a choice. So I choose to consider both and keep both in mind – and the balance of facts (including other arguments not mentioned) clearly, to me, ends up well in favour of believing in God. But focus less even-handedly and I’d end up somewhere different.

    In the end, I think these sorts of choices, which are emotional and volitional more than logical, probably determine most people’s beliefs.

  41. Pingback: A Milestone Post | The BitterSweet End

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