Galactic Interactions

So why am I a *Christian*, specifically?

Warning:: There is no science whatsoever in this post. If that’s going to annoy you, give this one a pass.

In a previous post, I said what role I thought religion and spirituality still could play in the modern, scientific world. All of that applied to any sort of religion or spirituality, and was not specific. However, I have claimed to be a Christian. A lot of people have been asking for me to explain just what I mean by that, since the things I have said seem to contradict most peoples’ notions (Christians and non-Christians alike) of what it means to be Christian.

So why do I say that, and why do I not think I’m the dishonest liar I’m accused of being for saying that, given that I personally don’t really see God as God the Creator? Indeed, if you look at my blog’s former site, you can find a post where I say that I tend not to believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. How can I call myself a Christian after saying those things????

(By the way, if you’re one of those who thought that my previous post on religion was silly, vacuous pablum, you aren’t going to be any happier with this one. Save yourself a few minutes and skip it. Honestly, I’ll be writing about astronomers’ time machine shortly, so we’ll be back to the hardcore science. Save your reading time for that if you’re just going to think that this is a waste of time.)

The first, and most honest answer is, “because I was raised that way.” I grew up in a liberal protestant denomination. This was in the days when the Moral Majority was neither– certainly not a majority. This was before the Bush-electing fundie crowd turned the popular conception of Christianity into “all extremism, all the time.” This was the time when there was such a thing as the “mainline protestant churches,” and that was a place where you could go and be Christian, while still fully accepting things like evolution.

There’s a lot of great stuff in the Christian tradition. You don’t have to be religious at all to be moved by Bach’s or Mozart’s sacred music, for example; as a musician, it’s the music I really like. The popular conception of the sermon is the fire-and-brimstone, all-sinners-are-damned sorts of things, but that is not the kind of sermon one heard in the churches I went to. Indeed, one minister would talk about Stephen Hawking every other month. Yes, it’s about God, yes, it’s about Jesus, yes, it’s about faith, but it was an intellectual, thinking, probing, discussing sort of sermon. I’ve known some who go to church for the music, some for the sermons, some for the community, some for all of it. I personally lean a bit towards the music, although in the past the community may have been #1. (Indeed, it’s significant that I met my wife at church.) But it’s all important.

None of which has anything to do with theology. The question that gets asked is, “couldn’t you find a way to build community of like-minded individuals without all that religious baggage attached to it? Yeah, probably, but church works real well because it’s a long established institution in our society, despite how amazingly diverse it is.

So I’m a Christian because I’ve been raised that way, and I like the traditions. Had I been raised Hindu, I’d give you strong odds I’d still be a Hindu today.

Presumably, however, now that I’m an adult, I have had the time to think about my religion, and I’ve made the conscious decision to remain a Christian. Not just a “church-attending agnostic” (who exist — I’ve even known atheistic Jews who attend temple and teach Sunday School, but who disbelieve in God), but somebody who really professes himself to be a Christian. So what is it about the Christian faith specifically that makes me want to stick with it rather than drifting off to some sort of personally defined vague deist spiritualism, getting my community from a Unitarian church?

There are really two answers to that. The first is that “Jesus is a cool dude whose message I like.” The second is what I, personally, see as the core of the Christian faith. Let me start with the second.

In a previous post, I noted that in Christianity, God is often referred to as “Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer.” In that post, I noted that I personally don’t really see “Creator'” as an important role. If there is a role, it’s not in a “In The Beginning” sort of way, but in an ongoing and complicated sort of way that I probably am not capable of adequately putting into words. (Not, at least, without opening myself up to the usual sort of ridicule.) In the previous post, I also gave some idea what I see the “Sustainer” role as being.)

The “Redeemer” role is not specific to Christianity — although I don’t know a lot about Hinduism, I know that Krishna is called the Redeemer — it is one of the things that has kept me a Christian. To me, the role of God and Jesus as Redeemer is the essential core of the Christian faith. The idea is as follows. Humans are not perfect. We make mistakes. We “sin” — and by that I don’t just mean the Big Stuff like murder and theft, but also the little stuff like participating in flamewars and saying ill-advised things, ignoring the plight of the homeless while buying the latest hot comsumer good, turning the blind eye to the horribly sexist comment your colleague made, etc. We’re not perfect; we’re always doing things that, if pointed out, we probably shouldn’t have done, or that we might regret later. The core message of Christianity, however, is that Christ died for our sins; that, in the end, none of us really are “worthy” in an absolute sense, none of us are perfect, but thanks to “grace,” we will be forgiven. Nobody can ever really be righteous, but we don’t have to, because there is a Redeemer there to help us along.

Now, yes, those who don’t understand this, to whom this is a new concept. or who deliberately want to belittle what I’ve just written will say “it sounds like your religion is a free pass; you can do whatever the hell you want because somebody is going to forgive you.” That’s an interpretation some may take, but that’s absolutely as extreme an interpretation as the interpretation that all atheists are amoral because they have no afterlife to fear. So, please, think a bit before you insist that logically that’s what I’ve just claimed.

Of course we try to do good. Insofar as Jesus was fully and unmitigatedly righteous– which, by the way, he wasn’t, not according to the accounts in the Christian tradition (and I will get back to that)– we should all strive to be as good as him; but we recognize that that is an unattainable goal. Unlike the examples that are set forward to pre-tenure facult as the levels of excellence that we are all supposed to exceed in order not to get fired, in Christianity we have a standard, a goal, that presumably we are all supposed to strive for, but also the message that God loves us and that God and/or Jesus the Redeemer will still accept us as OK even if we don’t attain it.

This is part of what I find appealing about the Christian religion. And, yes, there have been versions of Christianity that don’t seem to accept that it all– the “hellfire and brimstone for anybody who isn’t perfect” versions that seem to be ever more popular. To my mind, they’re all missing the very core of the religion.

Notice that this core of the religion doesn’t require anything about virgin births, bodily resurrection, God the Creator, etc. This is why I still think it’s valid for me to call myself Christian despite not necessarily subscribing to all of those doctrines.

What about the other part? The “Jesus was a cool dude?” part?

In my previous post, I talked about how I was unhappy with replacing “God the Father” with “God the Creator” in the push to remove patriarchal language from the church service. Not because I think that God has a… um, Y-chromosome… but because “Creator” doesn’t capture all of it. Similarly, I have seen some Christmas carols that seem to replace language about Jesus with gender-inspecific language, and that really offends me. Yeah, I guess I can see why they want to get rid of “King,” since that’s very medieval and authoritarian, and really misses the point (as I’ll explain in a moment), but sheesh, can’t we accept a little metaphor? But there are also the rewrites that take out reference to Jesus having had gender. I guess we’re embarrassed that the core figure in our religion was male, now that we’re trying to deny the patriarchy. But, to me, a big point of the Christian religion is that Jesus was human, and for the vast majority of us, to be human means to have one gender or the other. Second, there’s the fact that Jesus is a historical figure, a person who really was, and trying to turn him into some sort of arbitrary “Christ” without any real human identity depersonalizes the religion and drains part of its most important core.

Jesus — the son of God, an aspect of God, the Word Made Flesh, all of that– was human, a person, just like the rest of us. Although Hamlet wasn’t really talking about theology, allow me to interject this excerpt:

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals!

In my previous post, I danced around the notion that God is a human creation. One sentence I like to use is that “God is an integral property of sentient existence.” If humans are made in God’s image, it misses the point to insist that God is a humanoid; “in God’s image” to me is like what Hamlet is talking about: capable of self-reflection, sentience, whatever you want to call it– human consciousness, that not perfectly well understood thing we know that we have but that at least the lower animals do not. (Go talk to Shelley or Greta & Dave; it may well be that some apes and grey parrots are also made in God’s image!)

And Jesus was flawed. According to the stories, he never gave into the temptations of Satan– and, no, I personally don’t view that as a historical account, but as a story that tells us something about who Jesus was. But what were his last words? “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Some Christian traditions hold that the only deadly sin is not having faith in God and faith in Jesus as Savior. And, yet, we have Jesus here saying the words of despair. Jesus, clearly, was human, flawed and all, even according to the stories and traditions of the religion that worships him.

So God as Human is important to me, and that’s part of the core of the Christian religion. What about Jesus specifically? Let’s look at another aspect of Christianity. Jesus was to come as the King to bring about God’s reign on earth, etc. etc. etc. And, yet, what happened? Jesus was born to an unremarkable family. According to tradition, he was born in a stable. He never became a great leader, even in the way that Moses did. Yes, he preached to many. But he lived an errant life, eschewing the temporal power that monarchs would later claim was justified by the “divine right of kings,” even eschewing extreme temporal influence. He preached the opposite of a lot of medieval social philosophy: the poor are not lesser humans and thus worthy of their lot, but if anything exalted. (Blessed are the poor, and all of that.) He spent his life tearing down traditional authority figures, and giving attention to those whom many thought beneath attention. He lived a live of service, of humility. And then he died.

Yes, you can find stuff that’s not consistent with the above. Yes, you can find Bible quotes that are easily (and often) interpreted as Jesus’ threats that you will be damned if you don’t worship him. Accept, however, that the four gospels were written by four different people, and are not consistent. We don’t have a perfect record of Jesus’ life or of his character. But if you look at his life as a whole, the “king” of Christianity is one who, overall, lived a life of humility and service.

That’s also powerful to me. We don’t worship the exalted. We exalt the humble.

Incidentally, this is why a big chunk of Revelation is so awful. To me, that book reads like a bunch of Christians sitting around disappointed with the fact that when Jesus came, he wasn’t the conquering hero who marched across the land, spreading our One True Religion with the sword, smiting the unbelievers and casting them all into utter torment as punishment for being different. So what do they do? Write a book that says, “Ah! But next time, Jesus WILL come with a sword, and then you’d better watch out!” Mind you, I really like Revelation in the same way I like Schwarzenegger movies. It’s the most fun book of the Bible when it comes to colorful characters useful in subsequent fiction. But the whole Jesus as scouring, conquering, sword-bearing, flame-wielding image that shows up in there is completely at odds with the core message of Christianity evidenced by the stories of Jesus’ actual life that have been passed down in our tradition.

To summarize, why am I a Christian? Mostly because it’s how I was raised, and I’m happy and comfortable in that tradition. But why does the theology of Christianity still appeal to me as I’ve had some time to reflect upon it? Because what I see as the two core messages of Christianity really appeal to me. First, redemption; we don’t have to be perfect, but there is somebody out there– Jesus– who has taken our punishment for us, who has the grace to help and forgive us despite our flaws. Second, Jesus was a cool dude. Not only is the core divine figure in the Christian religion fully human, but he is also a human who wasn’t a conquering, ruling figure, but rather a figure who lived a live of service, and who preached acceptance and exalting those on the fringes of society.

Let me end with a few brass tacks. Most people seem to read “being Christian” as accepting some laundry list of doctrines. I’ve already explained that to me, there are just two core elements of the theology, and hopefully my verbiage has made clear that I don’t see them as things that can meaningfully be expressed in a short list, but as things that require some thought and reflection to understand. Of the laundry list of “Christian litmus” tests, where do I stand on all of them?

God the Creator: been there. As I said, I’m not sure I even see that as a role (or at least an important role) of my conception of God.

The Virgin Birth: sorry, no. Yes, many of you Christian and non-Christian alike will claim that this invalidates my claim of being Christian, but read everything above.

Bodily Resurrection: I think I’ll stay with probably not. I wrote about this at length earlier, as I’ve already referenced.

Afterlife: solid dunno here. It seems kind of implausible, but I really want it to be true. Mostly because I want to see what happens! I like the idea that after I die, I’ll have the chance to learn all the things about fundamental physics that we haven’t figured out during my lifetime.

Burning in Hell: literally in the afterlife, no. Jesus has enough grace to forgive anybody, even the worst criminals. Most days I don’t believe that, but I strive to believe that. To me, “Burning in Hell” is best viewed similarly to those who interpret Revelation as an allegory of the early Christian church. We create hell on earth often enough, and sadly a lot of people burn in it. And, indeed, few of them deserve it.

The divinity of Christ: yes. (OMG! Magical thinking! He’s an anti-scientist! the militant atheists now get to cry.) To some extent, I believe in the divinity of all of us. And by divinity, I mean something in that layer of reality that is orthogonal to the physical world. Some of us are more divine than others, none of us more so than Jesus. But it’s a continuum, and for my version of Christianity to maintain what I see as it’s power personally for me, Jesus needs to remain fully human.

Exclusivity: absolutely not. Yes, many Christians, even Christians who accept evolution and think that atheists are capable of moral behavior, believe that you are damned unless you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior– but I do not. We’ve got John 3:18 that says:

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

which to many people is pretty clear. But I’ve already made clear that I don’t believe that a literal reading of the Bible is reasonable or wise, and to anybody who’s willing to be open to the concept it’s bloody obvious that the Bible is self-contradictory in many places. So I reject this verse from John in light of the message of Jesus’ entire life.

Of course, it’s more than that. As I’ve said before, I don’t even think that Hindus, Wiccans, Jews, etc., are wrong in their concept of God. Many just don’t get this, since that way of thinking is inconsistent with a scientific way of thinking. Well, religion isn’t science. But if you want an analogy, there are times when a photon is unambiguously a wave, there are times when a photon is unambiguously a particle, and it depends on how you look at it how much of which aspect you see. Religion, a search for God, is similar. Christianity has power for me, but I don’t expect or demand it has power for everybody. Yes, I will say that Jesus has enough grace to forgive and accept everybody regardless of what they think about him, but I don’t demand that you believe that, and what’s more I will agree to the possibility that you can be just as right as I am if your view of the nature of the divine differs from mine. Or, if you’re an atheist — well, this thing I call the divine I’m always saying is orthogonal to physical reality. Anything that happens as real “miracle,” as real divine intervention, happens through human agency, so there’s no need to invoke the divine if you want to explain the mechanics of it, which is after all what science is all about. But the meaning of it — well, that’s not even a valid question often in science, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a valid question to people, and that’s why we have humanities and theology and other forms of intellectual endeavors that aren’t science.

(Note: I will respond to questions, but not to insults or flamebait.)

Comments

  1. #1 Ambitwistor
    March 15, 2007

    I can understand the “a Christian is someone who believes in Jesus’s teachings, irrespective of his divinity” perspective, although many other Christians would disagree with it.

    I am, however, still fuzzy on your stance on the “What is God?” issue. For instance, the traditional concept of God as some kind of transcendent being (creator or not) with supernatural knowledge or powers. It seems to me that you’re leaning away from that idea, but I’m not sure.

    I’m also not clear on what Jesus’s death or forgiveness is supposed to do with the fact that human are not perfect. Sure, we’re not perfect, but why do we need Jesus to “redeem” us for our mistakes through “grace”? (I’m asking for your opinion, not the opinion of particular denominations.) If Jesus is just a role model that we should all strive to emulate, that’s one thing, but Jesus’s role appears to go beyond that.

  2. #2 Lazarou
    March 15, 2007

    That’s an interesting post with a fairly unique slant on christianity. Dunno if I’d agree with the assertion that you can be a christian while disregarding the virgin birth, resurrection, etc as to do so would be firmly against the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of christians. Anyway, don’t want to start a fight about it!

    My main question is about the redeemer part. I don’t think I understand the role you are trying to describe or the need for the role in the first place. I agree wholeheartedly that humans generally fall far short of righteousness (whatever is meant by that) and that good people generally strive to be better. I just don’t see what is gained by postulating some ‘redeemer’ figure to help with this, or whatever it is that you see it doing. Why can’t human nature be human nature and leave it at that?

  3. #3 Caledonian
    March 15, 2007

    It seems *very* odd to believe in Jesus’ teachings when the only source for those teachings is a set of texts that also claim various miracles were performed by Jesus – miracles that you reject.

    So if you reject those texts as accurate sources, as far as the miracles were concerned (and that whole thing about deities incarnate, which is blatantly supernatural and thus rejected, right? Right?) then why would their claims about teachings be any more accurate?

    If you think the texts aren’t to be trusted, you might still agree with the things that the asserted Jesus is supposed to have said – but it wouldn’t be the case that you could be said to be a follower of that fictious individual. The basic teachings are found in the ethical systems of almost every society, repeating themselves in a thousand forms. The “Golden Rule”, for example, pops up in all kinds of religious and ethical teachings.

    Science-free? I’d say logic- and reasoning-free.

  4. #4 mollishka
    March 15, 2007

    So—and you’re not going to like this—that doesn’t sound all that “Christian.” It sounds like taking the Nicene/Apostles’ Creed and striking things out line-by-line. *shrug*.

    I don’t think many people (watch this not be the case) are going to argue with the, “Jesus was a cool dude” stance. But the way you’ve phrased the redemption argument seems mildly circular. If there were no teachings telling us what horrible people we all are and that we don’t deserve to live, etc., then would we still have the need for redemption? The way you’ve phrased it, it sounds like someone set up a very clever guilt complex for the entire human race, and then been like, but oh wait! I can fix this! What does “God as Redeemer” have that some kind of cathartic-spiritual-but-not-religious process have (e.g., meditation)?

  5. #5 Caledonian
    March 15, 2007

    Hey, mollishka, it’s all about the music in the Christian tradition.

    The music.

  6. #6 mollishka
    March 15, 2007

    Ambitwistor: regardless of whether or not there is a god, there is no such thing as “supernatural.” It’s a bit of by definition thing. If we observe something to happen in the natural world, then it happens in the natural world, and whatever “laws” govern the natural world have allowed it to happen. Just because we don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t natural. For instance, if Jesus actually did walk on water, then there was some physical way in which the water could support his weight. So … in the way you are thinking, I think, if there is a god, then this god (I guess this falls under “god the creator” anyhow) is not a “supernatural” being, but rather, has complete control over the natural world.

  7. #7 MartinC
    March 15, 2007

    I thought the sin that Jesus died for was Original Sin, you know, the stain on humanity caused by Adam and Eve eating fruit from the tree of knowledge (you might have thought that the tree of murder, the tree of torture, the tree of greed etc would have been the ones to avoid), at least that is how I was taught when I went to church.
    Overall the belief system Rob has outlined is pretty difficult to attack for the simple reason that it is so confusing. Where is God in all this ? Shouldn’t ‘he’ be the creator ? If Adam and Eve, and hence original sin, didnt exist, then what is there left for Jesus to redeem ?

  8. #8 Roy
    March 15, 2007

    I was raised by grownups who had great fun lying to children, who enjoyed seeing the children suffer the consequences, who got a thrill out of betraying the trust of children, and who enjoyed decking children with knockout punches.

    That’s my family tradition.

    Do you think I am wrong in rejecting my family tradition?

  9. #9 David Heddle
    March 15, 2007

    Rob,

    I admire what you are doing. I followed the previous discussions with interest but didn’t participate, partly so you wouldn’t be tainted by my support.

    But his time I can’t resist. In reading your posts, especially this one, I have an observation. I have worked at national labs and large research universities. I know probably several hundred scientists.

    You are very ordinary. I mean that in a good way, and I’m not referring to your science, which may be extraordinary as far as I know. What I mean is this: your religious views would be more or less mainstream–or rather representative–among the scientists I know.

    Let me explain a bit more. Blogging, and especially book selling, tends to attract the extremes. And we who live in blogdom forget, at times, that we have immersed ourselves in a self-selected mostly extremist group. The militant atheists like PZ are an extreme minority in science departments, at least in physics departments. So are the conservative Christians like myself. Most of the scientists I know are either “appeaser” type agnostics or they have some spirituality, such as your own, that is a sort of syncretism between a classical theology and their scientific rationalism. Perhaps with a dash or more of deism.

    I just wanted to make that point to the flamers that will surely descend upon you. I have met very few militant atheists (actually, none that I recall) in the real world of day-to-day science, only in this skewed blogo-verse and the shelves of the mega bookstores–and I was a scientist before I was a Christian so it cannot all be explained by assuming they already knew I was a lost cause. And I know only a handful like myself, who are “hardcore” biblical inerrancy type Christians. Everyone else, while not necessarily agreeing with your take, would nevertheless have no problem with it at all.

  10. #10 J. J. Ramsey
    March 15, 2007

    Knop: “in Christianity we have a standard, a goal, that presumably we are all supposed to strive for, but also the message that God loves us and that God and/or Jesus the Redeemer will still accept us as OK even if we don’t attain it.”

    Ok, my turn for some tough questioning.

    Here’s what I don’t get. Judging from your last post, you seemed to think that God was something in people’s heads, not an external being. Yet you write as if this Redeemer existed in the outside world.

    Indeed, your religion seems to be in a limbo of sorts. On the one hand, it shies away from

  11. #11 outeast
    March 15, 2007

    I have to agree with mollishka – as an explanation of why you are a Christian this really sounds like ‘well, I’m not.’

    Oh, well, like the song has it: you say Carmina, I say Carmyna – let’s Carl the whole thing Orff.

  12. #12 Jeff Hebert
    March 15, 2007

    Rob,

    First, thanks for writing about such a personal matter so forthrightly, and I hope you’ll forgive the length of this comment. I have a lot of respect for people who are willing to discuss core beliefs in an open, non-judgmental way. Thank you very much for sharing your experiences and thoughts, they’re very interesting.

    I did though want to touch briefly on this notion of “accepting a laundry list” of doctrines to qualify as being a Christian. I think C.S. Lewis had a very good point in his preface to “Mere Christianity” about this question (bolding is mine):

    Far deeper objections may be felt-and have been expressed- against my use of the word Christian to mean one who accepts the common doctrines of Christianity. People ask: “Who are you, to lay down who is, and who is not a Christian?” or “May not many a man who cannot believe these doctrines be far more truly a Christian, far closer to the spirit of Christ, than some who do?” Now this objection is in one sense very right, very charitable, very spiritual, very sensitive. It has every amiable quality except that of being useful.

    He gives the example of the word “gentleman”, which used to have a very specific meaning of “one who had
    a coat of arms and some landed property”. It later became much more broadly used to mean a person of good moral standing and manners, but in so doing it lost its usefulness as a specific, discrete term. He warns against so “deepening” the word “Christian” that it too loses any virtue of being useful. As he later says:

    A gentleman, once it has been spiritualised and refined out of its old coarse, objective sense, means hardly more than a man whom the speaker likes. As a result, gentleman is now a useless word. We had lots of terms of approval already, so it was not needed for that use; on the other hand if anyone (say, in a historical work) wants to use it in its old sense, he cannot do so without explanations. It has been spoiled for that purpose.

    Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say “deepening,” the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge.

    It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to be a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good. Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.

    I think that makes sense. So while I understand that your personal philosophy is in the spirit of Christ’s teachings, that you believe Christ was divine and attend a church that so teaches, I would respectfully submit that it’s neither accurate nor useful to say that you are a “Christian” if you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ. That’s one of those non-negotiables which, if included in the definition of “Christian”, renders it useless as a discrete term. As Lewis says, it seems more that your use of the term would better be understood as “Someone who finds value and truth in the life of Christ”.

    That doesn’t mean I think you’re wrong or foolish or bad or anything else, I simply mean it in the same sense that Lewis talked about, that it’s so broadening the definition of a useful word so as to make it no longer useful.

    Finally I think David Heddle has a good point that your religious philosophy is actually very mainstream, and far more representative of how the vast majority of people I have ever met feel about their religion.

  13. #13 J. J. Ramsey
    March 15, 2007

    Aaggh! Accidentally hit “Post”. This is what I get for playing w/ a paper clip while typing.

    Anyway, your religion seems to be in a limbo of sorts. On the one hand,it shies away from describing God as an actual being, or of having any tenets that make clear claims about the outside world. You write things like, “Without thinking and caring people, there would be no God,” a sentiment that Dawkins would describe as “sexed-up atheism.” On the other hand, statements like “Jesus the Redeemer will still accept us as OK” seem to be statements that describe Jesus as an external reality.

    What is going on?

  14. #14 nerdwithabow
    March 15, 2007

    Thanks, Rob, for your voice of reason and moderation! I think “atheism” must be a religion given the fervor and intolerance some use to voice their positions. It’s hard to tell them from the religious right.

  15. #15 Brad S
    March 15, 2007

    David Heddle.

    Your sample size of one is clearly statistically significant!

  16. #16 Brad S
    March 15, 2007

    Nerdwithabow

    It really isn’t hard at all to tell the difference.

    Because this seems so appropriate I think I’ll repeat this quote I saw someone, who if I drop their name will no doubt incite frothing at the mouth, post yesterday.

    Fundamentalism is an issue in this case because it is a convenient stalking horse.

    a) You can use accusations of fundamentalism against atheists! It doesn’t matter that the term makes no sense in that context, but all of us here agree that fundamentalism is bad, so it’s a handy insult.

    b) When a liberal Christian is accused of holding silly beliefs, you can say, “Oh, dear, I think you were talking about Pat Robertson, not me!” It’s an easy way to avoid difficult questions because, while it’s true that we don’t think highly of ol’ Pat, we actually were addressing the silly beliefs of liberal Christians.

  17. #17 ThomasHobbes
    March 15, 2007

    Your sample size of one is clearly statistically significant!

    Heddle wrote that he knows several hundred scientists. That is the population from which he draws his conclusion. Of course, there are more than a few hundred scientists in the population, but his observation (be it an anomaly or if it contains some truth) does not appear to be wild speculation or based on a single instance.

  18. #18 Melissa G
    March 15, 2007

    Whatever inspires you, an’ it harm none, is fine by me. I have never known you to evangelize your own beliefs, and I see no reason to try argue you out of them.

    Does this make me a Neville Chamberlain atheist? I prefer to think of myself as an Adam Smith atheist.

  19. #19 nerdwithabow
    March 15, 2007

    I was referring the intolerance for different ideas shown by each side. …and the name calling!

  20. #20 John B
    March 15, 2007

    To summarize, why am I a Christian? Mostly because it’s how I was raised, and I’m happy and comfortable in that tradition.

    I can sympathise with that, as an apostate from the RCC, i have some familiarity with the power of that upbringing in shaping a person’s outlook, forming their preferences and desires… and what they recognise as ‘religion’.

    Although I’m not a believer, I do appreciate the description you gave of ‘God as Redeemer’. Someone asked about the ‘guilt complex’ associated with the teachings of Christianity itself, and I can some familiarity with that, too. Throwing out conscious belief in God, or abandoning your tradition/rituals doesn’t automatically erase the way you were raised. It’s true that Christianity produces the sins it saves people from, but once the code is internalized it’s a constant struggle to identify and reject its effects on your thinking, even for a ‘post-religious’ person. At least that’s been my experience.

    Finally, I liked your discussion of the importance of God as human. I just finished a discussion of Cyril of Jerusalem’s ‘ten dogmas’ for an undergrad class, and they were surprised to learn about the fourth century wrangling over the nature of Jesus, and why the human element of God was so critical to early Christians and the original ransom theory of redemption.

  21. #21 D
    March 15, 2007

    Speaking as a militant atheist, I can’t say I’m interested in disagreeing with much of this, at least not beyond the level of quibbling over notation. So let me ask a somewhat different question: one important reason you said you wrote this series of posts is that the Dawkinses of the world alienate religious people from science. Do you in fact observe that religious non-scientists respond favorably to you? Specifically, have religious people *of a kind who wouldn’t take science seriously anyway* responded favorably to hearing your views? I ask because naively it seems to me anyone who’d be put off by irreligion or anti-religion to the point of ignoring science would also find your heterodox views alienating. Do you in fact occupy a *useful* spot between say Kenneth Miller and Richard Dawkins?

  22. #22 Brad S
    March 15, 2007

    Heddle wrote that he knows several hundred scientists. That is the population from which he draws his conclusion. Of course, there are more than a few hundred scientists in the population, but his observation (be it an anomaly or if it contains some truth) does not appear to be wild speculation or based on a single instance.

    And maybe if all of those observations weren’t linked with one self-avowed biblical literalist’s selection bias that would mean something. But because those observations aren’t independant, and all are linked through one self-reporting sample, it becomes a single instance of me and my army of as big as I say it is.

  23. #23 Decline and Fall
    March 15, 2007

    Nerdwithabow, I propose substituting “ideologue” for “fundamentalist” when discussing the intolerant extremists of any creed. From Stalin to Falwell (and including lesser evils on all sides) it seems to fit.

    Melissa, nice call with the “Adam Smith atheist” moniker. I’ve never been comfortable with the “Neville Chamberlain” designation.

  24. #24 nerdwithabow
    March 15, 2007

    Decline and Fall:

    Point taken!

  25. #25 Brad S
    March 15, 2007

    Nerdwithabow, I propose substituting “ideologue” for “fundamentalist” when discussing the intolerant extremists of any creed. From Stalin to Falwell (and including lesser evils on all sides) it seems to fit.

    Annnnnnnd like clockwork, without fail.

  26. #26 boojieboy
    March 15, 2007

    Now I get it, Rob: you are a Jeffersonian Christian

  27. #27 That guy
    March 15, 2007

    Rob, I was one of the people that asked for more details of your faith. I must say I was hoping for more after all this buildup. But instead of just repeating my request, let me ask you of some more:

    You say that you are a Christian because you were raised that way. But I suspect your beliefs differ even from those of your liberal church. Am I right? How have you reached these different beliefs, if they depend so much on your upbringing? Please tell me something about the process. Can you understand that, for example, rejecting a literal hell and keeping a divine Jesus seems very much like cherrypicking to me?

    You also describe how much you like the Christian beliefs, and that you’d like there to be an afterlife where you’d get to learn more about physics. What can you say about the difference of believing something to be true and wanting something to be true with regard to your faith?

    To me it seems like you hold Christianity dear, because of your upbringing and the Christians you’ve met (and because there actually are decent and good things about some Christian ideas, even I can see that). You’ve let some things go, like the resurrection, but want to keep others. And you don’t want to fess up to holding ungrounded beliefs. I’m sure you feel hurt and angry when your beliefs are bluntly rejected. So you lash out and call people arrogant. And you make this great motion which looks like it will lead to the actual base of your beliefs, but all that comes out of it that I can see is what you believe (with some things hidden, to avoid ridicule), and some slush about orthogonality and how appealing your beliefs are to you.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ve learned anything from this. And I’m afraid you mostly got upset with the responses. I think you need to rethink your approach to this matter, unless it was all about making a stand.

  28. #28 David Heddle
    March 15, 2007

    Brad S,

    And maybe if all of those observations weren’t linked with one self-avowed biblical literalist’s selection bias that would mean something. But because those observations aren’t independant, and all are linked through one self-reporting sample, it becomes a single instance of me and my army of as big as I say it is.

    Not that it matters, beyond pointing out the fact that you don’t read carefully, but I am not a biblical literalist, self-avowed or otherwise. (Which can be demonstrated, for anyone who cares, which I suspect is nobody, by the corpus of anti-dispensationalist posts on my blog, dispensationalists being the biblical literalists of our era.

    Of course, the game you are playing is: He is a Christian, therefore nothing he says is reliable. This is a variant of PZian logic I have seen many times:

    1) No serious scientist believes that science and religion are compatible
    2) What about Professor Miller?
    3) He doesn’t count, because he’s a Christian

    If someone comes along who says they know several hundred scientists, and at least fifty are militant atheists, would that, to you, constitute a sample size of one, or in that case would you apply a different statistics?

  29. #29 Decline and Fall
    March 15, 2007

    Annnnnnnd like clockwork, without fail.

    Oh dear, did I just introduce the Argumentum ad Hitlerium? I think I might have, but that wasn’t what I intended. Sorry about that.

    What I was trying to get across is that there are observable similarities between the tactics and demands of orthodoxy of extremists on all sides, be they religious, moral, political or otherwise. Communists are as capable of purges as Christians.

  30. #30 SteveF
    March 15, 2007

    Well, in my department (earth sciences – sample size 11), there are 3 people that I know to be Christians, with the rest atheist. I’m a proud Neville Chamberlain atheist, as are another 7. Only one member of staff do I know to be a strident atheist and he isn’t overly forthcoming about it.

    Most of us get on with our jobs, and don’t really care about the religion wars type stories that get airplay on Scienceblogs. In this, I very much agree with David Heddle; the internet very much attracts extremes and the debates that often occupy people in the blogosphere are pretty far removed from those of us who are out there doing the science.

    In some respects this isn’t ideal; I think we need to pay more attention to creationism. However, where religion is concerned (provided it isn’t of the creationist variety) I’d say that your average scientist cares much less about it than your average keyboard warrior in blogworld.

  31. #31 boojieboy
    March 15, 2007

    (Forgot to add)

    I’m hep to that, BTW. Seems to me like a perfectly acceptable re-formulation, and I say that as an atheist.

    One more thing: it seems to me that a lot of folks around here require a person’s beliefs to be self-consistent, non-contradictory. It is this apparent inconsistency that the rationalists find so annoying about your stated beliefs. This is the same habit in my wife that I find so annoying. Usually I trot out an old Whitman quote that serves well to parry that thrust:

    Do I contradict myself?
    Very well then I contradict myself,
    (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

    IOW: a person’s beliefs and actions are a complex system, and have multiple causes, and multiple effects, some of which will result in contradictions. It will require too much energy to ferret out the inconsistent ones, but why bother? Better to know your own contradictions, and make your peace with them. You’ll be happier in the long run (except when you choose to expose them to the scrutiny of others, as you have done here).

  32. #32 Brad S
    March 15, 2007

    David Heddle,

    Consider using a different term then.

    And I know only a handful like myself, who are “hardcore” biblical inerrancy type Christians.

    From the wikipedia article on Biblical Inerrancy (which humorously enough is the first hit when you google “Inerrant”).

    Biblical inerrancy is the doctrinal position [1] that in its original form, the Bible is without error; “referring to the complete accuracy of Scripture, including the historical and scientific parts.” [2]

    What the hell did you expect me to think? Maybe you should think ahead next time.

    And your selection is still biased. You based your assumption that if there were militant atheists, you’d know about them, when clearly militant atheists are going to be precisely the types that steer away from you.

  33. #33 David Heddle
    March 15, 2007

    Brad S,

    What the hell did you expect me to think? Maybe you should think ahead next time.

    Just one more comment to you Brad, then I’ll stop, not wanting to hijack the post. But a tiny bit of thinking and a tiny bit of research would reveal that there is a vast, recognized difference between believing that the bible, in the original writing, was inerrant, and adopting a literal hermeneutic for interpreting it. The distinction is well-known and understood in theological circles–it’s OK that you don’t know it, but don’t blame me for your ignorance.

    What the hell did I expect you to think? Nothing beyond I expected you to think.

  34. #34 David Williamson
    March 15, 2007

    outeast:

    There are parts of the world where puns of that degree are considered hanging offenses. Ugh! :-)

  35. #35 Brad S
    March 15, 2007

    David Heddle,

    The onus is on you to represent yourself correctly, I couldn’t possibly have known that when someone identified themselves as a hardcore subscriber to Biblical Inerrancy, as in you’re pretty much into the term (Biblical Not-in-error) that they instead meant that they weren’t the hardcore hardcore Biblical Inerrants, but the Hardcore Milquetoast Biblical Inerrants.

    Clearly we crossed wires. Now lets agree to be disagreeing e-pals.

  36. #36 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    I just don’t see what is gained by postulating some ‘redeemer’ figure to help with this, or whatever it is that you see it doing. Why can’t human nature be human nature and leave it at that?

    You could do it that way. I find it more appealing to have some explicit absolution, to have the notion that there is a Redeemer who will grant us grace in spite of our flawed nature. This post was about why *I*, specifically, am a Christian. It wasn’t supposed to be trying to convince everybody that they need to think the same way.

    You are very ordinary. I mean that in a good way, and I’m not referring to your science, which may be extraordinary as far as I know. What I mean is this: your religious views would be more or less mainstream–or rather representative–among the scientists I know.

    This would be my guess, too.

    My views also are at least somewhat similar to the views of some theologically liberal Christian pastors I’ve spoken with.

    I thought the sin that Jesus died for was Original Sin, you know, the stain on humanity caused by Adam and Eve eating fruit from the tree of knowledge (you might have thought that the tree of murder, the tree of torture, the tree of greed etc would have been the ones to avoid), at least that is how I was taught when I went to church.

    I don’t buy the doctrine of Original Sin in its literal sense. The notion that Adam and Eve screwed up, so all of the rest of us are guilty as a result for all time. It’s silly on a couple of levels. First, because it requires you to accept some form of the Genesis creation stories as literal history, which is absurd given our modern understanding of science. Second, because it condemns everybody forever more because of the sins of the fathers.

    I prefer to read the Genesis creation myth as a story, a parable, about the intrinsically flawed nature of humanity. In that sense, “Original Sin” is just the fact that we aren’t perfect– which is what I was writing about above.

    Do you in fact observe that religious non-scientists respond favorably to you? Specifically, have religious people *of a kind who wouldn’t take science seriously anyway* responded favorably to hearing your views?

    Nope. To them, I’m just one more of the liberal elite trying to destroy society by undermining Biblical literalism; if anything, I’m worse than the militant atheists, because I claim to be Christian. They view me the way we scientists view the Discovery Institute.

    Where I do hope perhaps I might make some difference is with the fence sitters. With the people for whom their religion is important, but who aren’t convinced that their religion requires strict adherence to some specific dogma. With people who are interested in and fascinated by science, people who are open to and ready to accept science, but don’t want to completely throw out their religion in so doing. I’m that kind of person, and I’ve made peace with the apparent conflict. Very few have. If you read a lot, you *mostly* read either the militant atheists calling for an end to all religiosity in the name of supporting science, or you read religionists who view modern secular society as a threat to their traditional values.

    There *are* people in the middle, people on the fence, people who really are religious but are open to the discoveries and knowledge of modern science. *They* are my real target audience. The convinced Biblical literalists– I’m sure there’s absolute nothing I can do to convert them.

    But I *have* had religious people respond favorably to me in the past! In both an “outreach to science” context, and in a context of speaking at a theologically liberal church.

    “Without thinking and caring people, there would be no God,” a sentiment that Dawkins would describe as “sexed-up atheism.” On the other hand, statements like “Jesus the Redeemer will still accept us as OK” seem to be statements that describe Jesus as an external reality.

    What is going on?

    What’s going on is that I don’t have all the answers. My thinking evolves, and even varies from day to day. I don’t have a great answer to the question.

    I’ve already quoted Hamlet. Let me quote another great work of Western Literature– specifically, Babylon 5. In one episode, G’kar (a former war leader who has become a spiritual leader for his race) is challenged to define “What is Truth, and what is God?” He tells the student that they don’t really want an answer to that question, but the student persists. So, he offers this answer:

    If I take a lamp and shine toward the wall, a bright spot will appear on the wall. The lamp is our search for truth, for understanding. Too often we assume the light on the wall is God, but the light is not the goal of the search, it is the result of the search. The more intense the search, the brighter the light on the wall. The brighter the light on the wall, the greater the revelation upon seeing it. Similarly, someone who does not search, who does not bring a lantern with him, sees nothing. What we perceive as God is the by-product of our search for God. It may simply be an appreciation of the light, pure and unblemished. Not understanding that it comes from us, sometimes, we stand in front of the light and assume we are the center of the universe. God looks astonishingly like we do. Or we turn to look at our shadow and assume all is darkness. If we allow ourselves to get in the way, we defeat the purpose – which is use the light of our search to illuminate the wall in all its beauty and all it flaws, and in so doing, better understand the world around us.

    Mind you, this is dialog from a popular science fiction TV show which was written by a convinced atheist (JMS). Yet, I really like this passage. JMS wrote more thoughtfully about religion and spirituality than almost anybody else I’ve seen on television.

    In some respects this isn’t ideal; I think we need to pay more attention to creationism. However, where religion is concerned (provided it isn’t of the creationist variety) I’d say that your average scientist cares much less about it than your average keyboard warrior in blogworld.

    All of this is very true — including the part that we should all be more worried about creationism than many scientists seem to be at the moment.

    One more thing: it seems to me that a lot of folks around here require a person’s beliefs to be self-consistent, non-contradictory.

    Or, even, evolving. It is only the most extreme of Biblical literalists who think that all understanding of faith is in the past, and that all that is left is for us to blindly follow it. Most theologians think that there is still a lot of work to do, and that there probably always will be work to do, in understanding faith, our relationship to it, and our its relationship to the world.

    As Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Of course, “foolish” is a key qualifier there.

  37. #37 etbnc
    March 15, 2007

    Behaviors matter.

    I’m pleased to see some folks exploring the relationship of demonstrated behavior to credibility and to persuasiveness. It seems to me those folks see something important and helpful.

    Thanks for that contribution, y’all.

  38. #38 mollishka
    March 15, 2007

    I was mildly wondering how long it’d take for there to be another B5 reference …

  39. #39 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    On Biblical literacy and Biblical inerrancy : I personally don’t subscribe to either. But, it is possible for something to be true without being literally true.

    A number of years ago I was the best man at a wedding between two friends of mine, Mike and Margo. Before the wedding, the minister (an episcopal minister) was speaking with the wedding party, and he told the following parable of truth vs. literal truth.

    Suppose that one day Mike gets home from work before Margo. When he’s at home, he watches the sunset, and is truly moved by the beautiful sight. Alas, the sunset has passed by the time that Margo gets home. In attempt to describe the sunset to Margo, does Mike say, “The greater scattering cross-section for shorter wavelength light by small particles in the atmosphere led to a preferential transmission of reddish light, thereby yielding a net reddening of the observed hue of the sky”? Or does he say, “The sky was on fire”? The latter is not strictly true; Mike is not trying to tell Margo that the atmosphere was undergoing combustion. But the latter does a far better job of conveying to Margo how he felt when observing the sunset.

    Even Jesus taught in parables! I would think that that would be enough by itself for Christians who (unlike myself) want to maintain the Bible as the Word of God to realize that they don’t have to read the whole thing as literal and unquestionable history!

    -Rob

  40. #40 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    I was mildly wondering how long it’d take for there to be another B5 reference …

    When it’s me we’re talking about, one can never go long without a B5 or HHG2G reference….

    -Rob

  41. #41 sean
    March 15, 2007

    I can see how someone could feel grateful that Jesus paid for our sins. But only if you accept that what Jesus paid for are actually sins, i.e. there is a god who will judge you. Not sure how that jibes without a creator god.

  42. #42 Julia
    March 15, 2007

    Again, thank you for being willing to share something of your personal Christianity.

    Not everyone, of course, who professes a religion is actually trying to come to a personal understanding of who/what God is and what our relationship is to God. But I think that many of those of most or all religions are trying to do just that.

    Human beings are creative thinkers, and so there are enormous variations in the stories we frame to describe that understanding. I too am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, partly because my familiarity with the Christian story makes it easier for me to use it, rather than another religion, as guidence and metaphor. I too find some concepts as virgin birth, resurrection of the body, etc. to be essentially irrelevant to my beliefs. I believe in God because of an experience I had that was so compelling that it is impossible for me not to believe, even though I have tried. In my efforts to formulate a concept of what that belief means in my daily life, I’ve found my best (though not only) guide to be Jesus, and therefore I am a Christian.

    I’ve noticed how fundamentalists tend to refer to those who accept evolution as Darwinists. They then procede to state what they think Darwin said and meant, and declare that the final defining word on what those who accept evolution think. No amount of explanation changes the fundamentalists’ minds about their belief that they know better than people who accept evolution what it means to accept evolution. Fundamentalists do the same thing with atheists. They tell atheists what atheists think (“you believe it’s OK for people to do anything, no matter how awful,” etc.), no matter how many atheists say, “No that isn’t what I think.”

    I’ve discovered in the months I’ve been reading Science blogs, that some atheists tend to do the same thing in regard to Christians. I’ve several times seen statements like this, “You say you’re a Christian. Well, then, no matter how many times you say otherwise, you DO believe in an invisible sky-daddy riding around on the clouds.” Such people usually grasp that our understanding of science (say, of evolutionary theory since Darwin) evolves. But at the same time some seem to find it difficult to grasp that the religious views of a person who believes in God may evolve too.

    I think you are clearly, by your posts, a follower (in some meaning of that word) of Jesus. As a thinking human being, it’s not only your right, it’s your duty, to figure out for yourself exactly what that means to you. I admire your willingness to make public some part of that very personal ongoing process.

  43. #43 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    Rob your other blog was deleted so im posting this here..

    I’m not talking about false religion. What I have found is true religion and I can believe with 100 % surety…. Correct, people with false religion can’t say they have 100 % surety in there faith. ex(Thunder gods created thunder.)

    Was an atheist there when the earth was formed? No. So what sources do they use to make them feel “Comforted”? They use the dirt around them. – How accurate is that?
    Now, if I was born in a sand box and had No way out because I was caged in; would I know what was outside that sandbox? No, not unless I have a reliable source, or experienced being outside that sand box for myself.

    Here’s the good stuff.-

    Is my source a 100 % accurate? Have I ever been let down by my source?
    No. So am I 100 % sure my source is accurate… yes. I’m getting my information from a source that was there. (GOD) Atheists guess what was there. How accurate is that?

    Really good stuff-

    So how can the bible be accurate…? If you interpret it the way it was meant for. What better source to ask then the one who created it? GOD.
    For example,

    How can the Old Testament and New Testament be about the same God? The Old Testament talks about killing people, when they sin. Now, the New Testament talks about forgiveness and love when they sin. I ask the one who is telling me this…, (GOD) “God how can this be?”
    He answers:
    If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,'[b] you would not have condemned the innocent. – Mathew 12:7(New Testament)
    This is also found in the Old Testament several times. (Hosea 6:6)
    From that God told me, he gave authority to those who were being sinned against. God said as punishment for you sin you can either be sacrificed or forgiven. Before you flip out read this statement–

    –If you were paralyzed in a car accident from someone malfunctioning, then the judge would give you the opportunity to forgive them or press charges. The charges could be up to a million dollars or so, it’s all according to what the judge says. Or you can forgive that person who was malfunctioning which God desires much more.
    Read this post carefully and don’t look just one way. If you only LOOK ONE WAY and never see what God is actually saying, then you will always interpret the bible WRONG.
    I’ve done the same with all the other questions of the New and Old Testament.
    God won’t talk to you until you listen to him. How do you listen to him? Follow his commands. The second time I ever heard God speak literally to me he said “follow my commands” Am I hearing voices, am I hallucinating? I obviously see something you Guys don’t. I’d advise you to print and study this, before accusing me I believe in a God that doesn’t exist.

    – Child of God who cares for you.

  44. #44 Kristjan Wager
    March 15, 2007

    I’ve several times seen statements like this, “You say you’re a Christian. Well, then, no matter how many times you say otherwise, you DO believe in an invisible sky-daddy riding around on the clouds.”

    Well, Julia, there is a difference in saying to people that they cannot call theselves Christians if they don’t believe in a god, and that if they believe in a god they must think in a certain way.

    Your example with the Christians telling atheists what they believe is similar to the second.

    An similar situation to the first, would be to tell someone calling themselves atheists, that they are not atheists if they believe in a god.

    It’s a simple matter of definitions.
    Of course, people are free to redefine the words, but it doesn’t allow for very conductive conversation if you redefine words to mean the exact opposite of the original meaning.

  45. #45 drcharles
    March 15, 2007

    thanks for sharing your thoughts. i really agree with your “divinity in all of us” perspective… very carl sagan-esque.
    thanks for your courage.

  46. #46 Hans
    March 15, 2007

    KNOP ??? Is someone paying for this? Or, are you craving attention that much? Get laid or something, for Zeus’s sake!

  47. #47 Tulse
    March 15, 2007

    a person’s beliefs and actions are a complex system, and have multiple causes, and multiple effects, some of which will result in contradictions. It will require too much energy to ferret out the inconsistent ones, but why bother? Better to know your own contradictions, and make your peace with them. You’ll be happier in the long run

    Tell that those who oppose vaccination on religious grounds. Tell that to those who oppose blood transfusions on religious grounds. Tell that to those who engage in all sorts of destructive behaviour due to “inconsistent” beliefs.

    Whitman’s sentiments are fine if we’re talking about food preferences, or the kind of clothes you like, or trivialities like that. But religious views have huge impacts on the lives of their believers and others. This isn’t only true for “secular” concerns like politics — many (if not most) Christian religions assert that holding only one set of proper beliefs are necessary to avoid a literal eternity of torment, and other religions avow that only specific beliefs will avert serious consequences (e.g., re-incarnation in a lower lifeform). I think you’ll find that both the Pope and most imams are fairly adamant that “contradicting yourself” and “containing multitudes” on issues like homosexuality and abortion are simply not acceptable.

    And Rob, count me among those who have carefully read this and your previous posts, and are still massively confused by your beliefs and the reasoning behind them. Here are few things I don’t understand that I hope you can clarify:

    – How does someone allowing themselves to be killed give the rest of us forgiveness for acting badly? Especially if you’re not clear whether that someone has any special powers (since God doesn’t act in the world), and that person didn’t have any role in making us in the first place? How do they even how the power to grant us forgiveness? Isn’t it usually the case that only the person you’ve offended can forgive you? If I declare that I am dying for the sins of the world, and throw myself in front of a bus, would that have the same effect? If not, why not?

    (I personally find the whole notion that enduring torture and death somehow grants forgiveness to others to be not only incoherent, but phenomenally repugnant, and only a idea that a sadist could come up with. But perhaps that’s just me.)

    – If there is no exclusivity of “truth” for a particular religious belief, then how do you make sense of beliefs that say yours is literally (and “damnedably”) wrong, that you are endangering your immortal soul to believe what you do? Are they “right” in some fashion? Surely, whatever equivocating you want to do about conflicting religious beliefs, it is an actual matter of fact whether you will spend an eternity in hell or not? Talk about waves and particles is all well and good, but it seems incoherent to think that your soul is like a photon whose final disposition depends on how you look at it — surely it is either in an actual hell, or not (either because such a place doesn’t exist, or you’re someplace else, or you have no soul to begin with).

    – On a similar point, if Jesus forgives us our imperfections (or sins), what exactly count as sins? Various religions have, at times, thought that killing unbelievers was a proper, even holy, act — would that be a sin that needs to be forgiven? Or, because those particular religions don’t view them as sins, are they actually not transgressions? If a psychopath doesn’t think that they do anything wrong, do they need to be forgiven at all? In the past there have been various religious groups that have thought humans incapable of sin — were they correct? If there is no privileged religious dogma, then how do you even know that there is such a thing as acts that need forgiveness from some supernatural being? Where does this apparent absolutist view of morality come from, if all beliefs are equally true (or at least if no belief is the “truest”).

    To be honest, Rob, I really don’t see how you can consider yourself a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word given your beliefs. That doesn’t mean your beliefs aren’t valuable to you (they clearly are), but I think you are mislabelling them, and that is confusing. Not believing in the resurrection of Jesus, or an afterlife/immortal soul, or a creator God, pretty much runs counter to any Christian sect’s beliefs. Although you seem to reject the label, I think it is more accurate to call yourself a “cultural Christian” — you like the trappings (e.g., music, community, sense of tradition), but your actual beliefs are far more deist or Unitarian (to the extent that Unitarians have any single view). I think there are plenty of deists, or at least Unitarians, who would agree that Jesus was a righteous and cool dude, and pretty much hold many if not most of your other views. Certainly these traditions would be far more accepting of your views that practically any “Christian” sect.

  48. #48 Julia
    March 15, 2007

    Of course, people are free to redefine the words, but it doesn’t allow for very conductive conversation if you redefine words to mean the exact opposite of the original meaning.

    I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I’m following you.

    It seems unlikely that you are saying that there is somewhere on record an “original meaning” of the word “Christian” that reads “believer in an invisible sky-daddy riding around on a cloud”? It also seems unlikely that you are claiming that words are somehow confined by “original meaning,” as the meanings of word constantly evolve. In other words, I doubt that you are using the original meaning of “happy” when you say “silly.”

    So I’m probably missing your point.

  49. #49 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    I`m not trying to be rude, but I`m posting this twice because I feel God wants me to.

    Rob your other blog was deleted so im posting this here..

    I’m not talking about false religion. What I have found is true religion and I can believe with 100 % surety…. Correct, people with false religion can’t say they have 100 % surety in there faith. ex(Thunder gods created thunder.)

    Was an atheist there when the earth was formed? No. So what sources do they use to make them feel “Comforted”? They use the dirt around them. – How accurate is that?
    Now, if I was born in a sand box and had No way out because I was caged in; would I know what was outside that sandbox? No, not unless I have a reliable source, or experienced being outside that sand box for myself.

    Here’s the good stuff.-

    Is my source a 100 % accurate? Have I ever been let down by my source?
    No. So am I 100 % sure my source is accurate… yes. I’m getting my information from a source that was there. (GOD) Atheists guess what was there. How accurate is that?

    Really good stuff-

    So how can the bible be accurate…? If you interpret it the way it was meant for. What better source to ask then the one who created it? GOD.
    For example,

    How can the Old Testament and New Testament be about the same God? The Old Testament talks about killing people, when they sin. Now, the New Testament talks about forgiveness and love when they sin. I ask the one who is telling me this…, (GOD) “God how can this be?”
    He answers:
    If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,'[b] you would not have condemned the innocent. – Mathew 12:7(New Testament)
    This is also found in the Old Testament several times. (Hosea 6:6)
    From that God told me, he gave authority to those who were being sinned against. God said as punishment for you sin you can either be sacrificed or forgiven. Before you flip out read this statement–

    –If you were paralyzed in a car accident from someone malfunctioning, then the judge would give you the opportunity to forgive them or press charges. The charges could be up to a million dollars or so, it’s all according to what the judge says. Or you can forgive that person who was malfunctioning which God desires much more.
    Read this post carefully and don’t look just one way. If you only LOOK ONE WAY and never see what God is actually saying, then you will always interpret the bible WRONG.
    I’ve done the same with all the other questions of the New and Old Testament.
    God won’t talk to you until you listen to him. How do you listen to him? Follow his commands. The second time I ever heard God speak literally to me he said “follow my commands” Am I hearing voices, am I hallucinating? I obviously see something you Guys don’t. I’d advise you to print and study this, before accusing me I believe in a God that doesn’t exist.

    – Child of God who cares for you.

  50. #50 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    Rob, what would you think of the hypothesis that (something like) “emotional attachment to supernatural explanations” (despite the logical implausibility of God) and “emotional attachment to inductive method” (despite Hume) are both attributes with a genetic substrate, and that you are towards one end of the spectrum in relation to both?

    With the PZ crowd being hi-inductive lo-spiritual?

  51. #51 HI
    March 15, 2007

    Rob,

    So, you are Christian essentially because you were raised as that way and like being a Christian. I respect your view and I’m glad that you are aware that the reason you are a Christian has a lot to do with the environment you grew up and not because you think it is the One True Religion. And that is exactly why I’m not a Christian.

    One reason that atheism appeals to me, besides that I think it is the most rational position, is that it is the fairest position. Anyone from any part of the world can be an atheist. The same is not true with Christianity. A Christian may argue that the church is open to anyone. But the reality is that Christianity is such a foreign religion to a Japanese guy like me, despite the efforts of missionaries and all the good things Jesus taught, or the fact that my grandparents were among the 1% or so of Japanese population who are Christians. It may not be as difficult as non-Japanese to believe in Shintoism, but is close. The struggle to be Christian was an important theme that made the Japanese Christian writer Shusaku Endo fascinating to read. But I think the most elegant solution is to be an atheist. Everyone is born as an atheist after all. Being an atheist doesn’t mean that you have to reject what Jesus taught or what Buddha taught.

  52. #52 Eamon Knight
    March 15, 2007

    As an ex-Christian now-atheist with an interest in the science/religion interface, I’ve been following this whole thing with some interest (not that I’ve had time to read the entirety of all the comment threads — good grief, even Pharyngula seldom gets threads this voluminous!). A few randomly-ordered thoughts:

    First: are you a Christian? Definitions are inevitably arbitrary and fuzzy-bordered, but I say that anyone who self-identifies as such, who affiliates with a Christian church, and whose beliefs ultimately trace to the Christ of the Gospels in some way, is a Christian, however heterodox his take may be on the tradition. So: Yes.

    As for the nature of your Christianity: With respect, you’ve arbitrarily picked out the bits of Christian scripture and tradition that appeal to you and tossed the rest[1]. Not that I disapprove particularly — I did it myself for a while, and IMNSHO, fundamentalists also cherry-pick outrageously, much though they would deny it. It is to your credit that you have picked out the “nice” bits and ditched the more obnoxious ones. It has long seemed to me that religious people create God in their own image — and the deity they wind up with tells us much about the person.

    Is your religion consistent with science? As far as I can tell, you’ve eliminated all concept of an interventionist God from your theology, so I think the answer is “yes”, in the sense that it does not conflict with science — it exists conceptually alongside and independent of science. Of course, there seem to be some folks (PZ and Moran?) who argue that science (ie. the scientific way of thinking about things) should permeate one’s life, and be applied to everything. In that sense, your non-rational feel-good theology, being based neither in empirically-verifiable evidence nor in self-evident logic, is not compatible. Being neither a professional scientist nor a philosopher thereof, I really couldn’t say what science is “supposed to be”. These days, I tend to try to run my life along the latter lines (the NOMA approach turned out not to be psychologically stable for me), but I see that as a personal choice, not as a universal truth.

    As for whether this belongs on SB: Sheesh, it belongs here at least as much as PZ’s rantings (my reaction to which varies widely from day to day), or Brayton’s “Dispatches”, or the intra-SB sniping between the churchills and the chamberlains. The interaction between science and everything around it in human culture is certainly “on topic”. (Hell, a lot of posts on many blogs here are almost purely political, with scant connection to science). There’s gotta be, what, a couple of dozen blogs here; I don’t read more than a few regularly. Anyone who threatens to abandon SB altogether because one astronomer gives an occasional sermon is being silly.

    [1] Flawed though it is, the infamous “Lord/Liar/Lunatic” trilemma (at least as originally formulated by Lewis, before McDowell got ahold of it) does point up the inconsistency of accepting the “Good Teacher” aspect of the Gospel Jesus while arbitrarily tossing out the supernaturalism. As I understand it, the Jesus Seminar represents an attempt to provide a consistent rationale for recovery of an historical and natural Christ from the text. But I’ve never read any of their stuff, so I don’t really know.

  53. #53 Alejandro
    March 15, 2007

    Rob:

    Answering: “Why can’t human nature be human nature and leave it at that?” you said: “You could do it that way. I find it more appealing to have some explicit absolution, to have the notion that there is a Redeemer who will grant us grace in spite of our flawed nature.”

    I think that what many commenters find puzzling about your stance here and in other parts of your posts is that you seem to choose your beliefs according to what you would like to be true. You find it more appealing to have explicit absolution, therefore you think there is. You would like to have an afterlife, therefore you believe you might have one even if you admit the evidence weighs against it. And so on.

    I find it a bit less puzzling because I have read fideists defend their faith before (my favourite, and best counterexample to “if you are religious you are anti-science”, is Martin Gardner) but is still find it mildly puzzling. Believing something is just thinking that this something is true, true independent of your beliefs. And believing that something is true, is, to my mind, inseparably connected to finding, by one’s best lights, that there are good reasons to think that it is true. You have addressed many “reasons for believing” in the sense of the goodness that believing does to your life, but no “reasons to believe that “God exists” is true”. And you have come close to admitting that there are no such reasons. Don’t you think there is something paradoxical in this?

    (The reasons to believe that “God exists” is true don’t have to be scientific, you have agreeed that there are not. They can be philosophical, in various senses of the word. But I, at least, would find it difficult to keep a belief that I don’t have any reason at all to think corresponds to an independent reality.)

  54. #54 Alejandro
    March 15, 2007

    By the way, the line “Honestly, I’ll be writing about astronomers’ time machine shortly, so we’ll be back to the hardcore science.” made my day. I sure will be waiting for that post! Is it about closed timelike curves in general relativity?

  55. #55 Kristjan Wager
    March 15, 2007

    Ok, first of all, please note that none of what I am saying has anything to do with what Rob wrote – it’s purely a reaction to the comments. I have no issue with Rob wanting to define his Christianity differently than what most people would.

    Now, for what Julia wrote.

    It seems unlikely that you are saying that there is somewhere on record an “original meaning” of the word “Christian” that reads “believer in an invisible sky-daddy riding around on a cloud”?

    Unless you mean it literately (in which case you are attacking a strawman), the yes, I do mean that.

    Being a Christian means that you believe in God and his son Jesus Christ – hence the name. Now, there have historically been some debate about the divinity of Jesus Christ, even within the Christian churches, so not believing in that, is not a requirement for being a Christian. However, lack of belief in a God would disqualify you from being one.

    It also seems unlikely that you are claiming that words are somehow confined by “original meaning,” as the meanings of word constantly evolve. In other words, I doubt that you are using the original meaning of “happy” when you say “silly.”

    No, I do not claim that. I am very well aware that the meaning of words evolve (heck, there are several words in Danish that have two directly opposite meanings because people misunderstand the original meaning), however that doesn’t mean that people can redefine words as they like.

  56. #56 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    But I’ve never read any of their stuff, so I don’t really know.- eamon

    Why not find out what was said in the seminar? Or is science more important then the possibilities of God? Without God, Satan will send many messages to you preventing you from growing in knowing who Christ really is. If you were truly an ex-Christian which I believe there is no such thing, then you would know what Jesus said in that seminar.
    James 2:17
    In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
    If you work someplace, ex (the fire department,) but never hasn’t or isn’t going there are you still a fireman. No. Same thing with a Christian… If you don’t do what a Christian dose then you’re not a Christian. Yes that includes everything. Dose this make sense—
    I’m a fireman who goes to work, but doesn’t put out fires. Instead I go to work to watch them. Now you’ve changed the whole view on what it means to be a fireman.
    This also goes with Christianity. You can’t say you believe some parts of it but not the others. If you do that, you’re changing the whole view of Christianity. If you’re a Christian who doesn’t ask God for answers, then you will never know truth. Of course Satan can bring you down and make you think false doctrine.
    Is it not easier to bring someone down then it is to bring them up?

  57. #57 J. J. Ramsey
    March 15, 2007

    Thank you for your response. More questions, as I wait for some molecular statics runs to finish. :)

    Rob Knop: “What we perceive as God is the by-product of our search for God.”

    But if we are searching for something, do we not at least have a rough idea of what we are searching for? If I search for my keys, I definitely have something specific in mind. Even if I am searching for something less well-defined, as I might if I were going on a journey to “find myself,” I still have a rough idea of what to look for, such as a better understanding of my own traits, or some “Aha!” moment. “God” is a term that has to correspond to something, whatever it may be.

    Another question, whose response got half-lost amongst the trolls. What do you mean by “knowledge of God’s will,” especially if God is not an external entity?

  58. #58 potentilla
    March 15, 2007

    JJ Ramsey – but if you search for “love”, say, – something which your evolved human psychology has made you desire – you don’t have anything very specific in mind, do you? You might be able to put some words together for the object of your search if requested, but your original search is not so specific?

  59. #59 Sam Gralla
    March 15, 2007

    Hi Rob,

    With all due respect, I think you are very confused about what the core of Christianity is. I would recommend that you read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”, where he extracts it. You don’t practice Christianity; rather, you practice what Lewis calls Christianity-and-water. You pick the parts of the core message that you like, and ignore the ones you don’t like. You might as well make up your own religion and call it “Christianity”.

    If Christianity is true, you’re going to hell. Luckily, Christianity is not true.

    -Sam

  60. #60 David Heddle
    March 15, 2007

    I question whether Josh is a sock puppet (is that the right term?) Making a reference to the Jesus Seminar that Eamon mentioned, Josh writes:

    If you were truly an ex-Christian which I believe there is no such thing, then you would know what Jesus said in that seminar.

    It is hard to imagine a conservative Christian, of which Josh may be, but about whom I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts isn’t–suspecting instead that he is someone doing a poor job at a caricature of a fundy, would say such a thing. There can’t possibly be many conservative churches that haven’t preached on the foolishness of the Jesus Seminar, and Josh, were he truly a conservative Christian, would almost surely know that the Jesus didn’t say anything in the Jesus Seminar.

    As an aside, the Jesus Seminar really was foolishness. There are plenty of legitimate scholarly attacks on the historicity of the gospels and the truthfulness of the miracles, attacks that we Christians must take seriously. The Jesus Seminar is not one of them. We are not talking scholarship at the level of Bertrand Russell here. This was a group, and this is an exaggeration but not much of one, who believed that their credentials empowered them with the privilege of voting, using little colored cards, on the veracity of a given biblical passage, and that the censuses arrived at by this process should be respected as authoritative.

  61. #61 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    to JJ…
    If I search for nothing, then is that something specific? If I search for no God is that something specific? No… It makes sense to search for God.
    – Reason I’m saying this is because I believe God is love.

  62. #62 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    David I was refering to the Seminar in the bible. Mathew John etc.(The new testament) I didnt know if eamon ever read the bible. So, I talked to him as if he didnt.

  63. #63 Julia
    March 15, 2007

    note that none of what I am saying has anything to do with what Rob wrote – it’s purely a reaction to the comments. I have no issue with Rob wanting to define his Christianity differently than what most people would. . . . that doesn’t mean that people can redefine words as they like.

    Apparently your comments are directly specifically to me, so I feel I owe you the courtesy of trying to understand them. But I still don’t get what they have to do with anything that I said.

    Certainly, people “can” redefine words as they like. They do it frequently. Often that results in misunderstandings, sometimes not. Sometimes it results in a gradual shift in other people’s view of the world. (Here in the US, there isn’t even a language board or authority to take offense, though of course some other places do have such.)

    I agree that Rob has the right to define his own view of being a Christian differently than some other Christians do. Each of us does. I’ve known two people who called themselves “atheists” while saying they believe there is indeed something in existence that other people call a God.

    My comments were in support of Rob’s right to define for himself what he means when he announces himself as a Christian, the right of atheists to define for themselves what being an atheist means to them, etc.

    Evidently, you strongly object to some point I made, but I can’t tell what it is. Judging by the quote you have repeated twice, your objection seems to have something to do with my dislike and rejection of the claims of people who tell me that when I say I believe in the existence of God that means I MUST be believing in a “daddy” type figure, an invisible discrete object/person, a thing in a specific physical location (e.g., on top of clouds).

    Or are you thinking that I have re-defined some word, particularly in some way that you don’t like? I’m not aware of having redefined any word. If you wish to explain once more exactly what it is about my comment that you dislike or disagree with or whatever, I’ll be glad to try again to understand you.

  64. #64 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    There is this daddy type figure in your mind. In order to know this daddy type figure you have to have a relationship with him. As you have a relationship with God, this daddy figure will turn into something more. Is this not the same for every relationship? For instance, if I see the weird old guy but never talk to him, in my mind he will always be a weird old guy. But if I talk to this guy and become friends with him, I may then think he?s not so weird or old.

  65. #65 Julia
    March 15, 2007

    There is this daddy type figure in your mind.

    No, Josh, not in my mind.

    Not every concept of God involves a daddy-type figure, nor a discrete figure of any kind. But perhaps that’s what Kristjan Wager is also thinking, that anybody who denies the sky-Daddy riding around on a cloud is denying that God exists? Thanks for the hint. You may be right.

    Clearly, Rob’s concept of God is not of a discrete Daddy-type figure,either.

  66. #66 J. J. Ramsey
    March 15, 2007

    potentilla: “JJ Ramsey – but if you search for “love”, say, – something which your evolved human psychology has made you desire – you don’t have anything very specific in mind, do you?”

    No, but as with my example above of a journey to “find myself,” I still have a rough idea what love is supposed to be even before I search.

  67. #67 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    Rob look at an egg.
    There is three parts of an egg that all serve different functions.
    You might not want to eat the shell because it doesn’t seem tasty but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not part of the egg.
    God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all the same.
    If you remove God the father from that, then you are simply taking off the shell because you don’t want to eat it. Not realizing that the shell holds everything together.

    You would not have the egg without the shell.

  68. #68 Tulse
    March 15, 2007

    Certainly, people “can” redefine words as they like. They do it frequently. Often that results in misunderstandings, sometimes not.

    “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'”

    Julia, no disrespect meant, but your position is close to sophistry. I can redefine “fidelity” to include “having sex with Scarlett Johansson”, but I’m sure my wife would argue that that definition is wrong. I can redefine “Massai” to include “shlubby Caucasian guys in North America”, but I doubt that anyone else would agree. I can redefine “embezzlement” so that it doesn’t encompass stealing from my employer, but I’m positive that the police would say they “support Tulse’s right to define for himself what he means when he announces himself as a non-embezzler”.

    While it is true that language usage changes over time, it is absurd in the extreme to say that there are not well-established definitions of terms in current use, and that it is possible to use a term that conflicts with such definition. And that’s pretty much what I think is the case with Rob and “Christianity” — he’s simply using the term incorrectly, in a way that is radically at odds with how it is used by practically everyone else who uses that label.

    Note that this issue is completely separate from whatever arguments there are about the content of Rob’s views, whether his beliefs are rational. One could easily hold that Rob has a right to believe whatever he wants, but that it is inaccurate to call those beliefs “Christianity”.

  69. #69 Lisa
    March 15, 2007

    From the Answers.com dictionary for Christian, used as a noun.
    1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
    2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

    I also looked at Wikipedia’s Christian article, which first says something about believing certain things and later says something about just being a follower of Christ. So I think people who say that you have to believe in certain things (other than wanting/trying to follow in the way of Jesus, or something like that) are the ones using a non-standard definition the word Christian.
    Somehow I have gone through life (as a native English speaker) thinking that the word “Christian” means pretty much “follower of Christ”, and yet a few people act like it would be crazy to use that definition. I can understand if you disagree with the definition, but the idea that “Christian” simply means “follower of Christ” is not something Rob is just making up.

    PS I liked your post–very interesting.

  70. #70 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    Julia I know God is looking for you and if you start looking for him he will run to you. I’m confident of that. Always question him directly and be patient.
    -That’s how I found him.
    Rob I’m glad you posted this blog it helps one to question their beliefs. I feel you really need to question whether God is listening or not. You shouldn’t be the only one who believes what you do. Was not the same God here 100 years ago? Jehovah witnesses started there own beliefs recently in the 1900. They wanted something that’s related to them. This is one of many examples – Jehovah’s believe in a heaven where they’re in charge of there own planet… They think that’s how heavens going to be. But you and I know were going be with God not away from him. I’m concerned Rob because your adding to the bible without realizing it. It’s just the same as the Jehovah witnesses and many others of denominations Christianity. There is only one way to look at the bible and that’s Gods way without adding or taking things from his word. If something doesn’t make sense, I challenge you to question him directly. – God wont listen to you untill you listen to him.

  71. #71 DavidD
    March 15, 2007

    “Anything that happens as real ‘miracle,’ as real divine intervention, happens through human agency”

    The most amazing thing to me about the comments on all these posts here and those elsewhere I found triggered by this is how many people, including Tulse, write as if they’ve never heard of liberal Christianity before in their lives, as if Rob Knop made this up. Have you heard of JS Spong? You could go a little more traditional than Spong and read The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg. Borg believes in an active Holy Spirit unlike Spong and apparently unlike Rob if the above quote means what I think it means. I also notice Rob says nothing about believing in prayer even for mental help from God. Yet Rob is certainly still a liberal Christian in almost its most rational form. People can deny anything mystical about Jesus and still be Christian according to how in fact people do see themselves to be authentic followers of Christ that way.

    Now what ScienceBlogs needs is a blogger who believes there is a Holy Spirit who works with individual prayers as Borg does, even if every good scientist knows that physical miracles are not observed, and still find no conflict in that. Oh well, there are plenty of resources for people to understand that on their own if they want.

  72. #72 Lisa
    March 15, 2007

    As an aside, I understand that some Christians who think that their beliefs are the only ones that are valid may feel better excluding people who don’t have the same beliefs from their definition of “Christian” so that they can say that “those other people aren’t really like us at all”.
    I do not understand as well why some atheists/agnostics would disagree with Rob’s usage of the word. It seems some of them feel he is using it completely differently than everyone else, but in my experience his is the most common use of the word. It seems those who disagree must talk with quite different people than I do? Maybe they are spending a lot of time arguing with the fundies? The “normal” religious folks may be quieter, but I think there are more of them.

  73. #73 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    Lisa, Rob is believing somthing not based of Christs teaching.
    no where in the bible dose christ teach or base his teachings on the following :
    Rob-
    God the Creator: been there. As I said, I’m not sure I even see that as a role (or at least an important role) of my conception of God.
    Rob-
    The Virgin Birth: sorry, no. Yes, many of you Christian and non-Christian alike will claim that this invalidates my claim of being Christian, but read everything above.

    From the Answers.com dictionary for Christian, used as a noun.
    1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.

    -read my fireman post from earlyier- and I like your name I have a sister named lisa

  74. #74 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    This was before the Bush-electing fundie crowd…

    Let me guess, was it the time of fundy baptist Jimmy Carter the second worst president?

    Notice that this core of the religion doesn’t require anything about virgin births, bodily resurrection, God the Creator, etc.

    So, what are you being redeemed from again? What do you think happens when you die?

  75. #75 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    The “normal” religious folks may be quieter, but I think there are more of them.

    So, who elected Bush? That takes numbers and they still spend a lot of time playing to the anti-abortion, war on evil/terrorism and the anti-gay crowd.

  76. #76 jb
    March 15, 2007

    Man, I might be really, really tempted to claim Christianity (however I care to define that for myself and my own purposes for publicizing the claim) just to count myself among the thorns in PZ’s craw. So I could sit back and watch him bleat and crow and hop from one stubby little leg to the other, beat his hairy chest and emit loud screeching noises as if in defense of his harem from a more impressively virile young male. If he had a harem to defend, that is, who didn’t all look like wannabe Dr. Who clones. But that’s not a harem… is it a “stable” or just a “gang?”

    Of course, I always found the great ape exhibits at the zoo to be highly entertaining.

    Oh, and to get a lot of traffic to my blog too, but that’s not the real, true, heartfelt and most personally satisfying reason…

  77. #77 Julia
    March 15, 2007

    Julia, no disrespect meant, but your position is close to sophistry. . . . he’s simply using the term incorrectly, in a way that is radically at odds with how it is used by practically everyone else who uses that label.

    Of course your comments aren’t disrespectful; you’re just expressing your opinion, just as Rob expressed his and I expressed mine.

    I’ve never met Rob, nor did I know much of anything about his religious beliefs until a day or two ago. But his use of “Christian” is not at odds with mine, nor with that of many other liberal Christians.

    It isn’t sophistry to explore further the specific characteristics of a concept, even if that concept is represented by a term that many, many others see in a very narrow meaning. It may well be that if you took a vote in the United States today to see just what people mean when they say “evolution,” the terms “godless,” “without evidence,” and “just a theory” would be part of the majority definition. It isn’t sophistry to challenge that definition and argue for a different meaning of the term.

    If someone replies that “evolution” is a scientific term and therefore only scientists get to define it, I could (but wouldn’t because it isn’t my opinion) reply that “Christian” is a religious term and therefore atheists don’t get any say in what it means. Humpty Dumpty is wrong because language is a social construct, and no individual (normally) gets to impose a meaning on unwilling others. But a term may remain viable, useful, undistorted when subgroups of the society have different detailed meanings for the same term, so long as there is some sort of overlapping core (sometimes illustrated in textbooks with venn diagrams).

    Already “Christian” has a fairly broad acceptance as having a core meaning something like “follower of the teachings of Jesus” with no necessary baggage about literal Bible stories about virgin birth, etc. Lisa gave some examples.

    It is common and reasonable for members of the society to constantly reevaluate what they want to point out as the core meaning of a term, as well as its peripheral meanings and connotations. Surely a part of what goes on with the judiciary and in philosophy is considering and re-considering what certain words mean.

    My comments on meaning were mostly in the way of attempts to understand the objection to my original post. If Josh’s comment is pointing me in the right direction, then I suppose it may be that “sky-daddy riding on a cloud” is being here in this thread, as it has been on several other Science blog comment threads that I’ve read, offered as a useful part of or paraphrase of the definition of “belief in the existence of God.” That phrase isn’t a straw-man I’ve made up, but an approximate quote from several different atheist writers and speakers.

    I’m not even here arguing for the existence of God. I’m merely pointing out a fact. For me, I think perhaps for Rob, and for many other Christians, there is nothing in those words that reflects anything we mean or believe when we say “God” or when we say “Christian.”

  78. #78 Tulse
    March 15, 2007

    From the Answers.com dictionary for Christian, used as a noun.
    1. One who professes belief in Jesus as Christ or follows the religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
    2. One who lives according to the teachings of Jesus.

    I have gone through life (as a native English speaker) thinking that the word “Christian” means pretty much “follower of Christ”, and yet a few people act like it would be crazy to use that definition.

    Lisa, I understand your point, but I respectfully think it’s mistaken, at least in terms of Rob’s beliefs. First off, “Christ” is not the same as “Jesus”. “Christ” is a title, roughly translating as “messiah”, meaning the one prophesied in the Old Testament. One can think that Jesus was a cool dude, and yet not believe that he was the the messiah (this is in fact the case in some non-Christian religions). In other words, one can be a follower of Jesus and yet not be a follower of “Christ”.

    Second, here is just one teaching of Jesus:

    “And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.”

    As I understand it, Rob does not believe in a “God the Father” (as in creator), or necessarily in heaven, or that God imposes his will on earth, or that he provides material sustenance. That would seem to conflict a fair bit with Jesus’ teaching. So again, I’m not sure how this qualifies Rob as a “Christian”.

    To be honest, I’m not sure this issue is all that important. Rob believes what he believes, and how he labels it doesn’t change that. I find his label confusing, because it is at odds with almost every other religion that claims that label, but it doesn’t impact on the rationality (or lack thereof) of the actual content of his beliefs, which are, at least in this venue, presumably the more important issue.

  79. #79 Julia
    March 15, 2007

    Tulse, Rob does say that redeemer is one of the functions/aspects of Jesus that he accepts.

    “Father” and “Creator” are not exact synonyms. A person may be one and not the other.

    The word “Christ” historically just means “anointed.” Merriam-Webster online defines “Christ” as “Jesus,” and as “a professed or accepted leader of some hope or cause” (as well, of course, as “the expected king and deliverer of the Jews”). The fact that you yourself apparently think that the synonym “messiah” has to mean that Jesus was personally referred to by that term in the OT doesn’t mean that all Christians, or even most of them, agree with this literal reading.

    Once again, Rob’s concepts are not new, unique, or even unusual to Christianity. They are well within liberal Christian boundaries. I’m sorry (I mean that) that you don’t think that people who believe like Rob and I do deserve the name “Christian.” However, your views of some of the various specific requirements are, as you can see simply from basic dictionary definitions, not a necessary core meaning of the term.

    As for,

    To be honest, I’m not sure this issue is all that important.

    I can see how you might think that, but claiming a right to the name “Christian” is just as important to one who considers himself to be a member of that group, as the right to the name “atheist” is important to the one who considers himself a member of that group. In other words, very important indeed.

    And now I must leave because I have the happy task of preparing for a joint birthday party: my mother is 89 and my grandson is one. Thanks again to Rob Knob for making this discussion possible.

  80. #80 Jenn
    March 15, 2007

    I’m not going to get into the religion debate. I have enough of a debate about that just among me, myself and I. I just wanted to say that, everything else aside, the line:

    I really like Revelation in the same way I like Schwarzenegger movies.

    was enough to have made this worth reading ;)

  81. #81 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil

    This is not all at odds with my views. But it requires a different reading from Tulse’s.

    First of all : “which art in heaven.” Is heaven a literal place? Dunno. But define heaven as “the domain of God,” and sure; it’s something orthogonal to the processes of the natural world, perhaps, but, then, that’s not too far off from conceptions of God that I have.

    “Thy will be done on earth….” I *know* I’m not off half-cocked here because what I’m about to say is cribbed directly from a sermon at a Presbyterian church. This is not a statement of how we think things are. This is not us saying “God imposes his will on Earth,” but us praying that we would like to see that happen. “Give us this day our daily bread” — it’s really not too hard to interpret break metaphorically here for the sort of sustenance that comes from God the Sustainer I wrote about in my previous post.

    In any event– there does seem to be another person here from a theologically liberal Christian tradition! Thank you, Julia, and I hope the fact that she also says that my views are not particularly strange or “out there,” but are well within the bounds of what a lot of modern theologically liberal Christians believe. Perhaps one of the greatest problems we have in the culture wars is that we are allowing the fundamentalists to define what Christianity is– and the militant atheists are helping them corner that definition by refusing to accept it when more moderate Christians try to define it otherwise! It’s always more fun to have enemies than people you could potentially be allied with even if you disagree with them, I suppose.

    -Rob

  82. #82 David Harmon
    March 15, 2007

    First of all, Rob’s position is not some bizarre chimera that he made up to escape being called a fundamentalist. This sort of Christian has been around since the beginning (look at a few of the early saints). As someone pointed out early but briefly in this thread, the position is lately known as “Jeffersonian Christian”. You know, that guy who helped found a nation, and in his spare time published a Bible with all the miracles edited out?

    For those confused by the Redeemer motif, try looking at it in psychological/anthropological terms. (The motif is repeated in individual psychology, and in social custums, and in mythology.)

    Briefly, the idea of “sin” is closely based on the the breaching of tabu (taboo). When major taboos are violated, this creates a psychological or social disruption, which must be repaired in some fashion, lest the chaos engulf the whole.

    On the social level, execution or exile are classic responses (see the Old Testament), but too much of that can seriously screw with your population base. So, most societies come up with some ritual (often punitive) by which the offense can be erased, and the person’s life “redeemed” from godly wrath. That’s what we’re seeing in the tale of the adulterous woman, except that Jesus is also getting the credit for the idea.

    On the psychological level, the classic responses to the “psychic breach” caused by a taboo violation are usually summed up as the “infantile defenses”. In those terms, the “redeemer” motif can be summed up as a combination of several defenses: “projection” onto an “idealized” figure, in this case a father-figure who can “make it all right”. (Jesus as “sun child” has a more complex interpretation, but I don’t want to get into that now.)

    See, it can even be put into scientific terms. Do you feel better about it now?

    Anyway: Bravo Rob, for your “coming out” and your lengthy self-analysis. It’ll be good to have someone manning a fort outside the Citadel of the Godless. ;-)

  83. #83 Eamon Knight
    March 15, 2007

    Josh writes: I didnt know if eamon ever read the bible. So, I talked to him as if he didnt.

    [sigh] Josh, I read the Bible plenty, back in the day. And prayed. And believed all the right fundamentalist things. And even witnessed to people. And now I’m an atheist. Whether that makes me “never was a Real Christian” or “still is saved (but doesn’t know it)”, I obviously couldn’t give a hoot about. Go argue that out with Heddle (he thinks the former).

    Sam Gralla writes: I would recommend that you read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”, where he extracts it. You don’t practice Christianity; rather, you practice what Lewis calls Christianity-and-water.

    Um, since you yourself don’t believe in Christianity, why do you choose C.S.Lewis (or any other particular writer) as the authority on what Real Christianity is? You are measuring Rob w.r.t. a particular standard of orthodoxy — but why that one? Why not Bishop Spong’s? Why not 10th century Catholicism? Or 2nd century Gnosticism? The great Creeds got hammered out just as much on the basis of ecclesiastical politics as on theological logic (and if you don’t believe there’s an objective referent behind it, you can see why this must be so).

    I realize that the “creedal” is a popular and natural-seeming way to define religions, but (having been influenced by John Wilkins) I think it is equally or more appropriate to see Christianity as a historical object — an evolving and ramifying movement, whose self-definition(s) have changed over time. Rob’s (and Julia’s) beliefs (and the modern liberalism of which they are a part) are rooted in the tradition of the Jesus myth just as much as Falwell’s fundamentalism or Pope Ratzi’s Catholicism — thus, they are equally “Christian”.

  84. #84 David Heddle
    March 15, 2007

    Eamon,

    I read the Bible plenty, back in the day. And prayed. And believed all the right fundamentalist things. And even witnessed to people. And now I’m an atheist. Whether that makes me “never was a Real Christian” or “still is saved (but doesn’t know it)”, I obviously couldn’t give a hoot about. Go argue that out with Heddle (he thinks the former).

    Actually my (baseline) position would be identical to yours, namely we would agree

    1) That you sincerely believed, and
    2) You weren’t saved

    the only difference is why we believe (2) — you because you now think Christianity is false, therefore you could not have been saved before since, as an atheist, you would now contend that there is no such thing as being saved. And I believe (2) because I don’t think you can lose your salvation, even by voluntarily surrendering it, so if you don’t have it now, you didn’t have it then. John 3:16 promises eternal life, not eternal life for a few years.

  85. #85 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    There is only one way to look at the bible and that’s Gods way without adding or taking things from his word.

    Josh — this sort of anti-intellectual, unthinking approach to Christianity is why any of us have a problem with this in the first place.

    If your form of Christianity cannot adapt and adjust to fit with the modern world, then it should be tossed aside.

    So am I 100 % sure my source is accurate… yes.

    Your source isn’t even self-consistent. And there are things in there that we know are wrong if we insist upon interpreting it the way that you do.

    Your version of Christianity is baldly and obviously inconsistent with the modern world.

    I get attacked because of unscientific thinking, because I haven’t defined my terms well enough, because some people don’t like me using a label I use, because my views on religion are considered to be dangerous to some. But you deny real knowledge in the name of your religion, and frankly, it’s people like you who give all of us who are religious a bad name. Please, please, wake up.

  86. #86 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    Rob’s (and Julia’s) beliefs (and the modern liberalism of which they are a part) are rooted in the tradition of the Jesus myth just as much as Falwell’s fundamentalism or Pope Ratzi’s Catholicism — thus, they are equally “Christian”.

    Yes, thank you — it’s nice to see an atheist unwilling to baldly accept the fundamentalists’ definition of what it means to be Christian. (And I know that lots do. Just not so much on this thread….)

    -Rob

  87. #87 Sam Gralla
    March 15, 2007

    A born-and-raised Christian who clings to his religion by redefining it is very much like a bad theorist who clings to his theory by adjusting it for compatibility whenever a new reason to disbelieve it comes out. You can do it, but everybody will know you’re just attached to what you’re used to, and will stop taking you seriously.

    This is of course the precise position of “liberal Christians” like yourself.

  88. #88 Tulse
    March 15, 2007

    Rob, Lisa, David, this ex-Catholic is willing to grant your superior knowledge about “liberal” Christianity (my theology is heavily coloured by Papist pronouncements [and yes, I use that term jokingly]), and that it has a not-insignificant following. But my guess is that the official teachings of an overwhelming majority of Christian denominations are at odds with the beliefs Rob expresses. (I may be wrong on this, and I’m willing to be corrected.)

    In addition, I have always seen Jefferson referred to as a Deist, and, given that he “sought to separate [Jesus’] ethical teachings from the religious dogma and other supernatural elements that are intermixed in the account provided by the four Gospels”, I don’t see how that makes him a Christian in the religious sense any more than following John Rawls’ theory of justice make one a “Rawlsian” in a religious sense, or following Gandhi’s ideals would mean that one is a religious “Gandhian”. To reiterate a point made earlier, thinking Jesus is an important ethical thinker does not necessarily make one a “Christian”.

    claiming a right to the name “Christian” is […] important to one who considers himself to be a member of that group

    I genuinely don’t understand why this is such a concern — surely one believes what one believes, regardless of the labels (are Mormons any less Mormom because some say they aren’t Christians?). I don’t believe in the existence of the supernatural, but I don’t really care if one calls me an atheist, nontheist, freethinker, or whatever. I simply (don’t) believe what I (don’t) believe.

    In any case, even though I may not understand the reason that the label is important to you and others, I do understand that you all feel it’s important. However, given that this issue is extremely tangential to the question of the content of beliefs, I’m happy to acknowledge and accept your position and not spend more time on this particular matter.

    the idea of “sin” is closely based on the the breaching of tabu (taboo). When major taboos are violated, this creates a psychological or social disruption, which must be repaired in some fashion, lest the chaos engulf the whole.

    Sure, there are plenty of anthropological/sociological/psychological approaches to religious belief. I’m not sure what the point is of this kind of analysis in the current discussion, however. If anything, those approaches suggest that religion is created by humans to fulfill some kind of need. How does that help Rob?

  89. #89 tedlove
    March 15, 2007

    well said Sam Gralla. i couldn’t have put it better myself.

    Rob apparently thinks he is doing himself some service by ignoring the distasteful stuff in the bible – and he surely is, but it is no intellectual service. what reason does he have for believing any part of christianity is true after admitting that the bible (the book off of which christianity is based) is not?

    this is why i can muster some respect for the fundamentalists because, if anything, at least they are principled.

  90. #90 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    This was in April of 2006.
    I had a dream…
    In this dream I got into a motorcycle accident and died. The first thing I saw was some familiar faces. I was being greeted by these familiar faces and while being greeted, I went down a slide of ice… At the bottom of the slide was this door. Greeting me at the door was another familiar face, he was laughing and he said, “He’s in side.” “Who could be inside,” I thought. I went through the doors and I saw a crowd, in the middle of this crowd was Jesus. Jesus resembled a rock star, I never expected him to look the way he did. His beard was unlike any other beard I’ve ever seen- It was in strands. The crowd was still around him, I noticed a piece of bread in his hands. He then dropped the bread; it hit the ground and shattered into many pieces. The pieces were the same size as the one he dropped. I pondered, “If that’s God I want to hug him.” I then went over and hugged him; he was sitting down facing the opposite way. I hugged his back then after I hugged him he said El Shaddai. I never heard this phrase before until he told me. After I hugged him I walked away because I was nervous, but all of sudden I was sitting. I saw Jesus in front of me also sitting. I was frantic because I didn’t know what to say and I wanted to say something. The first thoughts that came to my mind were, “Are you God the father?” At that time I was unclear of the relations of God the father, God in the flesh, and God the spirit. As soon as I thought “are you God the father” I awoke. I felt upset with myself. I thought I could have done better then that, for my first encounter with Jesus. Little did I know, “El Shaddai” was the answer to my thought. Later that morning I looked up El Shaddai on the internet. At first I typed in el shaddu because I didn’t remember the right pronunciation, search corrected me and stated do you mean El shaddia. I clicked yes and found out El Shaddai = God the almighty one. This disproves the law of time. For God answered my question before I even thought it.

    I thought, “Are you God the father”. Jesus answered me moments before “El Shaddia – I Am God the almighty one.

    I love God
    This is a true testimony of me,a normal a person who decided to trust God. How can you trust someone, if you never give them a chance.

  91. #91 cbutterb
    March 15, 2007

    I’m an atheist who likes the fundies’ definition of Christianity a lot better than Rob’s. It’s for precisely the same reason that I like physics’s definition of energy better than that from some fung shui home redecorator: it’s clear, distinct, and bloody useful. Definitions that are infinitely malleable are useless in a conversation that’s supposed to lead to some sort of actual knowledge.

  92. #92 tedlove
    March 15, 2007

    I hugged his back then after I hugged him he said El Shaddai.

    “el shaddai” sounds an awful lot like, “this is just a dream, idiot”

  93. #93 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    Quick to respond… This is how Jesus was treated by the Pharisees. Am I throwing my pearls among pigs?
    Now, if I tell you I have a part two of this. That�s not a dream. I know for fact you would respond in same way.

  94. #94 tedlove
    March 15, 2007

    no my response would differ. if you told me that you really hugged Jesus – i would call you a liar. either you are lying to yourself, or just to me. but in either case, it didn’t happen.

    how would you respond if i told you that i had an interesting conversation with Zeus, at the conclusion of which i kissed him on the cheek? surely you would think me delirious?

  95. #95 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    Clearly you know Zeus is not a reliable God. Do I know Jesus Christ is a reliable God? Yes. I’d be careful on what you say before you say it.
    Read my previous comments before spiting at me.

  96. #96 Caledonian
    March 15, 2007

    There’s nothing wrong with using metaphor.

    Confusing the metaphor for reality, or refusing to distinguish between metaphors and reality when asked to clarify – there’s something wrong with that.

  97. #97 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    Right Cale… that is the difference between Atheism and Christianity… I shared that same testimony with many Christians. It only helped their faith and their relationship with God. How dose it affect an atheist. It only makes them angry and defensive. If God appeared in front of you right now. You might believe for a second it was real, but God knows you would start to conjure up reasons on how it wasn’t, after he left. For example, “maybe I’m not breathing correctly causing me to hallucinate.” “Or maybe I was food poisoned.”

    This is how it will be until you repent.

  98. #98 Norman Doering
    March 15, 2007

    tedlove wrote:

    if you told me that you really hugged Jesus – i would call you a liar. either you are lying to yourself, or just to me. but in either case, it didn’t happen.

    Have you considered the possibility that Josh is psychotic?

    Ask him about the other believers he knows, is he part of a group, a church, something – do they speak in tongues…? How do his ideas go over within his own group of believers.

  99. #99 tedlove
    March 15, 2007

    norman:
    he sounds psychotic to me, but i thought i was just dreaming it….. “el shaddai, god said.” if that is supposed to be a convincing exercise of his existence, im not buying it.

    what’s god doing visiting Josh in his dreams, anyway? not to mention im sure (if he existed) he’d have plenty of better things to do than hug people in dreams.

  100. #100 Mike
    March 15, 2007

    Rob, you seem to be hanging your hat on the idea that your kind of divinity is orthogonal to the physical reality you study as a physicist. Isn’t this something that could potentially be tested? For, if they had some mixing, you could notice an amount of this divinity having an effect on our world. Of course I have no idea how that would work, but your assertion of orthogonality is pure conjecture and could easily be wrong. Are there other reasons you believe the orthogonality?

    However, it seems that since you are a physicist and have rejected “God as Creator”, this orthogonality is very essential to your concept. Might I even say you have come up with this to nicely compartmentalize the divine from the physics as an attempt to shield your belief? What I’m getting at, is that you seem to have a semi-testable hypothosis (we can’t prove they are orthogonal, but can possibly find evidence they aren’t) and so perhaps your religion isn’t so insulted from reality as you think.

    All of the other examples you have used in trying to convey “knowledge” not gained through science, are at least not orthogonal to science. Things like art, love, justice, describing sunsets, have large components that are empirically accessible. Your concept of divinity stands in contrast.

  101. #101 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    Ted to my response you did respond in the same way. You acted the same and you had the same emotions towards me. I like how Norman questions me.
    What do I truly believe? Who do I associate my beliefs with?
    I’m a Non denominational Christians. What do they believe?
    * Everything in the bible.
    * Even the parables
    Well I see some flaws in that? You might question. Tell me what you don’t believe and I’ll tell you what God said. How can I do that? Simply, because I have a relationship with a living, breathing God.
    What about other denominations of Christianity?
    *I don’t believe some of them are true because they add stuff to Christianity.
    For example Catholics believe Mary was and is holy. Also to worship Mary— no where in the bible dose it say to do that… it was added.

  102. #102 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    what’s god doing visiting Josh in his dreams, anyway? not to mention im sure (if he existed) he’d have plenty of better things to do than hug people in dreams.

    Posted by: tedlove | March 15, 2007 08:33 PM

    Its because he loves me

  103. #103 Josh
    March 15, 2007

    I’ll talk to you guys tommorow. Goodnight

  104. #104 Pseudonym
    March 15, 2007

    Thanks again for this post, Rob. It’s very good.

    I might as well come out, too. I’m also a person who follows the teachings and example of Jesus, which probably makes me a “Christian”.

    One thing I’d like to comment on is this comment from the post:

    Yeah, I guess I can see why they want to get rid of “King,” since that’s very medieval and authoritarian, and really misses the point (as I’ll explain in a moment), but sheesh, can’t we accept a little metaphor?

    A lot of the teachings of Jesus are framed using a concept he called “the Kingdom of God”, and he went to a lot of trouble to point out that it is almost the complete opposite of the sorts of kingdoms that you’re used to. As an example, in the Kingdom of God, leaders lead by service (e.g. washing the feet of his followers).

    One of the things that I find most impressive about Christianity, and it’s probably the one true innovation that Christianity had that no other religion before it really had, is that from its first days, it was never tied to a government or ethnic group. If you like, it was the first religion that was really designed to be “separated from state”. This goes right back to Jesus’ teachings, from his “Kingdom of God”, to his “render unto Caesar” and so on, and follows through Paul of Tarsus with his insistence that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female”.

    This may come as a surprise to some people who are so used to seeing the merging of Christianity and worldly politics. Yes, this is something that’s been lost during the era of “Christendom”. But it’s slowly coming back, as a grassroots movement of thinking, scientificially-literate Christians. You won’t hear about them on TV, because they don’t have their own TV shows. Many (most?) of them don’t even go to church. But they’re very much there.

    The non-government, multi-ethnic nature of Christianity also explains one reason for its success: It can adapt and adopt to new cultures and philosophies. This new movement can be interpreted as Christianity adapting to the postmodern era. The Religious Right can be interpreted as a backlash against the forces of the postmodern era, especially liberal democracy.

    If it’s any consolation, the Religious Right can’t win. Unfortunately, they can do a lot of damage in the mean time.

  105. #105 windy
    March 15, 2007

    The most amazing thing to me about the comments on all these posts here and those elsewhere I found triggered by this is how many people, including Tulse, write as if they’ve never heard of liberal Christianity before in their lives, as if Rob Knop made this up. Have you heard of JS Spong?

    Interesting. Spong’s theses explicitly apply the results of science to understanding God. He seems to feel that the traditional Christian concept of God has been disproved by science. Why isn’t applying science to God insulting when Spong does it?

  106. #106 Eamon Knight
    March 15, 2007

    Rob replies to me: Yes, thank you — it’s nice to see an atheist unwilling to baldly accept the fundamentalists’ definition of what it means to be Christian.

    You’re welcome. In my case, it’s probably due to a personal history of sliding from fundamentalism all the way through liberalism and out the end (though I skipped over your precise degree of liberalism and jumped straight into frank unbelief).

    Meta-argument about the nature of definitions:
    The traditional definition of religion tends to be a “creedal” one, accepted by both modern fundies, and lots of atheists. However, I soon came to realize that most definitions (in religion or elsewhere) have an inescapable fuzziness around the borders (which isn’t to say that anything goes, either, contra some other commenters). Then (being a t.o regular for much of my liberal period) I encountered Wilkins “historical” approach to classifying the stuff of the world, which made a lot of sense.

  107. #107 Michael
    March 15, 2007

    You are on the path to atheism. I don’t mean this flippantly, nor do I mean that atheists are more advanced. What I mean is, if you apply rationale to this topic you eventually end up in a place where Biblical mythology doesn’t work anymore. You jettison more and more of it until there is none left.

    I was pretty seriously Christian for a long time, but the more I read, the more I discussed and the more I thought about it, the less tenable it became.

    I agree, Jesus was a wise man. I don’t think I disagree with any of his teachings. As a Christian I took the whole “son of God” thing to mean that we are ALL sons of God. I.E. I don’t think Jesus was insane with his God talk. He was just wise, like Buddha was wise. He wasn’t born of a virgin, he did not rise from the dead and he doesn’t sit at the right hand of the Father. He was a wise human. Now he’s a wise dead human.

    I also don’t take atheism to mean there is nothing more than this. Atheism means that we don’t have any reason to believe one fanciful hypothesis over another. But anything is possible.

  108. #108 Rob Knop
    March 15, 2007

    This is how it will be until you repent.

    Josh — cut it out. That kind of stuff is not helping the conversation.

    I also don’t take atheism to mean there is nothing more than this. Atheism means that we don’t have any reason to believe one fanciful hypothesis over another. But anything is possible.

    That sounds closer to what most people call agnosticism than what most people call atheism, but perhaps I misunderstand what you’re saying.

  109. #109 DavidD
    March 16, 2007

    “Why isn’t applying science to God insulting when Spong does it?”

    It does insult people that Spong writes as if his alternative to the traditional God is the only possibility that is compatible with science. At the same time Spong is a theist who doesn’t engage in all the attacks that some atheists make against any kind of theism.

    I don’t see any way to make the God of the Bible compatible with science. Spong’s God is at one end of the spectrum of what deity is compatible with science, short of no deity at all. Francis Collins is at the other end. As much as Collins wants his God to be the same as that of Bible-believing Christians, as soon as you say that evolution is a fact, as Collins does, the Bible isn’t the dictated words of God any more. Once the Bible is metaphor, one can get a much different theology out of it. That’s why creationists fight so hard against evolution. People can argue exactly how far one has to get from the traditional micromanaging God to be compatible with science, but whatever that is, there are plenty of liberal Christians who reside there and have written books about it, condemned by atheists and fundamentalists alike.

    There are at least two dimensions to liberal Christianity. One involves how mystical one is willing to be. One involves how much one is willing to break from tradition. So someone can be mystical and live their life by prayers amd meidtation, but allow a God that is far from the trinity, while someone else might be as rational in his or her beliefs as Rob is, but believe fairly traditional things like the trinity in their own way. There are certainly more dimensions than that because mystics can be quite ignorant of science and have New Age beliefs or they can be utterly mainstream in their beliefs of the physical world apart from believing that there is something more than that, either as a non-dual awareness or as a duality where there is some immaterial side to reality. They’re not all kooks or idiots, even if I doubt that they’re all correct. I even think it’s possible atheists are right, and all theists are wrong. I just find it works better for me to live as a theist.

  110. #110 Kevin
    March 16, 2007

    Dude! You aren’t a christian! You’re a Unitarian! and that’s OK! There is not a single xtian sect that would accept your tennets.

    And you know you’re in trouble “partly so you wouldn’t be tainted by my support.” when David Heddle likes you.

  111. #111 Kevin
    March 16, 2007

    “and the name calling!” – there was no name calling on this thread.

    “I`m not trying to be rude, but I`m posting this twice because I feel God wants me to.” – except maybe people making fun of Josh, the fake fundie. Josh was that knowledge or belief about double posting?

    “Now, there have historically been some debate about the divinity of Jesus Christ, even within the Christian churches, so not believing in that, is not a requirement for being a Christian. ” – Please name one sect that does not believe he was divine. Oh whats that..Islam? oh I meant xtian.

    “but the idea that “Christian” simply means “follower of Christ” is not something Rob is just making up.” – so that mean what? Rob follows all the teachings of Christ? and so if christ said that every dot and tittle of the old testament stands then what does Rob follow?

    “fundy baptist Jimmy Carter the second worst president”

    He was one of the best because of ANWR and the native alaskan lands act; and he put the USA on the side of human rights and supported the revolutionaries instead of the dictators.

    wheewww

    Rob, keep up the good work. your questions will be answered. I don’t think you can stay in the place you are now.

  112. #112 Siamang
    March 16, 2007

    Michael wrote:

    I also don’t take atheism to mean there is nothing more than this. Atheism means that we don’t have any reason to believe one fanciful hypothesis over another. But anything is possible.

    Then Rob wrote:
    That sounds closer to what most people call agnosticism than what most people call atheism, but perhaps I misunderstand what you’re saying.

    I’d recommend you read up on stuff from contemporary atheists. People I’d call “Carl Sagan Atheists.” Yes, the layperson definition of “agnostic” falls under the umbrella of “types of atheists” according to most atheists.

    Myself, I’m an agnostic atheist. It’s a statement that I don’t know what’s behind the curtain, if there even is such a thing as “behind” that curtain. But the word atheist defines me as a person who takes no action, harbors no belief, makes no pretense of knowing and attempts to maintain an ascetic clarity about the question. If there is a big-T Truth to be found, I attempt to be brutally self-critical of my own wishes and biases. Long ago I found that I could not differentiate between my experiences of God and my imagination. As someone else said, NOMA wasn’t psychologically stable for me.

    I’m an agnostic atheist. Agnostic because I don’t know, and atheist because I don’t worship. It’s the definition preferred by most atheists I’ve met.

    Not sure I’ve ever met a “Hard atheist” As in “I know for a 100% fact there is no God.” They’re extremely rare.

  113. #113 Patness
    March 16, 2007

    Thanks for answering the question. I’ve nothing else to add, but thanks.

  114. #114 Brad S
    March 16, 2007

    Man, I might be really, really tempted to claim Christianity (however I care to define that for myself and my own purposes for publicizing the claim) just to count myself among the thorns in PZ’s craw. So I could sit back and watch him bleat and crow and hop from one stubby little leg to the other, beat his hairy chest and emit loud screeching noises as if in defense of his harem from a more impressively virile young male. If he had a harem to defend, that is, who didn’t all look like wannabe Dr. Who clones. But that’s not a harem… is it a “stable” or just a “gang?”

    Of course, I always found the great ape exhibits at the zoo to be highly entertaining.

    Oh, and to get a lot of traffic to my blog too, but that’s not the real, true, heartfelt and most personally satisfying reason…

    Rob… your blog and its comments has devolved into complete and utter crap. I’ll be glad when you go back to the astronomy for good, because this Science Blogs Theological seminar and mud-slinging festival has grown incredibly tired.

  115. #115 Chris' Wills
    March 16, 2007

    Nice clear post, brave also.
    Reading it reminded me of some of Newton’s writings. So perchance you are an Arian (no not Aryan, Arian, before I get shouted at) type Unitarian.

    The part about other faiths not being wrong could be explained as ” we are only capabale of seeing a part of the whole” rather like the blind men examining the elephant.

  116. #116 Kristjan Wager
    March 16, 2007

    Please name one sect that does not believe he was divine. Oh whats that..Islam? oh I meant xtian.

    The Gnostics is the obvious historical example.

  117. #117 Chris' Wills
    March 16, 2007

    >>Posted by: Siamang
    I’d recommend you read up on stuff from contemporary atheists. People I’d call “Carl Sagan Atheists.” Yes, the layperson definition of “agnostic” falls under the umbrella of “types of atheists” according to most atheists.>>

    Oh please, am I expected to let an atheist define what an agnostic is!?
    That would be similar to allowing a muslim to define what a christian is.

    Just because atheists want to claim more adherents doesn’t mean they should be allowed to.

    I would also point out that science is Agnostic, perhaps atheists wish to claim agnosticism because they wish to claim science as their own.

  118. #118 Chris' Wills
    March 16, 2007

    >>Posted by: Kevin
    Dude! You aren’t a christian! You’re a Unitarian! and that’s OK! There is not a single xtian sect that would accept your tennets.>>

    Arianism was a christian sect with bishops and everything else, they didn’t hold to the divinity of Christ. Nestorians were ambivalent about it.

    If you are interested you should read up on the early church. Also Unitarianism, as presently comprised, is a group of christian sects generally holding to the one God (no Trinity) belief and that Christ was human.

    In passing, yes muslims are unitarian as are jews in that they believe in a unitary God; however this isn’t the common usage of the term unitarian.

  119. #119 Tulse
    March 16, 2007

    The part about other faiths not being wrong could be explained as ” we are only capabale of seeing a part of the whole” rather like the blind men examining the elephant.

    Are you going to hell or not? That seems a pretty straightforward question, and one that admits only a binary “yes/no” answer. Depending on your personal beliefs and actions, some faiths would say you will be damned for all time, and others do not. It’s pretty clear that they are talking about two completely incompatible states (damned/not damned), and I simply don’t see how this kind of namby-pamby “well, they both may be right, it’s all about perspective” isn’t simply incoherent.

    Given that we are talking about the possibility of an eternity in torment, you’d think religious folks would be very concerned about figuring this out.

  120. #120 Chris' Wills
    March 16, 2007

    >>>Posted by: Chris’ Wills
    The part about other faiths not being wrong could be explained as ” we are only capabale of seeing a part of the whole” rather like the blind men examining the elephant.>>>

    >>Posted by: Tulse
    Are you going to hell or not? That seems a pretty straightforward question, and one that admits only a binary “yes/no” answer. Depending on your personal beliefs and actions, some faiths would say you will be damned for all time, and others do not. It’s pretty clear that they are talking about two completely incompatible states (damned/not damned), and I simply don’t see how this kind of namby-pamby “well, they both may be right, it’s all about perspective” isn’t simply incoherent.

    Given that we are talking about the possibility of an eternity in torment, you’d think religious folks would be very concerned about figuring this out.>>

    Am I damned or not?
    There is actually a third answer – I don’t know

    To be vaguely religious, rather than Agnostic, both Christian and Muslim theology generally give the same answer. The choice belongs to God.
    In Coptic, Greek/Russian/Serb Orthodox/Roman Catholic theology you also find the concept of purgatory and in Dante’s Inferno you’ll see the idea that even those condemned to hell can be redeemed (Dante didn’t break with the church’s teaching in this regard).
    Please note well; Christian is not defined by outlier sects in the USA.

    It isn’t namby-pamby and I didn’t write that they could all be correct. However, humans are limited in many ways and it should come as no suprise that they will only see a limited part of an eternal, infinite, non-temporal being if such a being exists.

    I am sure that religious peoples are interested in the question.

  121. #121 Chris' Wills
    March 16, 2007

    Rob, On a more serious issue:

    I know what B5 is, what is HHG2G?

  122. #122 Brad S
    March 16, 2007

    Hitchhiker’s GUide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

  123. #123 Josh
    March 16, 2007

    I have a question ROB

    Who are you to question what God says?
    In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. He was with God in the beginning.
    John 1 1-5

    If God had all the words already in the bible before there was time then who are you to change them. I think he would say I’m not God the father, if he meant it, or that there was no virgin birth, and it would be in the bible. This is something you need to repent from. If you go to church and your pastor dosent convicts you of sin, then that pastor is Satan’s pawn. You need to repent from not repenting. You need to repent by admitting you don’t know everything. If you can’t go to God for a reliable source, then why go to God at all?

  124. #124 Josh
    March 16, 2007

    If God talked in this blog,
    I question how many would actually know it was him?

  125. #125 Chris' Wills
    March 16, 2007

    >>Posted by: Brad S
    Hitchhiker’s GUide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams>>

    Thank you.
    Silly me thought it would be a TV series.

  126. #126 Jeff
    March 16, 2007

    Actually I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of your stiff, Rob, since you’re obviously delusional.

  127. #127 Kevin
    March 16, 2007

    Chris: “Arianism was a christian sect with bishops and everything else, they didn’t hold to the divinity of Christ. Nestorians were ambivalent about it.”

    Great! please let me have an address or phone number!

    Kristjan: “The Gnostics is the obvious historical example.”

    and they are meeting where?

    And Rob would fit right in with the unitarians.

    “With its historical roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions, Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion — that is, a religion that keeps an open mind to the religious questions people have struggled with in all times and places. We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves. We are a “non-creedal” religion: we do not ask anyone to subscribe to a creed”

    He can have his god in as many or as few parts as he likes. When I can’t find a Norse Pagan service, I sometimes go to a UU church.

    http://www.uua.org/

  128. #128 Rob Knop
    March 16, 2007

    Are you going to hell or not? That seems a pretty straightforward question, and one that admits only a binary “yes/no” answer.

    Are photons particles or waves? Also seems a pretty straightforward question, and one that admits only a binary “yes/no” answer.

    All I’m trying to point out here is that just because a question seems to admit only a binary yes/no answer, that does not mean that such an answer is correct.

  129. #129 Rob Knop
    March 16, 2007

    If God had all the words already in the bible before there was time then who are you to change them.

    Dude, you lost me at your first clause.

    The Bible is written by humans, in human language. Are you saying that the human language created by humans is capable of writing your idea of God’s Final Word On Everything?

    In any event, cut out the proseltyzing and the “repent or burn” cra. It’s not welcome here.

    -Rob

  130. #130 Rob Knop
    March 16, 2007

    Actually I don’t think I’ll be reading any more of your stiff, Rob, since you’re obviously delusional.

    Well that will be a huge loss for me, I’m sure!

    -Rob

  131. #131 Chris' Wills
    March 16, 2007

    >>Posted by: Kevin
    Chris: “Arianism was a christian sect with bishops and everything else, they didn’t hold to the divinity of Christ. Nestorians were ambivalent about it.”

    Great! please let me have an address or phone number!>>

    You have access to the internet, feel free to search for information about them. Though for the Nestorians you’ll probably have to visit Northern Iraq/Syria.

    >>When I can’t find a Norse Pagan service, I sometimes go to a UU church.>>

    I suspect that you are attempting to be humorous. Do you wish to attend an Aesir or Vanir service? Poor form to mix up the two and call it Norse.

  132. #132 Tulse
    March 16, 2007

    All I’m trying to point out here is that just because a question seems to admit only a binary yes/no answer, that does not mean that such an answer is correct.

    Rob, how can that possibly be correct in this case? Surely you either go to hell or not. Surely you either spend an eternity in torment, or not. I will certainly grant the epistemic point that you may not be able to know, ahead of time, which option you’ll end up in, but surely when you die, you end up either in hell or not. (Either that, or you have a very weird notion of personal identity that allows you to exist in multiple states after death.)

    People are not photons, and presumably their souls (if they have them) are not either. You can make loose analogies all you like, but what you seem to be suggesting is incoherent.

  133. #133 Chris' Wills
    March 16, 2007

    >>Posted by: Tulse
    Surely you either go to hell or not. Surely you either spend an eternity in torment, or not….>>

    First sentence; if hell exists then you either go or don’t is a Yes/No question.

    Second sentence depends on the theology; eternal torment is not required by mainstream (i.e. the christian churches with the most adherents) christian churches. See previous reference to Dante’s Inferno.

    There are also some theologies that posit hell as being the absence of God (though I haven’t seen this in recent literature). This is not god punishing someone, rather the person inflicts it on themselves by denying god.

    Incoherent? Depends on ones viewpoint.

  134. #134 Rob Knop
    March 16, 2007

    Chris — thank you! Said better than what I could have come up with.

  135. #135 Josh
    March 16, 2007

    No Rob. The bible was not written by humans. It was written by God. – (John 1 1-5) I will leave you with that, I have nothing further to say to you.

  136. #136 Tulse
    March 16, 2007

    Chris, thanks for addressing this issue, and clarifying it. Just to back up a bit, the context of this particular thread was the issue of the whether there is are many religious “truths” or not (Rob: “I will agree to the possibility that you can be just as right as I am if your view of the nature of the divine differs from mine”; Chris:
    The part about other faiths not being wrong could be explained as ” we are only capabale of seeing a part of the whole” rather like the blind men examining the elephant.)

    First sentence; if hell exists then you either go or don’t is a Yes/No question.

    Excellent. So we agree that, regardless of whether it actually exists, whether you go or not is indeed a yes/no question. In other words, if there is a hell, then you literally risk eternal damnation depending on what you do. This is a fact, regardless of belief. It’s pretty much just logic: if A implies B or C, then either B or C, or not A. It’s just like Detroit: if it exists, I either live there or I don’t.

    Second sentence depends on the theology

    Right, which is a question about human understanding of the situation, but that doesn’t impact on what the situation actually is. Some folks may not believe that Detroit exists, and some may doubt that I actually live there, but those beliefs don’t change whether or not I actually live there. Likewise, we agree that if hell exists, damnation is yes or no, so there is a fact of whether you’re damned regardless of one’s beliefs about damnation (I don’t mean this in a “predestination” sense, but rather in the “you may not believe in hell, but it believes in you” sense).

    In other words, some theologies are just wrong about your final disposition, just like some people with different ideas about Detroit and my residence there are wrong. Various people may construct arguments about why it is unlikely that there is a Detroit, or patiently explain what things would determine my residence there, but if it exists, and if I live there, then those folks are simply wrong. They don’t have a different way of seeing, they don’t have access to different truths — they are just wrong.

    While living in Detroit may be hellish, it presumably is not nearly as bad as actual hell. So I would think that a religious person would want to be very clear either that: a) hell doesn’t exist, or b) that if it does, they won’t be going there. But if one is going to determine these things, then some religious beliefs are just flat wrong. To the extent that it is true that one may be damned or not, is it also the case that some religious beliefs are false.

    It seems to me that to think otherwise is to abandon not just reason, but basic logic.

  137. #137 Chris' Wills
    March 16, 2007

    Hi Tulse,
    I’ll have to ponder a bit before I reply, though I would point out that some of it depends on ones pre-suppositions.

    By this I mean that we can all choose sets of axioms (predicates I think they’re sometimes called in logic) and derive rational (consistant given the axioms) inferences. This doesn’t mean that the results have any relationship to truth or reveal the whole truth.

    Oh, before I dash off, my bedtime :o). Detroit may be a suburb of hell, Jubail is an inner precinct :o)

  138. #138 C
    March 16, 2007

    I e-mailed you this but never got a reply, so I’ll post it:

    Mr. Knop:

    I’d like to preface my response to your recent blog entry by telling you that I generally agree with you. I am a biology major who fully accepts evolution, while also being a professing (or confessing) Christian. The reason I am e-mailing you rather than commenting on your blog is I feel these things are better discussed privately.

    I’m not going to say you’re a heretic and you’re going to burn in Hell or something, but your ideas to perplex me a little and I think you’re wrong… I honestly don’t mean that harshly, I mean it in a loving way as a Christian brother. I want to be honest and so I feel it is best to say that bluntly.

    It would be easier for me to accept your views if you flat out rejected Christ. But you don’t do that. I know that you said you don’t accept a literal interpretation of the Bible… I do not either, which is why I fully accept evolution. I do, however, think it’s quite easy to distinguish between what is to be taken literal and what is to be taken as figurative. Jesus refers to his divinity (and not in some sliding scale) in several different places:
    John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
    John 14:7-9… it’s a long quote but Jesus tells Phillip “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, `Show us the Father’?

    11 “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me…”

    Jesus straight tells us that He is God. Not in some figurative way, but literally. When you think about this logically, it only makes sense… our knowledge of this world and life are very narrow in relation to that of God. If he wanted to impart knowledge of these secret things to us, how would he do it? To do this He MUST become a man Himself. This is why we say that Jesus is both fully man and fully God. He is “the Word made flesh.” If you do not accept this, then I don’t see how you could hold Jesus up as either a great teacher or anything else… he’d be a mad man and a liar and the pharisees were right.

    This comment in your post also had me scratching my head:

    “And Jesus was flawed. According to the stories, he never gave into the temptations of Satan– and, no, I personally don’t view that as a historical account, but as a story that tells us something about who Jesus was.”

    Yes, Jesus was tempted, but he did not give in to that temptation. So how is this evidence that he is flawed? It’s not, it’s only evidence that he was human. As humans, we will never be above temptation. We live in this world and must live with its challenges. However, we can come to a point where we are above sin. Paul wrote that we are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves to Christ. Temptation is not sin in and of itself.

    I would like to hear back from you and I hope you don’t feel that my comments were made in spite. I am particularly interested in a few things:
    Why do you reject the notion that Jesus is literally God? Is it because it is in some way contrary to your reason?
    Why do you reject the virgin birth? Is it because it’s not something we have observed in humans or that it is in some other way scientifically vacuous?
    I noticed that you said the “Creator” role isn’t as important, but that you never rejected God as the Creator. Do you believe something similar to Ken Miller, i.e. “theistic evolution” or something of the like?
    You said you don’t know in reference to the afterlife, why? If God exists, I consider this the most important question anyone can have.

    Again, I try to approach these conversations with a spirit of meekness. If I have failed in that, I am sorry.

  139. #139 mollishka
    March 16, 2007

    C:
    I notice you are quoting mostly from the gospel according to John in order to tell us that Jesus claims his own divinity. But what about the fact that this gospel was written about 100 years after Jesus died, and most likely not someone who knew Jesus personally? If you don’t like historical arguments, then it is at least irrefutable that the writing style and story content of this gospel is rather different than in the other three gospels.

    As for Jesus’s humanity/being flawed, what about the story of Jesus getting angry in the temple? Sure, it’s a “righteous” anger, but it is still one of the basest of human emotions, and one we are not “supposed” to have if we are all “good” people (i.e., showing anger implies being flawed).

    The rest of your questions are much more personal, but I’m going to guess that most people with a belief structure similar to Rob’s have rejected the virgin birth, concrete opinion in an afterlife, etc. because those are some of the parts of christianity that most smack of mythology rather than a sound philosophical (and theological) outlook on life.

  140. #140 David Heddle
    March 16, 2007

    Mollishka,

    But what about the fact that this gospel was written about 100 years after Jesus died, and most likely not someone who knew Jesus personally?

    Regarding when John’s gospel was written, please do not quote speculation as if it were fact. The truth of the matter is:

    1) Early church tradition placed the writing at ~AD 90, by John, near the time of his death.

    2) A trendy movement by some liberal scholars in the 19th and 20th centuries suggested John didn’t write the gospel, and placed the date in the mid second century.

    3) Since then we have the discovery of the Rylands papyrus, which contains fragments of John’s gospel. It has been dated to about AD 125-150. This is where the figure of ~hundred years after Jesus’ death comes from. Of course, what it really represents, as the extant manuscript, is the latest possible date. Nobody that I know of, however, argues that it is the original.

    4) You can also find, should you want to play dueling scholars, some that place the date even earlier, around AD 70. Part of that evidence is circumstantial: in AD 70 Jerusalem was sacked by Titus, the temple was destroyed– effectively ending biblical Judaism (no more sacrifices). About a million Jews were killed (a sizable fraction of the population) and a few hundred thousand led into Roman slavery. For any book written by a Jew after AD 70 (but in that era) to avoid mentioning such a national disaster, one of, well, biblical proportions, would be somewhat like a Jewish writer penning a history of the 20th century and failing to mention the holocaust.

    I don’t know when it was written: neither do you, in spite of your asserting a late date as fact.

  141. #141 Caledonian
    March 16, 2007

    Are photons particles or waves? Also seems a pretty straightforward question, and one that admits only a binary “yes/no” answer.

    Correct – it is a binary question. And the answer is:

    No, they aren’t.

  142. #142 Siamang
    March 16, 2007

    Chris Wills wrote:

    Oh please, am I expected to let an atheist define what an agnostic is!?

    No. People get to choose what they call themselves. People calling themselves atheists have used the agnostic qualifier for decades. Read about implicit and explicit atheism here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit_and_explicit_atheism Richard Dawkins, probably the most fire-breathing atheist out there says that he doesn’t rule out the possiblity of a God, but rather that the likelihood is vanishingly small.

    I would offer that Rob is something one might call an agnostic theist, someone who worships God but recognizes that for him there’s no way to really be 100% lock-solid sure of God’s existence.

    That would be similar to allowing a muslim to define what a christian is.

    No. Christians have defined the definition of atheism for years. Atheists have taken it back. You don’t get to define us anymore. We’re sick of others labelling us and making up straw-man definitions and straw-man arguments that we don’t hold to. Atheists doubt. Nobody’s 100% lock solid sure of anything if they have an open mind. So Christians love to use the 100% straw man argument to say atheists have closed minds. We’re sick of it, and we’re taking the word for our own.

    Just because atheists want to claim more adherents doesn’t mean they should be allowed to.

    Every atheist I know calls themself an atheist by their own choice. Nobody lables someone else. I call myself what I call myself. If someone says “I’m agnostic” I don’t say, you must call yourself an atheist. I don’t lable others. I don’t go around and tell people like Rob Knop “You’re not a real christian… technically you’re a deist! Stop using the word Christian to define yourself. You just call yourself a Christian so you can claim more adherants (all the deists) and inflate your ranks. You don’t get to call yourself a Christian, that’s like letting muslims decide who’s a jew!”

    I’m an atheist. Out and loud and proud. If you can’t truck with that, boo frickin hoo.

  143. #143 mollishka
    March 16, 2007

    David:
    *shrug*. My main point is that there are reasons why it isn’t one of the synoptic gospels, and as such, it’s interesting to question whether or not its underlying theology and message are really the same as what is in the other gospels.

  144. #144 David Heddle
    March 16, 2007

    Mollishka,

    Yes, I would certainly agree it is interesting to compare John to the synoptics.

  145. #145 Leni
    March 16, 2007

    Chris Wills wrote:

    Oh please, am I expected to let an atheist define what an agnostic is!?

    I’m going to disagree on this with Siamang on this, simply because I don’t think you are asking for any particular individual’s beliefs. In general, yes; yes you are expected to *let* atheists define what Christians are. Actually, you don’t have any choice in the matter. We’ve already done it. More times than you’d care to know and I’d care to count.

    So… too late for you!

    More seriously- it’s for the same reason that capitalists can “define” what communists are, that Republicans can define what a Liberals are, Christian archeologists can define certain aspects or expressions of long dead cultures and so on.

    Anyway, if it’s true that no one not X can define X then who the fark is writing the dictionaries?

    That would be similar to allowing a muslim to define what a christian is.

    Oh horrors. I would be willing to bet that there are some Muslims out there who would do a better job of it than some Christians.

    Just because atheists want to claim more adherents doesn’t mean they should be allowed to.

    How would you know what an atheist is anyway? You aren’t one, you don’t get to define it, remember?

    Which is probably a good thing because you are lousing it up something fierce.

    I would also point out that science is Agnostic, perhaps atheists wish to claim agnosticism because they wish to claim science as their own.

    Go read the link Siamang posted for you. This paragraph is absolute nonsense.

    It isn’t about claims to boost numbers, and I’m tempted to insert an epithet here because I earnestly *believe* you have earned it. It’s about describing things accurately and agnostic isn’t in the middle of atheism and theism. Nor is it necessarily not a kind of atheism.

  146. #146 Tyler
    March 16, 2007

    I saw Thomas Jefferson’s name mentioned above, and I’m glad to see it- Rob, you do seem very close to the type of Christianity/Unitarianism Jefferson held to. I am reading Jefferson’s “Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” and it is QUITE an interesting read, in light of what Jefferson did NOT believe. His Christianity would be called into question today as your is being questioned by some now, as he rejected the main supernatural elements in Jesus’ story- the virgin birth, the resurrection, all miracles, etc. To him also, God was more a force of human consciousness than a sky-daddy.

  147. #147 mollishka
    March 16, 2007

    Rob, obviously the only way it’s going to be conclusively settled whether or not you’re a “true” christian is with an online quiz, just as long as you can get past all the annoying ads, of course.

  148. #148 Chris' Wills
    March 17, 2007

    To Tulse:
    This is my answer to your question re eternal damnation.
    Improvements gladly received as I know it could be improved.
    ————
    Eternal Damnation Yes/No?

    Assumptions:
    God exists
    God is unknowable (beyond human understanding)
    God is good
    God is just
    God is loving
    God is forgiving
    God is honest
    God expects humans to seek the truth

    Humans have free will
    Humans are conscious
    Humans are questioning
    Humans are fallible
    Humans have empathy
    Humans have intelligence
    Humans wish to understand the universe and their place in it.

    Good exists
    Evil exists
    The physical universe exists
    There is revealed knowledge
    Science (together with Mathematics) is the most effective tool that we have to investigate the physical universe.
    There is an afterlife
    There is more to reality than just the physical.

    Humans can choose to do good or evil things
    ——————————

    Now, I wouldn’t think that the above is very contentious from a religious (Judeo/Christian/Muslim especially) point of view. Though I’m sure that some may wish to modify the list.

    Onto eternal damnation:

    Humans seek to know the truth, however being fallible they are likely to fail in this endeavour especially in regards to an unknowable God. However God knows this and being just, loving and forgiving will not punish them for this failure as long as they are sincere in their efforts.

    Humans may, given freewill, choose to harm their fellow humans either for gain or pleasure. As they have empathy, along with most humans laws saying that this is wrong, this is knowingly doing wrong and so a just god will punish.

    A common theme running through most religious texts is an admonition to not harm others (self defence can sometimes mitigate this) especially to murder others. It is also common, though not ubiquitous, to have a rule of helping others.
    The reported teachings of Christ a fairly consistent in the love thy neighbour rule.
    So stealing and hurting others are also, in most circumstances, a sin and God will judge and punish accordingly.

    So yes, there is the possibility that humans will knowingly sin and that this will be punished by God.

    Will the punishment be eternal?
    I would suggest that eternal punishment is in strong conflict with the just, loving and forgiving aspects of God.
    Is eternal damnation fair, or loving or forgiving?

    I would say that it isn’t and so would suggest that No is the answer to the question “is there eternal damnation”.

    Notes, as far as I understand –
    the concept doesn’t exist in Buddhism where all is illusion and we are re-incarnated until we reach enlightenment (nirvana). We are trapped by karma and this is not good or bad it just keeps us trapped in a web of causality.
    the concept doesn’t exist in Hinduism either (may in some sects but not in the mainstreams of that diverse religion). Similar to Buddhism but karma can be good or bad and we earn credits for the good in our next incarnation.
    Shintoism I find very hard to get an understanding of.
    Taoism seems to have an afterlife and an underworld but not in the sense of a place of torment more like the hades of the ancient greeks or hel of the Vikings (though I wouldn’t want to visit hel).

  149. #149 Chris' Wills
    March 17, 2007

    To Siamang:

    The fault is mine and I apolgise for any offence caused. I misread what you wrote.

  150. #150 Tulse
    March 17, 2007

    I would say that it isn�t and so would suggest that No is the answer to the question �is there eternal damnation�.

    Right, but there are others that disagree with you. I’m not so much interested in the reasoning used to get to your conclusion, but rather that, if your conclusion is correct, others must be wrong, and ergo not all all religions can be right (just “different views”). In other words, there is such a notion in your view as religious truth.

  151. #151 smijer
    March 17, 2007

    Rob,

    I think you could get your point across, more accurately represent your position, and avoid all the hub-bub if you would post “Why am an atheo-christo-speculator”.

    Either way, this quasi-militant atheist likes you just fine. Here are the things I think most important:

    1) conscience and ethical thinking to inform moral choices, above all other considerations
    1) science to understand the natural world

    Your religion doesn’t seem to interfere with the important things. Enjoy it. I hope all the religious folks get to that point.

  152. #152 Rob Plop
    March 18, 2007

    Rob Knop Rob Knop Rob Knop Rob Knop. Okay got that out of my system… People who agree with Shelly Bats and Rob Knop that religion is OKAY, this is for you, so you can better understand why religion must be stamped out…

    Deuteronomy 22: 28 If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. 29 Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her

    Deuteronomy 7:1 When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations … then you must destroy them totally. 2 Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.

    Leviticus 21: 9 And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father; she shall be burnt with fire.

    Shelly, I would like to buy into this Bible stuff like you do, but it seems too violent for modern society. Here is how a moderate Christian defends abortion…

    “The Book of Exodus clearly indicates that the fetus does not have the same legal status as a person (Chapter 21:22-23). That verse indicates that if a man pushes a pregnant woman and she then miscarries, he is required only to pay a fine. If the fetus were considered a full person, he would be punished more severely as though he had taken a life.”

    That is the kind of stuff that Christians like Shelley are fine letting others believe. Here is another example…

    “By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. THIS WAR, FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW, IS MORALLY WRONG – AND WAS FROM THE VERY START. It cannot be justified with either the teachings of Jesus Christ OR the criteria of St. Augustine’s just war. It simply doesn’t pass either test and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or to the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities. This war is also an offense against God.”

    Seems like that Christian has actually arrived at the right destination (one of the few who has), AMAZING! I guess the only problem remaining here is the compass (RELIGION), which can be unreliable and is easily misinterpreted.

    http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/

    Leviticus 20: 27 A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them.

    Cheers to PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris (and myself), who can see the danger in sadistic “fairy tales”.

  153. #153 mollishka
    March 18, 2007

    Plop: Here again, if you had actually, ah, read the post?, you’d realize you were preaching to the wrong choir.

  154. #154 Rob Bless the USA
    March 18, 2007

    That’s what is so great about religion, everyone can have their own! Dr. Knop’s calls himself a Christian but fails to accept even the most basic tenets such as resurrection. He is surely not a Catholic, the one true Christian religion, or so the Pope says.

    My religion is just like Rob’s. I accept everything from the Bible that I agree with and everything that sounds too wacky I say “probably not”. But, I do Rob one better because I also accept ideas from the Quran, the teaching of Buddha, the Hindu holy texts, and, yes, even the Scientologist’s.

    The clever bit is my rule for determining the wackiness of an idea. I say: If there is no evidence then I have to say: probably not.

    So, as to Rob’s religion: probably not.

  155. #155 Joseph Hertzlinger
    March 18, 2007

    About Exodus 21:22-23: It is right next to a passage authorizing lenient treatment for the accidental death of a slave. Clearly, abortion and slavery were meant to be banned at the same time.

    As for the anti-magic passages, it’s a well-known principle that any sufficiently-advanced form of technology is indistinguishable from magic. We should instead examine the question: Under what circumstances should sufficiently-advanced technologies be prohibited? The biblical passages banning magic were usually near passages banning human sacrifice. That clearly means that technologies that require human sacrifice should be prohibited. In particular, organ transplants that require somebody to be killed (instead of dying naturally) are out.

    Larry Niven wrote numerous stories and novels in a society in which condemned criminals are used as a source of transplant organs (e.g., “The Jigsaw Man” in the collection Tales of Known Space, the novels A Gift from Earth and The Patchwork Girl, and the collection Flatlander). That might not sound like such a bad idea … except that the slippery slope produced a society in which exceeding the speed limit became a capital crime or organs could be taken from someone who hadn’t been convicted yet.

  156. #156 lerch
    March 19, 2007

    Rob,

    There’s one issue wrt Christianity that I have a problems with that you didn’t address and I’m interested to know your views. Does God answer prayers? That is, if one “prays” to God asking, say, to cure someone who is sick, or to help someone find a job, or whatever, is there even the possibility that God, as you understand it, can make that happen or “choose” not to. I’d have to gather from everything you wrote that you think not. I certainly think not. The thing is, this is a huge part of many people’s approach to being Christian. And for me, it’s a big part of what makes it really hard to go to church. Significant time is invested in this idea on any given Sunday. I get by by interpreting it for myself metaphorically, but since I know that most of the people at church really believe it, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite. Thoughts?

  157. #157 Chris' Wills
    March 19, 2007

    >>Posted by Tulse:
    Right, but there are others that disagree with you. I’m not so much interested in the reasoning used to get to your conclusion, but rather that, if your conclusion is correct, others must be wrong, and ergo not all all religions can be right (just “different views”). In other words, there is such a notion in your view as religious truth.>>

    Is there religious truth?

    Simply, I would say perhaps.

    The reason I say this is because of the assumptions made previously about God and about Humans.

    A religion could be 100% wrong in what it says.
    A religion could be 100% correct in what it says.
    A religion could be somewhere in between.

    Even if it was 100% correct, then it still isn’t “The Truth” in the sense of the whole truth and because, as fallible humans, we cannot absolutely know it is only ever provisional.
    The problem of the Elephant also comes back.

    At the end of the day, I think that it is a matter of belief.

  158. #158 Siamang
    March 19, 2007

    Chris Wills wrote:

    The fault is mine and I apolgise for any offence caused. I misread what you wrote.

    No problem, friend! A sincere thanks for listening and hearing me.

    :-)

  159. #159 C
    March 19, 2007

    mollishka:

    Why do you claim that the virgin birth, afterlife, and (I assume, though you did not say specifically) “miracles” are not sound philsophically /theologically? The theologically part I find particularly interesting. I made the assumption that Mr. Knop rejects these things because he doesn’t necessarily have empirical evidence of these things… but I think that is a terrible reason to reject them. I think this is also why many people reject God. People claim to be objective and that is why they reject God while the ignorant, deluded masses believe in the “fairies in the garden” are not objective. I think this is true in some cases, but I think that many of those calling us delusional are themselves blinded by their presuppositions. I believe (through my own reasoning, I was not raised in a church and I did not believe in God in my younger days) that His existence is quite obvious for someone who honestly searches. The same goes for the existence of the afterlife, miracles, the virgin birth, the truthiness of the Bible, and etc. No discoveries that have been made in science proves these things wrong. Particularly the existence of the afterlife, virgin birth (which are the two that you directly stated), and “miracles.” We have very strong evidence for evolution, but this does not in any way contradict the creation STORY in the Bible, unless one takes a very strict interpretation of it.
    …if I’m wrong in assuming that you reject these things for the reason I stated (no empirical evidence) please let me know the real reason.

  160. #160 Rob Knop
    March 20, 2007

    truthiness

    Did you just use that word seriously?

  161. #161 mollishka
    March 20, 2007

    C: If someone “honestly searches” for something that cannot be disproven (e.g., a god), then, of course, it will be found. It’s kind of like when you have hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail. And, yes, while science hasn’t proven one case of a virgin giving birth 2000 years ago wrong, it is true that there have been no other cases of virgins giving birth (without, oh, scientific intervention in the form of, say, artificial insemination), which kind of implies that at the very least this one not well-documented case 2000 years ago is somewhat implausible at best.

    And, yes, Rob, he did use “truthiness” seriously, but then, he’s apparently not very big on complete sentences either, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

  162. #162 Chris' Wills
    March 21, 2007

    >>Posted by Molliska:
    If someone “honestly searches” for something that cannot be disproven (e.g., a god), then, of course, it will be found.>>

    Could you please explain the logic behind this?
    If what you have written is correct; then either those who say that they haven’t found god either haven’t search or are not honest or both and I am sure that it is not your intent to imply this.

    >>It’s kind of like when you have hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.>>

    Could you please explain how this is applicable? What is the hammer meant to represent and what is the nail meant to represent in this context.

  163. #163 Caledonian
    March 21, 2007

    People have a tendency to find what they’re looking for, whether it actually exists or not.

    Thus science has produced techniques that make it harder for us to fool ourselves – and religion has produced techniques that make it easier.

    Trying to combine the two is inadvised.

  164. #164 Mike
    March 21, 2007

    Rob, isn’t the orthogonality you claim between the divine and the physical world something testable? While we can’t prove orthogonality, we can falsify it by finding examples of divine intervention in the physical world, a mixing if you will. The mixing could be due to non-orthogonality or because we exist in a superposition state of the two. Regardless of the analogy we try to use, it’s a testable hypothesis. What reason do you have to believe they are orthogonal, and what would constitute evidence of mixing?

  165. #165 Chris' Wills
    March 21, 2007

    >>Posted by: Caledonian
    People have a tendency to find what they’re looking for, whether it actually exists or not.>>

    And this has been tested how?
    If I am looking for a specific type of home, in a specific area of a specific town, if it doesn’t exist I can’t find it.
    For along time people in Europe searched for non-white swans, they didn’t find any and this led them to infer that no such creature existed, they didn’t find what didn’t exist within the area examined. They then assumed that no such creature existed and were happily suprised when they explored Australia.

    >>Thus science has produced techniques that make it harder for us to fool ourselves – and religion has produced techniques that make it easier. Trying to combine the two is inadvised.>>

    Well I never have advised mixing philosophy and science, so no worries there.

    The use of methodological naturalism (Science)to examine the Universe and how it works has been very succesful, would never deny its power to reveal how the physical universe operates; especially when combined with Mathematics which it normally is.

    I’m not sure why religion is picked out as making it easier to fool ourselves, any philosophy/belief set can have the same effect.

  166. #166 Robert O'Brien
    March 21, 2007

    Reading it reminded me of some of Newton’s writings. So perchance you are an Arian (no not Aryan, Arian, before I get shouted at) type Unitarian.

    Not really. Both Arius and Newton would denounce the idea that Jesus was merely a man who was not resurrected.

  167. #167 Robert O'Brien
    March 21, 2007

    The Gnostics is the obvious historical example.

    That is incorrect. Gnostics believed Jesus was divine (often to the exclusion of his humanity).

  168. #168 Chris' Wills
    March 22, 2007

    Not really. Both Arius and Newton would denounce the idea that Jesus was merely a man who was not resurrected.
    Posted by: Robert O’Brien>>

    I fully accept your point that both Arius & Newton agreed that the resurrection occurred.

    Arianism maintained that the Son of God was not eternal but was created by the Father from nothing as an instrument for the creation of the world; the Son was therefore not coeternal with the Father, nor of the same substance.

    http://www.arian-catholic.org/arian/arianism.html

    In comparing Rod’s stated belief with Arianism I was thinking along the lines
    1) that Jesus is not part of God.
    2) he isn’t a normal man, so it wasn’t a man that was resurrected.

  169. #169 Ethical Atheist
    March 25, 2007

    Hello,

    nice rationalizing, but probably you are Christian because you have been indoctrinated by your environment as a child – it is difficult to let go of this, because it is neurally strongly coupled with the love for your parents.

    The only rational thing you can do as a scientist is dump religion, and in fact go actively against it, because it is harmful to society (religious wars, bigotry, angst, etc etc)

    BTW: Jesus was not so “cool a dude”. Read a bit in the new testament, the things he says (and not the quotations you hear in church) do not fulfill basic ethical requirements of the modern world.

    Cheers,
    Ethical Atheist

  170. #170 Puam
    March 31, 2007

    I waited a long time to respond to this (and you probably won’t read it in all the explosions going on in the comments), but anyway: great post!
    It reminded me of certain positions I have taken in the past, and what is mentioned above would be a good summary of my religion, philosophy, theology (that I couldn’t write out so eloquently as you did).

    Now, I have changed my mind (eh, I’m only human). I do not wish to imply that you must or will take that same route I did. However, I wish to encourage you on two things: one, keep on thinking, whatever the result (and whether or not other people like it), and two, keep on writing.

    Thank you again for these three posts about religion. It brought back memories, and it also shows that there is more than the religion-bashing that is going around these days.

  171. #171 Chris' Wills
    April 6, 2007

    [That is incorrect. Gnostics believed Jesus was divine (often to the exclusion of his humanity).
    Posted by: Robert O’Brien]

    Not correct, Gnosticism pre-dates Christianity (i.e. Kabbala) and even predates Judaism.

    Even amongst Christian Gnostics there wasn’t unanimity of opinion.
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06592a.htm

    The site below is by a Gnostic priest and has links to a variety of Gnostic Churches.
    http://egina.blogspot.com/2006/04/10-things-religious-pundits-need-to.html

    “Gnosticism is a distinct, pre-Christian religion. Its roots are in Alexandria in Egypt, about 2200 years ago, where a “café-society” of Greek-speaking and -educated Jews were syncretizing the myths of the ancient world with Judaism and classical Greek philosophy.”

  172. #172 Caledonian
    April 7, 2007

    And this has been tested how?
    If I am looking for a specific type of home, in a specific area of a specific town, if it doesn’t exist I can’t find it.

    People ‘find’ non-existent things all the time. They’re called ‘delusions’.

  173. #173 Chris' Wills
    April 8, 2007

    >>People ‘find’ non-existent things all the time. They’re called ‘delusions’.
    Posted by: Caledonian>>

    So no testing has been done? It is only your opinion/belief.

    Just because someone believes something that you disagree with doesn’t make it a delusion; even if you don’t consider it rational.

  174. #174 Jon H
    April 22, 2007

    “Afterlife: solid dunno here. It seems kind of implausible, but I really want it to be true. Mostly because I want to see what happens! I like the idea that after I die, I’ll have the chance to learn all the things about fundamental physics that we haven’t figured out during my lifetime.”

    That whole concept is so vague, there are so many versions. In some, the afterlife seems to consist of little more than basking in God’s presence like some ethereal iguana on a rock in the sun.

    If the ‘inhabitants’ have ‘lives’ like their terrestrial lives, it seems like it’d be a weirdly Stepford-like existence. I mean, there couldn’t be any sinners, right? And maybe no conflict. No jealousy, perhaps. Much of what makes a human a human would seem to be gone. Would souls in heaven retain free will?

    I dunno. I kinda like concept of heaven in Buddhism. It’s not permanent – at some point the entities there perish, and experience rebirth again, probably in a ‘lower’ realm (ours, or even a hell realm which is also impermanent), suggesting that life in that heaven is pretty normal and the inhabitants have freewill, so still risk sinning and building up some bad karma to be burned off in the next rebirth.

    (That said, I see Buddhist rebirth in a more metaphorical way. Since the goal is to *stop* the cycle of rebirth, I think the ‘cycle’ is the repetition of mistakes in our lives due to failure to be mindful of our treatment of others and ourselves, etc.)

  175. #175 Twinmama
    July 18, 2007

    To be quite honest, Rob, I truly feel sorry for you. I had thought about copying most of your post and correcting the errors, but there are far too many. Have you read the Bible at all? I know you quoted John, but then you quickly rejected it as false. I’ve seen several times that you’ve said the Bible was written by men. Yes, it was. But it was Spirit-breathed–meaning, God told them what to write.

    The main thing about Christianity, the one thing you seem not to grasp, is faith. The definition of faith is “firm belief in something for which there is no proof; complete trust.” So much of what you dismiss in your “version” of Christianity relies heavily on the basis of faith!

    For instance, the impossibility of bodily resurrection. Anyone can die for someone else, even in the notion of taking the fall for someone else, in effect taking on someone’s sin. But what made Jesus’ death so significant and capable of absolving us from our sin is His resurrection! That’s what made it divine! We cannot comprehend or explain that with our human minds–we have to have faith and believe.

    Goodness….I could go on in much more detail, but considering what seems to be your lack of faith, everything I have to say I’m sure would be met with some scientific or logical rebuttal. Which would just make no sense to me, since I believe in God because I believe in God.

    God’s word is irrefutable. Therefore, everything in the Bible is true. No questions asked. There are several things in the Bible that were cultural. Such as the putting on of tattoos and piercings. There are verses in the Old Testament that forbid that. But in that culture at that time, people were tattooing pagan symbols on themselves and doing odd things with their bodies. For some facets of the Bible, the context in which the verse is placed must be taken into consideration before taking it literally.

    Christianity is one thing that you simply can’t “pick and choose” what you like and what you don’t like. You either follow God’s laws, and strive to live a life that is holy and pleasing to Him, or you don’t. And you end up in hell.

    It seems that I’m having trouble not going through each part of your post and dissecting it, so I think I will stop. I completely disagree with practically everything in your post, most especially with the fact that Jesus was JUST human. But I will stop. If you wish to comment on my post, I would love to continue conversing. I love a great debate. I’m not attempting to be controversial, I just like to have my opinions expressed as well. Thanks for the time.

  176. #176 Rob Knop
    July 18, 2007

    Twinmama — there’s little point in trying to converse, because you say:

    God’s word is irrefutable. Therefore, everything in the Bible is true. No questions asked.

    and, as I’ve made abundantly clear on multiple occasions, I think this attitude makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Not only do we know things that contradict what the Bible seems to be saying about natural history, the Bible contradicts itself. “Everything in the Bible is true, no questions asked,” is the sort of anti-intellectual, blinders-on, denial-of-reality, cannot-be-reconciled-with-common-sense point of view that gives Christians a bad name. If that’s where you’re starting from, then there’s no point in having a conversation. To have a conversation, we’d have to question that part right there.

    -Rob

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