Did Jesus endorse atrocities?

Deutsche Version: Hat Jesus Greueltaten gut gehiessen?

Youtube Version

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 Arguably, two of the favorite verses of fundamentalists and antitheists alike are:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18).

It is generally thought that Jesus agreed with everything standing in the Old Testament, like the genocide of the Amalekites, the wives of dead soldiers being killed by the Israelites being forced to marry the murderers of their husbands, adulterers being put to death, and so on and so forth.

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I don’t view the Bible as a set of truths having fallen from Heaven, but as a human book describing the experience (or lack thereof) of real people with God. But they wrote down their thoughts and experiences using their worldview and their Ancient-Near-Eastern understanding.
Without denigrating these people, it is a fact they were both materially and morally primitive. Before judging the moral character of an individual, it is always indispensable to study his or her worldview and to delve into the historical context she led her life. Many self-righteous indignation about the deeds of Mahomed stem from the unwillingness to follow this basic principle.

Now, back to our present concern. I believe that in Jesus, God lived, died and rose from the dead. But in order for him to be fully human and not some kind of super-spirits like many Gnostics thought, he had to give up his all-power, his omniscience (all-knowledge), also with respect to spiritual and moral issues. I know this might sound blasphemous to quite few of my readers, but asserting the contrary would turn Jesus into a super-human.

As a human being, Jesus shared the worldview and presuppositions of the conservative Jewish society where he was raised.
This is why his treatment of women, while quite normal for our modern minds, was truly revolutionary in his particular context.
When trying to judge Jesus’s moral character, most Skeptics tend to interpret literally what he said in order to make it sound as negative as possible, even if it contradicts other verses.

Let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that Jesus really said these very things mentionned at the beginning of the article. Some theologians think the passage might have been added by Mattew to fit the needs of the early Jewish Christian communities, but I think this text is at home in the context of the sermon on the mount.

According to most antitheists, the litteral interpretation is the right one, and Jesus wished adultery women and disobedient children to be stoned, and thought genocides could be great.
But why did the same Jesus also say:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ 44″But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.…”

After all, he was referring to the very same Mosaic tradition he allegedly considered to be inerrant.

One possibility is certainly that Jesus was inconsistent and contradicted himself: he didn’t realize the consequences of holding fast to the Torah as he preached.
To my mind, a better interpretation is that Jesus saw the love for God and for one’s neighbor as being not only the highest command of the law, but its fulfillment, its very reason of being.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Matthew 22:37-39

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In that respect, Jesus was very progressive if he thought that certain aspects of the Law didn’t promote this high goal.

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.
Matthew 19:8

When all his sayings are considered, it seems likely that Jesus meant that higher purpose as the accomplishment of the law.
Of course, it is also probable that the conservative Jewish context he grew up in prevented him from entertaining the thought that the Torah (and other non-canonical traditions) contained mistakes, but this is debatable.

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The Problem of Evil revisited by Lotharson

The Problem of Evil revisited by Lotharson 

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The question of why God or god(s) would allow evil to exist has been a very perplexing and troubling one for every believer attaching to them qualities such as goodness and benevolence ever since the time the Old Testament and parallel near-eastern myths were written.

Recently, British philosopher Jonathan Pierce, Counter-Apologist John and Justin Schieber from Reasonable Doubt, a podcast aiming at challenging the Reasonable Faith ministry of William Lane Craig and promoting “Godlessness”, have had a very interesting conversation about the problem posed by evil for theism before a virtual (white Belgian?) beer.   

Unlike many people deeply involved in the culture war raging between secularism and fundamentalism, the three intellectuals have a very respectful tone towards their opponents and develop pretty challenging arguments worthy of the consideration and attention of every thoroughly thinking religious person.

They should be really applauded for that approach and not resorting to the favorite techniques of village antitheists such as the heavy use of emotional bullying and ridiculing everyone not agreeing with their materialist worldview.

My agnostic Christianity

Before going into objections to the different arguments they presented I feel obliged to indicate where I’m coming from.  

I am an agnostic Christian, in the way Thom Stark uses this term, that is in the absence of good reasons to believe that theism or atheism is true I choose to hope there is a God.

I view the books contained within the Bible as being inspired in the same way books outside the Canon such as those of the Church fathers, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther, Wesley and C.S. Lewis are inspired: they depict us, to use Thom Stark’s wonderful expression, “human faces of God” that is man’s thoughts about and experiences with the divine. I don’t base my theology on allegedly inerrant Holy Scriptures but on the very idea that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God.

 

During this discussion of approximately 90 minutes, the three godless apologists do cover a lot of ground and raise many interesting questions which cannot be addressed within a single blog post.

I don’t agree with their objective Bayesian approach but also think that the evidential arguments for theism fall short of showing there is a God, tough I do believe they pose serious challenges for many popular forms of atheism out there, but these will be the topics of future discussions.

 Moral intuitions and God’s goodness as a heavenly father

They seem to rely on the belief that

1) Our moral intuitions are largely correct and

2) They can be applied to God who is supposed to be a heavenly Father far better any earthly father could ever be.

 

While I strongly doubt that step 1) can be taken by naturalists, this is certainly a key-element of the theology of Jesus and Paul and many writers of the Old Testament. But I think then that all our moral intuitions should be taken into consideration and not only those related to pleasure and pain as evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt discovered liberals typically do.

Step 2) is extremely important to prevent us from developing abhorrent theologies, like God issuing arbitrary commands about homosexuality even if it is neither harmful for the individual nor for society.

I utterly reject theistic voluntarism, the idea that whatever God wills is good, for this can lead and indeed leads to many absurd and atrocious beliefs such as God predetermining the largest part of mankind to eternally burn in Hell.

Interestingly at one point the three atheists seem to recognize that the problem of evil could be greatly diminished if the doctrine of hell is given up and they jokingly told each other that it would be already a victory in and of itself if they could push Christians to let go of „abhorrent“ teachings. Actually, it is clearly one of the main purposes of my blog to make other Christians deeply think about the implications of noxious doctrines, so we seem to have at least one goal in common.

 

That said, I do believe it is crucial to take into account the particularities of God’s position and the perspective of eternity before drawing any analogy with an earthly father.

 Free will, soul making, Skeptical theism

I believe that the problem of evil is extremely diverse and that the various theistic responses (such as the soul-making defense, the free-will defense and Skeptical theism) are all valid in their own rights and complement each other.

Generally I consider it extremely likely that God does have good reasons to limit Himself and not only allow free will in His creation but also randomness as philosophers Peter Van Inwagen described, in the same way I find computer simulations with random numbers far more interesting than deterministic ones. Such a position is compatible with Open Theism and some forms of divine omniscience.

And if this is true, the question is no longer “why did God allow such and such specific evils?” but “why did God choose to create a universe with such properties and features in spite of all the bad consequences?”

 Justin Schieber and the divine lies argument

 This is certainly no easy question and it would be completely foolish for me to come up with more than modest indications about possible solutions. This leads us to the question of Skeptical Theism (ST), according to which there are at least some evils humans are in no position to explain or reconcile with the infinite goodness of God.

Unlike Jon Pierce, Justin Schieber does believe that if theism is true ST is very likely and complained about the horrible ordeal inflicted on him to have to defend a position apparently friendly to theism against the objections of Pierce.

But he then mentioned his interesting Divine Lie Argument (DLA) according to which ST entails the clear possibility that God might be lying to us within Scripture for unknown reasons.

I certainly believe this undermines the Evangelical belief we need an inerrant Bible from God to know how He is and how we should behave.

I reject those assumptions and take the view we can objectively recognize goodness (albeit in an imperfect way) and know that God has to be good by His very nature as a perfect being. I don’t believe God speaks to us through the books of the Biblical canon more than he speaks to us through the books of C.S. Lewis or Ellen White and believe, like the apostle Paul expressed it in Athens, that even pagan authors can get quite a few things right about God.

Eternal happiness in heaven

I think that the perspective of eternity certainly changes the extent of the problem of evil in a radical way. For example let us consider the following scenarios:

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A. there is no afterlife. Leon is a small Tutsi boy living in Rwanda in 1994. In May his village gets attacked, his family is captured and he dies under an atrocious pain after having seen his parents being tortured and passing away in a very gruesome way. He ceases to exist.
God could have created the universe in a different manner to avoid this but He didn’t.

 

B. there is a blissful afterlife offered to everyone. Leon is a small Tutsi boy living in Rwanda in 1994. In May his village gets attacked, his family is captured and he dies under an atrocious pain after having seen his parents being tortured and passing away in a very gruesome way. He ushers into the presence of God. He quickly recovers from his pain and live happily with his parents in the presence of God during 100, 1000, 1000000, 100000000000, 10000000000000000000000000… years.
God could have created the universe in a different manner to avoid this but He didn’t.

  

Clearly, both scenarios should be troubling for every theist. But the assertion that they are almost equally problematic for the goodness of God is an extraordinary claim.

 

Utilitarianism is a moral theory very popular among atheists according to which the good is ultimately reducible to what increases the pleasure and reduce the pain of the greatest number of persons.

Every moral value which cannot be deduced from this basic principle is rejected as being illusory.

The extent of the evil of a free agent is identical to the extent of his failure to respect this rule. But if God is going to offer eternal life to everyone having suffered between one and hundred years, his moral culpability equals zero since this is the clear result of dividing a finite number by infinity.

So our three atheist apologists need to argue against utilitarianism and show why we ought to reject this theory before saying that the problem of evil is a death blow for every form of theism.

Given all the facts I’ve mentionned, I think we’ve good grounds for thinking there really are not-implausible ways for God to be morally perfect why allowing evils we cannot comprehend.

Of course, I do struggle emotionally a lot with some horrible and apparently absurd things our world contains and it would be a lie to say I don’t seriously call into question either the existence or the goodness of God, like countless characters of the Bible have done.

   Materialism, qualia, moral naturalism

Finally I cannot help but notice that the most popular (and perhaps the only plausible) form of naturalism, namely Reductive Materialism (RM) provides us with a terrible foundation for real objective moral values.

Jonathan Pierce mentioned the possibility that God would create philosophical zombies, that is beings acting exactly like humans but lacking any subjective experience, to be bad people and fill out the entire hell. Fair enough, especially if one believes in divine determinism. But this thought experience shows us a huge (and probably insurmountable) difficulty for Reductive Materialism: making sense of the moral evilness of pain.

According to RM, pain is identical to chemical and physical reactions and processes taking place in a brain-like structure. But why should thoseparticular processes have a greater moral significance than the movements of electrons within my computer?

Since in a materialist framework, pain is defined as being these particular processes, saying they are morally significant because they are painful is akin to saying that these particular processes are a moral concern because they are these particular processes.

But I believe that moral naturalism faces a much greater challenge, namely the identification of moral values with material objects.

Saying that the moral truth “A man should never rape a woman“ is identical to a bunch of elementary particles sounds utterly absurd to me.

To conclude I cannot let unmentioned the hugest and most scandalous mistake they did at the very beginning of the video. They dared tell us that God smoking weed could be an explanation for all the mess we see around us.

That’s bullshit.
I and many fellow French citizens have smoked Cannabis as we were teenagers and most of us were quite capable of performing well in many respects while being really high. 

If this post were to attain one thing, this should be leading them to give up their prejudices concerning pot. I do hope that in their next shows and videos they will cease smearing the goddess Marihuana and say instead “God is probably an abuser of LSD“, “God drinks one bottle of Vodka a day“ or „God cannot think clearly, because due to His omniscience He has no other choice than hearing every day George W. Bush, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, Dick Cheney, William Demski (and me for that matter) speaking and thinking during hours.“

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Hell, Motivations and Reasons for Believing in God

 Fiery questions about hell and faith

I’m currently having an interesting discussion with two ex-Christian fellows on „Debunking Christianity“ who wrote the following comments:

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Rizdek
This is a bit off topic, but I’m interested in what others think. I have recently exchanged posts with someone on another website. This person claims to have become a “Christian theist” again after being what they called an agnostic/atheist for 10 years. But the interesting thing is they outright admit and even seem to revel in the fact that the reason they now believe in their “God” was a logical decision because of the fear of hell and the hope for heaven as a reward. Now, I imagine those factors might be part of why some Christians, for example, act morally, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone come right out and admit that THAT was the reason they started to BELIEVE there is a god. I could be wrong, but I don’t even think Pascal used that as a reason TO start to believe there is a god. At the most it seemed his little “wager” was a line of reasoning that comforted him because he already believed there was a god and he figured he was just as well off continuing to believe in the god he already thought existed as those who did not believe in any god at all. I don’t agree with even that line of reasoning, but I think that’s what he thought.
Has anyone else ever heard anyone actually admit that fear of hell and desire for heaven was the reason they decided to start to believe in god?
 
Rizdek
Not sure why you think someone realizing they no longer have a basis to believe in a god they THOUGHT was good and loving would not be disappointed. I was disappointed decades ago when I came to the realization I didn’t think there was a god. I did NOT become an atheist because I was angry at god, the church or other theists. I really didn’t even want to be an atheist. It was a simple admission after waking up morning after morning with the realization that I had no basis to believe there was a god. Later I became aware that I had much less cognitive dissonance once I fully embraced the idea that I no longer believed there was a good caring god who wanted folks to love and serve it. When I realized there wasn’t a god of this kind, I stopped having to worm my way around sticky, absurd or seemingly contradictory Bible texts. It became clear to me that these texts seemed that way because they WERE sticky, absurd and contradictory. I stopped having to meld the good god I thought existed with the suffering I was aware of then and became more aware of later in life. In a purely material world, suffering is a natural outcome of life. But it was much less understandable when I thought there was a good god who designed and maintained the world the way it was. I am relieved now that I don’t have to make excuses for a god to others, but more importantly, I don’t have to keep lying to myself and force myself to believe things that don’t seem true.

 
 mcygnet

D Rizdek nailed it. It’s like resigning as press secretary for for a corrupt politician: the relief you’d feel at no longer being obliged to spin lame rationalizations for your boss’s behavior would be felt simultaneously with the disappointment you’d feel over your boss’s shortcomings. Feeling duped is, to say the least, disappointing.
Of course, you’re right, Son of Lothar, that McD’s arguments are not the height of apologetic sophistication. And given how many flavors of Christianity there are (each sect claiming nobody previously had gotten Christianity exactly correct), one is well advised to check out the views of dudes such as Swinburne, Plantinga, Schaeffer, Wright, and Craig. But if one takes the Arminian view that salvation is available to any who adopt a certain set of free will-derived beliefs, you’d hope it wouldn’t require a post-graduate degree to get one’s mind around the arguments. A guy like McD ought to be able to get the job done.
The preceding should also answer your other question: agnostic? Not so much! 😉

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I’m really thankful to both of them for their insightful responses which raise many interesting questions and problems I’m going into now.

To begin with, I view hell as being the separation from God stemming from the free choice of a person who will eventually cease to exist. The question of retribution is another matter, if libertarian free will really exists, I find it just that a person is punished according to the way he or she has violated the Golden Rule.
I might be wrong, but instinctively I would find it unjust if the infamous Fred Phelps (the “God hates fags“ pastor) would inherit eternal life without having to pay anything.

However, I believe that God will never condemn a person holding any beliefs for honest reasons.
That is to say, if someone is honestly convinced that God doesn’t exist, it would be completely wrong for her to lie and to pretend she believes in the Almighty. And if she dies as an honest atheist, God will propose her eternal life with Him, and it is up to her to accept or to refuse this offer.
It is extremely blasphemous to state or to preach that God will punish honest atheists with eternal torment.

This is why I see nothing wrong with God letting bad Evangelical apologists not use the best parts of their brain 🙂 even if this means losing converts.

For a conversion before death isn’t what matters most.

Albert Einstein once said:
If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed. The further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge. „
I largely agree with that, tough I don’t believe that striving for rational knowledge is enough, for it fails to provide us with meaning and values.
But it is indeed a sad fact that for quite a few individuals, only the fear of jail or hell can be a motivation to act morally.

I personally don’t hope in God and lead a Christian life because I fear that otherwise, I’ll be burning endlessly. I believe that God loves me as he loves every other human being and that the only reason I’d not inherit everlasting bliss with Him would be my own final decision to reject Him forever.
I try to follow Him during this earthly life because I deeply long for meaning, love and justice and if He’s a perfect being, He is the best place to find them.

Of course, this requires faith (which I define as “hope in the midst of insufficient evidence“).
As I’m currently explaining in other posts, I believe we’ve decent grounds for rejecting materialism (and even naturalism which can hardly exist without it) and for believing matter isn’t the ultimate reality, that mental things aren’t reducible to it.

And if that’s the case, it is not unreasonable to believe that a Mind is responsible for everything but this can by no means be proven, it demands a leap of faith, for there are also reasonable forms of atheism  where there exist irreducible mental facts and emergent properties.
But once this leap of faith has been made, it appears quite rational to believe that this Mind is perfect  in every respect.
And if I look at all religions, it seems to me very likely (provided His existence) that this perfect Mind revealed Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I think that if you investigate the gospels from an atheistic viewpoint, you cannot conclude that the resurrection really occurred  But if you approach them from a Theistic (and perhaps even Deistic) perspective, a good case can be made that God raised Jesus from the dead.

And if you’re genuinely agnostic, I think that the available evidence is intriguing  enough to justify hope in the crucified God.

I expect none of my readers to agree with me at this point, I’ve merely clarified my position and beliefs.

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