February 19, 2006

Questions on Christianity

For Christians: how can you be confident in your beliefs? Is it possible that your beliefs are turning coincidence into the work of God?

For non-Christians: if you do not believe that Jesus was ressurrected, how do you explain the spread of early Christianity?


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  1. I am neither a Christian nor an athiest so I'll take up two sides of the story:

    For Christians: how can you be confident in your beliefs? Is it possible that your beliefs are turning coincidence into the work of God?

    It is possible. And it is possible that God does not exist. But it is possible that God does exist and we have chosen the path which most appeals to us.

    For non-Christians: if you do not believe that Jesus was ressurrected, how do you explain the spread of early Christianity?

    The adoption of Christianity by the Roman Empire? The Romanisation/Paganisation of Christianity? The subsequent missionary work all over Europe? Economic causes? Conquest? Supervolcanic Eruptions? Climate change?

    There are plenty of other explanations as to why something spreads. The fact that there are 1.9 billion Christians, or 1.3 billion Muslims etc. does not Prove that there is a God (and I am saying this as a Muslim who deeply believes in his faith). Numbers do not prove God nor does, necessarily, success. The immediate and astounding spread of Islam can be seen by believers as adding substance to belief but it does not prove the existence of God. An athiest can happily say "Well the spread was down to the successes of some of the most charismatic (prophet Muhammed PBUH) and strategic (Khalid Ibn-Walid – Sayf Allah – one of the greatest military commanders the world has ever seen – it is such a shame that he is not recognised as Alexander the Great is) men of that era/ever.

    19 Feb 2006, 05:09

  2. This sounds like a trick question for atheists, asking them why they don't believe he was ressurrected… because this implies that he actually existed in the first place TO be resurrected.

    19 Feb 2006, 07:43

  3. Marc

    Believing that Jesus existed as a historical figure doesn't necessarily mean that you also believe he was the son of God. Also, just because a belief spreads, it doesn't make the belief a true one.

    19 Feb 2006, 09:24

  4. There is, I am assured, plenty of evidence that a Jesus existed, was crucified, and probably lots of other stuff. As I understand it the Romans liked keeping records of things. I've never seen any such evidence myself, but I'm willing to trust the historical community on that one.

    As for why people would believe in the resurrection if it weren't true, it made a good story. Same reason why urban legends and the like persist these days. People want to believe in things like that, and won't let things like facts get in the way.

    19 Feb 2006, 14:00

  5. This sounds like a trick question for atheists, asking them why they don't believe he was ressurrected… because this implies that he actually existed in the first place TO be resurrected.

    As Colin says, it's generally agreed that he existed. The question is over how much the Bible is an accurate representation of his life. But if you don't believe he existed, would you care to explain why?

    As for why people would believe in the resurrection if it weren't true, it made a good story. Same reason why urban legends and the like persist these days. People want to believe in things like that, and won't let things like facts get in the way.

    Except that urban legends generally "happened" some time ago. What about the earliest Christians? Did 12 or so disciples convince so many people of something totally untrue, based solely on their (deceptive? brainwashed?) word?

    19 Feb 2006, 16:08

  6. There is, I am assured, plenty of evidence that a Jesus existed, was crucified, and probably lots of other stuff.

    Well you're wrong… There is some evidence. Not all backing up what the Bible says. Recently a tomb was discovered in which something like "Here lies James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus". I think they've claimed to have found Jesus's tomb and where he was crucified etc. And there is some archival evidence. But there isn't by any means plenty of evidence.

    Heck… the Bible doesn't really tell us too much about Jesus to be frank…

    19 Feb 2006, 17:17

  7. 'Plenty of evidence' is a rather relative term for anything that happened over 2000 years ago. In any case I doubt it will be proven that he didn't exist, and as a non-Christian it's not a terribly important point as far as I'm concerned.

    As for urban legends, they are rather more modern than the (supposed) resurrection, so I don't quite see your point there. As for how it started, it could have happened in any number of ways, just like other urban legends. They spring up through lies, miscommunications, misremembering, misinterpreting facts, and so on.

    In any case, as I recall it only a few people ever saw him post-resurrection, so whether it was true or not people would just have to rely on their word. In any case, it is my understanding that the various parts of the new testament were written long after Jesus died, and (mostly?) by people that had never met him.

    19 Feb 2006, 20:10

  8. What about the earliest Christians? Did 12 or so disciples convince so many people of something totally untrue, based solely on their (deceptive? brainwashed?) word?

    It's not exactly unimaginable. Look what's still possible today even with a cynical media and instant access to the internet to question what people say and do. George Bush convinced a nation that Saddam had WMD's then there's people like David Blain and Derren Brown with illusions. On top of that I'd say the one thing that all humans share, regardless of relegion, is the need for answers that explain what is around us and if someone can provide answers they are more willing to listen and believe. If someone can explain a situation and it has a human connection then i'd suggest people are even more likely to believe it.
    So I think it would be quite possible for such a message to be spread independent of whether there was actual truth at the centre.

    19 Feb 2006, 20:20

  9. I hate your questions they make me cry. But I will defend to the death my right to tell you that.

    19 Feb 2006, 23:41

  10. Roger Lindley

    I would like to answer both questions……!

    With regard to the second one, the four gospels give us just about all the information we have about Jesus Christ. Of course, Those Who Think They Know Better would claim that the gospels were written hundreds of years after the event. Not only that, that they were collections of third-hand stories, all of which suffered from Chinese Whisper Syndrome. So when some fragments of gospel are dated to the first century, the findings are called “controversial”. So it’s controversial to believe that the gospels are what they say they are……..?

    All this is a modern argument of course. But, Marx, Freud and Darwin are past their sell-by date. Time to move on to something post-modern, maybe.

    OK, to question 1.
    We live in a time where people worship stuff. Yes, that’s right, stuff. Consumer electronics, cars, bling, clothes, you name it. If people feel down, they go to get some “retail therapy”. They go and buy some more stuff to make themselves feel better.

    This worship, of course, has its downside, like any worship. The downside of worshipping stuff is that the AVERAGE family in the UK has credit card and other non-mortgage debt of around £5000.
    I grew up loving stuff, and I still enjoy going shopping occasionally.

    Other people worship football teams, pop groups, girlfriends, themselves….. I have been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.

    It has all left me feeling empty sooner or later. Only one thing is worth coming back to – my faith in Christ. He has never let me down or feeling empty. I know He’s alive, not only because of the Historic evidence of the gospels, but because I know He’s done things in my life.

    20 Feb 2006, 15:09

  11. anonymous

    my friend told me his priest told him that in the bible it says that jesus told peter to become/tellthe pope to tell everyone he can tell them what to do religiously. should i believe it, given that the bible talks about a flood, and every other religion in the world talks about a flood too?

    if jesus wasnt a real man, like the bible says he isnt, and he died, how did he become reborn?(or born at all, his mother was a virgin i guess thats true by definition) and.. if jesus was actually god, and he died, is god dead? or did jesus just cheat and not die? and lo, i thought, i would, if i knew i was going to be (second/third) lord of heaven for all eternity(SOTM says meek inherit he said he was god so he doesnt?).. but the bible says he's actually god and he died for our sins and the holy spirit kept him peppy for another 2000 years, despite changing his face after he died the first time. though of course, that friend who knows the priest, he told me that you never actually get to heaven, or even purgatory, because you have to wait for everyone else in the world to die first, in order to choose whether you go to a place with/without/with a bit of god. at that point i got really confused and i figured it must just be all this holy spirit people partake of that is actually god. but then why does everyone say jesus is god? or do they just recognise the fact that he wasnt god as a testament to god? thats pretty cool, in all honesty. except that he kinda got killed and stuff. apparitionally. lol.

    20 Feb 2006, 17:22

  12. For non-Christians: [...] how do you explain the spread of early Christianity?

    People needed something to believe in, and the idea of an ever-present benevolent deity seemed very appealing?

    20 Feb 2006, 18:12

  13. There is some evidence. Not all backing up what the Bible says. Recently a tomb was discovered in which something like "Here lies James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus".

    That doesn't seem to go against the Bible: link

    As for urban legends, they are rather more modern than the (supposed) resurrection, so I don't quite see your point there.

    I was thinking of the time between the resurrection and the writing of the New Testament books. But it's still a larger period of time than between when most urban legends are set and now, so I'm not sure what I was saying.

    In any case, as I recall it only a few people ever saw him post-resurrection, so whether it was true or not people would just have to rely on their word. In any case, it is my understanding that the various parts of the new testament were written long after Jesus died, and (mostly?) by people that had never met him.

    According to the Bible, he appeared to over 500 people at one time. And to other people, over a period of 40 days. But I think you're right than most of the New Testament was written by people with second-hand experience or worse.

    Look what's still possible today even with a cynical media and instant access to the internet to question what people say and do. George Bush convinced a nation that Saddam had WMD's

    I'm not convinced of this comparison. But I don't think I'm up to analysing it right now to find out why.

    20 Feb 2006, 23:43

  14. Leigh Robinson

    Why did early Christianity spread?

    This is difficult question to answer for sure. Though I am inclined to agree that as society was developing there was an ever increasing need to explain the world around them and the events they were witnessing. Religion in general is extremely good at re-directing difficult questions which science and rational thought of the day could not tackle and attribute them to a God.

    "We can't understand X and we are not meant to, it's God's will" – this kind of argument is very powerful when science is in its infancy.

    I believe this is why we increasingly attributed religious ideas as 'faiths' as science grew – originally they were not faith in our modern sense, they were the 'science' but as science matured people could no longer accept both descriptions of the world. Easy examples are the nature of the solar system, evolution/creationalism, etc…

    The religious truths of yester-year are now 'faiths' which to me are completely superfluous.

    This framework for explaination coupled with the moral guidance given when you are assuming a creator/God that judges us and protects us is a very powerful combination. It was exactly what people wanted to hear, which lead to its rapid adoption by almost all people that came into contact with it.

    Ask yourself what religion gives society today and I mean really ask yourself – i'm sure you will find it difficult to find something that we would not continue to have if it was abolished somehow tomorrow afternoon.

    21 Feb 2006, 03:29

  15. I'm with Roger on this one. Personally, too many things have happened in my life for me to ignore Christ's existence. Without wanting to sound like some kind of religious nutcase, I know that God exists and that Jesus was resurrected. It's one of those things where if you have faith and pray about it, you will get an answer.

    On the surface, the easiest road to take is the one of not believing, because it means you don't need to change anything about what you do or the way you live your life, but actually, knowing that there is a God gives so much more meaning to everything and I have seen a great deal of miracles in my life. It isn't nearly such an uphill struggle when you know there is more to life than the daily grind. I don't think anyone can 'prove' the existence of God through words and rhetoric – you just have to have an open heart and mind and if you show a little bit of faith, you can know from what you feel.

    21 Feb 2006, 14:09

  16. James

    1. For Christians: how can you be confident in your beliefs? Is it possible that your beliefs are turning coincidence into the work of God?

    2. For non-Christians: if you do not believe that Jesus was ressurrected, how do you explain the spread of early Christianity?

    With respect to both questions, certain knowledge about historical events two millennia ago is impossible. There is no consensus on what happened in the Middle East in the past decade, so why should there be agreement on what happened 2,000 years ago? Historians record things from their own perspective, see for example the differing interpretations on the Gulf War of 1991. Of course, only the lunatic fringe would dispute that there was a war in the Gulf in 1991. But that's because we have living witnesses, and extensive television coverage etc that would take an absurdly enormous consipracy to have been faked. By contrast, no such material exists for events 2000 years ago and thus no claimed event from that time can be said to have happened with the same degree of certainty.

    As to (2), how does one explain the spread of Bhuddism (contrary to Christianity as it does not hold that there is one God), or the Greco-Roman pantheon (contrary to Christianity as there were many Gods), or indeed any ohter religion you care to mention?

    The general answer is the same for Coca-Cola and McDonalds. Nothing evidently superior about the products, but very efficient marketing which snowballs as the franchise becomes more successful hence richer and more widespread.

    The specific answer to Christianity is that Constantine recognised that the Roman empire would be easier to hold together if it had only one religion. He decided that religion would be Christianity, but in so doing incorporated much lore from other religions, in particular sun worshipping, hence the halo (originally a depiction of the sun behind the religious figure), Xmas being in the summer solstice, etc etc. Christianity before his time was, on the evidence available, considerably different.

    21 Feb 2006, 15:12

  17. Still crying.

    21 Feb 2006, 15:44

  18. Vex

    For non-believers of Astrology: How do you explain the spread of astrology? The self-same propensity for self-deception that the brain exercises to keep itself healthy, as with all irrational beliefs, including religion.

    I'm afraid that evolution's smoke and mirrors can still be very persuasive!

    21 Feb 2006, 16:17

  19. anonymous

    how do you know when youre praying that you arent talking to yourself?

    21 Feb 2006, 18:11

  20. Your question is way stupider than the other ones in this entry, so you win.

    21 Feb 2006, 18:26

  21. Jimmy.

    Hey James (Hughes), are you always this obnoxious, or are you having some kind of mental difficulty at the moment?

    21 Feb 2006, 19:16

  22. Hey Jimmy, thanks for submitting your entry for the stupid question competition. Maybe we could be friends?

    21 Feb 2006, 19:27

  23. As an atheist, I don't believe that Jesus existed at all. If you study the New Testament, you will see that there are lots of discrepencies amongst the 4 gospels, based on the personal opinions of the author, the context they were writing in etc. Therefore, if you believe that the Bible tells you who Jesus was, you have to deal with 4 conflicting accounts. So how do you know who Jesus TRULY was? If you read John's gospel, then Jesus is 'the word' who existed with God 'in the beginning', but Luke and Matthew say Jesus is the son of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, but they can't agree whether it was the Kings or the shepherds who visited him. There is no concrete archeaological or historical evidence for the life of Jesus. I will never believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but it would be possible to believe he was just a bloke who lived in Palestine if there was more evidence.

    21 Feb 2006, 20:24

  24. Jimmy.

    Nah, don't think so, James. Sorry to disappoint you, but idiocy isn't a trait I hold particularly dear.

    With regard to the topic at hand, is there any accpeted opinion within the religious community nowadays about the validity of different religions, or is it more the case that religious groups are binary; you're either part of a particular one or just wrong? I've always wondered about that, but nobody I've asked really seems to know.

    21 Feb 2006, 22:48

  25. James

    I have answered the questions posed at 16 above.

    I am interested to see, not so much in the specific answers here, but elsewhere in the media on a regular basis, the watering down of Christianity's claims. This is in stark contrast to the increase in fundamentalism with Islam.

    Watering down the Christian faith is something which Rowan Williams seems particularly keen on. In his first speech upon being appointed head of the CofE, he didn't even mention the Christian faith. Since then he's banged on about the Iraq wa and, more recently, Israel, which seems to suggest he's bored with just being the head of the church and is trying his hand as a political commentator. When he has actually gotten around to talking about religion, he's been awfully keen on 'inter-faith dialogue', which is an attempt to say actually we've all got the same religion. As a non-religious person I can see an upside to this – the less fundamentalism the better – but it is strange for the head of a particular church. It seems to me that his source material is unequivocal, with statements such as "Thou shall have no other god but me" or "No one comes unto God except through me".

    Imagine Rowan Williams as an actore hired as the hind legs of a pantomine horse. I am sure he'd have got bored with that about as quickly, and the audience would have had to suffer him reciting lectures on public health or art history out the rear of the horse.

    22 Feb 2006, 12:22

  26. James

    Of course to be accurate, I should point out that Rowan Williams is not the titular head of the CofE, the Queen is. That brings to mind another example of someone bored with Christianity and also apparently dissatisfied with his constitutional role: Prince Charles. He has said he wants to be 'defender of faith' not 'defender of the faith', something thoroughly inappropriate for the head of the CofE. He is also in hot water at the moment for being a soi disant political dissident – not the role for an unelected head of state. What is it with these people? Can we look forward at last to the disestablishment of the Church, to be replaced by a constitutional protection of freedom of religion and separation of Church and State?

    22 Feb 2006, 14:36

  27. As an atheist, I don't believe that Jesus existed at all. If you study the New Testament, you will see that there are lots of discrepencies amongst the 4 gospels, based on the personal opinions of the author, the context they were writing in etc. Therefore, if you believe that the Bible tells you who Jesus was, you have to deal with 4 conflicting accounts. So how do you know who Jesus TRULY was? If you read John's gospel, then Jesus is 'the word' who existed with God 'in the beginning', but Luke and Matthew say Jesus is the son of a virgin, born in Bethlehem, but they can't agree whether it was the Kings or the shepherds who visited him. There is no concrete archeaological or historical evidence for the life of Jesus. I will never believe that Jesus was the Son of God, but it would be possible to believe he was just a bloke who lived in Palestine if there was more evidence.

    However much they might disagree, all four gospels are pretty clear on Jesus's existence. And I don't see any contradicting messages in your two examples – just extra information.

    I am interested to see, not so much in the specific answers here, but elsewhere in the media on a regular basis, the watering down of Christianity's claims.

    I don't know much and am not particularly interested in Church politics, but it seems to me that the basics of Christianity can't really be watered down. In short, Jesus died to forgive your sins, and if you accept that, you will have eternal life. Everything else comes extra, and can't really be central to the religion.

    23 Feb 2006, 01:33

  28. Alan: This isn't an answer to your original question, but a response to your last comment. The central point of Christianity is, as you say, Jesus and His sacrifical death that enables a restored relationship with God. Jesus is central because only a blood sacrifice could pay the price for sin, (Old Testament Laws demonstrate this) and, since Jesus was not only the Son of God but was God and came to the earth as God in human form, he was the perfect sacrifice (Lamb of God). The pivotal points about Christianity are in the claims of Jesus – the 'I am' statements – 'I am the bread of live, I am the light of the world, I am Way the truth and the life'. (There are lots of them if in the gospels) Once you start looking at the claims of Jesus you find the claims He made are very strong, and also pose the greatest challenge to anyone who really looks into them.

    23 Feb 2006, 11:29

  29. For Christians: how can you be confident in your beliefs? Is it possible that your beliefs are turning coincidence into the work of God?

    Its about personal relationship with God. Its in the fruits of your belief. Peace in time sof trouble and when I'm counting my blessings, time and time again God works when I'm in total surrender. It might be coincidence turning into the work of God but how do you explain things that happen beyond your understanding, when things fall into place when you put your trust in God.

    For non-Christians: if you do not believe that Jesus was ressurrected, how do you explain the spread of early Christianity?

    Hmm thou am a Christian, will try to answer in a neutral or in a more academic way: if you read the torah and old testament(bible) – prophecies about Jesus are all there foretelling his death and resurrection. and the patterns based on the Jewish passover… the angel of death passed-over the house with the blood of the lamb. And in the new testament, Jesus is that lamb! Death (judgement) will pass those who accepted Jesus as Jesus died on the cross for them as it is better for one person to die for the masses. The resurrection shows that even death could not hold him. Study the torah and the old testament to understand. And both torah and old testament foretold the criteria for a prophet.

    23 Feb 2006, 13:57

  30. AILSA- The four gospels tell you the four sides of Jesus. Even in real life you would believe more if you based it on more than 1 account. In order for people to believe God, God has to proove that He knows the trouble we have and He faced the persecution as a man. Him as the word meaning that He was there when the world was created.. He is a part of God. God as the man who understands us, the father who will provide for us and discipline us and His spirit resides in us to guide us and to give us peace. Thats why in Christinany, Christians have close relationship with God. Its by His grace and not by law.

    23 Feb 2006, 14:04

  31. James

    Sylvester – perhaps you could help me on a few things Christian. I wasn't inculcated with Christianity in childhood. Therefore I am not predisposed to accept any of its tenets without evidence or argument. So I wonder about many aspects of Bible stories. For example:

    Noah makes an ark when the Lord regrets having made humankind and decides to wipe them out because of their wickedness. He does so by means of a flood. If he was all powerful etc, he'd have known in advance that was how mankind (his own creation, after all) would behave. More than that, he'd know precisely what they'd do. Why regret it then? Why do it in the first place?

    At all events, God agrees with Noah after it's all over not to do it again; and in future to put up with whatever mankind decides to do. Why then and not now? Was what they were up to prior to the flood worse than WWII?

    Then there's the Tower of Babel. The old testamant tells us that, at the time, the whole earth had one language and the same words. God came down to see the city and the tower. He confuses everyone's understanding of speech, and the tower's a disaster. What was he doing?

    Appreciating your clarification,

    J.

    23 Feb 2006, 15:07

  32. it's not too difficult to see how christianity spread in the roman empire and the later world. cults like that of mithras, osiris or christ were imported by soldiers or merchants to the places they visited across the empire and the emotional security of "if you follow a pattern of worship and belief, you can have an everlasting comfortable afterlife" appealed to many. christianity merely became more and more popular amongst the people until constantine unified the empire under one religion as the appeal of the traditional roman pantheon decreased under the emperors. for me, there are too many dubious aspects of the bible to make it a reliable and believable text. why would joseph drag his heavily pregnant wife all the way to bethlehem for a census that only he himself had to attend to register his family at? how did noah fit all of those animals onto a boat and tend to them during the flood with just a handful of people to help him? how do you build a planet in seven days? to attribute everything in the world to an invisible, omnipotent, omniscient, magic man who lives in the sky with such an illogical text as the only "proof" of this theory has never really appealed to me.

    23 Feb 2006, 15:08

  33. What that happened, God showed that He would not be able to stand sin. God allows free choice. God foresee all this. God's time is beyond time. It is mentioned that a thousand years is like a day for Him. And things that happenned in the OLD testament is the great preparation for the NEW testament. Then people were judged by law. But human being imperfect, we break laws, etc. That's where the atonement for sins were carried out in terms of sacrificing unblemished lamb, etc. And the same pattern explains why Jesus died on the cross. He was the unblemished Lamb who died for our sins. And God in the form of Jesus showed us His love, mercy and grace through this. In the OLD testament, the ark of God is separated from the people. God detests sin so much that those who were not priest will not stand being in the room where the ark of God was. If you read your bible carefully, when Jesus DIED , the separator between the people and the temple room was torn into two to show that now God and man can have a closer relationship as thou we are all sinners Jesus died for all of us. And His resurrection shows that even death could not hold Him.

    James, its not about being all powerful, its about showing us His mercy through the death of Jesus. On how we cant be saved by laws. Its only by grace can we enter heaven. Man's wickedness happenned in our world as we refused Him and abused His name for the sake of power. The sufferring brings God's mercy and God's grace. In this time of needs, people will surrender to God's love. Personal experience with God is more powerful than any miracles, etc.

    Tower of Babel again showed how God detests sin. The reason they build the tower is to be in the same rank as God. As Ive explained then people were living by laws….they became arrogant and they wanted to be like God , hence the tower. God had to confused them with makin bthem speak different language before they built the tower to their own destruction.

    All in all, GOD disciplines those He loves. People go through situations in life to learn the grace and mercy of God.

    23 Feb 2006, 15:42

  34. are starving children born into warzones learning of god's grace and mercy?

    aside from the bible, what evidence does anyone have that god exists or that jesus was resurrected? a 2000 year old collection of stories and tales cannot be validated as factual just because somebody believes it is the word of a god, of whom we have no other proof of existence. i have no problem with people believing in a god but to claim that illogical and impossible events that coincidentally have only happened once and are the product of a spoken tradition of storytelling are matters of fact instead of opinion is incredible to me.

    23 Feb 2006, 16:09

  35. God says the wisdom of man is the foolishness of God. His ways is higher than our ways. Can we answer all? Can we explain the peace we have in our heart and why things fall into place when we start to trust in God? Can we explain why people still trust God even if they are in devastating states? The sins of man affect the many generations to come… why did war start at the first place? Are them being starved because God put them there? Its a harsh cycle… wickedness begats persecution for the masses… isn't there mercy shown through God's people? Isn't there help from other fellow humans? Where did it go wrong?

    God says towards the end of time, wickedness in the world will increase, nations against nations, lost of respect in the household:

    Matthew 24:6 "And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end."

    Rumors of wars in all areas of the world now occur frequently thanks to instant media coverage and the availability of a multitude of 24-hour news sources.

    Matthew 24:7 "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes."
    More people have been killed in warfare in this century than at any other time in history. As the death toll rises in the Middle East, more and more countries work feverishly to develop devastating weapons of mass destruction. Add to that the expanding threat of terrorism and unpredictable dictators such as Saddam Hussein, and the potential for the outbreak of war exists in nations, kingdoms and places across the globe.

    Matthew 24:7 "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes."
    As white, Christian farmers are driven out of Zimbabwe in increasing numbers, and foreigners move in to replace life-sustaining crops with poppies that now supply 25% of the worlds drugs, famine spreads across the African continent. The undernourished are not limited to Africa, however. A large portion of the worlds 5 billion people suffers from a shortage of food.The number and intensity of earthquakes this century is at a level higher than any other time in history. A staggering number of seismic events occur around the world daily. The earthquake seismic monitor IRIS shows all major earthquakes for the last year. Indicated by yellow and red circles, the seismic events of the last 15 days provides strong evidence of the fulfillment of Matthew 24:7 in our day. By contrast, in the years from 1890 to 1900 there was only one major earthquake in the world.

    But the major sign is what is happening to Israel. Babylon is being rebuilt by the enemy taking force and the Israelites are being percecuted.

    23 Feb 2006, 17:13

  36. how do you know what god has said? as far as i can see, the bible is an emotional comfort blanket for those afraid of death, giving them reassurance that if they lead a decent life then they will have a nice afterlife. quoting the bible at me and making spurious connections between current events and vague ancient statements such as "nation will rise against nation" which could refer to any conflict from the past 2000 years is not sufficient to convince me that the bible is right. read logically, the bible is nonsensical. do you seriously believe that Methuselah lived for 969 years?

    23 Feb 2006, 17:38

  37. more people have died in wars in the last century as the population has been growing almost exponentially for the past few hundred years. a more valid point would be to state whether the percentage of the population killed in wars has increased towards this judgement day that you seem to prophesise. didn't ghengis khan kill almost depopulate mongolia?

    there are over six billion people in the world too, just as a point of information.

    the advance and global spread of seismic monitoring technology is the logical explanation for the increase in frequency of seismic activity across the world. how many major earthquakes took place before 1935 when the richter scale was invented compared to last year? your idea that seismic activity is on the increase is completely invalid and impossible to prove.

    it is also impossible to argue about the comparative amounts of famine in the world. the population has grown so much that any comparison made to history would be out of proportion of the overall global population. therefore, as it is almost impossible to compare, you cannot possibly state that the situation is worsening.

    evolution is not a perfect theory by any means and modern logic cannot explain everything but i trust the processes and systems that comply with the laws of maths, science and logic rather than simply saying "an invisible undead man in the sky did it

    23 Feb 2006, 17:54

  38. Interesting writings from historical non-christian writers

    Flavius Josephus is regarded as the premier first century Jewish historian. His writings have been quoted by hundreds of authors, including many of the world's most respected scholars. Josephus came from a priestly family and became a Pharisee at the age of 19. He was appointed Commander of the Jewish army under Roman occupation. After the rebellion by the Jews, Josephus was captured by the Roman general Vespasian. During this time, Josephus became a great historian.

    Although Josephus lived after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, he was closely associated with the experiences of that generation. In his book, Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus makes a statement that is contested by those who reject the existence of a historical Jesus. Here, Josephus writes:

    "Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works — a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." (Book 18, ch. 3)

    23 Feb 2006, 17:58

  39. The Testimony of Other Writers

    In addition to Tacitus, Suetonius, Phlegon, and Josephus, other prominent historical figures make mention of the biblical Jesus.
    Thallus

    Thallus wrote about Mediterranean history during the middle of the first century. Although there are only fragments of his writings today, one such fragment relates what happened at the crucifixion.

    On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.

    This description of events surrounding the crucifixion is totally consistent with the gospel record. Consider the words of Matthew.

    Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour… And, behold, the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent… (Mt. 27:45, 51)

    Pliny the Younger

    Pliny the younger was a Roman author who at one time served as governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. He was concerned about the rapid growth of Christianity and its potential for threatening the beliefs of Rome. Because of this, he wrote the emperor to explain how he interrogated those he believed were Christians. Pliny related that if those he interrogated would not worship the emperor, he would have them executed. In some cases, he would torture them to gather information about the emerging Christian movement. In one such case, he tortured two deaconesses and wrote to the emperor concerning the information he had gathered.

    They [the Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses of a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food – but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. (The Tenth Book of Pliny's Letters)

    When Pliny referred to "food of an ordinary and innocent kind," he was addressing a rumor regarding Christianity. This rumor was that Christians took the symbols (bread and wine) Jesus introduced at the Passover as literal and would secretly meet on certain occasions and actually eat human flesh and drink human blood.
    Justin Martyr

    Justin Martyr was a second century philosopher and theologian. His parents were pagans; however, after a study of the Old and New Testaments, Justin Martyr converted to Christianity. He was executed during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius because he refused to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods.

    Justin Martyr wrote about 150 A.D. In one of his writings, he explained that the events of Christ's crucifixion could be validated by the report of Pontius Pilate.

    And the expression, "they pierced my hands and my feet" was used in reference to the nails of the cross which were fixed in His hands and feet. And after he was crucified, they cast lots upon His vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that these things did happen you can ascertain in the "Acts of Pontius Pilate." (First Apology XXXV)

    Although the "Acts of Pontius Pilate" referred to by Justin Martyr is no longer in existence, it was also referred to by Tertullian. Both Tertullian and Justin Martyr believed that this was an official Roman document.

    It is interesting to note that there were two archives kept in ancient Rome. One consisted of the minutes of senatorial meetings; the other consisted of correspondence sent to the emperor from various parts of the empire. Any correspondence from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius would unquestionably belong to this second archive.

    23 Feb 2006, 17:59

  40. yes. i study classics and i've just read Suetonius and tacitus for probably the 15th or 16th time. i have also read all extant works of josephus about seven times and i've written several essays on judea in the first century. there is no doubt for me that jesus existed. however, he was not an alchemist who could turn water into wine nor could he walk on water. he was just a man. there is no real evidence to prove otherwise

    23 Feb 2006, 18:08

  41. there are other signs that come with the noted prophecies…. and by looking at what is going on these days, things are not looking good :) BUt life goes on, as no matter what happenned, as someone who might be deceiving himself by being afraid of death :) I know where I'm going and that is good enough for me :) AS I do respect others with their beliefs as well… as what Ive mentioned in another blog, as long as you are confortable with what you belief in, so be it :) Discussion is good if we are here to understand but it should not be an excuse to offend anyone. :)

    OK i talked about this with a few friends off different beliefs. WE talked about dinosaurs, evolution and even why most men before the noah lived till hudredssss of years. :) Scientifically, if we want to connect all these so-called nonscence, ok before thge big flood, the ozon layer was thick and oxygen level of th earth was more than usual. As you know the theory of oxygen chamber rumoured to prolong life and make you age slower. Hence, if we want to really want to talk science and maths, this could be a good explaination why men lived till hundreds of years… then after the flood (assuming it rained and rained and rained till the layer had gone), we dont have that special layer of ozone anymore and oxygen level is lower, hence our life span is shorter… and it is getting shorter now due to our diet and polution. :)

    23 Feb 2006, 18:09

  42. This is an interesting webbie. Take a look: link

    23 Feb 2006, 18:15

  43. greg

    As a Christian I will respond to the first question of this blog:

    For Christians: how can you be confident in your beliefs? Is it possible that your beliefs are turning coincidence into the work of God?

    First I would argue that the Law of General Relativity and the existance of matter in the universe are conclusive to say that there is a transcendent being that exists outside of time and space, and which created time and space, as well as all life. Why am I confident in my beliefs? because the more I study, objectively, the more evidence I see to support faith in the God of the Bible. Yes, there is increasingly more and more evidence that support the claims of the Bible, and these can be tested and measured. So to answer your second question, No I do not believe that I am tuning coincidence into the work of God. However, I will say that some of my fellow Christians may contribute various cirumstances to the will of God instead of accepting a level of personal responsiblility on their own part. God's laws are fixed and they promote a life of virtue, to move away from that life of virtue will cause an increase of work, and/or pain.

    23 Feb 2006, 20:04

  44. sorry, didnt mean to offend anyone, just get a bit carried away sometimes :-)

    nobody will ever solve this debate and neither side will ever back down either. just one of those things :)

    23 Feb 2006, 20:36

  45. James

    I think all these debates tend to end with people just making more and more fulminating rants about their beliefs or lack thereof.

    The truth is that Christians imbibe from a young age the paramount principle that the Bible is right. Therefore no amount of inconsistencies or lack of evidence or controverting evidence can make a difference. Or they just change the story to suit. Look at the changing Church notions of the age of the Earth, or the mechanics of the solar system.

    There's an old paradox says that you can have any two, but not all three of the following propositions:

    1. God is all powerful
    2. God is all good
    3. Terrible things happen (babies dying in natural disasters etc)

    But this won't square with the paramount principle, so is discounted with the cliche "God works in mysterious ways …" or something similar … in other words, ways which don't square with our notions of good and bad.

    Here's the rub. (Plato thought of this argument, btw, not me). There are a lot of competing religions which clash on their views of morality (and history, but leave that for the minute). We don't know which is correct. Suppose we did find out which was correct. And suppose that it allowed the rape of all girls over the age of 12, and the putting down of puppies with white paws, and the sacrifice of all persons of a certain skin colour. We would be appalled, and would do everything we could not to follow such a religion. This shows that our notions of right and wrong are independent of our spiritual beliefs.

    How much better it would be, therefore, if we could get to work on agreeing right and wrong without trying to tie it to spiritual notions. Religious conflicts would automatically cease. All those who died in the attack on the Shia shrine in Iraq would still be alive, for a start.

    For the last word I will borrow from another famous person, Yasser Arafat: "Having a war about religion is like having a fight over who's got the best imaginary friend". Touche.

    24 Feb 2006, 11:10

  46. A Scientist

    James L don't apologise and Sylvester what on earth are you offended by? He just stated his beliefs. I hope you and greg are not scientists. James: I like your quotes. I believe Plato went further and suggested that anyone who thinks instead that morality must be derived from religion really has no morality because it then amounts to might makes right and selfishness?

    25 Feb 2006, 00:20

  47. Gosh took a day off from surfing.. oh ok.. A SCIENTIST: no I was not offended. It was a statement to say that take it easy on here.. we are all want to say our share without getting all emotional. :) By the way, Jame, love the Arafat's point of view. Very interesting and true, its quite silly really to fight over things which are purely personal preferences. But yeah I'm all up for discussion but hey it doesn't hurt to be nice. :)

    25 Feb 2006, 00:57

  48. James

    So we pretty much all end up in agreement that religion is a private matter and certainly should never be an excuse for harming others. So I ask, does it follow that there should be no state funding of religious schools?

    I think it does, and we should have constitutional protection of freedom of religion, but also freedom of speech and a separation of Church and State. That's what they have in America. That makes it particularly ironic (i) that America is a much more religious country than Britain (ie greater percentage of the population goes to church, etc), and (ii) that America is the target of religiously motivated terrorism. Point (ii) is ironic because Muslims in America get a rather better time of it than Christians in, say, Iran, or Pakistan.

    26 Feb 2006, 10:20

  49. www.AreYouAGoodPerson.com

    Would you rather go to Heaven or Hell? Your belief or lack thereof of them does not negate their exhistance. Honestly, if they really exhist, which place would you rather spend your concious eternity? Athiesm (belief in no God), Polythiesim (belief in many gods), and Monothiesm (belief in one God) can't all be true. An honest rational person must conclude that either only one of these is true or none of them are true. So, the worst we can say is "We don't know" and the best we can say is "What has been ACCURATELY revealed to us. If God is real, then He wants to know us and have an eternal loving relationship with us; one of restoration & forgiveness of sin through His only Son's selfless act of love for you and me. If God doe's not exhist, then where will your body and soul go. Probably back into the dust. But if He doe's exhist, and we haven't asked Him to take our penalty upon himself on our behalf, we will logically be responsible for the wrongs we have done. The penalty God has set is so high that we can not meet it on our own. The wage of sin is death; eternal seperation form God in the torment lake of fire called Hell. The Sin has to be delt with, otherwise God wouldn't be just would he? Let's say someone raped and killed your Mom, and they were never caught, would it be fair for God to overlook their wrong. Logically, of course not. So why should he let us off the hook when we tick Him off by rejecting the love He has for us? God loves us so much, that He allowed his one and only son, to die and excrutiating death in our place, for our sins against Himself, and all who humbly recieve Christ's substitutionary atonement on our behalf will not face the eternal death penalty in Hell, but recieve the FREE GIFT of eternal life with Him forever. Do you see? Our sin has angered God. He is pure and holy and He can have no sin near him. So He must deal with it. We deserve to be punished; But God Said, "Because I love you so much, I'm Going to let my Son Take your penalty for you." He invites everyone to recieve His Gift of eternal life. Jesus defeated death on our behalf, because we couldn't; the penalty for our wrong is death and eternal seperation from God in Hell, But the Love He showed for us and PROVED, is far greater than death's curse. He had to shatter death so that we could have eternal life. Do you want to be saved? Do you want to go to Heaven when you die? It's as simple as ABC: A: Acknowledge your sin before God, B: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and what He did for you, & C: Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead and you shall be saved. For all who call on the name of the Lord shal be saved. If you need more proof, (Remember God is fair and Just, and He is capible of doing anything he desires,) I would recomend the books: The Case for Christ by former Athiest and journalistic schollar, Lee Strobel who did and an extensive and exhaustive research project on who Jesus truely is. Oh yeah, there is Proof, and that is what changed his soul and mine. Another good book to read would be Evidence that demands a verdict by Josh McDowell. Thank you for reading this and being open enough to examine these claims. Remember, God loves you, and wants you to be with Himself forever; He has provided the way through His Son, will you come? Please visit: www.NeedGod.com

    27 Feb 2006, 09:23

  50. James

    “Would you rather go to Heaven or Hell? Your belief or lack thereof of them does not negate their exhistance. Honestly, if they really exhist, which place would you rather spend your concious eternity? Athiesm (belief in no God), Polythiesim (belief in many gods), and Monothiesm (belief in one God) can't all be true. An honest rational person must conclude that either only one of these is true or none of them are true. So, the worst we can say is "We don't know" and the best we can say is "What has been ACCURATELY revealed to us. If God is real, then He wants to know us and have an eternal loving relationship with us; one of restoration & forgiveness of sin through His only Son's selfless act of love for you and me.”

    This sounds suspiciously like Pascal’s wager, which goes something like: (i) we don’t know if God exists; (ii) if he doesn’t, then no religious belief matters, but (iii) if he does, and you’re not on side, you’re straight for the hot place.

    So it would follow, logically, that we should believe in God as a way of hedging our bets.

    Actually this makes no sense. If there is a God, I doubt he’d be impressed by someone who loved him simply as a hedge (I wouldn’t be, if I were God).

    And then there is the question: why the Judeo-Christian God? If Bin Laden’s right, you’d be no better off being Christian or athiest. So too if the headhunters of Papua New Guinea are right, or the witchdoctors of sub-Saharan Africa.

    We need some empirical proof. There isn’t any between one religion and another. As I said, no-one can agree about what happened in the Middle East last decade, never mind thousands of years ago. Therefore religion should be a private matter with no state involvement and no religious schools.

    27 Feb 2006, 09:52

  51. A Scientist

    Indeed James. Another point that interested me was:

    "why should he let us off the hook when we tick Him off by rejecting the love He has for us?...the penalty for our wrong is death and eternal seperation from God in Hell"

    Your God seems a very flawed character. He seems both vain and vindictive. My kind of Guy in fact: A beautiful girl turned me down the other day and rejected the love I have for her. By Christian example, her penalty will be death, I just need to work out how.

    27 Feb 2006, 15:19

  52. James

    Scientist,

    If you're keen on this girl, you're best off avoiding anything the bible says. It says to avoid women going through a certain stage every month, and I have always found they don't react very kindly to be asked. It also says you can sell your daughter into slavery, and various other unpleasant things. And the major churches have been a bit tardy about this whole sexual equality thing. So I wouldn't use any of the Bible as your major chat-up line.

    27 Feb 2006, 15:44

  53. Jimmy.

    AreYouAGoodPerson said:
    Your belief or lack thereof of [heaven and hell] does not negate their exhistance.

    Heaven and hell are no more real than the tooth fairy. They are stories made up to scare people into conformity. That's it, I'm afraid.

    He/She/It also said:
    If God is real, then He wants to know us and have an eternal loving relationship with us.

    Does he? He's never told me that. I've never been asked "who are you" by a supreme being. (Come to think of it, that would be pretty flattering.) Seriously, an open invitation: if you're out there, God, come say hello. We'll have a drink together and discuss world affairs and the eternal life we're all heading for. Now that would be something to write home about.

    Do you want to be saved? Do you want to go to Heaven when you die? It's as simple as ABC: A: Acknowledge your sin before God, B: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and what He did for you, & C: Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead and you shall be saved.

    So what happens if rapists and murderers start cottoning onto this, do they get into "heaven" too? "Hey God, sorry I raped and killed five people, but it's OK cause I believe in Jesus now!" Sounds pretty crap to me. But then again, I suppose if we look on it the other way and say "once a sinner, always a sinner," "heaven" wouldn't get much business, would it? Interesting, no?

    Please visit: www.NeedGod.com

    Why? I'm happy. I have friends who are there for me when I need them, not ones to whom I can talk for hours and get nothing back. I have family around me who will support me now, offer me a home and shelter today, rather than waiting until I die to finally say "oh yeah, I was here for you all the time, honest."

    Am I being cynical? Yes. Am I being rude? Probably, but that's the way I feel. I don't understand how people can give themselves so completely and totally to an idea, a belief without anything to back it up. The only thing I can liken it to is a complete surrender of will, giving up all notion of being a free person and devoting oneself to some deity somewhere who doesn't even have the courtesy to hint every now and again that he/she/it/they are still listening!

    And yet despite all that skeptical thinking, I'm still happy… fascinating.

    27 Feb 2006, 16:55

  54. James

    "Do you want to be saved? Do you want to go to Heaven when you die? It's as simple as ABC: A: Acknowledge your sin before God, B: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and what He did for you, & C: Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead and you shall be saved."

    Jimmy is right that this is a bizarre ethical principle. If it's so easy to repent your sins, are Stalin and Hitler the only ones in the hot place now? I wondered that when Myra Hindley's prison pastor showed up on the BBC on the day of her death. He was asked whether he thought she'd gone up or down (she made a bit of a play about her religious conversion towards the end of her life). He said he was "sure she has found her peace with God". Great, a child murderer's off the hook. How does this work: I, who can immodestly claim to have lead a less "sinful" (by any definition) existence than Hindley are for it because of my lack of religious beliefs, whereas she, one of the most evil people on the planet (don't get into factual disputes about Hindley's innocence; we are dealing with principles here) is fine as she said sorry etc at the end.

    This brings back the point I made in post 45 above: religion is not the grounding for our ethical beliefs. If we did discover what the true religion was, and it included ethical beliefs with which we disagree, we would refuse to follow it. So if it turns out that according to the correct religion you can sin freely all you want in life as long as you are suitably contrite towards the end, we would be very dubious indeed about letting that religion be our guide.

    Borrowing from another philosopher, the ethics of Christianity can be accurately called 'slave morality'. Statements such as it being harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, and reassurance that those who sin now will suffer in due course for it later, are all designed to make those at the bottom of the heap feel better about themselves. And, of course, for the rulers to keep them there.

    27 Feb 2006, 17:24

  55. Alexander Nicholson

    Sylvester: RE: your link.

    I lol'd.

    www.AreYouAGoodPerson.com:

    I couldn't possibly believe in a God that sends someone who doesn't know how to spell or use paragraphs to convince people. Sorry, try harder next time. Mind the door.

    Oh, and I am a good person. Thanks for asking.

    27 Feb 2006, 17:58

  56. That website referred to in comment 49 reminded me of a joke I once read somewhere:

    It's Judgement Day, so God calls before him every human soul that ever existed. He says, 'right, I'm going to get Gabriel to read off the commandments one by one, and each time he reads one out those who have broken it will be dragged off to Hell'. So Gabriel begins reading them. Commandment number 1 is read off, and a number of people are dragged down; commandment 2 is read, and the same thing happens. After commandment 8 is read out, God tells Gabriel to stop. He looks around at the smug, smarmy, boring lot still standing in front of him, contemplates spending eternity with them, and has a change of heart. 'Already everybody, you can come back!'

    27 Feb 2006, 20:22

  57. If you really want answers to these questions, you should find a Christian in real life and have a real conversation with them. But I'll try and explain the concepts as best I can. To avoid prefacing each answer with "Christians believe", I'll write this from a Christian point of view, even though I'm actually agnostic.

    Your God seems a very flawed character. He seems both vain and vindictive. My kind of Guy in fact: A beautiful girl turned me down the other day and rejected the love I have for her. By Christian example, her penalty will be death, I just need to work out how.

    It certainly seems vain of God to ask us to worship and love him. Except that if he really is a perfect being, then surely he deserves it?

    God is never said to be vindictive. He has to punish sin, because he is perfect and just, and we fall so far short of perfection. But because he loves us, he has sent Jesus to pay the price for us. Now, we have been forgiven for our sins, so we don't have to go to Hell, but only if we accept Jesus's sacrifice.

    Does he? He's never told me that. I've never been asked "who are you" by a supreme being. (Come to think of it, that would be pretty flattering.) Seriously, an open invitation: if you're out there, God, come say hello. We'll have a drink together and discuss world affairs and the eternal life we're all heading for. Now that would be something to write home about.

    That's what Christianity is – a relationship with God. He's already invited you to say hello to him, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I don't think it's possible to really understand what that means without being a Christian, though (I know I certainly don't).

    So what happens if rapists and murderers start cottoning onto this, do they get into "heaven" too? "Hey God, sorry I raped and killed five people, but it's OK cause I believe in Jesus now!" Sounds pretty crap to me. But then again, I suppose if we look on it the other way and say "once a sinner, always a sinner," "heaven" wouldn't get much business, would it? Interesting, no?

    Nobody is a good enough person to get to Heaven. Not murderers, not rapists, and not you. The only way we can get to Heaven is by accepting Jesus's sacrifice and starting a relationship with God. But once this happens, you won't be the same person. You will want to do good things, not to get to Heaven (they won't help), but to please God and make others happier. You'd still be a murderer (for example), and you'll have to live with that, but I don't think you could become a Christian if you didn't completely regret doing it.

    I don't understand how people can give themselves so completely and totally to an idea, a belief without anything to back it up. The only thing I can liken it to is a complete surrender of will, giving up all notion of being a free person and devoting oneself to some deity somewhere who doesn't even have the courtesy to hint every now and again that he/she/it/they are still listening!

    You have totally the wrong idea about what it's like to be a Christian. If you're a Christian, God will "prove" himself to you. It won't be scientific proof, and it's easy to make the argument that it's self-delusion. But it's very real to the person concerned. And they don't lose their free will.

    27 Feb 2006, 21:42

  58. Jimmy.

    That's what Christianity is – a relationship with God. He's already invited you to say hello to him, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. I don't think it's possible to really understand what that means without being a Christian, though (I know I certainly don't).

    I wish I was open minded enough to understand :¬(
    I just don't see how such a one-sided relationship can work for a person.

    The only way we can get to Heaven is by accepting Jesus's sacrifice and starting a relationship with God. But once this happens, you won't be the same person. You will want to do good things, not to get to Heaven (they won't help), but to please God and make others happier.

    I want to do good things now. I want to use the time I have to help enrich the lives of my friends and family, and to help others – and of course, to live a good life myself! Again, perhaps I'm missing some leap of understanding, but I personally don't see how having some God in my life changes that. (I'm not trying to be patronising, I honestly don't get the idea. I guess I'm never going to.)

    27 Feb 2006, 22:00

  59. I just don't see how such a one-sided relationship can work for a person.

    But it does work for millions of Christians. So maybe it's possible that it's not so one-sided, and what they believe is actually true.

    I want to do good things now. I want to use the time I have to help enrich the lives of my friends and family, and to help others – and of course, to live a good life myself! Again, perhaps I'm missing some leap of understanding, but I personally don't see how having some God in my life changes that. (I'm not trying to be patronising, I honestly don't get the idea. I guess I'm never going to.)

    You're right, it doesn't change anything. But I guess that having God in your life helps you become a better person.

    27 Feb 2006, 22:13

  60. A Scientist

    "It certainly seems vain of God to ask us to worship and love him. Except that if he really is a perfect being, then surely he deserves it?

    God is never said to be vindictive. He has to punish sin, because he is perfect and just, and we fall so far short of perfection. But because he loves us, he has sent Jesus to pay the price for us. Now, we have been forgiven for our sins, so we don't have to go to Hell, but only if we accept Jesus's sacrifice."

    Thanks for your interesting thoughts Alan. Lets first say if God is perfect then yes clearly he deserves respect but worship is another matter. Equating a failure to love and idolize God with raping and murdering a mother is surely pretty vain of the big man? Furthermore I don't believe its morally right to make you burn for eternity for such a "sin". What if a person leads a life broadly consistent with Christian morals because they feel thats what's right (using their God-given conscience) but who doesn't pay homage to God? A God who still sends that person to Hell is vain and vindictive imho. (Btw I like your generous use of the words "ask" and "never said"!)

    27 Feb 2006, 23:18

  61. A Student

    "Nobody is a good enough person to get to Heaven. Not murderers, not rapists, and not you. The only way we can get to Heaven is by accepting Jesus's sacrifice and starting a relationship with God. But once this happens, you won't be the same person. You will want to do good things, not to get to Heaven (they won't help), but to please God and make others happier. You'd still be a murderer (for example), and you'll have to live with that, but I don't think you could become a Christian if you didn't completely regret doing it."

    But I think Jimmy is correct that if you fully repent before you die your slate will be wiped clear, which provides little incentive to do the right thing now.

    "If you're a Christian, God will "prove" himself to you. It won't be scientific proof, and it's easy to make the argument that it's self-delusion."

    Indeed.

    27 Feb 2006, 23:27

  62. TenThousandDollarOffer.com

    This is a legitimate offer.
    Would you like someone else's money?

    28 Feb 2006, 06:59

  63. WayOfTheMaster.com

    Would you believe that someone can really be blinded to the truth until it clicks? Or that, for some, that they may believe something even though it may be incorrect, (but to them they think it's correct,) never ever having the real truth click for them ever?
    Is it possible that some may be locked into a brainwashing prior to relying on personal experiance? Is "Truth" really freeing and how can someone "Know the Truth?" Can someone be a slave to a lie and not know it? I want to know what is absolute truth. We have control of our choices but not our consciquences. Hmmm.

    28 Feb 2006, 07:36

  64. WayOfTheMaster.com

    Are there absolutes?
    If we say, "Yes" then that's an absolute statement. If we say, "No" then that's an absolute statement too. Hmmm, if there's at least one absolute, maybe there are more.
    Is there someone or something outside of us that sets a standard? Hmmm, it's possible.

    28 Feb 2006, 07:46

  65. Dear WOTM

    In response to one of your questions, please check out: John 3:36, John 8:32, John 14:6 (this is a good one), & Romans 10:9–13. I'm pretty sure this will help. :)

    28 Feb 2006, 07:56

  66. Dear WOTM

    P.S. I like your website. :)

    28 Feb 2006, 07:57

  67. Anonymous #273

    "In response to one of your questions, please check out: John 3:36, John 8:32, John 14:6 (this is a good one), & Romans 10:9–13. I'm pretty sure this will help."

    It's amazing what quotations from a work of fiction can prove, isn't it?
    I could write a book and say "worship me or go to hell", wouldn't make it true tho.

    28 Feb 2006, 12:49

  68. Not By Chance

    You could either believe or you dont. For those who have had their lives changed by God could stand by their belief. Why Christians these day are very evangelistics: they dont want God to blame them for not sharing the truth. So when its the end of times, you wont point fingers to any christians and say that they have never told you about Jesus. They did and you rejected based on human understanding and refuse to experience it yourself before you decide. If it is self delusion, they must be so thick to believe in an imaginary friend. But it is a 2-way relationship. Ive been in situations when I seek God for help and he has NEVER failed me.. call it coincidence.. but in any situation, I find peace and life seems to be more meaningful no matter what the situation is.

    Anonymous 67: Fiction? maybe it is… but how come most of it is backed by historical writings by non-christians? And why do we experience things which are supposedly fictions? Can you explain to the believers and try and make them disown their God? The life experiences are too strong to make them go back to where they were before. I would rather take my chances and not get burnt in hell and i would like to bring as many people as I could with me. And I dont evolve from an ape. And I dont just happen to be here by chance. I dont just happen to have such a complex anatomy that I belive that it just happen like that….

    28 Feb 2006, 15:00

  69. James

    But other religions say the same thing. You can't all be right.

    As for evolving by chance being improbable, it is no more improbable than a crack appearing in the paving stones near my house that is exactly 1.07726438676538473754663998 inches wide and 6.7775659043843983723 inches long. Maybe there is one of precisely those dimensions, but if so, anyone would be happy to ascribe that to chance.

    28 Feb 2006, 17:10

  70. anonymous

    link

    christian, pagan, jew,heathen,buddhist,muslim, atheist, agnostistist whatever, as long as you dont believe in the easter bunny you arent an idiot.

    28 Feb 2006, 19:00

  71. Hey Kids – Why bother believing in the logical progression and refinement of life over billions of years that is evolution when you can say that the big magic undead man who lives in the sky and has never been seen made us all out of clay!!!!!

    believing in jesus and god is one thing, believing in creationism is beyond my comprehension.

    28 Feb 2006, 19:30

  72. oh and Not By Chance – "i dont evolve from an ape", is not a valid sentence. creationism is even less appealing when it's "explained" to me in almost primary school level english.

    28 Feb 2006, 19:33

  73. God

    Unfortunately that is almost always the way it is explained imho.

    01 Mar 2006, 04:53

  74. James

    James Lewis makes the point that I've been resisting making in just about every blog I've read on this site: the standard of English is utterly dismal. Does this suggest that many Warwick University students speak English as a second language, or is it a further indictment of the standard of English secondary schools?

    01 Mar 2006, 09:34

  75. Jimmy.

    Does this suggest that many Warwick University students speak English as a second language …

    Yes.

    bq … or is it a further indictment of the standard of English secondary schools?

    Yes.

    01 Mar 2006, 13:10

  76. James

    I wish I could say I was surprised. I think you have to look overseas for proper English these days. Compare, for example, Indian broadsheets with English ones (I know there are few broadsheets now with the Times and the Independent appropriately being printed as tabloids now). Although the fomer are often written in rather florid prose, at least their grammar is up to standard. Perhaps more tellingly, take any long running English publication (Wisden, Autocar, whatever) and compare articles from a few decades ago with those of today.

    01 Mar 2006, 13:47

  77. James Lewis makes the point that I've been resisting making in just about every blog I've read on this site: the standard of English is utterly dismal. Does this suggest that many Warwick University students speak English as a second language, or is it a further indictment of the standard of English secondary schools?

    1) Most bloggers aren't concerned with grammar and spelling, nor should they be. The majority are writing in the colloquial.

    2) Many Warwick students speak English as a second language. Many Warwick students are dyslexic. Many Warwick students don't really care enough to spend the extra twenty minutes re-reading what they've just written so that you're satisfied that all the appropriate contractions are there and they've correctly used semi-colons.

    Compare, for example, Indian broadsheets with English ones

    Sorry, but I can't read Devanagari.

    By the way James, fancy linking us to your blog? It'd be interesting to see how your SpaG measures up ;).

    01 Mar 2006, 14:25

  78. James

    Hamid,

    "Most bloggers aren't concerned with grammar and spelling, nor should they be. The majority are writing in the colloquial."

    Is it not possible to write English that is both colloquial and grammatically correct? Why shouldn't we be concerned with grammar and spelling? Aren't they the basis of communication? Is university nowadays considered only a technical college, so that notions of what 'higher education' means are out the window? Have you no personal standards? What do you aspire to obtain from your own higher education?

    "Many Warwick students speak English as a second language. Many Warwick students are dyslexic. Many Warwick students don't really care enough to spend the extra twenty minutes re-reading what they've just written so that you're satisfied that all the appropriate contractions are there and they've correctly used semi-colons."

    I'd forgive those who speak English as a second language, or who are dyslexic, although the former are a good reason why native speakers shouldn't let their standards drop. How are foreigners supposed to learn, if the natives can't speak properly? I'd hope that foreigners want to learn, by the way.

    For those who have had something resembling a proper education, I would hope that they would not need 20 minutes to proof read a post.

    "Sorry, but I can't read Devanagari."

    I meant the ones written in English, as you well know.

    I haven't got a blog, I'm afraid. But I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have, in lieu of posting one.

    01 Mar 2006, 15:20

  79. i agree mostly with what Hamid has said. as is perfectly clear, i don't often bother capitalising appropriate letters and write poorly constructed sentences quite frequently on the blogs. i don't think that blogs are an accurate sample of students' spelling and grammar abilities at warwick but sometimes you find yourself wondering about the skills of some here. the amount of times that they're/their/there is used incorrectly is very large and even people writing the incorrect tense such as the example i included above of "i dont evolve from an ape" happens quite a lot. pedantry can often become tedious but you do expect some standards from intelligent people

    01 Mar 2006, 15:21

  80. Jimmy.

    Hamid said:
    Most bloggers aren't concerned with grammar and spelling, nor should they be.

    Why?

    The majority are writing in the colloquial.

    Colloquial != bad English.

    2) Many Warwick students speak English as a second language.

    On the other hand, many speak it as a first language, and some who have English as their second (or third, fourth…) language have a better grasp of it than those!

    Many Warwick students are dyslexic.

    I don't think listing all the minority groups who sometimes have difficulty producing well-written text is doing any good for your point. I could just fire back with "many Warwick students are idiots."

    Many Warwick students don't really care enough to spend the extra twenty minutes re-reading what they've just written so that you're satisfied that all the appropriate contractions are there and they've correctly used semi-colons.

    It takes an average, intelligent Warwick student twenty minutes to briefly proof-read something to ensure that it is basically intelligible? Now that's a scary stat. Hell, I could watch an episode of Friends in that time!

    I've always said this, and I stick to it: if you CAN type/write/speak properly, do so. The only time when it's acceptable not to is where either space or time is limited (eg. text messages or instant messaging / online chat, respectively). The blogs and other online media such as bulletin-board style forums, newsgroups and email are not limited in such a way, so where's the excuse?

    01 Mar 2006, 23:01

  81. James

    Is it not possible to write English that is both colloquial and grammatically correct?

    Well yes it is possible insofar as colloquial language tends to define its own grammatical rules. But this wasn't quite the point you were making which was:

    the standard of English is utterly dismal.

    I have the feeling that you are looking for the "Queen's English" in general writing. Most do not, however, write formally when using blogs. They're not getting paid for writing. They're doing it on their own time. If their grammar does not meet your standards, why should you care? You're not paying for the privilege… don't read what they write if it irks you so much!

    As for Jimmy

    Why? Because their blog is like a semi-public diary and there is no obligation for you to be reading it.

    It takes an average, intelligent Warwick student twenty minutes to briefly proof-read something to ensure that it is basically intelligible? Now that's a scary stat. Hell, I could watch an episode of Friends in that time!

    I don't think I've ever come across an untintelligible blog entry here. If you're classing something as not "basically intelligible" because the author tends to write phonetically rather than "properly" then it is likely that you're having problems with your ability to read, understand and infer…

    The only time when it's acceptable not to is where either space or time is limited

    Here's the problem… why is it not acceptable?

    02 Mar 2006, 02:47

  82. James

    Hamid

    It doesn't bother me save to the extent that I think it indicates, amongst the natives anyway, a decline in educational standards. That shoudl be a concern for all of us. Why should sloppy English be more acceptable in electronic correspondence than elsewhere?

    Just to continue to sound like a pedant, the phrase "Queen's English" actually refers to spoken pronunciation, not written Englsh. Good written English doesn't have to mean long or complex sentences, or something akin to a statute. Hemmingway, anyone? One particular writer whose style I admire is a lawyer and political commentator, Francis Bennion. Check out his site www.francisbennion.com and you'll get the flavour.

    02 Mar 2006, 10:45

  83. Jimmy.

    Why? Because their blog is like a semi-public diary and there is no obligation for you to be reading it.

    Here specifically, ie. on Warwick Blogs, I don't think that's true. My blog would be a semi-public diary – some people know about it, and those people get to read it. I link it occasionally (not here), but it's still not a particularly public thing. On the other hand, when somebody posts an entry here, they know it will be listed on the "latest entries" page and they know it will (pretty likely, unless you're posting at 3–5am) be read by more than a few people they've never met. Though that's purely a definition thing, and not very relevant.

    If you're classing something as not "basically intelligible" because the author tends to write phonetically rather than "properly" then it is likely that you're having problems with your ability to read, understand and infer.

    The standards are higher here, at least in my mind. I have no trouble deciphering any entry or comment on WB, but I feel that at an institution such as this (not "a University such as this one," but any University at least!) I shouldn't have to. If people are going to write articles/entries/comments for digestion by a (very) large and varied community, they should be the ones making sure that what they write is proper, fully legible English. That way the argument gets to be about… checks topic "Questions on Christianity" rather than "How am I spelling? Call 0800…"

    "The only time when it's acceptable not to is where either space or time is limited."
    Here's the problem… why is it not acceptable?

    Because in most circumstances it is sheer laziness born in chat rooms, text messaging, and what have you, and I personally can't stand the way that it creeps insidiously into everyday use. I don't accept "you can read it, that's good enough" as a reason. It hasn't cost me any significant amount of time to type this properly rather than had I missed out every other word, skipped the occasional vowel and thrown capital letters to the dogs.

    Meh. It's a petty argument at the end of the day, I suppose, but that's my view.

    02 Mar 2006, 11:04

  84. I think we've gotten [more than] a bit off-track now. If you want to discuss writing styles further, please start a new entry about it.

    02 Mar 2006, 18:55

  85. A Scientist

    Thank the Lord! Someone else who thinks that. (Though I do agree one really must write properly in one's blogs) Alan, I'm interested to hear what you thought of my reply in post 60.

    02 Mar 2006, 19:08

  86. I'm sorry, I just came to say that the official stupid-question competition has finished and, in spite of some truly fantastic late entries here, the winner, by a country mile, is the "for non-Christians" question at the heart of this thread. Many thanks to all entrants, I hope you'll be around next week for our special "lamest topic of debate" competition.#

    Sincerely,
    James
    x x x x

    02 Mar 2006, 19:15

  87. Thanks for your interesting thoughts Alan. Lets first say if God is perfect then yes clearly he deserves respect but worship is another matter.

    Maybe, but another thing claimed about God is that he loves us. And what is worship but a demonstration of love to God?

    Equating a failure to love and idolize God with raping and murdering a mother is surely pretty vain of the big man?

    I wouldn't say that they're equivalent, but rather that neither can just be ignored.

    Furthermore I don't believe its morally right to make you burn for eternity for such a "sin". What if a person leads a life broadly consistent with Christian morals because they feel thats what's right (using their God-given conscience) but who doesn't pay homage to God? A God who still sends that person to Hell is vain and vindictive imho.

    "Broadly consistent" is not enough, though. Christianity says that no one can be good enough to get into Heaven, so if you don't accept Jesus's forgiveness and start a relationship with God, it's a moot point.

    That doesn't completely answer the point, though. If someone were to live a perfect life, but didn't devote their life completely to God, what would happen to them?

    It's a totally hypothetical question, of course. An interesting one, but I don't think there's a good answer. Since none of us can lead a perfect life, it doesn't change whether we are deserving of going to Hell.

    02 Mar 2006, 22:31

  88. Assume God exists, that he is all powerful, all-knowing, and that he created the universe.

    Hence He was the single root cause of everything in the universe, He knew everything that would ever happen, and He was capable of making any other thing happening.

    It is therefore difficult for me to concieve of any possible reason for Him to be disappointed in any part of His creation. In particular, He should have been capable of either changing himself to have lower standards or, if we feel a need to restrict God's power to not permit changes to himself, making things in a way that would result in something more pleasing.

    In particular, God could have made humans that were capable of living up to his standards of perfection. To not do so, and then to punish them for His decision, seems somewhat hypocritical, if not insane.

    Have I missed something?

    03 Mar 2006, 00:56

  89. A Student

    Thanks again for your answer Alan. Of course, Christians can probably make their theology internally consistent but as an undecided I'm interested in how plausible it then is. I still think that the emphasis placed on loving God, over moral behaviour itself, makes God seem vain and vindictive. Let me modify my question. What if a person leads a life broadly consistent with Christian morals because they feel thats what's right (using their God-given conscience) and understands and deeply regrets how imperfect their behaviour is but still doesn't pay homage to God? A God who still sends that person to Hell is vain and vindictive imho. Why can He forgive rape, torture and murder but not the failure to love Him (which I would have thought would be a much lesser sin, especially given the scarcity of evidence that He exists)?

    03 Mar 2006, 01:04

  90. Have I missed something?

    Free will? Humans who could live up to God's standards of perfection would just be mindless automatons.

    What if a person leads a life broadly consistent with Christian morals because they feel thats what's right (using their God-given conscience) and understands and deeply regrets how imperfect their behaviour is but still doesn't pay homage to God? A God who still sends that person to Hell is vain and vindictive imho. Why can He forgive rape, torture and murder but not the failure to love Him (which I would have thought would be a much lesser sin, especially given the scarcity of evidence that He exists)?

    It's not about homage to God, it's about accepting forgiveness. The Bible says that the only way to be forgiven is to accept Jesus's sacrifice. If someone doesn't do that, then they aren't forgiven. If they do, then all their sins, including not loving God (since nobody can be loving him and thanking him every waking moment of their lives) get forgiven. Your actions, towards God and towards other people, don't affect what happens.

    03 Mar 2006, 01:43

  91. A Scientist

    More interesting thoughts there Alan. I'm not clear exactly what "accepting Jesus's sacrifice" actually means. I will take it to mean "believing the Bible is true" (in the appropriate interpretation) and therefore also deeply regretting one's sins, striving to do better in the future and developing a relationship with God. It still seems to me that one could reasonably conclude that the Bible isn't true and that God doesn't exist given the evidence provided whilst living as morally virtuous a life as most christians and also deeply regretting one's sins and striving to do better in the future. So, if that person still goes to Hell purely for flawed reasoning (or even for pride preventing recognition of God's presence), as a moral code it seems slightly implausible and unpleasant to me.

    As a minor point I thought the Bible clearly commands its followers to love/worship God but as far as my interest here goes this is unimportant as He would still be vain and vindicive imo if failure to comply by time of death was the only unforgiveable sin, if you see what I mean. Also I like Colin's point. I think your answer concedes that God can't be omnipotent, which of course is suggested by many other paradoxes (eg can God create a stone so heavy He can't move it, or perhaps even the problem of evil). More interestingly I'm not sure I understand it: if Humans can't live upto God's standards how can He be disappointed with us (rather than with His own shoddy workmanship say)? If my cat kills a mouse after I clearly explained the moral obligation not to do so I would still feel bad about sending it to Hell.

    03 Mar 2006, 02:44

  92. James

    What of all those billions of people who lived in parts of the world for millennia before Christianity spread there? Even accepting the age of the Earth according to the Bible (a few thousand years), no one can deny that people lived in countries – nay, continents – for generations without having any exposure to Christianity. Why did God only send a son to the Middle East? Did he send one elsewhere and they didn't listen, hence clung on to witchdoctors or whatever the local equivalent was?

    If he didn't, then generations of Aborigines lived in Australia without any hope of 'loving God' until the end of the C18. And as for a moral life, many cultures outside the Christian world had (and still have) practices abhorrent to Christianity (slavery, for example), so it's no use saying that they led acceptable Christian lives and would have made it to heaven. Especially as, were that the case, the Europeans wouldn't have been so keen on spreading the word. If God just expected the lucky few to whom he had revealed himself to spread the word, that's a bit unfair as he'd have known full well there'd be millions who couldn't get it in time anyway.

    03 Mar 2006, 10:46

  93. Free will? Humans who could live up to God's standards of perfection would just be mindless automatons.

    That doesn't make sense. Free will, whatever the heck that's supposed to be, should give you the ability to choose between various courses of actions, not to dictate what you can or cannot do. We could be capable of not living up to God's standards but not compelled to do so.

    03 Mar 2006, 17:05

  94. More interesting thoughts there Alan. I'm not clear exactly what "accepting Jesus's sacrifice" actually means. I will take it to mean "believing the Bible is true" (in the appropriate interpretation) and therefore also deeply regretting one's sins, striving to do better in the future and developing a relationship with God.

    I think that's about right, yes.

    It still seems to me that one could reasonably conclude that the Bible isn't true and that God doesn't exist given the evidence provided whilst living as morally virtuous a life as most christians and also deeply regretting one's sins and striving to do better in the future. So, if that person still goes to Hell purely for flawed reasoning (or even for pride preventing recognition of God's presence), as a moral code it seems slightly implausible and unpleasant to me.

    But that person chose not to believe, and as a result cannot be forgiven. Certainly an unfortunate situation, but that's why Christians try so hard to spread the gospel. They want to help more people believe and so be saved.

    As a minor point I thought the Bible clearly commands its followers to love/worship God but as far as my interest here goes this is unimportant as He would still be vain and vindicive imo if failure to comply by time of death was the only unforgiveable sin, if you see what I mean.

    Certainly it does; my point was that everybody, even Christians, fail to do so to the extremes it is stated we should do (all your heart/soul/mind). But it's not an unforgivable sin, since the central message of Christianity is that all our sins can be (and have been) forgiven.

    Also I like Colin's point. I think your answer concedes that God can't be omnipotent, which of course is suggested by many other paradoxes (eg can God create a stone so heavy He can't move it, or perhaps even the problem of evil).

    I don't follow. I suggested that he could have created us perfect, but instead gave us free will, a consequence of which is that we can choose to sin.

    The problem of paradoxes with omnipotence is really a philosophical one, which I'm not capable of arguing. The Wikipedia page on omnipotence seems to provide some definitions which make paradoxes either impossible or irrelevant.

    More interestingly I'm not sure I understand it: if Humans can't live upto God's standards how can He be disappointed with us (rather than with His own shoddy workmanship say)? If my cat kills a mouse after I clearly explained the moral obligation not to do so I would still feel bad about sending it to Hell.

    A good question. When God gave us free will, he would have known that we wouldn't be able to live up to his standards. But he created us anyway. Because he knew that he would send Jesus along in a couple of millenia to sort out the mess? Why wait? I don't have a good answer to this one (or James's entire post, which basically makes the same point).

    That doesn't make sense. Free will, whatever the heck that's supposed to be, should give you the ability to choose between various courses of actions, not to dictate what you can or cannot do. We could be capable of not living up to God's standards but not compelled to do so.

    But for every second we exist, there are a million wrong things we could be doing, and we live in a society where many of those wrong things are commonplace. Just looking at it probabilistically, we don't stand a chance.

    03 Mar 2006, 23:03

  95. I think using probability to describe your actions is rather more suggestive of randomness than free will, so I don't think that argument holds up. Unless you're looking at humanity as a whole rather than as individuals, I suppose.

    Even ignoring that, just because there are millions of bad possibilities doesn't mean they're necessarily very likely to be chosen. It doesn't depend on the number of choices, but on the probability distribution. If doing the right thing is unlikely, it is because doing the wrong thing is more likely, not simply because there are more wrong options available.

    In any case God, being all powerful, could affect that probability distribution, either by making people better at resisting temptation, or otherwise making a society develop without so many negative influences.

    In essence, I suppose my argument is that if God created the universe with perfect knowledge of what was going to happen in it, and being capable of having created any other universe, then God is responsible for everything bad that happens. Particularly given that He seems keen to take credit for all the good things that happen.

    04 Mar 2006, 07:53

  96. A Student

    "But that person chose not to believe, and as a result cannot be forgiven. Certainly an unfortunate situation, but that's why Christians try so hard to spread the gospel. They want to help more people believe and so be saved."

    As I see it, you're stating clearly what Christianity says about how to be forgiven by God. Thanks – I think we agree on that now. On the other hand I want to first establish what Christianity says about how to be forgiven, then use that (amongst other things) to determine how plausible a moral code it represents. As I keep saying, to me the fact that it matters whether you make the right judgement on whether or not God exists given the available evidence doesn't seem very plausible for a supposedly perfect moral code. Furthermore God seems to attach such great importance to this, even saving a murdering rapist who gets this question right (and repents) whilst an atheist who lives the life of a saint (morally speaking) (and still repents for his remaining "sins") will be punished for eternity. To me this God seems vain and vindictive – why can He not forgive someone who does his best and understands and deeply regrets his moral failings but who looks at the evidence and (with his limited intellect) decides God probably doesn't exist? Let me just repeat: I'm not suggesting Christianity is not self-consistent here but only that it doesn't fit my preconceptions of what a perfect moral code should look like, and hence becomes less plausible to me. Do you not find it strange?

    I can say it another way: Let me invent a new religion whereby the one and only condition for getting to Heaven is to draw a picture of the tooth fairy every day. You may kill as many people as you wish, it wil make no difference to Me, as long as you genuinely regret losing control afterwards. Surely this seems a very implausible moral code? Likewise the fact that whether you believe in and develop a relationship with God is an indispensible part of getting to Heaven seems vain and arbitrary to me. Surely someone who does their best on Earth and understands how imperfect that is and regrets it deeply is equally deserving, even if their judgement on one thing is wrong?

    Regarding Colin's point, could God not have created a species with His perfect moral judgement and the courage and selflessness to act that way? Could He not have made a species with free will but which was capable of choosing to act as He would? If so why didn't He? If not then clearly He's not omnipotent. Thanks for all your comments, I'm finding this an interesting conversation.

    04 Mar 2006, 22:15

  97. Much better questions from A Student

    05 Mar 2006, 00:02

  98. Hi, this is my first post to this convo (took a while to read it all!). I am a Christian.

    It seems that there has been a point continually resurfacing in this conversation that can nicely be summed up by the following quote from comment (96) by A Student:

    As I keep saying, to me the fact that it matters whether you make the right judgement on whether or not God exists given the available evidence doesn't seem very plausible for a supposedly perfect moral code. Furthermore God seems to attach such great importance to this, even saving a murdering rapist who gets this question right (and repents) whilst an atheist who lives the life of a saint (morally speaking) (and still repents for his remaining "sins") will be punished for eternity. To me this God seems vain and vindictive – why can He not forgive someone who does his best and understands and deeply regrets his moral failings but who looks at the evidence and (with his limited intellect) decides God probably doesn't exist?

    The following passages are all talking about God:

    "For by him all things were created…" – Colossions 1:16
    "There is only one Lawgiver and Judge…" – James 4:12
    "...true and just are your judgements" – Revelations 16:7
    "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead" – 2 Timothy 4:1

    OK, by the above passages I think it is pretty clear that God created everything, including all of the laws. In other words: God decided what was right and what was wrong. Also, God is the only Judge and he will judge everyone (living + dead = every single person who ever lived!).

    This means: A) We sin – we completely deserve punishment.
    or B) We live a totally sinless life – no punishment!

    And God will not make exception to this otherwise he would have made a false judgement and could not claim to be Just.
    So, as things stand right now, if you sin you have to (and totally deserve to) be punished. This is because we are in a world ruled by a Just God.

    ———————————————————-

    Some arguments to this are based on judging things from our own (limited) perspective: Yes it does indeed seem that a murdering rapist has committed something far worse than someone who stole some chewing gum and then later returned it with £500 compensation (for example :D).
    The thing is: SIN = SIn = Sin = sin = sin = sin = sin
    and even the smallest, most-unnoticed, deeply-regretted sin deserves punishment (and our Judge is perfectly Just).

    Christianity says that we can not avoid punishment because we have all sinned:

    "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." – Romans 3:23
    And God makes it quite clear what this means: "For the wages of sin is death…" – Romans 6:23
    All summed up in Romans 5:12: "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men…"

    So if all this is true so far, life is completely hopeless and pointless – We live for a small amount of time and then die: Guaranteed. I can see why God can seem rather vindictive!

    However – "God is Love" – 1 John 4:8

    God loves all of us and sent the solution to this problem: Jesus Christ who lived a sinless life because he was not just a man – he was God also. Jesus is the only person ever to have deserved no death and he chose to have every single person's sin from all of time to be put on himself (a rather divine feat in itself!). He died. He paid the price for our sin. We deserve punishment and it is paid for by God himself.

    Back to Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23. If we read on one more line from both of them:

    Romans 3:23–24 "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus"
    Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord

    05 Mar 2006, 04:12

  99. Sorry for the long comment – getting into this quite a lot.

    Interesting fact: Maximum number of characters allowed in a comment = 4000

    Amazingly of all, 3 days later, he rose from the dead and was seen by lots of people (and mentioned in non-christian history), in doing so proving that he is God and that everything that he had said was true:

    "...who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" – Romans 1:4

    So instead of doing our absolute best to follow all of the (biblical) laws (which are God's guidelines telling us exactly where the Right-Wrong borderline is), which I think we can agree everyone on the planet has failed to do so, many times over, this entire (and impossible) burden has been taken from our shoulders by Jesus and we now live in a new system.

    "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved"
    Romans 10:9

    :D

    05 Mar 2006, 04:33

  100. JC

    To James Silver:

    Alan Hazelden originally asked (my emphasis added):
    "For Christians: how can you be confident in your beliefs? Is it possible that your beliefs are turning coincidence into the work of God?"

    Could you please answer that? At the moment all you've done is quote from a book whose content is, to say the very least, unproven (note I've stopped short of saying "fictional"... oops).

    05 Mar 2006, 12:03

  101. OK, by the above passages I think it is pretty clear that God created everything, including all of the laws. In other words: God decided what was right and what was wrong.

    In this case, God could simply have chosen a simpler sysetm of laws which were easier for everyone to follow. As they are merely something he decided, and not something he is compelled to judge by, it seems even more petty and vindictive to come up with so many petty rules to judge people by, especially given that they aren't explained well (if at all).

    I also think it's pretty absurd to suggest that all possible sins are equally bad. After all, surely we're supposed to inherit our sense of morality from God, so why do most people think there's a definite difference? I certainly do, and I think that any God who wants to punish littering, disbelieving, rape, and genocide all as equally deserving of punishment isn't one I want to worship, real or not.

    05 Mar 2006, 14:45

  102. In essence, I suppose my argument is that if God created the universe with perfect knowledge of what was going to happen in it, and being capable of having created any other universe, then God is responsible for everything bad that happens. Particularly given that He seems keen to take credit for all the good things that happen.

    But if God chooses to create a different universe, based on how he knows we'd behave, surely that takes away free will? The only way free will with omniscience makes sense is if God knows what we're going to do, but doesn't do anything to change that.

    On the other hand I want to first establish what Christianity says about how to be forgiven, then use that (amongst other things) to determine how plausible a moral code it represents. As I keep saying, to me the fact that it matters whether you make the right judgement on whether or not God exists given the available evidence doesn't seem very plausible for a supposedly perfect moral code.

    Okay, so you think that God should have forgiven all of us when he sent Jesus, not just those who accept his message.

    Furthermore God seems to attach such great importance to this, even saving a murdering rapist who gets this question right (and repents) whilst an atheist who lives the life of a saint (morally speaking) (and still repents for his remaining "sins") will be punished for eternity. To me this God seems vain and vindictive – why can He not forgive someone who does his best and understands and deeply regrets his moral failings but who looks at the evidence and (with his limited intellect) decides God probably doesn't exist? Let me just repeat: I'm not suggesting Christianity is not self-consistent here but only that it doesn't fit my preconceptions of what a perfect moral code should look like, and hence becomes less plausible to me. Do you not find it strange?

    It's not exactly a moral code, though. A moral code tells you how to avoid needing to be forgiven. Christianity tells you that you do need to be forgiven, and this is how that can happen.

    Likewise the fact that whether you believe in and develop a relationship with God is an indispensible part of getting to Heaven seems vain and arbitrary to me. Surely someone who does their best on Earth and understands how imperfect that is and regrets it deeply is equally deserving, even if their judgement on one thing is wrong?

    Why should everyone get to go to Heaven? Why should any of us get forgiven at all? If God wants us to have a relationship with him, why shouldn't he save Heaven for the people who actually did that, rather than inviting those people who don't even know him?

    Regarding Colin's point, could God not have created a species with His perfect moral judgement and the courage and selflessness to act that way? Could He not have made a species with free will but which was capable of choosing to act as He would? If so why didn't He? If not then clearly He's not omnipotent.

    I'm not sure. If you never ever do anything that's wrong, because it's programmed into your head that it's wrong and you should never do it, do you really have free will?

    I also think it's pretty absurd to suggest that all possible sins are equally bad. After all, surely we're supposed to inherit our sense of morality from God, so why do most people think there's a definite difference? I certainly do, and I think that any God who wants to punish littering, disbelieving, rape, and genocide all as equally deserving of punishment isn't one I want to worship, real or not.

    I don't think it says that all sin is equally bad, but that all sin requires punishment. However, God only seems to have one punishment, which is eternal separation from him, a.k.a. Hell.

    05 Mar 2006, 17:15

  103. ok, quoting from comment (101) by Colin Mayhill:

    In this case, God could simply have chosen a simpler sysetm of laws which were easier for everyone to follow. As they are merely something he decided, and not something he is compelled to judge by, it seems even more petty and vindictive to come up with so many petty rules to judge people by, especially given that they aren't explained well (if at all).

    Quoting from Jesus Christ:

    "Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'1 This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'2 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.""

    1 Direct quote from Deuteronomy 6:5
    2 Direct quote from Leviticus 19:18

    So the Law is simple. The entire Law is based on Love. Through and through. Love for God and love for each other. That is it.

    The rules in the old testament just spell out exactly what constitutes breaking the "Love God" and the "Love one another" rules. The Law is God clarifying what exactly it means to show sincere love to someone.
    It just all boils down to the fact that, when God created the universe, he created it out of love and he wanted it to be a creation of love.

    Also, your point only stands if we are, and have always been, completely unable to avoid sin. If that was true then yes, we would have no responsibility for our sins because we simply were not made with the ability to do otherwise.

    However, after he had created everything: "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good" – Genesis 1:31

    There was no sin when God created the world. He made us completely sinless and with the ability to sin, or not to sin. He gave us free will. This means that we take a personal responsibility for our actions.

    Next point from comment (101) by Colin Mayhill:

    I also think it's pretty absurd to suggest that all possible sins are equally bad. After all, surely we're supposed to inherit our sense of morality from God, so why do most people think there's a definite difference? I certainly do, and I think that any God who wants to punish littering, disbelieving, rape, and genocide all as equally deserving of punishment isn't one I want to worship, real or not.

    The bible doesn't seem to say that all sin is equal. Just one example is where it talks about false teachers:

    "Blackest darkness is reserved for them" – 2 Peter 2:17

    When compared to itself, Sin comes in many forms some of which may be more "bad" than others.
    However, the bottom line is that any sin at all is still sin and deserves punishment. Perhaps the punishment will be more severe for some sins than others, but whatever happens there will still be some sort of deserved punishment, and that means death (Romans 6:23).

    05 Mar 2006, 17:24

  104. Just to add to the last comment:

    Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord"

    Just want to say again that Christianity is not a message of condemnation. Jesus came so that we can be completely free from the law and sin.
    See comment (99) for the details.

    "That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved"
    Romans 10:9

    05 Mar 2006, 17:33

  105. There was no sin when God created the world. He made us completely sinless and with the ability to sin, or not to sin. He gave us free will. This means that we take a personal responsibility for our actions.

    Maybe that was true once, but we are no longer capable of not sinning. How can we be responsible for something we can't control?

    05 Mar 2006, 18:06

  106. Regarding free will: I don't know. I don't know what 'free will' is actually supposed to mean, God or no. As far as I can tell it's a very vague feeling that doesn't make any sort of actual sense (I can elaborate if required). With respect to sinning, both of you have suggested that being free from sin is impossible.

    As for degrees of sin, it's rather irrelevant if some are worse than others when they all merit the same punishment: being sent to hell. If, as you suggest, this is the ultimate punishment (as you are separated from God), then it doesn't matter what happens to you there, because it doesn't get any worse than 'ultimate'.

    If God wants us to have a relationship with him, why shouldn't he save Heaven for the people who actually did that, rather than inviting those people who don't even know him?

    Because I understood that the principal of the thing was for heaven to be a reward for being good, not as a special club for God and his mates. Except it seems to me that you're suggesting that Christianity equates the two, which I don't really like.

    So the Law is simple. The entire Law is based on Love. Through and through. Love for God and love for each other. That is it.

    There is (as I understand it) an awful lot of raping, killing, smiting, and the like in the old testament, where God's laws for loving one another are defined. In my opinion, I do a better job of loving other people than the examples set there. (I admit to not having read the Bible, nor being interested in doing so.)

    As for having to love God, I still think that's awfully selfish. It's all very well wanting to be loved, but punishing people for not loving Him seems more like the actions of a spoilt child than of a perfect being. Maybe He deserves some thanks for creating the whole universe, but since when was 'deserving' a major factor in determining love? And isn't He supposed to be humble about that sort of thing?

    05 Mar 2006, 19:16

  107. JC

    Just want to say again that Christianity is not a message of condemnation. Jesus came so that we can be completely free from the law and sin.

    But if we don't accept Jesus, we go to hell, right? So there is some level of condemnation there, really. I mean, it's not like "accept Jesus and you'll go to Heaven, don't and you… won't," is it? It's "accept Jesus, or be damned to burning, pain and suffering for all eternity."

    Bah. I'm never going to believe in Jesus, God, all that dying on the cross stuff so I'm pretty much screwed, right? And I was so much looking forward to a long, healthy and happy life… oh wait, what's stopping me?

    05 Mar 2006, 19:17

  108. A Student

    Okay, so you think that God should have forgiven all of us when he sent Jesus, not just those who accept his message.

    Yes, although lets not get distracted from the main points below with this, at least until we resolve them. We can not possibly live upto His standards any more than a cat can live upto mine. I forgive my cat its failings because she can do no better. Likewise no man can reach God's standards yet He can not be as forgiving as me. In fact, and much more importantly, I don't know why Jesus's suffering was necessary. Why can God not just forgive – why must there always be a penalty? I forgive my cat, and indeed most people, without feeling any need to crucify a token cat/person (sorry if anyone finds this flippant).

    It's not exactly a moral code, though. A moral code tells you how to avoid needing to be forgiven. Christianity tells you that you do need to be forgiven, and this is how that can happen.

    I'm actually not sure about that distinction but I don't think its too important. By all means suggest a more appropriate nomenclature and I will use it but for now I'll continue as before and you can mentally correct me where need be.

    (1)Why should everyone get to go to Heaven? (2)Why should any of us get forgiven at all?(3) If God wants us to have a relationship with him, why shouldn't he save Heaven for the people who actually did that, rather than inviting those people who don't even know him?

    Now we get to the heart of the issue. (1)Perhaps not everyone should go to Heaven, thats another issue, but in my mind sending any people to burn forever in Hell with gnashing teeth and wailing for eternity can only be described as vindictive in the extreme and not at all plausibly consistent with my idea of a perfect and loving God. (2)My view of the teachings of Jesus and my own morality suggest we should forgive those who "sin" against us. Does it really seem plausible to you that God could turn round and not forgive any of us after having taught us to forgive all others ourselves? It is even more absurd imho when you consider He made us and according to Christian theology knew all along how we'd behave. (3)Finally a loving, just God can not in my own view only allow the people who realised He existed, and thus had a relationship with Him, into Heaven whilst sending those whose assessment of the limited evidence, using their limited intellect, was wrong, to Hell for eternity. As I keep saying it seems incredible to me that the (effectively) sole criterion for getting into Heaven is not one's moral track record, nor whether one realises one's imperfections and repents but instead is whether you make the right assessment of some seemingly ambiguous evidence.

    I'm not sure. If you never ever do anything that's wrong, because it's programmed into your head that it's wrong and you should never do it, do you really have free will?

    I think so but I'm not a philosopher! We are already programmed (at least I believe I am) with a set of moral values (from whatever source) yet I still believe I have free will, and see no reason to think otherwise. Is it not possible to imagine a species with the same set of moral values as God and with the will-power and courage to live their lives by them through choice (purely because they think its right)? Your statement might suggest God doesn't have free will to me!

    I don't think it says that all sin is equally bad, but that all sin requires punishment. However, God only seems to have one punishment, which is eternal separation from him, a.k.a. Hell.

    But surely this is another good reason to be sceptical? A perfectly just arbiter, who is (in this case, in-?)conveniently omnipotent, would surely make the punishment fit the sin, if "perfectly just" is to mean anything?

    05 Mar 2006, 19:19

  109. A Student

    "Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'1 This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'2 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.""

    Again, to me this seems vain and not easy to reconcile with a selfless God: surely the needs of other beings should come before His desire to be loved?

    However, the bottom line is that any sin at all is still sin and deserves punishment. Perhaps the punishment will be more severe for some sins than others, but whatever happens there will still be some sort of deserved punishment, and that means death (Romans 6:23).

    As I said above why can't God practice what (as I understand it) His son preached and forgive unconditionally any wrong visited upon Him?

    Finally in the above two posts remember I'm not saying Christianity is not self-consistent but that it doesn't fit my preconceptions of a perfect moral code and so seems less plausible to me. Basically what I want to know is do you agree with this specific point?

    PS Very sorry if I'm a bit rude here and above. I'm only being playful in the hope that it conveys my thoughts more powerfully. I respect your views and hope you're both finding this conversation as useful as I am. Also what does James Hughes think, if the questions are now more to his taste?

    05 Mar 2006, 19:20

  110. ok, this is going to be my last post for at least a week.

    There are loads of things I could say here but I'm not going to because (I'm sorry) but I'm stressing about work and stuff in for the last day of term.
    Also, I think, it wouldn't actually do very much if we continue indefinately questioning and answering each other in this way on this topic.

    If you have some questions about Christianity the best way (as I think Alan has said before) would be to write them all down, find a christian (who wants to help) and 'grill' them.
    We're going around in circles. For example: A reason why God cannot just 'forgive' (re-asked in comment 108) I've already responded to in comment 98

    All you guys here (who are genuinely interested in questioning Christianity) will find, I promise you, that what it says in the Bible is consistent and that it does offer a logical explaination for everything. Some of the questions here are born out of genuine misinformation of what the Bible says, others from the fact that some don't understand what the Bible says and others are just arguments that actually are meaningless and kind of irrelevant whether or not you believe in God.
    All of these arguments have been raised time and time again, over the centuries, by every person who has thought about what Christianity claims to be, and they all have perfectly logical answers in the bible.

    Of course, I'm not saying this because I expect (or want) you to take my word for it. It's just an assessment of the situation.

    In one sweeping statement, I would say that most of the questions raised in the last couple of points become meaningless when you realize that God reigns totally over the entire of creation. He is in complete control of everything. This is especially true for A Student's point in comment 108:

    (3)Finally a loving, just God can not in my own view only allow the people who realised He existed, and thus had a relationship with Him, into Heaven whilst sending those whose assessment of the limited evidence, using their limited intellect, was wrong, to Hell for eternity

    Simple answer being that the realisation that God exists is not something that is completely up to our intellect. He is control of everything and he is Just. The Holy Spirit (also known as the great evangelist) is the one that convicts our hearts. We do not die without being given all the chances we need to believe. God makes sure of it! Why do you think you get so many annoying Christians telling you the Gospel all the time (as one example)?

    Questioning is very good though – The Bible is God's Word and it can stand up to all arguments – I am confident in that fact. So, please, question what it says, question its consistency. Find a Christian and question them. If they don't satisfy you find another.

    Also, you should know, the best way to find out an answer is to sincerely ask God to show you the answer.

    I might be back in a week! Have a nice Easter.

    P.S. Whoever asked what "free will" was, Dictionary.com has the answer !

    05 Mar 2006, 22:37

  111. A Student

    Hope to see you later James. Hope my slightly agressive questioning didn't scare you off. I just ought to clarify my earlier posts since you maybe didn't see what I was getting at. Whatever question I ask about why God does this or that, no doubt you'll be able to say its explained on page x of the Bible. However, as a theologicaly undecided person, I want to use my moral instincts (which are decided) to advise me on the plausibility of various standpoints with respect to religion. Thats what I mean when I ask "why can't God forgive unconditionally, without having to exact penalties?"

    You say: "God will not make exception to this otherwise he would have made a false judgement and could not claim to be Just. So, as things stand right now, if you sin you have to (and totally deserve to) be punished. This is because we are in a world ruled by a Just God." Which is one view but it involves a different interpretation of "just" and "false judgement" than I would prefer. Christianity teaches forgiveness as the way we should live yet God at best seems unable to forgive without attaching conditions (and ones which the vast majority of humanity doesn't meet right now).

    Another example: Lets pick the worst thing you can do in Christianity: be too proud to worship/believe in God. Why is this the worst thing? Worse than ethnic cleansing say? Well the answer that could be offered is that is says in the Bible that the "greatest commandment" is that you must love God. But of course this is not what I'm asking – I want to have an explaination of why its so bad and why thats the "greatest commandment" because I would not expect it using my knowledge of the selflessness of Christainity and my ideal moral code, and it makes Christianity less plausible to me. How can that be worse than murdering someone. It doesn't seem likely to me.

    06 Mar 2006, 00:28

  112. My father (a Christian) has an article about what is the fate of the wicked? on his website. To summarise if you don't want to read the article: eternal punishment means to cease existing, and the idea of eternal torment is not supported by the Bible.

    It's not a view I've heard or seen anywhere else, but the exact nature of Hell is not exactly a common subject for discussion. I think it's a very important point, though. A lot of arguments made in this discussion seem to become meaningless if nonbelievers aren't kept in eternal agony.

    As I said above why can't God practice what (as I understand it) His son preached and forgive unconditionally any wrong visited upon Him?

    A brilliantly simple question. I like it a lot.

    P.S. Whoever asked what "free will" was, Dictionary.com has the answer !

    The relevant part here seems to me to be "The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will".

    I'd say our conscience, if given to us by God, would be an external circumstance. So giving us a conscience strong enough to stop some people sinning, would also be removing their free will.

    06 Mar 2006, 00:56

  113. Firstly, I'd like to say thanks for that article, Alan. It isn't a view I've ever heard before, but I think it makes far more sense (at least in terms of Christianity) than the traditional alternative. Were this more prevalent, I would find Christianity far more paletable (if not necessarily believable).

    In particular, I still don't understand why God would need people to believe in him based on the limited evidence available during life, given that it's all open to different interpretations. I mean, if he's going to appear before me to judge me after I die, can't I start believing then?

    As for free will, my problem is that I don't know what a 'decision' is supposed to be. In particular, how it is distinct from both randomness and determinism. It seems to me that a determined process isn't free, whereas a random one isn't willed. But I can't think of any alternatives.

    06 Mar 2006, 10:10

  114. Hello

    Colin: Jesus says its more blessed to believe and not seeing than to see than believe… thats what we call FAITH!

    06 Mar 2006, 19:30

  115. What if I exhibit wondeful faith but I just happen to pick the wrong God due to circumstance – would God still pound my ass with a heavenly paddle? Mmm.. I hope so.

    06 Mar 2006, 23:06

  116. A Student

    Yes cheers for the article Alan. Christianity is more reasonable without Hell – with it its totally implausible imho. As Colin suggests I think there are still moral problems with it though (eg, in addition to Colin's point, God is still vain and incapable of unconditional forgiveness though less vindictive). Also the vast majority of Christians believe in Hell, partly because it says to in the Bible. Having said that I would only ever consider a form of Christianity without Hell, like your Dad's (most Christian leaders are rather foolish imo to not argue like him).

    On free will I'm not sure: its a slippery subject. I still think He could have made us more morally virtuous than we are whilst leaving us with free will. Giving will-power and good moral judgement does not take away our free will imho, rather it enables us to choose to live better lives. Also if He's omniscient why did He bother creating the bad apples amongst us? Surely He'd know who to send to Heaven already?

    One other thought (I'm not a philosopher and it'd be good to find a real one to check this). If God doesn't have free will then there are some things He can't do and so He isn't omnipotent. Therefore he does have free will in standard theology. Yet He never does anything wrong. Thus it must be possible for Him to create us similarly with free will but of His own moral standards such that we do no wrong. (Assuming His omnipotence)

    Dear Hello: Thanks a lot for your input but by now surely you understand we will not be convinced that the Bible is correct merely because it says so in the Bible. You are proving it is consistent but not that its plausible.

    James Hughes: you are forgetting that God is omniscient. For you there shall be no ass-pounding with heavenly paddles since that is precisely what you want (unless you're trying reverse psychology on God here, in which case I applaud your ambition, but fear He might see through it). You, He might tease with His heavenly paddles for eternity…

    07 Mar 2006, 00:52

  117. (written last night, but it was giving me errors then)

    In particular, I still don't understand why God would need people to believe in him based on the limited evidence available during life, given that it's all open to different interpretations.

    You say, "limited evidence", but I think that's only the case if you've already decided you don't believe it. Once you've accepted the possibility that it could be true, then there's quite a large amount of evidence. There are always going to be other explanations, but that's not enough to discount the possibility that God exists.

    I mean, if he's going to appear before me to judge me after I die, can't I start believing then?

    You wouldn't really have any choice but to believe at that point. If he wanted, God could prove himself to everybody in the world, right now. But he doesn't, indicating that we need to choose to believe. And you still wouldn't have had a relationship with him if you only started believing when he appeared to judge you.

    As for free will, my problem is that I don't know what a 'decision' is supposed to be. In particular, how it is distinct from both randomness and determinism. It seems to me that a determined process isn't free, whereas a random one isn't willed. But I can't think of any alternatives.

    If God decided what we were going to do in advance, that wouldn't be free. But if God let us decide, then there still might only be one way we would have reacted, but it would have been us that decided it. Does that make sense? I don't know whether it holds up or not; I think we need a philosopher in here.

    As Colin suggests I think there are still moral problems with it though (eg, in addition to Colin's point, God is still vain and incapable of unconditional forgiveness though less vindictive).

    I said before: "It certainly seems vain of God to ask us to worship and love him. Except that if he really is a perfect being, then surely he deserves it?" It was combatted with the, "but how does that justify eternal suffering for those who don't" card, so how does it hold up now?

    Also the vast majority of Christians believe in Hell, partly because it says to in the Bible.

    Because it's the traditional view, you mean. That article argues that a Hell of eternal torment is not supported by the Bible.

    On free will I'm not sure: its a slippery subject. I still think He could have made us more morally virtuous than we are whilst leaving us with free will. Giving will-power and good moral judgement does not take away our free will imho, rather it enables us to choose to live better lives. Also if He's omniscient why did He bother creating the bad apples amongst us? Surely He'd know who to send to Heaven already?

    This makes me consider another question. Does God create us individually, or does he allow us to be created by the laws he created? If the former, then how can he create us and not disrupt the free will of others (since he knows how we will affect them)? The latter seems to explain why we wouldn't have better morals and why the "bad apples" exist, but feels less consistent with Christian beliefs. And the bad apples obviously have to exist so that we can interact with them, anyway.

    07 Mar 2006, 12:10

  118. One other thought (I'm not a philosopher and it'd be good to find a real one to check this). If God doesn't have free will then there are some things He can't do and so He isn't omnipotent. Therefore he does have free will in standard theology. Yet He never does anything wrong. Thus it must be possible for Him to create us similarly with free will but of His own moral standards such that we do no wrong. (Assuming His omnipotence)

    So could God do evil? One of the meanings of omnipotence from Wikipedia is: God is able to do everything that is in accord with his own nature (meaning 6.

    Dear Hello: Thanks a lot for your input but by now surely you understand we will not be convinced that the Bible is correct merely because it says so in the Bible. You are proving it is consistent but not that its plausible.

    I don't think he was trying to say, "this is correct", but rather, "this is the Bible's plausible answer to your question". If you don't find it plausible, you should argue why not, not imply that it's implausible just because it comes from the Bible.

    07 Mar 2006, 12:11

  119. A Student

    Removing Hell reduces the implausibility certainly but here are some morality-related questions that remain imo.

    1. Why is it a sin to not love and worship God? Does He really deserve it (as opposed to respect say)? Suppose I love a girl who doesn't love me back. Perhaps I have lived the life of a saint (or better) so perhaps the girl has an obligation to love and worship me? Or does she still have the right to choose regardless of how morally superior I might be to her? God seems vain and insecure to need our worship to me (which is not to say many might choose to do that anyway). If He tells you to love Him (under pain of death) is that really love anyway?

    2. Why is loving God the greatest commandment? Surely this is vain, even if the love and worship are deserved? Loving one's neighbours has clear benefits but how does God benefit from us singing hymns once a week or praying? Sounds a bit selfish to me.

    3. Even if Hell no longer means eternal torture, it still implies punishment: Jesus clearly talks about wailing and gnashing teeth and the unquenchable fire, where the worm never dies etc. Indeed, your article explicity says its still a severe punishment to cease to exist, in sight of Heaven. Punishment of any sort does not sit easily with Christian forgiveness imho, nor my conception of a perfect being. Talk of punishment is vindictive imo.

    4. Why is our being saved entirely dependent on whether we make a correct assessment of ambiguous evidence, with clearly limited intellects, rather than say on our over all moral track record? I know the Bible says we're all sinners but that doesn't answer it: who do you think deserves to be saved a serial rapist murderer who converts and repents, or say Ghandi (a blasphemer)? Why is accepting Jesus' sacrifice so important? If rape and murder can be forgiven why not a failure to recognise the signs of God's presence?

    5. For that matter why can't everyone be forgiven their sins unconditionally as I thought Jesus taught us to do? Surely we aren't expected to be more virtuous than God? Here's an interesting article showing how forgiving a vicar thought she should have been (but couldn't be).

    6. Similarly why was Jesus' suffering necessary? Even I can forgive people without brutally flogging, torturing and crucifying a symbolic scapegoat over a period of about week.

    7. Why are we here anyway? Doesn't He know who can enter Heaven already, being omniscient? Why aren't we morally superior beings if we're made in God's image, lets face it for an omnipotent being it shouldn't be a difficult task to improve on humanity.

    8. Why do the morals change from Old to New testament? Why was "an eye for an eye" justified at one point?

    9. If you're a Christian would you really do whatever God says, even kill your own children? What if He changes His mind again on morality?

    Hope these aren't too offensive for anyone. Best way to decide these things is to thrash them out…

    07 Mar 2006, 20:22

  120. A Student

    One other thought regarding point 1: God is often compared to a father figure. But a parent rarely threatens their child if they don't love the parent. Parents set a good example and hope children recognise that and appreciate the sacrifices made on their behalf, and learn to love back of their own volition.

    07 Mar 2006, 20:30

  121. I think you've missed the point I was making about free will. I don't care who might or might not be able to make a decison, I still don't have any idea what it means to make one. It doesn't seem to make sense for it to be either random or determined, but I can't think of anything else that it could be. What bothers me isn't whether or not we could have free will, but what the concept is supposed to mean.

    If God is perfect and made everything, does that mean He deserves respect? Probably. Love? Maybe. But just because he deserves it, does that make it right to punish anyone that doesn't?

    When I say 'limited evidence', what I mean is that there is nothing, at least in my experience, that cannot be explained without God. It may well be consistent with the His existence, but it is also consistent with his non-existence. As such, it doesn't provide any evidence either way. In my experience, therefore, there is no evidence for the existence of God. It is nonetheless possible that such evidence exists, hence 'limited'.

    I will admit that I can't think of anything that would constitute evidence for His existence. But even if I did find some, how would I know which God it was evidence for? Even if I conclude there is a God, why would this necessarily imply that the teachings of the Bible are correct? Personally, I've always been more partial to polytheism than monotheism.

    Given that having faith is, as I understand it, believing in something without (compelling) evidence, what is there to compel me to believe? That it will make me feel better? That it will make God feel better? And since I don't have conscious control over what I believe, how does it make sense to judge me based on my faith?

    07 Mar 2006, 23:09

  122. A Student

    Yes all excellent points Colin. It seems the christians have given up trying to convert us all. If I end up in Hell I'll know who to blame.

    09 Mar 2006, 23:42

  123. I'd like to ask a Christian:

    1) Why are the Christian Union always trying to bribe people with food and hot chocolate?

    2) When I was walking past the chaplaincy, a man was getting into a sleeping bag and going to sleep in there. What was he doing?

    3) Is it true that CU always seem to operate out of Rootes because they were banned from the union because some of their members carried out a homophobic attack on a man last year?

    12 Mar 2006, 17:09

  124. Is it true that CU always seem to operate out of Rootes because they were banned from the union because some of their members carried out a homophobic attack on a man last year?

    That sounds like bull to me. I have my problems with the CU, but homophobic attacks (and, if you talk to them, homophobia in general) are most certainly not part of what they do.

    12 Mar 2006, 23:16

  125. Right, time to take up the baton for Christianity and try and answer some of these questions. What follows is my own belief, but hopefully most other Christians will associate with them to some degree.

    1) I don’t think it’s a case of ‘love me or I shall condemn you to hell’. C.S. Lewis once presented the question of why God ‘needed’ to be worshipped (he wrote lots of non-fiction too). I think the answer Lewis gave was He doesn’t, but just as it makes sense to praise a piece of fine artwork (but on an infintely smaller scale, of course), so it ‘makes sense’ to praise God. When someone comes to know God, their natural reaction will be to worship Him. While He delights in our worship, he doesn’t ‘need’ to be worshipped in the same way as, say, a mother needs her baby’s attention. Lewis’ answer was more thorough than this, but unfortunately I don’t have the particular book to hand (I’m at home atm).

    2)See above.

    3) Not all Christians look at the world and their faith in terms of ‘if you believe, heaven; otherwise, you’re taking a ride to hell’. Many Christians would say that as you come to know God better, you move closer to heaven in any case. The ‘journey’ to God and heaven can begin in this life, and goes on. That doesn’t mean that heaven is a ‘state of mind’ – it is a real place, I think. But we choose to go there when we choose to follow God, if that makes sense.

    I’m explaining this badly – again, I’m borrowing from Lewis (can you tell I like his work?) – but I hope I’ve got the vague idea across.

    However, I do think many Christians are too focussed on what happens when you die. Yes, that is important, but what’s (in a sense) more relevant is the series of changes that takes place on the earth. I personally, and many others I know, have found that the Christian faith has brought a sense of peace which nothing else can. I’ve also found I’m less selfish than I was before, less prone to anger, etc etc.

    Now, I can’t empirically prove that Christianity is having this effect on me. It could be some psychological reason – some need to believe in a deity figure that produces a sense of peace and joy when I indulge it, and makes me less selfish, angry, stressed, etc. Or I could just be growing up. This was a source of worry to me in the past. But so many other Christians say similar things about how their faith has changed them that I’m prepared to run with it for now. Don’t think I don’t have my doubts, though :).

    4) The irrationality of this, of course, is that if you tell a good person the gospel, you’ve actually done him (sorry, it’s too late to use gender-inclusive language) a bad turn, since he now has to repent and believe whereas before he would have ‘got into heaven’ on his own merit.

    I don’t really accept this (and once again I’m not a lone voice in the wilderness here – many other Christians would agree). I know next to nothing about Ghandi, so can’t really comment. But I would suggest that, being a good man, unselfish, humble, etc etc, then he was probably much closer to God than he knew.

    Think of the parable of the pharisee and the tax-collector – it is the pharisee whom everybody admires and praises for his apparent devotion to God, but the truth is that the tax-collector is much closer to Got in his heart (I hate that word but can’t think of a better one – inner-being, perhaps), even though he didn’t really know it. Perhaps Gandhi was like the tax-collector.

    But really, none of us is in any position to comment on or judge others’ souls – it’s the soaring height of arrogance. The state of an individual’s soul is known only by God, and by the individual in question if he chooses to look.

    5) Forgiveness is offered unconditionally and to all, but it’s a choice whether or not we accept it and benefit from it.

    13 Mar 2006, 00:36

  126. 6) Not sure. It may have had something to do with God deliberately humbling Himself.

    7) Can I leave that for another time? :) (It has to do with free will.)

    8)I don’t believe they do change. I think ‘an eye for an eye’ is often misunderstood in two ways:-

    a)It’s often seen as justifying revenge. In fact, it applies only to a lawful authority punishing someone for a crime they’ve committed. (Not getting revenge confused with self-defence, of course.)
    b)It is a limitation on how much an individual can be punished. It’s saying ‘you can’t hang someone for murder’. It’s a limit on government power, if you will :).

    The law wasn’t changed on the sermon on the mount – it was simply ‘fulfilled’. ‘An eye for an eye’ was a concession, a necessity, because in this imperfect world a system of justice and protection has to exist. Jesus is talking about how Christians should behave if they have their eyes set on heaven. (And I’m aware this goes back to the ‘justifying yourself to get to heaven’ thing, but I’ve spent long enough on this answer as it is!)

    9) If I heard voices in my head telling me to kill my children, I’d make an appointment to see a shrink pretty quickly.

    I’m off to bed.

    13 Mar 2006, 00:36

  127. I've been busy the last couple of days, but I'm back home now.

    2. Why is loving God the greatest commandment? Surely this is vain, even if the love and worship are deserved? Loving one's neighbours has clear benefits but how does God benefit from us singing hymns once a week or praying? Sounds a bit selfish to me.

    Suggestion 1: everything in this world is temporary, so if we fail to follow any of the other commandments, that will eventually become irrelevant. But whether we love God will determine our eternal future.

    Suggestion 2: loving God will make you want to follow the other commandments, but the converse is not true.

    As Edward says, God doesn't benefit from singing hymns, or any other form of worship. He doesn't require it, and I don't know whether he even asks for it. People choose to do it, to express how much love they have for God.

    3. Even if Hell no longer means eternal torture, it still implies punishment: Jesus clearly talks about wailing and gnashing teeth and the unquenchable fire, where the worm never dies etc. Indeed, your article explicity says its still a severe punishment to cease to exist, in sight of Heaven. Punishment of any sort does not sit easily with Christian forgiveness imho, nor my conception of a perfect being. Talk of punishment is vindictive imo.

    The punishment seems to me that we don't get something which others are getting (eternal life). But if none of us deserve that in the first place, I don't see how it's vindictive.

    9. If you're a Christian would you really do whatever God says, even kill your own children? What if He changes His mind again on morality?

    If God's going to tell you that, you've got the wrong God.

    When I say 'limited evidence', what I mean is that there is nothing, at least in my experience, that cannot be explained without God. It may well be consistent with the His existence, but it is also consistent with his non-existence. As such, it doesn't provide any evidence either way. In my experience, therefore, there is no evidence for the existence of God. It is nonetheless possible that such evidence exists, hence 'limited'.

    I think you're confusing evidence with proof. If somebody's glove was found at the scene of a murder, that would be evidence for his guilt, even though it could be explained in other ways.

    There's no proof for the existence of God, but there is evidence. Its compellingness, of course, varies widely from person to person (and from day to day, for me personally).

    I will admit that I can't think of anything that would constitute evidence for His existence. But even if I did find some, how would I know which God it was evidence for? Even if I conclude there is a God, why would this necessarily imply that the teachings of the Bible are correct? Personally, I've always been more partial to polytheism than monotheism.

    I guess it depends on the evidence. If you decide that Jesus probably was resurrected, that's evidence for Christianity. If you start to believe that the Qur'an is divinely inspired, that's evidence for Islam. The existence of the world is evidence for a God, but not specifically for any particular God.

    Personally, I find the evidence for Christianity more compelling than for other religions, but since I'm surrounded by Christian culture, I'm unlikely to inspect other religions as closely. That's unfortunate, but unavoidable.

    Given that having faith is, as I understand it, believing in something without (compelling) evidence, what is there to compel me to believe? That it will make me feel better? That it will make God feel better? And since I don't have conscious control over what I believe, how does it make sense to judge me based on my faith?

    I don't think that having faith and having compelling evidence are mutually exclusive. However compelling the evidence is, you can never be entirely sure. But you can have faith that it's true, despite the lack of proof.

    13 Mar 2006, 01:42

  128. 1) Why are the Christian Union always trying to bribe people with food and hot chocolate?

    A bribe goes something like this: "become a Christian and I'll give you some food and hot chocolate". What the Christian Union does is offer free food to people at various events and free hot chocolate outside Top Banana. Nobody's obligated to do anything in return.

    3) Is it true that CU always seem to operate out of Rootes because they were banned from the union because some of their members carried out a homophobic attack on a man last year?

    Almost certainly not.

    13 Mar 2006, 01:42

  129. It is my understanding that the CU was banned from the Union for a couple of years from 2002. This was due to a letter they sent to someone that was deemed to be homophobic. There is plenty of stuff on the web about this; I don't think it needs to be discussed here.

    Alan, you're right about the distinction between evidence and proof, sorry. Evidence for the existence of God (over His non-existence) would be something that seems more probable if we assume the existence of God than if we don't. Unless someone can think of a better method of evaluating evidence.

    I still don't know what would count as evidence, though. The Bible isn't evidence of God any more than The Lord of the Rings is evidence for elves; just because it's written down doesn't make it true. Similarly the fact that other people believe is hardly compelling, given that plenty of people believe in all sorts of weird things.

    You can claim that the beauty and wonder of life is evidence for God, as there's plenty of that around if you look hard enough. However, life also involves lots of ugly, horrid stuff, like diseases, parasites, and the like which all seem to be evidence against God. So on balance I think the evidence of the natural world is pretty even.

    If I never find the evidence for God compelling, am I a failure as a human being in God's opinion?

    I still don't see why we should be required to love God; you've both offered reasons why it would be justified to love Him, but nothing that suggests to me that it should be a necessary condition for getting to heaven.

    13 Mar 2006, 08:04

  130. It is true, though, that the Christians are always bugging those of us who live in Rootes. Why is that, if they're allowed to work from the union (or even their chaplaincy?!)? To get the Rootes Party Block image for CU? lol.

    Well, it sort of is a bribe in that you have to listen to some Christian in order to get said food. If they anonymously left it in our kitctens, that would seem to me a more Christ-like thing to do. Towards the end of term, my impoverished flatmates always discuss going along and humouring the Christians to get some free food but I always say "noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo" cus it's, well, creepy as hell.

    13 Mar 2006, 12:37

  131. A Student

    Thanks for your reply Edward (and Alan too). (I know what you mean about the CU!) To me Christianity seems a very slippery thing, everyone has their own version, and I'm still not sure exactly where you stand. Do you believe in Hell for instance? If not why all the talk of it in the Bible "wailing and gnashing teeth and the unquenchable fire, where the worm never dies" etc?

    Next and most importantly, what do you believe it is required to do to get into Heaven? Must one love God or not? This is really what I've been asking all along and Colin sums it up well here: "I still don't see why we should be required to love God; you've both offered reasons why it would be justified to love Him, but nothing that suggests to me that it should be a necessary condition for getting to heaven." Of course God can make it a "necessary condition" but then the whole philosophy becomes implausible imo because one can reasonably look at the available evidence and not be convinced even of His existence.

    Also I find it hard to believe God doesn't change from Old to New Testaments. In the OT God orders His followers to commit mass murder, at times condones rape, consistently discriminates against women, condones slavery and of course kills most of the people on the planet as well as testing Abraham by asking him to kill his own son. If God hasn't changed He could quite easily tell you to kill your own children, either as a test or because they have sinned so much. In either case presumably you would follow His commands?

    Perhaps the following biblical quote will help us (Hebrews 10). I'm puzzled as to what it means:

    26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

    One more thing Edward, I'm curious as to your reasons for being a Christian, if you don't mind me asking? Were you convinced by evidence, has God spoken to you or is it entirely because you find your life is better now?

    13 Mar 2006, 15:21

  132. Hi, that took a fair amount of reading! And you are all very interesting people – so thank you for your discussion!

    I am a Christian, and am going to attempt to reason why loving God is "a necessary condition for getting to heaven"...

    Obviously some things need to be assumed here – I'm talking about the God of the Bible, and I'm talking from a Christian viewpoint.

    It's already been discussed here, that there are two ways to get to heaven: (i) live a sinless, perfect life; or (ii) accept Jesus' sacrifice, that pays for your sin, and makes you at one with God. The key thing in both these cases is atonement – or "at-one-ment". Initially, we are at one with God. In case (i) we remain at one because we have no sin to separate us from Him. In case (ii) we become at one with God again after our separation from Him.

    Let me look at case (ii) first, (especially since it is a little more relevant to us!). We fail God, and given the nature of creation and the perfection of God, we can no longer get to be with Him in heaven. The solution for this problem is to accept the sacrifice that Jesus made. Accepting this gift (the greatest gift imaginable) is impossible to do without falling in love with the one giving it to you. You cannot accept without some notion of what you are accepting (since it is a decision to accept) and if you have any notion of the massive gravitas of someone dying for your eternal salvation then you cannot fail to fall in love with them. Love is then our response to the greatest gift of love imaginable.

    If i can anticipate a response to this: "Why then, did God make the world in such a way that such a massive sacrifice was required?"

    I believe this is to do with "free will", which you've already discussed a fair amount. I think that the concept of "free will" in this context is more than just the ability to make choices. Tied up in it is the ability to love, and have emotions that are more than just chemical reactions. I believe that to have a creation with these characteristics requires the existence of sin, and hence the need for atonement.

    What about case (i)? In order to live a life without sin, according to the definitions of sin in the Bible, you need to understand what sin is. Hence you must know and understand the God of the Bible. Knowing and understanding God to that extent without loving Him is impossible – He is, after all, God. And the God of incomprehendible grace and mercy.

    14 Mar 2006, 20:52

  133. Patrick Telford

    Hmmm… This thread has been inactive for a while, so I hope this isn't going to make me look like the guy who turns up at the party a week after everyone has left…

    Firstly thank you to everyone making serious points on this topic, reading it has been thoroughly absorbing.

    Secondly, a couple of questions:

    1) Joe: Is your point essentially that loving God is not so much a precondition for entering heaven as a side-effect of accepting the offer of forgiveness?

    2)
    – No one would choose to refuse to accept God's offer of forgiveness if they fully understood the choice they were making.
    – Therefore everyone who ends up in hell cannot have fully understood the choice that God was giving them.
    – Is it just to punish someone based on a choice that they have not understood?

    3) God reveals himself (e.g. in answering prayers, in visions, in dreams, in revelation) to some people and not to others. Why?

    4) Why does everyone not go to heaven? Because some of us do not come to know God during our brief, confusing, blinkered and pointless lives? What better place to meet with him and come to know him than an eternity spent by his side?

    Fingers crossed for a response (although if no one is watching any more at least I can claim I had the last word)...

    21 Mar 2006, 11:59

  134. Hmm, it's been a while. So where was I?

    Joseph, what you said suggests to me that loving God is not necessary to get into heaven at all, but rather that it is the logical result of fulfilling the actual critera for getting to heaven. There's still a relationship between the two, but it isn't a causal one. (Much like Patrick's first point.)

    I don't think you're right, either. I don't see why a gift of forgiveness, ultimate or otherwise, would make me fall in love with God or anyone else.

    I also note that your definition of free will, by requiring the existence of sin, prohibits God from having free will. Which I don't think you really meant.

    Late or not, thanks for joining the discussion.

    22 Mar 2006, 09:07

  135. A Student

    Many excellent points Colin and Patrick and thank you Joseph too. I like to phrase what I see as the most important point as:

    Why is our being saved entirely dependent on whether we make a correct assessment of ambiguous evidence, with clearly limited intellects, rather than say on our overall moral track record? I know the Bible says we're all sinners but that doesn't answer it: who do you think deserves to be saved a serial rapist murderer who converts and repents, or say Ghandi (a blasphemer)? Why is accepting Jesus' sacrifice so important? If rape and murder can be forgiven why not a persistent failure to recognise the signs of God's existence before death?

    Basically I think someone who does their best and understands and deeply regrets how imperfect that is, purely because that's what they think is right, is at least as worthy of Heaven as a Christian who does the same but also "loves God".

    We've been asking these and your other excellent questions for 135 posts and over a month now without an answer (although we have met some decent Christians along the way!) so I'm not overly optimistic, even if anyone else is still reading this. It would be nice though…

    22 Mar 2006, 21:49

  136. anonymous

    I think if jesus had never existed(man or god or abstract), we'd be in a judaic world rather than a druidaic one. www.convert.org. i guess the contrast is between one set rule and one set of rules.

    If the rapist/murderer had considered the world without his existence and seen that it was a better place, i think he has seen heaven.
    accepting jesus' sacrifice, from a 'religious' perspective, is a primer to the dissolution of self.(ish)
    —-recognising gods existence depends on god being an entity or concept we can concieve of (it must be similar to something?)

    With this in mind, here's my attempt at a pseudochristian portrait of Ghandi (nice. OT a little but religion is religion):

    An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
    What do I think of Western civilization? I think it would be a very good idea.
    I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
    I do not consider Hitler to be as bad as he is depicted. He is showing an ability that is amazing and seems to be gaining his victories without much bloodshed.

    Hitler killed five million [sic] Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.
    Just as a man would not cherish living in a body other than his own, so do nations not like to live under other nations, however noble and great the latter may be.
    When the missionary of another religion goes to them, he goes like a vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual merit that will distinguish him from those to whom he goes. He does however possess material goods which he promises to those who will come to his fold.
    It is my firm opinion that Europe does not represent the spirit of God or Christianity but the spirit of Satan. And Satan's successes are the greatest when he appears with the name of God on his lips.
    This freedom from all attachment is the realization of God as Truth.
    I would far rather that Hinduism died than untouchability lived.
    Hinduism insists on the brotherhood of not only all mankind but of all that lives.
    "The sayings of Muhammed are a treasure of wisdom not only for Muslims but for all of mankind."
    (When asked if he was a Hindu) Yes I am, I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.
    My whole soul rebels against the idea that Hinduism and Islam represent two antagonistic cultures and doctrines. To assent to such a doctrine is for me a denial of God.
    I came to the conclusion long ago … that all religions were true and also that all had some error in them, and whilst I hold by my own, I should hold others as dear as Hinduism. So we can only pray, if we are Hindus, not that a Christian should become a Hindu … But our innermost prayer should be a Hindu should be a better Hindu, a Muslim a better Muslim, a Christian a better Christian.
    A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion.
    (all from wikiquote)

    its incredibly rude to appropriate peoples words in place of my own but i think ghandi wouldnt mind: its really a question of what happens next.

    23 Mar 2006, 13:42

  137. Colin and Patrick (and anyone else for that matter!) , I think that much of this debate comes down to spin.

    To clarify, for example where you use the word "side effect", which has definite negative connotations, I would use "result". Equivalently, you are looking on our salvation being dependant on a simple choice as a bad thing. If God is truly a loving God, then surely he wants to "save" as many people as possible. Surely the fact that all is required is a simple choice is a good thing?
    This puts me very much in mind of a parable in Matthew, in which workers work for varying portions of a day, and yet all get paid for a full days work. The workers all complain that this isn't fair. And yet in actual fact no one lost out. They all gained.
    Salvation is similar, only the "reward" is incredibly huge – and it's the magnitude of eternal life that cannot fail to result in a love for the giver.

    On another point, no, love for God is not necessarily the cause for getting to heaven. I wasn't trying to argue that. Although, it can of course work that way round. One who is ignorant of the Gospel may have a love for their creator, which results in them discovering the Gospel. I know a story of a tribe in South America (I think) where a woman had had a startling dream about a man dying on a cross who would one day be the tribe's saviour. She told the whole tribe of this, and they all had a love for this unknown Saviour. Many years later, a missionary arrived at the village, and told the Gospel story. The woman instantly recognised Jesus as the man in their dream.
    So I believe it can work either way.

    Colin, could you explain this for me: "I also note that your definition of free will, by requiring the existence of sin, prohibits God from having free will." I don't see the connection.

    As for why is Christ the only route to salvation? I believe I explained why in my previous post. I think you're real issue is, "How is that fair?". I can only point you to the parable I mentioned earlier. Our human perception of fairness is probably somewhat different (and inferior) to that of God's.

    23 Mar 2006, 15:39

  138. I used the word 'result' anyway, so there! On a slightly less childish note, I still think that the way you put it suggests that either remaining sinless or accepting Jesus' sacrifice results in both going to heaven and loving God. Hence loving God does not cause going to heaven, they merely have a common cause. Or by your tribe example, loving God causes them to accept Jesus' sacrifice, which in turn results in them going to heaven.

    If God wants to save as many people as possible, why not save everyone? It doesn't seem fair to let some people off just because they believed the Bible. If God's sense of fairness is not the same as my own, why should I accept His standards? By analogy, if someone told me their God insisted it was right to kill babies on a Friday should I reject my previous moral standards?

    In addition, I do not accept the suggestion that sin requires punishment, much less the idea that the required punishment can then be shifted to someone else (ie Jesus). This seems petty and vindictive rather than loving and forgiving.

    On free will, you suggested that the capacity to sin was necessary for free will. God does not, so far as I can tell, have the capacity to sin, as He is perfect and good, and so on. Hence God cannot have free will.

    23 Mar 2006, 17:11

  139. anonymous

    what if there were 10 people going to get hit by a bus, and god ran in front of the bus causing it to swerve and kill 9 instead of 10.

    23 Mar 2006, 17:18

  140. My 'side-effect' was not meant as a negative term, so sorry if you read it like that. I don't feel like it's a particularly important point anyway.

    In the parable that Joseph mentioned, what happens to those people who are busy and can't work, or who don't hear or don't understand the guy asking for workers? They are the group that are treated unfairly (in reality, not in the parable), not those that get an infinite reward for finite effort.

    Presumably it is impossible for God to be infinitely merciful and infinitely just at the same time. So how did he choose how merciful/just he is? ie (I guess) how does Jesus decide who to stand up for at Judgement?

    23 Mar 2006, 18:23

  141. A Student

    Couldn't have put it better myself Colin and Patrick. I imagine Colin's "punishment" question will be answered by some by saying that "Hell" perhaps only means "ceasing to exist" rather than eternal torture. This is more plausible of course but the Bible very clearly and graphically talks about that still being a dreadful "punishment". Any talk of "punishment" (rather than help to change one's ways for example, or just forgiving and forgetting) at all is vindictive imho. Your extension of the question to why did Jesus have to suffer so much is excellent too as are all the other questions raised.

    anonymous: you probably raise some good points – I wish I could understand them! Could you make them less cryptic for me? Are you saying that Ghandi was really a Christian in some sense?

    23 Mar 2006, 20:58

  142. Colin, I completely agree with your first paragraph – the way to heaven is by Jesus sacrifice. Sorry if i get a little scrappy here but there are many questions being posed!!

    First to look at the parable again – I appreciate your concern for the non-workers Patrick! If you have a look at Matthew 20 you can see that the parable actually says the Farmer goes out into the town 5 times to get people to come and work for him – and wonders at the people that didn't go in search of work. So the idea is that both God (and by the Great Commission all Christians) are out there looking for "workers". And the landowner doesn't give up – he keeps going out looking for people. (It's also interesting to look at the use of foremen etc. but I'm not gonna turn this into a Bible study!!)

    Colin, you asked why God doesn't just save everyone? I personally believe this is to do with the issue of free will. Although I think the use of the phrase "free will" probably confuses the issue here. As for God having free will, I think that the concept I'm talking about here is fairly confined to creation rather than the creator. I realise that's a bit of a cop out, but I think there are many paradoxes when it comes to our human understanding of God (like the one bought up by anonymous), and sometimes we have to accept an inability to comprehend. (Comprehension would imply being on God's level and thus, well, being God!) (I'm happy to debate this later if you like, but I don't think that's the issue we're really talking about at the moment.
    So, why doesn't God just save everyone? I touched on this a little on my first post. But God is perfect, so we can only be with Him if we're free from sin. Sin cannot simply be ignored, and yes God is all powerful, but I think this comes down to the sort of "axioms of creation", if you will. The way things are – we have the ability to love and not to love, to experience spirituality, to choose, to feel real emotion – implies that we can separate ourselves from God, and the only way back is by sacrifice (not punishment!).
    The Old Testament outlines how (by sacrifices) humans could bridge the gap between themselves and God. But we sucked at it! So Jesus, in dying on the cross, doesn't "take the punishment" for our sin, but offers the sacrifice that can bring us back to God.

    So where does the whole hell and punishment thing fit in? I do not claim to be an expert on these things, but this is my understanding. For a human who is separated from God, they remain unseparated from God – in the realm "hell", a place completely separate from God. The Bible seems to say that this place is not simply anarchic, but that there is a devil who has dominion over it, and inflicts pain and suffering on its inhabitants. And this is where the resurrection comes in… Jesus didn't just offer the sacrifice for our sins, but in rising again, defeated death. So that hell no longer has any claim on an individual who takes Christ as their Lord.

    I'm aware I'm not answering all the questions, but I'd just like to comment on Colin's analogy of killing babies on a Friday. By fairness I didn't mean sense of morality! I believe that the "natural law" which seems inherent in humans has a grounding in the fact that we are made in God's image. By fairness I was hinting at the ideas of grace (getting something you don't deserve) and mercy (not getting something you do deserve). We seem to want to make all things equal and "fair" all the time. Whereas God has an amazing quality of offering the same amazing reward to anyone, no matter what!

    24 Mar 2006, 00:32

  143. Correction::
    "...is separated from God, they remain unseparated from God…"

    should read
    "...is separated from God, they remain separated from God…

    24 Mar 2006, 00:37

  144. Patrick Telford

    Colin and A. Student – I agree with most (if not all) of your points – I'm just going to respond to a few of Joseph's points I think as it's kinda late:

    So, in the parable (assuming the landowner has an infinite amount of money) why does he not choose to go out and give one denarius to all the people who did not come and work for him (e.g because they were not asked – there are an awful lot of people in the town and maybe young children who can't work in a vinyard). If his aim is generosity (or indeed grace) then that would seem to be the natural step, seeing as money doesn't seem to be a limiting factor. – If your answer to this is 'free will' or 'axioms of creation' then can you possibly explain more clearly how they apply?

    Joseph wrote: "So Jesus, in dying on the cross, doesn't "take the punishment" for our sin, but offers the sacrifice that can bring us back to God." – So why is Jesus' sacrifice so specific to those who 'know God'. Why does his death and resurrection not save everyone regardless of their spiritual position?

    Joseph wrote: "God has an amazing quality of offering the same amazing reward to anyone, no matter what!" – But just offering something isn't good enough, especially when you are omniscient. As I mentioned in a previous post, surely anyone who knew the offer was being made and understood what the offer meant would accept. So by only giving the reward to those who accept his 'offer', God is weeding out not the evil or the undeserving, but the ignorant or confused.

    Joseph also talked about our inability as humans to comprehend God. So if this lack of comprehension is leading to the lack of belief that damns us then are we not damned simply for being human?

    24 Mar 2006, 01:14

  145. A Student

    Well, it seems there are no answers for you Colin or Patrick. I'm always amazed how few Christians are willing to think hard about the foundations of their beliefs. After all this I can't help but wonder whether there's a reason for that. Thanks to all of the posters. I enjoyed this discussion.

    26 Mar 2006, 02:19

  146. Any time.

    26 Mar 2006, 14:33

  147. A Student, I hope that you're not naive enough to think that most Christians spend their time discussing their beliefs on blogs. Various people have recommended throughout this discussion that the only good way to discuss this sort of thing is face to face with a Christian. As for thinking about the foundations of their beliefs – there is one foundation, the Bible, and in it the news that Jesus died and rose again that we might once again be at one with our heavenly father. And all the Christians I know think hard about that all the time. It's why they go to Church, it's why they read their Bibles.

    Which brings me to my next point, the basis for my beliefs is the Bible and my experience of the outworking of the Bible, and my relationship with God in the real world. We can talk about free will and fairness and creation and the paradoxes we see in the idea of an omniscient being until the cows come home. And we'll never get anywhere – because there is no proof either way. So my question for each of you is this – why don't you believe the Bible? Not why don't you agree with bits of it, or why you have a problem with the people who do believe it – but why do you BELIEVE that the Bible isn't true. Because if it is, then it is the most important thing you will ever discuss, ever read, ever hear.

    Just to respond to a couple of Patrick's points…

    "So why is Jesus' sacrifice so specific to those who 'know God'?"
    I think I've answered this already, as individuals we are separated from God by our sin, as individuals we need to make atonement for our sin. The sacrifice has been made so we don't have to, but we still do need to accept it.

    "But just offering something isn't good enough… …God is weeding out not the evil or the undeserving, but the ignorant or confused."
    Nothing to do with Christianity is about weeding out anyone. It's about saving people who are separated from God. I don't think you can judge God as not being good enough either – firstly on the grounds that He is God. This comes back to my point about the "axioms of creation", or the way things are. If God could save everyone he would. But the world is made in such a way as to exclude us from salvation when we sin. And the only way back is by something paying the price. Why is the world this way? I do not believe that love could exist if it wasn't, or faith, or hope. The Bible talks about faith, hope and love as the building stones of creation.

    "So if this lack of comprehension is leading to the lack of belief that damns us then are we not damned simply for being human?"
    A lack of total comprehension of something doesn't exclude comprehension in any way. And it certainly doesn't exclude belief. I expect you do not, and probably cannot comprehend exactly how an atom works, but you still believe it exists, and can understand and observe many of the mechanisms by which it works.
    In fact I expect that a substantial portion of your ideas about the world are built on an assumption that we do not fully understand anything. But you can certainly understand enough about God to believe in Him.

    27 Mar 2006, 12:03

  148. Patrick Telford

    I wrote some of this and then came back and wrote more of it. Sorry if any of it is a bit confused (especially the bit on the definition of belief – not entirely sure I have that point clear in my own mind, but would still appreciate anyone elses input). Also apologies if it seems like the same questions are coming up again and again. If there is one thing I've found when arguing about religion it is that an answer from the other side is very rarely satisfying at all.

    Joseph wrote: "why don't you believe the Bible?" – In what sense? I believe the Bible exists. I believe it contains a lot of very useful historical and anthropomorphic information. I believe that a lot of the information in it is a good basis for living a happy and moral life. I don't believe that it is the word of God (or that it accurately describes events such as the creation of the earth). Why? Because I don't believe in God. How can I believe something is a divinely inspired text if I do not believe that there is such a thing as the divine.

    Joseph wrote: "Nothing to do with Christianity is about weeding out anyone. It's about saving people who are separated from God" – Ok, but I don't think that the phrase 'weeding out' was essential to my point. As far as I can see, those people who are not saved are those that are confused about or ignorant of God's message, not those who are 'evil' (although there may be some overlap). If this is true then fair enough, but it seems like a flawed way of choosing those people deserving of the gift of eternal life.

    Joseph wrote: "If God could save everyone he would. But the world is made in such a way as to exclude us from salvation when we sin." – But surely God is not bound by the rules of our world, our universe or indeed of anything. Did He specifically choose to make the world in such a way that he could not save everyone?

    Joseph wrote: "The sacrifice has been made so we don't have to, but we still do need to accept it." – So the sacrifice has been made. God knows that everyone would accept the sacrifice if they knowingly made the choice. Why does he require their actual 'acceptance' of the offer. What is it about them saying 'yes' that is special compared to someone who would say yes in a second but is never asked? Would you keep water from someone dying of dehydration just because they hadn't answered you when you asked if they wanted it? Would you even actually ask the question or would you just give them the water?

    Would you say that the process of 'belief' is the same in believing that God exists and believing that atoms exist?

    I would say that these are two different types of belief. Believing that atoms exist is simply a state of mind. It doesn't matter whether you believe or not, the scientific principles based on the existance of atoms still work as well for you as they do for anyone else. Ie. I believe that atoms exist, partially because I accept scientists generally know what they are talking about when it comes to the testable physical world, partially because I was brought up with the idea that atoms exist and partially because it doesn't matter whether I believe or not, nothing in my life would be any different if it turned out that atoms didn't in fact exist.

    Believing in God must surely be more than simply an acceptence of one side or other of a binary choice. Consider someone who accepts God exists, but has never actually thought about it (ie. they believe it because they have been told it is true). Does that person actually believe in God? Does God consider them to have accepted His sacrifice? (ie, when you talk about belief, do you mean simply acceptance of existence or something more?)

    27 Mar 2006, 20:49

  149. Patrick Telford

    I think 'anthropomorphic' should be 'anthropological' in the second paragraph. That'll teach me to use big words… :P

    27 Mar 2006, 20:52

  150. A Student

    Ah! Once more into the breach! Thanks for the thoughts gents. Of course I have now learnt that few Christians discuss their beliefs on the internet. Personally I agree they spend plenty of time memorising the Bible but it seems to me rather little time questioning it and asking how plausible it is. The idea that one can't explain these issues over the internet but only in person seems like a cop out to me tbh. Nevertheless I have talked about it in person with Christians but I thought it might be easier over the internet as at least then you'd have time to think about what seem to be difficult questions. I have even been to Church for most of my life, so I know a great many Christians, none of whom seem to have thought hard about these issues. In my experience they are very enthusiatic until they realise that you aren't going to be persuaded just because the Bible says its true, at which point they get defensive, frustrated and all Hell breaks loose.

    Regarding my own beliefs, I don't believe that the Bible isn't true – I'm still thinking about it. It has to be said I am leaning more towards atheism atm but I'm trying my best to give Christians a fair chance to answer my doubts. Really I'd rather focus on that and the issues we've raised so far, which can be turned into arguments against Christianity if you want such things imo.

    For instance lets assume God made us in His image. If this means anything surely it means our honest sense or right and wrong (not what we necessarily do but what we think we ought to do) is moulded on God's. Problem is, I disagree with God's sense of justice on several counts:

    1) If someone sins/trespasses against me I believe I ought to forgive them regardless of any sacrifice they make or don't make to encourage me to do so.

    2) I don't think its acceptable in any circumstances to torture someone for eternity in Hell.

    3) I think the method God uses to choose who is to be saved is arbitrary and unfair, given that one could lead as moral a life as any Christian, yet reasonably look at the evidence and decide God probably doesn't exist. Why differentiate between people on the basis of how good they are at interpreting ambiguous evidence?

    Patrick and you raise many other interesting points. My thoughts on the atoms issue are that not all scientists and philosophers believe atoms are really there, instead they could be a useful model of what Nature is really like. Which of these is true is difficult but not important to this debate imo as there is ample evidence that the atomic hypothesis is at least useful, which is all I would assert (as a scientist). There is rather less evidence that the Bible is true (in a Christian's sense, although it undoubtedly contains much wisdom).

    I'm still not clear why sin is necessary. God doesn't sin, presumably has free will and is omnipotent. Thus there is no conflict between the first two qualities so why are we not made more like Him?

    Anyway one final thought as to why neither side is convinced by the other's arguments. I suspect its due to the fact that the Christians' reply boils down to "this is what it says in the Bible". Whilst this shows the Bible is consistent, I am yet to see many replies as to why it is fair or plausible that don't presuppose that its true.

    28 Mar 2006, 01:09

  151. Hi all… just wanted to say that i will be writing a proper reply very soon but i'm away for a couple of days at the moment and haven't got the time to write the sort of substantial thing that's required… which was my main point about discussing on the internet – It's great in that you have time to think but equally you end up writing essays! More to come soon…

    29 Mar 2006, 10:13

  152. Right… I'm gonna just dive in and see what happens…

    Patrick wrote:
    bq. Joseph wrote: "why don't you believe the Bible?" – In what sense? I believe the Bible exists. I believe it contains a lot of very useful historical and anthropomorphic information. I believe that a lot of the information in it is a good basis for living a happy and moral life. I don't believe that it is the word of God (or that it accurately describes events such as the creation of the earth). Why? Because I don't believe in God. How can I believe something is a divinely inspired text if I do not believe that there is such a thing as the divine.

    Ok – but is that really a consistent opinion? If it exists, how do you judge which bits of it are true and which bits aren't? Is that based on which bits you feel are "fair"? Also – what basis do you have for doubting it? Why would someone have written it, and more importantly, why did anyone initially believe it, if it isn't true?

    Patrick wrote:
    bq.Joseph wrote: "Nothing to do with Christianity is about weeding out anyone. It's about saving people who are separated from God" – Ok, but I don't think that the phrase 'weeding out' was essential to my point. As far as I can see, those people who are not saved are those that are confused about or ignorant of God's message, not those who are 'evil' (although there may be some overlap). If this is true then fair enough, but it seems like a flawed way of choosing those people deserving of the gift of eternal life.

    No one deserves the gift of eternal life, we all fall short of the glory of God. The gift is given graciously to those who are at one with God. And there is no barrier to who can receive that gift. Surely the system would be more unfair if it was impossible for some "particularly evil" people to ever get to heaven? If the decision was based on how evil you'd been then there would be some kinda line drawn somewhere, which would clearly be "unfair" on the people who fall just short. As for those who are ignorant or confused about God's message – some of the onus there lies on Christians to explain, and intercede in prayer. I believe that we have a God who doesn't give up on anyone, but humans are the instruments of God's voice. At the end of the day, we are not individuals, it was not the fall of a man, but the fall of man, so we're in this together. In the words of U2, no man is an island, and eternity depends on man kinds ability to communicate with itself as well!

    Patrick wrote:
    bq. Joseph wrote: "If God could save everyone he would. But the world is made in such a way as to exclude us from salvation when we sin." – But surely God is not bound by the rules of our world, our universe or indeed of anything. Did He specifically choose to make the world in such a way that he could not save everyone?

    God chose to make the world in such a way that we are in his image – and hence we can choose. Can choose to be with Him or not be with Him. It is that ability to choose which also enables us to love, to do all the things that make us human. And it by definition gives us the ability to not believe in God.

    tbc…

    04 Apr 2006, 18:06

  153. Patrick wrote:
    bq. Joseph wrote: "The sacrifice has been made so we don't have to, but we still do need to accept it." – So the sacrifice has been made. God knows that everyone would accept the sacrifice if they knowingly made the choice. Why does he require their actual 'acceptance' of the offer. What is it about them saying 'yes' that is special compared to someone who would say yes in a second but is never asked? Would you keep water from someone dying of dehydration just because they hadn't answered you when you asked if they wanted it? Would you even actually ask the question or would you just give them the water?

    If we had knowledge of the outcomes of every decision we made, I'm sure that the world would be a very different place – it would in effect be a world without free will, or at least meaningful will. By removing a person from the linear nature of time, you effectively remove their ability to have will – at least if your assumption that everyone would choose God if they had the necessary knowledge is correct! This is the issue of faith. If the decision to follow God was made for us (i.e. presented in such a way that it wasn't a decision) we would not actually be in a relationship with Him. The decision to drink water saves a dehydrated man's body, and it isn't a decision to drink because it's a no brainer, you're body is programmed to drink it. The decision to accept Gods sacrifice saves a Godless man's soul, and it is a decision because our souls are concerned with making decisions. If there was no decision it wouldn't be a soul.

    Patrick wrote:
    bq. Believing in God must surely be more than simply an acceptence of one side or other of a binary choice. Consider someone who accepts God exists, but has never actually thought about it (ie. they believe it because they have been told it is true). Does that person actually believe in God? Does God consider them to have accepted His sacrifice? (ie, when you talk about belief, do you mean simply acceptance of existence or something more?)

    Believing God is real isn't enough for salvation – even the devil believes God is real! In the same way that believing that the Bible exists isn't the same as believing that it is right. The only way to heaven is through Jesus – the way, the truth and the light. That doesn't mean believing He is real, but actually accepting His sacrifice, and commiting yourself to His service. It's about letting go of the steering wheel in your life and handing it to God – cos you believe He'll do a better job of steering it than you will.

    tbc…

    04 Apr 2006, 18:07

  154. A Student wrote:
    bq. …lets assume God made us in His image. If this means anything surely it means our honest sense or right and wrong (not what we necessarily do but what we think we ought to do) is moulded on God's. Problem is, I disagree with God's sense of justice on several counts:

    1) If someone sins/trespasses against me I believe I ought to forgive them regardless of any sacrifice they make or don't make to encourage me to do so.
    2) I don't think its acceptable in any circumstances to torture someone for eternity in Hell.
    3) I think the method God uses to choose who is to be saved is arbitrary and unfair, given that one could lead as moral a life as any Christian, yet reasonably look at the evidence and decide God probably doesn't exist. Why differentiate between people on the basis of how good they are at interpreting ambiguous evidence?

    1) Yep, I agree. But you're not perfect. The situation with God is somewhat different. Maybe if God was interacting with some other entity on his level, that wouldn't be an issue. But when it comes to us imperfect and tainted creatures coming into the presence of the perfect creator of the Universe, that's gonna be a bit of a different situation.

    2) Neither do I, I don't think God's exactly relishing that idea either – He's not the one doing the torturing. In fact, He hates the idea of it so much, that He sent His only Son (who is not an imperfect and tainted creature) to make it so we wouldn't have to be. That's a properly amazing sacrifice!

    3) This is very similar to what Patrick wrote earlier.

    As for why sin is necessary… Yes God has free will and doesn't sin, but he's also omnipotent – as you pointed out. We're most certainly not omnipotent. We screw up. If we were omnipotent, I think things would be a little complicated. Since God is omnipotent he has the power to choose to be all good.

    04 Apr 2006, 18:08

  155. Patrick Telford

    Cool. Lots of good points Joseph: My response got a bit long-winded, so I've put it online here, instead of making this page even longer:

    link

    05 Apr 2006, 00:34

  156. A Student

    Thanks Guys. I haven't much to add to Patrick's excellent reply and I don't want to distract anyone from answering it. Regarding point (1) above my point was that God shouldn't require a sacrifice (in this case someone spending about a week in almost unimaginable agony) in order to forgive any person – imo saying sorry and doing your best should be enough. It also doesn't make sense to me that someone else can make the sacrifice for us, it seems to defeat the purpose. I was not however questioning whether God is entitled to judge us. Regarding sin, we don't need to be omnipotent in order not to. All thats needed is that we value doing the "right" thing more than we do. God could have made us more like Him in that regard, it seems to me. In any case why couldn't He have made us omnipotent? Finally why didn't he just make us perfect angels in Heaven straight away? On point (2) I have to say your answer sounds like a huge cop out: who created Hell? Surely not a loving and forgiving God.

    I was interested to read that you agree Christians have an onus to explain their beliefs to unbelievers. Don't you think the lack of such effort here is disgraceful? Given our souls are at stake I would have thought it was a sin not to answer the questions posed here in good "faith" (let alone the failure to advertise to muslims say – how many missionaries are there in Iran?). I can already hear your answer so I'll say again that I've been to Church for most of my life and tried a variety of them; never were these questions even mentioned. I've also asked a few Christians directly and it was clear they had never thought about them at all – despite them going to Bible classes once a week, praying every morning and taking detailed notes of every hour-long sermon we had; these were Christians at a prestigious university after all! Something is seriously wrong when intelligent people devote so much time to a life-changing philosophy without asking themselves the most obvious critical questions about it.

    05 Apr 2006, 04:26

  157. A Student

    Is a response on its way, Joseph? I hope we can get to the bottom of this interesting debate…

    10 Apr 2006, 20:59

  158. Ok, yet another installment…

    Patrick you said that "doubt should be the base state" – that seems to me to be contrary to human nature. Children believe naturally in lots of stuff. Monsters under the bed, fairies, the ability to fly, the all powerfulness of parents…
    If doubt is the basis then that instantly makes any sort of relationship based on trust very tricky. Surely you're always going to have to validate everything anyone says.

    I'm not gonna go through all the religious books you've listed and argue for each one, but responding with that question doesn't actually answer mine… Each of those books has reasons for people to believe in them, whether that's cultural relevance, a need to believe in something, or whatever. My question is – what about the bible? What do you think happened?

    I don't know what God's plan is for babies who die young, but I trust that it is just and fair and good. The barriers that exist between humans and God are all of human origin. In Jesus we have the perfect bridge between us and God, and God's not going to stop anyone crossing it, in fact He wants everyone to cross it! As for the fallibility of Christians in communicating the message… If Christians live in the power of the Holy Spirit, and managed to do everything God has planned for them, then many would come to know God through them. But the failure of an individual Christian to succesfully communicate doesn't make them accountable to another human. If a Christian brings someone into a relationship with God then that's brilliant, and if someone draws a Christian away from God that's terrible. But this is all down to the fall of man – not the fall of a man. We're in it together.

    Patrick talks about God revealing himself as the most important thing that could happen. God has revealed Himself to me – but it depends what you mean by revealed exactly. I cannot present you with a perfect argument explaining that God exists. No one can. And yet I am certain that God exists. That's faith. In the Bible, faith, hope and love exist as a trio, and I think they sum up "what it is that makes us human" very well. Suppose I could convince you beyond any doubt (your "base state") that the God in which I believe is real. That knowledge would come with an awful lot of understanding and realisation about God that would just blow your mind. The phrase "God-fearing" springs to mind. It would leave you in a state that excluded faith, excluded hope, and excluded love. You cannot have faith because you know that God is real. You cannot have hope because you know exactly the way the universe is, and you are intrinsically tied into obeying God's law. What exactly would there be to hope for? There would be nothing to hope for, because the only thing that actually matters would be done and dusted in your mind. And love? Love is a voluntary action, and if you were certain that God existed, loving Him would not be voluntary, so would not be love. Maybe submission to an authority, but not love.
    There is a very big difference between faith based on our experience of God, and the certain proof that you seem to be looking for.

    You said "Pity God doesn't let some people know he's there until it's too late." How do you know? Maybe He does. That's a fairly certain statement to make if you exist in a base state of doubt.

    …..

    11 Apr 2006, 12:02

  159. ….

    Another point raised is balancing infinite justice and mercy. This is all tied up in A Student's questions about sacrifice. Justice means that the price must be paid for a wrong action – or a sin. Mercy means not having to pay the price.
    Why is there a price? Sacrifices are outlined in Leviticus in the Bible. I believe there are two purposes… One is the idea of atonement with God. On some spiritual level, a sacrifice (a good, clean, perfect sacrifice) needs to be made so that we can stand before a perfect God. In Leviticus, things like unblemished lambs are worthy sacrifices. But yes – this does all seem fairly random. The second purpose is to keep God's people in a living relationship with Him. If all that's required to get back to God is a quick word of sorry, then you very quickly have issues with wilful sin (sinning because you know you can be forgiven) and with forgetting that you need to say sorry at all. The Israelites were a subsistence nation, so giving something like a lamb to God was a very meaningful thing – it was very valuable to them. So in giving that sacrifice it also says they trust God to provide for them. It is a reminder of the pain of sin, and the hurt that God experiences when we separate ourselves from Him. We are creatures of habit, as I'm sure you're aware, and the ritual of sacrifice is a good physical way of keeping God in the habits of our lives.
    Ok – so that's justice. What about mercy? Mercy is not getting what we deserve. i.e. we should have to make that sacrifice. And, we should have to suffer if we fail to make that sacrifice. But we don't because an ultimate, clean, unblemished sacrifice was made for us – by God. That's mercy! And it's coupled with justice because the price wasn't just abolished, it was paid in full! And the ritual element of sacrifice that we need as humans, that keeps us in touch with God in our fickle lives, is the act of receiving communion. Only now it is an act of remembering the sacrifice that is already made for us.

    I anticipate an answer: but that's not infinite mercy cos it's only given to those who receive it. But it is infinite. In mathematics infinity isn't all encompassing, there's always more. His mercy is infinite. If he gave that mercy to everyone whether or not they had faith, then that is equivalent to having no faith, no hope, and no love. Because there is no need for them.

    ….

    11 Apr 2006, 12:02

  160. …...

    As for percentages of people who go to Hell… I don't know, and I don't think it's an important question to ask. I do know that it hurts God, and I do know that the reason Jesus has not come again yet is so that more people can be saved and go to Heaven. That's my focus.

    A student, you asked why God didn't just make us perfect angels in Heaven straight away. Well – Christians don't become perfect angels when they go to heaven. You remain human, in a new body. Angels are a different type of being. Your question basically says, "why create Earth in the first place?". I don't know. I'm not God. I expect because in Genesis 1 everything He did, He saw "it was good". Creating a place where goodness, faith, hope and love can abound seems like a good idea to me.

    Finally, A student, your last paragraph troubles me a bit. Yes Christians absolutely have an onus to explain their beliefs. It's called the great commission. Jesus told his disciples to go into Judea, Samaria and even unto the ends of the Earth to make the gospel known. The fact that you think there is a lack of effort is interesting. I know hundreds and hundreds of people who think, pray and act on this every single day. There are huge events and festivals organised, and there are Churches devoted to outreach. There are missionaries all over the world** and there have been for thousands of years. And no – it's not enough! But I know people who devote their whole lives to it. Sadly the society in which we live makes the job much harder. Trying to explain your beliefs to someone else is often seen as harrassment. And there are people doing bad things "in the name of Jesus." But this is a spiritual war.
    As for people who "devote themselves to a life-changing philosophy without asking themselves the most obvious critical questions about it" – well, these questions are the ones that are obvious to you. I expect there are other questions that are more important or obvious to them. But these are also virtually impossible questions to answer, which is where it comes down to faith. I don't think a dissatisfaction with that answer is enough to dismiss the whole idea of Christianity.

    I use the internet most days of my life, and it's brilliant. But i don't understand fully how it works, and I certainly don't ask fundamental questions about it's existence. This is obviously a silly example, but my point is that some people do have to ask the fundamental things about the internet, because it's important to them. And others of us are happy to use it.

    ** You asked how many missionaries are there in Iran. If you were in Iran as a missionary I expect you wouldn't be particularly in to advertising your presence in statistics for fear of, well, not being allowed to be there any more. And there are Christians who devote their lives to telling Muslims about the gospel. I've met them.

    11 Apr 2006, 12:02

  161. Patrick Telford

    Ok – my responses are here

    11 Apr 2006, 14:24

  162. Patrick Telford

    Really need to learn how to use these comment threads… :S

    link

    11 Apr 2006, 14:25

  163. I've been quitet for a while, mostly because I largely agree with Patrick. To keep the length down a little I'll try not to repeat too much of what he's said.

    Doubt is very important, because without it you can't change your mind, no matter what new evidence you might discover. This includes doubting both God's existence and his non-existence (although not necessarily equally).

    That brings me to my second point: I don't consider faith to be desirable; I would much rather have knowledge and understanding than mere conviction. Some degree of belief is necessary in order to get anything done, but I don't see any reason to celebrate it.

    Joseph, you say that if I were to be certain of God's existence I would be unable to love him. This seems rather absurd to me, as I am pretty well convinced by the existence of the people around me, but don't seem to have any problems loving them.

    As for justice and mercy, I don't believe in them. I don't think people 'deserve' to be punished for doing things wrong any more than my computer 'deserves' to be punished for starting slowly, or whatever. Which isn't to say that I'm entirely against punishment, as it can be useful as a means of deterring and preventing people from doing wrong, but that is merely practical, not just.

    Because I don't believe in justice, I don't believe in mercy either, at least not in the sense of not carrying out a 'just' punishment. And of course I don't believe in the necessity of sacrifices either.

    You also say that you don't know why God made the universe and that, to me, is a problem. As I said, I value undersanding, so if I don't have any hope of understanding God, I have very little interest in Him.

    13 Apr 2006, 14:33

  164. A Student

    Excellent points Colin and Patrick and thanks for bearing with us Joseph! When I berated Christians' lack of effort I meant here on this site: its a bit unfair for you to be left on your own I think. It is only what I would expect though given my experience of asking difficult questions to Christians: they are initially very enthusiastic to explain the Bible to you. When you then try to assess how plausible it is they become very defensive and give up. This is precisely what's happened here, as you can see. This thread is a textbook example in fact.

    I don't understand how you are so convinced Christianity is true. If it isn't too personal would you mind explaining it to me? You talk about doubt not being the natural "base state" but surely it is? If I told you Jesus, Prophet Mohammed and Santa Claus were in a homosexual menage a trois presumably you would initially be rather sceptical? For those of us who haven't had any religious experiences can you understand why we use plausibility (amongst other considerations) to decide whether or not to believe? One other thing, we are not looking for any "certain proof", just any good reasons to believe. There is some doubt in any belief (will the Sun really rise tomorrow?), but some beliefs are more rational than others.

    Regarding the idea that hope, faith and love are important and dependent on us not understanding (at least for sure) how the universe is or that God exists, I wonder (as someone else did) can God experience those things? If not then is He a lesser being than us in that regard? If He can then there is no contradiction between understanding the universe and experiencing those qualities. If you think His omnipotence or other qualities are important why aren't we more like Him there too?

    I'm rather troubled by your idea that babies who die young might suffer or lose out due to other men's faults. This ties in with the view that one human had to make a sacrifice for us all to be saved. To me, using my hopefully God-given conscience, this seems hopelessly unfair. How can I be responsible for other people's faults, especially Adam's?

    Also I still feel the original question of "why judge people solely on their (God-given, after all) ability to decipher ambiguous evidence rather than on some moral criteria, or not at all?" hasn't been addressed. Finally I still can not imagine a loving God creating Hell. This alone renders the whole theology implausible to me, but perhaps I am missing something?

    13 Apr 2006, 23:14

  165. I've also been quiet for a while, because everything I think about posting gets counter-argued by another part of my brain.

    I also don't believe that being 100% sure of God's existence would prevent us from loving him. Even if you know God exists, that doesn't mean that you know what he's like. The argument makes more sense if you replace "being 100% sure of God's existence" with "completely understanding God", in my opinion.

    I agree that it's a bit unfair that there's only one Christian (and occasionally me) arguing against 3 non-Christians, but I don't think that's because everyone else ran away after the "difficult questions" started being asked. I've never really seen that happen, but maybe that's just because I've taken a less unbelieving position.

    Also I still feel the original question of "why judge people solely on their (God-given, after all) ability to decipher ambiguous evidence rather than on some moral criteria, or not at all?" hasn't been addressed.

    I doubt you're ever going to get an answer to this that you're satisfied with. For me, the lack of an answer to that question isn't enough to disregard the possibility of Christianity being true.

    Finally I still can not imagine a loving God creating Hell.

    Can you accept that not everyone deserves to go to Heaven? The selection process is not relevant.

    If you can, then you agree that people have to go either to Heaven or to Hell. Since not everyone gets to go to Heaven, some people must go to Hell, despite how saddening it might be to God. Personally, I don't see how ceasing to exist is such a terrible fate, since that is presumably what you believe will happen anyway.

    By the way, I've posted another entry on Christianity. This one is more of a poll than a debate.

    14 Apr 2006, 02:36

  166. A Student

    Great to hear from you again Alan! Personally I'm afraid I don't understand what difference it makes if Joseph said "completely understanding God". God surely understands Himself completely yet presumably is superior in every way to us. There is therefore no contradiction with (eg) experiencing as loving a life as any Christian whilst understanding God completely. If this relies on some other quality God has why aren't we more like Him there too?

    I admire your open-mindedness Alan but I think its pretty clear the early Christians (in this thread I mean) were not interested in thinking critically about their beliefs, only in converting us through propaganda. When it became clear that the former was a prerequisite of the latter they gave up. A few made decent attempts but most ran away. This is what often happens when you ask these questions to Christians, in my experience. Fortunately for us Joseph has more interest in thinking and more stamina!

    Regarding my question, I suspect you are right than no one can answer it but I still honestly hope somebody tries! Again you're right that it doesn't disprove Christianity at all. However it does make it less plausible, especially since God is supposed to have given us our consciences – why then would He give us the "wrong" moral code (so that we would think Him unjust and arbitrary)? Given that I can think of very few, if any, good reasons to believe and lots of things about Christianity that seem implausible, it seems the only rational choice is not to believe. Of course there is always the possibility that Christianity is true but I don't think a loving God would penalise me for being too stupid to realise it. Frankly I think its just as likely He will reward atheists for listening to their God-given consciences and logic over those who accept something for no good reason simply because it made them feel good or who hoped to gain from their choice.

    The issue of whether Hell exists in its traditional form or not is a separate issue in my book. I believe it can not because its too contradictory and implausible for a loving God to create a place of infinite pain and suffering perhaps with no hope of anyone ever leaving. Your solution that "Hell" simply means ceasing to exist solves that problem imo and I was really addressing the point to Joseph who seems to take the more conventional view on it. Your solution comes with its own drawbacks of course: most Christians do not believe it (perhaps for a good reason, although with them I'm not so sure!) and I think the Bible does give the impression that it is a place of suffering and pain. Jesus clearly uses imagery associated with suffering and even your Dad concedes its still a "punishment" but all talk of "punishment" brings us back to the starting point – its vindictive imho. Talk of "sadly being forced to reject candidates for Heaven on the basis of their unsuitability" is reasonable but rejecting people to "punish" them gives the game away. Even if some people are unsuitable why did God create them in the first place if He's omnipotent, omniscient etc? Free will doesn't answer it – they made their choices on the basis of their God-given personalities.

    14 Apr 2006, 22:15

  167. "Excellent points Colin and Patrick and thanks for bearing with us Joseph! When I berated Christians' lack of effort I meant here on this site: its a bit unfair for you to be left on your own I think."

    Well, I decided to come stick my oar in. Arguing is fun.

    "It is only what I would expect though given my experience of asking difficult questions to Christians: they are initially very enthusiastic to explain the Bible to you. When you then try to assess how plausible it is they become very defensive and give up. This is precisely what's happened here, as you can see. This thread is a textbook example in fact."

    Ok, never a good thing. Personally, I think the Bible is true, and that I can, if not prove it, at least give some sensible evidence for it.

    "I don't understand how you are so convinced Christianity is true. If it isn't too personal would you mind explaining it to me? You talk about doubt not being the natural "base state" but surely it is? …... There is some doubt in any belief (will the Sun really rise tomorrow?), but some beliefs are more rational than others."

    I believe for…lots of reasons. Faith (I don't have much. There's this bit in the Bible about having faith the size of a mustard seed…I think I'd struggle to get to that level most days) is a reason, but it's not the only one. I think I started out with a conviction in my head. I felt God speaking to me, and felt something of His love. Believe me, I was fairly convinced! Then as I've got older, I've got much more interested in ratifying faith and 'proving' it, as far as you can (apologetics and stuff). And to my surprise I found that even when I did my best to find stuff to disprove the existence of God, or anything like that (or my personal favourite, evidence on the Gospels and the resurrection) that the evidence seemed to be pointing to Christianity. Which seemed rather incredible. Even I know that my faith looks really weird from the outside. But I believe it anyway.

    "Regarding the idea that hope, faith and love are important and dependent on us not understanding (at least for sure) how the universe is or that God exists, I wonder (as someone else did) can God experience those things? If not then is He a lesser being than us in that regard? If He can then there is no contradiction between understanding the universe and experiencing those qualities. If you think His omnipotence or other qualities are important why aren't we more like Him there too?"

    I don't really understand the question, and I suspect even if I did, I wouldn't be able to answer it. Sorry!

    "I'm rather troubled by your idea that babies who die young might suffer or lose out due to other men's faults. This ties in with the view that one human had to make a sacrifice for us all to be saved. To me, using my hopefully God-given conscience, this seems hopelessly unfair. How can I be responsible for other people's faults, especially Adam's?"

    I'm not entirely sure about the whole babies/small children thing. Really, I have no clear idea.

    "Also I still feel the original question of "why judge people solely on their (God-given, after all) ability to decipher ambiguous evidence rather than on some moral criteria, or not at all?" hasn't been addressed. Finally I still can not imagine a loving God creating Hell. This alone renders the whole theology implausible to me, but perhaps I am missing something?"

    I think the important thing is…choice. (Having a Matrix moment, but bear with me) …

    15 Apr 2006, 10:35


  168. I believe that you have to have a choice. We're imperfect. God is perfect. Moral criteria wouldn't work because, well, where do you draw the line?
    Is stealing ok?
    What if you're stealing because you're starving to death?
    What if the person you stole from is also starving to death?
    It's about perfection, which we can't achieve on our own, hence the Judaic tradition of sacrificing animals. The sins get symbolically transferred.

    We have a choice. We choose to accept God (I believe he gives us a hand with that one too. He certainly gives me faith when I don't have any, but that's for another time) or we choose to reject him. If we accept him then we spend eternity with him.

    If we reject him we spend eternity without him. I think that is what hell is. Just…where God is not. And since I also believe that every good thing comes from God, then hell is going to be a place where no good thing exists.

    I'm probably wrong, in any number of these things, but there we go. Phew.

    I hope I was a little bit of help.

    15 Apr 2006, 10:35

  169. Hey Jill – Welcome to the discussion :) – Just a couple of responses…

    "Moral criteria wouldn't work because, well, where do you draw the line?" – I agree. But surely setting any kind of criteria for going to Heaven vs. Hell draws a line. Where do you draw the line at the moment? On whether someone 'knows' God or not? Why is that any less arbitrary than whether someone has lived a moral life?

    "We have a choice. We choose to accept God (I believe he gives us a hand with that one too. He certainly gives me faith when I don't have any, but that's for another time) or we choose to reject him." – Who would knowingly choose to reject God? So if someone does reject God, it must be because of ignorance or confusion, not because they are making an actual decision to reject him. So why does that count as a rejection, given that under different circumstances, the same person would have accepted God wholeheartedly.

    Also, when you say that God 'gives you faith' when you don't have any, do you mean He makes a decision to act and do something (or say something) in your life that increases your faith? Why do you think He does this to some people and not others (e.g those who die with no faith, or having lost their faith and therefore presumably go to hell)?

    "And since I also believe that every good thing comes from God, then hell is going to be a place where no good thing exists." – Surely everything comes from God, and therefore Hell is a place where nothing exists?

    15 Apr 2006, 13:34

  170. "Moral criteria wouldn't work because, well, where do you draw the line?" – I agree. But surely setting any kind of criteria for going to Heaven vs. Hell draws a line. Where do you draw the line at the moment? On whether someone 'knows' God or not? Why is that any less arbitrary than whether someone has lived a moral life?

    Perfection, I suppose, is where you draw the line. Or rather, as my lines are all wobbly, where God draws the line. I believe that believing in Jesus means that you…it's difficult to explain. It's not that you become perfect, because it's really really obvious that Christians still sin in heinous and rather inventive ways. It's more that…your sins are forgiven. All of them: past, present, future. Or maybe it would be better to put it like this: the line is drawn between those who ask for forgiveness, and those who don't want forgiveness.

    "We have a choice. We choose to accept God (I believe he gives us a hand with that one too. He certainly gives me faith when I don't have any, but that's for another time) or we choose to reject him." – Who would knowingly choose to reject God? So if someone does reject God, it must be because of ignorance or confusion, not because they are making an actual decision to reject him. So why does that count as a rejection, given that under different circumstances, the same person would have accepted God wholeheartedly.

    Why must it be ignorance or confusion to reject God? Why can't it be for another reason, like…cost? "Becoming a Christian? No thanks, the cost outweighs the benefits." Like, for example, being vilified for following Christ. Having people misunderstand your intentions. People throwing you in jail for believing, or for telling others what you believe. Being interrogated, tortured even? Killed, in some places?

    Or even in this country, where nobody is likely to shoot you for being a Christian, being picked on, mocked, looked down on, thought of as stupid and short-sighted. Thought of as narrow, unloving, unyielding, unfair. Being seen as the 'conservative evangelical' stereotype rather than as a person with a mind of your own?

    Is God worth all that? Well, I reckon so. After all, as I understand it, he went through all but the last part of the above for my sake.

    Besides, what about doing the wrong thing on a smaller scale? Not so big as the whole subject of religion…For example, if I knew it was wrong to…steal, say, but did it anyway. I would have known the consequences, I would have known what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyway. Why do people intentionally do the wrong thing?

    Also, when you say that God 'gives you faith' when you don't have any, do you mean He makes a decision to act and do something (or say something) in your life that increases your faith? Why do you think He does this to some people and not others (e.g those who die with no faith, or having lost their faith and therefore presumably go to hell)?

    That probably wasn't explained terribly well. I can't possibly speak for anyone else, but I know for me that quite often I ask for a sign, get one, and then entirely ignore it. No, it can't possibly mean that, no, that's wrong, can't possibly be it. Nope. But I did ask, and if you ask and you want an answer, God will give you one. Not necessarily the one you wanted, or in the way you want, but he does tend to answer. Sometimes, though, we don't want to know.

    Like I said, though, I don't really know. But it's something I do, so maybe other people do it too.

    "And since I also believe that every good thing comes from God, then hell is going to be a place where no good thing exists." – Surely everything comes from God, and therefore Hell is a place where nothing exists?

    Interesting. I never thought of it like that. Could be. Everything that is bad is a corruption of something that is good, I think. Not entirely sure, but that's a very interesting thought. I'll have to think about it, thanks. :)

    15 Apr 2006, 14:46

  171. A Student

    Welcome Jill and thanks for your input. Its good to have another Christian to "grill".

    maybe it would be better to put it like this: the line is drawn between those who ask for forgiveness, and those who don't want forgiveness.

    I can't help thinking you've only gone round in circles here! As I said ages ago, I can understand why a good way to "draw the line" might be for people to be obliged to try their best and to understand and deeply regret how bad even that still is. However we can't specifically ask God for forgiveness without judging that He probably exists, which is the arbitrary bit imho. There is no reason to reward/save people on the basis of how good they are at making that difficult assessment of the ambiguous evidence – after all God made us this stupid in the first place. Hence this "line" is totally arbitrary and goes against our own God-given consciences!

    Now you may say that some people reject God because they are weak and persecuted and bullied etc. This is certainly true but so long as there exists one person, past, present or future who isn't saved purely because he genuinely didn't believe that God exists, then God is unjust and hence contradictory and implausible. Surely not all muslims really believe Christianity but are too scared to admit it? Surely not all atheists are really Christians secretly but are too addicted to the sins of modern life to follow their consciences? Frankly the idea of being a Mormon with multiple wives sounds quite appealing, or even a fundamentalist with a suitably submissive (but alas, single) wife…

    You're right that there are problems with all criteria that could be used to judge people. To me this suggests that either God saves everyone or He doesn't exist in the Christian form.

    PS Patrick could argue that anyone who rejects God does so only because they actually doubt His existence and that when you are being persecuted it is no longer helpful to believe, whereas before it may have helped you deal with life in some way. If anyone had complete certainty they would never be tempted to reject Him so all rejection perhaps stems from ignorance. While this is perhaps true, I ignored it because its not necessary to make the point. We only need to establish that one person in history was genuinely ignorant of God's existence but lived a life comparable to any Christian's in moral virtue and regret for the inevitable sins committed.

    15 Apr 2006, 15:39

  172. "Or maybe it would be better to put it like this: the line is drawn between those who ask for forgiveness, and those who don't want forgiveness" – So what about those who want forgiveness but don't ask? Becasue they are scared to, or don't know how to, or have asked in the wrong way and got no response, previously. Is it assumed by an omniscient God that they don't want forgiveness, just becasue they haven't asked, even if he can see that they do want it?

    "Why must it be ignorance or confusion to reject God? Why can't it be for another reason, like…cost?" – Surely cost only applies if you don't realise the value of something. This is eternal life we're talking about, so surely no price is too high. So there is no reason to shy away from the cost unless you are ignorant about what it is that is being offered.

    *"Besides, what about doing the wrong thing on a smaller scale? Not so big as the whole subject of religion…For example, if I knew it was wrong to…steal, say, but did it anyway. I would have known the consequences, I would have known what I was doing was wrong, but I did it anyway. Why do people intentionally do the wrong thing?"* – Yay. I like analogies. Take your stealing situation and scale it back up to the religious scale: You are committing a crime that has an infinite penalty (losing eternal life). But you know that that is the penalty, and you understand that what you are doing will incur that penalty then why would you deliberately do it (not believe in God)?

    The only reason for commiting the crime (of disbelief) is if you do not know these things, because you are ignorant of them, or you don't understand them, becuase you are confused. If you can think of another reason that you would incur an infinite penalty, then tell me, as I like this argument and am interested in criticisms of it.

    15 Apr 2006, 17:59

  173. On forgiveness, well… (please forgive me, I'm struggling to express myself clearly) there's always got to be a degree of faith, I think, because if it were blindingly obvious that what I believe is true then there would be no choice in the matter, you'd have to be stupid not to believe it. That's not quite free will.

    And while I believe that you can provide sensible and ratifiable and accurate evidence (so far as it goes) for Christianity, taking into account the reliability of the Gospels, the tendency of people to tell the truth or lie, the motives of those involved, non-Christian sources which are available, yadda yadda yadda (as seen in books like The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel for example) you have to examine the evidence and come to your own conclusion. People don't want to be wrong but sometimes we are. I believe if you look for evidence you can find it, but maybe that's just me.

    Another analogy (I really like analogies, though this one has its limitations)

    You don't know what colour the sky is when it's not covered by clouds. And I come along and I tell you it's blue when it's not covered by clouds.

    Ok, you think, how likely am I to be right, how much do I know about these things? And then I tell you about a book where other people claim that the sky is blue. They've been widely persecuted for holding this belief, as many other people are convinced that the sky is green, or indeed that there is no sky, only the clouds. But the book claims the sky is blue regardless.

    To really know whether or not it's true, you're going to have to do one or both of the following things:
    1) read the book and discover why they said the sky is blue.
    2) stand outside for yourself with a colour chart and have a very careful look.

    In response to your other question (well, I think I messed the last one up a bit), I only have my personal opinion on (yay! Analogy!) why people steal when they know it's wrong. Or more generally, why people sin.

    And my opinion is simply this: sin is fun. A person may know it's wrong to steal, may know the penalty if they get caught, may know if they saved up their money then they could buy the thing they want so much.

    But sin is fun. They want the thrill of stealing, or they don't want to wait and save up their money, or they don't think the consequences are so dire as everyone keeps saying, or they've convinced themselves that it doesn't matter because they won't get caught.

    People sin because we're a bit thick that way. We'd rather take the easy way out and the short-term gain, instead of (as it were) saving up to buy what we want. People are kinda dumb. But we always have a choice. We're not stupid enough to plead ignorance. If we get caught stealing then we can't claim we don't know it's wrong, and we can't avoid the punishment because 'it was only a bit of fun, didn't mean any harm'. The fact is, by stealing they did harm others and so that is the penalty.

    On a bigger scale, people (in theory) generally know the whole thing about sin, and how you should ask God to forgive your sins and how you should try not to sin.

    But, like I said, sin is fun. the consequences are a wrench, but the actual sinning bit can be a lot of fun. So maybe you do what I did for a few years and convince yourself that it doesn't matter because you're a good person, right? Or you do what a friend of mine did and convince yourself that it's all made up, really. There's no such thing as God, all that other stuff? Just coincidence. Miraculous healings? Placebo effect. Jesus stuff? Made up. No way you can prove it. And we carry on screwing up our lives because although in theory we know it's a bad idea, we're having too much fun to think about it. Think about it later instead.

    15 Apr 2006, 19:18

  174. I felt I should add an…add-on. As I have unfortunate tendencies to horribly offend people with almost no effort (and almost always no intention)

    The latter part of my last comment pertains only to people who, like in the analogy, know stealing is wrong but do it anyway, rather than those who don't know, etc.

    And if you are heartily offended by anything I said, well…I apologise in advance. I probably didn't mean it like that.

    15 Apr 2006, 19:48

  175. A Student

    Don't worry about offending us Jill. I think the thin-skinned were weeded out a while ago. About God's criterion for forgiveness, I still don't think you've explained why its fair to judge people solely on whether they answer one apparently arbitrary question correctly. Remember we can regret our "sins" and live as moral lives as Christians without believing in God. If we have to have a "choice" why doesn't God ask us a particularly demanding maths question – those who guess/estimate correctly are saved, those who don't fail? Why don't we draw lots? You're right that sometimes we're "wrong" but what happens to the people who are "wrong" on this one issue? Does it really seem like a fair way to judge people to you?

    15 Apr 2006, 20:37

  176. Hehe. I reckon you'd have to be fairly thick-skinned to wade through 175 comments, but then my ability to offend is quite legendary. :)

    I would say that faith is many things, but hardly arbitrary. For example, in Islam,

    "No matter how sincerely a person may believe, Islam regards it as pointless to live life without putting that faith into action and practice.
    Carrying out the Five Pillars demonstrates that the Muslim is putting their faith first, and not just trying to fit it in around their secular lives." (that's from the BBC website)

    Faith, in whatever, is central to people's lives. Everyone's got faith in something, after all. In Allah, or Jesus Christ, or the fact that if you hit one red light, you'll hit them all, or that people are fundamentally good, or that people are fundamentally bad, or in Aston Villa FC. Everyone has faith in something.

    There are those who have never had the chance to hear about God. Well, they get judged by a different set of criteria. Don't ask me what they are, cos I could take an educated guess but that would be about it.

    The point I'm trying (and probably failing) to make is this: I think that if you look for a particular answer, you'll get it. I have done my very best to figure things out objectively and try and find the truth. And no matter how abstract or far away I got, I kept coming back round to Jesus.

    And that's quite apart from personal experience like answered prayer or miracles or spiritual gifts or all of that malarkey. Which tends to help. :)

    I reckon if you can evaluate the evidence, all the evidence and not just the nice bits that people put forward to support their own beliefs, then truth, or at least some truth, can be found.

    Oh yes, one last thing: thing about Christianity is that we've all screwed up, and God didn't have to help us, isn't legally obligated to do anything. But instead of letting us sit in our sin and get ourselves in really deep trouble, he sends his son to die for us in order that we can be saved if we ask.

    That's not fair.

    This sinless person dying for us? For me? In my place, for my screw-ups?

    That's not fair.

    But it is mercy. Undeserved by me and everyone else, but it is mercy.

    15 Apr 2006, 21:11

  177. Ok, cool. In regards to forgiveness, I'm still not sure why i have to ask for it, but don't worry about it, it's come up a couple of times previously, so I can look back at Joseph's responses too and see if I can work out what you guys are saying.

    With your sky analogy (yay… analogy), presumably the 'sky is blue' argument could be referring to any belief at all, so in order to make a reasoned judgement, you would both have to look at the sky with a colour chart, and read all of the books that claim to give the true colour of the sky. But what if you were convinced by the wrong book? Or if the level of disagreement between the different books (and the people out there looking with you) meant that you decided to wait until the clouds cleared. What if the clouds never cleared? Presumably if you stay too long staring up at the clouds you're gonna get hit by lightning eventually. (I think I've stretched this analogy about as far as it can go :S)

    "We're not stupid enough to plead ignorance" – Even compared to the intelligence of God?

    Also, with the whole stealing thing, I want to check that we're using 'making the choice to steal something' as 'making the choice to not believe'. If this is right, then I can't imagine someone would choose not to believe in God because it led to having more fun in their life. If they are making an informed decision not to believe then they are trading a finite time of fun on earth for an infinite time of infinite spirtual pleasure in heaven. No one who understood the decision would choose the finite over the infinite in this sense and so I would still maitain that those who 'choose' not to believe must be doing so through ignorance or confusion.

    Also, no offense caused so far by anything anyone has said on here. It has been delightfully civil. Although I fear we have beaten Joseph away with our relentless bringing up of the same points.

    15 Apr 2006, 21:13

  178. Not to worry. All debates end up going round in circles eventually.

    The better ones tend to mean we get less frustrated though. The stealing analogy works best when you think of it just as…sin. For 'steal' insert 'anything stupid we do even though we know it's wrong'. :)

    "What if the clouds never cleared? Presumably if you stay too long staring up at the clouds you're gonna get hit by lightning eventually. (I think I've stretched this analogy about as far as it can go :S)"

    (laughs) Yes…maybe a little stretched. However, I'm going to stand at the top of a very tall building with a metal pole, and risk stretching it a little further.

    Say you reckon that the sky is definitely either:

    a) blue
    b) green, or
    c) nonexistent.

    This is what you have gleaned from the books. These are the books that seem most reliable, and you have absolutely no information on their authors so you can't judge their authenticity (not strictly true in the non-analogous sense, but bear with me).

    So, you decide to go outside. So there you are, with your colour chart, and you look up at the clouds.

    A spiritual experience is, to my mind, like this:

    Then you catch a tiny patch of sky. It's mostly hidden by the clouds but it's there. So out comes the colour chart and you finally say, "yes! The sky, according to this chart, is definitely blue/green/pink/polka-dotted/whatever! Ah-ha!"

    I think the analogy breaks down somewhat here, but hey. It was one of my better analogies, in that at least one other person apart from me understood it. Woo!

    I reckon that if you stick around long enough outside, you get to see a little bit of sky. Maybe not a lot, but enough for you to disregard the notion that the sky is brown. :)

    Forgiveness…right. I feel another analogy coming on.

    This one is about chocolate.

    I like chocolate. :)

    If God granted automatic forgiveness, then we'd have no free will to disobey and reject him. Thus messing with free will, which He's very keen on.

    It's like chocolate. Like I have lots and lots of chocolate. And I want to give chocolate to everyone. But, because of free will, I only give it to those who ask.

    Even though it's a really great gift, and everyone would appreciate it if they had it, even though I know it's the best thing for them…(ok, chocolate isn't very good for you, but you know what I mean)

    I can't force chocolate on people. That would interfere with their right to choose whether or not to accept my fabulous gift.

    15 Apr 2006, 21:48

  179. No you haven't beaten me away! I've just been busy doing that whole revision thing :o(

    Just like to say how apt it is that we're having this discussion at Easter time! Hooray!

    And thanks for joining in Jill! I was beginning to feel a little, err, hounded!

    Anyway – I'm gonna go and throw a whole new issue into the pan now… It has been slowly occuring to me during the later stages of this, err, chat, that there's an awful lots of emphasis being placed on critical reasoning. Don't get me wrong – this is a good thing. And it's hardly our fault, we're all students and living in a society that has trained us to judge everything based on science and tests. Logic and thought are great things, but I think we need to have a level of acceptance that when it comes to faith and belief and spirituality, and paradoxes about omniscience, that our frail little human minds can't deal with everything that way. Humanity has lived for a long time without academia, and a God that could only be found by intelligence wouldn't be a fair one.

    This is coming out of the mini topic of "doubt" that came up… I wasn't trying to suggest that everyone should accept everything they are told as truth. That's gonna cause a lot of problems (see sky analogy from jill)! But when it comes to faith there's always going to be an element of doubt, or it's not faith! In Hebrews it says "Now faith is being certain of what we hope for, and sure of what we cannot see." We cannot see God, or critically verify the "forgiveness vs moral standards" ways to heaven. But you can be certain of them without being wrong!

    The really crucial question is how do you get that faith. Where does it come from? Jill's been doing a pretty good job of explaining. For me, the tricky bit wasn't believing in God as a concept, cos I'd been brought up going to Church and it seemed natural. The tricky bit is the cost Jill spoke about. How do you get so certain of what you cannot see that you're willing to bear that cost, you're willing to relinquish control of the steering wheel in your life and sign a blank cheque over to God? Sometimes it's a Damascus story – there are Christians who'll tell you about life changing experiences where they met God, or heard his voice. For others of us it's a gradual process… about having discussions like this, about praying to an unknown God, living life and experiencing Jesus in your everyday life. About screwing up, and then finding yourself on your knees again before God.

    But if you seek it you will find it! That's God's promise to us! You've heard "knock and the door will be opened unto you". Well it will be! Maybe not in the way you expect, or the way you would like, but in the way that God (who knows all about you) decrees is best for you. And I just implore you to keep looking, keep thinking. And don't just limit yourself to deciding whether or not you can reason God's fairness.

    15 Apr 2006, 22:10

  180. So in order to glean anything from the clouds, we need a spiritual experience to open up a gap in them? Would you say that God controls spiritual experiences, or at least can cause them?

    "I reckon that if you stick around long enough outside, you get to see a little bit of sky." – So what causes people, when they see this bit of sky, to misinterpret it? Otherwise, presumably, everyone would eventually see a bit of the sky and come to the same conclusion.

    "If God granted automatic forgiveness, then we'd have no free will to disobey and reject him." – Surely we'd still have all the free will we wanted to run around and sin and disobey and reject him, except, come Judgment, he forgives us all anyway.

    Your chocolate analogy is kind of like the reverse of one I came up with a bit ago with water. Feeding water to someone dying of dehydration is messing with their free will (suppose that they don't realise they're dying and so haven't asked you for water), but once they realise what the situation is, I would assume that they will be happy for their free will to have been taken away from them in that situation.

    If God exists, I want him to take away my free will, if that means saving me. In a sense, God is taking away my free will by deciding that I'm not allowed to give up my free will.

    15 Apr 2006, 22:11

  181. As far as I can tell, most of the objection to Christianity here is based in a dislike for "the fairness of the system" and in a lack of experiencing this God thing everyone's talking about.
    Ok – well, the system is consistent. The Bible has been studied by scholars and people much cleverer than me for a long time, and it makes sense. God is perfect, we're not, but we can be at one with Him again by His gracious sacrifice. If you can think of a better creation, take it up with God when you get to Heaven!! But this one is pretty awesome as it is. We live in an amazingly beatiful world, and have an amazingly loving God, and the only price we have to pay for messing it up so much is accepting His forgiveness!
    As for experiencing the God thing, keep looking. You don't even have to find "what everyone else has got", you get a personal relationship with Him! Practically how? Read the Bible, talk on forums like this, try going to an Alpha course, try praying.
    I'm not trying to insult anyone's intelligence, I'm just encouraging you to not give up looking (I'm assuming you're looking, cos you're talking about such issues on this forum).

    Patrick, your last point about people who "choose not to believe must be doing so through ignorance or confusion."... I believe in God. And yet I still screw up and get stuff wrong. I know the cost. There's a great hymn that says "it was my sin that held him there", as in I'm responsible for Jesus having to make that sacrifice. I'm not ignorant, I'm not confused, I just get stuff wrong. I realise what you're talking about is the decision to believe in the first place, rather than the sinning thing. But I think there's a parallel there in terms of still choosing the stupid choice even when you know how important it is.

    15 Apr 2006, 22:11

  182. lol – I feel like Jill and I have just said essentially the same thing in very very very different ways. Good good.

    15 Apr 2006, 22:14

  183. Isn't it fun?

    Well, it's ok, cos now you're back I can clear off to bed. I'm doing welcome in Westwood church tomorrow so I have to be there at ten instead of half past ten (oh, the shock, the horror, the agony, etc etc). And I'm so tired.

    (yawns, narrowly avoids hitting head on keyboard, decides bed is a good place and sleep the preferable state)

    Anyone wishing to yell at the clouds for a clear patch is most welcome to come along. Coming on to campus, the bus turns left at Varsity. To get to the church, go straight on.

    There'll probably be a redhead on a red bike whizzing past mumbling about having a bad hair day.

    Goodnight, all. I'll probably be back tomorrow.

    Oh yes, and happy Easter. :)

    15 Apr 2006, 22:29

  184. A Student

    Not to worry. All debates end up going round in circles eventually. The better ones tend to mean we get less frustrated though.

    lol. Yes, I do think we're going round in circles now! I still think its totally implausible that a loving God would judge people negatively, still less send them to Hell, simply because they reasonably looked at the evidence and decided He probably doesn't exist. It is reasonable to come to that conclusion about Christianity because 2/3 of the world's population (apparently genuinely) do it, often despite persecution for not converting to Christianity. It is not a question of free will but ignorance, for at least some people who are too stupid to realise God exists. (Its the equivalent of you not making it at all clear that you are even offering the chocolate – maybe you asked us in some alien language and kept the chocolate carefully hidden?) If I honestly am not convinced by the evidence why should I ask God for forgiveness? Just in case He exists? I can't imagine He will look kindly on that. Perhaps I should pay the odd visit to a mosque too? The response that having faith is not arbitrary misses the point: we can base our lives on the same moral code, be equally ashamed of our failings whilst disagreeing on the single issue of whether God exists. If whether I guess correctly on that one issue is more important than anything else (how many women I've raped, Bibles I've burnt, how sorry I am for the aforementioned failings etc) God is at best arbitrary and at worst vain.

    "If God granted automatic forgiveness, then we'd have no free will to disobey and reject him." – Surely we'd still have all the free will we wanted to run around and sin and disobey and reject him, except, come Judgment, he forgives us all anyway.

    That’s exactly what I think Patrick. I think the Christians are confusing us having free will with God testing us. If God must test us, then it should be on some meaningful, moral criteria, such as whether we do our best and understand and deeply regret our failings, not on how good we are at assessing evidence. Of course even then we run into the problem of why God made us so imperfect given that He would have known in advance how evil we’d be and that He had the power to create better beings. Why didn’t God give us more moral personalities? Again its nothing to do with free will – we could just want to do the “right” thing more. Finally of course God should forgive unconditionally just like I try to do. It is the only moral thing to do imho, especially for such a superior being.

    As far as I can tell, most of the objection to Christianity here is based in a dislike for "the fairness of the system" and in a lack of experiencing this God thing everyone's talking about.

    Yes, well that’s what I at least was hoping to discuss here.

    Ok – well, the system is consistent. The Bible has been studied by scholars and people much cleverer than me for a long time, and it makes sense.

    Its been studied by people much smarter than me too. I’ve never disputed its consistency, only its plausibility. That said, appeals to authority will get us nowhere because there are plenty of smart people in history who decided it’s the greatest fairy tale ever written.

    If you can think of a better creation, take it up with God when you get to Heaven!!

    Indeed. I’ve a good mind to Joseph. I think our Friend has some work to do.

    But this one is pretty awesome as it is. We live in an amazingly beatiful world, and have an amazingly loving God, and the only price we have to pay for messing it up so much is accepting His forgiveness!

    I can think of a few ways to improve it though, now all I need to do is become omnipotent, or at least very powerful.

    PS My parents are encouraging me to go to Church tomorrow, now that I'm home again. Maybe I will…

    15 Apr 2006, 23:24

  185. Hehe, you can't see the metaphor for all the analogies in here. Or something.

    I can't imagine someone would choose not to believe in God because it led to having more fun in their life. If they are making an informed decision not to believe then they are trading a finite time of fun on earth for an infinite time of infinite spirtual pleasure in heaven. No one who understood the decision would choose the finite over the infinite in this sense and so I would still maitain that those who 'choose' not to believe must be doing so through ignorance or confusion.

    That ignorance/confusion doesn't have to be God's fault, though. You could easily choose not to believe if you never look for God, or make up your mind prematurely.

    I think that makes it less about assessing evidence and more about taking the right attitude. Obviously, those that take the right attitude are still going to have to look at the evidence, and they could still make the wrong choice. But there's nothing saying we have to make the right choice first time.

    16 Apr 2006, 00:12

  186. Ok, so your advice is to pray, read the Bible and talk to Christians. And to keep trying until… until what? Until God grants us a spiritual experience in all His wisdom and mercy? What if I do these things for 20 years with no response and then give up and look elsewhere for spiritual answers? God knows at what point I will give up and He knows what he can do in that time to bring me to him. Would twenty years of searching not be enough to satisfy him that I was looking for a relationship with Him? How does He decide when to let me know that He is there?

    Alan said: "That ignorance/confusion doesn't have to be God's fault, though." – That depends. God has the ability to remove it instantly at no cost to himself. If he chooses not to, he may as well have put it there.

    Did God remove Saul/Paul's free will? or did He simply show him enough that he was convinced? Why does God act to convince some people and not others?

    Joe said: "a God that could only be found by intelligence wouldn't be a fair one." – and a God that can only be found by faith is fair? A God that can only be found if you are spiritually receptive enough? A God that can only be found if he allows you to find him?

    The point of this discussion is not whether we are able to build up our faith in God until willing to give up control of our lives to Him, but how we are supposed to make an initial leap of faith into nothingness. It's not like saying you have to jump off a cliff and He will catch you. It's like saying jump in the air and He will let you fly. And some of us have been jumping up and down for a while.

    16 Apr 2006, 00:52

  187. Also Happy Easter Everyone. Don't make yourselves sick with too much chocolate. :D

    16 Apr 2006, 00:54

  188. A Student

    That ignorance/confusion doesn't have to be God's fault, though. You could easily choose not to believe if you never look for God, or make up your mind prematurely.

    Of course but, as Patrick says, some of us have been genuinely trying to believe for over 10 years. I'm sure many people have more stamina than that even…

    I think that makes it less about assessing evidence and more about taking the right attitude. Obviously, those that take the right attitude are still going to have to look at the evidence, and they could still make the wrong choice. But there's nothing saying we have to make the right choice first time.

    This is an interesting point Alan. However the fact that even with the right attitude one can still make the wrong choice and end up in Hell, whatever that means, still leaves God with charges of arbitrariness and vanity to answer imho.

    Why is having the "right attitude" so important to God? What does the "right attitude" mean exactly? If it means being humble and accepting we humans are feeble in every way and that we don't have half the answers we want and honestly looking at every possibility to find them, many atheists would meet that criterion.

    If it means trusting our feelings (hunches, guesses?) over rationality then what about those of us who honestly have no sensus divinitas (I think that means sense of God)? What about those who perhaps have some sense of God but choose not to believe it because they trust their God-given rationality, which to them perhaps suggests the opposite?

    (Warning: This and the next paragraph are a bit rude – I don’t mean to offend anyone! Nor am I trying to convert anyone either – I don’t even know what I think yet. But I do want to know what you think.) Some may say that they know the Christian God exists. I must admit I am rather sceptical of this - I suspect that really they would agree there was actually a fair amount of doubt and that a perfectly reasonable person might possibly choose not to believe, not because they were necessarily proud or stubborn but perhaps because they honestly interpreted the evidence and feelings differently. Most Christians I know say that they believe because "it feels right", or “my life has improved since I became a Christian”, or "it helped me in a difficult time", or they “just trust Jesus” or because of some coincidences. None of these would convince me at all and I think that’s at least a perfectly reasonable view to take (but perhaps not the only reasonable one).

    Some Christians may even have had a strong and vivid religious experience. I haven’t and I don’t believe that all that many Christians have either. The closest I get, and I don’t mean to be flippant here – its actually embarrassingly true, was on a Christmas morning a long, long time ago when I was honestly totally convinced I’d actually seen Father Christmas. Do I rely on that experience over other more rational arguments? Presumably I was a bit over-excited in anticipation of all those presents. Maybe I really wanted to believe… Also people of many religious faiths have religious experiences and strong convictions, even in the face of persecution. They can’t all be proud and stubborn surely? Many people are absolutely convinced they’ve been abducted by aliens or seen the Loch Ness monster. Some of us have been convinced an attractive girl really liked us, only to have our hopes and faith cruelly dashed. Most of us have been fooled by magicians. I personally think “feelings” and “hunches” can lie, especially when we want something to be true. Whether or not you agree with that is not so much the point as whether that’s at least a position a reasonable person could take – and I think it clearly is – because how can we be punished for honestly making a reasonable choice, given our imperfections?

    16 Apr 2006, 15:21

  189. A Student

    Also now that I’ve tried Christianity for many years, ought I to move on to another religion? Given that I personally have no more reason to believe in Christianity than Islam, Judaism, Sikhism etc, surely the only rational thing to do is to give them all a try? Perhaps, with all those other beliefs to try, I have no more time left to experiment with Christianity? Will He penalise me for being rational and would that be fair? In any case why would God select us on the basis of how desperate or irrational we are to keep giving Him a chance to reveal Himself? If someone gives Christianity far more chances than any other belief but is unconvinced after a long time and decides to finally use their normal human (but God-given) logic and conclude that if nothing has happened in 10 years its unlikely to in the future, so they find some other belief system that works for them, how can a loving, forgiving God punish them for that?

    Finally, even if every non-Christian was of that non-belief because of some pride and stubbornness, which I very much doubt (see above), I think in comparison to the other things God can forgive its a relatively small sin to determine a person’s fate. Thus its not really any different from judging people on whether they can assess evidence correctly: its still arbitrary. True this particular sin prevents one from asking forgiveness, but I don’t think specifically asking should be a prerequisite of forgiveness, especially when we don’t know about this particular sin and especially when its a comparatively small one. It should be enough to do one’s best and to realise and deeply regret that one is imperfect in so many ways. Perhaps we can even acknowledge the possibility that we might be letting pride cloud our judgement and honestly try to avoid that and regret if that actually happens. In any case we can never understand every way in which we are flawed, whether or not we’re Christian.

    Happy Easter to you all!

    16 Apr 2006, 15:51

  190. anonymous

    its a bit late, but some of you might find this funny:
    link

    16 Apr 2006, 16:10

  191. Christianity isn't just about acknowledging your failings though! It's about being forgiven for them, and living a life in which you are free to fail, and yet striving to be more like Jesus in every way. That's what sets it apart from being an atheist who admits they're not perfect. The difference is huge.

    If you've been jumping up and down for ten years, waiting on God, brilliant! If you feel like God hasn't responded, then that could be part of His plan for you. We all grow through our struggles, and if you're looking for God, then you're already in a relationship with Him. The moment that relationship becomes something tangible and real, it'll mean more because you struggled to get there. And then that's not the end. I've been a Christian for nearly 10 years, and every day I move another step further down a journey with God. And it's not a journey that makes my life easier. Sinning is easy, being selfish is easy. The road with God is a steep and windy, rocky road. It's hard work, and it involves me constantly falling flat on my face and having to pick myself up again. But I do it because I have a real relationship with my saviour, because I have a genuine desire for more people to experience His love, and because I don't have to fear anything any more. Why do I believe? Because in Jesus I have no guilt in life, no fear in death. Because when I let Him into my life I feel complete, and my God given rationality doesn't contradict this in any way!

    Which brings us back to how do you get faith? If we're talking really practically, I've already suggested a few things, but here are some more. Ask someone to pray for/with you. Ask someone who has a relationship with God to take you to somewhere they meet with God. Get hold of a book about God moving in people's lives. Read the Bible with an open mind, not looking for things to argue with – it's easy to find things in the Bible you don't like, get a commentary and see what it says about them, rather than just deciding you don't like them. If you have a problem with a Church, try a different one.
    If you're waiting to be convinced, then you've gotta allow yourself to be convinced too. God blinded Paul at Damascus, but he could very easily have dismissed something even that amazing and ignored it. Decided that it was just the sun glinting and convinced himself he was going mad. You always have a choice, no matter how mind blowing the experience. Hence faith.

    16 Apr 2006, 17:25

  192. "If you feel like God hasn't responded, then that could be part of His plan for you." – So if He never responds, then his plan for me is that I should search fruitlessly for my whole life and then go to hell?

    "If you're waiting to be convinced, then you've gotta allow yourself to be convinced too" – How do you allow yourself to be convinced of something? Either you are convinced or you are not. If you are not and you go along with the idea anyway, then you'll be constantly aware that you are not being true to what you believe. Could you allow yourself to be convinced that there was no God?

    "God blinded Paul at Damascus, but he could very easily have dismissed something even that amazing and ignored it. Decided that it was just the sun glinting and convinced himself he was going mad." – Really? Surely God knew how Paul would react to what happened. Surely in choosing to do it, God acted in order to convert him.

    Given that God is infinite in every way that we are finite, surely he should make that same level of effort and commitment to a relationship with any one of us? It seems bizarre to me that if someone fails to find God, a being of limitless power and knowledge, then it should be the fallible human who is to blame.

    It's all very well saying that God has a plan for me, and is looking out for my best interests, but if He is deliberately not doing something that would bring me to know Him, then it is He who is holding back on the relationship. I can spend the rest of my life looking for Him, and that doesn't guarentee that I will be saved, because I can end up in a situation where I didn't look 'hard' enough. My problem is not that some people come to know him easier than that, but that some people never come to know him, despite trying for long periods of their life.

    On a different note, can either of the Christains on here think of anything that would weaken their faith? Any event or experience that would make them doubt their belief?

    16 Apr 2006, 17:49

  193. A Student

    Christianity isn't just about acknowledging your failings though! It's about being forgiven for them, and living a life in which you are free to fail, and yet striving to be more like Jesus in every way. That's what sets it apart from being an atheist who admits they're not perfect. The difference is huge.

    Yes but my point is that God could forgive people based on absolutely any criteria or none. He could forgive those with blonde hair and long legs, if it suited Him. Why does He only save those who worship Him? My whole question boils down to: am I the only one who thinks that is a bit arbitrary and vain? We can be like Christians in every way except that we were mistaken in our interpretation of evidence or experiences or feelings but if we don't worship God we go to Hell anyway.

    16 Apr 2006, 21:42

  194. It's…extremely early in the morning, much too early for me to be totally coherent, but I'll attempt a concertinaed form of answer.

    Ok. Arbitrary? I hope not. But I think the response would require careful expression, so I will leave it for now.

    Would there be anything that would cause me to have weakened faith?

    Oh yes, all the time. And so I shout at God until He answers. (This is why I love the Psalms. Everyone knows Psalm 23, the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…but less people seem to know 22, which begins,

    'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help? Every day I call to you, oh God, but you do not answer. Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.' And so on. Sometimes it takes a long time to get my questions answered. Sometimes it's seemingly for no reason at all, sometimes it's specifically because of my tendency towards pig-headedness.

    Faith isn't nice. It isn't neat either. If you want a presentation of the evidence for Jesus' minstry, death, resurrection etc then I can give you one (it's a good book, it's logical, it's not an age long, and it's divided up nicely). Faith is another animal altogether, and I don't properly understand it myself. But I'll pray for you, if you don't heartily object, because you seem to be looking and when you look you should find. The Bible talks about…battles over souls. The battle over mine, the battle over yours, the battle over everyone's between good and evil. Such is the nature of the world, I guess.

    Ok. I have no idea how much sense that made, so I'm going to go away now. And maybe sleep again.

    17 Apr 2006, 08:17

  195. Ok, let me rephrase that, – Is there anything that could happen that would make you become unsure that God existed at all?

    Psalm 22 describes someone talking to God, so they must believe that there is someone there who has just stopped talking back. Is there anything that you can think of that might happen that would mean you would disregard Psalm 22 because you didn't believe that God was actually there (and had never been there) to listen.

    Or, as an alternative, would anything that happened here on earth that you couldn't understand just cause you to think – it's ok, it's just that I don't understand what God is doing, it's not that he's not there at all.

    That's really badly phrased, sorry. For me however, this is also extremely early in the morning. Back to bed. And by bed I mean revision… sadly.

    17 Apr 2006, 10:42

  196. You poor soul. Revision is…meh. Urgh. And many disgusted facial expressions besides.

    (Seeing as I got woken up at seven this morning by someone being arrested across the road, I figured I was entitled to a bit more sleep. That so didn't happen.)

    I think, in this regard, I'm really odd. And so am probably a bad person to answer the question. But…no.

    I remember once, when I was about 16, thinking, 'Right. I don't feel like God's there at all. So. Thought experiment. What would the world be like if God did not exist?'

    And I tried, believe me. But I can't…not believe in God's existence, because while I can just about cope with (though I don't understand) that there is something that is outside of this existence, something more than that which I can see, which enabled everything to come into being…

    I can't picture a world which wasn't created. It…violates my understanding of thermodynamics, and my (rather limited) common sense. The stuff had to come from somewhere, my reasoning goes, and therefore there must be some kind of thing somewhere which is outside the rules, as it were. Something which is outside time and space and matter, because those all had to begin at some point. Something without a beginning.

    I may (and have at various points) been convinced that God is a sadist, unfair, really mean, and various other things besides.

    But I've never for a second thought that he doesn't exist. Does that answer your question?

    17 Apr 2006, 11:34

  197. Yes, well answered, thank you. Not that I necessarily agree, but I'm certainly not going to argue about thermodynamics with you, given I'm pretty sure you could fit all of my knowledge about it onto a postage stamp.

    If a theory came to light that seemed to explain the beginning of time/the universe/whatever, in a scientific way (i.e. relatively testable, supportable), without God, and a large portion of the scientific community began to support it, what would be your reaction? (ie. if a begninning without God did not necessarily go against the scientific objections that you have).

    17 Apr 2006, 12:43

  198. We already have such a theory, surely: the whole 'big bang' thing. You might question what could cause it, but as I understand it this doesn't make sense in the normal way; you can't cause the start of the universe because there's no time and space for such a cause to happen in. You might well conclude that it was due to God, but I'm reasonably sure there isn't any evidence either way. At the very least, I don't see how it violates thermodynamics at all.

    Christianity isn't just about acknowledging your failings though! It's about being forgiven for them, and living a life in which you are free to fail, and yet striving to be more like Jesus in every way. That's what sets it apart from being an atheist who admits they're not perfect. The difference is huge.

    Is it? I don't see so much difference between that and trying to be a better, though still failible, person without religion.

    I think my main problem here is that you're all saying how important it is to have faith in God, and if you try then you'll find some reason to believe. However, as I've already said, I don't like faith; I don't think it's a good thing, and I want to have as little as possible (without becoming non-functional due to simply disbelieving everything, such as my senses).

    Therefore it seems to me that judging people based on having a relationship with God which requires faith to have is not only arbitrary but horribly wrong. I don't think I could bring myself to believe in a God that actally wanted to be believed in.

    17 Apr 2006, 15:00

  199. A Student

    Ok. Arbitrary? I hope not. But I think the response would require careful expression, so I will leave it for now.

    When you have the time I'd be very interested to hear your explanation because its what I've been asking for 2 months now. Why is it not arbitrary or vain for God to punish people solely for taking a different interpretation of ambiguous evidence (including any feelings/hunches you might have). Remember we can be just as moral and just as ashamed of our failings without being Christians. Also whilst you are clearly convinced by the evidence/experiences do you think it is ambiguous enough for a reasonable person to genuinely come to a different conclusion to yourself, just as we might over say whether Blair is good for Britain? After all 2/3 of the world's population don't agree with you and many of us have been to Church for many years without feeling anything.

    I may (and have at various points) been convinced that God is a sadist, unfair, really mean, and various other things besides.

    What effect does this have on your faith, if any, may I ask? Surely the Bible says God is not like that?

    I can't picture a world which wasn't created. It violates my understanding of thermodynamics, and my (rather limited) common sense. The stuff had to come from somewhere, my reasoning goes, and therefore there must be some kind of thing somewhere which is outside the rules, as it were. Something which is outside time and space and matter, because those all had to begin at some point. Something without a beginning.

    (As an aside really, I thought I'd say I disagree with you here.) I too can not imagine how the universe could have existed without God. However I can't imagine God or how He could come to exist either. All postulating a God does is move the question on step further back: instead of how does the world exist we now ask how does God exist/work? If anything it just raises more questions because at least we understand how most of the universe operates. Any answer you give to this can be applied to the universe as a whole. There may well be something outside the known universe but even then it needn't be anything like a God.

    I think my main problem here is that you're all saying how important it is to have faith in God, and if you try then you'll find some reason to believe. However, as I've already said, I don't like faith; I don't think it's a good thing, and I want to have as little as possible (without becoming non-functional due to simply disbelieving everything, such as my senses).

    I think thats a perfectly reasonable position Colin. I might even go further and say that many of us have looked and haven't found any reason to believe yet. Likewise many people look into other faiths and find equally persuasive (to them) reasons to believe there too. As long as God insists on punishing people like me for being too stupid to analyse the evidence and my own feelings as well as say Jill has then He is arbitrary and vain.

    17 Apr 2006, 17:28

  200. The arbitrariness (is that a word?) of faith I will have to a) draft and b) think about, so give me a couple of days for that one. It doesn't necessarily mean it'll be a more satisfying answer, but it may at least make sense to me. Which would be a change from usual. The honest truth is that I don't think God is arbitrary nor vain, but I don't really understand how I can explain that. Nonetheless I shall try, and most likely fail, at a later date.

    The effect on my faith of accusing God of sadism is…well, there are lots of effects. Generally I end up laughing or crying. Sometimes both. When really big disasters come along where it all seems pointless and cruel it tends to remind me that we live in a fallen world: evil happens. When personal disaster comes along I tend not to be faithful and forbearing: I tend to get mad. I get angry, I worry, and I shout and kick stuff.

    What almost inevitably happens is that I continue to be mad until I come to an understanding of exactly what something accomplished in the grand scheme of things. Hence the laughter and/or tears. It generally makes me feel kind of small and like, 'Ok, ok. You told me to trust you, because you are perfectly good and you promised everything would work itself out for the best. I didn't trust you, but it worked anyway. I really need to work on that, as it would save me a lot of hassle and worry.'

    17 Apr 2006, 19:02

  201. "What almost inevitably happens is that I continue to be mad until I come to an understanding of exactly what something accomplished in the grand scheme of things." – So you would say that on a personal level you almost always come to understand what kind of thing God was thinking? How about on a more global level, with the Tsunami, for example, or the situation in New Orleans? In global situations do you come to understand what was accomplished?

    18 Apr 2006, 00:25

  202. Nope. I think I did say that, but possibly euphemistically. And to be honest I tend not to understand huge disastrous events. It reminds me that there is still evil in the world, and that's kind of crap. But I figure if God always does stuff for the ultimate good in my life, then even if I don't understand it, there has to be a reason for big nasties. I believe the world has evil stuff happen in it, but that it's all for the ultimate good. It's just that I don't know what the ultimate good is, cos 1) I'm not particularly bright, and 2) even if I were, I'm not God, and he's got a much better idea of what's going on.

    On the question of arbitrariness, I'm going to trackback to my blog and post there. I had a horrible time with the answer, because as soon as I answered one part of the question a logical argument to the answer came up so I had to explain the counter-argument to the logical rebuttal etc etc…

    It took flipping ages. And it only really scratches the surface because, of course, this argument's been going around for a couple millenia now. :)

    Nonetheless I hope it's a little bit of help.

    18 Apr 2006, 09:39

  203. OK. It's now up here

    Dear help me, what have I started now?

    Heheheeee. (slightly malicious grin)

    18 Apr 2006, 09:49

  204. Jill, thank you for your contribution, although I feel inclined to point out that your blog is unlikely to host a very large part of this 'eternal debate' with restricted commenting permissions. No matter, I'll add my thoughts here.

    Sadly, if unsurprisingly, I'm unconvinced. It seems to me that your argument boils down to saying that God is perfect and this is the way God has decided to do it, so it must be a good system. Which may be a perfectly valid argument, but isn't terribly convincing, at least to me. For example:

    The reason salvation seems arbitrary is because God chose to work through Christians.

    Yes, that does sound rather arbitrary. And suggesting that it's done this way so to help Christians improve their relationship with God seems rather unfair: after all, Christians are all going to have an eternity to spend improving their relationship with God, so what's the rush?

    In any case, lots of people are converted by 'signs', not by other Christians, so it seems he doesn't always work through them. But of course, not everyone gets a sign, which again seems arbitrary.

    Besides all this, your argument isn't likely to convince me because I don't believe in things like evil, souls, free will, and justice. I guess that's rather limiting in terms of religious debate, isn't it?

    18 Apr 2006, 11:16

  205. I guess so, still, doesn't stop us trying (in my case failing, but having a mental workout nonetheless) to have a discussion on it.

    It's been a lot of fun. And very challenging. And very helpful too. Sometimes it's kind of easy not to think about why you believe stuff, so having to defend it reminds you. Which is cool.

    However…

    (some creative swearing inserted here)

    The blog system hates me at the moment. The only commenting the (a bit more creative swearing) thing will allow is for only me to comment on it.

    It keeps telling me there's an error.

    However, I will shout at it until people can actually comment.

    18 Apr 2006, 19:05

  206. Half a dozen attempts later, I have come to conclude the following:

    WB hates me.

    Argh.

    18 Apr 2006, 19:17

  207. A Student

    Thanks for your reply Jill. You seem a lot more thoughtful than most Christians I've met. Colin makes very good points in reply. My view is that anyone who thinks that:

    there has existed, at any point in time, one person such that any evidence or feelings or "signs" (which I will take to be uncanny coincidences) they have are sufficiently ambiguous that this sane person could conclude that God didn't exist, without that person's judgement being clouded by pride or stubbornness, but who has been told about Christianity properly,

    must conclude that God is either arbitrary or vain, as seen by our God-given consciences. Personally I would have thought most atheists and agnostics (Alan!) and many Christians would fit into this category (I probably do, see posts 188, 189). Basically I think the bar for becoming a Christian is rather high – you can't just think its marginally more likely that its true than not. You have to believe either that the evidence is so strong that every person in history who has heard about and rejected Christianity did so purely because they were too proud and stubborn to enter Heaven, or at least you must have sufficient conviction to accept the equally implausible: God is perfect and He gave us our consciences but we still think He's vain and arbitrary.

    19 Apr 2006, 14:27

  208. True, but then our consciences aren't perfect.

    Unfortunately, I think this is just one of those questions. I've tried to answer it, I really have, but what you're getting is kind of my most eloquent guess.

    PS: WB still hates me. It keeps not letting me comment on other people's entries. Argh.

    PPS: I hereby resolve to spend less time here, as I really need to get my work finished. Nonetheless, I'll still be about spouting nonsense. I'd never abandon this discussion totally, I'm having too much fun. :)

    19 Apr 2006, 18:42

  209. A Student

    Thanks for your replies Jill and good luck with your work.

    20 Apr 2006, 18:03

  210. Hey guys. Back from exams (yay!) and willing to carry on with the discussion if others are. Thank you Jill for the great passage on your blog, really interesting, and good responses from Colin and A. Student too. :D

    I'll note a few things down in case there's life in this thread yet…

    Jill wrote: The reason salvation isn’t arbitrary is because it’s offered to everyone (again, people who haven’t heard of Jesus are judged by different criteria) – What are the different criteria for those who haven't heard of Jesus?

    Also just because salvation is offered to everyone, doesn't mean that it is not arbitrary, because it is offered in such a way that some people don't accept it. Looking at the reasons that people don't accept the offer (upbringing, experiences of Christians, life experiences, lack of communication from God… etc.) highlights where the arbitrary-ness is. Through the chance opportunities of life and through the decisions that God makes, we accept or not. This is why it is arbitrary, because it is based on a choice that most people are not aware they are making.

    Jill wrote: God can’t force you to see the truth (darned free will) – Did God force Saul/Paul to see the truth? God acted and Saul saw the truth. Why does this case not apply in general? Why would my free will be impared if God did let me know Him? I would be in the same situation then as any real Christian. I would know God existed and would have to try live my life in a certain way, but I would not lose my free will any more than you lost yours when you became a Christian.

    Hope everyone else is enjoying term 3 as much as I hope I will be now my exams are done (for the moment…)

    :)

    21 Apr 2006, 23:19

  211. A Student

    I'm happy to continue Patrick, although we do seem to have almost exhausted the issue I particularly wanted to discuss: whether God is arbitrary or vain. I guess the main thing I want to know now is how many Christians agree with my post 207. Just to answer Jill's points if we're continuing after all:

    True, but then our consciences aren't perfect. -- Perhaps but I assumed that being "made in God's image" referred to our consciences. I don't see what else it could mean? So I think our consciences are generally correct. Also it seems highly improbable to me that God would give us such imperfect consciences that we would think Him (the perfect moral being) arbitrary and vain, especially since the Bible tells us He is "good" etc. Worst of all any religion which conflicts with our own consciences, in such a fundamental way, strikes me as extremely dangerous and to be avoided like the plague. Finally my whole argument only requires that a reasonable person could honestly reject Christianity and I think that it is perfectly reasonable to listen to one's own God-given conscience, maybe not knowing that it is in fact faulty!

    Unfortunately, I think this is just one of those questions. I've tried to answer it, I really have, but what you're getting is kind of my most eloquent guess. -- I do appreciate your help Jill. Personally I've been to Church for many years without ever seeing any miracles or feeling anything special and so I have to judge how plausible a religion is - its the only way to decide I have. I think thats the difference between the Christians and everyone else on here: when a problem arises Christians choose to ignore it and assume that God must have everything under control but to the rest of us this seems to be almost begging the question. So for me religion is a choice between faith and rationality. I think when one is convinced of this its pretty difficult to have faith, which is where I'm at now!

    PS As I said above Patrick, the Christians get confused over free will, thinking that it implies imperfect knowledge, when of course it does not, as you say. Please forgive my cynicism but I can only suspect they've been confused by their preachers and fellow believers (whether deliberately or not!).

    22 Apr 2006, 17:54

  212. "So for me religion is a choice between faith and rationality. I think when one is convinced of this its pretty difficult to have faith, which is where I'm at now!"

    I believe that God is perfectly consistent and that everything that he does is understandable. Just cos I don't understand it right now doesn't mean I'm not going to at some point. Checking your brain at the door should never, ever, ever (ever ever) be a requirement for a religion. Any religion.

    Questioning is always essential. No matter where you are in your study of religion or no matter how you live your life. I have to keep asking, because otherwise I wouldn't be sure I'm going the right direction.

    "Personally I've been to Church for many years without ever seeing any miracles or feeling anything special and so I have to judge how plausible a religion is – its the only way to decide I have." Dude, that's never fun. Christianity is probably the least plausible religion on the planet by that measure, so we're stuffed… And yet I believe it makes perfect sense. But…there are a lot of churches where the miraculous isn't a matter of course.

    My home church is a bit like that. They're lovely people but the downright bizarre doesn't happen often.

    My current church is Westwood, where the miraculous is a regular occurrence. Which is very cool. But then miracles don't tend to build up my faith: if I didn't believe before the miracle I probably wouldn't after. They just tend to make me think 'Wow. God is cool.'

    Free will and imperfect knowledge…I don't quite understand what you're saying/stating/asking/implying. A little help?

    Nice to be back, guys and gals. If there are any gals about. :)

    25 Apr 2006, 19:44

  213. A Student

    I believe that God is perfectly consistent and that everything that he does is understandable. Just cos I don't understand it right now doesn't mean I'm not going to at some point.

    But if enough unanswered questions and difficulties remain surely the "rational" thing to do would be to reject it?

    Checking your brain at the door should never, ever, ever (ever ever) be a requirement for a religion. Any religion.

    Doesn't this suggest that for you religion could be a choice between faith and rationality? At least that people should believe for reasons other than intellectual/logical ones?

    Questioning is always essential. No matter where you are in your study of religion or no matter how you live your life. I have to keep asking, because otherwise I wouldn't be sure I'm going the right direction.

    I don't understand how you reconcile this with your earlier statements?

    All I was suggesting about free will was that we can understand everything about the universe and still have free will – ie make our own choices. So one can't say that God keeps us in the dark to protect our free will. Hope my points aren't too blunt above!!!

    25 Apr 2006, 23:24

  214. I believe that God is perfectly consistent and that everything that he does is understandable. Just cos I don't understand it right now doesn't mean I'm not going to at some point.

    But if enough unanswered questions and difficulties remain surely the "rational" thing to do would be to reject it?

    If there are enough unanswered questions, then yes. But though I have lots of unanswered questions, I have lots and lots more answered ones. Am I worth something? Does God love me? Who was this Jesus bloke? And so, on balance, my rationality doesn't kick up a fuss. And of course on top of rationality there's the whole faith thing.

    "Checking your brain at the door should never, ever, ever (ever ever) be a requirement for a religion. Any religion."
    Doesn't this suggest that for you religion could be a choice between faith and rationality? At least that people should believe for reasons other than intellectual/logical ones?

    Faith is an unknown quantity, at least for me. But I believe for a combination of reasons, which includes intellectual ones/logical ones. My experiences, this faith thing again, how prayer works even when you think it's got to be impossible, etc etc.

    "Questioning is always essential. No matter where you are in your study of religion or no matter how you live your life. I have to keep asking, because otherwise I wouldn't be sure I'm going the right direction."
    I don't understand how you reconcile this with your earlier statements?

    Ah, this is an interesting one. Well, I think it's interesting. What I mean is that I have not found anything yet to disprove the existence of God, and almost daily I grow more convinced of the truth of some of the things I believe. Some things I discover make no sense and have no basis in 1) the Bible, 2) my experience, 3) anyone else's experiences.

    Either way, I never stop trying to increase the knowledge I have of stuff, and the proof for it. I can't rely solely on my feelings for the truth of my religion, but neither can I rely solely on my intellect. The former is on occasion insanely irrational, and for the latter to be entirely correct all the time I'd have to be much smarter than I am.

    I look at the criticisms of Christianity, the proof for other religions or no religion at all, and I never stop looking at my religion and my personal faith and trying to figure out the gaps. I by no means have all the answers, nor do I expect I will in this lifetime. But the balance of everything leads me to believe more strongly in God in the end, not less. That's why I said that questioning is essential.

    All I was suggesting about free will was that we can understand everything about the universe and still have free will – ie make our own choices. So one can't say that God keeps us in the dark to protect our free will. Hope my points aren't too blunt above!!!

    Nope, it's grand. You're talking to the girl who lectured the main opponent of the proposition 'This house believes that Jesus Christ rose from the dead' because he basically called Christians stupid and I objected to the idea that I might not be using my brain. Trust me, if I get offended, you'll know. :P

    Ok…I think I see what you're trying to say. Thing is, we can't understand everything about the universe. One of the consequences of 1) sin screwing stuff up, and 2) our brains being limited. Ok. I'm not entirely sure how to respond to it. I know my mind has limits, the same as my body does.

    I wonder if proof denies faith? For faith is certainty in that which we cannot see. Hmm. I know I haven't answered the question, but I've just thought of another one, so I'll get back to you. :)

    26 Apr 2006, 10:55

  215. Yeah, I had a bit of a moment, and now there's another random rambling entry on my blog. I should stop doing that.

    I should also go prepare for my seminar. Comments, or whatever, I have made sure that people can actually comment on this one.

    Go me. :)

    27 Apr 2006, 19:50


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