Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Does God Matter?

     A visitor commented in my last thread, preferring that I talk more about God than ways to reform our child support regime, claiming that at least it matters whether or not God exists. Well, does it matter?
     I would argue that it doesn't, or rather, that it shouldn't matter to us in how we live our lives. That is, we may care very much whether or not God exists, and we may very much want Him to exist (or not to), but our behaviour should not be affected one way or the other. I approach this question from a moral perspective, and then an aesthetic one.

     I have always been deeply troubled by the idea that God or the promise of an afterlife should be a factor in one's moral deliberations at all. Ultimately, it subverts morality in a profoundly diabolical way. I mean that very seriously: the form of "Christianity" (or Islam or any afterlife-oriented consequentialism) that emphasizes eternal reward or punishment as a reason for moral conduct is genuinely satanic.
     Consider: Suppose Satan were to appear and offer you a similar deal. Everlasting pleasure, in exchange for some earthly act. Perhaps some horribly evil genocidal deed, or perhaps some simple, benign consideration. (Wearing a t-shirt praising Satan for an hour? And you could even say you were wearing it ironically. Doesn't matter.)
     Obviously, if you consider yourself a Christian, you'd say no. After all, Satan's supposed to be the Deceiver, the Prince of Lies, the bad guy, so either he'd be tricking you into doing something much worse than you expected, or he'd not deliver on the reward, or both. No way could you trust such an offer.
     But the same problem applies to promises that purport to be from God. Remember, this Satan fellow is not just a trickster, but the trickster; if anyone can fool you about something, he's the one. And his greatest trick, according to Baudelaire (and The Usual Suspects), is convincing you he doesn't exist, or more generally that he's not the one you're making your deal with. Why could he not, for example, dress himself up as a holy man, pretending to preach the Word of God? Lots of mortals, without divine superpowers, have done so and successfully led people astray; why would this be difficult for Satan himself?
     So, disguised as piety, Satan makes an offer: "Buy into this worldview, ignoring its logical inconsistencies and moral perils, and receive everlasting life." And of course, when you buy into a worldview, you take everything that comes with it, such as (for example) the idea that you'll be rewarded in Heaven for carrying out this or that mission in the name of the church/temple/mosque/etc. You will go along willingly, since you have accepted the premises and believe you're doing the right thing because God commands it, and after all, isn't everlasting reward worth it, even if you've got some apprehension about it?
     I've argued this point with truebelievers before, and the usual claim is that Satan is somehow prevented from uttering certain magic words, so he could never pretend to be God or misrepresent God's truth. Really? That sounds to me like the Greatest Trick. The possibility of Satan posing as true religion doesn't exist, so pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
     The problem isn't with the identity of the person making the deal. It's the deal itself. When you base your actions on consideration of reward or punishment, rather than the good or evil nature of the act itself, you're making what is morally equivalent to a deal with the devil, regardless of who you're actually bargaining with, including if you think you're bargaining with God. A promise of eternal life, and all you have to do is believe? No thanks. The only reason you should need to believe something is that it's likely to be true, and no bribe or threat can or should change that.

     The aesthetic argument is inspired by my thinking about fiction and drama. If God exists and is our Creator, it seems reasonable to think of Him as the author of the novel or play in which we are all characters. The setting He's created appears to have been painstakingly crafted to make obvious evidence of His involvement ambiguous at best. As an actor on this stage, I feel obliged to work with the scene I've been given, and it seems to me tremendously tacky for me to break the fourth wall by addressing or even acknowledging the Author while the play is going on. I'm here, I'm in costume, I'm on this magnificently believable set. I'm not going to second-guess the role I've been given; I'm going to play it. I will follow my conscience, I will engage in dialogue (inner and outer), I will strive to be worthy of treading these boards, but for me, even if the Author does exist,  I would not be paying my role authentically if I were to seek a "personal relationship" with Him while the curtain's still up.


  1. This argument about Satan (the adversary) posing in this way is not new. It's been argued from many perspectives and ways by the Rabbinic sages and Rabbis for generations. It is also mentioned in Torah. This is why it is said that we must beware of the false prophet, and also why Judaism emphasizes our actions in this world and some even go as far as to say that this is the only world.

  2. Nathan Johnston2 July 2013 at 18:30

    Top of the cortex response!

    If I recall correctly 'Satan' just means adversary, which frankly can mean anyone. The serpent in garden... Satan. Lucifer after the fall... Satan. Caeser... Satan. Uncle Sam... you bet Satan. Once people understand that it makes Christianity a little better, because it's the deeds that give you the title. So if say a devil beguiles you into acting contrary to God's ethical path, you could be considered Satan. And that's the whole point of the Redemption/Forgiveness/Acceptance thing. You have to take ownership of your actions (God or a devil didn't make you do it. _You_ did it.) Without the freedom of choice/responsibility of choice, any Judgement is moot as well you weren't in control and if given the same choice you would perform the same action. The only God's will that really could be argued that affects us, are the fundamental laws of nature/physics (things we can't break). So really... don't let conservative religious folk troll you. If the lord made us in his image, then by god he definitely respects intelligence and open-mindedness. Because well... we do as a people.

    Also... the devil masquerades plenty of times as divine being. He isn't powerless, just exiled from perfection. And thus closest he can get there is by fraud.

    -Nathan "Da Chibi" Johnston

  3. What about Dostoevsky's conviction in Brothers Karamazov that if there is no God everything is permissible? And wht about the heartfelt conviction that all of us have that we will answer for our deeds one day?

  4. Thank you for your comments.

    Johanus, I have always found that metaphorical meaning of Satan much more fruitful, and I'm quite happy to characterize my inner dialogue as one between God and Satan or Good and Evil or Truth and Deception, at least in the poetical sense. Both voices are present, often in the very same utterance; the challenge is teasing out which one is which.

    Nathan, i think the important point there is that it's always your own choice what you do, and you don't escape moral responsibility for your choices by believing (however sincerely) that you're just following God's commands. It's you who interpreted them, as much as the biblical literalists like to pretend that meaning is transparent.

    Anonymous: What of it? Dostoevsky's conviction is wrong, or at least it has no relevance to what most atheists actually believe; most atheists are bound by conscience, and feel obliged to do good and avoid evil, without any need for a threat of divine retribution or reward. Will we answer for our deeds? We DO, if we have a conscience, but not just one day in the future. We answer for them immediately and for the rest of our lives; we have to live with who we are and the memory of what we have done or failed to do. As they say, virtue is its own reward, and so vice too is its own punishment. So when Dostoevsky says everything is permissible if there is no God, I can only gape in horrified disbelief. REALLY? Is it only the fear of an afterlife that keeps you from cracking open your neighbour's skull and feasting on the insides?

  5. Surely Dostoevsky was thinking of more than fear of punishment wth regard to man's actions. If thee is no God, then there is no place for conscience in man. There is no way to determne what is right and what is wrong. If survival of the fittest is the key, then anything I do that helps me advance at the expense of others is acceptable. Why not kill or steal or rape if it enables me better to survive in the kind of life I want? You think this is bad because it will turn me into a monster, but what is wrong with being a monster? Aren't monsters powerful, and don't they survive better than wimps? Is the "conscience" that you say guides the atheist anything more than concensus among the weak? And if a life-style you would call bad ends my life prematurely, what is wrong with that? What is so great about getting old? If nothing is all I get, then who cares? Virtue may not be any reward at all, and who says that vice is bad? Dostoevsky was thinking of more than final punishment . He saw that there is no ennobling of the animal, Man, if there is no God. He should not be dismissed lightly. But thanks for your comments. They stimulate some thought.

  6. If I get hungry, that feels bad. I want to eat. There's no need to postulate a God to explain that desire for food; creatures who do not develop a compulsion to eat when low on calories are less likely to have descendants.

    Our moral instincts and intuitions are like hunger. We evolved as a social species, dependent upon our peers and thus with an interest in their welfare. Monsters do NOT, as a matter of fact, survive better than wimps, at least not in our ecological niche.

    I think the problem is that you're not satisfied with the fact that you feel moral intuitions. You also want them to be TRUE in some objective cosmic sense. A divine moral authority provides that, but why do we need it at all? My perception of the colour red or the taste of coffee is a firing of some batch of neurons rather than some other batch; I don't need to know anything about what coffee REALLY tastes like, and I'm not sure it's even meaningful to ask. I taste it with my tastebuds and my brain; outside of tastebuds and brains, there is only molecules and chemistry, not taste.

  7. So your moral instincts are somethig greater than any individual which govern individuals because that is part of the way we became wired by chance. These are different from hunger or sex drive because they involve abstract choices that lead indirectly to their goal. They tend to preserve a species, although there is no one saying that a species ought to be preserved. You seem to have a god lurking, who you let in in certain specific ways, and control, so that he doesn't make any demands. It sounds like you are making your own god. The impulse to do so comes from the real God who is calling you to Himself.

  8. First, I do love the argument, it is one I've dealt with since I was a child:
    Satan is all gods (except maybe the Gods of polytheism) if a Satan could exist within the limits of a God who created all, knew all, was all powerful, would be able to predict free will's path (part of ALL), and so would have the ability to create a world pathway in which free will would choose the appropriate plan... Or maybe there are some suspect facts in one or more premise about God. In which case God's continuous attributes can not logically hold true.

    What do you think of the idea that modern plays/TV breaking the 4th wall is a sincere progression of art, reflecting the inner turmoil of a changed understanding of the relationship between author, audience and medium as we become separated from prescribing a higher meaning to our lives in a culture that worships capitalism and the physical world?

    Inspired, as always,

  9. I think what you're getting at is that the very fact that anything can be said to matter at all means there must be an ultimate Someone Who Matters on a cosmic level, that I could not care about right and wrong if there weren't an Absolute Right And Wrong. But this does not follow. My being hungry is simply a state of certain neurons in my evolved brain firing when my blood sugar falls below some threshhold; that I FEEL hungry does not mean there is some divine absolute principle of Hunger And Satiety out there. Similarly, that I am hardwired to care about the welfare of my fellow tribemembers doesn't mean there is some divine absolute principle of good and evil.

    That we are endowed with reason doesn't change this. Reason itself is a survival tool, but a generalizable one which we naturally turned to projects that aren't necessarily directly connected to survival, because useful connections aren't always direct: saving some grains of wheat to plant for next year, for example. So just as we apply that reason to better understand and satisfy drives like hunger, we inevitably apply it to understand and better satisfy our moral urges. Where once they served to make us watch our siblings' backs as we raided a neighbouring tribe, now we consider the members of that neighbouring tribe also as people we care about. Our instincts haven't changed very much, but the cognitive theorizing about them has developed a great deal in recorded history, becoming ever more consistent and highly refined, though perhaps never will be perfected.

    I care about my fellow beings' welfare. Why does that demand more cosmic explanation than, say, the fact that I like the taste of coffee?

  10. Caring about other people's welfare is very different from liking coffee, but you are correct in seeing that both require a cosmic explanation. Survival does not require particular taste, and often what one likes or dislikes has no effect at all on our survival. That God has made each of us an individual and filled the world with seemingly countless opportunities for pleasure of disdain shows the wonder of His handiswork, and ought to make each of us feel remarkably special. To reduce it to neurons is to miss entirely the wonder of it all unless we actually give God the glory for the neurons. How He does things does not always answer the question, "why?" In fact, it is all designed to display the wonder, the power, the majesty, the glory of Jesus Christ. His mercy and love are shown when He draws to Himself those who have for so long tried to ignore Him. Even disdainful you could be an object of His mercy and could delight to honor Him.

  11. Adam: Thanks for your comment. And I'm not totally against breaking the fourth wall in all instances; sometimes it's a wonderful device. But I think I'd find downright unreadable a book where the characters regularly took time to reflect on how splendid the author was. Which is why all of this exhortation to glorify God strikes me as kind of tacky. God doesn't need li'l ol' me to glorify Him; a divine supreme being who created all of THIS is already maximally glorified, and I think it kind of insulting to even point that out.

    Anonymous: I think you've misread me. I do NOT think that either requires a cosmic explanation beyond natural selection. That we like some tastes and don't like others is because nourishing foods tended to have some chemical traits in common, and poisons had others. Different animals have different preferences; our rabbit loved Oreos, but shrank away in horror when offered a bite of pork chop. And flies, of course, are notoriously attracted to things that we find disgusting.

    I'm not saying, in this argument, that God doesn't exist. I'm saying that whether God exists or not should not be relevant to how we live, that whether or not you believe He exists you should conduct yourself by the same basic principles. The meaning you find in life is real and important and binding upon your conscience, regardless of whether or not it comes from God or from your own evolutionary and psychological history, so embrace it and strive to perfect it anyway. My very first blog posting here was about the difference between faith and belief, and it is faith, not belief, that I am urging here. Act in good faith that there is such a thing as Goodness. If there, is, GREAT, but if not, so what?

  12. If the God of the Bible exists, it is extremely relevant whether we know it or not, as He has made it a matter of our eternal life or death. It is much more than survival, since He is concerned about our conduct and our relationship to Himself in a way we cannot afford to ignore. Reasonings and rationalizations will not wash with Him. He warns us of our danger and appeals to us to accept a way of life for which we were created. Not to do so is to doom ourselves to unhappiness in this life and condemnation in the life to come. Worshipping Him is not to give Him anything He needs--it is to experience the joy of being what we were created to be. Jesus came because God did not want us to perish. He died so that we could live. He says, "Come unto Me". Relevant it is.

  13. "He has made it a matter of our eternal life or death."

    So you believe, at least, returning us to the consequentialism I criticized here at the outset. I better believe, because I'm doomed if I don't. And if Satan makes a credible threat to trap my soul and subject me to eternal punishment for not embracing HIS teachings, how is that different? Is the only way to differentiate between these choices the arbitrary claim that God doesn't lie, and Satan does? That doesn't help, because how do you know Satan can't lie about his identity, and pose as God?

    Seriously, how did you come to "know" what God wants for us? Who told you? I'm guessing it wasn't a burning bush. I'm guessing you got it from the Bible and an interpretive tradition, human preachers telling you this is what it means. But even if it WAS a burning bush, how can you be so confident Satan can't disguise himself so? (In the Bible, by the way, the VERY FIRST THING God says to man is literally false. Is God lying? Is the Bible lying about God? Or is the Bible portraying the very phenomenon I'm describing, the risk of confusing God's voice with Satan's and vice versa?)

    Believe and get everlasting life? Doubt and suffer eternally? It's a bribe and a threat, no matter how you slice it. And so it is, in essence, a satanic offer. I will believe God exists for exactly one reason: if it is likelier than not that He does. But the bribe and threat? I will ignore them, and consider the claim on its own merits. If you have faith in a good and just God, you will not fear to be governed by the same principle. Why do you believe God is petty and mean?

  14. God is not petty and mean. He is Holy. Man is not struggling to be good and to find out. He is strugling to justify himself and avoid being holy. The truth of the first thing God said to man is the reality of man's spirtual death, which has been the plague of mankind ever since, and is holding you in bondage now. He calls you to Himself, not smply that you escape punishment, but that you should know the fullness of life He has designed for His creaturs. Blind people are content to be blind, and dirty people are content to be dirty. But being clean and seeing are infinitely better. The score at the end is of much less concern to God than the quality of the life now lived. This Jesus offers you freely. All the proof you need comes to you when you believe.

  15. "Holy". So, how do we make sense of a concept like "holy" except through our profane human minds? We can't, I suppose, but then what meaning can it have for us, and how can it possibly be in any way persuasive or even admissible as an argument? God is "holy" so what would count as petty and mean behaviour in a human isn't in God.

    THAT much I can accept. God, if He exists, exists on a level of being entirely beyond our reality, and it is no more appropriate to apply our standards to God than it would be for characters in a novel to complain about the tragic misfortunes the author has imposed upon them. The author owes no duty to fictional characters as they might be said to owe to each other. But by the same token, the characters owe no duty to their author, either. Say what one will about Iago's treachery towards Othello, but he did no wrong to Shakespeare.

    If God is my author, the only duty I can be said to have towards him is to fill the role He has written for me. What HE has written for me, I emphasize, because you are not Him. You have your beliefs about His intentions, but they are YOUR beliefs, and apparently the role He's written for you is someone with a deep conviction that you know the Author's intent. Fine. Play that role, as you must. For my part, I feel obliged to play my role without breaking the fourth wall.

  16. Breaking the fourth all is what the Gospel is all about! Man brought the wall into being by his sin and is entirely unable to remove it. All men would simply have completed the process of dying that began with the Fall. But God did not want us to perish. He sent prophet after prophet to declare His holiness and help man to understand how polluted he is, and then He came to earth in the person of His Son, to live perfectly the life God requires and to pay the penalty for the sins of those who could not so live.
    "Christ died. he Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God" The opportunity you give to share these things gives me hope that it is God's purpose to move you from your arrogance and pride, and to bring you humbly to His feet. God does not want you to perish. Left in your present state, you most assuredly will.
    Don't keep protecting the fourth wall. Let it drop.

  17. Leaving aside the epistemological question of how you can claim to know God's intention, let's just look at your claim on an aesthetic level. I don't know if it's true or not, but as a story? It's ugly. That is, it affects my aesthetic sense as an ugly, poorly crafted piece of art would. Maybe that IS how things are, maybe you have privileged knowledge and all is exactly as you say. But I can't say I find it beautiful, and indeed when I compare it to the universe as I see it WITH a fourth wall, as a brilliantly conceived totality of utterly perfect simple elementary laws playing out in mind-numbingly mysterious and recursive complexity, well, your version seems a pale disappointment. Any ol' divine author can crank out the drivel you describe, but a God who could create a universe of such majesty as I've only been able to get the tiniest hint of a glimpse? Wow. WOW.

    That's solely an aesthetic judgment, and I suppose there's no accounting for taste. But consider: you say my duty is to devote myself to the glorification of God. Taking into account my aesthetic judgment that the universe as you describe it sounds ugly and uninspired, while the universe as I see it complete with fourth wall is infinitely more beautiful to me and thus any God who could have created it is far more glorious than the unimaginative hack behind your model, OUGHT I not to choose the interpretation that better glorifies God?

    I don't know if God exists, but if He does, I am EXTREMELY impressed with Him, given my understanding of the universe He created. The way you want me to accept God sounds downright sacrilegious.

  18. Your perception of the beauty and wonder of the Universe is itself wonderful, reflecting the wonder of the creature that you are, able to see and enjoy what the animals entirely miss. What you don't see is how far short you have fallen of what God intended you to be in it all. God's greatest glory is revealed in His love for men as individuals and His drawing them into a personal relationship with Himself. He has a kind of love for you that you are at present content to ignore. You have a personal uncleaness and unworthiness that you do not wish to see. Your wonder and amazement at the Universe that God has made is not yet directed truly to praise Him. I Corintians chapter 2 is exactly directed to what you are struggling against. Humbling in these areas is neceasary to a real knowledge of God as He is revealed in the Scripture. You may yet come to this. But thank you for reminding us how astonishingly wonderful His creation is.

  19. Perhaps you know the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes. Only the wise can see these fabulous garments! The form of that argument is identical to the Corinthians claim, that anyone who doesn't grasp this "truth" is ignorant, unclean, deficient in some way. Well, that's an effective bullying tactic for people who want to consider themselves wise, but not so much for those of us who recognize how very foolish we might be.

    That one awareness, that one piece of Socratic wisdom, is what you consistently fail to understand about me. I KNOW I am an ignorant fool. I KNOW I can be wrong, and probably am, about most things. And so I know that I can be tricked into thinking I am infallibly right about something, just as you think you are infallibly right about what God intends. You are not asking me to put my trust in God. You are asking me to put my trust in YOU. You cite Paul as an authority, but I have the same response: why should I put my trust in your judgment that Paul is a reliable authority? You are oohing and ahhing at the fabulous garments of the emperor, which I simply cannot see. Maybe you can actually see them, or maybe you've fooled yourself, but I cannot and I refuse to pretend until the pretending takes.

    You claim I am afraid to see my uncleanness and unworthiness. You have no idea how painfully aware of my own personal failings I am, and how preposterous a rationalization this is for my failure to embrace your beliefs. I do not believe what you are saying because I believe that YOU, personally, are a fallible human being, no more immune to error and self-deception than anyone else. Your belief that what you are telling me is God's truth, not merely your belief, does not insulate it from my view that YOU can be mistaken about even that. You may not wish to acknowledge that you could be mistaken, but until you appreciate how real that possibility is to ME, you will never be able to overcome it, at least not by just insistently reciting the same dogmatic assertions that I'll understand all if I just BELIEVE.

  20. I disagree the bible is ugly.
    The bible is beautiful for two reasons:
    1. if you look at the MATH of its construction, the 200+ years the council took was worth it.
    2. Free, thin paper starts fire really well when camping/whole book full of rolling papers.

  21. Heh. But I didn't say the Bible itself was ugly. Just that a particular interpretation of it is.

  22. Read the Gospel of John and ask God to reveal Himself to you. If you come to know Jesus, you will not need to argue as you do. Your mind will be better used than it ever has been yet, and it will lead you into genuine peace. Jesus is calling you to Himself. Come to Him and live.

  23. I think you have that backwards. You are not asking me to come to Jesus so I don't have to argue anymore. You are asking me to come to Jesus so YOU don't have to argue.

    If I wanted to convince you of something you didn't accept, I'd expect to have to argue. That's just how it works, and it's not at all unfair. You want me to accept your claims first, and then I won't need any convincing. Well, that's just invalid, and by asking me to embrace a fatally flawed method in the name of God, well... the suggestion is impious.

  24. By what standard?

  25. I mean that I think it impious to ask us to accept crappy arguments for a truth that's supposed to be divine and perfect. If you think that the basic standards of logical discourse, the standards we use every day to consider whether or not we accept claims as likely to be true, are too high a hurdle for God's truth, then you have not much faith in the validity of your claims. It's like bragging about what a great sprinter you are, and then demanding to be given a half a minute head start for the 100 m dash.

    You don't prove anything getting special pleading for your truth, because ANY claim could be "proven" with such dispensation. Give me a 30 second head start, and I'll get gold in the Olympics. Doesn't make me a fast runner.

  26. You are not asked to accept arguments. You are challenged to accept the authority Of the Scriptures. If your faith were based on argument, it would change as soon as you met a better arguer. You accept the authority of the things that you observe and figure them out in light of what they are. You need to figure out the Scripture in the light of what it is--the inspired word of God. God does not stoop to argue on our terms. He sets the terms and calls us to trust Him. Those who have trusted Him have learned the truth they had been looking for in the wrong place. You seem annoyed that I do not argue with you, but argument is not the way one comes to Truth. Submission to revelation is what is needed. Jesus is the Son of God, who died on the cross that those who believe in Him may have eternal life. It is not an argument--it is a proclamation. You are called to believe. Believe the Scriptures and you will have eternal life, because you will come to know Him personally who is the Life. Bring your arguments to Him and let Him answer them. Ask Him to do so. He said, "If you seek me you will find me, if you seek me with a sincere heart." Call upon Him.

  27. You mistake belief for faith. They are not the same thing. Belief IS based on argument, and yes, as soon as a better argument comes along, belief may well be changed to accord better with new understanding. This is called "learning", and it's generally considered to be a GOOD thing, not a weakness. Eventually, better arguments become rarer and rarer, as one's theories become increasingly refined.

    Am I annoyed that you do not argue? Well, think of it this way: someone comes along and tells you to do something that seems like a stupid thing to do. He refuses to provide any reason or justification, and just insists that you obey. Don't ask why, don't question. Disregard the doubts you may have, because they're wrong even if they seem warranted to you. Just trust him.

    You see how this could be construed as maybe a little bit arrogant? You're demanding that I place greater trust in the word of you, an anonymous commenter on the internet, than in my own. You're demanding that I submit to your authority, and refusing to give me ANY reason to do so.

    You disdain reason, saying it's "not the way one comes to Truth". Well, too bad. I happen to have faith in reason, and I think it IS the way one comes to Truth.

  28. I don't ask for faith in me at all. Come to God with your questions and be open to hear Him relate to you through His word.
    Your reason does not have to be abandoned. You will find it better used than ever when you bring within its scope the revelation God has given of what we never could have known apart from it. You will be using your mind as it was intended to be used. The whole answer can never be found if one refuses to consider the evidence. The Bible is not argument; it is evidence. Use it the right way to encounter truth.

  29. There are thousands of other competing promises of the Way To Truth, to God, to Heaven, to Enlightenment, to Inner Peace, whatever you want to call it. Each claims that if I just BELIEVE some starting premise, then all will be revealed and I'll be satisfied and not regret my choice. ALL of them demand that I suspend reason, just a little bit, perhaps, for that one crucial starting premise.

    You are making an offer that is, in these essential elements, indistinguishable from those other offers. You ARE asking me to abandon reason, even if only for that one premise, which in this case appears to be to accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God. And since you are urging me to accept this premise WITHOUT providing sound cognitive reasons, you ARE essentially asking me to trust you personally. Moreover, you're asking me NOT to trust those who urge me to accept the Koran, the Book of Mormon, or any other putatively divine text.

    It isn't as if I refuse to consider the evidence. I HAVE considered it at length, and my working conclusion for now is that the Bible is a collection of texts created by numerous human authors over centuries, subject in many cases to heavy modification before and sometimes even after being committed to paper. Among the many interpretive traditions to arise around this book are those which hold it to be divinely authoritative and somehow exempt from the fallibility of human scholarship and interpretation. You are trying to get me to accept one of these traditions, which I have (after a LOT of careful thought and study) rejected. I have rejected this view for REASONS, and you now dismiss those reasons as invalid or unimportant. But to me, having been persuaded by them, it's not enough to just urge me to ignore them. You need to ADDRESS them. Instead, you just ask me to trust you.

    I don't trust ME, which is why I spend so much time critically analyzing my own thoughts and suspicions about the world. Why should I trust your word? God (understood as representing objective reality) I trust, but why should I take you word for it that the Bible is God's word, when all of the other channels God uses to communicate with me seem to be saying "Nah, that's just a human book, albeit a historically and culturally significant one"?

    YOU are telling me to trust the Bible. Even the Bible doesn't seem to be telling me that. So why should I trust you to know what I should trust? What makes you so wise, so knowledgeable, so trustworthy as to warrant my abandoning the reason that God Himself has presumably provided me to use? Who are you to pretend to speak for God?

    If I seem annoyed that you decline to argue, that's why. It's because you arrogate to yourself divine authority. I may be an atheist, but I still think that's a pretty grave sin. It made #3 on Moses' list.

  30. Islam does not offer a personal relationship with Allah--he is far too above us to condescend to that. Hinduism has no personal God at the center of all, but only a great impersonal force. Buddhism offers no relationship with God--it can even exist withot God at all. Confuscianism is not a religion, and has no mention of God. You mis-speak when you characterize other religions offering what Jesus offers. Judaism has a personal relationship with God, but has no way to get to Him, given man's sin and their rejection of their Savior. Tha ancient Greek and Roman religions had only bizarre nd unusual encounters with the gods. It is simply not true that any other great religious teacher ever claimed to be God--they would have been horrfied by the thought. Jesus made this claim, and millions have believed it, and come into a personal relationship with Him. Your characterization of the many religions that offer what Jesus offers makes you seem more ignorant than you are. Jesus' claims are unique. C.S. Lewis has well said, "Either Jesus was a liar, a lunatic or God. You are hiding behind ridiculaous generalizations to keep from dealing with Jesus. Bring your arguments and objections to Him. He will not despise you. He may show you what you are really looking for. Look into your own heart and see what hinders you. Surender that and come t Jesus.

  31. These other religions may not offer a "personal relationship with God", but that really isn't my point. They offer a sense of peace, satisfaction, reassurance that all is as it should be. That they don't do so through the particular symbols or mechanism of Christianity is utterly irrelevant. If I were to submit to Allah, embracing the foundational premise of Islam, I'd be just as secure and just as convinced. Holding out "personal relationship with God" is tantamount to saying "No other religion has the patented secret ingredient, Jesusol!" Yeah, so? If you cannot explain exactly why Jesusol is so much better for me than Nirvanex or G-Had, it's just another meaningless brand name.

    And C.S. Lewis conveniently omitted the very possibility that I've been inviting you to address: Maybe Jesus was a mortal human being whose words and deeds were misreported, invented or embellished by human writers. Or even just misinterpreted by subsequent generations intent upon justifying cult doctrine. Lewis' false dichotomy (trichotomy?) implicitly assumes that the Gospels are perfectly reliable accounts of Jesus' life. And that's the very assumption I reject.

    Am I wrong to reject that assumption, and if so, how? If you aren't prepared to address that fundamental concern, you're wasting your time.

  32. If human reason were capable of coming to truth your holding to it would be reasonable. But human philosophers agree that there is no truth exactly because they can't find it. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Your arguments are a confirmation of the truth of Jesus' words. As to the assumption that we have an accurate record of Jesus' words, that is another area you have not researched. The argument for authenticity of the record is very strong. But it is still an assumpton that you have to make if you are to know God. God says, "Trust me." You are afraid to trust Him, but you have not done very well at finding truth on your own. Your dilemma is that you need to trust, but you lack the faith to do so. Faith is a gift of God. Ask Him for it. It is an awesome leap. But it is a leap into His arms. May He help you today!

  33. Human philosophers do not "agree that there is no truth". Those who believe there is truth may not agree on what it is, but it's simply false that they agree that no truth exists.

    You say the argument for authenticity of the Biblical record is very strong. Well, then, MAKE IT. That's ALL YOU HAVE TO DO! Convince me that it makes more sense to accept the Bible as literally true than to reject it, and you've won me over. You don't even have to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt; the civil standard of proof will suffice. Just show that the balance of probabilities favours your interpretation of the document over mine. 50% +1. There's your target.

    I'm not afraid to trust God. I have no choice but to trust the omniscient divine supreme being, and I trust Him beyond words. I do not trust HUMANS to have reliable knowledge of God. Since I assume you are a fallible human like me, I do not trust YOU when you claim to speak God's purpose. It's YOU I demand reasons from, not God. If you want me to understand, YOU have to explain; if you want me to believe, YOU have to persuade. Or we can keep asking God to do it for you, but so far He seems disinclined to intervene.

  34. You seem disinclined to ask Him to. And He is intervening in prolonging a discussion that seems to go nowhere. Your confidence in your own reason is unshakable, which strikes me as preposterous. As to the issue of the text of Scripture, Google "reliability of the New Testament texts". As to the assertion that philosophers do not agree that there is no truth, I suppose you must mean the really deep philosophers, or something. The consensus in government schools and in our society as a whole is often articulated as a belief that there is no such thing as truth. Of course, this must be where a proud person ends up if he has decided beforehand to reject the claims of Scrpture. The issue is not between you and me, but between you and God, who is calling to you, notwithstanding your putting your fingers in your ears. You may one day stand astonished at how patient He was with you.

  35. The issue IS between you and me. My relationship with God is something you know nothing about, beyond the obvious fact that it is not identical to your relationship. You take your relationship, your experiences, your interpretations and beliefs, and treat them as the objective standard against which to measure all others. And you believe my refusal to recognize you as an authority is due to MY pride.

    God's not the one posting these comments on my blog. YOU are. Own up. Stop hiding behind an authority you are not entitled to claim.

  36. Of course I am not God. But the concern for your soul that keeps me writing is from God. The grief over your proud subborness is from God. What difference does it make to me? I see a poor fellow locked in a point-of-view that keeps him from knowing the only One who can give him what he has been looking for in the wrong place. With all my failures and limitations I desire the good of your soul and think it is something worth fighting for. Your response will probably be, "Thanks, but no thanks." But you have wasted your mind long enough; and I care, even if you do not.
    Besides,our interchange has helped me see the importance of the battle and the strength of the opposition. For this insight, I thank you. But I cannot consider it an amusing sparring. I feel like I am battling for your eternal soul. You have been deceived by your teachers, but there is hope in Jesus. Come to Him.

  37. Believe me, my response is not "Thanks, but no thanks." I understand that, believing what you do, you have a moral obligation to share it. I respect, appreciate and applaud your intentions, even if I believe you are mistaken in your beliefs.

    And I recognize that my belief (that you are mistaken) MAY itself be mistaken, and so I am willing to be convinced by you. Believe it or not, that is my purpose in this discussion, to HELP you to convince me by pointing out exactly what I am having trouble with. But I actually have to BE convinced, and you can't convince me by just commanding me to be convinced.

    You say your concern is from God, and your grief is from God. Maybe they are. But how do you know my stubborn commitment to Reason is not ALSO from God? What warrant do you have for thinking YOUR perspective is privileged and divinely ordained, and mine isn't?

    I accept it as an article of faith that Reason is manifest in the universe, a fundamental attribute of God, if you will. Hence, to me, my commitment to Reason is itself a form of piety. What Reason demands of me, I take to be from God, and my duty is to try to figure out to the best of my ability what that is, fallible as I am.

    You are telling me to disregard what I believe are God's commands to me, and accept something ELSE (the Bible) as God's commands. I'm prepared to be convinced by you, but only God gets to command me.

  38. I do not regard my talking with you as a moral obligation. That must have been fulfilled long ago. My concern is for an intelligent and thoughtful person who has some appreciation of the beauty of God's handiwork, but who is held back, as it were, from giving God the glory for what He is and does because his little mind insists on setting the terms of the argument. Truth must come in a cetain way or it will not be accepted. It strikes me as preposterous that man, who is so limited that he needs instruments to enlarge, to detect, to discern and to evaluate what he does see should say that his reason should rule the day. Can't God reveal Himself the way He chooses to? And isn't it wiser to accept His way than to insist that He bow to our terms?
    God has said in His Word that this is His revelation to man. Jesus claimed to be God's gift to bring us to God. God has explained how His Son is the sufficient means to reconcile fallen man with his creator. To say to Him, "No, it must be some other way." always comes across as ridiculously proud; self-destructively proud. From a human perspective you are polite and gracious. With regard to God you are proud. I don't hate you for it, and neither does He. But you must change.

  39. You are doing exactly what it is you accuse me of, epistemically. Just as I have chosen to adopt Reason as the voice of God, you have chosen to adopt the Bible. Your little mind insists on using this collection of human writings as the standard. Any concept of God that does not agree with your interpretation of that text, you reject as not-God.

    Where we differ is that while I assert Reason as the Voice of God, I acknowledge my own imperfection in applying reason with my own brain, which is why I am so careful. You, on the other hand, do not seem to acknowledge in yourself ANY capacity for error when it comes to interpreting and applying God's Word. How do you know you've read it correctly? You are magically able to get it right because God helps you to, you say, and yet you refuse to even consider that I might make the very same claim: God helps me to apply reason.

    Of course, I would never make such a claim, not because I don't think it's possible, but because I view it as profoundly vain and sinful to pretend to such authority. I might say I believe God speaks to me through Reason, but I fallibly mishear Him from time to time.

    Not you, though. You boldly assert your beliefs not as if they were the beliefs of a sincere and well-intentioned but ultimately fallible human being, but as God's Revealed Truth. You are certain. Too proud even to acknowledge the abstract hypothetical logical possibility that you could be wrong. You don't even REJECT that possibility; you act as if it simply doesn't exist. God speaks to you, AND you infallible interpret it correctly.

    You see me as proud because you think I refuse to defer to God's Truth, but in fact I am only refusing to defer to YOUR assertions about God.

  40. If you and I talked about a mutual acquaintance we would soon be able to discern whether we were talking about the same person. You may know things about him that were totally unknown to me, and I may surprise you with some tidbits, but we would know if the identity were the same. In a similar way people who have come to know God talk with others who know Him. He is a real Person. While none of us knows Him exhaustivelty, and nobody knows Him very well, He is a real person. It is a joy to share anecdotes in our relationships, and we know we are talking about the same person. Still,we are all reminded how little we know. The god that you say instructs your reason is not the same person. I am not saying that my understanding of this Person is profound, but I know Whom I have believed. As to being wrong, I am often wrong. But there is a way to discover my misundestading and get my thinking as straight as possible in this present state. God Himself reveals what He is like through His word and through the work of the Holy Spirit, Whom He gives to those who ask. If you come to Him you will be no more convinced of your personal infallibility than you are today. But you will have a Friend, a Teacher, a Guide, a Shepherd to help you experience more. And you will live in thankfulness for all that He is and does, and for the wonder of including you in this special relationship.

  41. Years ago, when I was at university, there was a fellow we all knew who was a regular guest at parties. We got along fairly well with him, and thought we knew him, until he completely vanished from our scene. A few weeks later, a friend reported to me in astonishment that she'd learned where he went: apparently his appeal had been denied, and his conviction upheld, and he was sent to prison for life for having murdered his wife. We THOUGHT we knew him, and had we talked about him we would soon have discerned that we were speaking about the same person, but that one rather crucial detail about his life and relationships came as a total shock to both of us.

    Similarly, some things (perhaps everything) you think you know about God may be incomplete or just shockingly wrong, even though some other people might share these beliefs. And that's assuming the person you think you know even exists, which is not at all necessary to explain your shared acquaintance. After all, if you and I were to talk about Sherlock Holmes or Gandalf or Socrates, we could soon discern whether or not we were talking about the same person, even though the former two are completely fictional and what we know of Socrates is perhaps as much Plato's idealized version of him as the real historical person.

    Your confidence that your knowledge of God as a person is authoritative enough to warrant telling me I don't know Him at all is a confidence in YOURSELF, not in God. Your belief that God is guiding you and not me is a belief that you fallibly hold, and while you pay lip service to your fallibility (in "I am but a humble sinner!" pieties and platitudes), you never confront the core of that fallibility where it really counts: you could be wrong about God. THERE you fail to recognize your fallibility with the same oblivion as McLuhan's fish failing to discover water.

  42. You are amazing! Absolutely determined to make a knowldge of the God of heaven an earth cater to your terms of knowing Him! What you know of literary chracters or historical persons is certainly subject to your intelligence and your investigative skills. These you can share with others, and determine whether you have enough facts to have got the person right. But those are not personal relationships. You want to keep the knowledge of God on that level and in that milieu. But that is not the way God is known. (Or any other person, actually) He has determned that men will know Him only through His Word, which brings us into a relationship with Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. You are obviously quite content not to know Him. Yet you may change. You may come to see the utter emptiness of your life apart from Him and seek His Face from the heart. He may yet grant you repentance. If He does, it will be in answer to your request.

  43. You are amazed? It's really not so amazing. I've explained it several times, in fact, why I continue to be unconvinced, but you have never given any acknowledgement of having read, much less understood, the key to our disagreement: I remain open to the possibility that you could be wrong.

    That is what you have to overcome: my suspicion that your claims are as fallible as my own. Not God's claims; your claims ABOUT God's claims. I believe you can be wrong.

    You keep avoiding that one key point, by turning it back on me, saying that I'm being arrogant or proud or stubborn, demanding that God conform to my expectations. No. Leave God out of this. YOU are trying to convince me to accept that YOU are not mistaken. But how can you expect me to take you seriously if you won't even acknowledge that I HAVE that concern, much less address it?

    Is it so terrifying for you to confront that idea, even just as an abstract possibility? Do you really find the very idea of a universe in which your personal God is a fiction so utterly dreadful you won't even think about it long enough to explain why I should reject it?

  44. Not terrifying--ludicrous.

  45. Well, there it is, then. You believe the idea that YOU might be wrong is so ludicrous that you don't need to consider it. Thanks for finally making that explicit.

    Now, understand that I have made a lifelong practice of considering ideas that seem ludicrous at first, in order to probe and see if maybe there might not be some hidden sense to them, some way in which they might turn out to be useful or even true. On many occasions, I have been astonished to discover that this is in fact the case; the truth is often quite different from what common sense would predict. So to me, the mere fact that an idea SEEMS ludicrous is not in itself a reason to dismiss it out of hand.

    And so, while you may be unwilling to consider it as "ludicrous", the possibility that you could be wrong is something I have contemplated at length, and far from seeming ludicrous to me, it appears to be very likely indeed. In fact, much more so, given your literal hypocrisy. I mean that in the technical sense, a lack (hypothermia is a deficit of heat) of self-criticism.

    I try to go into discussions with the presumption that the other party may have something to teach me, that they may know something useful that I do not, and I should be open to receiving it. But that presumption can be dislodged, as you have just done for yourself. If you cannot even entertain the possibility of your own error, you have simply not grasped what it is to be a fallible human sinner. You have not truly repented; you have merely substituted one infallible image of yourself for another.

    If you want to keep hanging around here, you should understand that you are more likely to begin doubting yourself than I am to begin believing you.

  46. It is not ludicrous that I could be wrong. Of course, I can be wrong. What strikes me as ludicrous is your idea of the present reality without reference to the God of the Bible. The idea is not frightening to me--it is ludicrous. Positing such a concept is not fearful--it is ludicrous. You seem to think that I hold to my ideas because I am afraid. I am not afraid, except it be afraid to be foolish. Your error in these things is your unwillingness to take data into the picture. You reject out of hand the only data that will give you the correct answer. God has spoken in His Word. It is not noble to refuse to hear. Many of us have come to see it was our shame. Spiritual sight is a gift of God, and He may yet give it you. If He does, it will be through a personal relationship wth Jesus Christ.

  47. How can it not be ludicrous for you to be wrong, if you dismiss as ludicrous any alternative to your being right?

  48. I am not right. The Scripture is right. It is self-interpreting, one part explaining and defining another part, so that the truth is understood when all parts are taken into account and received totally. I am often proved to be wrong, but the standard by which that happens is the authority that I willingly accept. There is wonderful scope for your intelligence when you come to know the truth. Becoming a Christian does not confine your intelligence--it frees it to think honestly. You have a standard to determine truth. Your life dhallenge will be to explore as boadly as you can the height , the depth, the breadth of God's love to us in Christ. Your alternative to a Biblical world-and-life view is what is ludicrous. It is what you maintain that is ludicrous, not the fact that you maintain it. The issue is not between you and me, but against you and the revealed Word of God.

  49. If the issue is between me and the revealed Word of God, then why are you getting involved at all? Do you think God needs your help?

  50. Part of the mystery of God's dealings with man is that He uses men to accomplish His purposes. Angels could have preached the message of salvation, but they were only allowed one moment, at Jesus' birth, and from then on, men must communicate it to men.
    The Bible itself must be written by men, though God is fully able to write. This works to the glory of God and to the wonderful encouragement of men in ways you cannot yet imagine. My involvement in your salvation is entirely consistent with God's revelation of the way He works in people's lives. He uses crooked sticks to draw straight lines. In our weakness His strength is made known. If you come to Christ, He will get all the glory, including the glory of using the likes of me to do so great a thing.

  51. If God wants a house, He can command it into existence. If God wants a house built by humans, then those humans will need to collect materials and construct it in the mundane, worldly way.

    If God wants me to understand, He can command me to understand and I will. But if you believe you have a role to play in bringing me to understand, then you don't get to use God's method and just command me to believe. You have to collect the evidence and construct the argument in the mundane, worldly way.

    But maybe you have underestimated the mysteriousness of God's plan. You think you are acting as His agent, but what if He is using me to try to enlighten you so you can repent from your vain idolatry?

  52. God is seeking to bring about a relationship which is more wonderful than simply commanding worlds into being. He would have you seek Him through His Son, because He is a Holy God and cannot receive you in your present state. He wants you freely to love Him and to value knowing Him. His way of bringing this about is revealing Himself by means of a written word. He cannot get what He wants from you any other way. If you come to Christ you will realize why all your arguments have only strengthened my faith. I have seen how you cannot maintain your beliefs without denying the evidence He has provided. You are like the Muslim in ths, that your faith will not stand scrutiny, so you must refuse the evidence. They regard any question as disrespectful to the Prophet. It keeps them from having to honestly conider the evidence. Why don't you take the issue to God Himself and challenge Him to make Himself known to you? You reject Him thirdhand when you reject what I say. Face Him head-on with this one.

  53. I reject God when I reject what you say, huh? What a magnificently naive arrogance!

    No. I reject what you say. That's all. What you say is not God. What you say is only what you say ABOUT God, and the fact that I happen to think what you say is nonsense has no bearing whatsoever one whether or not I reject God. If I were to tell you that Elvis invented the microwave oven and brought an end to the Civil War, you could heartily reject that claim without rejecting Elvis. As I reject your claims. I think you are wrong about God, wrong about the Bible, and wrong about me.

    You think I am trying to avoid honestly considering the evidence. Nonsense. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time considering the evidence, and I continue to do so. You just don't agree with my conclusions, because they differ from yours. But you don't recognize that you HAVE conclusions; you seem to fancy yourself a Prophet in your own right, and you dismiss my questions as unimportant, if not "disrespectful".

    My faith will not stand scrutiny? My faith IS scrutiny!

  54. I Corinthians 2:14

  55. "The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit."

    I do not dispute that passage. I dispute your assumption that I am the one without the Spirit here. Calling something "the Spirit of God" does not make it the Spirit of God, and declining to call it by that name does not mean it isn't. And it is entirely consistent with that passage to think that perhaps you are the one without the Spirit; however devoutly you may believe that what you cleave to is genuinely the Spirit, it appears to me that you are deceived. And all the more so since you refuse to consider the possibility that you are.

  56. I have an obligation to try to understand what you mean by he words you use. We owe that honesty to the Scripture, too. Someone has taught you that people can make the Bible say whatever they want. It is not so, if one is honest with what the words say. One can determine what Paul meant when he spoke of the spiritual and the unspiritual man. When we have determined what Paul meant, we can decide whether or not we believe it. To randomly give any meaning we want to what the Bible says is simply not honest.

  57. You're absolutely right that it's not honest to randomly give whatever meaning we want to a text. All the meanings we try out for it must remain tentative, for a better interpretation might well exist than the one we've stumbled upon. When anyone declares that they have found the TRUE meaning, and refuses to further consider any further alternatives, they are being dishonest

    I do not claim to have found the best interpretation of the Bible. Only that, after years of careful consideration, I tentatively favour this interpretation because it seems more plausible, more consistent and more useful than any of the alternatives I've yet encountered. If a better interpretation comes along, I will discard my current one.

    You purport to have not just a better interpretation, but THE correct one. Fine. If it's better, show me how, and I'll embrace it.

  58. You can easily google Matthew Henry, John Calvin, Matthew Poole,
    among many others as to what the words in the text mean. Just google the text itself, and there are many who would help you see what the Greek means. You will discover a remarkable agreement among scholars of many different ages as to the meaning of the original in the context of the entire message of the Scripture. It is a method of study you have not pursued before, but it can quickly demonstrate that there is a science of Bible study, and all are not intellectually deficient who pursue it. I especially recommend it to you because your comments concerning what Christianity teaches are unworthy the mind that you seem surely to have.

  59. You don't get to cite "remarkable agreement" if you selectively reject as "ludicrous" those whose interpretation of the text happen to disagree. As much as these individuals may agree, there are equally illustrious ones who do not.

  60. Not so with those who take Bible study seriously. There are no illustrious minds who diagree with the meaning of most texts. The disagreement comes in to what degree they are willing to believe what is said. There is great disparity in ways to get around the implications of what the Bible teaches. But you very much misunderstand the way the Bible has been studied by those who take it seriously, even as a respected literary work. What is striking in you is how you have never learned to reapect it in any way, and this is probably the result of a limited liberal education. You seem to have a liberal education in a political sense, but not in the historic sense of what a Liberal education is. This is not yor fault. It is abuse motivated by political considerations, and you are a victim. Nevertheless, you can be free, and I urge you to treat the Bible with respect.

  61. You have defined "taking it seriously" in a pretty convenient way. If a scholar studies the Bible but does not presume it to be the absolute Word of God, he's not taking it seriously.

    Well, fine, then I'm not going to take it seriously, at least not in your view. But to ME, taking something seriously means giving it a fair hearing in order to understand it well enough to compare its likelihood against that of competing views, views which ALSO must be taken seriously if the comparison is to be fair. It seems to me that your complaint isn't really that I don't take the Bible seriously; it's that I DO take the alternatives seriously. You do not; you dismiss them out of hand as ludicrous.

  62. But the way you comment on the Scriptures makes clear that you do not know what they contain. Many noted scholars and intellectuals reject the claims of the Bible. But they have come to terms with its claims. You have come to terms with a digest of their objections. This does not constitute a grappling with the issue, and it has left you in remarkable ignorance. Google a digest of what Luther taught, or what Calvin taught. You will learn what it truly meant for a person to take the Bible seriously. You may still determine to be resistant to the message, but you will know better what the message is.

  63. The way you comment on my blog posts makes it clear that you don't know what they contain. You do not ask for clarification, you do not challenge me on substantive points, you demonstrate nothing more than a completely superficial glance at key words of my argument to include as some way of pretending that you're responding to what I've said. In short, you do not take my views seriously, and as a result you are unqualified to tell me why I should reject them.

    Look at this very thread, and the post at the outset. I argued that the deal offered: "believe, and be rewarded; doubt and be damned" is fundamentally satanic in nature. It is bribe and blackmail rolled into one, and that it purports to be from the good guy of the story rather than the bad guy makes no difference to its essential corruption.

    Did you have ANYTHING to say about this? No. At best, you deflected it into a question about "But where does morality come from, if not from the God of the Bible?" An interesting and worthy question, and one which I have tried to answer, but one which YOU chose in order to advance your own agenda of converting me. Your refusal to consider my concerns about the fundamental impiety of what you are urging me to do is no small part of why I find your preaching so unpersuasive.

    So let me repeat. I think that it is fundamentally, diabolically UNChristian to consider reward or punishment in the afterlife as having any relevance whatsoever to the choice between right and wrong. I find the very suggestion corrupting, and in order to neutralize that corrupting influence, I suggest that we should govern our behaviour AS IF there were no supernatural bribe or blackmail to consider. Good faith, principled ethical deliberations should suffice in discharging our moral duties in this life.

    Can you take this concern of mine seriously?

  64. That is an assumption that you have no ground to make except your own desire. No one talked more of hell than Jesus Christ. He came in order that men not perish. He challenged people that gaining the whole world was not worth what their soul was worth , and spoke seriously and gravely about the place of torment where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die. Jesus challenged us to lay up treasures in heaven, and to avoid the torments of Hell. You say it is unchristian to think of such things. Jesus did not think so. Rather, He thought that your rejecting His claims as Savior and Lord would doom you to perish. You do not like the clear teaching of the Bible on this point, but your not liking it can not change the reality. You keep holding out for human reasoning as the means for finding truth. But you are misaken in this. Truth is found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, who lived and died to save you from your sins. God simply will not let you have it your own way.

  65. Okay. So, you maintain that I OUGHT to base my actions ultimately on a consideration of how it will benefit me in the afterlife. In particular, I should place concern for my own eternal well-being above any regard I might have for abstract values like reason, truth, beauty, justice, morality, etc.

    I believe I OUGHT to be guided by the values of reason, truth, beauty, justice and morality, regardless of the consequences for me personally. I like to think I'd be willing to follow these values even at great personal sacrifice. This is what I must in good faith assume God (if He exists) wants from me, because to assume otherwise would be to assume God falls short in virtue.

  66. The afterlife is not all that Jesus talked about. His 33 years lived as one of us was to do for us what must be done if we are to be accepted by a holy God, as well as to show us the pattern that we should follow in living our own lives. The values of reason, truth, beauty, justice, and morality are clearly to be pursued, if we are ever to be like our Lord, but we cannot accomplish these things on our own. And they are not the whole picture. This life is a prelude to Eternity, and it is the only place we can prepare. God is helping His people here, but He is working in all of history and in every detail to display His gory and greatness. His holiness will be shown by His judgment of evil, and His grace magnified by His acceptance of sinners through His Son. Our taking into account His detrmination to judge the wiced is a part of knowing Him for who He is. We can't pick and choose the things about God we like, rejecting the rest. He is a person, and we must take Him for what He is. You will be glad for all this, if ever you come to know Him.

  67. Do not evade the point. I did not say that your view says that these other values don't matter at all. I said that they must take a back seat to personal benefit in the afterlife. It's all perfectly fine and noble to pursue reason and justice, so long as it doesn't put your eternal soul at risk, in which case, too bad for reason and justice -- it's time to look out for number 1.

    Here is my faith: I work from the assumption that God cannot come into conflict with reason, justice, truth, love etc. because I hold these things to be manifestations of the same transcendant diviinity. To betray these principles would, then, be in a sense to betray God.

    Now, YOU are advocating what superficially seems to be a similar view, except that you include The Bible in with this other stuff that God cannot come into conflict with. Indeed, you give the Bible a privileged position within this category, such that it must take priority over the others. If the Bible says X and Reason says Y, too bad for Reason. In other words, you give the Bible an equal status to God, and you treat my failure to do so as "not taking the Bible seriously".

    But logically, while you may claim to recognize a distinction between God the Person and the Bible, it is a distinction without a difference, as the thought experiment I have posed elsewhere shows. Hypothetically, if God were to appear to you and reveal something that contradicted the Bible, would you believe Him, or dismiss him as some demon falsely claiming to be God in order to trick you? To me, this is not a logical impossibility at all, because I recognize a distinction between a book that people claim to be the word of God, and God Himself, and the latter must always take priority.

    If you do not allow for the possibility that God could contradict the Bible, then you simply do not see God and the Bible as logically distinct entities. To you, the Bible literally IS God. Oh sure, maybe you can call it an ASPECT of God, or an avatar or a manifestation or some such variation, but for all practical purposes, they are one and the same thing to you.

    That is the very essence of idolatry, and I will have none of it. We can speak fruitfully of the wisdom and the perspectives that the human authors of the Bible had, and this can bring us to more profound insights into the subject matter, but to elevate the text to the very status of God Himself is downright blasphemous.

  68. Personal benefit is never the main consideration for the Christian--the Glory of God is to be sought with or without personal benefit. But God has revealed that our living in a relationship that glorifies Him will, in fact, be to our benefit more as a by-product than as the thing primarily sought.
    Your speaking of reason and justice assumes that our reason and sense of justice are untouched by the ravages of sin. In fact, our reason is distorted and our sense of justice twisted, so that they are not to be considered on a par with God's at all. Before sin entered the world, Man's reason amd judgment reflected God's, in a way that He described as "after His image and in His likeness". But that has been so thoroughly perverted by the effect of sin that it cannot be trusted at all. He has given us His bible as a written revelation of His will that He has determined never to contradict in His character. Paul speaks of the Devil appearing as an angel of light but bringing another gospel, and Paul says he is to utterly rejected, even as we would utterly reject the claims that men make now and again about God telling them to murder their mothers. God has given the guarantees of His Word and His Faithfulness to it so that we can evaluate men and ideas against a rule that will not change and that cannot misguide us. Men can misguide themselves by not carefully studying God's Word, but the word is to be trusted because God has declared it to be trustworthy in this way.
    Your use of the term "idolatry" always comes across as strange, since you have no standard to determine idolatry, and since you are willing to regard anyone else's God with respect and dignity. Also your mentioning "blasphemy" strikes a strange chord. It presupposes a God who could be offended, and you do not want to posit such a god. Are you simply saying that you, personally, feel indignaton with the concept? If so, isn't "blasphemy" too strong a term?

  69. I do not assume that our human sense of reason and justice is flawless. Quite the contrary; I am convinced that all human capacities are very fallible. But that includes the capacities we use to read and interpret Scripture. You do not escape your error-proneness by making an error-prone decision to accept some authority as error-free, even if it is.

    But you have confirmed my accusation. You say that God has determined never to contradict the Bible. You reject as impossible the notion that God and the Bible could diverge, and in so doing, whether you understand it or not, you subtly subordinate God to the Bible. You would reject out of hand as not being of God anything that contradicted the Bible. That is why I say you worship the book, not the God, and that is why I call it idolatry which by definition is blasphemous. (Blasphemy I take to be the showing of disrespect towards the divine, regardless of whether or not the divine actually deigns to be offended. Blasphemy lies in the attitude displayed, not in God's reaction to it.)

  70. Interpreting the Scripture requires a careful search of all that God says on a particular point and the receiving as true every statement. It is a tremendous challenge, and most of us are very glad for the diligent work of the writers of the Westminster Confession, The Heidleburg Confession, Luther's catechism, the 39 articles of the Anglican Church, etc. Each of these documents was devised independently of the others, but the agreement as to what the Bible teaches is remarkable. Each of these regards the Bible as inspired by God for the purpose of revealing Himself to sinful Man. Our confidence that it cannot be contrary to what God chooses to reveal to men does not make the Bible an object of worship. It may be that God has not preserved the original manuscripts for that very purpose. We must work carefully as we seek to detemine Truth as revealed in God's book, and we need always to be guided by Him in our understanding. But the book is the standard that He has given, and by it we may judge the validity of everything else. Our own ideas and those of denominations are subject to evaluation in light of the Scriptures. We do not worship the Book. We treasure it for what God made it to be, and we try very hard to align our thoughts with it. As we likewise align our lives, we experience the power of present salvation and the hope of complete redemption. This is the wondrous condition we long to see occur in you.

  71. You are placing a great deal of trust in the diligent work these writers. How do you know they don't get it wrong? On what basis do you get to claim that THEY are "guided by God" in their interpretation? Their "remarkable agreement"?

    Hogwash. You do not accept "remarkable agreement" as evidence that a claim is true in other situations. The agreement of the scientific evidence for the age of the Earth and the history of life is beyond remarkable -- it is STUNNING in its consistency! -- but you don't accept that. Yet you pick a bunch of writers who all start from the same presumption that the Bible must be literally true, and marvel at their agreement on the circular conclusion that the Bible must be literally true as evidence they must be right?

    You tell me I am unwise to place so much faith in the power of human reason, even though I continually stress human fallibility and the need always to be careful in one's conclusions. Yet you put enormous faith in human judgment and human artifacts when you postulate that God steps in to ensure that the original authors of the Bible don't get it wrong, that the translators and transcribers and editors don't get it wrong, that the commentaries you rely on don't get it wrong, and that YOU personally are divinely guided not to get it wrong. You believe that in all these instances your faith is in God (because it's God who's supposedly stepping in to keep them right), but that's a meaningless claim.

    Consider: If I tell you that I believe God intervenes to help keep me on the right track in my application of Reason, you will scoff. If I tell you God intervenes in the scientific enterprise to lead the world's scientists to remarkable agreement over the age of the Earth, you reject that out of hand. You invoke God's guidance as a guarantee of YOUR conclusions, but conveniently reject it for anyone else's.

    Now, it so happens that I do not claim to be divinely guided, but what if I believed I were? What could you say to me to convince me I was wrong?

  72. What lends weight to the concensus among so many scholars from so many countries and so many churches and so many ages is that what they find in the Bible is precisely what I find there. When they speak of the way God works in the hearts Iof men, I see Him working in exactly the same way in me. And I did not read any of these confessions until long after I became a Christian on my own, with only my Bible to guide me. I can evauluate the accuracy of their statements by reading the texts that they quote. On the perspectives with which I differ, I can see where the discussion lies and make my choice on which interpretation is to be accepted. But the standard is the Bible, and the truth of any claim is subject to the scrutiny of the Bible. Honesty with the Scriptures is the goal. The fact is that we do have a reliable text. The fact is that it has been preserved for many ages. If a person will simply let the Bible speak for itself, he will come up with all that the established confessions affirm; but it will take him a very long time, and he will forget much in the passing of the years. This is why the Christian so values the articulation of what the Bible teaches in the existing confessions. But they are not needed. You may begin with complete ignorance, and the Scripture will guide you into Truth, and into a personal reltionship with the One who is the Truth, who claimed to be the Truth, and who is acknowledge as the Truth by all who have come to know Him. You want o live life in an intellectual bubble. God will not get into your bubble, but He appeals to you to come out. Warmly and lovingly.

  73. So, this consensus is reliable because it confirms what you find, after your years of careful independent deliberation.

    In essence, YOU are the standard by which you judge whether or not something is to be taken as reliable. The consensus among secular scholars? Unreliable, because they don't accept the Bible the same way you do. The consensus among scientists over the age of the Earth? Unreliable for the same reason.

    Look, take any random starting premise, get a bunch of different people to apply similar reasoning skills to it, and they'll tend to come to similar conclusions. That's unremarkable, and it has no bearing on whether or not that starting premise was correct. But it's the PREMISE you're trying to convince me to accept here, that a literal reading of the Bible must be the standard. I grant that accepting that premise would likely lead me to similar conclusions to yours, but why should I accept the PREMISE?

  74. Hebrews 11:6 pretty much demands what you are not prepared to give. But it is always the way that God reveals Himself. Genesis 1:1 answers no intellectiual question about God, it simply declares what God did. God assumes His own esistence and requires us to do so if we would come to know Him. He declares His word and leaves it to us to believe it or not. Those who have believed and have pursued God through the Bible have come to a personal expereince with truth that can be found no where else. People believe in a certain approximate age for the earth because they have been brow-beaten into agreement with those who have maneuvered themselves into positions of power in the academic world. Not to agree is so politically dangerous that men are afraid to appear stupid, and they knuckle under. You believe these things because you have been told to and because you have no means whatever of checking the data. You do have the means of checking the Bible. Trust in its truth and act accordingly and you will know the reality behind what is revealed in the Bible. We are not following a company line. We know the Person who reveals Hiself in the Bible. You should accept the premise because there is no other way to come to know God, and not to do so will bring meaningless here on earth and an eternity of anguish. Maintaining your bubble and keeping God out can only be successful for a short time. One day you must face the reality. God calls you to face it and come to terms now, that you will not face it without resources in that final day. God offers you the terms of life today and urges you to accept. Jesus died to take away the sins of His people. Whosever will may come. Come to Jesus and live.

  75. You talk about God, something I grant that I know nothing about, and so maybe you might know more than I and I should learn from you.

    But then you talk about things that I DO know something about, and you declare with unshakeable confidence things I know to be wrong. Attributing the scientific consensus on the age of the Earth to a conspiracy of powerful men in white lab coats is just an embarrassment, and betrays your ignorance of the ways of science and the natural world. If you had the faintest inkling of the breadth and depth of our current scientific understanding of the world (itself only the tiniest fraction of a hint of an inkling of what yet remains to be understood), you would never say such things.

    I am not an expert in science, but I know enough to recognize that you do not know anything about it when you dismiss its consensus as a conspiracy of browbeating. It's plain to me that you can think you know about something when in fact you know nothing at all. And so when you purport to know the Bible, or to know that it really is the word of God, why should I take your claims of expertise seriously? Why should I not conclude you are as deluded about the Bible as you are about science?

  76. I don't claim to know any more than you claim to know. Of course I can be wrong concerning the age of the earth. But it is hard to dismiss the emotional and social pressure that is put upon anyone who disagrees with the establisment. You show the same emotional scars when you talk about the Bible. You have been conditioned with many standard objections to the things of God and the cost of changing your perspective is enormous. I feel like I am battling for your life, and that the ways around the obvious are legion. In fact, it is impossible that I can cut through for you. The reason I keep trying is that there is a way for you, and it is a personal appeal to Jesus Christ for help. Jesus will not turn away one who comes to Him for help. Your primary battle line is a personl challenge to me, and in the process you point out many weaknesses in my reasoning and knowledge. If that were the issue, you could certainly win. But the issue is between you and God, and I keep urging you to take Him on. Because of your thorough conditioning, God seems to you to be One to be avoided, as if your intellect and undestanding were in danger. In fact, many of your pet ideas are in danger. But the result will be a freeing of your intellect, that it might be used with purpose and significance in the activity for which it was given you. I don't know whether or not I ought to challenge you to think about the implications of your actually coming to know God. What will be the effects professionally, socially, in your family, among friends, on your blog, in converstion wherever you go for social contact? The Enemy will bombard you with these things, even as you try to think throgh the issues. I probably would not have mentioned them even now, except that Jesus challenged us to count the cost. Salvation in Jesus Christ is free, and it costs everything. But what shall it profit a man if gain the whole world at the expense of his soul?
    I am not entirely stupid. I have nearly ten years of formal education beyond High School. There is something else that has moved me to seek the Lord, and it is the Lord Himself. He is calling you, too, and it would be well for your soul if you came.

  77. I am sorry if you feel I have called you stupid. It isn't my intent to insult. Any meaningful discussion must proceed from a presumption of respect for the intellects involved, and a commitment to interpret charitably the ideas those intellects put forward, and calling someone stupid is incompatible with that. This is not just courtesy, but a necessary prerequisite for achieving any understanding; if you are unprepared to consider what the other person says, there is no sense in their talking to you.

    You have demonstrated that you are unwilling or even unable to consider what I have to say. You dismiss as unimportant every concern I raise, and you attribute all of my disagreement to brainwashing or to base and dishonourable motives. So why is there any point in my continuing to talk to you, if you will not listen?

    Maybe If I still thought you had something to say worth listening to. But there is the other side of the coin. If you show yourself to be arrogantly ignorant about such topics as the age of the Earth, you impeach yourself as a witness to the other things you claim to know about. And, contrary to what you say in your first sentence, you DO claim to know more than I do: you claim to know God. Moreover, you decline to entertain the possibility that you could be mistaken in this claim.

    And so I see little reason for me to talk to you, or to listen to you. It's possible, I suppose, that you really DO know God but know too little of anything else to be able to communicate effectively about why your way of knowing is to be trusted. But it seems at least as likely that you are just wrong about all that, that you THINK you know God but have only bought into a comforting self-reinforcing delusion of the same sort you blame for me failure to believe.

    The only reason this conversation has gone on as long as it has is for the benefit of any lurkers who may still be reading, but I don't think there are any at this point. In any event, if there are disinterested, objective and undecided readers left, ask yourself this: Why should they be willing to accept as plausible the idea that I might be brainwashed, but not consider the possibility that you might be?

  78. I don't think anyone else is reading, either. And cerainly if they function with the same mind-set that you do, they will think that you have somehow won your point. They will probably agree that I have skirted the issue of convincing you on the terms that you demand, and they probably will not understand that one cannot know God on the terms you require. "the world by wisdom knew not God". God has ordained that it is through the foolishnes of preaching that men are brought from darkness to light. So I have preached to you. Jesus sent us forth as His witnesses--people who ould testify to what they had seen and heard. Certainly I have witnesed. But perhaps my assertions have taken root in some who have read along. Perhaps some have recognized their own personal emptiness and have felt the frustration of trying to find Truth your way, but never finding it. Not everyone who has been taught to think as you do is convinced of the value of such thinking. Some are not satisfied with a fruitles search and would rally like to find. Perhaps our discussion has helped them better to evaluate both perspectives.
    If there is such a person, He or she is one to whom Christ offers His salvation. And He or she ought to come to Christ.

  79. Perhaps. But people who think as I do realize that whether or not a belief satisfied a "personal emptiness" has no bearing on whether or not it is actually true. Moreover, people who think as I do understand that personal emptiness is not at all a necessary consequence of not accepting the Bible literally.

  80. Personal emptiness is a consequence of life. Recognizing it moves some people to seek the fulness that was intended for Man, but which man on his own has never been able to find.

  81. It keeps coming back to this: your assumption you know more about other people's experiences than they themselves do. Who are you to say that other people experience life as empty if they don't believe in the Bible the way you do? It may appear empty and unfulfilling TO YOU, but you're not the one whose opinion matters when it comes to how fulfilling someone else's life is. If they FEEL fulfilled, even if such fulfilment is based on a complete sham, they FEEL fulfilled.

    That is why I would never presume to tell you that your sense of fulfilment is invalid. I believe you completely when you describe how you feel, because there is no better authority on your subjective experiences than you. Your feelings are what they are. What they MEAN is another question entirely, but you're the final authority on the subjective experience of being you.

    You are NOT any kind of authority on the subjective experience of being ME, and when you presume to tell me that my life is empty and meaningless, the very BEST you can hope to achieve is a lucky guess.

  82. A Bible-believer values the book of Ecclesiastes, where Solomon, who had and could do everything, expressed the conclusion that men must come to who have and do everything. Life is meaningless. A striving after wind. You are a human being. Human beings have the same needs, and the same desires; and they are burdened with the same results. Life is not satisfying. Men who say it is are pretending. Human success is a sham. Human achievement is never really fulfilling. Rich people don't feel rich. The sexually indulgent always need more. We chase dreams and they evaporate as soon as we lay hold of them. It is part of the human condition and it is without exception. Thousands of people spend money they don't have to do things they don't enjoy, in order to impress people they don't like. The facade is so thin you can usually see through it, and it quickly breaks. It is the human condition. It is not a lucky guess to conclude this about even the most aparently successful person. It is a truth that eveyone must ultimately face. Some face it before it is too late for rescue, and some refuse to face it, and perish.

  83. There are two points I'd like to make on that.

    First, that life is ultimately meaningless is, while perhaps true, also pretty unimportant on a human level. I'm a HUMAN, not a cosmic arbiter of ultimate value; the fact that my sensation of hunger or blue or love or garlic is ultimately nothing more than a complex firing of neurons does not in any way change the reality of my sensations to me. They MATTER to me, whether they matter to a godless impersonal cosmos or not. In other words, why should I care that the universe doesn't care? I care, and maybe that's enough. So if I find meaning and beauty in the universe, well, that meaning and beauty is real enough to matter for me.

    Second, and I realize this one may be a little subtle: If human life really IS meaningless, then the existence of God doesn't really help. You'd need to understand the nature of depression to really get this, but believing one is loved by God? Meh. What does it matter? Who cares? Life is pointless anyway. Sure, it may mean something to GOD, but I'm not God and I can't see the beauty or meaning or divine plan and I never will because I'm just a pathetic worthless nobody who hates his life blah blah blah....

    You see? It isn't the belief that God exists that makes a difference. It isn't even the belief that God loves you. That doesn't matter unless you love God, or love yourself, or both. If YOU don't care, then it doesn't matter who else does: life won't have meaning to you. Or to put it another way, it's loving God, or loving yourself, or loving SOMETHING, that makes things matter and gives meaning to life. There may be some things which are better to love than others, but the love itself is key.

    Don't you DARE try to tell me that people who don't believe in the Bible can't experience love.

  84. Of course they experience love! One of the interesting things about you is your love of so much that is truly beautiful. But your putting that glorious experience in the conext of a meaningless cosmos, as if it itself is enough, is like a druggie pinning everything on the present high. It doesn't work because it is contrary to the way we were made, and we can't escape what a human being is. The power of the Bible is not that it can make happy promises. It shows us what we are and who we are, and it points us to the solution of the human problem. It does not do this in the intellectual context you would prefer, but God is running the show, and He entirely sets the rules. Those who have bowed to His way of doing it have found what they were looking for in the wrong place.

  85. I do not put these experiences into the context of a meaningless cosmos out of apathy. The druggie cares only for the experience, and does not care at all about whatever may lie behind it or what may be going on outside of the high. But I am genuinely curious about the nature of reality, our place in it, and why things are as they are.

    In contemplating the possibilities, I have had to confront what it would mean if the universe were in fact godless. I've had to consider the arguments of those who say there must be a God because otherwise there would be no purpose, or we could have no conscious minds, or this or that conclusion. Well, IS it so that we could not have come into existence with God? Apparently not, I find, as the explanations provided by science turn out to be quite respectably credible. IS it so that there'd be no purpose? Maybe, but it depends on what you mean by purpose, and on what scale.

    Compare it to the ideas of up and down. Living here, on Earth, we are dominated by gravity and the intuitively obvious fact that vertical dimension is fundamentally privileged in a way that the two horizontal ones aren't. Even if we accept that the world is not flat, we can still insist that Earth MUST be the center of the universe, because otherwise up and down would be just arbitrary and wouldn't REALLY mean anything, but obviously they mean away from and towards the center of the earth respectively.

    But why does there have to be an absolute cosmic up and down for the local up and down we experience to be real? And so why does there have to be a cosmic meaning for the local, personal sense of meaning to be real?

    My current, tentative conclusion about the universe is that there is no such person as God. Not because I don't WANT there to be, but just because I can see no evidence for which God is even a likely explanation. I have to go with what the evidence supports, not with what I may happen to want to be true.

    You say that I am selectively omitting the Bible as evidence, but that's not true. I include the Bible, but in the context of ALL the evidence, the most consistent interpretation I can find for the Bible is the one I've mentioned many times before in this thread: it is a human document. Nothing about the book forces me to conclude that it speaks with greater authority than its fallible human authors. Read in this way, it fits very well into the big picture of the universe as I am coming to understand, and avoids a good many logical and evidentiary problems that came from my attempts to give it a privileged authority. I COULD arbitrarily make a literal reading of the Bible my absolute standard for evaluating everything else, but the only reason I can see for doing so is that you insist I must. Not even the Bible seems to demand this of me unambiguously; every passage cited in support of biblical authority seems to me to be interpreted in a contrived and laboured way, and conveniently disregards all of the other textual evidence suggesting the opposite.

  86. What textual evidence is there that we should not take the Bible as the infallible word of God?

  87. How about the simple fact that the only references to God in the text refer to Him in the third person, except where He's supposedly being quoted and even then it's related as "God said XXX" rather than "I said XXX"? How about the fact that most books (including the Gospels) explicitly purport to be the account of an identifiable mortal human being? Why should there even BE four canonical Gospels (to say nothing of the Apocrypha) if any one of them can be taken as a divinely reliable record?

    Now, sure, I understand that your claim isn't that God picked up a pen and scribbled down the book of Genesis verbatim, but rather that the human authors of the Bible were divinely inspired to get it right. And sure, that would tend to explain why they wrote about God in the third person, and why they occasionally referred to themselves in the first person. But the fact remains that the grammatical form even requires an explanation in the first place. The grammatical form IMPLIES human authorship, and human authorship by default for all other texts at least is presumptively fallible.

    Further, as I've argued elsewhere in this blog, one reading of the first three commandments seems to suggest that placing ANYTHING before or even on a par with God is idolatry. God and God alone is to be worshipped and treated with absolute deference; while we might find the Bible useful in coming to understand God, it MUST take a back seat to God Himself. In other words, one may believe the Bible, but only ever tentatively, subject to the caveat that God may overrule it. To elevate a golden calf, a plastic crucifix, or a sequence of consonants and vowels, into an object of holiness is at odds with my understanding of the meaning of the first three commandments.

  88. You indicated that there were text in the Bible that spoke against a complete acceptance of the Bible as God's word. That must not be what you meant. The things you mention about God's style in choosing to reveal Himself a certain way are fascinating things that help us to ponder more of the kind of creative being He is. He certainly does not bow to our idea of how words are to be used in communicating Truth. He uses a good deal more poetry than most people would think necessary, and He often mixes present, past, and future together in a mystifying way. The believer does not criticize Him for His choices, but rather worships. Finding the facets of meaning revealed in the way He speaks is a part of the joy of searching His word. We think it is worth tackling, and we are tremendously pleased by new insights we are enable to discover. God does not expect us to take hyperbole for literal truth, or to ignore the different types and styles of literature He uses. He wants us to appreciate the structure of Hebrew poetry and the precision of Greek expression, and all the literary nances eployed to reveeal to us what He is like. We love Him as He shows us Himself this way. You are critical in a way that will embarrass you, if you ever ome to faith in Jesus. Still,"there is forgiveness with Him, that He might be feared." Psalm 138:2 is interesting in light of your comments, and Psalm 19:7-11 gives something of God's opinion of His word. He is very touchy about idolatry, but does not seem to be bothered in the way you are. Perhaps you misunderstand Him. These things may be of some help in focusing your observations

  89. Well then. What WOULD count as textual evidence against taking the Bible literally? The book consistently talks about a central character in the third person, which is USUALLY a clue that it wasn't written by that character. But hey, this is a special book so let's not use the usual canons of interpretation; God can write it however he wants.

    Look. You can't have it both ways. You want to insist on a literal reading, that it must be literally true? Fine. Then apply the rules of literal interpretation and live with whatever that gets you. (By those literal rules, God lies to Adam when He warns of immediate death upon eating of the Tree of Knowledge. Adam eats from the Tree and does NOT die that same day. No, you do not get to interpret it in a literary, flexible manner if you start from the premise that it's God's word and literally inerrant.

    OR, you can say "Well, it was metaphorical death..." and apply some imaginative (and possibly correct) interpretation, and explain away apparent problems as divine artistic license. Hey, I'm TOTALLY cool with that, too, so long as you understand that you are fallible in your judgment that THIS passage is meant literally and THAT one is meant metaphorically.

    I have a reading of the meaning of the first three commandments, which I happen to think is very consistent and meaningful in its message about the proper attitude with respect to God. I have been engaging in the very interpretive exercise that you have been, but with one chief difference: I don't claim to be "divinely guided" in my conclusions. I could very well be wrong, and I acknowledge and accept that possibility. Sure, it's scary to think I might be wrong when the stakes are potentially so high. But not thinking about it doesn't make me any safer, and your refusal to consider that maybe my reading is correct doesn't insulate you from error.

    What if I'm right in my understanding of idolatry? What will you do then? How will you answer for your idolatry of the Bible? Are you even willing to consider that as a hypothetical possibility?

  90. You can't seem to see that we are dealing with a personal God in real relationship with His people. Of course we can be wrong in our interpretation of His word. We often learn that former understandings were inadequate. We have to grapple with things that push the limits of our abilities. We are learning our way in understandng the Bible God gave us. But we have a personal relationship with Him through Christ, and He is guiding this whole process. Adam did die in the day he ate of the fruit. Death is a good deal more than physical ceasing to exist. The most important part of Adam's life was gone, and from then on he was grappling with an alienation that God calls spiritual death. After the final judgment, there will be many who realize only too well that death is a good deal more than ceasing to exist. You are dead right now in your trespasses and sins, and yet function with a mental activity. That this activity continually keeps you from Christ is a proof of your being dead. It is why Jesus said, "You must be born again". It is why Ezekiel's promise in Ezekiel 36:26-27 is so precious to the believer and so necessary to those outside of Christ. It is why Jeremiah 31:31 ff is so encouraging. There are many areas where I have been very wrong in my understanding of God, but He has helped me to see it, and He has brought me to a better and safer path. And He will do so for you, if you seek Him. Your attacks are a flailing about. A better understanding will give yu peace.

  91. I understand that you BELIEVE God is guiding you to the correct understanding. I even understand that that relationship is real to you. But I am not convinced that it has made you a better or more reliable judge of the truth.

    A child's relationship with Santa Claus is real and important and every bit as devoutly believed in as your relationship with God. Indeed, it is MORE real in some ways, because children occasionally SEE Santa in the flesh, sit on his lap at the mall, and talk to him. Try to tell a true-believing child that Santa isn't real.

    It's possible to have real relationships with people who aren't real. It's also possible to have "real" relationships that you think are with real people but are only with one's idealized imaginary versions of them. (You see stalkers who are convinced that they're in a mutual loving relationship with some celebrity who in reality may not even know they exist).

    I see that you believe your personal God assures you of the accuracy of your interpretation of the Bible. Do you see why I do not accept your belief as any kind of proof that you're right?

  92. Sigh.

    "The devil hath the power to assume a pleasing form." [Hamlet]

    See also (this going back to Tom's original post):

    Dr. Faustus

    any number of other classic literature works that use the basic premise that Tom sets out in his initial argument.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again: "Anonymous's" understanding of what the Bible actually contains is NOT accepted as valid by the vast majority of Christians, and in pursuing this ludicrousness for months on end, "Anonymous" is an embarrassment to true Bible-believing Christians everywhere.

    I'm at a public computer, but had I a Bible handy, I'd look up a passage in Peter that addresses it.

    But, of course -- as "Anonymous's" actions so vividly demonstrate s(he) is of the stripe of Christianity that believes that the Bible should be recognized as "authority" upon which to base "faith" but that one has no obligation to live by the principles the Bible really sets out.

    If s(he) believed that, s(he) wouldn't be behaving in such a manner. This time, arriving to find over 90 posts in the thread, I just skimmed them, but it's still clear that "Anonymous" in no way, shape or form actually believes what s(he) thinks s(he) preaches.

    In deference to Tom's preferences, once expressed individually to me, I've kept the tone of this fairly light in comparison to my real reaction.

    It's his blog, if he wishes to suffer fools kindly . . .

    I get beyond affronted when I read such hogwash from poseurs who claim to believe the authority of Scripture and then ignore what it teaches in the way they deal with others.

  93. Mephistopheles is the name Goethe gives to the devil. That Tom's arguments reflect his is an argument in favor of Anonymous's point of view. But Krista is right in her observation that Tom has bourne long with Anonymous. Has Krista been the only one to suffer all this, (even in scanning it)? Are there others who think that the only Christian way is to tell everyone that she is right? Where then is compassion for the lost? Or are we to say that no one is lost, and everyone saved? Everyone will not be saved. May the Lord open your eyes and rescue you from the Wrath to Come! 2 John 13--"The children of your chosen sister send their greetings."

  94. Krista: Thank you for dropping by, and for providing a different Christian perspective. I appreciate your frustration, and to large extent share it though perhaps for slightly different reasons. (Is it strange that an atheist should be so appalled at idolatry as I am?) But I am firmly committed to the idea that no ideas should be off limits, no beliefs should be beyond critical scrutiny, and so shutting down anyone's postings here is anathema to me. (Well, save for obvious spam with no connection to the subject, and even then I'm reluctant to pull the trigger.)

    Anonymous (2?): Reading Mephistopheles as the Devil is, I think, a bit too simplistic; Mephistopheles does not lead Faustus astray, but merely provides him with the resources to deceive himself. And I feel that Anonymous (1?) may also be deceiving himself or herself, and concealing the deceit by dressing it up as God's work.

  95. You seem to think that life is a matter of playing complicated mental games. There seems to be a satisfaction like moving chess peices and seeing where the next challenge slides into place. If life is a game, then this is harmless fun. But life is not a game. A very real eternity awaits us all, and bantering and conjecturing will not get us pass the judgment. A real God will hold us to account, our guilt demonstrated by our response to the warning He clearly gave. He has offered forgiveness in Jesus Christ, His Son, and, amazingly, it matters to Him whether we accept it. Krista needs Jesus as much as Tom does.

  96. And you seem to think that life is a matter of NOT playing complicated mental games. You are like a fish, screaming at a bird to come back into the water before it dries out and dies in the sun. Or a bird screaming at a fish to get out please for god's sake come up and breathe some air before it drowns. You think that the way God made you is the way God made everyone.

    I cannot NOT play complicated mental games. It is as hard for me to suppress all this thinking and probing and questioning as it is for you to doubt the Bible, not just because God gave me this philosophical nature, but because, just like you, I feel it would be morally wrong to deliberately embrace error. You are convinced that my way is error, but your own errors are plain and obvious to me. And chief among them is your inability to imagine them.

  97. You would not need to supress any aspect of your probing, searching, wondering mind if you came to Christ. God gave you that mind that you might discover and explore the wonders of His being and the glories of His creation, giving Him the glory that He designed for you to give. The gifts He has given you were designed to enrich your relationship with Him and to display the wonder of His handiwork in a way that no one else on earth could do. You are shackled by a mindset that is always trying to set the terms for God's revealing Himself, and you are on the wrong track in this. He does not reveal Himself through human reasoning. He tells us this exactly in 1 Corinthians 2:4-5, but the whole chapter is dedicated to that reality. Let Him speak to you there. I never heard of anyone being saved by reading this, but you are not everyone, and He does not often do what I think He will do. The Devil assured Eve that doubting God and His Word was to her advantage, and that she would grow intellectually and spiritually by disobedience. But the Devil is the Father of Lies. And her action and that of her husband brought upon us all our woe.

  98. Absolutely fundamental to my probing mind is the constant awareness of the potential for error. I can be mistaken about pretty much everything. You are asking me to pretend I cannot be mistaken in choosing to accept the Bible as authoritative. In other words, you DO want me to suppress my probing, searching, wondering mind at least with respect to this one question. You don't think I should consider the possibility that maybe the Bible isn't divine.

    But considering possibilities is what I do. It's how I was made. Know how to get me to stop considering the possibility that the Bible is just a human document? CONVINCE me that it's an impossibility. To do that, you'll need to make an effort to understand why I think it's a possibility, in order to identify where my reasoning has gone astray. Unfortunately, you refuse to make any effort to do so, and increasingly I am convinced it's because you can't.

    Yes I WOULD have to suppress my questioning nature in order to come to Christ, at least by your route. I absolutely WOULD have to. You don't see that, perhaps, because you are unable to conceive of my question as a meaningful one.

    Is it possible that the Bible might not be the word of God?

  99. You are clearly uninstructed in the arguments for the trustworthiness of the Bible. Let me suggest the you Google "Is the Bible Truly God's Word?" A summary of arguments in favor of the Christian's perspective will either inform your opposition or weaken your resistance. We are not foolish to believe in the divine inspiration of God's Word, even though we agree that it is a remarkable thing. Probably the list of blogs will offer arguments that counter the Christian position, but the worst case scenario is that it will make yor objections appear more intelligent. This will not harm your blog.

  100. I've done so. I've looked and looked, and found a whole lot of really bad arguments, and not a single persuasive one that didn't suffer from fatally circular reasoning. I could go through all the arguments I've seen, one by one, and show you how they're invalid, but you could (assuming you'd even acknowledge any of my arguments' validity, which you've never yet done) always just smugly say, "Well of course THAT'S a silly argument, but you're not really looking very hard. There are MUCH better arguments you have neglected to address! Go find them!"

    No. YOU are the one who comes to my blog and tries to convince me to adopt a different set of beliefs from the ones I've settled upon from a lifetime of question. The onus is on YOU to provide some hint of evidence or argument why I should disregard everything I've looked at and thought about so far. I'm prepared to change my mind (again and again, if need be), but not on your mere unsupported assertion.

    Put up, or shut up. Don't tell me what to believe. Tell me WHY I should believe it.

  101. The fact that the Bible was written over a period of 1500 years by 40 different authors on three different continents but presents one consistent story without contradictions as to the nature and character of God is remarkable. The historical accuracy of passages that were once thought impossible has been proven again and again. The nature of the God presented in the Bible being so different from what men want in a god seems significant. The fulfillment of prophecy, especially with regard to the life and death of Jesus is astonishing. The fact of the resurrection of Jesus is impossible to explain away. From the beginning opponents told the guards to say, "While we were sleeping the disciples came and took away the body." If they were sleeping,how did they know? If they knew, why didn't they stop them? The transformation of the disciples from men trembling behind closed doors just after the crucifixion into witnesses that turned the world upside down and were willing to die for what they believed is only explained by the reality of what they saw. Jesus did step forth alive from the grave. The surviaval of the Bible through centuries of rejection, attack, persecution, corruption, discredit has prompted the observation that the Bible is like a blacksmith's anvil--it outwears many a hammer. And the Bible goes on transforming the lives of people in conditions thought hopeless by the world, as well as transforming the lives of people of good public reputation and character men think aready good. Nevertheless, God has ordained that men will not be argued into the Kingdom by reason. It is reasonable to believe, but we will always come to God on the basis of faith. Man will always be able to escape the impliations of reasoable arguments in favor of the Scripture. God has determined it shall be so. His intention is that we relate to Him through faith. We have enough of a witness within of the truth of what God says to us that we are prompted to believe. But we can always get out of it, and we always will until He makes us willing in the day of His power. May He, in His great mercy, do so for you, and for Krista, and for everyone we love!

  102. Well, thank you for that, at last.

    First of all, on the supposed consistency of the story, this would only be remarkable if these disparate authors were writing in isolation from each other, and unaware of what had been written before. In many cases this was demonstrably not the case: the authors of later texts explicitly show some familiarity with some of the earlier texts, so it should not surprise as that their additions could be written so as not to contradict what had gone before. Moreover, the process of selecting which works were deemed canonical and which were relegated to the Apocrypha was no doubt guided in part by concern for consistency.

    Secondly, many of these books do not overlap at all in their content, and are thus at very little risk of contradicting each other in the first place. Exodus has very little to say about the Sermon on the Mount, and the Gospel of Matthew doesn't even pretend to give a narrative of David's relationship with Bathsheba. Frankly, it's hard to imagine how Job might be inconsistent with the Song of Solomon. So a relative lack of gross discrepancies isn't in itself all that surprising overall.

    Thirdly, well, actually, it's not really all that amazingly consistent after all. The parts that actually DO report on the same events don't always agree on all the details. The Gospels differ in various minor details, none of which entirely discredits any of them as reasonably reliable human accounts of the events within. But the claim you're making isn't just that the Bible is REASONABLY consistent; you're arguing that its "remarkable" consistency is evidence for its divine nature. And for that, I'm afraid, an otherwise minor disagreement over what was written on the cross or whether God created trees before or after Adam becomes rather more of a problem.

    Sure, many of the discrepancies can be explained away, and a remarkable amount of ingenuity has been devoted towards doing just that. But if this "remarkable consistency" depends on laboured interpretations carefully tailored to produce just that "remarkable consistency", well, then your "remarkable consistency" no longer needs a divine explanation.

  103. All reasoning is circular. You have to start somewhere, and you usually end up where you began. You have to start with God to get to Him, and that is what God shows when He starts with what He did. He says you will never ome to Him unless you believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. You can't get Him by your reason, but He is truly to be found by those who seek Him in the way tht He has given.

  104. If all reasoning was circular, we wouldn't need the word "circular" to distinguish it from non-circular reasoning.

    All reasoning is PROVISIONAL, perhaps, which is to say that its conclusions are always contingent upon the truth values of its premises, but that's not the same as being circular. As long as one recognizes that one's conclusions are at best tentative, one can make valid inferences. I don't have to believe that all cats are lemons to understand that it would follow that my neighbour's cat Buster would be a lemon if it were true.

    I accept that my current beliefs rest on unsupported assumptions, such as the assumption that what we experience through our senses is caused in some way by an objective reality. It might not be, and I have no answer for the question, "What if it isn't?" other than to say I cannot imagine that it isn't. But that may be more a failure of my imagination than a triumph of my wisdom.

    You want me to accept your starting premise, that the Bible is the divine inspired word of God and absolutely reliable. I understand that premise, and I understand some of the things that would follow from it if it were true, but unlike my assumption that there is an objective reality Out There, I CAN easily imagine ways in which your premise might NOT be true. And so I cannot embrace it wholeheartedly as the absolute truth, at least until you show me that my imagined scenarios where it is false are logically impossible.

    One way you might try to do that is by reductio ad absurdum, a method where you assume a faulty premise and show how it leads to a contradiction, thus proving that the initial assumption must be false.

    But this would require you to seriously consider the idea that the Bible is not the word of God, something you have thus far been incapable of approaching closer than to scoff at from a safe distance.