Can We Be Good Without God?

17 05 2008

Regular readers know Mr President loves a good political debate, which is rather appropriate given his name. He’s often commented on various political blogs but finds that when tempers flare, the arguments get personal and his blood begins to boil. The participants lose sight of the issues in a war of ad hominem attacks, and the whole saga becomes too emotionally draining.

Political Friends is different. It’s a place where people of wildly differing political persuasions can come together and engage in heated but civil discussion. That’s a lot harder to achieve than it sounds, because if you try and curb the more personal attacks you might inadvertently end up with arguments which are quite placid or boring. Not so on Political friends, where the debate can get incredibly fierce on both sides.

One such recent debate was started on a post about a book by Dinesh D’Souza called “What’s So Great About Christianity”, and become so heated that Mr President found himself defending agnosticism from unwanted association with atheism. D’Souza states that, as far as Christianity is concerned the two are practically indistinguishable and according to a strict interpretation of the Bible, he seems to be on solid ground.

Mr President, however, takes umbrage with the idea that agnosticism is the same as saying that there is no God. He feels as though he has not made any such decision, but rather has decided not to decide. What about agnostic theism? Mr President could arguably be called that, given that at times of immense emotional turmoil he has prayed before. It hurts nobody and gives him a sense of inner peace. After all isn’t that the reason many of us turn to religion? For hope, guidance, a sense of understanding?

Anyway, he is agnostic on primarily philosophical, rather than religious, grounds, and his journey down this road began by reading Plato’s Republic. The allegory of the cave in particular began him questioning how much human beings can ever “know”. If we cannot even trust our senses, if we’re only capable of verifying things subjectively, then we’re incapable of knowing the natural world. How then can we know the supernatural?

Even the Bible says that humans are “flawed”, hence Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Our knowledge is limited; we have not all eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, to continue to use the Biblical metaphor. Thus to claim we “know” whether God exists or not seems to be a futile exercise that seems to serve little purpose.

Can one not lead a good life without believing in God? For Mr President leading a good life is more important than following religious tenets. In fact, most of them are how he leads his life, he just refuses to do things (such as condemning homosexuality) that he feels are wrong. Yet he doesn’t think this means that he has decided there is no God.

In fact he’s not even decided that he doesn’t believe in God, merely that he doesn’t need said belief to be good to his fellow man. If people lead good lives, isn’t that ultimately going to be more important on one’s deathbed? We’re told by theists that God is benevolent, that he loves his creations. If this is the case then surely he will reward those who lead good lives, not merely those who lead seemingly pious ones?

He may yet end up going to Hell, but at least he’ll know he’s lead a good life.



25 responses

17 05 2008

And probably be in very good company…

18 05 2008
Andy D

I really liked this post. I had to think for a bit before I was able to respond. However, here are my thoughts:

First, D’Souzas claim that there is no difference between athiest and agnosticism is only in reference to when you die. At that point, an “undecided” vote for God is the same as a “no”vote. But that doesn’t mean that athiest and agnostics are the same. Nor does it claim that you can’t be a good person and be athiest or agnostic. However, if you spend your life not acknowledging God’s place in the world, then at the end of your life, you have voted.

I have always enjoyed reading your blog. I really like your perspective, and have found myself more that once wondering how you would look at an issue when I sat down to write about it. I would challenge you to go out and buy a copy of What’s So Great About Christianity and tell me what you think of the book. I would really be interested in your position.

18 05 2008

The simple answer is yes. The only people who don’t think so are the religious people, more so because they don’t know. Atheists are no more likely to do bad things than religious people, in fact, it is easy to point out that most crimes committed are by people who do believe in god. Having said this, I don’t think believing and not-believing have anything to do with being good or bad. I don’t think that believing or not affects the actions of a person. It is the persons choice to be good and commitment to follow a good philosophy, whether that be religion or humanism.

18 05 2008
Mr President

Andy: I’m actually quite keen to read the book given the review you gave it. I do recognise what D’Souza is saying, and as I said, I think in pure Biblical terms he’s correct, since the Bible makes it clear that you have to “accept God” in your life if you wish to go to Heaven.

What I was trying to get at in the last paragraph is whether this really makes sense given other things that religion tells us. For example, as I said, I myself have not said I don’t believe in God. I even occasionally pray, showing that I certainly accept the possibility of a “higher force”.

Were I forced to choose between belief and lack thereof I’d prefer belief, although I can’t think of a major religion whose tenets I would be able to commit myself to completely. Given that God, then, is benevolent, and loves his creations, and I have lead a good life, would failing to commit myself to Christianity sentence me to eternity in Hell?

If so how does that seem fair when others who have embraced Christianity have also done a lot more evil in their lives than I have?

DB: I actually agree with you entirely. Belief and being good are two different things that are entirely independent of one another. It is entirely down to an individual to decide how they will behave.

18 05 2008
Pistol Pete

When someone called Jesus “good”, he replied “No one is good but God alone.” I don’t think he meant goodness was inaccessible to human beings (believers and non-believers alike), but that any goodness we “achieve” is actually a gift (grace) from God.

18 05 2008
Mr President

That’s an interesting interpretation Pete. I’d interpret that somewhat differently, I would say that he meant goodness was inaccessible to human beings, but that’s possibly because I believe it is.

As I said in the piece I’m a keen student of Plato. He spoke of “universals”, and spoke of things like truth, justice and honour. I would almost define being “good” as a “super-universal”, a combination of many universals. When I say I lead a “good” life I don’t mean the “universal” good but rather the “shadow” (cave allegory) of good.

I don’t believe humans are capable of true good. We’re inherently selfish creatures. When we do “good” we are actually fighting against our basic natures. Not that that’s a bad thing, and in fact I’d argue that’s what makes being good such a worthwhile pursuit.

For most of us true goodness is a goal that’s just out of reach, but one that we’re always striving to achieve. Isn’t that what the concept of sin is all about? That humans are incapable of ever being truly “good”?

The proof, to me, is that I’ve yet to come across a truly selfless act.

20 05 2008
Andy D

DB, do you have any stats to back up your assertion that most crimes are committed by religious people?

Pete, I like the quote.

Mr. President (besides commenting on here like it is my blog), I think you make some good points. I believe humans are capable of great things, and doing good, and living a good life. I also believe that none of us is without sin. One of the quotes that strikes me the most from the Bible is Paul saying, “Of all the sinners, I am the greatest”. I often find myself thinking about that.

Are your arguments actually arguing for a God? You say that you are tying to do “universal good”, and that when people do good they act against their own nature. What makes them do that? I would argue the spark of the divine within them. If there are any “universal good” deeds, how are they defined as good without God?

21 05 2008
Mr President

It’s funny you should say that Andy. Pete and I had a chat over email about Plato’s universals. His assertion was that Plato is actually easily reconciled with scripture, for example he believes that nothing Earthly can be perfect in form or substance, which, as you say, leaves room for something (or someone) spiritual (God) to define “universal good”.

My response was that I keep an open mind. If I had to define myself as either side of the agnostic-atheist or agnostic-theist line I certainly fall more on the theist side; I can see the inherent appeal in the idea of something bigger than us mere mortals, some figure of ultimate good.

I think my issue has been that I’ve yet to find an organised religion that fits my beliefs about the world. My views are very “live and let live” and although that’s the overarching essence of Christianity, the Biblical views on homosexuals and abortion are two I’d struggle to accept.

22 05 2008

I didn’t say religious, I said believe in God. 85% of American’s believe in God (or identify with a religion). Statistically the percent who would be currently incarcerated would be significantly higher for those who believe in God as opposed to those who do not. You can believe in God without being religious. I then followed up with “It is the persons choice to be good and commitment to follow a good philosophy, whether that be religion or humanism.” My point was that it is the loyalty to the philosophy of one’s life that determine criminal nature, not whether they believe in God or not. If you don’t live by the virtues of your philosophy, then you are probably more likely to stray from those ideals.

28 05 2008

I may be a little late in chiming in here, but of course you know I couldn’t leave this one be. Disclaimer: this response is completely and unhesitantly written from a Christian standpoint. I’m not intending to offend, merely to express what the Bible and the Christian faith would have to say about the topic.

I always love to hear the thoughts and opinions of people who have really thought about the question of whether there is a God or not. So many simply dismiss the idea without even contemplating it. More often than not, I find that Agnostics (as opposed to atheists) have at least taken some time to think about it rather than just hastily dumping the concept out the window.

You ask whether a person can be “good” without God. By the world’s standards, it is certainly possible to do so. There are many people who would classify themselves as “good” and even many who would be classified that way by others.

The problem is that in the end we will not be judged by the world’s standards, but by God’s. God’s standard is perfection. Now, who among us can say we have lived a perfect life? I would say that any who claim such would be either liars or self-deluded.

The Bible teaches that the only way to get to heaven is to be perfect. Of course, we can’t do that on our own, so God devised a way for us to be grafted into his kingdom. The death of Christ on the cross was the payment for all of our imperfections (sins). But the only way to receive that grace is to accept it and to accept the One who gave it.

People throw around terms like religion often in debates of this nature, but I would challenge that concept. Religion has never gotten anyone into heaven, and it never will. Religion is the adherence to a set of rules, standards or traditions surrounding a theological concept. God doesn’t want religion. Religion can only create conflict between people.

It is not a set of traditions or rules that we are to follow that will bring us before the Throne, but rather a relationship. It is through prayer that we can build such a relationship, and through the Bible that we can learn more about the character of God.

In Matthew 7, Jesus describes a day on which many people who have lived good, religious lives will be cast out of His kingdom. The standard he uses is not whether they have performed good deeds, or even miraculous ones, but rather whether they took the time to get to know Him.

Just some food for thought.

28 05 2008
Mr President

Ah, but that’s just it. I don’t really care if I go to Heaven or not.

Certainly I agree that agnostics and atheists will, on Judgement Day, be seen as the same, according to the Bible. My issue with Mr D’Souza’s words was that he didn’t say that, but rather said that Agnostics have effectively decided there is no God. We haven’t, I assure you.

We have certainly, according to the Bible, forsaken a place in Heaven.

That, however, only serves to make me challenge the concept of God as benevolent, as surely he’d want to reward people who had cared for his creations? Surely Jesus isn’t somehow seen as “above” God’s other creations. Isn’t that why he came as “one of us”, a human?

Expecting a creation that, according to the Bible itself, he created as imperfect, to nonetheless become perfect seems unfair. Of course the retort to this might be that he gave us his son, allowed him to be put through utter torment on the cross, so that we might become perfect, as you say, by accepting that as payment for our sins.

My response to that would be that he set the standard of perfection to begin with so why not simply lower the bar? I could be crass and use the old chestnut of “Can God create a boulder that he himself cannot lift?”, and use that to suggest that the concept of omnipotence is also flawed, but I won’t. I do, however, think it is flawed.

According to the Bible, then, a serial killer who embraces Jesus can go to Heaven, yet a person who devotes themselves to helping the sick and weak may end up in Hell for not doing so? That’s something I’d simply rather not be a part of, and if that means Hell for me, so be it.

I’d rather be good and burn than evil and go to Heaven.

28 05 2008

The standard of perfection has to do more with the character of God than with any arbitrary set of rules put into place. If you want to get into the deep theology of Dispensationalism, I’d be happy to go there… but the basic concept is that God has given us many dispensations, or ways to get to Him, and we have rejected them one by one. The first was Eden… when He created us, we were already in His glory, but we (as a race) chose to throw this away. Several times throughout history, we were given new covenants and commandments, but we never held to them. “The law” as it were didn’t come along until the 5th dispensation, that which was given through Moses. Of course, we managed to screw up even that, so finally He just did it for us, and we are now in the period of grace.

Jesus is above the creation because He was not created. He is a part of God. This is the concept of trinity, which can be hard to grasp, but the Bible makes it clear that Jesus was there from the very beginning. John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus became one of us, not to diminish His divinity, but rather to bridge the gap between us and God. No human was capable of living a perfect life, but Christ did, so when He took upon Himself the weight of our sins, we were in turn granted His perfection.

As for the serial killer thing, that’s one of the things I love most. Doesn’t matter how awful or depraved our past was, if we’re willing to repent (literally means turn around) we are not beyond the grace and love of God. I’ve certainly never murdered anyone, but I’ve done plenty of things in my life that I am not proud of. Who am I to say that God should forgive me, but should not forgive someone else because the things they have done seem so much worse to me? In God’s eyes all sin is sin.

Right now lots of religious people run around talking about how God hates homosexuals, abortionists and the like, but that’s simply not the case. God hates the sin of sex outside of marriage, but I know plenty of heterosexuals who are guilty there too. God hates the destruction of an innocent life that He created. (Jeremiah 1:5) But He will not judge those who commit these sins any more harshly than anyone else.

28 05 2008
Mr President

Don’t worry, I don’t censor comments, but I do have it in place that any comments with more than one link require approval before they show up on the blog itself. It’s to act as an added buffer against spam.

Hmm, well, I can certainly see where you’re coming from. I knew a little of that, certainly the concept of the trinity (Dispensationalism was new though). Yet even if Jesus was not created, I’m not convinced that a benevolent God would want us to love him more than he’d want us to love our fellow creations. That sounds more like an arrogant God than a caring one, a God who cares more what you do than who you are.

I’m a bit loathe to engage in a deep theological argument with an expert, but surely Dispensationalism is flawed at its outset? Since God never created us as perfect. Just because he created us in his “image” doesn’t mean that he created us perfect. After all, “image” is entirely to do with vision. So all that means is that we resemble him in some way.

Image certainly doesn’t mean “clone”. If we’re imperfect, blame God.

As for rules and commandments, the first one is “I am Your God”. So basically rejecting God is simply a sin like any other. If God can forgive any sin, how then can he not forgive the sin of choosing to be agnostic or, if we take it to the extreme, atheist? Especially when you consider that all that we’re actually doing is using the brain God gave us.

We were given senses to see, hear, smell, and yet we cannot use them to detect the presence of God. We were given brains to think and yet we’re unable to really comprehend God. After all, isn’t that what the phrase “God works in mysterious ways” means? And yet we’re supposed to believe with no real reason to do so? I need more than that.

My brain needs facts and logic. If that’s a sin, I’m a proud sinner.

Besides, if a serial killer can repent their sins on their deathbed, I can always repent my agnosticism then, can’t I? What’s the difference?

28 05 2008

I’m surely no expert. Barely even worthy to call myself a student. But theology does fascinate me.

According to the Bible, we were created perfectly sinless. We didn’t even know what sin was until the whole apple incident. It was our fall from grace that brought sin and death into the world. Of course, there is the argument of why did God create the tree in the first place, but without it we would have had no option of free will, no choice in the matter.

Is it arrogance for the richest man in the world to state that he is the richest? Arrogance for the tallest man to state that he is the tallest? It is no different from God stating that He is above humanity. Not boasting or bragging, but simply truth.

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment of them all was, he said it was to love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind. (paraphrasing, I can look up the exact reference if requested.) He was then asked what the second most important is. He said that the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. So yes, we are to love God first, man second. But really, loving our fellow man naturally follows after loving God in the first place, so as long as we get that first one right, we’re bound to do the second as well.

Unquestionably, the Bible states that rejecting God is a sin. The definition of sin after all is anything that is apart from God’s ways… so rejection of Him would qualify. To list everything that is a sin here would take a team of theologians decades to accomplish, and they’d still probably miss a few. That’s why it says “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.” It is simply not possible for us to be sinless. Don’t worry, I’m not calling you any worse a sinner than I call myself. I’m just simply stating that we are all sinners, down to the last. God can forgive any sin of course, but each and every sinner has to repent first.

You say there is no real reason to believe, but for millions of Christians who have experienced true faith, it’s as concrete as anything else. Just because we can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. So yes, there is quite a bit of faith and mystery involved, but there is much more to it as well.

It seems I may have struck a nerve, and if that’s the case please understand that I did not mean to. I’m not trying to condemn anyone, as that is not my place in the order of things. I’m simply answering the questions you put forth, to the best of my ability, from a Biblical standpoint. Please understand that I do in fact hold you in the highest esteem, else why would I be here to read what you have to say in the first place?

29 05 2008

Back to the question at hand, “can we be good without god”, and that answer is yes. The Bible is merely one philosophy used to give meaning to life, as pointed out here by Bungirl, but hardly the only one. But the question would then go to: would you be good still if there was no hope of reward or salvation? Do we need a reason to be good or can be just be good without reason? Many Christians will justify their “goodness” by quoting scripture and saying that it is the only way to be saved. What about the atheist who is being good simply because they have a good heart? They expect no eternal reward for their actions. Would being good without the expectation of reward imply that the person is more sincere? While I won’t neccessarily judge the sincerity of the two, I will say that you don’t need god to be good.

29 05 2008
Mr President

Bungirl: Honestly, you didn’t hit a nerve at all. Theology fascinates me, and whilst it may get a little heated, I don’t think at any point yet it’s crossed into the realm of “offensive”. Likewise, please understand that I am not condemning people of faith, just putting forward the other side.

In fact I’m very much enjoying hearing the Biblical perspective on this, it’s an educational experience for me. You’re right, certainly, to say that just because we can’t see God, doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. That’s why I’m not an atheist. Like I said, I’m simply unable to take that kind of leap of faith, I’m the sort of person who needs facts and logic.

You say, though, that God can forgive any sin, but each and every sinner has to repent first. Is there a deadline (pardon the pun) on this? Presumably one has to repent before their death, but does that mean they have up until their very last breath to do so? So I go back to it, if I were to repent my agnosticism on my deathbed, would I be forgiven?

What I still don’t understand is why a benevolent God’s most important commandment is that we love him first. If he’s so caring, and loves us, his creations, then why shouldn’t the most important one be to love your neighbour? I’m not convinced that your analogy holds up.

Nobody’s saying it’s arrogant for God to state that he is above humanity, however it is arrogant to say “love me more than you love your family”. To use your analogies, this would be the richest man in the world not simply stating that he is the richest, but saying that that entitled him to demand that you respect him more than you respect other people. That, I’m certain, would be considered arrogance.

I just fail to see why an apparently omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent being would care what we think of him. I recently wrote about internet feuds and the message that seemed to come back was that most of us don’t care what people on the internet think of us. If we’re able to shrug off people who don’t love us this easily, why can’t God?

Again, I’m not trying to be offensive, just asking the question.

Ok, so we were created perfect. Yet I’m still not convinced the idea of free will is the answer. If God is so benevolent, and knew that we might be tempted by the tree (he’s omniscient, after all) why give us the free will to damn our entire race to a world of sin and death? Do parents allow their young children free will? No, because they know that their children will make bad choices. Why then would God do so?

29 05 2008
Mr President

DB: *grins* Yeah, the discussion has moved away from the question a little, but that’s ok, it’s a good thing I think. Bungirl’s provided some interesting perspective. It’s good to hear the other side.

You’re a man after my own heart. Amazingly I was planning to write a post about the afterlife today, but I’m running a little late for an appointment so it may be this afternoon rather than this morning.

That’s a question I often ask as well; do we need some sort of reward to be good? Surely it’s actually better to just be good because we have a good heart? In fact, ultimately, could you not make a case that the latter are more deserving of a place in Heaven?

Again, I mean no offence, just putting the question out there.

29 05 2008
The Afterlife Of The Party « Textual Relations

[…] the overwhelming success (17 comments is the new Textual Relations record) of his last post on religion, Mr President thought he might return to the topic. Not least of all because the discussion in the […]

29 05 2008

DB, true Christians are not being good in hopes of attaining heaven. The Bible says that there is nothing we can do to be good enough to be worthy of heaven. If we could accomplish such a thing, there would have been no need for the entire New Testament. For a Christian, being good is not a requirement, but rather the natural response to a love for God. If you love someone, you want to please them, right? So it is with Christians wanting to be pleasing in God’s eyes.

Mr. President, glad to hear I did not offend. So many times people become really touchy when discussing matters of this sort, so I am always worried that may be the case.

There is no deadline on salvation, other than the obvious one. The thing is though, you have to really mean it when you’re asking for forgiveness. God is not so foolish as to not see the difference between an apology offered only out of fear and an apology that comes from a truly penitent heart. And let’s not forget that we can not generally choose the way we depart this life, so we can’t be assured of the option of a last second pardon.

As for why God wants us to love Him, that’s what we were created for… We were designed to be in relationship with our Creator, as Adam and Eve were before the fall. Beyond that, I don’t really know how to answer your question.

Your analogy with the rich man is a tad bit off… It would be more like the richest man in the world demanding that everyone in his sphere of influence acknowledge that he is, in fact, the richest man in the world. God’s sphere of influence is, of course, everyone and everything. He simply wants us to acknowledge His divinity.

It’s not that God can’t shrug off our callousness and even our animosity toward Him, because certainly He can. While God is certainly benevolent, He is also just. Our sins can not go unpunished because that would be against His nature. So, He has offered us a way for that penalty to be paid for us, in His mercy. We can choose to allow Jesus to pay for our sins or we can do it ourselves, but justice must be fulfilled.

Could God have made man and placed him in the garden and never created the tree? Sure. But what type of relationship is based on the other person having no choice in the matter? Would we truly be capable of loving God if we had no alternative?

29 05 2008
Mr President

Actually if we want to be technical, even that analogy with the rich man is false. The richest man in the world would have to prove, using facts and figures, that he was the richest man in the world before he could demand that those in his sphere of influence acknowledge that fact.

Clearly not just any Johnny-come-lately can come off the street and demand to be acknowledged as the richest man on the planet. By the same token, where is the evidence of God’s divinity? There really isn’t any. Just as we’d dismiss the claims of a wealthy man who couldn’t prove their wealth, should we not then dismiss God’s claims?

I ask again why he gave us senses, and yet made it so that we cannot sense his presence using them? If God wants us to forge a relationship with him, then why not allow us to experience him in an objective and measurable manner? I go back to the analogies, you can’t claim to be the tallest man in the world and yet not allow anyone to objectively measure your height. If you do then your claim loses credibility.

As for what sort of relationship is based upon the other person having no choice in the matter…easy…family. God created us, and is thus our Heavenly father, is he not? Well I can tell you for a fact that I love my father and yet I feel I don’t really have a choice in the matter.

I don’t like him one bit. In fact I despise everything about him, he’s done some deplorable things, but for some reason I can’t stop myself loving him. So yes, it is possible to love without free will.

In fact I’d argue no real love is the result of free will. Most of the most passionate relationships I’ve had have been with women that I knew were no good for me, yet I had no choice over how I felt. If you have a choice in the matter, it’s not love, it’s something else entirely; respect, admiration, caring, any of those, but certainly not love.

My post about the afterlife, inspired by this discussion, is here

30 05 2008

Yes, I read your other post this morning actually. If I want to accomplish the things that I need to do before I leave town this Saturday though, I think I will have to hold myself to commenting on only one of them. ; )

The richest and tallest men of course would have to prove their wealth or height to be recognized, but they are only men. The reason facts and figures would be used is because they are comparing quantifiable elements that are possessed, to one extent or another, by every man on earth. God is not asking that we acknowledge that He has the most of anything, but rather that He IS.

So that moves us on to concept of proving that there is a God. I think the primary issue here is the age and culture in which we live. Centuries ago, in order for a man to believe that there was a builder, he merely looked at a building and realized it had to be created by someone. When faced with a painting, he was aware that someone somewhere had to have painted it. He didn’t have to meet the builder or the painter face to face to realize their achievements. He knew that a great painting had to come from a great painter. The same man looked at creation and realized that there had to be a Creator.

Today most people believe in evolution, because it is the leading scientific explanation for the way we came about. I don’t agree with all of the principles of evolution obviously, but even if I were to accept every one of them, I would have to admit that it doesn’t explain how everything started. Evolutionists trace men back to apes, and so forth and so on, all the way to the primordial ooze as it were. But no theory ever begins to explain where such life came from in the first place. Whichever principle starting point you may choose, the gasses, elements, particles, whatever, have to have a starting point. Nothing in the natural realm just appears on its own. Everything is triggered by something else, or comes from something else. So if the ultimate starting point wasn’t natural, would it not have to be supernatural?

So, if there is a God, how do we know that the God of the Bible is in fact God? It’s true that He has not revealed Himself to the masses in this generation, nor in many of the others before this. So, we would have to look at the Bible as a historical document and prove it as a historian would prove such things. Historians would use the test of hostile eye witnesses. One example: At the time of Christ’s resurrection, the Jewish leaders of the time had every incentive to disprove the testimonies of those who claimed He had returned. All they would have needed was to produce a corpse. Many say they did not because they believed the disciples had stolen the body. Had this been the case, the disciples would have been executed for grave robbery, a capital offense at that time.

Another test historians might use to document such a case would be to catalog the distance in time between the events themselves and the time they were recorded. Were someone to write today a fictional historical account of major events that happened fourty years ago, someone else would certainly stand up and say it just wasn’t so. The people who were alive at the time of the start of the Viet Nam War for instance, are still alive today. They would not stand idly by and allow lies to be spread about events they had witnessed. So too, the people who witnessed Jesus ministry on earth were still around when the first manuscripts detailing his life were written. Yet we find nothing documenting an alternate version of the events described within them. Rather there have been at least three accounts uncovered written by non-believers (two Romans and a Jew) that corroborate parts of the Gospel story and affirm that it happened as it was written. This is far more historical evidence than we have for many other manuscripts that are taken at face value today.

You say that family is a relationship that we can not choose, and you use your father as an example. I could likewise use mine to counter your point. My (earthly) father and I never loved each other. He was not an absentee father, rather he was the man that raised me. For the eighteen years we lived under the same roof, we never saw eye to eye on many points and we hated each other for it. He was not invited to my wedding, and didn’t even know that I had moved out of state until several months after it happened. Today, of course, I realize that this was not the way it should have been, but he died years ago, so I have no option to remedy the situation. I never had any love for the man when he was alive, and I have no love for him now. The feeling was certainly mutual. I say this only to prove my point, that there is no love relationship that can be assured without some choice involved, including that between a father and his child.

Your examples of love given above, other than that of your father, are not generally sustainable love. There are of course many types of love. To say I love the color blue is entirely different from the way I love my sister, which in turn is completely diverse from the love I have for my husband. The type of love you are describing is a fleeting romantic feeling that generally does not stand the test of time. Any marriage counselor on the other hand will tell you that long-term love relationships take work. You have to constantly decide to love the person you are with despite any flaws. This is why so many marriages that start out with love end in hatred and divorce. Both of the people involved have to work at it to make love last.

So yes, if all God wanted from us was that butterflies in the pit of your stomach kind of love that fades in time, He could have simply planted it there. I don’t see how a fleeting feeling would be of any interest to an eternal being though.

Whew, I’m long-winded today… To be fair though, you did ask for it. 🙂

30 05 2008
Mr President

That I did…don’t worry, I love reading your comments!

You make some assumptions that I have to question, so forgive me for being long-winded in response. Firstly, you say “If the ultimate starting point wasn’t natural, would it not have to be supernatural?” Yet I have to ask, who says that the ultimate starting point wasn’t natural?

The assumption is that if man cannot understand something, it must clearly be divine. Why? Why can it not simply be that we overestimate our intellect? Why can it not be that a perfectly logical rational natural and earthly explanation exist, but we’re just too stupid to see it?

I’ve written about this before, albeit in an inflammatory style.

Sorry, but I’m afraid theism and atheism are on the same ground here.

The Bible doesn’t stand up to historical analysis. You say that had the disciples stolen the corpse they would have been executed for grave robbery, but that’s untrue. Had they stolen the corpse and it could be proven they would have been executed. Just because the Jewish leaders weren’t able to present evidence proving it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t true.

How many crimes go unpunished today because of lack of evidence?

That’s yet another assumption underlying your argument.

Another assumption you’re making is that anybody is suggesting the Bible is pure fiction. Certainly I am not. We in fact know that Jesus did exist, the debate centres on whether the miracles documented within it actually occurred. You say that those who witnessed them would have challenged it, but why? After all, weren’t these people believers?

You mention corroborating accounts, I assume you are referring, for example, to Josephus? Well the authenticity of such accounts has been challenged and claimed by many to have been doctored by Christians to make it appear more favourable to the Biblical account of events.

All corroborating stories only go so far as to suggest that there was a wise man called Jesus who had a considerable following and who was martyred by the Romans. Nobody is disputing this though. Certainly I don’t have an issue with accepting that there was a man named Jesus, but rather the leap to the claim that he was the son of God.

The problem with corroborating evidence is that it’s all subject to interpretation given the linguistic issues. Translations into English aren’t perfect and leave scope for different views. History has not accepted that it has been proven that Jesus was the son of God.

You use the example of your father to counter my point, but I’m not sure that it succeeds. Just because you don’t love him, doesn’t mean that love requires free will to work. My father wasn’t an absentee, far from it, he was (and still is) an alcoholic who beat me and my mother while I was growing up, and has done much worse since.

I have never seen eye to eye with my father on anything, I can’t stand the man, and yet there is still a stirring of love. Honestly, if I met a man who was just like him in every way but not my biological father, I would hate that person with every fibre in my being, and yet when I still find myself worrying about his health and wellbeing. He’s my Dad.

Honestly, I wish I could stop loving him, but I can’t.

I fail to see how your example proves that love is impossible without free will, all it shows is that hate is certainly possible without it. Your example doesn’t change the fact that I love my father and yet have no choice in the matter. If I had free will over the issue I wouldn’t.

You say that my examples are not sustainable and yet I still love every single one of those people to this day. I can’t help myself. You say you have to learn to love somebody despite any flaws they have; I’ve always said that you love somebody because of their flaws. You can’t take part of someone without taking the whole; you love them or you don’t.

Just because a relationship takes work it doesn’t mean that the love underlying it is a matter of choice. It means relationships are a matter of choice, that’s the key difference. We choose whether we want to have a relationship with someone but we certainly don’t choose whether we love them or not. Love comes from the absence of free will.

God could give us free will over the relationship, and clearly has done, as you have one with him and I don’t. Yet it is entirely possible that he could have allowed us to love him without giving us the complete free will that damned our race to a world of sin and death.

I again go back to the example of the parent and the child. My parents always stopped me from shoving my fingers into plugholes (yeah, I was a weird kid) and I know many parents who have to physically stop their children putting their hands up on the stove. When a child is unable to think for themselves, parents don’t allow them free will because they could hurt themselves. At least the good parents do.

Likewise I ask why God gave us free will when, in terms of comparison, our intelligence is clearly dwarfed by his. He knew, or must have done, that us being tempted by the Tree would condemn us, and must have also known that we would be so tempted. Again, he is supposed to be omniscient. Why then, did he allow us to put our hands into the fire, metaphorically speaking? Is he a bad parent? Surely not?

30 05 2008

The reason I say it couldn’t have been natural is because all things in nature come from or are started by something else. So whatever natural origin point you may pick, there has to be something that began it, or something it stemmed from. The natural order simply can not create anything out of nothing.

Your view of Jewish law is tainted I think by your understanding of law today. Back then, you were not innocent until proven guilty as much as you were at the mercy of the court and had to prove your own innocence. Yet we have no accounts of even an attempt to condemn these men over grave robbery. The Jewish leaders at the time had just incited a crowd to push for the release of a known murderer in order to have Jesus silenced. Why would they not have done more to silence His followers?

Admittedly I do not know enough about the corroborating documents to argue with you on that point. I’ve spent my time studying the original document, so I haven’t read much about the others. My faith has always been more experiential than historical, and I have never needed to seek out those accounts to prove it.

As for your prior post on religion, I agree with it somewhat actually. I would not go so far as to say anyone who relies on religion is crazy, but certainly misguided. As I stated in my original post, religion can only divide people. It has never saved a man and it never will. So many people think that faith and religion are the same thing because our culture treats them as such, but they are not.

I suppose my wording was incorrect on the example about my father. Of course it proves that the love-relationship is not guaranteed. That was actually my entire point. God does not want from us the type of love you describe with your father, where we love Him but at the same time loathe Him. The feeling of love (as I said before) is not His desire. He wants the love relationship that I was describing when I spoke about marriages. In fact the Bible uses the example of Jesus’ love for us as a pattern after which marriage should follow.

So yes, it certainly would have been safer for us had there been no tree. But it would have also been meaningless. Sometimes it is important for a parent to step back and allow their child to make bad decisions, because otherwise the child will never learn and grow. At these times the best a parent can do is to be there to pick up the pieces after the fall.

31 05 2008

Semantic and philosophical arguments do not prove the existence of the Christian god and can actually be used against such existence. God, in effect, cannot be proven, and by definition of faith, should not be proven. One can try and prove the existence of manuscripts leading to the Bible, but one cannot prove these manuscripts were not manipulated or tampered with. Now, as you claim, these manuscripts were written during the events in question or by first hand witnesses. I offer that if the manuscripts are the inspired word of God as often claimed, why would it make a difference if these manuscripts were written in a timely manner or not (as most were not)? If they are the word of God, then any controversy relating to their accuracy would be mute and a literal interpretation would be the only acceptable approach to the Bible. One cannot prove against the existence of a creator, and conversely, one cannot prove the existence of the Christian God.

2 06 2008
Mr President

Hmm, you make some good points Bungirl. I will have to disagree, however, with some of them. We may have to agree to disagree.

The idea that the natural order can not create anything out of nothing is an assumption, and one that is impossible to prove either way. Just because science hasn’t explained something, that does not necessitate a divine explanation. It simply means we’ve yet to discover an earthly one. Perhaps we never will, but even if that happens even that doesn’t prove a divine one, but rather demonstrates our limited intellect.

I’m with DB, God cannot be proven, and I also agree that the definition of faith requires that he isn’t. The whole concept of belief and faith is that it’s a leap, and I think it’s great that you’re able to make that leap, especially if it helps you, but I personally don’t find a need for it.

You’re right, however, to say that a parent does have to occasionally step back and allow their child to make bad choices. The key word in what you said, though, was “sometimes”. No good parent would step back where a bad choice would result in the death of their child.

The one mistake you can’t learn from is a fatal one. How else would you define a mistake which, in your own words, brought sin and death into the world? By eating that apple Adam and Eve condemned an entire race to death, and began a cycle of sin we’d be forever trapped within.

That’s a pretty huge mistake to let someone make…

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