When Christians
and nonChristians collide

I recently consulted an atheist I know about the possibility of using this blog to explore some of the ways Christians end up offending the very people they’re trying to share God’s love with. This atheist is a guy I ran into on another blog, through a series of comments about the existence of God. Although we disagree with each other, I think it would not be too presumptuous of me to say that through honest debate and conversation we’ve developed a mutual respect.

I’m filing this post in the “Diversity” category of my blog because I think it’s another example of cross-cultural communication. Now, the thing about crossing cultures is this: you often don’t know where the cultural differences are until after you’ve done something culturally offensive! When you’ve grown up in a culture where everyone drives on the right side of the road, you assume that everyone everywhere drives on the right side of the road. Until you run into someone.

The same thing is true of Christian culture and nonChristian cultures. For the most part, I think we Christians don’t realize that our language and practices are unique, and they are different from how other people speak and act.

And, sometimes, they’re unnecessarily offensive.

For example

The most striking example I have of this is a blog post called “I’m Lost” that I happened to read when I was looking for information about the TV show Lost for a book review I was writing. The author of this blog is a self-described “’normal dude, about 30ish. I have a great wife, decent job, and a hobby that I want to make into a career. Nothing special.”

Here’s what this guy says in his “I’m Lost” post:

I’ve been told I’m one of the Lost. Not in the cool way, like on a primetime scifi TV show. This is in the “Not Christian” way. I guess if that’s what Lost means, then they are right. But I hate that term. Because I’m not lost.

I’m as much on track as any other schmuck on this Earth. I’m going from place to place. I’m learning new things and replacing bad information with better information. I also see the beauty in things without imposing a supernatural story to it. Reality is awesome.

I’m afraid, though, that we’ll never be rid of this religion crap. It’s sad, but I try not to dwell on it. I’m going to enjoy this one life. I will not waste my only life on a stupid story.

Eye-opening

Honestly, I had never thought about how offensive it might be to call someone “lost,” but reading about it from this guy’s perspective really opened my eyes.

It makes me wonder, what other language am I using—what other assumptions am I making—that might be offending people who aren’t Christians?

And what’s the best way to make myself aware of what I’m not aware of?

Any ideas? Any examples from your own experience?

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{ 46 comments… add one }

  • morsec0de June 3, 2010, 2:26 pm

    You may want to avoid “you’re going to burn in hell”. Just a thought. ;)

    Reply
  • Patricia Jongsma June 3, 2010, 2:37 pm

    It is true that we may unintentionally offend someone with our “language”, but then that’s where Grace comes in. God works in spite of our poor efforts and unintentional mistakes.

    Reply
    • Melanie Jongsma June 3, 2010, 5:36 pm

      That’s true. And I think it’s important to remember to extend as much grace to each other (on both sides of the conversation) as God extends to us. In doing that, we’ll probably get better at minimizing offenses—practice makes perfect!

      Reply
  • susan lane June 3, 2010, 7:08 pm

    i like to think that in driving, you find yourself lost if you are in the wrong way. but not all peoples of this world know that Jesus is the Way. be that as it may, we have to be gentle in dealing with the problem and not to always attack. we can attract by how we live to affect the lost.

    Reply
  • swamifred June 3, 2010, 8:05 pm

    This is good. An actual grown-up conversation is highly preferable to a yelling match and threats of damnation, in my experience.

    Since this was kind of kicked off by my post, I thought I’d bring a bit more insight from the ‘other’ side. Of course any opinions I give are just mine. There is no central dogma to atheism (in fact there is no dogma at all), so us atheists aren’t going to necessarily agree on anything.

    I’ll contribute by giving pointers on how to not alienate me when you’re having a conversation with me. (Note: I am not accusing anyone here of any of the following. They are just things that I commonly have to deal with.)

    #1. Check your tone and attitude. It’ll be a short conversation if I think you’re talking down to me as if you’re better than me or more privileged. I’ll be polite, but if I feel like I’m being attacked, I’ll stop being nice.

    #2. Don’t assume I haven’t read the Bible. Because I have (I used to be a Christian, and then I read the Bible. The whole thing). And I know it better than some people who are trying to convert me.

    #3. Please listen when I try to respond. I have a point of view, too. I can’t respect your opinion if you won’t even listen to mine.

    #4. If you say “I’ll pray for you,” that doesn’t mean anything to me. I mean no offense, but you might as well be saying “I’ll eat a sandwich for you.” I don’t believe prayer does anything.

    #5. I’m not a devil worshipper. I don’t believe he exists, just like I don’t believe there is a God or gods.

    #6. Yes, I’m living a very happy life. There are ups and downs, just like everybody else. I believe life is beautiful. I revel in nature and science and poetry and song. I just don’t there’s anything supernatural about it. Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

    I’m sure there are more, but I have a long weekend of work ahead of me. Feel free to reply with questions. I’d be happy to answer them. I’m confident we can keep this civil.

    Reply
    • Melanie Jongsma June 3, 2010, 8:58 pm

      Thank you, swamifred, it’s good to hear from you! I appreciate your willingness to participate in this conversation in spite of the bad experiences you’ve had with some Christians in the past.

      Here’s a question I have for you: Is there any such thing as a “typical” atheist? You’ve listed some things about yourself that help us have a better sense of the person you are. But would it be a mistake for us to jump to the conclusion that these things are true for “most” atheists? I mean, the next atheist I meet might be intrigued by my offer to pray for him, or he might not feel particularly happy about his life.

      Maybe what I’m wondering is, what is the learning I can take from my interactions with you, that I can apply to my interactions with others?

      While I’m writing this, I’m thinking this is one possible learning: While there is no “typical” atheist (as there is no “typical” Christian, no “typical” Mexican, no “typical” teenager, etc.), there are certain rules of relating we can probably all agree on. Everyone wants to be treated with respect. Everyone appreciates being listened to. Start by assuming the best about people, and they’ll often live up to it. Would following these principles keep Christians and nonChristians from offending each other?

      Reply
      • swamifred June 3, 2010, 9:13 pm

        I’m always willing to talk and listen. I will never be offended by a question asked with the intent to learn.

        You mention that there are bad Christians, and I know there are bad atheists out there too. I don’t think it’s the Christianity or atheism that makes someone bad – some people are just bad people.

        I don’t think there’s any such thing as a typical atheist. I know quite a few – but the only thing we really have in common is that we don’t believe in the supernatural, or at least we doubt the existence of such a thing. Some atheists I know just don’t care about religion one way or the other. They are atheist by default. I think it would be a mistake to jump to any conclusions. People have been surprised when they discover I am one. For instance, I was in the military for 5 years (yes, there are atheists in foxholes), and they just assumed that because I love my country that I was a Christian.

        You could certainly offer to pray for an atheist. To be honest, I really don’t take offense to that. I know that (most of the time) there is good will behind the offer. It gets annoying at times, though. And I’m quite sure that there’s an atheist out there who’s not happy with his/her life. Faith or the lack of faith is not a prerequisite for a happy life.

        I think you hit it on the head with treating everyone with respect. That goes a long way. If you take away one thing, it’s that we’re people too, and we want to be treated like people. Not like some sort of evil thing.

        I’m gonna head to bed now. I’ll answer more questions, although it might take me a few days to get to them…

        Thanks for letting me share with everyone!

        Reply
  • Melanie Jongsma June 3, 2010, 9:16 pm

    Susan, I think you’re right. When you see someone heading in the wrong direction, particularly if there’s danger ahead, your natural instinct is to help. And that’s good. But you’re right, too, that Christians don’t always do this “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). I’m guessing that swamifred would say something like, “Don’t assume I’m lost just because I’m not heading in the same direction as you. The least you could do is ask me where I’m trying to go before you tell me I’m lost.”

    And even though we believe the danger is real and urgent, morsec0de would probably tell us that “umm, you’re going to hell” is not the best way to start a conversation!

    swamifred and morsec0de, is there ANY good way to start a conversation with you about spiritual things? Or are you simply not interested? To use a sports metaphor, in Chicago there is no way to convince a Cubs fan to become a Sox fan, so the two fan groups for the most part just resort to good-natured ribbing that occasionally evolves into barfights and trashtalk. Is that the model Christians and nonChristians are destined to follow? :)

    Reply
    • swamifred June 6, 2010, 11:06 pm

      “Is there any good way to start a conversation with you about spiritual things?” I guess that depends on what your motivations are. Do you want to simply convert me, or do you want to get to know me, or even befriend me in spite of my atheism.

      If you just showed up to start talking about spiritual things, it would – to me – seem like a shallow attempt to get just another convert. I would see you like I see the Jehova’s Witness showing up at my door – unwelcome and annoying. If you were my friend, and you wanted to talk about spiritual things (and I have a few religious friends who do just that), I would not be bothered so much, because I know that you would likely still be my friend, no matter the outcome of the discussion.

      To be frank, I don’t think any spiritual discussion is particularly worthwhile. I compare it to the classic analogy of arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Religion and spirituality doesn’t make much sense to me.

      It wasn’t always like that for me, though. I was quite a strong Christian for a while. I was even the president of my campus ministry in my first couple years of college. But it was in college that I began to think critically of Christianity. Like morsec0de, it was a gradual thing, but I began to realize that there really was no proof that any religion is true. The only thing that is claimed as proof is the Bible, and that wasn’t good enough for me. That was written millenia ago by uneducated shepherds. Back then, everything had some kind of mystical, magical essence. And critical thought wasn’t even much of a concept in that part of the world (it still isn’t in some parts of the world). In short: I took a step back, and saw Christianity as nothing more than a long-told fable that many people believed without good reason.

      I don’t mean to sound so grumpy about it, but that’s how it is. I just don’t believe the story.

      And by the way, sleeping in on Sundays is a big perk.

      Reply
      • Melanie Jongsma June 7, 2010, 11:17 am

        I suppose it’s similar to dealing with salespeople. The best salespeople are not interested only in closing the deal; they genuinely want to provide solutions to people. They believe in their products, they listen to their customers’ needs, and they offer the products that will meet those needs. Customers can tell when they’re being sold to, and it ends up turning them off. In the same way, people can tell when they are nothing more than a “project,” and that’s a turn-off.

        To be honest, if I were to start a spiritual conversation with you, swamifred, my motivation WOULD be to convert you—but not because I need to close the sale. I just really believe in the product, and I want to share it with you! But if you’re not interested, I totally respect that. :)

        Reply
  • morsec0de June 3, 2010, 9:36 pm

    “swamifred and morsec0de, is there ANY good way to start a conversation with you about spiritual things?”

    If you’re starting the conversation, it probably makes sense to ask more questions than to read off a manifesto. And that goes for anyone who is determined to start a conversation about something that can get as heated as religious conversations can.

    The more questions asked, the less assumptions are made and the less accidental offenses. If you’re going to offend me, I’d at least like you to do it on purpose. ;)

    That being said, a great way for a religious person to start a discussion with me personally is for them to tell me what they believe and why they believe it. I’m not going to take their religious claims, whatever those may be, as given without convincing.

    I understand your beliefs are real to you, and you are probably sincerely worried for my eternal soul, but unless or until you convince me of your beliefs I will at best find your concern amusing and at worst find it offensive.

    So, tell me what you believe and why you believe it. If your reasons were good enough to convince you, so they might do the trick for me too. The only way to find out is to bring it up and start discussing it.

    Reply
    • Melanie Jongsma June 4, 2010, 7:15 am

      morsec0de, that’s a good reminder. It’s simply polite to begin a conversation with questions. What’s your name? What do you do? Where do you live?, etc.—these are basic building blocks to any relationship, because they demonstrate an interest in the other person. When Christians shortcut these and jump right to assumptions and accusations, that’s just rude.

      In spite of your suggestion for Christians to “start a discussion with me [by telling] me what they believe and why they believe it,” I’m not sure I’d follow that advice. It seems like it would sound self-centered if I introduced myself and then told you my life faith story! I definitely think I should be prepared to explain my beliefs (and maybe too many Christians are woefully unable to do this); I’m just not sure it’s the right way to START a conversation. Is it? At the very least, wouldn’t it be more polite for me to start with something like, “Oh, you’re an atheist? What’s that like? Have you been an atheist all your life? Or did something happen to convince you that atheism makes sense?”

      Honestly, I do have a lot of questions about atheism and would like to understand it better, so if you’re willing to actually answer those questions, I would love it! (But I understand that maybe a blog comment isn’t the ideal forum for this kind of conversation! Though, maybe nowadays it is?)

      Reply
      • morsec0de June 4, 2010, 7:58 am

        I meant more that it was a good day to start a religious conversation with ME, as opposed to with atheist or nonchristians in general. And maybe that wouldn’t be the start of the conversation, but the start of the religious portion of it.

        ““Oh, you’re an atheist?”

        Yup.

        “What’s that like?”

        I imagine it’s pretty much like being anything else, except I can sleep in on Sundays.

        To be completely honest, I don’t think about it too much as long as religion isn’t a topic. I view myself as the same person I was before I was an atheist, except a little bit wiser thanks to the passage of time and experience.

        “Have you been an atheist all your life? Or did something happen to convince you that atheism makes sense?”

        I have not been an atheist all my life. I think I’ve been one for about 5 years now. It wouldn’t be fair to say that ‘something happened’, as it was a lot of things.

        I grew up a very liberal Roman Catholic. I was in the choir, did Sunday school, but outside church didn’t give it much thought. Even at a young age I remember being pluralistic, though I didn’t have the word for it, because I couldn’t believe in a loving God who sent my Jewish friends to hell.

        I gradually got more and more liberal, and actually started studying the history of Christianity and read the bible through for the first time. And I started questioning myself about why I believed and what my justification was. And over a long time, I realized I had no good reason and became an atheist. By no means was it sudden or instantaneous. It was a slow, gradual process.

        I came to the conclusion that I had been compartmentalizing my mind. In one part was everything I thought of religiously, and in the other was absolutely everything else. But I just reached a point where I could no longer justify giving religion that special place of privilege, and I had to put it under the microscope like everything else. And I discovered that it didn’t hold up under scrutiny.

        Hope that helps. It’s kind of vague, but the questions asked weren’t terribly specific. Feel free to go more in depth if you like. :)

        Reply
  • Melanie Jongsma June 6, 2010, 9:27 am

    Thanks for sharing your story, morsec0de. I was looking at your blog—you’ve had a lot of interaction from both religious people and non-religious! did you know most of these people before you started blogging? Or is the Christian-Atheist debate simply that popular a topic?

    By the way, your answer to my second question made me smile: “I imagine it’s pretty much like being anything else, except I can sleep in on Sundays.” Funny.

    Reply
  • Renier June 7, 2010, 2:25 am

    Hi people.

    First off, I would like to state that people taking offense made the choice to take offense. People are too thin skinned and have persecution complex behavior that is simply childish. I don’t take offense if someone says I am “Lost”, it simply pisses me off. By trying to pussy foot around people’s feelings we are damaging free speech, as well as clear communication.

    So while I cannot comment on things Christians do that offend me, I can attempt to comment on things that really irks and irritates the living daylights out of me.

    1.Some Christians claims that without God, you don’t have morals.
    - Utter nonsense. Being a Christian does not make you a better (or worse) person than a non-believer. I don’t need a god to not want to hurt people. Futhermore, morality is not determined by what a god supposedly commanded, but by the suffering or happiness it results in.

    2. Christians often expect non-believers to acknowledge their god is a good god. He is not. Brutally killing children because they made fun of a bald man’s bald spot is evil. Killing his own son to satisfy his bloodlust is evil. I do not want to worship such a god, I have higher standards. expecting me to worship such a god is an insult to me.

    3. Expecting me to believe in a perfect garden with a talking snake is an insult to my intellect. Same goes for talking donkeys and people who survive for three days inside a fish, a dead man rising three days later and then levitating up to heaven.

    4. Christians sometimes expect other people to live by Christians rules/laws. I cannot state how much this really irks me. I cannot buy a bottle of red wine, on a Sunday, in this country. One of many examples where people get forced to do what Christians think they should do, and often they try and make their dogma into laws.

    5. Christians often go to great lenghts to indoctrinae children, often other people’s children. Classic example is the creationism in schools. It rapes science in the name of a god. Prayer in school (my country). Bible reading in school. Please, leave the kids alone. indoctrinate your own kids at home if you really have to.

    6. I can respect you without respecting your dogma/faith. When I say something negative about your faiths or your beliefs, then I am *not* being disrespectful to you. Differentiate the two please. Playing the persecution card when someone disagrees with your opinions is also not on.

    7. You do not have some magical ability to hear god, that I do not have. We both get “gut feel”, you just call it the voice of god. If you think god speaks to you, next time ask him something that you do not know, perhaps a good thing, something that really matters, such as a cure for cancer. Try it.

    Patricia said: “It is true that we may unintentionally offend someone with our “language”, but then that’s where Grace comes in.”

    So, you offend/irritate/anger someone with your words, and just leave it for God to sort out? I assure you, God has never stepped in when a Christian angered me, as I explained above.

    Susan: “but not all peoples of this world know that Jesus is the Way.”

    You use the word “know” that is a claim to knowledge. I must point out that no person on Earth “knows” anything about any god. For instance. You do not know more about god that what I do. If one claims to have knowledge one must provide evidence for such knowledge, from an objective point of view. Else it is and remains an opinion, an unfounded opinion at that. It is also good to remember that there is no evidence of any god, so opinions about gods are built on many assumptions, not facts.

    In order for us (believers and non-believers) to have rational discussion, we need to apply the rational, in other words, reason and logic. Arguments and explanations that amounts to magick tricks done by some invisible, undetectable entity needs to be backed up by solid evidence. Failing to do so leaves us with no common ground to determine the truth of things.

    Reply
    • Melanie Jongsma June 7, 2010, 12:01 pm

      You sound angry, Renier! Or perhaps I am misinterpreting the tone of your writing? In any case, please let me express my apologies for the “irks and irritations” that religious people have caused you in the past.

      I am curious about your second point: “Christians often expect non-believers to acknowledge their god is a good god. He is not. Brutally killing children because they made fun of a bald man’s bald spot is evil. Killing his own son to satisfy his bloodlust is evil….” I wonder if you are confusing being “good” with being “nice.” There is, of course, a difference. If you are a “good” king or a “good” parent, you still might have to do things that aren’t very “nice.” Your children might complain about the spankings they receive; your subjects might revolt against being drafted into the army; but because you want children with character and a nation able to defend itself, you do what has to be done, and only later is it recognized as “good,” even “loving.”

      God isn’t always nice. But I contend that He is good.

      I think the point Patricia was making about grace is that not only does God’s grace help heal unintended offenses, but also the more we rely on Him, the more He makes up for our shortcomings. His grace also makes it possible for us to ask forgiveness when we do realize we’ve hurt someone. In addition to God’s grace, the grace we extend to each other can overcome a multitude of hurts. As you said yourself, if we are going to be thin-skinned, we will see offenses everywhere. If we extend grace to each other, we just might be able to get along!

      I’m not sure I understand your issue with Susan’s use of the word “know.” If the definition of “know” is “to perceive directly” (Merriam-Webster), why is it wrong for Susan to say, “not all peoples of this world have perceived directly that Jesus is the Way”? I would think you would agree with that!

      Reply
      • morsec0de June 7, 2010, 12:05 pm

        “God isn’t always nice. But I contend that He is good.”

        At the risk of starting a whole other conversation, I would contend that drowning every person on the planet except for one man and his family is significantly worse than ‘not nice’.

        Reply
  • Melanie Jongsma June 7, 2010, 6:18 pm

    Now, morsec0de, you’re leaving some significant facts out of the story you’re alluding to! For one thing, the people who drowned were corrupt and violent and evil—like a race of Ted Bundys. For another, they knew the flood was coming and had plenty of time to prepare but chose not to. For another, God’s heart was “filled with pain” (Genesis 6) at what He had to do. It’s easy to make God look like the bad guy here, but that’s not quite the whole story.

    All the players on a basketball team know the rules before they start the game. If nine of the guys on the court decide to tackle the ref and spit on him, is it fair to condemn the ref when he throws them out of the game and fines them? :)

    Reply
    • morsec0de June 7, 2010, 9:26 pm

      “For one thing, the people who drowned were corrupt and violent and evil—like a race of Ted Bundys.”

      Really?

      All of them?

      The men? The women? The teenagers? The children? The toddlers? The infants? The babies? The fetuses? Every single last one was evil and deserved to be drowned?

      “For another, they knew the flood was coming and had plenty of time to prepare but chose not to.”

      God spoke to all of them? I don’t remember that from the story.

      “It’s easy to make God look like the bad guy here, but that’s not quite the whole story.”

      Your conception of god seems to be somewhat smaller and weaker than my conception.

      The people who he created are evil, and his BEST solution is to drown them all? Why not snap his metaphysical fingers and make them not evil? Give them lessons on ethics and explain the incentives of acting not evil? Not make them evil in the first place?

      I can drown someone. I expect better from a god.

      “If nine of the guys on the court decide to tackle the ref and spit on him, is it fair to condemn the ref when he throws them out of the game and fines them? :)”

      If a god can be harmed, can you really call it a god?

      Reply
      • Melanie Jongsma June 7, 2010, 11:04 pm

        “Really? All of them?”
        Yes, I’m afraid so. “…[A]ll the people on earth had corrupted their ways…. [E]very inclination of the thoughts of [man's] heart was only evil all the time.”

        “God spoke to all of them? I don’t remember that from the story.”
        Are you saying that they didn’t know what they were doing was evil? Or that they didn’t know they would be punished? Or that they didn’t know the punishment was coming right then? I think at the very least they must have noticed a man and his three sons building a giant ship and stocking it with supplies! And I think the story about Noah’s flood would have spread pretty quickly. He was a righteous man, “blameless among the people of his time”—I don’t think he would have been written off as a complete crackpot.

        “The people who he created are evil, and his BEST solution is to drown them all? Why not snap his metaphysical fingers and make them not evil?”
        That’s how He started, by making us “not evil.” We threw that gift away, and then we should blame Him for not giving it to us again?

        “Give them lessons on ethics and explain the incentives of acting not evil?”
        He does that all throughout history. But we still manage to blame Him for consequences we bring on ourselves.

        “Not make them evil in the first place?”
        He didn’t. Of all the forms of life He created, we were the only ones given the capacity to choose. It was a risky move, and it sounds like there are times when He regrets it.

        “If a god can be harmed, can you really call it a god?”
        Perhaps your conception of god is smaller and weaker than mine! My God has been harmed throughout history, but He keeps offering reconciliation in return. Is that a sign of weakness? Or strength?

        Reply
  • morsec0de June 8, 2010, 5:43 am

    ““Really? All of them?”
    Yes, I’m afraid so.”

    It shouldn’t surprise and disturb me that there are people out there who view children, infants and babies as evil and deserving of being drowned. It probably shouldn’t surprise and disturb me, but it does.

    “Are you saying that they didn’t know what they were doing was evil?”

    Outside the land of comic books and television shows, people don’t actively act evil. They may end up doing things we would call evil, but they certainly don’t consider it so.

    “My God has been harmed throughout history, but He keeps offering reconciliation in return. Is that a sign of weakness? Or strength?”

    Murdering everyone on the planet is not reconciliation.

    And the act of a strong man, after being slapped by a weaker man, then murdering that weaker man…is the largest sign of weakness of character I’ve ever seen.

    Reply
  • Renier June 8, 2010, 7:15 am

    Melanie wrote: “You sound angry, Renier! Or perhaps I am misinterpreting the tone of your writing? In any case, please let me express my apologies for the “irks and irritations” that religious people have caused you in the past.”

    Oh, you know me by now. I am a bit of a grump but not often in a angry mood. Just saying things as I see them, but not foaming around the mouth either.

    Melanie wrote: ” I wonder if you are confusing being “good” with being “nice.” There is, of course, a difference. If you are a “good” king or a “good” parent, you still might have to do things that aren’t very “nice.” Your children might complain about the spankings they receive”

    You don’t kill your children, do you? Do you maim them? No? Well, then you are a better parent than your god. I do not confuse “nice” with “good”. According to your Bible, your God has been behind hideous deeds, even ordering the killing of babies (Joshua). It astounds me that people would justify and worship in their god what they would hate and abhor in humans. All you need to say, is that it is evil to kill children because they teased a bald man over his bald spot. How could anyone even try and justify such an evil act?

    Melanie wrote: “your subjects might revolt against being drafted into the army; but because you want children with character and a nation able to defend itself, you do what has to be done, and only later is it recognized as “good,” even “loving.”

    And if they fail to worship you, just kill/drown the whole bunch. Or even worse, throw them in a torture chamber you made so they can burn, suffer in agony for all eternity? And you expect me to worship/accept such a being, even to lie and call such a character good? He makes the Biblical Satan look like a friggen humanitarian. It won’t do. I will not bow to such an evil being. As I said, I have higher standards. It would be more moral to worship Jack the Ripper.

    Melanie wrote: “I think the point Patricia was making about grace is that not only does God’s grace help heal unintended offenses, but also the more we rely on Him, the more He makes up for our shortcomings.”

    How do you know he does? And I have to ask you again. How can you differentiate your god from a make belief friend? In my opinion you might as well have said the Tooth Fairy will make up for unintended offenses. Not the same? How is it not the same?

    Melanie wrote: “His grace also makes it possible for us to ask forgiveness when we do realize we’ve hurt someone.”

    God is not the one that gets hurt if you hurt another person. You require the person’s forgiveness, not God’s!

    Melanie wrote: “I’m not sure I understand your issue with Susan’s use of the word “know.” If the definition of “know” is “to perceive directly” (Merriam-Webster), why is it wrong for Susan to say, “not all peoples of this world have perceived directly that Jesus is the Way”? I would think you would agree with that!”

    Does anyone “perceive DIRECTLY”? The usage of DIRECT in this context would be (Oxford) “without intervening factors or intermediaries.” – Or am I missing something?

    Hmm. At first glance you make a good point. I should perhaps have clarified a bit more to avoid confusion. I quoted Susan saying : “but not all peoples of this world know that Jesus is the Way.”

    Oxford – “Know” : verb (past knew; past part. known) 1 have knowledge of through observation, inquiry, or information. 2 be absolutely sure of something. 3 be familiar or friendly with. 4 have a good command of (a subject or language). 5 have personal experience of.

    For me, one needs to make a clear distinction between “know” and “belief” in these cases. Would it not have been more accurate to say “but not all peoples of this world believe that Jesus is the Way.”? Where “know” is a claim to knowledge. Check wikipedia on the word “knowledge” and then check wikipedia on the word “belief”.

    A good explanation on the difference between “belief” and “know”: “In contrast to this approach, Wittgenstein observed, following Moore’s paradox, that one can say “He believes it, but it isn’t so”, but not “He knows it, but it isn’t so”.”

    Sorry about the pedant in me, I know it is a bit over the top.

    Melanie wrote: “I think at the very least they must have noticed a man and his three sons building a giant ship and stocking it with supplies!”

    I hate to be a stickler, but let’s not get carried away here. The Biblical flood is a myth, inherited from and older civilisation called Sumer. Read the Gilgamesh Epic to put things into perspective. Also, there is no evidence for a world wide flood, just some Creationist conjurations.

    Melanie wrote: “That’s how He started, by making us “not evil.” We threw that gift away, and then we should blame Him for not giving it to us again?”

    So, let me get this right. He makes people (in his own image), makes them curious and stupid enough to listen to a supposedly talking snake. Then he puts a big tree with a neon sign that says “do not eat” and stands surprised that they actually try it? What did he expect, even without considering he is supposed to know the future? It is like placing a big chocolate in front of a child and say, don’t eat it. If the child eats it, I would hardly be surprised. And severely punishing the child if he eats it is rather an act of sadistic stupidity, in my opinion. If a human does it, it is simply child abuse. If a god does it, it is the ultimate good in action. Yet people expect me to call these actions “good” and “just”? Insane is a word I would rather use in honesty.

    “When Christians and nonChristians collide” – turned out to be a “prophetic” header for the topic :-)

    Reply
  • Renier June 8, 2010, 7:19 am

    morsecode: “It shouldn’t surprise and disturb me that there are people out there who view children, infants and babies as evil and deserving of being drowned. It probably shouldn’t surprise and disturb me, but it does”

    Amen brother…amen, so to speak.

    Reply
  • Melanie Jongsma June 9, 2010, 4:39 pm

    morsec0de and Renier, would it be offensive for me to ask for clarification on something? I’m asking because I sincerely want to understand. Are you angry at God for doing all the things you disagree with? Or are you angry at Christians for believing in a God who does these things? I’m assuming you’re angry at Christians, since you don’t believe in God. But I still get the feeling that there’s a definite sense of “How could He do that?!” in your arguments, as if you’ve been personally betrayed. But maybe I’m reading too much into the words on the screen.

    Reply
    • morsec0de June 9, 2010, 9:57 pm

      “Are you angry at God for doing all the things you disagree with? Or are you angry at Christians for believing in a God who does these things?”

      Not even for the Christians believing in a god who does those things. For the Christians condoning those actions and thinking them good and just.

      And not angry. More disappointed and a little disgusted.

      “as if you’ve been personally betrayed.”

      I feel a little betrayed by fellow humans, yeah.

      And a little scared, to be honest. It’s a very short jump from ‘God did it and it’s good’ to ‘we should do it too, because God says it’s good.’

      Reply
  • Melanie Jongsma June 10, 2010, 12:20 am

    Ok, I hear your disappointment and betrayal. I receive that. You are disappointed with me. You are a little disgusted by me. You feel a little betrayed by me. Ok. [sigh]

    I’m not sure where to go from here.

    I do find it interesting that it’s the atheists who brought the Bible and God into this conversation. That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?

    Reply
    • morsec0de June 10, 2010, 8:11 am

      “I receive that. You are disappointed with me. You are a little disgusted by me. You feel a little betrayed by me. Ok. ”

      It’s more that I’m disappointed, disgusted and betrayed by your professed views, not by you. There’s a subtle difference, but it’s there.

      At bottom, I’m pretty optimistic when it comes to people. And I have a feeling (which isn’t rational, and may be wrong) that you don’t actually think killing children would ever be a good thing. I suspect you may just think you’re supposed to think and say that, because it’s what your religion professes.

      At least, I hope you don’t actually think that way.

      Reply
  • Renier June 10, 2010, 4:31 am

    Melanie wrote: “morsec0de and Renier, would it be offensive for me to ask for clarification on something?”

    Never. A question should never cause any offense. Inquiry is always good. Doubt is a virtue.

    Melanie wrote: “Are you angry at God for doing all the things you disagree with? Or are you angry at Christians for believing in a God who does these things? I’m assuming you’re angry at Christians, since you don’t believe in God. But I still get the feeling that there’s a definite sense of “How could He do that?!” in your arguments, as if you’ve been personally betrayed. But maybe I’m reading too much into the words on the screen.”

    A very valid concern. I will try to explain. I do not believe that your god (or any god) exists. I do however acknowledge that concepts (ideas) about your god exists. I argue therefore against the concepts, the ideas and the supposed actions committed by such concepts.

    Morsecode wrote: “And a little scared, to be honest. It’s a very short jump from ‘God did it and it’s good’ to ‘we should do it too, because God says it’s good.’”

    I agree with this. To the Christians here, let me clarify. The fundamental question that can be asked in order to show you why some beliefs in gods scare me is this: “Does your God command things because they are moral or is something moral because your God commands it?” If you choose the latter then no matter what evil acts are attributed to your god, you will call it good, moral and just. An observation must be made that it places you in the same camp as the suicide bombers and religious terrorists. It also places you in a position where you would condemn Hitler’s genocide of the Jews, but condone your God’s genocide of many other nations (See Old Testament), making you a hypocrite.

    Melanie wrote: “I do find it interesting that it’s the atheists who brought the Bible and God into this conversation. That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?”

    Not at all. Your worldview is shaped by your beliefs. Your interaction with us is shaped by your beliefs. Commentary on the differences between us is bound to end up on the thing that seperate our world views and views on morality and ethnics, aka, religion. Even assuming that your God exists we would still disagree on whether he is good or not, as is evident. There is an old religion (IIRC) where the people believe in two gods (Ahriman and Ahura-Mazda I think). One is evil, one is good. The people worship the evil god, reasoning that the good god would not wish to do them harm, and that they should worry about the bad god rather. Comparing this to the picture your Bible paints about your god, I would say the irony is on you.

    Melanie wrote: “You are a little disgusted by me.”

    Speaking for myself, I am surprised that a gentle person like you would see any good or justification in an act that involves the drowning of infants. If this is due to your religion, then it make the case for people who say religion can make good people do bad things, as such.

    Melanie wrote: ” I’m not sure where to go from here.”
    At least you got an interesting discussion on this thread, something to consider, re-read and mull over that might give you insight into atheistic/agnostic reasoning.

    Reply
  • rstravis June 12, 2010, 10:18 am

    Um, I just read this and had to pipe in. It seems to me that the biggest point of contention here has as its root a difference in paradigm that many of us have never thought about nor acknowledged. We are human. As such, we view things through a human lens. Being human, it is appropriate that we act as humans (e.g. don’t drown kids). But God’s relationship with us takes on a couple of related but not identical aspects. He has relationships with humans, as their creator and god, and even a father or a friend. But He also has a relationship with humanity. This is what is sometimes demonstrated by the outpouring of His wrath, as in the case of the ark. I don’t fully understand it, but it seems that there are cases, when individuals function as part of a group rather than individual entities, where God may do something we don’t understand, because we in this day and age view the world very individualistically. And we, by nature, have trouble going outside ourselves — in essence we become our own gods — to see the good of society over the good of individuals. Of course, I am as guilty of this as anyone, and I’ve always taken rugged individualism as a positive character trait. But lately I am not so sure that I have been right about that.

    I teach young kids (K-3 music), and, having them for only 40 minutes at a time, there are times when I have to remove a disruptive child from a class because that childish being disruptive. That child is usually just begging for (and truly needs) attention, but I need to remove or discipline him for the sake of the other 23 kids. However, there are times when this disruption spreads and most (and yes, sometimes all) of the members of the class act inappropriately. At these times, the whole class needs to be disciplined — it is the only effectiveness means I have found. So they all lose recess, or have extra homework, or some such thing. Point is, they are all individuals, but.sometimes they choose to follow the crowd, and they need to be treated as one larger unit.
    And truly, adults are not that much different than kids in this sense. As difficult as it is, need to try to see things through a different lens.

    And, by the way, I think this message is intended for Christians as much as, if not more than, atheists.

    *plink plink*

    Reply
    • Melanie Jongsma June 12, 2010, 1:24 pm

      This is an interesting contribution to the conversation, rstravis, though my guess is that Renier and morsec0de will not accept it as justification for God’s choice to punish His people, either individually or collectively.

      It makes me wonder, Renier and morsec0de, do you think punishment is ever justified? Or is it just that the flood was too harsh a punishment? What would have been a more appropriate response from God in this case?

      Reply
  • morsec0de June 12, 2010, 2:38 pm

    General question:

    Do you find killing children, toddler and babies to be more justifiable if you refer to it as ‘punishment’?

    Reply
    • Melanie Jongsma June 12, 2010, 3:20 pm

      Do you consider all children, toddlers, and babies naturally innocent? At what age do they lose their innocence?

      Reply
      • morsec0de June 13, 2010, 11:45 am

        “Do you consider all children, toddlers, and babies naturally innocent?”

        Don’t you?

        “At what age do they lose their innocence?”

        Not sure. But under the double-digits is a pretty good rule of thumb.

        Reply
  • swamifred June 12, 2010, 3:55 pm

    I’m gonna pipe in again. I believe I mentioned before that discussing things like this doesn’t make much sense to me. And I think I’m seeing it again. I’m reading such concern about whether or not God was justified in flooding the earth and killing all the innocent babies and children. Yes, it’s all horrible, etc…

    But I think we have to take a step back. We can’t just assume that, you know, any of this actually happened. We can’t just assume there is a God. This whole argument is begging the question, and I don’t think there’s a God. Where’s the evidence for God? It’s useless and silly to argue about something that doesn’t actually exist. And it’s ridiculous to think that there was a global flood. Again, there’s no evidence for that. Maybe large local floods happened, but not a global flood. And since floods happen practically everywhere there’s humans (since humans live near water), and they happen relatively often, we should expect every culture to have some kind of flood story. There’s nothing magical about that.

    What’s described in the Bible – the mass murder by a ‘benevolent’ God – is just a story used by those in power who want to keep the people in line. It works pretty well. If you’re think you’ll be eternally tortured if you step out of line, you’re going to do as you’re told.

    All of this is made up. The only ‘evidence’ of supernatural mischief is described in holy books. We don’t see miracles today like was described in the dark ages and before. Did God go to sleep? Or did he never actually exist and was given attribution for things people didn’t yet understand, like the sun rising or earthquakes or comets in the sky? I think the latter is much more likely.

    So I won’t argue whether or not it was justified for God to murder his creation, because that didn’t happen. There were atrocities, murders, genocides, and torture. But it was people who did that to other people. And much of it was because they thought God approved.

    Reply
    • Melanie Jongsma June 13, 2010, 2:31 pm

      swamifred, you might be interested in a conversation that took place on another blog: A Great Work, by Aaron Gardner. In one of his posts (http://lunchboxsw.wordpress.com/2009/09/12/how-stuck-on-god-are-you/) he invited people to rate their confidence in the existence of God, and the resulting series of comments was really interesting. It’s lengthy, and at times quite philosophical, but you might find it worth a read. Renier, who has been commenting here, was a major part of that conversation. In fact, that is where he and I first “met”!

      Anyway, you mentioned you appreciate “actual, grown-up conversation” on this subject, so I thought I’d share that link.

      Reply
  • rstravis June 12, 2010, 5:36 pm

    I guess my statement didn’t quite get my point across. I appreciate the feedback, but I’m not sure I expressed my main point sufficiently.

    And my main point may upset some people, but I hope it gives the thinking people here some food for thought. In my opinion (which was the same even during my time away from Christianity — which, coincidentally, I refer to as “the lost decade”), we humans are puny. Each of us, individually, is tiny. We are not necessarily inconsequential, or without value. But we are small in the greater realm of things. Even in the greater realm of humanity, we are puny in relation to the world’s population. And as the human race on the planet Earth, we are puny in relation to the universe. This is true whether or not this universe was created by God.

    I have had students (remember, I teach young ones) sobbing as if their world was about to end over things like a tornado DRILL, or a paper cut. We as adults know that these things are no big deal. But to a child it seems horrible. I think of death as the same thing. Death and suffering, although I don’t like them and I seek to alleviate them for others whenever possible, are still inevitable and just a part of the life cycle. They happen to everyone.

    I need to clarify that I believe we should respect and honor life when it is here on earth. But our physical lives will all end. And we ought to alleviate suffering whenever we have the opportunity. But suffering will always exist. A pastor I heard last week stated that, instead of asking “Why me, God,” perhaps the question should be “Why not me?”

    In other words, I don’t get hung up on things about why suffering and death exist. There are some cases where we will never know the “why.” We simply need to accept that whatever is, is.

    In a way, I kind of agree with swamifred on this — not the part about there not being a God, but moreso about the part that religious people all too often resort to scare tactics using bad things that happen. And oftentimes, those bad things are caused by humans (sometimes, they think, with God’s approval). To me, that is not what Christianity is about, and that is not what draws me to it.

    I’m going to switch gears here a bit, and go back to the idea of being lost. I consider myself to have been lost for some time. That is, I was searching, but I didn’t know what I was searching for. This period in my life lasted around 10 years. At the time, I didn’t think I was lost, but I would easily acknowledge that I was searching. And if I am going to talk to a non-Christian about being lost, I will never assume that that person is truly lost. We all have our journeys, and we all follow different paths. But most of us, in some way, are searching, even if we don’t know what we are searching for (I say this for Christians and non-Christians alike). What I am glad to have found, though, is a closer relationship to the world, other people, and the One who created both. It is the restoration of a good relationship, not because I’ve earned it, but because it was offered. And that relationship is not just a relationship with God. Rather, it is a connectedness with the creator as well as his creation. It is a centered-ness, focus, and direction, as well as a vision of a forest rather than just trees. In essence, it is the opening of my eyes to a whole different reality and understanding.

    I do not preach “turn or burn.” Jesus did not go around telling non-religious people to turn or burn. I try to follow his example, and simply relate to people and appreciate them — ask questions about where they are in life. Then, as the conversation permits (and yes, I do sometimes try to lead the conversation), we can get around to spiritual matters.

    But let’s be honest. Nobody wants to be told that they are lost, and in our society, that is a quick way to turn the person off from the conversation. A better approach is to say, “when I was lost, I found …” etc.

    *plink plink* *and another plink for good measure and inflation*

    Reply
    • swamifred June 12, 2010, 6:35 pm

      I agree in part that in the new testament, Jesus didn’t preach turn or burn. But you also have to look at the Bible as a whole. Most of the old testament featured a god who was wrathful and threatened eternal damnation, and the new testament after the gospels included quite a bit of hellfire talk as well.

      In Christianity, the threat of hell is tacked onto sermons and lessons either explicitly or implicitly. I’m looked down upon as an object of scorn or pity because I’m either leading someone off the ‘path’ to hell, or because I’m unwittingly stumbling into hell.

      I guess I have no argument against such thinking. It just gets annoying, especially at Thanksgiving when I get the pity stare from three or four of my relatives while I remain silent during grace.

      I’m glad, rstravis, that you don’t assume that people are lost. That’s a very good starting place. You have to get to know the person, first. There is an unseen depth in most people that can be valuable to you if only you truly see it and try to understand it. Befriending someone is really the only way to do this. In the words of the great philosopher, Shrek, “People are like onions. They have layers.”

      I’m still searching for truth, myself. I just need evidence before I set my mind to something. Just because I dearly wish there was a heaven doesn’t make it so. I figure I have only this one short life, and I’m going to focus on building closer relationships with my friends and family right here and right now. They are the source of my blessings, and they are what make life worth living.

      Reply
      • rstravis June 12, 2010, 8:04 pm

        I’m glad you used the word “evidence.” I have a roommate with whom I frequently have discussions along this line. And that is often his issue. He demands evidence. He believes in science and only science.

        I am also glad I have not seen you make the claim that only the scientific is valid. Because most great scientific advances were, at one point, unsupported by evidence, and this did not make them untrue. Those who accomplish great things scientifically have an idea (sometimes considered ridiculous by the “logical” folks) long before they produce any evidence for it.

        So I hope we can agree that, while evidence solidifies truth, truth is not nonexistent without evidence.

        That said, we all know that, given the appropriate monetary incentive, “scientists” will often produce evidence for whatever it is that will profit them. So, if we are honest searching for truth, we must acknowledge that evidence alone is not sufficient to make a claim truthful.

        In other words, evidence and truth, while related, are not dependent upon one another in either direction. Truth is far higher than science. Earlier in the conversation, the word “know” was brought up. Some people know some things and others know others. And science is simply knowing, even etymologically.

        So truth is higher than evidence, but some depend on evidence for their own knowing, or science. I loved the movie “Dogma,” sacrilegious as it was, for the ending line. When asked if s/he (I don’t remember which character) knew something, the response was, “No … but I have an idea.”

        Now, my take on things is based on my own experiences, as, I’m sure, is yours. And my experiences have proven, to my satisfaction, that there is a connectedness between many (if not all) aspects of life. One thing always affects another. People, things, places, ideas — all can be connected quite easily if you look for the connections.

        Now, once things are connected, the question must be, is it a web of connections, or is there a root? The Internet is a web of information — everything is connected, but there is no one connecting body — thus, the name “web.”

        But when I look at nature, I see that all things have roots. All things share other things in common. All members of the animal kingdom have certain characteristics and similarities that bind them together — a root, if you will. They all have differences, as well, but there is always some common ground. Even if you look at physics, everything boils down to the atom. Every physical object is made up of atoms. So there is one root. It is not a situation where some items are made of molecules, some of independent ions, and some of individual atoms independent of molecules. Forgive me if that did not make sense — it’s been many years since I took a science class, but I think I used the right terms there.

        Regardless, the physical world seems more rooted in a single common element, rather than interconnected without any similarities in connections. So, following that pattern, it makes sense to me that any spiritual connection must be one common element as well. Is that common element some being that is old, has a long gray beard, and looks like Benjamin Harrison? That I don’t know. But I do believe that it follows natural patterns to say that there is one central being of some sort.

        So I guess you could say my evidence is based on parallels in nature.

        Now, if you can accept a central root to our connectedness, the questions that remains is the nature of that root. If you cannot accept the connectedness, then its nature is irrelevant.

        Of course, if you can accept the existence of this root, then what religious pattern to follow is a whole other discussion. But it’s a starting point. Of course, if you cannot accept the idea of a central root, anything further is pointless.

        Personally, I accepted the route and looked over different versions/stories/religions. I found Christianity to be where I believed truth to be. I respect if you have not found this, because 5 years ago I had not found it either. I respect that you are searching for truth, and I hope (and pray!) that you are able to come closer to it. For that matter, I continually hope and pray that I move closer to it as well. And I hope my perspective is in some way useful to you, as yours thus far has been to me.

        Reply
  • morsec0de June 13, 2010, 11:48 am

    “Because most great scientific advances were, at one point, unsupported by evidence, and this did not make them untrue. ”

    They also weren’t discoveries until they were discovered using evidence. Until then, nobody knew them, so what does it matter?

    Name a single discovery that was known before the evidence supported it.

    Reply
    • rstravis June 13, 2010, 1:32 pm

      The earth is a sphere, but it was thought to be flat. It’s spherical nature was suspected, but not proven initially. The evidence/proof came after the suspicion. The earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around. Again, there was suspicion (and I would daresay belief) before there was proof. The suspicion was based on evidence that SUGGESTED, but did not prove, the theory. Today, we argue about evolution, because, while there is evidence to prove evolution happens (and to SUGGEST that our origin lies therein), it is still technically a theory because we have not proven that our origin is evolution-based. This does not mean that our origin is not evolution-based, just because it has not been proven. (By the way, I count myself in the I-don’t-know camp on that one).

      Likewise with the existence of a supreme being, regardless of his nature. I see the connectedness of life as evidence suggesting this existence. I see too many coincidences working toward outcomes that, statistically could not happen. These do not prove God’s existence or His nature, but they definitely work evidence to suggest it.

      Reply
      • swamifred June 13, 2010, 2:35 pm

        There truly is an interconnectedness between all living things and the matter that we can see. Animals share some common characteristics, and plants do too, as well as bacteria, fungi, archaea, etc. We all began from the same single-celled organism. That’s why everything has some similar characteristics. For example, everything alive has DNA and RNA and uses it to code proteins in their biological factories. The proteins do all the work inside and outside the cells.

        For the purpose of full disclosure, I have a degree that focuses on chemistry and biology, mainly microbiology, so I can almost be considered an expert on stuff like this.

        Just to clear up a point, there are different meanings for the word ‘Theory’. In everyday speech, it sounds like some idea we came up with while drunk at a party. In science, when we say something is a theory, that is the most robust, extensively researched, most evidence-supported idea that exists. When we say evolution is a theory, it’s in the same league as saying gravity is a theory. Yes, it’s still possible to disprove it, but if you found evidence to disprove it, you would likely win a Nobel Prize. Every scientist would love to do something that huge, but try as we might, the theory of evolution has stood up to everything we’ve thrown at it for 150 years. We’re arguing about evolution within science, but it’s about the fine details. There is no argument about whether or not it is happening, but rather we’re arguing about how it happens. Also, please realize that evolution doesn’t explain how life began in the first place. It only explains how life has changed since it started. The origin of life is a completely different field of study. We’re still not sure how that happened. But I’m confident we’ll find out. It could be God. But I doubt it.

        Back to the interconnectedness. Sorry about the tangent. Yes, the physical things all share a common root. It does not follow that spiritual things also share a common root. Again, we’re begging the question that there is such thing as a spirit. I see no evidence for a spirit of any sort. I look around and observe only physical things. That’s because we are only physical things. We are good at dreaming things up in our heads. I have crazy dreams at night, and sometimes they are about ghosts or zombies or whatever. But that doesn’t mean they actually exist. You may have strong feelings about God, or you may think that God exists, but the brain is good at fooling itself.

        Reply
        • rstravis June 13, 2010, 3:41 pm

          I’m glad to be in this.conversion with you, then, given your degree. I would fall more into the category of philosopher than scientist, as I have always been more interested in ideas of what could be than what is. And I think we need both of those mindsets.
          That said, it sounded to me like you were saying the same thing I was on evolution as a theory, but I didn’t get the idea that you thought of it that way. But I stated.that there is little doubt that evolution happened/happens. The doubt is to whether is our origin. But I suppose I could take it further and question whether each species could have an independent origin. That is, even if we agree that evolution occurs within a species, that does not necessarily mean that all species came from one another. Again, I don’t know. And to my knowledge, there is no evidence. So you cannot unequivocally state that we are biologically connected based on a common historical, ancestral root, unless I am misunderstanding what you mean.

          But ideas do not consist of physical matter. That is kind of my point. There is no logical proof that ideas (non-physical) will follow the same patterns as physical matter. So my premise for belief cannot be proven. I cannot prove the existence of God. That is not even my goal. My goal is, quite simply, to help people open their minds to the possibility that God exists. And my motivation is simple as well: I struggled with wanting to find truth but being unable to accept anything I found. I want to help others to see the possibility of truth in places they may have ruled out. I don’t know your story, but I can tell you that in my case I was turned off to Christianity partly because of an anti-intellectualism and inconsistency that I saw within the Christianity I was a part of. I hope that, should your reasons be similar, and should your search for truth be earnest, you will continue to discuss matters openly, as we have been doing. And though I could go on, I shall stop for now before this post becomes a novel!

          Reply
  • Melanie Jongsma June 13, 2010, 2:13 pm

    morsec0de, in response to my question—“Do you consider all children, toddlers, and babies naturally innocent?”—you replied, “Don’t you?”

    My answer is, no, I don’t. And I will be surprised if you tell me you do, because I thought you were in the camp that requires “evidence.” But what evidence is there that children are innocent? If they start out innocent, what turns them into Hitlers and Bundys, or even simply lazy or hurtful or foul-mouthed adults?

    Reply
  • Melanie Jongsma June 13, 2010, 9:08 pm

    You all might be interested in a book I just finished: Truth and Transformation, by Vishal Mangalwadi. (Here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Truth-Transformation-Manifesto-Ailing-Nations/dp/1576585123 ) I hope to post a book review about it sometime, and I’d be interested in other perspectives on it.

    Reply
  • Renier June 14, 2010, 5:20 am

    rstravis wrote: “As such, we view things through a human lens [...] [...] This is what is sometimes demonstrated by the outpouring of His wrath [...] where God may do something we don’t understand”

    Hi rstravis. If I may attempt to sum up your position, what you really are saying is that we cannot judge God on moral aspects since we are simply human and God is God? If so, you use this to justify acts when he does things that seem immoral to us, like cruelly drowning humanity because he got angry. The problem here is simple. If we cannot have a say on what is moral or not then we acknowledge we have no knowledge, therefore cannot claim God is moral, since we do not/cannot know. One also needs to ask another difficult question. What is the difference between an evil human being and a nasty God as he is supposedly revealed in the Bible?

    Melanie wrote: “It makes me wonder, Renier and morsec0de, do you think punishment is ever justified? Or is it just that the flood was too harsh a punishment? What would have been a more appropriate response from God in this case?”

    My view on punishment gets a bit complicated since I doubt the existence of Free Will. People do things, even evil things, for reasons, internal or external. A person who suffers Major Depression Disorder has no control over feeling down or not, and acts arise because of such conditions, often sad acts such as suicide. I do think punishment to be important in many cases though, but not all. Punishing a baby is ignorant, cruel and not a corrective measure. Killing someone is a final act, therefore cannot be corrective to the individual. Punishment needs to be in proportion though. For instance, killing a person for a crime such a petty theft is in my opinion immoral. No act of evil deserves an eternal punishment of eternal torture though, not even the most hideous human being ever, since it would be infinitely out of proportion.

    Melanie wrote: “Do you consider all children, toddlers, and babies naturally innocent? At what age do they lose their innocence?”

    Babies have no concept of right or wrong yet. These social constructs takes time to imbed itself on the minds of humans. Toddlers might do things we call naughty in order to test the boundaries. But killing a toddler or a child for such experimental acts is evil. Evil and nothing but evil.

    Swmainfred: “We can’t just assume there is a God.”

    Hypnotically speaking we are saying that if such acts were committed (I also do not think they were) were they good or bad?

    Swamifred: “Maybe large local floods happened, but not a global flood.”

    There is evidence (sedimentary) for a local flood during the Sumerian civilisation. This probably gave rise to the deluge legends, as the Epic of Gilgamesh, written long before any book in the Bible refers to it. No evidence for a world wide flood though.

    Swamifred: “The only ‘evidence’ of supernatural mischief is described in holy books.”

    Agreed. I would go one step further. If there is a god that created this universe, we can learn about the god’s character by looking at the universe. Conclusion: Indifferent. It does not care.

    rstravis: “it is the opening of my eyes to a whole different reality and understanding.”

    Whoa there. Reality? Can it be demonstrated to be real?

    swamifred: “I’m glad, rstravis, that you don’t assume that people are lost.”

    I thought that every Christian, by definition of his beliefs, assume everyone who does not believe in Jesus is lost? Or am I missing something here?

    rstravis: “All members of the animal kingdom have certain characteristics and similarities that bind them together — a root, if you will. They all have differences, as well, but there is always some common ground.”

    Indeed. I am often amazed at how long it took humanity to figure out the obvious, evolution.

    rstravis: “Likewise with the existence of a supreme being, regardless of his nature. I see the connectedness of life as evidence suggesting this existence.”

    Why do you see it as evidence? On a biological scale we have a scientific explanation for “connectedness of life” as you rightly describe it. In addition to this, things coming into contact with one another interact. I don’t see the hand of any god in it though.

    rstravis: “I see too many coincidences working toward outcomes that, statistically could not happen.”

    Could not happen, yet it did? We are dealing with improbable here, not impossible. There is a difference. If you were to throw a ball across a field, what is the chances that it hits a specific blade of grass? Low, yet it happened. We don’t need to invoke a god in order to explain it though.

    rstravis: “But I suppose I could take it further and question whether each species could have an independent origin.”

    Very doubtful, based on the data. For instance, the PAX gene is behind the development of they eyes of humans, squid, fish, insects…

    rstravis: “That is, even if we agree that evolution occurs within a species, that does not necessarily mean that all species came from one another.”

    You would have a point (or half a point) if we only share “working” DNA with other species. The facts that we also share broken genes (GULO for instance) clearly points to common ancestors. We truly are all related.

    rstravis: “And to my knowledge, there is no evidence.”

    There are huge amounts of evidence. Even if we took away fossil evidence, molecular comparison on the genes is enough to carry the point.

    rstravis: “I cannot prove the existence of God.”

    Could you then at least differentiate your god from something that does not exist, like Zeus or a child’s imaginary friend? If not, then why assume such an existence? You mentioned as “evidence” the fact that highly improbable things happen yet you have a double standard since the improbability of your god existing dwarfs all things you consider as “evidence”.

    Apologies for the usual essay length.

    Reply

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