March 02, 2006

Weird Stuff

from - smijer

Monday night was the first time since before I turned 18 that I was made to go to church... So who makes a 33 year old man go to church? Well, in my case, it was my employer. And, it wasn't technically church... it was on the Southern Belle, and the preacher (and ex-NFL player) was billed as a "motivational speaker". In addition to the preaching, there was a nice dinner, and there were opportunities to have interdepartmental mingling and mixing.

I am only writing this today, even though it happened Monday, for the simple reason that this raised my eyebrows in so many ways that I couldn't figure out how to even approach it... So, I'm just going to throw in all the juicy bits in whatever order I can... But, first - a word to educators, parents of public school children, and those concerned with such matters: this info is of interest to you! If you are a concerned citizen, then spread the word... If you are an educator or parent of a public school child, then you should know this before you consent to have this "motivational speaker" appear at your school's event!

So what raised my eyebrows Monday night? First in order of mention, but not chronologically, was that I was sent to a mandatory conference, the central point of which was to hear the evangelism of a Christian speaker. Don't misunderstand me... some, who are particularly sensitive to such things, might hear a blessing said, or the name of God or Jesus spoken, and proclaim an entire event "church", when really the central issue was elsewhere. I am not he. At my company, many large meetings start with a prayer and continue with mentions of God's will for the company... and I've sat quietly through every one of them... This was church. The man talked briefly about his football career, then spent the remainder of his time giving his testimony and exhorting us to a better Christian life. Another clarification - I wasn't offended... at least not by the fact that I was made to go to church. This type of event is once-per-year, and I can live with it. It makes the company brass feel warm & cozy. They, in turn, are not motivated by malice - they are simply oblivious to the fact that the company includes Unitarian atheists, people who prefer a little less church (or a little less of this particular variety), and Jews. Where I was a little miffed, I'll explain as I go along...

Ok... so the speaker was Herman Weaver... known at one time as "Thunderfoot"... When he took the microphone, he began by reading a longish list of cutesy maxims and quotations... And now we come to the first raised brow: He read the story of the reporter and Abe Lincoln concerning whose side God was on during the civil war. He remarked that, in his opinion, God favored the south... This despite having at least two blacks in the crowd, and several on the boat staff who were listening as well. Pretty dumb... You'd think, having made a second career in public speaking, he would know better than to glorify the south (which is indeed a wonderful place to live, in many ways) by implying that God condoned slavery. So, this was either very stupid, or he's a racist. I won't try to guess which.

The next brow - again in order of mention, not necessarily chronologically, was when he explained to a room full of conservative southerns just what qualified them as "true Christians"... yikes!

But what really made my hair stand on end whas what he told us about his missionary work to the public schools. But, I'm getting ahead of myself... First, I want to tell you about Herman's life-changing miracle, and why it's weird. See, when he was a backslidden Christian, his daughter fell from a tree, and was hurt very badly. So he took her to her grandmother's home (?!), where she continued to be hurt very badly... so he took her to the hospital. The doctors there told him she had broken her back - that she may never walk again. This is where it gets weird... She had to have a full body cast for up to a year, you see, but for some reason this had to be done at the Children's Hospital. So the doctor gave him the x-rays, and told him to take her there... in his car. It becomes anticlimactic at this point, I'm sorry to say, but the story must be finished. He drove her to the Children's Hospital, gave the x-rays to the doctor, and after the examination, the doctor proclaimed that "it must be a miracle", because there was nothing wrong with her. Shortly after, she was able to do a little walking. So there's the miracle... Naturally, I suspect that no doctor actually said that her back was broken, or any of the rest of it... I suspect the doctor at the first hospital said something else entirely, and either Mr. Weaver misunderstood completely or has later exaggerated, distorted, or lied about the experience. I won't speculate about which... but here's a further element of weirdness about the case. Later in his talk, he informed us that he had told students during his presentation that if anyone could "prove that there was even one lie in the Bible", he would change his beliefs. I don't know about you, but if God cured my baby girl of a broken back, I don't think I would abandon Him on the basis of one falsehood in the Holy Book... So, yeah... I suspect Weaver doesn't really believe his own story... or that he wasn't being all that truthful about his willingness to give up his religion in the face of opposing evidence. And that's the weirdness of the miracle.

Unfortunately, the rest of the story isn't so weird. It's remarkably normal in these United States. You may have gathered that this company meeting was more like a tent revival than business session. Well, a lot of what Mr. Weaver said was about how he gave precisely this same talk to school children in the public school system. A lot of it was about the students', parents', and teachers' reaction, and how he dealt with that. And, let me tell you - he doesn't take well to criticism. You see, according to Herman Weaver (who apparently has an inside line on Divine preferences), "God doesn't care about the separation of church & state". The kids need a little dose of church during school, because God forbid their parents have any say in when and where they get their church. So Herman Weaver has made it his personal business to make sure they get church when God wants them to. Weaver boasts that being an NFL star gives him access to places where it's hard for other people to get in... Apparently, he means the auditorium at City High.

Science teachers don't fair well with Mr. Weaver... After his talk a teacher came to him. To quote, "He didn't like that I told the kids they were created. He said, 'no they weren't. They evolved.'" Either he encountered one of the least literate science teacher critics of creationism out there, or he's bending the truth out of all proportion. I won't speculate which. In any case, the science teacher was (like most of his critics) "little", and not worth much bother. In fact, this was the case with almost every teacher or administrator that got in the way of his self-appointed task of God's liason to the public schools.

Have you noticed by now that Mr. Weaver came off - to me, anyway - as arrogant? That's the last eyebrow that I'll mention. Whether he was talking about his football career or his career in evangelism, the subject was himself and his achievements. God gets credit for the weird miracle... and a coach gets some credit for special punting training... The rest is a litany of "Thunderfoot's"
super-star talents.

In short, the dude is an boor, and has no respect for students or their tax-paying parents with regard to how he approaches them at school. I would like to ask him one day, if God cares so little for the separation of church and state, then maybe he wouldn't mind the government sending teachers in to his church to teach the kids a little science. I'm sure it couldn't hurt. I might remind him, then, that Allah doesn't care too much about the separation of church and state, either.

Herman Weaver's Homepage
Sports World, the organization that dispatches Weaver to his engagements.

August 09, 2005

It may be against the rules to have a Sunday Sermon on Tuesday morning but the good Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers let's it all hang out at the Mayflower Church in Oklahoma City.

Come and worship with me if you will.

These guys pass a plate that I would not mind dropping a dollar or two into once and awhile.

Posted by Buck in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 07, 2005

An Encounter (maybe)

from - smijer

Although I am now a freethinking Unitarian, I was raised in the Southern Baptist tradition. Baptists believe in miracles, but they don't ever really expect to see them. I remember being a child and hearing the preacher, during a dry spell, tell us that if you come to church to pray for rain, then you'd better bring an umbrella with you. That earned him a lot of "Amens", but I got the distinct impression that the people who even went so far as to bring an umbrella to church would not be entirely surprised if they wound up not having to use it on the way home. My impression was that went for the preacher as much as for anybody - but you ever know. Anyway, the Baptist will tell you that God answers prayer, but sometimes His answer is "no." Or "wait." You kind of get the idea.

I also remember that same Baptist preacher preaching up a storm (not a rainstorm - ha ha) against "charismatics"*. I was young enough at the time to have to ask my parents what exactly a "charismatic" was, and I didn't quite understand the answer they gave. It is only recently that I realized that charismatics are fairly numerous in this part of the country. And, it was only about a year or two ago that I discovered that I was married to one.

Specifically, I discovered that I was married to a member of the Church of God (Cleveland). Now, Church of God folks take their miracles seriously. So much so, that they have special weekend retreats for changing lives through a miraculous Encounter With God. I am pledged to go there this weekend, with an open mind. I go willingly. Mrs. smijer was very patient with my (admittedly fruitless) efforts to prosyletize her with reason and rationality, so this is her turn to try to prosyletize me with Christianity. She hopes that, by witnessing the work of the Holy Spirit up close, I might be granted a Saul-like conversion experience from God.

For those who aren't familiar with the Charismatic faith, you should know that they flatter themselves that the goings on that take place in their ministries are the same kinds of works that the Holy Ghost miraculously performed through the ministries of the apostles, as recounted in Acts and the Epistles. So this weekend, I can expect to hear people "speak in tongues", and when hands are laid upon them, even see them become "slain" in the spirit. The former I've witnessed first-hand; the latter is a form of religious ecstasy that I've never personally witnessed. If I picked a good weekend to go, I might even see a leg lengthened, or chronic pain relieved. Mrs. smijer knows quite well that I have too many rational and moral objections to most varieties of Christianity** to hope that witnessing these relatively mundane 'miracles' will persuade me to toss aside those weighty objections. What I believe she is hoping for is that, in an environment where lots of folks are praying, and the Holy Spirit is already busy, and where I am as receptive as possible to the possibility of the divine, that God will reveal Himself to me the same way Jesus revealed himself to Saul on the road to Damascus. In my post for the next Carnival of the Godless, I'll let you know how it turns out. From what I've read, I would be surprised if I experienced a religious ecstasy myself, without being a little more receptive to the religious evocations going on around me (and without the help of a psychotropic drug). I have long been curious about such experiences though. So, if I experience one, I will report it with relish and as much precision as possible. If I experience a religious ecstasy and it manages to remove my doubts about the reality and morality of some variety of the Christian religion, I'll certainly report that, too. And, in order to avoid skewing any possible results, I'll refrain from posting my bets ahead of time. I am entitled, however, to a 5% rake from any gambling pools that may be conducted on my account.

*My current understanding is that my folks don't share that particular preacher's views on the charismatic movement, though I'm not certain exactly where they do stand on charsimatic spiritual practices.

**There exist varieties of Christianity that manage to avoid most or all of these problems. By interpreting the meaning of the Bible in a way that departs radically from the interpretation of any conservative Christianity, most moral objections to Christianity can be avoided. The rational objections are more difficult, and are really only avoided by taking an agnostic or atheistic view, and taking only moral lessons from Christianity.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 26, 2005

It's Carnival Time

from - smijer

Carnival of the Godless
Godless Gracious, there's another Carnival up at Yeah, Whatever. In this edition, Dr. Zen compares yours truly to cuddles on a cold day. Flattery will get you everywhere, Dr. Zen.

Next Carnival, if I understand correctly, will be two weeks from now at Freespace... Wolverine Tom.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 25, 2005

I used MT long ago to begin an anynomous blog for my freethought posts. I have long ago abandoned it, and begun posting freethought along with everything else here. Since then, blog-spam has taken over the old project. As I prepare to take down the old project, I'm going to repost one of the posts here for posterity, and as ideal contributions to the Carnival of the Godless. Here is the first, Random Notes on Lee Strobel's a Case for Faith:

I've been paging through the rest of Strobel's Case for Faith. I'm not ready to do a detailed critique on the book. For one thing, I haven't read the whole thing yet. For another, I am supposed to be critiquing The Case for Christ - not the case for faith. But I wanted to make a couple of observations while they are fresh on their mind.

Chapter 3
Objection 3: Evolution explains life, so God isn't needed
I don't intend to critique this chapter in detail. It presents a loose apology for "Scientific Creationism" (leaning toward the "Intelligent Design" variety). It also attempts to make the case that an abiogenetic origin of life is not naturally possible, leaving Divine Intervention as "the most likely explanation" for the evidence. Needless to say, this is pure malarkey. Every claim made by Strobel and his interviewees is throroughly debunked somewhere at the Talk Origins Archive.

My one note that I would like to record while it is fresh on my mind is as follows. In the chapter on Hell, Strobel interviews a Christian philosopher. In the Case for Christ, Strobel interviews various Christian scholars and Christian archaeologists. For this chapter, one could expect Strobel to interview a Christian Biologist. Someone versed in the science of evolution and it's theological implications. Several come to mind. Two of the more prominent representatives would have been:
Kenneth Miller
Francis Collins
Instead, Strobel "settled" for a creationist in the field of mechanical engineering:
Walter Bradley.

So Strobel has gone out of his way to avoid good scholarship on this issue. The fact that he has to rely on pseudoscience to advance his viewpoints is telling, and speaks against the cause he is trying to advance through such underhanded tactics.

Next, in Chapter 4:
Objection #4: God and the Killing of the Innocents

I notice that Norman Geisler uses similar language defending genocide against the Amalekites that Hitler used to justify genocide against the Jews. Note how the Amalekites are portrayed as an incurable "disease" against which a "final solution" (amputation) had to be employed in order to keep the disease from spreading. Geisler:


But, Lee, you need to undestand the situation among the Amalekites. In that thoroughly evil and violent and depraved culture, there was no hope for those children. This nation was so polluted that it was like gangrene that was taking over a person's leg, and God had to amputate the leg or the gangrene would spread and there wouldn't be anything left..."

This reads like an essay from a neo-nazi publication. It is a denial of the individuality of persons as independent moral agents. It is a promulgation of the idea that racial or national identity is the defining trait: the idea upon which the holocaust was based. What Geisler is "defending", however, is the fact that God ordered the children of the Amakelites killed. The passage in question is 1 Samuel 15:2-3 :

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember [that] which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid [wait] for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

Incredibly, Geisler's defense is that it was an act of mercy to have the children killed. Geisler:

Now, if they had continued to live in that horrible society, past the age of accountability, they undoubtedly would have become corrupted and thereby lost forever.

Did Geisler forget the first half of the verse? Every man and woman was to be slain.. the "culture" that was to be such an horrific impact on these infants was to be the victim of genocide already. At the very least, God could have asked the Jews to take on responsibility for the infant children of those whom they were asked to slay, and raise them up in their own culture. One has to wonder though, whether the Jews' culture of the time (one that had developed their ideas about God around ideas like genocide) would have been any less depraved than the Amakelites own culture..

(this concludes the original post. Below the fold, I am including The Coherence of JP Moreland's Hell, also a critique of a portion of Case for Faith)

The Coherence of JP Moreland's Hell

As this will be a rebuttal, more than a critique, I would like to address the chapter point by point, and will quote liberally from the book in order to set up my objections.

Hell Is a Torture Chamber

After using an example of a good judge who reduced charges to avoid mandatory sentencing to remind us that he does have a functioning sense of justice, Lee Strobel moves on to introduce the problem of Hell. He has chosen J.P. Moreland as his expert witness to defuse that problem.

Moreland has a curious habit of arguing by assertion (ipse dixit - "because I say"). Nearly everyone is guilty of the occasional ipse dixit, on ideas that do not seem controversial to them, or out of carelessness, or in an attempt to be concise. But, this mode of argument seems to be Moreland's primary approach. We shall begin with the first instance of that fallacy, which also illuminates a hint of circularity:

"And it's important to understand that if the God of Christianity is real, he hates hell and he hates people going there," he added. "The Bible is very clear: God says he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked."

It is true that the Bible (in Ezekial 33:11) states that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. There is gaping hole of missing logic between this simple Old Testament statement and Moreland's claim that God hates Hell. If God is all-powerful, He would have open the option of making Hell unnecessary and eliminating it's existence from His divine plan - this follows directly from the definition of "all-powerful". If God truly "hated" Hell, then there would be no hell, and this chapter would be missing. On the other hand, Moreland makes no real effort to support his claim with reason - leaving us only the choice to believe it because he says so, if we are to believe it at all. One would hope he would give us more reason than that. After all, the problems with Hell are often presented as objections to Christianity. Since Moreland's interview with Strobel is ostensibly meant to answer "the toughest objections to Christianity", I would expect to find in it something more substantial than the unsupported declaration, that "if Christianity is true, then your objection is invalid because God hates hell." The objection is that Christianity may not be true because Hell is unjust, so it is somewhat circular to start with the assumption that Christianity is true in order to reach a conclusion. Unfortunately, as we read through the chapter, we find precious little added substance.

Reading on, we discover that Moreland has taken a very unorthodox view of what Hell is. On this point, it is hard not to at least respect his sense of justice. He sees the difficulty with the Biblical Hell, and finds that it cannot be accounted for. This speaks of a certain moral awareness often missing in other conservative Christian apologists, philosophers, and clergy. Moreland claims that hell is not a torture chamber. He claims that the suffering in Hell is only shame, regret, and the suffering of eternal separation from God. Even by this liberal definition, Moreland is unable to paint a coherent view of Hell while answering other objections. His answers to other objections will not make sense in light of this view of Hell.

Again, this is a morally superior view to the orthodox Christian one, but Moreland has two thousand years of church history, and some very clear language from the Bible against him. Since most Christians believe that the historical church view is dependent upon the Biblical view, I will let go the two thousand years of church history, and focus on the Biblical notions of Hell. Before I go on to the actual scripture, however, I want to quote somewhat more of Moreland's ipse dixit case against the Biblical hell as it comes out in his conversation with Strobel:

"When I was about ten years old, I was taken to Sunday school, where the teacher lit a candle and said, 'Do you know how much it hurts to burn your finger? Well, imagine your whole body being in fire forever and ever. That's what hell it.'" [...] "You have to admit that when it comes to talking about hell, the Bible does have a tendency to refer to flames." "That's true," Moreland replied, "but the flames are a figure of speech." I put up my hand. "Okay, wait a minute," I protested. "I thought you were a conservative scholar. Are you going to try to soften the idea of hell to make it more palatable?" "Absolutely not," came his reply. "I just want to be biblically accurate. We know that the reference to flames is figurative because if you try to take it literally, it makes no sense. For example, hell is described as a place of utter darkness and yet there are flames, too. How can that be? Flames would light things up." [...]

Moreland goes on to mention a few cases in the Bible where flames are mentioned in the context of a vision, or in clearly metaphorical terms, but never gives any detailed justification for taking each Biblical reference to "flames" figuratively. I do believe one could make a valid case that there is at least one instance where God is described metaphorically as a "consuming fire", but one could make that particular case on the merits of the language and context of that passage. On the contrary, it is not justified by the language and context to dismiss New Testament descriptions of Hell as figurative, and (I will show) such a view is contradicted by a specific examination of the passages dealing with hell.

Before moving on to the scripture, I want to quickly deal with the other argument Moreland cites for treating hell as a "figure of speech". He says that would be absurd because hell is sometimes described as being a place of darkness - and therefore the language must be figurative. I think this represents an apologetic failure. Anyone can easily reconcile the flames with the darkness. The flames might be hot without providing light (their purpose is only to torment, not to give the benefit of light). The flames may be real, but the sufferers may be in darkness because their eyes are burned. The flames may be so intense as to only create ultraviolet light - which isn't visible to the eye. None of these harmonizations occurred to Moreland or Strobel - a Christian philosopher and a Christian apologist - during their interview?

I will avoid Old Testament references to Sheol, which translates to "the grave" and which, I believe, represents distinctly Jewish ideas about death and the possibility of an after-life. Christians often read New Testament notions of hell into Old Testament discussions of Sheol. The resulting doctrinal controversies and difficulties are beyond the scope of this rebuttal. The New Testament literature is very clear in its own right, is not contradicted by the Old Testament, and should therefore be sufficient to discover what Christians consider to be the "Biblical" idea of hell.

Let us begin with Revelation 20:10 and 13-15.


10: And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
13: And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14: And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15: And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.


Here, we learn that the ultimate destiny of the hellbound is the same as that of the devil and his angels, and that it is a lake of fire and brimstone (a kind of incense which is thought to have a purifying effect when burned). We also learn that Hell isn't chosen freely by the unbeliever - but that she is to be cast into the fire from above. Revelation 21:8 reiterates:

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Please make a note that the scripture does not claim that these unrighteous will have their part in separation from God, which will be as unpleasant as a lake of fire. Jesus, as quoted in gMatthew (shorthand for 'Gospel of Matthew'. I will also refer where needed to the conventional shorthand aMatthew to mean 'author of Matthew'), confirms this idea and adds that the condemnation is a punishment and that it is eternal Matthew 25:41 & 46:

41: Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 46: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

The importance of these passages are that they describe the afterlife of the condemned, without language signifying a figurative use of the word "fire", and without reference to "separation from God". Our next passage is from gLuke. It demonstrates that the references to fire are to be taken literally, and also that Hell is a torture chamber. Luke 16:23-25:

And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

If the flames were only figurative, it doesn't seem likely that the Rich Man would be asking for water with which to cool his tongue. Furthermore, Jesus, as quoted by aLuke, wants to make triply sure we understand that hell is torture: he repeats the word "torment" three times in this passage. Again, the flames are not spoken of as a figure of speech for his suffering and regret, but instead are given as the cause of his torment.

So, we have a choice - we can rule out Moreland's apologetic, and deal with the moral status of an eternal torture chamber as described in the Bible, or we can use his tactic and re-write the Bible when it crosses the line of moral decency. But then the question becomes this: if we can dismiss one troublesome passage from the Bible arbitrarily, why should we accept any of it? Why should we treat the virgin birth as anything other than a "figure of speech"? - or the crucifixion? - or the resurrection? - the Holy Spirit, and its gifts?

The choice for the conservative - Bible-believing - Christian is clear: she must keep the literal interpretation of Hell that the Bible requires. That means the moral objection to eternal torture in Hell retains its full weight and Strobel and Moreland have failed to answer it.

Nevertheless, Strobel and Moreland have contented themselves with their explanation, without attempting to cope with its consequences for how Christians understand the Bible, and have moved on to other objections having to do with Hell. I intend for this rebuttal to be nearly comprehensive so I will follow their train of thought. I will accept, for the sake of argument, their vision of hell as a "separation from God" that is "chosen" by the unsaved, and will answer their objections accordingly, though I may throw in a comment about how the objection would pertain to the Biblical hell where I see it warranted.

Objection 1: How Can God Send Children to Hell?
Moreland argues (ipse dixit) that people in Hell will be there in their adult form, even if they died as children, so children will not be suffering there. He also argues (ispe dixit) that no child will die and go to hell who would have been saved had she lived long enough. I do not know for sure what he means by this. I do not know if he means that some children will be spared hell even though they were unsaved when they died, or whether he means that all children who die unsaved will be in hell because they never would have accepted salvation if they had lived longer.

If he means the former, then this creates a theological problem. Most variations of Christianity believe that a child can be saved as early as seven or eight years old, and many believe they can be saved even earlier. Only a very few believe that salvation must await adulthood with an adult's understanding of the New Covenant. To claim that children who were old enough to have reached this "age of accountability" can die, yet escape hell, does not conform to Christian doctrine.

If he means the latter, then this is also troubling. It tells the mothers and fathers of so many millions of unsaved young ones, that their children went to hell. What comfort is it, then, to know that J.P. Moreland believes that they were zapped into an adult form to endure their eternity of suffering? What comfort to think that God only cast them into Hell because He was sure that they never would have believed the Christian religion even if they had lived longer?

In reality, most children cannot fully comprehend the consequences of their choices until they are grown into adults. This is recognized even by our flawed justice system, which (usually) treats juvenile defendants differently than adult ones. If it is not also recognized by the God of the Bible, then this is a strong objection to the doctrines of the Bible. Before I move on, I just want to note to you again that Moreland believes that children will be given an adult form in Hell - as this may well prove relevant during the discussion of one of his other arguments.

Objection 2: Why Does Everyone Suffer The Same in Hell?
Moreland contends that everyone does not suffer the same in hell, and supports himself with the scripture wherein Jesus prophecies the doom of Capernaum. This seems to me a tenuous interpretation of that scripture, but I believe Moreland deserves the benefit of doubt here.

Further along, Moreland will dismiss the notion of reincarnation because he views it as "incoherent". He claims that coherence is important to him. I would suggest that there is a degree of incoherence in his own view of Hell. If hell is "separation from God" (and if, as Luke 16:26 suggests, that separation is unbridgeable), then there seems to be a discrepancy between these two views. As Kyle Gerkin points out in his rebuttal to this chapter of Strobel's book, "The only reason proximity matters is as a factor of how long it takes to make contact with an object." In other words, degrees of separation would not logically have any impact on the degree of suffering that came as a result.

Moreland seems also to believe that the suffering in hell comes partly from regret for sins and regret at having made the choice to reject God and live in eternity without Him. This regret certainly could (and should) exist in degrees, so this may help his view of Hell - if the idea of regret in Hell was consistent with Moreland's other ideas about Hell. I would argue that Moreland's other contentions rule out the notion of regret in Hell. He contends elsewhere that no one who changed their mind about their choices on Earth would ever do so in Hell. Since changing their mind about the choice to sin and reject God would be necessary before they could regret that choice, I would say that the existence of regret in Hell is not a coherent part of Moreland's idea of hell, and that therefore his argument in support of degrees of suffering in hell falls apart.

I would not, however, present the objection that all suffer the same in my own debates. In a Biblical hell, there is no reason to believe that all will suffer equally. The original objection that Strobel brings up seems only to apply to a minority of Christian denominations which may preach that Hell is a place of uniform suffering. I'm not certain why he thought it important enough to mention in his book.

Objection 3: Why Are People Punished Infinitely For Finite Crimes?
Moreland correctly reminds us that the severity of punishment warranted by a crime does not correspond to the length of time required for its commission. A robbery may take longer than a murder, but a murder is more heinous. Moreland seeks to convince us that rejection of God and salvation is the "ultimate" crime - the crime greater than which there is no other crime. This may well be true under Christian doctrine, but he also asks us to deduce that it must therefore warrant the "ultimate" punishment - the punishment greater than which there is no other punishment, e.g. eternal suffering away from God. On this point, his logic fails.

Justice is not so simplistic a value that one can merely substitute the description of the crime for the description of the punishment in order to decide what is warranted. If we thought so, we would punish a lying child by lying to her, punish an adulterous spouse through unfaithfulness, and punish a thief by stealing from her.

I believe that justice is a basic shared human value, and that most anyone would agree (according to their own sense of justice) that a certain punishment is warranted if (and only if):
1) The offense was intentional, or if enough care wasn't taken to avoid it
2) The punishment is not "cruel and unusual": meaning, essentially, that torture is forbidden, and the punishment cannot be orders of magnitude more severe than the criminal act itself.
and
3) One or more of the following are true:
a) The punishment provides compensation to the victim.
b) The punishment rehabilitates the criminal
or
c) There is a valid expectation that the punishment will deter others from the same crime.

I consciously left out the criterion of "revenge". It may be that satisfying the victims' sense of revenge may provide a degree of compensation to the victim, and that revenge can therefore play a role in justice. To the extent this is true, it is covered above under the item 2a. We often use the term "revenge", however, to refer to retribution that falls outside what is tolerated by justice. The Bible says that "vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord". It isn't essential that we discover how this is best interpreted. Suffice it to say that there is nothing in that passage that requires God to be seeking the sort of "revenge" that is unjust.

On the other hand, the Biblical Hell does not qualify as just punishment, since it does employ torture. The Biblical Hell is, in fact, infinite torture - because it is eternal. Infinite torture is infinite injustice, and it is infinite injustice that the Biblical teachings of Hell ascribe to God.

Similarly, J.P. Moreland's Hell consists of eternal suffering. Suffering, as punishment, may be just. But can eternal suffering be a just punishment?

It cannot provide compensation to the victims of the crime. For a particular sinner, (we shall name her "Sue"), we can think of three sets of victims. She may have sinned against herself - but she cannot provide compensation to herself through her own suffering. She may have sinned against God, but God is perfect and therefore cannot suffer harm, so her suffering cannot provide compensation to Him. She may have sinned against other people, but they are either in Hell with her and sharing her fate, or in the Utopia of heaven where all of their suffering has been already erased. So we find that compensation cannot make Hell a just punishment, even under Moreland's view of it.

Rehabilitation is also out of the question. In both Moreland's and the Bible's view of Hell, it is eternal and continues either without successfully rehabilitating the criminal or without abating once the rehabilitation is done. So, rehabilitation does not justify Hell, whether we are talking about the Hell of the Bible, or Moreland's own conception.

Eternal suffering (under Moreland's view - and even more so under the Biblical view of eternal torture) would, in fact, provide a deterrent for those considering rejecting God. But Moreland believes that deterrence is not a valid use for Hell. In fact, he claims that being deterred would invalidate salvation. From his answer to the objection #8:

The next thing you have to keep in mind is if people saw the judgment seat of God after death, it would be so coercive that they would no longer have the power of free choice. Any 'decision' they made would not be a real genuine free choice; it would be totally coerced. It would be like me holding a paddle over my daughter and saying, 'You will say you're sorry to your sister for wearing her dress without asking.' Any apology would not be a real apology, it would just be avoidance. And people who would 'choose' in a second chance would not really be choosing God, his kingdom, or his ways - nor would they be suited for life in his kingdom. They'd be making a prudent 'choice' to avoid judgment only.

So Hell as a deterrent doesn't fit coherently with Moreland's view. Furthermore, the Biblical Hell goes far beyond what would be needed as a deterrent. Anyone who could be deterred by threat of torture would surely be as well deterred by the threat of several lifetimes of it as by the threat of an eternity. A human would have difficulty imagining the difference in the first place. However, just the threat of an ordinary punishment without torture may make a better deterrent if it could be witnessed by those for whom deterrence was meant. If deterrence was the goal, it would be far more effective if the earthbound could go to the edge of the pit and witness the agony of Hell's current denizens. We can deduce from the fact that God has not provided us a viewing window, that deterrence is not His aim with the creation of Hell. If it were truly His aim, He could be doing a much better job of employing Hell for the purpose of deterrence.

So we see that the punishment of Hell is unjust whether we are discussing Moreland's invention or the fiery abyss promised by the Bible. Moreland's suggestion that punishment should be infinite because it is retribution for disrespecting an infinitely Holy God appears to be without support. There seems to be no logical connection between the severity of the punishment and the degree of Holiness and Justice of the offended party. As mentioned before, an all-powerful God is not subject to involuntary harm. There is nothing a mortal can do to cause an infinite God to suffer. Only God could cause Himself to suffer. If He should do so on account of a mortals' actions then it is He, not they, who has done the harm, and should suffer the consequences. Furthermore, there is no way that the suffering of a mortal could provide reparations to God even if we considered His voluntary suffering as being the fault of the mortal.

Objection 4: Couldn't God Force Everyone to Go to Heaven?

This isn't much of an objection to begin with. Heaven is construed as a reward, so it would be absurd to expect that everyone will be equally rewarded.

On the other hand, if God is to keep His hands clean of torture by making sure Hell remains unoccupied, then He has at His disposal infinite power and creativity with which to find a means for doing so. He need not regard the rewards of heaven as the only alternative to the torture of Hell.

I find myself puzzled again about why Strobel even brought up this objection. It adds nothing to the discussion. But it did incidentally elicit this remark from Moreland:

When God allows people to say 'no' to Him, He actually respects and dignifies them.

I would agree with the sentiment behind this statement. I'm not sure that it would apply to a God whose idea of "allowing" people to say 'no' to Him was to provide for their eternal punishment. On the other hand, if we allow ourselves to imagine a God that is unlike the one portrayed in the Bible or in Moreland's own imagination, then it isn't hard to find ourselves drawn to a conception of God that is more like a loving parent, and less like a jealous lover. One could imagine that such a God would provide for the free-will choices of His children even in the here-after, allowing people to love Him (or not) freely, without hint of coercion. Such a God would correct His children, but would never create eternal punishments for them. As long as Moreland believes we can discard the Biblical view of Hell at the first mention of flames and darkness together, he might as well create a coherent notion of the after-life that gives God more credit for justice and goodness. Instead, he paints a picture of God that is neither Biblical nor Just, and falls far short of being coherent.

Objection 5: Why Doesn't God Just Snuff People Out?

The option of annihilation would present an omnipotent God the opportunity to have Justice, mercy, and goodness without creating an unjust Hell of eternal punishment. I believe that Strobel has weakened this objection by giving it in the specific rather than in the general. It should be discussed as an example of the larger objection: Why doesn't God use His infinite knowledge, creativity, and power to eliminate the possibility of eternal suffering from the Universe? Asked this way, it would be very difficult for Moreland even to give the appearance of answering the objection. This is the slam dunk. If God is infinitely Good, then He would naturally hate the existence of eternal suffering, and if He is infinitely powerful, then He could make certain that it did not exist. Therefore, the doctrine of eternal suffering requires that God be less than infinitely Good, or less than infinitely Powerful. It is a logical impossibility for a God to be omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and for Hell to exist: even J.P. Moreland's watered-down version of it.

However, Strobel withheld this question. Moreland did not have a chance to answer it. So we will have to deal with the question Strobel did ask. Once again, Moreland's answers are wholly inadequate. First, he says that rescuing people from eternal suffering this way is "treating them as a means to an end". This seems patently absurd, when the end in question is to eliminate the suffering of the very people in question. I will quote again from Gerkin:

Sometimes apologists do an unbelievable job of twisting and squirming in order to be consistent with their beliefs. Moreland is a perfect example here. When speaking of annihilation he says, "The only way that's a good thing would be the end result, which would be to keep people from experiencing the conscious separation from God forever. Well, then you are treating people as a means to an end" (183). Give me a break. By his reasoning, if I see a starving child on the street, I should not feed him because the only good thing would be the end result, which would be to alleviate his hunger. Well, then I'd be treating the child as a means to an end. Can Moreland possibly believe this? No, of course not. No sane person could.

That sums it up for the "means to an end" argument.

However, Moreland does follow up by taking another tack.

It appears that he is assuming that annihilation would be involuntary. He states that God is honoring the individual's freedom of choice by not annihilating her, but allowing her instead to suffer eternally in Hell. This makes sense if, and only if, no one in Hell would choose annihilation over eternal suffering. If they would so choose, then God would better honor their choice by annihilating them. If they would not so choose, then one can hardly argue that Hell is a horrible place where one does not want to spend an eternity. So much for "honoring their freedom of choice".

Lastly, Moreland suggests that as "image-bearers" human individuals have "intrinsic value" that God would not destroy. Perhaps God really does prefer keeping his image-bearers in a place of eternal suffering over allowing them a painless end. If so, it cannot be rightly said of God what Moreland said at the start of the chapter: "And it's important to understand that if the God of Christianity is real, he hates hell and he hates people going there."

It is worth taking some time to think what Moreland may mean about people being "image-bearers" of God. Clearly, he is referring to Genesis 1:26 and other scripture that indicates humans were made in the image of God, but what does this mean? Theologians differ, but most argue that this means that humans are independent moral agents: that they have freedom of choice, and a consciousness of right and wrong. Very few believe that it means humans share God's anatomy, as this would lead to very interesting questions about what God does with lungs (not needing air) or with a body at all - considering He is a spiritual being. If the image of God is "free moral choice", then we are left again with a dilemma: God could honor the choice of his image-bearers, giving meaning to that status, and allow annihilation. If they did not choose annihilation over Hell, then Hell can hardly be a negative experience, all things considered; that is the second horn of the dilemma.

In fact, the very idea that God must "sustain" his image-bearer's life, yet needs to have it quarantined from Himself in a place of eternal suffering, may well be self-contradictory. It is difficult to conceive of a situation where one simultaneously needs to be sure a thing continues to exist, and also needs to be sure that the thing never gets near enough to affect or be affected by ones' own self.

It is becoming clear that Moreland is compromising his career as a philosopher in order to protect Hell from criticism.

I will not take up the discussion about whether the Old Testament teaches annihilationism. Many Jews, and some Christians believe that it does. Strobel - as per his usual habit - only presents one side of that debate. If he were really interested in investigating the toughest objections to Christianity, and really interested in investigating the toughest objections to his own views, he would not limit himself to interviews with those who agreed with him. Be that as it may, it is beyond the scope of this rebuttal to take sides in the debate of Scriptural authority for annihilationism. If the subject interests you, I strongly suggest you seek out representatives who favor the pro- view in order to balance the arguments you are hearing from Moreland.

Objection 6: How Can Hell Exist Alongside of Heaven?

This objection is simply too easy. I would point out that most of Moreland's answers come ipse dixit: because he says so. Even here, he must argue by assertion, rather than by logic. However, I will not take up any contrary positions on this point, because it is far too easy to explain how Hell and Heaven can logically coexist, even if Hell were the unjust infinite torture that the Bible says it to be. God could quite easily erase all knowledge of Hell from the minds of those in Heaven, and their joy would be complete. There's no more Biblical reason to believe this will be the case than there is to believe Moreland's explanation, but either would suffice and so this objection cannot stand. It is a shame that Strobel didn't give time to more serious objections.

Objection 7: Why Didn't God Create Only Those He Knew Would Follow Him?

In a fit of hubris, Moreland declares God incapable of creating only those people that would, according to His foreknowledge, follow Him and avoid Hell. However, the reasoning that leads him to this conclusion seems terribly unclear. He seems to be claiming that God wants us to be able to influence one another's hope of salvation. He describes a scenario where his parents' choice of city brings him into contact with different people, and the results are that he is saved while others are not in one case and others are saved while he is not in another case. In other words, Moreland is saying that God cannot have foreknowledge of who will be saved among the group until the parents have made up their mind whether to live in the first location or the second.

I cannot count the difficulties with this scenario. On the one hand, when answering the first objection, Moreland claims that God can have foreknowledge to ensure that no one who "dies prematurely" would have accepted God if given longer. Now, it appears, he is denying that same foreknowledge to God on the basis that God doesn't know where his parents will choose to live, which influence he will come in contact with, and therefore what his eventual choice will be.

It was quite acceptable that Moreland claimed God had foreknowledge of who would be saved when he was answering the first objection. It makes sense that an all-knowing entity would have foreknowledge of this kind. Now that Moreland wants to deprive God of this foreknowledge, I must call fowl. Omniscience, if the word is to have any meaning, requires ultimate foreknowledge. This would, in turn, easily enable God to choose only to create those who would follow Him.

This is not the only tack that Moreland takes in his effort to rob God of His omnipotence, and God's role in creation. He introduces us to the view of traducianism. He doesn't go into much depth explaining it, but we seems to accept a view that the human soul is created by the union of human gametes (sperm and egg). We all know that this is how a new human being comes to be: that the result of a sexual coupling often brings the human gametes together where they begin the process of dividing and specializing that produces a human being. Christian doctrine ordinarily assumes this to be accomplished by God's will, and assumes the creation of the soul to be a direct act of God accompanying the creation of a physical human by natural means. Moreland argues that without the union of that particular egg and that particular sperm, Moreland could never have been - and therefore God could not create only those who would follow Him, since He would have to create their grandparents as well. Moreland offers us no support for this view, and offers no explanation for his apparent view that God is restricted to traducianism as a means of creating new souls. Moreland seems to be implying that God lost his knack for creating by fiat after Adam and Eve.

Clearly Moreland's view is not consistent with the view in the Bible that God is all-powerful and capable of anything He chooses.

Furthermore, if you remember, Moreland believes God is capable of bringing about a mature state without the normal course of development. He believes (from objection #1), that children who die will be represented in their adult form in Hell. That means, God is capable of arriving at the end result without employing the process. He is capable of making an adult personality out of a child's without the process of maturation, and should also be capable of making those who will follow him without the process of historical genealogy.

Objection 8: Why Doesn't God Give People a Second Chance

Here again, philosopher Moreland cannot seem to keep his answers straight from one objection to the next. In defense of the previous objection, Moreland suggests that God could not have foreknowledge of the status of anyone's' salvation because people affect each other (in ways unpredictable to God - if his suggestion is to be meaningful). This is a laughable position to take, and it is no surprise, then that he turns around and presents its diametric opposite in answering this objection. Now, according to Moreland, God gives as many second chances as a person might possibly take advantage of while they remain on earth. He has the foreknowledge to know that no one who dies unsaved would have been saved had He given them a little while longer and another second chance. Be this as it may, it seems to miss the question. Even Strobel, seemingly willing to let any answer stand so long as it appears to defend his religion against a challenging objection, finds he must press the issue somewhat. I quote Strobel:


That only dealt with part of the question, however. "Wait a minute," I said. "Wouldn't death and the awareness of the presence or absence of God after you die be a very motivating thing for people?"

Wouldn't it, indeed? If the choice is between following God and desiring separation from God, as Moreland would have it, then wouldn't the best time for such a decision be when you are most fully aware of the options? It would appear that Strobel has a very good point.

Moreland's answer isn't quite as propitious. He compares sinfulness to a "bad habit" that becomes progressively hard to break as one continues in it, explaining again that a person who rejects God throughout life would never change her mind for a second chance afterward. This probabalistic thinking is inadequate in itself (I believe Moreland recognizes that), and is contradicted by the uptick in frequency of conversion experiences that accompanies old age and thoughts of death. Moreland may not recognize these "deathbed conversions" as being sincere and effective, however. He goes on to discuss the coercive effect that experiential knowledge of the absence (or presence) of God might have on human psychology.

He claims that full experiential knowledge of Heaven (fellowship with God) and Hell (separation from God) would have a coercive effect upon people and would invalidate their choice. They would no longer be choosing God, but would be choosing to avoid Hell. It seems a rather ridiculous explanation. After all, if direct knowledge of the consequences of one's choices is truly coercive, then the choice wasn't really free to begin with. The question would only be how well a person understood those consequences prior to making the choice. If God wanted us to choose Him without choosing to avoid the alternative to Him, then Jesus would never have mentioned that Hell was a place of torment. Is the faith of those who chose salvation because they believed the Bible's description of hell therefore invalidated because it was done "under threat" ? If not, then surely the real experience of Hell would also not invalidate salvation - merely because people were more acutely aware of what the threat consisted. And, if so, why does Jesus risk invalidating the salvation of people by making them indirectly aware of the experience of Hell?

Moreland continuously asks us to believe that God is honoring our free choices. Now he is asking us to believe that God wants us to make our choices with less experiential knowledge of their consequences than we could have. In effect, Moreland is suggesting that God doesn't want us to have a fully informed choice.

In fact, he goes even further:


I'll suggest one more thing. God maintains a delicate balance between keeping his existence sufficiently evident so people will know he's there and yet hiding his presence enough so that people who want to choose to ignore him can do it. This way, their choice of destiny is really free."

What he is doing here is answering an objection that wasn't asked, has little to do with Hell, and which must burn in the backs of the minds of believers everywhere. And, as usual, he is failing to properly answer it. The question is, why would God not make His existence (and presence) clear and undeniable? Why not make it impossible to rationally disbelieve in God?

There are only two clear answers to this question that stand up to all objections. Mine is this: if God exists, it is not very important to Him that people believe in His existence - at least not all of us, and at least not while we are on Earth. If it were important to him that all people on Earth believed in his existence, then He could easily accomplish that. It would then bring the great moral questions into sharp relief, by eliminating the difficult questions about facts. No one would waste much time questioning the basic facts of God's existence, His Love for us and His plan for salvation. The factual side would be exceedingly clear and it would be contingent upon us humans only to decide whether we wished to follow God, return his Love, and accept His plan for salvation.

The other answer to this question: one that can withstand most objections, but which may not stand up well to actual experience is that God is already doing for His own existence what J.P. Moreland says He mustn't do. Many Christians believe that God makes Himself undeniably manifest to each individual at some point in their life, and they then have the freedom to choose God or reject Him. The most difficult objection to this view is that so many people die atheist (or as members of some other religion that does not recognize the existence of Yahweh God). It is unthinkable to myself that so many people, having seen the undeniable proof that God would give (under this theory) and yet fail to believe. One would think that these atheists - if unwilling to accept salvation - would at least give up their atheism and declare themselves "non-Christians" who have seen and rejected God.

No matter which of these two answers you choose, neither of them allows us to answer the original objection about Hell. I can find no reason that it is not a valid one: a second chance after death would only enhance a person's ability to choose correctly, and could only decrease the chances that a person would choose wrongly because of insufficient information.

Objection 9: Isn't Reincarnation More Rational Than Hell?

Obviously, I don't think Reincarnation is one whit more rational than hell. There exists no evidence for it, and even though Moreland doesn't seem to understand the real reason, reincarnation is no more coherent than the Christian notion of the afterlife. I don't wish to take up the argument in favor of reincarnation, but I do want to look closely at Moreland's objection to reincarnation and his defense of hell. I believe that doing so will show a double standard on his part.

"I think the evidence for reincarnation is weak for several reasons," he said. "For example, it's incoherent. [...] Now, it's not essential to me that I weigh one hundred and sixty-five pounds. But it is essential to me that I'm a human. "If you were to say, 'J.P. Moreland is in the other room and he has lost five pounds,' most people would say, 'Good for him.' What if you said, 'J.P. Moreland is in the other room and guess what? He's an ice cube.' Most people would say, 'That can't be J.P. Moreland, because if there's one thing I know about him, it's that he's human. He's not an ice cube.' "Well, reincarnation says that I could come back as a dog, as an amoeba - heck, I don't know why I couldn't come back as an ice cube. If that's true, what's the difference between being J.P. Moreland and anything else? There's nothing essential to me. [bold added, italics are original]
First, a note about coherence. A system of ideas is coherent if it is consistent; that is, if it does not contradict itself. For instance, Euclid's laws of geometry are coherent because its axioms do not contradict one another, and they are consistent no matter what problem you apply them to. If parallel lines do not intersect for one set of proofs, then you can be sure there is not another set of proofs under the same system that relies on them intersecting.

When Moreland claims Hindu reincarnation is an incoherent idea, he is claiming that the Hindu's belief that a person may be re-incarnated as something other than a human being breaks the rules about what a person fundamentally is. According to Hindus, the essence of a person is an immaterial soul that survives death, not a physical body that is limited to the form of a human being. In denying the coherence of this view, Moreland (at least on the surface) appears to be denying the coherence of the view that a person's essence is an immaterial soul.

It is beyond the scope of this rebuttal to join the debate over whether the existence of an immaterial soul is a coherent view, but if we grant that the Hindus believe it, then there is nothing internally inconsistent in their beliefs. If one does not rule out the immaterial soul, then it makes perfect sense that this, rather than the physical form, is what returns when a person is re-incarnated. So, in order to sustain Moreland's objection to re-incarnation, he must rule out, a priori, the idea that the immaterial soul which survives death is what is truly essential to a person.

Needless to say, such an a priori judgment would have a profound impact on any theory of the afterlife. It would make any such theory... incoherent. That would include the theory of hell that he has spent the rest of the chapter defending.

Moreland uses a rhetorical trick in an attempt to save coherence for his own theory of the after-life, naming the essence of a person "human being". This is merely special pleading, because a "human being" is either, essentially, an immaterial soul which might survive death, or it is not. If one allows that it is, then one can certainly not rule out the Hindu's version of that very same notion.

Having read this far in Moreland's interview about Hell, it may come as a surprise to you that he considers "coherence" important in the first place. After all, it seems that he isn't willing to be bound by the rules of consistency in giving his answers to the objections Strobel raises throughout.

Whether Moreland is sincere when he suggests "coherence" as an important consideration or not, it is, in fact, a necessary component in a rational world view. If our viewpoints are not to be unreasonable, then they must maintain a certain degree of coherence. We cannot hold as true several contradictory notions and be considered reasonable. Because of this, a reasonable person is left to conclude that Hell is unjust - whether it be the Hell described in the Bible, or whether it be Moreland's version of Hell that is adapted from the Bible and blended with his own curious attempts at saving it from it's own injustice.

We have left to us many other options to consider. I would like to direct our attention to just two of them. The first is the conservative Christian view of Hell. Some conservative apologists will attempt to defend the Biblical Hell from charges of injustice, but they normally do not get very far. It was not without reason that Moreland chose a watered-down concept to defend. His difficulties are small compared to those who are attempting to defend the Biblical view. However, after failing to defend the Biblical view, Christian apologists will often posit that Hell is Just in the eyes of God, and that humans may just lack the ability to comprehend God's full justice - so that it only appears to us to be unjust. Most skeptics would argue against that view, pointing out that it leads to a kind of moral nihilism wherein humans cannot trust their own conscience. True as this view may be, my own argument is that we should employ our conscience when we evaluate the moral claims made by other humans. We cannot extend to the human authors of the Bible and to the preachers in their pulpits the same transcendent understanding that may allow God to see justice where we see only injustice. If a person preaches injustice, one does not excuse him because he claims that his idea is Godly. Instead we reject the notion that this person's idea is Godly because we see that it is unjust.

The other remaining option is to take Moreland's approach and extend it. If we may discard the Biblical notion of Hell as a torture chamber, then we can just as easily discard the Biblical notions of the afterlife altogether. We may persist (if we choose) in our religious notions of heaven, or other after-life experiences if we wish. If the notion of an afterlife seems realistic or attractive to us, then we may certainly hold a hope for it that does not include the injustice of hell.

However, if the whole problem is just too much for us, we are perfectly safe in deferring the question until it becomes relevant: after our death. If God is Just, and worth our faith and trust, then we certainly not need fear hell, because we know a Just God would not allow it.

For my part, it seems to me that our experience is rooted in the organic function of our brains, and that we need not worry ourselves about experiences that will come after that organic function has ceased: according to that theory, we will have none. In other words, I would argue that the organic human being is the essence of a person and that it does not survive death. I believe that there is positive evidence that this is the case, and I don't think that this position in any way detracts from the value of our lives. This rebuttal is not about my view, though. It is about others' views: their views of Hell, of the Bible, of Moreland's logic, and of the afterlife. The pertinent objections to the Biblical Hell and to Moreland's own conceptions of Hell have been correctly raised. I have shown that Strobel and Moreland have utterly failed to answer those objections.

I would like to acknowledge the influence Kyle Gerkin had on this rebuttal. His original rebuttal at Objection Sustained, Chapter 6, no doubt affected my thinking in many ways. Also, Paul Doland has written an effective rebuttal here:
Critique of Lee Strobel's Case for Faith. While I have tried to attribute any ideas that I borrowed from either review directly in the text of this rebuttal, it is fair to think that they both indirectly influenced my own thinking and helped guide me toward the viewpoints I have expressed here in my own voice.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (2)

March 20, 2005

COTG #8

from - smijer

Carnival of the Godless
The eighth Carnival is up at Nanovirus. Go be Godless.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 18, 2005

Vengeance as Justice

from - smijer

flogging.jpg
It's noteworthy that the two conservative big-wigs who have recently come out in favor of cruel vengeance as just punishment (Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds) are not known for being a part of the religious right. I say this because the conservative Christian view of original sin (that is, that all people "deserve" eternal hell, and are only saved by "grace"), as well as the conservative soteriology (the view that Christ's suffering and death replace the suffering due to the sinner) are entirely based in the view that cruel vengeance is integral to justice. Without that view, the conservative doctrine of original sin and redemptive sacrifice are meaningless.

So, while Volokh and Reynolds are not overtly and vocally religious, they seem to share at least part of their value system with the religious right. Maybe that explains the comfortable alliance between the religious right and other conservatives. After all, it is a theocratic state's notions of justice for which Volokh expresses such enthusiasm in the first place.

That's not to say that all conservatives share this value system. John Cole weighs in on the side of a civilized view of justice. (And, while Cole was silent on the nomination of Gonzales for Attorture General, it turns out there are more conservatives against torture than we previously believed... I think it is still clear that the conservative culture is more violence-friendly than the liberal culture, but it's worth noting that it is not homogeneous in this regard!)

For those of us who do not have a conservative religious view of punishment, there remains room for discussion about the role of pain or suffering in a system of human justice. I think it is safe to say that anyone with even remotely humanist values can agree that the mob justice of the Iranians is a barbarism best left behind us, as a race. I think it is also safe to say that any thinking person can easily conclude that it is improper to inflict pain merely for its own sake. But what is proper, and how do we decide?

A good starting point is to remind ourselves that justice is nothing more than the way we take a wrong and try to put it right.

I have yet to see how hurting someone just to vent our outrage can take a wrong and make it right. But, hurting someone in an effort to teach or rehabilitate them could, arguably, help to remove a danger to others. Hurting someone to deter others from following a bad example could, arguably, prevent danger to society. Placing a dangerous person in quarantine from society, for a time or for life, could, arguably, prevent them from doing further arm, and could, arguably, cause them suffering. And, of course, all of these potential benefits must be balanced against a standard of fairness and caution. For, if justice is to make things "right", it must not create further wrong. If I cause more suffering to the criminal than his actions merit*, even if mine is the just goal of preventing future harm, or undoing the harm he has done, then I run the risk of creating a new wrong in place of the one that I am seeking to rectify. Then, by definition, I have not been careful enough to ensure the cause of justice was served. Furthermore, if I cause suffering to an innocent party by mistake, then I have not taken enough care to ensure the cause of justice was served: the more severe the punishment, the greater injustice I am inevitably going to create in those cases where an innocent is punished by mistake. Because we are trying to right a wrong, it is important that we take as much caution as possible to avoid creating a wrong in the process, and it is for this reason that we should seek to fulfill our just goals of rehabilitation, prevention, deterrence (and one other possible just goal) without causing more suffering than necessary. Therefore, the separate issue of what is fair should rarely even come up.

* This is an entirely separate question. I think our instinct for fairness would tell us that the maximum penalty must create no more suffering for the injurer than he or she intended to cause or did cause to the victim(s). Furthermore, my own values tell me that penalties should be softened when the the perpetrator was innocent of malice, and softened further if the perpetrator was guilty only of unthinking negligence. How we decide what is "fair" is a completely separate question from what just goals our punishment is designed to accomplish.

I have purposely left to last discussion of just compensation. One of the best ways a justice system can right a wrong is by causing the wrong-doer to compensate the victim's loss to the best of his ability, and without causing him or her "unfair" (see above) suffering. In all of the blogospheric buzz that Volokh has created, I have seen little from the anti-torture side of the debate discussing how the infliction of pain could possibly compsenate a victim of a loss. As much as many of us would like to pretend otherwise, it is human nature to derive satisfaction from seeing a rulebreaker "suffer the consequences" of his actions. Where a thief may be required to return stolen property, a killer can never return the life of a victim. Can the suffering of the killer provide closure to the victim's families, and would closure for those families be a valid form of partial recompense for their loss? I don't think we can rule that out, but if reason is our guide, I think we can easily see that the "compensation" that comes to a victim's family this way is very slight, indeed, and that it is not made much greater by causing greater suffering to the perpetrator. So, while we cannot rule out the argument of "closure" as compensation, we cannot be excused by that argument for reverting to barbarian practices of punishment.

Volokh's mistake - what makes his viewpoint "uncivilized" - is the same as the religious conservative's: it is to fail to start with the aim of justice. Instead, he indulges himself in imprecise thinking informed only by unchecked emotion. This is what defines the "mob rule" mentality that Cole complains of. He does not take into account the properly defined role of justice: to right a wrong, He does not take into account the possibility of applying a punishment that fits a heinous crime to the innocent by mistake. Volokh and his sympathizers imagine themselves in place of the families, and imagine the suffering that was caused to the alleged mass murderer in Iran was no more than the suffering of his victims. Instead of starting with the intention of making a right, they start by asking themselves how a visceral desire can be fulfilled, and only then think of what would be "fair" as an afterthought. That's what makes this viewpoint so dreadfully wrong.

And that is what is so scary about two outspoken and popular legal professors espousing this view. We would hope our students of law would be trained to look for justice first, instead of being taught to satisfy visceral desires for revenge first. The respective universities should transfer these profs to the Divinities department, right away.

Update: In an attempt to fend off criticism on this issue, Volokh again shows how his viewpoint is informed by emotion without reason. In his second point, he regrets that Nazi war criminals were not made to suffer more than they did without offering a reason, grounded in justice, why he should want that. In point 4, he even goes so far as to assert that retribution is, itself, a "constructive" purpose, without even touching on the single justification that might exist for that viewpoint: as a form of compensation to victim's families. This is the most damning point of all. If justice was his goal, then he could not have demanded his critic to present evidence that of a negative: that retribution served no constructive goal. He would have himself supported his view that retribution could serve a constructive goal by showing how it might act as a partial restorative to a victims family. Instead he makes no mention of any conceivable way that retribution can take a wrong and make it right - showing that justice is not the heart of his reasoning. This is very damning. He should not be teaching law, starting from this viewpoint. In point 6, he states: "The question is how this risk of error balances against the moral imperative for retribution," again without showing where a moral imperative for retribution comes from. Perhaps he mistakes his desire for vengeance for a moral imperative. He says, "Yet my tentative current sense is that for a small number of extraordinarily monstrous crimes, the need for retribution is so strong — and the risk of error can be made so low — that not just death but deliberately painful death is the proper punishment," without ever showing how retribution can be needed, or why that need is so strong that it overrides the other considerations he brings up.

Second Update:Volokh Backflails.

March 13, 2005

COTG #7

from - smijer

Carnival of the Godless
The Frozen Texan has posted this week's fine round up of Godlessness: COTG#7. Go see what's up. I'm skipping this week, but, by Bob, I'll have something ready for next Sunday!

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 27, 2005

cotg_300w.gif
This week is the fifth anniversary of the Carnival of the Godless, and what abundant Godless Goodies we have! Let's jump right in...

The opening act comes from Hank Fox, who declares that Not everything that gets into your head ... ... is knowledge. Matter of fact, according to he, a fair bit of it may be "anti-knowledge". He suggests that the "No True Atheist" argument, applied to the "good" atheists, is one of those bits of "anti-knowledge". Hank's weblog is www.HankFox.com.

Wolverine Tom shares his experience with campus religious groups who happen also to be anti-science as he spends a while passing by the religion table again. Tom's weblog is Wolverine Tom: A Geologist... like Randy Marsh.

Ophelia Benson posts about a peculiar custom in Iran that keeps down incidences of extramarital sex. The post is entitled When Fariba Met Habib. Notable Quotable: "No sex outside of marriage! Yay! Of course, the place is full of dirt-poor women being treated like toilets by their hahahaha 'husbands' all the same, but who cares about that?! Everybody in Iran who has genital-to-genital contact is spliced! That's all I give a rat's ass about!" Ophelia's weblog is Butterflies and Wheels.

George Peterson asks, somewhat incredulously, "Believing in God is Prudent?" He then proceeds to say that, however prudent one might think it to believe in God, there is little prudence to be found in the religious myths that have grown up around the idea of God. His weblog is the Dirty Greek.

Kevin argues that reason is fundamental to morality, in Reason, Religon, and Morality. Notable quotable: "Only if you create and maintain a rational set of rules can a moral system or legal system or any other such thing function." Kevin's weblog is Above Us Only Sky.

Pat Hayes explains why it is true that mainstream Christians get the short end of the religion stick in Why Fundamentalists and Biblical Literalists Loathe Mainstream Christians. I think that he would agree with my view that secularists and free-thinkers should find moral, and sometimes even intellectual solidarity with the more liberal-minded religious types. Pat blogs from Kansas on Red State Rabble.

Peter Fredson is represented by three different entries in this Carnival. His first entry declares that there's nothing wrong with the people of Alabama that a good dose of religious deprogramming won't cure: Down In Alabama is posted at his new weblog:
Alabama Home.

In Instigation and Stealth, he also takes umbrage with the apparent strategy used by those who would impose their brand of religion on everyone else: namely, if you can't cram it in the front door, sneak it in the back. This post is at his eponymous weblog, peterfredson.diaryland.com

In Under the Christian God, he makes clear which God is being referred to by those who mandate the invocation of God's name in the pledge and on our currency. This is a guest post on Stupid Evil Bastard.

Fair warning for those reading who are religious, and are sensitive to perceived sacrilege. Mark Twain once said, "Blasphemy? No, it is not blasphemy. If God is as vast as that, he is above blasphemy; if He is as little as that, He is beneath it." Well, this next entry, from Michelle Arnold, AKA Mutant Cat pushes the boundaries of sacrilege, suggesting the possibility of remaking the Bible into an even racier genre. Her post, Bible Porn is found on her weblog, Mutant Cat.
{irrelevant aside: I suspect Michelle would enjoy the scene in The Magic Christian where Guy Grand (Peter Sellers) brainstorms with his adoptive son (Ringo Starr). Soon after it is concluded that words don't corrupt, or at least the word "nipple" doesn't corrupt Agnes, he comes upon a sure-fire hit: "The Bible: Can You Make it Better?"}

DarkSyd shares with us how he thinks he would behave under circumstances different from his own, in If I Were Christian. I know a few Christians who could definitely profit from his advice. I'll also have to say that I have known a couple who, to their credit, have some things in common with DarkSyd's parallel universe self. DarkSyd is a regular contributor to Brent Rasmussen's Unscrewing the Inscrutable.

Ruthie-Annie tells of her experience with what happens when an atheist visits a Christian debate board in her post, If Choy Lee Mu were a Christian. (Do I detect a pattern here? What could be the reason?...) Ruthie-Annie's blog is Ruthie-Annie, Honest to God: Thoughts from an Unconvinced Quaker Psychologist.


The Retropolitan discusses some instances of people just making shit up in Swayze Was the Best One. Spoiler alert: I was disillusioned to discover that the spirit of JFK really doesn't inhabit Phoebe's guitar. This and other disappointing truths were posted on The Retro's weblog, Tales to Astonish.

Jason Kuznicki, against all reason, insists that I would make a lousy cheetah. lays to rest the old canard that evolution somehow implies or justifies racisim in his post, The Excellent Amoebas. Jason's blog is Positive Liberty.

Nick Barlow takes on a British organisation with apparent affinities for American style theonomy and eschatological pronouncements in Down among the demented men. This is truly very scary stuff. Nick's blog is What you can get away with.

Richard Chappell refutes charges that naturalism implies nihilism, and disputes the notion that God is necessary to provide life with its meaning. His post is Avoiding Nihilism. Richard blogs at Philosophy, et cetera.

Ron reminds the unwary that correlation does not always imply causation in Religion - whatever that is - is "in" with the teens. Ron's blog is God Is For Suckers.

Goddam-Liberal turns the unforgiving light of skepticism on psychic fortune-tellers and their victims on I See Stupid People. G-D-Liberal blogs at No More Mr. Nice Guy!

Now, if I'm counting right, that's eighteen posts for one Carnival of the Godless, and that ain't bad at all. Since the contributions for this week were so rich, I've elected not to post an entry of my own. I would, however, like to mention another web-log that I have recently discovered, which I find to be very timely, important, and touching. The issue of abortion is one that often divides the religious from the irreligious, the conservative from the liberal, and all too often, the good-hearted from the good-hearted. Too many times, those who favor choice become hardened in their views by the ongoing conflict, and find themselves with sympathy only for the woman. Too many times, those who oppose choice become hardened in their views and find themselves showing compassion only for the fetus. At Abortion Clinic Days, the authors are abortion providers who share their stories and struggles with utter compassion for women, their families, and their pregnancies. If more people on all sides of the debate could feel, show, and act upon this kind of instinct for compassion, then the discourse about abortion and reproductive rights would be raised to the level on which it deserves to be held.

I will include a few brief excerpts in the extended entry.

Previous Carnivals:
Carnival #1, at Unscrewing the Inscrutable
Carnival #2, at Pharyngula
Carnival #3, at Science and Politics
Carnival #4, at Philosophy, et cetera

Next week, the Carnival will be hosted by The Raving Atheist, so be sure to tune in! Send your submissions to cotg-submission@brentrasmussen.com.

The promised excerpts from abortion clinic days....

so, she said, although she never ever imagined that she would consider abortion, she finds that it's best for the children she has because she has been told that to continue this pregnancy could put her health in further jeopardy. she said she regrets that she is again pregnant, had been using condoms because she knew that she did not want to be pregnant. unfortunately, she, like many others, became pregnant while using contraception.

her faith in god's understanding came out a deeply held belief that she was god's child and that he would not want to see her children without her, sent off to foster homes. she said that she did not even have to think very much about it, that it was just "the right thing to do". -god understands

oh, if only parents coulld see the anguish i see every day in women who have "violated the pledge". it is quite different from the women whose birth control failed. neither is happy to be having an abortion, but those whose very sense of themselves is crushed have a longer road to self forgiveness.

it's easy to say "well, then she should just not have the abortion" but obviously she had considered that herself. her decision to discontinue the pregnancy was not one of convenience. being a contemplative young woman, she pondered deeply and then had to confront her smug assumption that of course adoption was an easy answer to the problem. she kept repeating "i didn't know it could happen to someone like me".

maybe it's always easier to decide what others ought to do. maybe it's always hard, hard, hard to figure out your own life, your own choices, but working in women's health for so long, this is the one thing that i hear every day that changes when it's you, your life. - you never know 2

"Six months before I became pregnant, I marched the streets of Washington, D.C. Every January 22nd, the anniversary of Roe V. Wade, thousands of ‘pro-lifers’ from all over the country pour into the streets to protest. The year I turned eighteen, I was one of them. How could I have known that in less than a year I would become one of “those women” against whom we were marching?" - quoted in crossing over
She goes on to raise some compelling questions. Is it helpful to concentrate solely on legal arguments when moral imperatives are so much a part of the equation for many people? Is it useful to refuse to consider the emotional pull of the fetus even as we conclude that the rights of the mother ultimately take precedent? Is there a dangerous disconnect between our public positions and our private sentiments, a disconnect the public suspects is dishonest?

Kissling makes some excellent arguments in support of legal abortion, in which she believes deeply. To the charge that a culture in which abortion is permitted will devalue respect for all life, she counters with the example of Romania under Ceausescu, where abortion was forbidden yet children were abandoned in record numbers. But she also takes note of how troubling some potential allies have found the seemingly automatic support for later procedures, writing, "Is there nothing, they ask, that concerns pro-choice people about abortion?" - quoted at abortion clinic days, from Newsweek

As soon as I can, I will be adding this blog to my own blog-roll. If anyone reading knows of a pro-life blog that shows as much insight and feeling as this pro-choice blog does, please drop me a note. I would be more than happy to link to the more caring and even-tempered voices on both sides of this difficult and uncomfortable debate.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (6)

February 20, 2005

The Carnival is Up

from - smijer

Carnival of the Godless
This week's idolatrous COTG is hosted by the eloquent and stylish Philosophy, et cetera.

Next week, lord willin' and the creek don't rise, the COTG will be hosted right here. Anyone who cares to participate can e-mail me, or you can send your submission to cotg-submission@brentrasmussen.com, and he will happily forward them to me. Either way, I'll get them and I'll string them together into a festive sort of carnival type format the best I can.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Carnival of the Godless

Armies of Bible scholars and theologians have for centuries found respected employment devising artful explanations of the Bible often not really meaning what it says. - J.S. Bullion, Jr., courtesy of Pharyngula

If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and [that], when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son [is] stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; [he is] a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. - Deuteronomy 21:18-21

To the godless, one thing is quite clear about "fundamentalist" Christians. It's clear to nearly everyone about liberal Christians. That thing is that they do not really base their practices and beliefs on the Bible. Other religious groups who ostensibly take their doctrine from "received" scripture similarly put other influences ahead of scripture in determining doctrine.

If you ask a conservative Christian why they do not follow the Biblical edicts declaring murder to be required form of punishment for everyone from unruly children to "witches" to adulterers, they will likely give you a theological smokescreen worthy of a National Guard tear gas brigade... Inevitably its status as part of the "Old Testament" will be included in their reasoning for rejection of murder as discipline, and kosher on the dinner plate. But, they will continue to wag their fingers about those who violate the Ten Commandments or who ask to have them removed from a court house. Their preachers will still make the weekly fund-raising pitch out of Old Testament scripture, and to most of them, the Old Testament creation story is still to be taken quite literally. No such smokescreens are raised about the features of the Old Testament that they like.

I don't say this by way of criticism. In fact, I think its great when the thing that comes ahead of scripture is conscience, and I really don't mind if parishoners choose to put convenience ahead of scripture... though I hope that they will have conscience enough to put convenience ahead of scripture more on things like what's for dinner, and less on things about feeding my sheep. Furthermore, I think its wonderful that the more liberal congregations are conscious of the fact that they are putting other considerations ahead of scriptural dictates. They may justify this to themselves by suggesting that God is the force behind conscience, and that it is therefore proper to put that particular consideration first, but however they justify it, the fact remains that they are not allowing themselves to become morally corrupt on account of Iron Age ethics.

What is a problem is the conservative smokescreen. The reason is this: the conservative preachers, commentators and theologians argue that it is improper to put anything ahead of scripture. They take their own smokescreens about the old testament "dietary" or "customary" laws seriously, and continue to insist that conscience, when it conflicts with "scripture", is in error. At the same time, even they refuse to prescribe capital punishment for unruly children. The result is that they not only put conscience (in a few cases) ahead of scripture, but they also put prejudice there, and sometimes even more so. It is one thing to consciously pick and choose the scripture that you feel will help you make the most of life. It is quite another to pick and choose scripture without admitting that this is what you are doing, and to use your chosen scriptures to bolster your personal prejudices and to preach to your congegation that these scriptures that suit your prejudice are absolute and must be believed and followed, while quietly ignoring "feed my sheep". Personal prejudice is often nothing more than bigotry against a minority, or disdain of people whose station in life challenges you in some way.

This has been a mini-critique of conservative Christianity. I mean it not so much to tell anyone something they didn't already know about the fundies, but to lay a cornerstone for an eventual argument that the ethical godless should find reason to show solidarity with liberal Christians (and the liberal manifestations of other religions). I also mean it as an answer to the conservatives who would use such solidarity as a club with which to beat down the liberals in their religion. I grew up a member of a conservative religious family, and I distinctly remember the denunciations from the pulpit of "liberal" Christians as being in league with the evil "secular humanists". I didn't understand it then, but I think I do now. And I hope that we can help educate conservative laity about the phoniness and worthlessness of such attacks, and therefore help them resist the efforts their preachers make to convince them that their Bible should come before their conscience.

February 13, 2005

Sunday Carnival

from - smijer

cotgbadge.gif

I've just finished browsing this week's Carnival of the Godless over at Science and Politics. It's a somewhat smaller collection, but still a good one. They included my pitiful attempt at humor with my Interview with God post. I guess I need to stick with straight writing.

I chuckled at Bob's post. Friends and family who are Christian and easily feel insulted: please do not click the link. I'll just sum it up for you. Bob take's umbrage over those who express the sentiment that God is specially watching out for them when they avoid a tragedy (that others were devastated by), or that God heals football players' legs in time for the Superbowl while leaving children in wheelchairs all over the world. Anyway, it reminded me of an e-mail I got from a friend at work... I'll reproduce the e-mail here:

Saved From a Fiery Furnace

By Debbie Harper and Tim Branson
The 700 Club

CBN.com – The fire was still 15 miles away when Bill Walton first saw smoke rising over the ridge of his 80-acre ranch in Trinidad, Colorado.

"The fire department's answer to us was that they had a crew, it was under control, and there was no danger. They said the house was far enough away and that we were in no danger."

But Bill felt differently.

"As I was tying my shoes, I just felt God speak to me, 'Bill, you need to evacuate. You need to get everything out of the house.' I was just going on what was in my heart, what I felt like the Lord had told me."

pic1.bmpBill's feelings were confirmed when his wife, Natalie, felt the same way. Together they agreed to get all their belongings out of the house.

"I got clothes, pictures, and baby things that were precious to me," says Natalie, "and I just shoved them into the car."

Using a horse trailer, cars, and trucks, Bill, along with his brothers and friends, started packing the house. The fire kept getting closer. By the time they finished loading everything, the fire had crossed the ridge and was moving toward the house. The fire department came, but it was too late. The fire started crowning, and the volunteer firefighters had to evacuate.

"The firefighter explained fire was going from treetop to treetop burning down, and the heat gets up to 2000°F. That's what was happening when we evacuated," says Bill.

The fire gained momentum and came down through the canyon. Bill and his father went to the top of the ridge to see what was going on. While they were up there, they got a phone call that said the house was gone.

At the same time the flames raged through their property, a group of children from their church in the Colorado Springs area stopped and prayed:

pic2.bmp
"Dear God, help Pastor Bill's house."

"Dear Lord, You said there is great power in the name of Jesus."

Bill had called Kevin Moore, senior youth pastor of New Life Church. Pastor Moore explained Bill's absence to the children.

"The reason he's not here is because a fire is threatening his home, and he asked that you guys would pray, " Pastor Moore told the children.

One by one, the children earnestly prayed for Bill and Natalie:

"Dear Lord we know you are in control of all things."
"Just put your angels around, put a hedge of protection."
"Please pass by his house in the name of Jesus."

pic3.bmpAfter the fire cleared the area, Bill went back to the house, driving through the charred land. As he drove down the driveway and came around the corner, he saw the most unbelievable sight… their bright yellow house was still standing.

"It was so amazing. The house was still there -- untouched! There was just such joy."

The fire had miraculously stopped at the house and hadn't touched it. From all reports, the house should have been consumed, like everything around it.

A firefighter told Bill the last thing she saw.

"She said it looked like gas was being poured on the roof, flames were everywhere, and she knew we had lost the house."

Bill showed CBN just how close the fire had come -- just a few feet away on all sides.

"When the flames came down, they consumed everything and burned the retaining wall, which was just a few feet away from the wood siding on the house. The heat was 2000°F only five feet away."

Firewood only a few feet away from the blaze remained uncharred. The flames were that close on all sides. And the heat was so intense that it melted a lamppost.

Could it be possible that a few prayers could stop such an inferno? This family believes it is possible.

pic4.bmp
"We are modern-day Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We believe God still has fire-retardant power," says Bill.

Natalie's first thought was for her unbelieving parents. " 'See what prayer does.' "

Bill and Natalie believe this testimony of God's power will inspire people's faith, including the faith of the children who prayed.

"Their prayers made the difference, in that their prayers are very special to God, and God hears them and wants to answer them. He wants to encourage them and build them in their faith in the area of prayer," says Pastor Moore.

Adds Bill, "What we have seen happen, as a result of this miracle, is that people's faith is being inspired to believe God for even greater miracles. It's a great testimony that God's hand is still moving."

Since this wasn't a chain letter, but something my friend (he's a preacher) had picked up off the internet and thought would be nice to send to me, I didn't give it the chain letter treatment. I did reply, though... in the spirit of Bob's post. Here's what I said, verbatim:

I love this. It reminds me of the story of the little boy who was praying that his dad would stop beating him and his mother… and he did! Just after his mom died of an accident with the iron, the daddy went away to live somewhere else.

'Course, I'm very happy that this home was spared. I've never personally endured a loss of a home from fire, but I have known several who have, and each of them testifies that it is a terrible ordeal. So it's good that their home was spared, but somehow I don't think this same congregation is praying so hard for all the other families whose homes will be lost this year, nor does anyone really believe they could stop those losses if they did.

Before I go, one other fun quote from the Carnival:

I just hope that after the fundamentalist Christians defeat evolution that they go after entomology next. I’m tired of all these bugs.

- Hank Fox

Next week, Philosophy, et cetera hosts, and the following week, it's my turn! Hooray!

Update: In what can only be a sign from Bob, it turns out Alice has another housefire story which I just read after completing this post, in which she and her husband play a role in limiting the scope of a tragedy. Great job Alice & Greg!!

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 12, 2005

I had this interview with God, see? Here's how it went.

Me: God, let me just start by saying what a pleasure and honor it is to have this opportunity to speak with you in person and hear your thoughts on a few things. To begin with, maybe I'm the only one who really wants to know this, but I'm just dying to know what you think about unbelievers. I mean, does it bug you that there are people out there who deny your existence? Don't you ever feel like just shaking them, and saying, "Hello! It's me! I'm real!"?

God:

Me: Ok... Uh... Let me try a different tack here. Can you give us your thoughts on evil? I mean, we all know you're against it, but I mean like, can you get rid of it? Some folks say that its inevitable as long as there's free will. So, are you going to get rid of free will? What's the big picture, there?

God:

Me: Ok, then. Let's just jump right into the meat & potatoes questions. Big one: End of the world? When? I mean, I know you can't tell us what day or anything, but like, I mean within a decade? Hundred years? I know all the readers are very interested to learn more about when, or how, or whatever you care to share with them.

God:

Me: How do you think people should treat each other?

God:

Me: For instance, the Golden Rule... I really like that one by the way... one of my favorites... I mean, should we carry that to extremes? I mean, like, if a straight person wants respect and dignity and wants to be able to express his own sexuality in any socially acceptable way, without shame, or legal discrimination... shouldn't he want the same thing for gay people? Does it work that way?

God:

Me: Interesting... Ok, I'm glad that we're getting to talk about this whole "how to treat people thing." Some people have just taken it upon themselves to go out and make up some rules for how people should treat each other, without even asking you. This is a great opportunity to let us know how you stand on their ideas. How did they do?

God:

Me: Great answer! Ok... bear with me on this one... kind of frivolous, I know, but I've really been wondering this. Take something "wrong"... you know, like lying, or stealing, or whatever... Could you make it OK? I mean, can you do stuff like that?

God:

Me: If you don't mind, I'd like a follow-up on that. Murder - it still kills the guy, and his wife & kids still grieve & everything... but it could still be OK if you said so?

God:

Me: Interesting. Next question: Boxers or briefs? Ha! Ha! just kidding, of course. Really, what I'd like to know is... Is there a "true" religion? Is it like the Bible says, "No man cometh to the father but by me"... like that? Or like the New Agers, "all the different paths eventually lead to the same place"? Can you shed any light on that?

God:

Me: Ok. Great. Uhh... Hell: what's the deal with that, anyway?

God:

Me: I mean, burning people forever? Is that your gig?

God:

Me: I'll just put "refused to comment." Let's see if I can get you to open up with something like this... What surprises you the most about humanity?

[Laughter... mine]

God:

Me: Which came first, the barnacle or the crab? What about those other designed biological systems? I mean, what's up with that?

God:

Me: On a related note, can you wiggle your ears? Are those who can(not) do so also made in your image?

God:

Me: Absolutely fascinating. It's been a real pleasure. Thanks so much for your time!

God:

Well, needless to say, I picked one of God's more reticent times to do the interview. Bad luck. It's ok, though... because I'm pretty sure I can fill in most of those empty blanks. And, we may not always have 100% assurance of getting it right, but I think anyone with a consience and a willingness to stretch their minds out a little bit can satisfactorily answer just about any important question without recourse to books or interviews where people claim to speak for God.

Update - those reading from the Carnival of the Godless might want to check out my post from today. I have a story that dovetails with Bob's excellent post.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 06, 2005

cotgbadge.gif
The Carnival of the Godless is up at Pharyngula, and it looks to be a real treat. Without thought to propriety, I submitted two pieces, one of which appears on my daughter project, The Chain Letter Project. This should make for a good day's reading up to and after the Super Bowl... maybe even in to tomorrow. And you folks who have a God or a few, you might have a look, too. You never know when a Godless person might stumble on something important that you need to know!

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 30, 2005

Sunday Irony

from - smijer

cotgbadge.gif
Well, the first Carnival of the Godless is up, and Bob have mercy, look at all the posts!

Now, here's the ironic part. My first contribution was an attempt to evangelize freethinkers to Unitarianism, titled Unitarianism - What Freethinkers Could Use a Little Of... and now here it is Sunday, and guess what!? The pastor sent out an e-mail that church is closed! Why? Because this is Chattanooga, and there is ice on some of the trees. Maybe Unitarians should develop a doctrine of eternal punishment or something to motivate ourselves to be more faithful about keeping the church open on Sundays.

Anyway, this morning I can console myself with the Carnival goodies, and around eleven, I guess I'll go visit Pilgrim Congregational to see if I can get my church fix in.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (1)

January 23, 2005

cotgbadge.gif
This will be my submission for the brand new Carnival of the Godless. I'll assume (if I dare) that it will be accepted for the first edition (to appear next Sunday, January 30th), and welcome all of the other freethinkers from around the blogosphere.

I prefer the term 'freethinking' to 'godlessness', for a rather nitpicky reason. It would seem to me that everyone has the same status. Either there is a god, or there isn't one. So, everyone is godless, or none of us are. But, no matter what term you prefer, freedom from irrational cognitive habits is peerless as a way of thinking.

On the other hand, there must be a silver lining or two that go with dogma-restricted patterns of thought. I'm not just talking about advantages such as the justification lent to those who set themselves up as moral authorities, false hope, a false sense of comfort, or other advantages that freethinkers generally reject or eschew. Instead I'm talking about real positives that have become habitually associated with the world of dogma and dissociated from the world of the freethinker. Hopefully, I'll also be able to show where Unitarianism can help the freethinker reacquaint him- or herself with some of these assets, and create a better quality of life for self, family, and community. The discussion begins below the fold.

Unitarian/Universalism: An ultra-brief history
The Unitarian Church originated as a sect within Christianity who could not reconcile the doctrine of strict montheism, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the teachings of the scriptures. They chose not to accept what they considered a human doctrine of Trinity, which would do violence to either reason or montheism. Instead, they chose monotheism and reason, thus earning themselves the name "Unitarian", and thus began the Unitarian tradition of honoring reason over dogma.

Universalists originated as a sect of Christianity who could not reasonably reconcile the scriptural teachings of a just and good God with the the scriptures that taught eternal damnation. Rather than do violence to reason, they chose to believe that, contrary to the simplest reading of scripture, salvation was universal. Thus began the Universalist tradition of honoring reason (and justice) over the words of ancient texts.

Later, Unitarians and Universalists found enough in common to merge together. Today, the combined church continues as a non-creedal institution, accepting freethinkers and religious believers alike for the benefit of all.

Building Community
From my experience, freethinkers tend not to be joiners. It is easy for people (like me) to fall into the habit of keeping too much to ourselves. Nevertheless, there are numerous benefits, both tangible and intangible, to belonging to a larger community. Those who grew up in church may remember the community structure it provided. Those who did not, may recall other institutions that created a social context to daily life. In the modern world, where nuclear families live in little boxes, separated from extended family, neighbors, and even the town barbershop and bank, there is a gaping void of community. Whether we are natural joiners or natural hermits, we need community. No man is an island. When I got off my isolated duff and showed up at the UU of Chattanooga, I discovered that there really is more to life than being a hermit. You may not believe it, but it's true. Kids need community, too. No one wants to raise the boy or girl in the bubble. The Unitarian church provides a community structure that is healthy for kids and adults alike.

Reaching Out
The religious people of the world may not have the morality market cornered (and believe it or not, they don't have the immorality market to themselves either), but an argument can be made that they have us outclassed in the philanthropy business. Now, I know that the theists of the world are quite capable of offering aid with Nebuchadnezzarine strings attached. But they are also capable of being great humanitarians. And, we are too. It's simply the fact that it is much, much easier for us to participate when we are working from an established infrastructure. With our busy and often too-self-centered lives, we just may not think to navigate to the UNICEF web-page and make a donation when Hurricanes create devastation in Haiti. We can be reminded to reach for our wallet when the plate is passed for a special offering. We may never "get around" to making a trip to work in the Community Kitchen or the local homeless shelter. However, we may remember to sign up to work when the Interfaith Hospitality Network brings a family to stay with the church. Many freethinkers feel it is important to give back to their community and the world. Involvment with the Unitarian church makes that so much easier. The existence of the UU Service Committee makes it easier still.

Self-Help
Studies show that those who pray or mediate live longer and healthier. I believe they also trend psychologically better adjusted. The Unitarian church provides a weekly reminder that quiet and introspection are worth taking the time out for. We also recover from illness better if we know that we know that people are sending us their good wishes. We doubt whether there is a supernatural connection, but just the reassurance that we are wanted, needed, and worth a few minutes of others' thoughts is a great psychological boost. That, in turn, boosts our own immune system and healing responses. This is also another important way that we can reach out to those who are down on their fortune.

Fun
When I was a kid, sitting rather unwillingnly through church services, the few moments of pleasure came when there was an upbeat hymn to sing, or occasionally when there was some other form of festivity. Unitarians tend not to be overly concerned with the here-after. Therefore, they can spend a little more time on the uplifting hymns and the pot-luck suppers, and a little less on the preachiness and other downers.

Expanding Horizons
Sometimes freethinkers get a little bit arrogant. It's a little too easy for us to recognize the flaws in our theist friends' thinking and forget that we have a couple of flaws ourselves, or that the theists have some good ideas, too. You aren't likely to run into a lot of Bible-thumpers at the UU church (though they'd be welcome), but you will run across a variety of -ists - be they liberal Christians, Buddhists, pagans, or Whatever-else-ists. Those people have some unique and valuable perspectives, even if they do have some unfortunate beliefs or superstitions. And they will often have something in common with you that you don't find much of at the local Church of Christ: they, too, are often seen as heretics. They make good friends, and their perspectives can broaden your horizon.

Politicial Organization
Fundamentalist religions have a powerful organization, and their church serves as a major nexus for the memes that you come across in daily life. The religious are represented and communicate with each other through their churches. Freethinkers should be, too. We might as well face it - we are not within sight of a world-wide freethought church. But we can have a voice as part of the Unitarian community.

What Are You Waiting For?
Sit down. The UU church doesn't start for another thirty minutes. Let me just finish this by telling you this: we need you. While mainline denominations of Christianity and Unitarian churches languish, fundamentalist churches are thriving and growing. Maybe you feel like an idiot listening to the nice lady tell you about how Mother Earth needs you, or maybe you just aren't getting a lot of immediate benefits from the UU church. Well, try it anyway, and stick with it a while. If freethought is going to make a difference in the world, institutions that embrace it are going to have to grow. The Unitarian Church is one of those institutions, and it needs you to thrive and grow. Find your local congregation and get involved today. Or next Sunday. You'll be glad you did.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (3)

December 05, 2004

Sundays Not Preachin'

from - smijer

uuRose.jpg
Maybe you've noticed I haven't been preaching as much lately, on Sunday mornings. I've discovered that sometimes it is more gratifying to get preached to. I, along with fifteen others, joined the Unitarian church today. The rose to the right was a welcoming gift from a diverse and cheery congregation of generous, bright, and friendly individuals who find themselves at home in the same church as this grumpy old atheist does. Here's a joke:

Why can't UUs sing very well in choirs?
Because they're always reading ahead to see if they agree with the next verse.

Or how about this?

Have you heard of the latest Unitarian miracle? Someone saw the face of Ralph Waldo Emerson on a tortilla.

(or now-adays, that would be a grilled cheese sandwich. I thought they were funny. Funnier than the rest of them, anyway.

Nothing much has changed, really. I'm just official now. I've been attending each off-work Sunday since (what? July?).... But I still thought it would be nice to share.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (1)

October 10, 2004

Another Simple Sermon

from - smijer

I'm going to have a simple sermon this Sunday myself:

Hallelujah, amen!

I'm looking for a championship where the Massachusetts team beats the Texas team, but I'm not talking about baseball.

Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 03, 2004

Various Sunday Thoughts

from - smijer

I have a lot of thoughts on my mind, but none in particular that I "feel led" to develop a sermon on. I will just share them, in no particular order:

  • In a discussion about religious liberty, someone once suggested that it was "always the atheists" raising a fuss about prayer in schools and what not. Actually, that has never been true. There have been numerous plaintiffs among other religious minorities. But in effect, yes: it is religious minorities who are most apt to be in a situation to "make a fuss" about majority religions using the apparatus of the state to promote themselves. I ran across an unlikely ally for us atheists and other religious minorities: a group of Baptists. Funny. When I was growing up, it was Baptist preachers that I heard regularly railing about the evils of the "secular humanists" who were determined to "take God out of the schools". I'm glad to see that some of them have grown up.

  • Going back to my prior sermons about Christianity's portrayal of God as unjust, and particularly with reference to the portrayal of him as one who delights in administering punishment to the innocent, I wanted to bring up another example of it. For the pharaoh's crime of holding the Israelites hostage, the plagues were visited upon all of Egypt. Particularly, the final plague, wherein God slaughtered the first-born of every Egyptian family (and, with ironic symbolism - the Jews slaughtered sheep) because of Pharaoh's hard heart. Some skeptics and apologists like to get sidetracked over the issue of whether it was God or Pharaoh who hardened pharaoh's heart, leading to the ultimate massacre of the first-borns. I don't see the point in quibbling over it. The real injustice is in punishing families and killing the innocent for the misdeeds of one man. This is a particularly onerous depiction of God, when a real, powerful, and good God could have used the same situation to show His real power and justice by removing the Israelites miraculously, and without the pharaoh's consent, then miraculously placing the pharaoh at the command of Moses to work for the Israelites and pay off his debt to society. A punishment that fits the crime, in other words.

  • Raving Atheist makes much sport of people on the left - some who are "skeptical" in the realm of religion, becoming devout people of faith during the CBS memo scandal, and the converse where people who normally allow faith to trump reason resorting to that skeptical empiricism when they sought to disprove the memos. (He has posts here, here, and here.) I would like to brag that I was not among those people on the left who abandoned skepticism and pushed the partisan line. I held the skeptical view throughout. In the beginning, I held a moderately high degree of confidence in the memos, as they were reported by a major news organization and not in dispute. When the questions were raised, I decreased my confidence in the memos, while also maintaining a healthy skepticism about the reports of evidence of fraud. When it became clear that expert opinion was in consensus against the documents, my confidence in the authenticity of the documents went to near zero, where it will remain until evidence surfaces that takes it further down or increases it again. I cannot say with absolute certainty that the memos are fake, but I am completely satisfied of their inauthenticity. One of the most overlooked elements of a skeptical world-view is that there is never absolute certainty. There are only degrees of confidence.

  • Speaking of Raving Atheist, one of my private pleasures is to fisk bad arguments against God. A good skeptic eschews bad arguments just as much when they support his own position as when they support an opposing view. I hope I won't offend the Raving Atheist by publicly fisking one of his arguments against the possibility of God. Actually, I have problems with each of his seven arguments, but I don't feel like putting too many irons in the fire just now. His first point is that an all-powerful (omnipotent) God is a contradiction in terms - a logical impossibility on the lines of a square circle. His argument is formulated this way:
    Omnipotence is impossible because God would, at a minimum, be unable to limit his powers, e.g., make a stone he cannot lift; if he could make such a stone, then his inability to lift it would defeat his omnipotence;

    The problem is that we have left "all-powerful" (or omnipotent) insufficiently well defined. It may include the ability to change anything that exists into any of its potential configurations. If so, and if God is to be omnipotent, then "so heavy that God cannot lift it" is not a potential configuration of a rock. Therefore, God could make a rock of any finite weight, or of infinite weight, but God could not create a rock that is a logical impossibility. Under this view, God could not make a "square circle". The "all" or "omni" is the set of all logically possible actions, not all actions whether logically possible or not. Another view is that God transcends logic. Such a case leads to absurdities that more mature thinkers would reject out of hand. God could create a square circle, and he could create a rock that he could not lift - yet he could lift it. The argument as it is phrased by the Raving Atheist seems to ask us to believe that omnipotence must require the ability to violate logic, and that therefore it is logically self-defeating. However, if it truly does include the ability to violate logic, then we cannot consider it a problem that logic forbids it. If it transcends logic, then logic can be no obstacle. If I were addicted to a religion, I would prefer the first viewpoint, and leave God with complete power over nature, but not imbue him with the power to lift an object that he cannot lift. No matter, though. The argument against the possibility of God does not stand under either view. I think the atheist is far better served to argue against the accuracy of religious beliefs than against the existence of an ill-defined God.
  • It would be unfair for me to fisk a pro-atheism argument without similarly fisking an apologetic argument as well. The one I have in mind is the ineffability of God. Often, when a religious belief can be shown to be self-contradictory, contradictory with the evidence of our senses and reason, or in some way morally damning (thinking here of the incident described above from Exodus), the reply is that God is unknowable. According to this view, whatever apparent problem we perceive would go away if only we had God's perspective. It is our inability to comprehend God and his ways that make us unable to understand this particular problem with a religious claim. This argument is actually wonderful for the atheist - because religion is an effort to do just that impossible thing: to understand God's plan for people. This argument is an admission that the main goal and focus of religion is impossible. Of course, the Christian believes that he is not defeated by his own beliefs about the unknowability of God, because God chooses (in some cases) to reveal Himself and His plans,... and we know it when He does.. But the sticking point is the unspoken next line - "Or does he? And, do we?" According to the view that God's ways are incomprehensible to us, we can never answer those questions. We cannot know whether this or that revelation is from God or is a deception - because our comprehension is not up to the job of discerning the one from the other - by the believers' own insistence.

    Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (0)
  • September 12, 2004

    For Goodness' Sake

    from - smijer

    ... believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him 'good' and worshipping him is a still greater danger... The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of scripture is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissable.

    [C. S. Lewis, in letter to John Beversluis]
    -as quoted in Pharyngula's infidel quotes

    Last week, I asked you to give your attention to the notorious contradictions between religion's beliefs about the character of God and it's beliefs about the actions of God. I did this to prime the pump for this week's sermon: why Christianity makes morality impossible.

    For me to make this point, I must have some cooperation from the religious. If they choose to leave these contradictions unresolved, and to believe that both views of God are true no matter how mutually exclusive they may be, then I have no choice but to let them. If they took my bait, however, and try to make their beliefs coherent, then I feel confident that I can answer any attempt at harmonization but one. That one is the fall-back position of most Christian apologists concerning the glaring difference between a "good" God, and a God who intentionally drowns children or punishes the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. Before I get to that one, I'd like to spend some time with one of the other unsatisfactory answers I can expect to receive to the quandry I presented last week:

    "I know God's goodness from direct revelation. That's how I know God is good even if sometimes he doesn't seem that way to my human thinking".

    I would be remiss if I did not warn the speaker that she should be careful not to confuse religious experience with divine revelation. Moreover, I should argue to her that goodness can only be revealed through the presence of good actions and the absence of evil ones. Mere experiences of what seem to appeal to our senses as "the presence of goodness" should not be considered.

    Yet, I feel that argument is too abstract for an internet discussion, and there is a simpler and more direct way to address this response without even questioning the validity of the "revelation".

    Assuming the revelation is accurate, and from it you have plenty of reason to believe in God's goodness, you now have even less reason to believe the stories in the Bible that portray his actions as evil.

    Whether through reason, revelation, or mere hope, I (like C.S. Lewis as quoted above) am personally more comfortable with the conclusion that God, if It exists, must be good. There is room to debate whether It would be all good, or whether it would be good only in certain ways, that left room (unfortunately) for the needless suffering of conscious entities (which is a truth we cannot ignore). But it is certainly more satisfying, and to my mind, consistent with experience, to believe that any God who might exist must be, at least on some level, good.

    This doesn't resolve the contradiction. If we are convinced of the goodness of God, we have merely narrowed down our options for resolving the contradiction, for the actions that the Bible ascribes to God are still incompatible with justice, mercy, and (if the truth be known) goodness. This means that we must find a way to make those actions compatible with goodness, or we must abandon belief in the Bible's portrayals of God's actions. If we choose the former, I hope to show, we remove the possibility of morality. I have yet to find any disadvantage, whether from reason or ethics, to choosing the latter path.

    Before moving on to the demonstration of Christianity's lethal effect of killing morality, I would like to make a brief note on one other harmonization. Usually, this one is employed as an answer to the problem of evil, and doesn't really make sense in light of the contrasts I highlighted in last week's sermon. But, it is still worth a brief response. I speak of the notion that there is some greater good that must be accomplished, and that God must act in ways that seem (to us) harmful in order to bring about this greater good. My only comment is that this view makes God less than infinitely powerful. An infinitely powerful God has infinite resources for creating a plan that will accomplish It's greater good, leaving It the ability to do so without creating harm. In my view, this extends even to account for the "goodness" of human free will; and furthermore, the free will defense breaks down under Christian doctrine anyway. I will not go into specifics, as this is really just a special case of the more general situation that serves as the morality killer.

    "God is beyond human comprehension." Taken by itself, this statement should seem self-evident for any meaningful definition of the Deity, and is not especially problematic. Paired, however, with the proposition that we should believe and follow a set of teachings about God that are ethically inadequate to our own conscience and/or ethical system, we now have a set of beliefs that undermine any possibility of moral choice. You see, if we consider God to be beyond human comprehension, then we may still honestly believe that humans have a faculty for moral choice. However, if we consider the human faculty for moral reasoning to be inadequate for accurately judging the moral status of a set of religious teachings, then we find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to make a choice about those teachings without recourse to our moral foundations!

    Yet, this is exactly what Christianity asks us to do: make a choice whether to follow it's teachings. If we cannot rule out Christianity based on the teachings it has that are incompatible with the goodness of God under our own moral systems, and if we then choose to follow the moral dictates of Christianity, we find ourselves choosing our actions based on teachings that we have failed to subject to moral examination. We make our choices based on obedience, without knowing the true moral nature of that which we obey.

    I remember a discussion I had with my mother when I was a child. She reminded me (at a time when I was feeling rebellious) that I had a moral obligation to obey her instruction. While she was generally correct on that point, my argumentative self could not help but point out to her that my obligation to obey her was subject to the righteousness of what she instructed. In other words, I was trying to tell her that if I had moral qualms about an instruction of hers (a situation, I might add, which very rarely presented itself!), I would be free to challenge her, and if she could not satisfy me that I would not be ethically compromised by following her, then my moral obligation was to disobey. Besides rebellious, I was ineloquent. Besides ineloquent, I was exercising poor judgment. Not only did I fail to make my point; when asked for an example of a command she might give that I could not obey, I chose to present one that was so offensive that I was now in trouble for even being able to contemplate such despicable ideas!

    Yet, despite my poor attitude, my inability to express my point, and my very unfortuante choice of examples, my point was quite true. Obedience is not, of itself, moral. Obedience can be a moral act, but only when we are quite certain that the teachings we obey are compatible with our sense of ethics. Christianity, defended from inconsistency by making our moral senses inadequate to the task of evaluating the teachings it asks us to follow, disallows a moral obedience. It asks us to believe that God (who we believe to be good) is the same entity as YHWH, who is described as acting in a way that, by any moral accounting, can only be called wicked. It asks us to follow, obey, and worship this YHWH, while believing the teachings that reveal his wickedness. In other words, it asks us to substitute an amoral (or immoral) obedience for moral reasoning. Without moral reasoning, there can be no moral choice. Without moral choice, there can be no morality. Obedience of the kind required by Christianity and the Bible's scripture destroys the possibility of morality.

    Posted by smijer in Sunday Sermon | Permalink | Comments (12)