Which is the True Christianity…? November 3, 2010

Which is the True Christianity…?

I’d love to hear the Christian response to this:

Side note: Can you tell by the post lengths lately that teaching and Speech coaching are taking over my life?

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  • Yes. When I am busy in life, the blog posts get shorter. That is part of blogging. It takes a lot of time to write good posts.

  • It’s because they have at least some intuitive understanding of good and bad, but refuse to acknowledge the possibility that “true” religion might not be aligned with good.

  • Ooooh, Miller! You really cut to the quick !

  • Religion is kind of like a game of “Simon says” where the people playing it are not very good at the game… and where addition of the phrase “Simon says” (or God commandeth) is quite arbitrary.

  • Bast

    Ugh, I got into this discussion this past weekend with my-dad-the-future-pastor. Apparently he’s never heard of the no true Scotsman logical fallacy. There was the added bonus of my parents being Seventh Day Adventists, so they take “no true Christians” a step further and go against the “Sunday Christians”. Meanwhile, every time I visit them they’re telling me about more drama at their church with people being horrible to each other, oftentimes over the disagreement on how to enforce some ancient Biblical rule that has no bearing on the modern day.

  • If you atheists, and some fundamentalists, could just get a grasp of two things, the world would be a nicer place.

    a) Christianity is about Jesus Christ. That’s why the “Christ” bit is in “Christian”…
    b) The Old Testament national purity laws are not binding on Christians, and they had a particular function in forging Jewish national identity as “set apart.” If you wanted to be a homosexual in the Ancient Near East, and you were born Jewish, you could always jump on donkey and head to the neighbouring nations where it was OK. Jewish identity was both ethnic and religious.

    Choosing what commands to follow and what to ignore is not arbitrary, the New Testament is pretty clear about the role of the Old. So the Jesus bit, which is by definition, the Christian bit, makes the New Testament pretty relevant in interpretation of the Old.

    This atheist notion that Christians are being inconsistent if they fail to stone their disobedient children is a theological fallacy dreamed up by some disillusioned teenagers in their bedrooms who watch some crazy people who happen to be Christians. Why do you persist in taking the crazy person’s word for what Christianity is? It makes your arguments much easier to dismiss.

  • There’s a bit of a fallacy in the initial statement in the post too – humanist values are not a rejection of Biblical ethics, but an adoption of Biblical ethics. The whole “love your neighbour as yourself” and, it is in the Bible, despite being in other sources as well. Just to pre-empt that little objection…) thing being the summary of the law both in the Old Testament and the New Testament… and the whole point in both cases was that if your application of the law failed to be loving you were failing at applying the law. And I know you’re going to say “it’s not loving to stop people loving each other if they’re gay” and I’ll say “it’s not loving to let people disobey God and end up in hell”, I don’t make the rules.

  • Will

    Nathan perhaps you missed the book of Philemon, the first chapter of Romans, the part in Corinthians where woman are told to keep quiet and cover their heads, the fact that Jesus himself stated that not one jot or tittle of the law would be abrogated, and oh yeah, the churches almost unanimously think the Ten Commandments are still binding on Christians. Now, where are those commandments? …oh right, the Torah, which means that the decision of which parts of the Torah to follow is…arbitrary. So yeah, Christianity arbitrarily decides which parts of the Bible to follow. Oh and let’s not forget the food laws established by the first churn council recorded in the book of Acts chapter 15. Good day.

  • Just for a third bite at the cherry…

    Perhaps the answer to the question posed by the comic can be found in the Bible, in James 1:27:

    “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. “

    Tell me how that’s not humanistic?

  • Hamilton Jacobi

    Nathan, why do you ignore what Jesus said?

    Matthew 5:17-19 (King James Version)

    17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

    18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

    19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

    There’s a lot more here.

  • Reaond #417 Hemant is awesome: teaching kids to not only think critically, but to present critical thinking effectively and persuasively – a very effective way to reach people. More secular people should be improving their own (and others’!) speaking skills.

  • Will,

    Nathan perhaps you missed the book of Philemon.

    Nope.

    the first chapter of Romans,

    Nope.

    the part in Corinthians where woman are told to keep quiet and cover their heads,

    Nope.

    the fact that Jesus himself stated that not one jot or tittle of the law would be abrogated,

    Taking some words out of Jesus mouth is just as bad as putting some words in them… What he said was:

    “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. For truly I tell you, 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.”

    So at that point you’ve got to ask what “fulfilled” and “everything is accomplished” mean. But basically, your argument fails.

    “and oh yeah, the churches almost unanimously think the Ten Commandments are still binding on Christians.”

    Binding in what way? You won’t find many protestant churches teaching that they are necessary for salvation – just that they are good rules for faith and practice. Obedience to the ten commandments doesn’t make you a Christian, or earn you salvation in the way they did in the Old Testament (and even then, the whole point of the law was that it set such a high standard that people couldn’t meet it and had to rely on God’s grace for forgiveness through their repentance and sacrifices).

    Now, where are those commandments? …oh right, the Torah, which means that the decision of which parts of the Torah to follow is…arbitrary.

    I love how you write this, and then immediately follow it up with the passage that shows how the decision for Christians is not arbitrary.

    So yeah, Christianity arbitrarily decides which parts of the Bible to follow. Oh and let’s not forget the food laws established by the first churn council recorded in the book of Acts chapter 15. Good day.

    The church council in Acts Chapter 15 says explicitly that the law is not binding on Gentile Christians, and that the only “burden” the Jewish church will put on non-Jewish Christians is that they meet certain criteria for table fellowship with their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Those prohibitions served to keep Gentiles clean enough (ceremonially), and to keep them out of first century paganism and idol worship which involved all four of the things prohibited by the council), to eat with the Jewish Christians who still kept the law because they were still Jewish.

  • I am agnostic about what kind of Christianity is the “true” kind, and which is “perverted”. The bottom line is that any reasonable definition for Christianity neither aligns with truth nor good, so what is it true to? True to the Bible? True to Jesus? True to the church? Different Christians tell me different things, so how am I to judge? And why should I care?

    What I see here is inter-Christian conflict, where people on all sides just make crap arguments. “You’re wrong because you’re not being true to Christianity!” As if that mattered.

  • Hamilton Jacobi,

    My response above should be adequate, but I’ll chime in again…

    The Acts 15 Council mentioned above was held by people who were there when Jesus said what he said in Matthew 5, and yet, their take on the situation is:

    ““Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” “

    The law plays the same function now that it did in the Old Testament – it shows that no matter how we, as humans, live, we can’t meet God’s standards and so we need Grace. We need God to step in. Paul makes a similar argument in Romans 2.

    It exists not to be kept, but to be failed at. Most of the purity laws (like the two seeds thing and the two fabrics thing) exist to make Israel stand out (look weird) amongst their Ancient Near Eastern neighbours. Most of the laws about morality start with a “do not be like x nation, but be…”

    Here’s some more from the Jerusalem council:

    19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

    Obviously these Jews (that bit is from James, the brother of Jesus) thought this list of prohibitions was consistent with Jesus commands, and also consistent with the law of Moses.

    Now it could be that these first century Jews, who were law abiding Jews, who spent significant amounts of time with Jesus after he made his statements in Matthew 5, it could be, that these guys were mistaken about what Jesus meant. I think it’s more likely that we’re mistaken when we apply our anachronistic “read everything literally with no regard to the big picture” method of interpreting things…

    But when it comes to the question of how to read the Bible (the Old Testament in particular) and understand Jesus – I’m going to go with the Jewish guys who were Jesus friends, rather than the 21st century atheist who links to a ridiculous site on the internet.

  • Will

    Regardless of whether or not the Ten are binding on Christians, my point remains. The Bible condones slavery, the subjugation of women, and condemnation of homosexuals, among other things, which are not humanistic ethics. The Bible has some good in it, and some that is bad. The fact that you are so willing to reject and rationalize the evil and emphasize the good proves the point of this cartoon, and I think you fail to see that.
    P.S.- following the Decalogue may not make one a Christian, but one cannot be a Christian and not obey the Decalogue. Therefore I say that they are binding on Christians.

  • a friendly christian

    The problem is, there is nothing that is biblically ethical, IMO, about the second part of the comic. God doesn’t hate fags. According to the Bible, God loves everyone. It’s only ever condemned by God in the Old Testament, and most of the laws in the OT applied to the Israelites as a community.

    It’s very telling that Jesus barely mentioned it at all, along with several other modern controversial subjects he never mentioned.

  • Jill

    The bible is just a book. Winnie the Pooh contained more knowledge. The bible is a joke. Quote all you want, it’s a horribly written work of fiction written by perverse old men.

  • Nathan,

    Why do you not quote from the Book of Mormon? Just curious. Surely the more recent revelations should be paid attention to just like the older revelations.

  • Sean

    Insofar as the Bible is not very clear and consistent, there cannot be an objectively “true” Christianity, merely different interpretive frameworks that you can smush the scriptures into.

    I wonder if Nathan believes that people who have never heard of Christ go to hell (or how his idea of what is “loving” fits with there being a hell in the first place).

  • Nathan, did you miss the “until heaven and earth disappear” bit? The law still applies until that happens, according to Jesus.

  • Samiimas

    Why do you persist in taking the crazy person’s word for what Christianity is? It makes your arguments much easier to dismiss.

    The majority of Christians hate gay people, I can pull up the gay marriage polling to prove it if you want, so let’s not pretend it’s a handful of crazies. Hating gay people is one of most ancient and cherished traditions of Christianity and it’s only in the past few years that theirs been any serious effort to change that by people who inevitably claim, as this comic points out, that their faith is ‘evolving’ and those people who oppose us having equal rights are ‘perverting’ the religion.

    You can argue the shellfish and beard trimming but the comic is 100% accurate in this regard.

  • Mike,

    If I was Jewish and a Christian the situation would be less clear. Though Paul was pretty Jewish and he only kept the law when hanging around Jews who thought it was an issue. He, like Jesus, was much more interested in the spirit of the law than the letter of the law (see Jesus’ seven woes on the Pharisees later in Matthew (23 from memory).

    Jeff,

    Because I’m not a Mormon and I think Joseph Smith was a false prophet of the type described in the New Testament. His teachings don’t mesh with the Bible and I reject his arguments for the same reason I accept the apostles’ interpretations of Jesus and the Old Testament (see above). Plus, I’m not American and Mormonism has no nationalistic value to me because I don’t equate the US with the kingdom of God.

  • Samiimas,

    It’s a fallacy to suggest that someone hates gay people because they oppose gay marriage.

    Suggestions that heterosexual unions legally recognized for the benefit of producing and raising children should be positively discriminated for should not be equated with hating other relationships.

  • TheRealistMom

    Really, Nathan?

    Civil marriage is for the purpose of creating children?

    I guess someone needs to tell senior citizens, disabled persons who cannot procreate, infertile people, and people who flat out do not desire children or recognize they are unsuitable for parenting that their marriages aren’t valued or legitimate.

  • Myrmidon

    Nathan,

    It has been asked before, but seems to have got lost in the shuffle. Would you care to address 1 Corinthians 14 (or, more specifically, verses 34 and 35)? How does this particular section of the epistle apply, or not apply, to modern interpretations of Christianity?

  • Pseudonym

    Why is it that the only groups who spend any amount of time trying to draw a line between “true” and “false” Christianity are Christian fundamentalists and a certain proper subset of atheists?

  • Will,

    The Bible condones slavery,

    Not the kind of slavery you’re talking about – slavery in First Century Rome was a means for securing Roman citizenship (for non-citizens), you served your time and you got your gold star and climbed the ranks. Slaves were part of the family, they were paid, fed, housed and cared for. They were tutors, accountants, cooks, etc – and they had entered slavery for the purpose of social climbing.

    It was a similar story in Ancient Israel, slavery was a means for working off debt you’d incurred – and there was a jubilee year every seven years when all debts were cancelled, and all slaves were set free. We’re not talking human trafficking in appalling conditions, nor necessarily the subjugation of human rights we’re more familiar with in our context. We have modern slavery too – it’s called debt. It’s when the bank owns all you earn until you’ve paid it off. The Bible was also pretty vital in the fight against slavery – so I don’t think you can push that barrow too far. See Wilberforce and his ilk. Paul, the apostle, even says “get out of slavery if you can”…

    the subjugation of women

    People use the Bible to push the subjugation of women – but it certainly wasn’t Paul’s intention that women be subjugated – any reference to women speaking is in reference to practices within the church, gathering and is part of the symbolism of man and wife and god and man (with humanity as Christ’s bride).

    It’s generally about wives and their husbands – not men and any women, or women and any men. And it comes with the caveat that men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (ie sacrificing self for the good of the other). Wrong use of the Bible does not negate right use.

    , and condemnation of homosexuals, among other things,

    Yes. Also unrepentant liars, fornicators, drunkards, idolators, the greedy… etc. It’s called sin. Homosexuality is no worse than adultery, or any sex outside of marriage. Most of the problems come from the argument that homosexual practice (not attraction) is not a sin – and the old and new testaments are united on that.

    which are not humanistic ethics.

    No, but loving your neighbour, seeing no difference between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, etc (all people are equal before God) – that’s humanism. As is giving up your own rights for the sake of others. As is caring for the poor and needy…

    The Bible has some good in it, and some that is bad. The fact that you are so willing to reject and rationalize the evil and emphasize the good proves the point of this cartoon, and I think you fail to see that.

    It would if the so called “rationalism” wasn’t simply following the Bible’s demonstration of how to understand the Bible. It’s not arbitrary. It’s not picking and choosing – it’s approaching the Bible the way it suggests it should be approached, and the way it has been approached since Jesus. To suggest otherwise is anachronistic and trying to apply our own culture (and interpretive method) to its culture – and its a book that’s thousands of years old.

    P.S.- following the Decalogue may not make one a Christian, but one cannot be a Christian and not obey the Decalogue. Therefore I say that they are binding on Christians.

    Yes one can. I lie all the time. I look at women lustfully all the time (and thus Jesus says I commit adultery). The whole point of Jesus’ statement about the law quoted by others above is that people were getting it wrong – the law is not a standard that we can meet by creating all sorts of rules (like the Pharisees were). It’s a standard that is impossible to meet – the Pharisees might have thought that they were doing well by not committing adultery or murder – but Jesus says you’re essentially breaking the law of the Old Testament every time you’re angry or think lustfully. And that’s kind of the point. He didn’t break them so that we can be forgiven when we do. It’s not keeping the decalogue that makes me a Christian – it’s following Jesus and trusting in his keeping of the decalogue.

    Paul basically says all his good actions keeping the law are essentially (and quite literally) shit. That’s basically the word he uses in Philippians 3 that gets translated as “rubbish” or “dung” – it was pretty pejorative. Isaiah (OT prophet) says that acts of righteousness are “filthy rags” (more lit. used tampons) before God. The idea that our actions have anything to do with our standing with God is pretty consistently dismissed in both the Old and New Testament.

  • Pseudonym,

    “Why is it that the only groups who spend any amount of time trying to draw a line between “true” and “false” Christianity are Christian fundamentalists and a certain proper subset of atheists?”

    I’m neither. I just think it’s important to have definitions of terms clear when you’re discussing them.

    A Scotsman is a person from Scotland.

    A Christian is a person who follows Jesus.

    People of other nationalities can claim to be Scottish, some may even secure a Scottish passport through relatives, or support Scottish teams and eat Scottish food. But that doesn’t make them Scottish.

    The analogy is apt for those who call themselves Christians but don’t follow Jesus Christ.

  • TheRealistMom

    As a woman I find it fascinating that this “not really slavery” you speak of Nathan involves raping women to force them to bear children to their masters (“go in unto her, and she will bear us a son”) I guess when it’s women it is happening to, it is “not really slavery” then.

  • Pseudonym

    Nathan, I didn’t mean you. I was referring to Hemant’s commentary.

    FWIW, if we’re arguing definitions, the cartoon doesn’t actually use the word “Christian” anywhere.

  • Pseudonym,

    You’re right. I felt sure I read the words “true Christianity” somewhere on this page, but I only looked up as far as the first line of the post when I scrolled back… and it’s in the title.

    I wasn’t suggesting you meant me, simply providing my answer for why I think getting a “true” definition that we all agree on is important. It’s like the reoccurring debate in these parts about the definition of atheist (one who has no belief in god(s)). It makes it easier to discuss stuff properly if we all agree on what the definitions are.

  • Civil marriage is for the purpose of creating children?

    I guess someone needs to tell senior citizens, disabled persons who cannot procreate, infertile people, and people who flat out do not desire children or recognize they are unsuitable for parenting that their marriages aren’t valued or legitimate.

    I can only assume that’s the case, otherwise I see no reason for the government to be involved in what is otherwise a private arrangement. Their marriages are legitimate because they make them legitimate. They imbue their relationships with meaning, not the government.

  • Peterson, C.

    It’s a fallacy to suggest that someone hates gay people because they oppose gay marriage.

    I wouldn’t suggest that everyone against same-sex marriage hates homosexuals, but I would say that they’re denying homosexuals basic rights. Since the religion is most often the excuse used to deny these rights, then Christianity and the Bible are being used to keep a segment of the population from enjoying what I would consider a basic freedom.

    Obviously that’s an opinion, but so is the notion that homosexual practices are a sin.

    Also, since the idea of viewing the Bible in the context of the time it was written has been brought up, can’t such an argument be applied to the decrying of homosexuality? Life expectancy was low and child deaths were high, so perhaps branding homosexuality as a sin was simply a way to encourage procreation.

    It’s generally about wives and their husbands – not men and any women, or women and any men. And it comes with the caveat that men are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (ie sacrificing self for the good of the other). Wrong use of the Bible does not negate right use.

    The problem with this argument is that the woman is still in a position of submission to her husband. It’s all well and good to say that the husband has his own duties, and that he will love and sacrifice for his wife, but that doesn’t change the fact that rules are handed out as to what a person can and cannot do if they are of a particular gender. That’s sexual discrimination.

    Also, similar arguments were often used when women in the U.S. were fighting for more rights. People would say that husbands were sacrificing for their families by going to work and putting food on the table, and that women should be content with their lot as homemakers serving in support of their husbands.

    It would if the so called “rationalism” wasn’t simply following the Bible’s demonstration of how to understand the Bible. It’s not arbitrary. It’s not picking and choosing – it’s approaching the Bible the way it suggests it should be approached, and the way it has been approached since Jesus. To suggest otherwise is anachronistic and trying to apply our own culture (and interpretive method) to its culture – and its a book that’s thousands of years old.

    That’s great. Now how many preachers attempt to put the Bible into such a context? How many believers have done the same amount of research as you have in order to understand the origins of their faith? It doesn’t seem like there’s many.

    Since there’s no overriding mortal authority in Christianity, there’s no one to put the Bible in a single perspective. People are free to interpret it pretty much however they please. Many may turn to their priest for guidance in this regard, and he can discuss the matter with his fellow clergymen, but there’s still no central authority.

    Over 40% of American’s believe the world is 6000 years old and that every organism was created exactly as it appears today. They interpret Genesis literally, denying the overwhelming amount of geological and biological evidence to the contrary. It’s not far fetched to say that all of these people, or at least the majority of them, probably also view the rest of the Bible as the literal word of God.

    It’s because of this that I don’t see anything wrong with using arguments such as that in the comic above. Or picking out those parts of the Bible that are anathema to modern ways of thinking and criticizing them. There are too many people willing to use the Bible as a club rather than a road map.

    Another thing, since the Bible is so far out of date, why isn’t there any push to edit and possible rewrite it for a more modern audience? Why not get rid of all those passages that are so often miss-interpreted and used to show Christianity in a negative light?

    A Christian is a person who follows Jesus.

    It’s great that you have a well defined idea of exactly what it means to be a Christian. Unfortunately, that means exactly nothing in a world where there’s no strict criteria for who can and cannot call themselves Christian.

    Declaring that another person is not a Christian simply because you disagree with his words and actions when he’s using your holy text to justify his words and actions is pretty worthless. You don’t think he’s a Christian? Fine. He does, though. So do his friends, and the people he attends church with, and anyone that he spends time with or listens to him.

  • Myrmidon,

    It comes after 14:26-27 where Paul seems to imply that men and women can both prophesy (which I take to mean speak to the church a word relevant to particular space and time – a lot of the Old Testament “prophets” speak about the current plight of Israel and what that means for relationship with God rather than providing concrete predictions regarding the future), and corroborates 1 Corinthians 11:5 where he explicitly states that women can prophecy provided they act in a culturally appropriate way when doing so (the veil question is now understood to be a Roman identifier for married and unmarried women), the KJV (and a bunch of others) offer a pretty shoddy translation with no real notion of what role gender plays in Greek nouns (each noun has an in built gender, and the default is masculine, but a masculine noun (for brethren) shouldn’t always be translated as just referring to males), Paul is speaking to all the people in the congregation in what is traditionally translated “brothers” this is from the NIV:

    “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God.”

    Paul’s general principle for church gatherings is in there too (in the bit I’ve bolded). So verses 34-35 should be understood in the context he’s talking about – namely the church meeting. There are all sorts of reconstructions suggested for why this instruction was necessary, my current favourite is about shame/honour culture – and the shame it would bring a first century Roman man (and thus the disruption to the unity of the church) that a woman publicly questioning another man, or her husband, would bring. It’s not a feature of our culture (well, not that most husbands would care to admit) – but I think what Paul is after is unity in church gatherings for the sake of the promotion of Jesus and being able to love one another. He certainly isn’t making sure women don’t speak (because that doesn’t fit with 1 Corinthians 11, or the earlier part of the passage) – it seems to be a particular type of speaking he’s ruling out. The Greek word has a fairly broad semantic range.

    This piece from Bishop/scholar NT Wright is worth reading. As is some of the stuff by Bruce Winter he recommends tracking down.

  • Peterson, C.

    I can only assume that’s the case, otherwise I see no reason for the government to be involved in what is otherwise a private arrangement. Their marriages are legitimate because they make them legitimate. They imbue their relationships with meaning, not the government.

    But the government imbues their marriage with rights. For a long time marriages were just civil matters. Essentially you declared you were married and you were. Now, however, the government has to acknowledge your union in order to grant you access to the rights that are available only to married couples.

    There’s also the fact that since the government chooses to legitimize heterosexual marriages, choosing not to do the same for gay marriages can be seen as saying that such unions are less valid.

  • Peterson,

    “Also, since the idea of viewing the Bible in the context of the time it was written has been brought up, can’t such an argument be applied to the decrying of homosexuality? Life expectancy was low and child deaths were high, so perhaps branding homosexuality as a sin was simply a way to encourage procreation.”

    Except that the arguments against Homosexuality aren’t grounded in the culture – but in the way God created man and woman, and the roles he assigned them, and the way they are to relate to one another in order to fulfill the mandate to be fruitful and multiply…

    Romans 1 suggests the problem with homosexuality is that it goes against the natural order – it’s a twisting in thinking (albeit a genetic one) that comes about as a result of the fall of creation and acting on that genetic impulse is a sin (just as it’s a sin for me to act on certain genetic impulses, like pursuing women who are not my wife).

    “That’s sexual discrimination.”

    Yes. The Bible is pretty clear that the genders are different and have different roles. Not all discrimination is bad though. Only negative discrimination.

    “That’s great. Now how many preachers attempt to put the Bible into such a context? How many believers have done the same amount of research as you have in order to understand the origins of their faith? It doesn’t seem like there’s many.”

    Not enough.

    Over 40% of American’s believe the world is 6000 years old and that every organism was created exactly as it appears today. They interpret Genesis literally, denying the overwhelming amount of geological and biological evidence to the contrary. It’s not far fetched to say that all of these people, or at least the majority of them, probably also view the rest of the Bible as the literal word of God.

    I view the Bible as the literal word of God, and I view Genesis 1 as truth. I just don’t think “literal” means what the fundamentalist/YEC thinks literal means. One of the other problems with fundamentalists is a lack of ability to recognise and interpret on the basis of genre. Not everything is historical narrative. Not everything is allegory.

    Another thing, since the Bible is so far out of date, why isn’t there any push to edit and possible rewrite it for a more modern audience? Why not get rid of all those passages that are so often miss-interpreted and used to show Christianity in a negative light?

    Because it’s still the inspired word of God (according to Christian belief). And figuring out what odd passages mean is half the fun (see the misguided, but entertaining, Left Behind series and those who think it’s prophecy, not fiction).

    “It’s because of this that I don’t see anything wrong with using arguments such as that in the comic above. “

    The comic pushes a fallacious definition of Biblical ethics. That’s what is wrong with it. It’s deceptive. Unless you stop reading the Bible at book three (of 66) you can’t possibly believe that Biblical ethics are summed up as “stone people” – especially when Jesus stopped the stoning of an adulterous woman on the basis of nobody being righteous enough to carry out the sentence the law requires.

    “It’s great that you have a well defined idea of exactly what it means to be a Christian. Unfortunately, that means exactly nothing in a world where there’s no strict criteria for who can and cannot call themselves Christian.”

    That’s not so much my definition as the definition implicit in the title. Like an atheist is one who does not believe in God’s (preposition “a” followed by “theist”) a Christian is someone who is like, or follows, Christ (noun “Christ” followed by suffix “-ian” (def – from, related to, belonging to, or like). If someone does not live like Jesus lived, or follow his teachings it’s fair to say they are not “true” Christians.

    Calling oneself Scottish does not make it so. Calling oneself Christian is the same.

    ” Fine. He does, though. So do his friends, and the people he attends church with, and anyone that he spends time with or listens to him.”

    If that’s the case, and they’re measuring this against the definition of Christian as “one who follows to, belongs to, or is like Christ” then yes. He probably is a Christian. It’s possible to be a Christian and be wrong about stuff. It’s possible to be a Christian and not be entirely “true” too. That’s the whole point of Christianity and grace – we all continue to experience the effects of the brokenness of humanity.

    But I think there are some cases where just calling yourself a Christian and acting in line with what you think the Bible says can be clearly pointed out to not be behaving as a Christian – like the Westboro mob.

    What do they do with the idea that it’s in how we show love to one another that people will know we follow Christ (John 13:35)? What do they do with the summary of the Law of God (Luke 10) as “love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself”…

    They’re not meeting either of these criteria established by Jesus himself. They’re pretty much ignoring them.

  • cat

    @samiimus, I think Nathan just proved your point. He claims he doesn’t hate queer people, no, he just thinks we are inferior and don’t deserve equal rights.

    @Nathan, I advise you stop harping on quotes that contain lines about purity when trying to prove the bible less evil, because the concept of purity is behind much of Christian bigotry (including anti-queer bigotry) and is the theological justification for imposing one’s views on others. The idea that other people’s personal lives pollute the community if they are women who want equality, queer people, non-Christians, etc. is something that has been used to excuse mass slaughters and centuries of oppression.

  • Samiimas

    It’s a fallacy to suggest that someone hates gay people because they oppose gay marriage

    It’s a fallacy to suggest that someone hates Christians because they oppose Christians being allowed to marry.

    ^I would ask you if you’d think an atheist claiming that was a hateful bigot, but I’ve tried that before and they just lie.

    Also you were so busy making excuses for the fact that you support taking my rights away that you never addressed my point. This comic is 100% accurate in it’s depiction of how Christians claim their faith is ‘evolving’ when they abandon what Christianity has believed for over a thousand years in favor of what atheists already overwhelmingly believe *That gay people deserve equal rights* and then claim the people who still follow the ancient and widespread Christian tradition *hating gay people* are ‘perverting’ the religion. You see this being argued all the frickin time on gay blogs.

  • It’s a fallacy to suggest that someone hates Christians because they oppose Christians being allowed to marry.

    You’ve got a very broad definition of hate going on there… I’ve seen atheists on this site (and I know you’re not all the same) suggesting that Christians raising their children with the intention that they become Christians is child abuse. Essentially they oppose Christians being allowed to parent.

    Do I think they hate Christians? No. They just have a particular view about the responsibilities of parenting. Christians who oppose gay marriage simply have different views about how marriage should be defined.

    I have no problem with marriage being extended to gay couples. It’s just a word. In Australia they essentially enjoy the same legal rights short of stuff associated with parenting (and that’s changing). The only argument I see as justifiable for keeping the definition restricted to opposite sex relationships is a desire for the government to provide tax incentives for procreation, and certain protections for children.

    I can see why other people arrive at positions opposed to gay marriage, and it’s not always because they hate gay people (though sometimes it is) – to suggest that being opposed to gay marriage indicates hatred is wrong. It’s a fallacy.

    I don’t go to gay blogs so I don’t see this – but I imagine the people on gay blogs touting the Christian line have an agenda (just as I do here – namely to mount a defense for Christianity in the face of unwarranted criticism and to suggest that one can be of reasonable intelligence, committed broadly to skepticism and rationality and still be a Christian). Often they’ll be motivated by love (ie wanting to see you not in hell) and just go about doing things poorly. Sometimes they’re no doubt there to troll.

    Who says equal rights is the role of government anyway? Broadly speaking, once human rights and equal standing under the law have been acknowledged, the government’s function is to redistribute wealth and resources where they think it best for the survival of the country and its economy, in order that we might all live our lives as we please. That might mean discriminating for, or against, certain constituents. Governments do it all the time – if the US government is subsidising the car industry because it’s failing, it doesn’t entitle the donut industry to claim the same handouts.

  • @Nathan,

    You said “…I think Joseph Smith was a false prophet…”

    Well, since I take an agnostic view towards divinity, I think ALL prophets are false prophets. I see no real difference between Joseph Smith and Paul (or Jesus) in actually knowing God. Perhaps that is the only difference between us. It is perhaps just an academic question whether divinity is unknowable because of its unknowable nature or whether it is unknowable because there is nothing there to know. That is why I don’t get passionate with any of the atheist vs. agnostic debates. I don’t really see any real practical difference between them.

    There are some good ideas in the bible but it is up to us to recognize and decide which are the good ideas. I think that is what the comic implies. I believe you are on the wrong side of history pertaining to gay marriage. I predict that Christianity will eventually come around to viewing gay marriage just like racially mixed marriages (in that they are OK). You are just a holdout like the Christians not so long ago were holdouts against inter-racial marriage.

  • muggle

    The truth of the matter is the ones supposedly perverting Xianity are the ones being true to it. However, I’m inclined to encourage people to touchy, feel-good fake friend — for the sake of society.

    Utter fantasy is leave all the nonsense behind. Failing that, believe loving god bullshit rather than hating, killing god bullshit. Of course, when they toss out what modern man has come to equate with barbaric, it is so blatantly not what their buybull says that I just want to scream and shake them and say, “No, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say read and follow your buybull then ignore half of it.”

    Oh, and if the Old Testament/Torah no longer applies, why, precisely, is it then included in Christianity? Just to have something to predicate a Messiah on? Gimme a break. God’s suddenly deciding all the rules he made up are just silly and tossing them out the window, I suppose? This the same gawd who you’re claiming is infallible. Of course, if he were, there’d be no need for a Messiah to begin with. The whole thing’s so fucking preposterous and makes no utter sense.

    Fact is, Jesus and the Bible are not humanistic.

  • Sean

    especially when Jesus stopped the stoning of an adulterous woman on the basis of nobody being righteous enough to carry out the sentence the law requires

    So you think that part was in the original? And the Torah, do you think one man wrote it, the Moses whom it mentions? Is your understanding of the origins of different parts of the Bible based in real scholarship, or a faith defended through the soft and seemingly harmless omissions of traditional and apologetic Christianity?

    Anyway, this whole discussion is why I think epistemology is a necessary part of morality, that it’s not enough to simply do what you think is right, but that you are responsible for making sure (within your own particular capabilities) that your moral decision-making is based on truth and not falsity.

    “I want to prevent people from going to hell” sounds very altruistic from the perspective of someone within Christianity.

    But from the outside, it looks pretty much the same as “I want to stop Santa Claus from banning you from Candyland.” or “Let’s go live in a shack in the woods so that the reptilian shadow government can’t control our minds with chemtrails.” Perhaps hell is not so egregiously silly, but it’s still a totally empty threat to us.

    Should anyone be comforted by the statement “We don’t hate homosexuals, we just want to save them from abduction by extraterrestrial aliens”?

    Would it be any more reasonable if the majority of people in a certain country thought this way? Or just more harmful?

    Not to mention that “God says X” would not automatically make X right even if some really powerful being with some resemblance to our ideas about “God” existed; it’s rather a moot point if he’s a fictional character in canon written by a bunch of conflicting personalities over hundreds of years.

    And this:

    the way God created man and woman, and the roles he assigned them

    may not involve the actual emotion of hatred, but it is still basically prejudiced. Prejudice (and all the attendant horrors it has inflicted on the human race) is not really about hatred, but about ignorance. It maintains itself entirely on the false belief that one group of people is too different (and usually, too inferior), and therefore must be targeted for exclusion, often at high cost. It’s possible to be a nice person and be extremely prejudiced, which makes the word “hate” a red herring, IMO. I’ve met too many “nice” racists to feel otherwise.

  • Robert W.

    The real problem with the cartoon is that is based upon a false premise that there are humanist principles that are unchanging so that biblical ethics can accept them.

    The truth is that humanist ethics is based upon each individual’s self and conscious so it is inherently moral relativism.

  • Jeff,

    I believe you are on the wrong side of history pertaining to gay marriage.

    Me personally? Or Christendom in general? I’m on the “I don’t care what you call your relationship why is the government meddling in our private lives anyway?” side. I think gay marriage is all well and good. I’d just like the church to be able to say that it’s not without being accused of hating gays. We need to be allowed to have opt-in organisations that are essentially discriminatory. Or all the female only gyms are going to shut down… my main concern is that churches be allowed to say “even if the state says gay marriages are ok, we won’t marry you because we believe otherwise”…

    Muggle,

    I’m barely even able to bother responding to your comments to me these days – but can I point out that in church history almost no Christians have interpreted the Old Testament the way you suggest it needs to be. Those that do are such a statistically small number that you can treat them as outliers and dismiss them. I’m not saying it never happens – just that it’s such an incredible minority that the fact we’re having this conversation is just mind boggling to me.

    Sean,

    So you think that part was in the original?

    I think it’s an interpolation – but one based on a real account that somebody just had to shoehorn in somewhere.

    And the Torah, do you think one man wrote it, the Moses whom it mentions?

    I’m comfortable with the idea that Moses wrote a bunch of it and that it was edited by different priestly schools up until Israel went into Babylonian exile.

    Is your understanding of the origins of different parts of the Bible based in real scholarship

    Yes. Though it depends what you think real scholarship is – I’ve read pretty widely, including a bunch of German guys, I’m familiar with ideas like the JEDP theory (or the Documentary Hypothesis) and also familiar with source and form criticism – and the way one kind of cancels out the other. It seems likely that some things people thought were from different sources were from common sources, but you can’t argue that there weren’t certain processes of evolution in the way Israel thought about their relationship with God – that’s also part of the unfolding revelation of the OT prophets. I do think that the whole process was essentially guided by the hand of God though (I’m not a deist).

    or a faith defended through the soft and seemingly harmless omissions of traditional and apologetic Christianity?

    Nope.

    But from the outside, it looks pretty much the same as “I want to stop Santa Claus from banning you from Candyland.” or “Let’s go live in a shack in the woods so that the reptilian shadow government can’t control our minds with chemtrails.” Perhaps hell is not so egregiously silly, but it’s still a totally empty threat to us.

    I understand – but being crazy is different to hating somebody. I don’t think Christians are crazy or haters. But I can’t understand why atheists keep suggesting that we’re crazy haters simply because we believe actions have consequences and want to stop those consequences befalling you… though I can understand the frustration of having people whose beliefs you don’t share trying to run your lives via the government. That kind of sucks. And it’s the kind of thing I will use whatever influence I end up having in the Australian church scene (I’m training to be a minister) to fight vehemently against. Separation of church and state is good for both parties.

    Not to mention that “God says X” would not automatically make X right even if some really powerful being with some resemblance to our ideas about “God” existed;

    I’ve actually thrashed out my views on this pretty comprehensively in the Friendly Atheist archives it might also be in the post linked to by that post. It’s Euthyphro’s Dilemma. I think God declaring something as moral, by definition, makes it moral – it doesn’t matter what those under God think, it’s a bit like might is right – but you can overthrow hostile governments by numbers, and you can’t overthrow God…

    “not involve the actual emotion of hatred, but it is still basically prejudiced. Prejudice (and all the attendant horrors it has inflicted on the human race) is not really about hatred, but about ignorance. “

    It doesn’t necessarily involve hatred, prejudice, or ignorance. It can. And it has. But it doesn’t have to. Especially when just about everything the Bible has to say about gender is in the context of marriage (ie my sisters don’t have to submit to me because I’m male, nor does my mum, nor did my school teacher). I could abuse this “created order” or I could use it rightly. Let me give you an example. I love my wife dearly. I am bigger than her, and stronger than her. The genders are different. Those facts will be the same in most relationships (without external issues that effect things like levels of fitness, intelligence, emotional stability etc). In most cases, culturally, the male is also responsible for pursuing her and proposing. Which gives the male a certain psychological edge (and I know this is changing culturally). Were I to abuse the “created order” of things, or issues of submission Biblically, I could probably physically or emotionally force her to do just about anything. But I don’t. Because to do that would not be loving, and it would betray the trust she has placed in me. I would also be failing in my responsibilities to love her as Christ loved the church – Jesus didn’t run around manipulating people into doing stuff, especially not his friends and loved ones, he led by example. He made sacrifices (including his life). These are the roles the Bible speaks of so far as man and woman are concerned – it may use archaic language like headship and scary language like “submission” – but what I think it really means is recognising differences in genders and acting accordingly – so my wife recognises that I am bigger and stronger than her, and lets me do the “protecting” – and I realise that she is weaker (physically) and emotionally vulnerable – and it’s my job to make sacrifices accordingly.

    It’s not at all about superiority and inferiority – it’s about recognising differences and accounting for them in the way you relate to one another. You may want an androgynous marriage where you can’t tell the difference between the parties, but I like the complementary make up of my marriage where my deficiencies are made up by my wife’s efficiencies, and vice versa.

    Can you tell me where that attitude is hateful, ignorant or prejudiced?

  • Samiimas

    I’d just like the church to be able to say that it’s not without being accused of hating gays.

    Just like how churches who refuse to marry an interracial couple aren’t racist.

    I’ve seen atheists on this site (and I know you’re not all the same) suggesting that Christians raising their children with the intention that they become Christians is child abuse. Essentially they oppose Christians being allowed to parent.

    Also love how you try the ‘atheists are just as bad!’ nonsense to distract from the fact that you consider gay people to be inferior. Their is not a single atheist trying to deny any rights to Christians. Their point was that religion gets away with a level of brainwashing we’d never accept anywhere else and it’s completely bloody true, if someone dragged their child to a meeting once a week were a man got on stage and talked about how everyone who doesn’t vote democrat is a bad person who’s gonna be tortured for eternity we’d all agree they were being brainwashed into being Democrats. Hell if atheists were to start telling their kids that the only way to be a good person is to be an atheist and dragging them to meetings were a guy ranted about how all non-atheists deserve to burn in a pit of fire everyone would be quick to point out we’re brainwashing them.

  • It’s not at all about superiority and inferiority – it’s about recognising differences and accounting for them in the way you relate to one another. You may want an androgynous marriage where you can’t tell the difference between the parties, but I like the complementary make up of my marriage where my deficiencies are made up by my wife’s efficiencies, and vice versa.

    Can you tell me where that attitude is hateful, ignorant or prejudiced?

    Well said Nathan (as is your argument about how the law is fulfilled and not done away with).

  • Just like how churches who refuse to marry an interracial couple aren’t racist.

    That’s a spurious comparison as men are still men, and women are still women, no matter what ‘race’ they might be.

  • Samiimas

    That’s a spurious comparison as men are still men, and women are still women, no matter what ‘race’ they might be.

    YES OR NO: Someone who refuses to marry an interracial couple is a racist, even if they’re only refusing because of their religious beliefs. No BS about how it’s not a valid comparison, just a yes or no answer

  • cat

    “Can you tell me where that attitude is hateful, ignorant or prejudiced?” It is blatantly and absurdly sexist. Assuming that all women are more ’emotionally vulnerable’ than men and that all women and all men have the same ‘deficiencies’ is prejudiced on its face. You, Nathan, are full of shit. (and, may I add, that gender is mentioned plenty of times in the bible outside of the context of marriage, including calling for stoning for wearing masculine garments, rapes, kidnappings and enslavements of women of other groups, murder of pregnant and non virgin women, killing women for not screaming loud enough while being raped, forcing women to marry their rapists, etc.)

    “my main concern is that churches be allowed to say “even if the state says gay marriages are ok, we won’t marry you because we believe otherwise”…” Learn the fucking basics of US laws then, instead of opening your big fat heterosexist mouth. No church in the US ever has to marry anyone it does not want to, for any reason. Civil marriage laws only apply to government agents in terms of performing marriages. Churches can be as nasty as they want in regards to who they marry (yes, hatred of queer people in thinking we are inferior and do not deserve the same rights is nasty). There are entire churches that refuse to marry people of different races, this is perfectly legal. So learn so damned law before throwing out absurd homophobic talking points as if they were a legitimate concern (you could also learn a bit about the US Constitutional law and debunk your absurd notion about how economic regulation in regards to dsicrimination is legistlated). “it’s a twisting in thinking (albeit a genetic one) that comes about as a result of the fall of creation and acting on that genetic impulse is a sin (just as it’s a sin for me to act on certain genetic impulses, like pursuing women who are not my wife)” Really, that is intensly bigoted. Go fuck yourself. I refuse to accept you flimsy excuses for thinking queer people are evil, deficient, or inferior just because you base them on your nasty old holy book.

    The reason you do not object to the sexism and homophobia in the bible is because you are a homophobic sexist, glad we cleared that up.

    As usual, another Christian trying to use their evil religion’s notions of hell and jesus tears to excuse bigotry against others. Yawn, I grew up in Klan country and I have seen this one a billion fucking times.

    On another note, I do not think that atheists who think raising children in religion is child abuse will claim to like religious people, if they do, they would also be hypocrits, just like the christian assholes who claim that their bigotry isn’t hatred if they have a bullshit religious excuse.

  • John

    That’s a spurious comparison as men are still men, and women are still women, no matter what ‘race’ they might be.

    Men are still men people, and women are still women people, no matter what ‘race’ ‘sexuality’ they might be.

    Fixed.

    It’s always interesting to me how people with these “enlightened” Jesus-centric views of the Bible happen to have pretty modern, secular ethics on the face of it. I guess you can argue the causal direction there, but I personally wager the Enlightenment had something to do with it.

  • Nathan,

    I support your right to think and believe as you like. I support the right of your church to think and believe as they like. I support the whole of Christendom to think and believe what they like. I support the right for everybody to be able to freely express their ideas (evangelize if you will). I just draw the line with forcing these beliefs on everybody by the course of law. I’m fine with your church refusing to marry homosexuals. But I don’t think your church members should be voting on any propositions to keep marriage illegal for homosexuals. That is imposing your religious views on the larger society. The same argument goes for the other hot-button topics of the day (like abortion). Have your views, argue your views, just don’t impose your views on others via the state.

  • Peterson, C.

    Yes. The Bible is pretty clear that the genders are different and have different roles. Not all discrimination is bad though. Only negative discrimination.

    The problem with assigning roles based solely on gender rather than ability is that it precludes choice. That makes it negative discrimination.

    Once again we can go back to the battle for women’s rights, when people were of the idea that women should be grateful for the nice, easy roles they were given in society. Some of them were probably quite happy to stay at home and take care of things, but the ones that weren’t had no alternatives.

    In my mind you can’t spin sexual discrimination as ever being positive simply because it ignores ability and forbids having a choice.

    Because it’s still the inspired word of God (according to Christian belief).

    But isn’t it the message that’s important, not the book itself? Too many people these days seem to view the book as sacred, rather then the messages inside. If you keep the same ideas, but rewrite it in a modern context, hasn’t the important part been preserved?

    And who’s to say that the person who undertakes such a task isn’t being inspired by God?

    The comic pushes a fallacious definition of Biblical ethics. That’s what is wrong with it. It’s deceptive. Unless you stop reading the Bible at book three (of 66) you can’t possibly believe that Biblical ethics are summed up as “stone people” – especially when Jesus stopped the stoning of an adulterous woman on the basis of nobody being righteous enough to carry out the sentence the law requires.

    I think a lot of people stop reading at the King James Bible and call it good. Some probably only go so far as to read whatever the pastor is reading on Sundays. That’s beside the point, however.

    I don’t believe the comic is suggesting that the ethics of the Bible are summed up so simply. It’s simply a jab at those people who use one part of the Bible as a club, while completely ignoring other parts. This includes the people who seem to conveniently ignore the messages of peace, reason, and understanding that Jesus preached. Jesus, if he existed and did the things he’s claimed to have done, was a great humanist, but people seem less inclined to follow his examples, and much more interested in using the Bible to push an agenda.

    You mention the Westboro Baptist church conveniently ignoring the friendlier aspects of their religion, and that’s a great example of the types of people the comic is aimed at.

    The argument of context seems to be used most often as a way of countering the negative aspects of the Bible and of blowing off those customs which people don’t want to adhere to. There seems to be no real inclination to use it in order to gain understanding.

    I have no problem with marriage being extended to gay couples. It’s just a word. In Australia they essentially enjoy the same legal rights short of stuff associated with parenting (and that’s changing). The only argument I see as justifiable for keeping the definition restricted to opposite sex relationships is a desire for the government to provide tax incentives for procreation, and certain protections for children.

    In America they don’t enjoy the same legal rights. Last time I checked into it I believe there’s some 200 rights that are extended to married couples that the unmarried have no access to. Big ones are things like parental rights concerning children, joint ownership of wealth, and the ability to make medical decisions for an incapacitated spouse.

    The problem, in my mind, isn’t so much that Christians believe it’s a sin. I would like it if they didn’t believe that, but I can’t tell people what to think. The problem is that they’re using religion to push for legislation banning same sex marriage. In a few cases there are individuals who want to make same sex relations illegal.

    It’s all fine and dandy to want marriage to be a civil affair, but it’s not, and the homosexual community and those of us who support them are rather fed up with having people attempt to cram their religion down our throats.

    Who says equal rights is the role of government anyway? Broadly speaking, once human rights and equal standing under the law have been acknowledged, the government’s function is to redistribute wealth and resources where they think it best for the survival of the country and its economy, in order that we might all live our lives as we please. That might mean discriminating for, or against, certain constituents.

    We tried this. We called it segregation. It went quite poorly.

  • Peterson, C.

    Yes. The Bible is pretty clear that the genders are different and have different roles. Not all discrimination is bad though. Only negative discrimination.

    The problem with assigning roles based solely on gender rather than ability is that it precludes choice. That makes it negative discrimination.

    Once again we can go back to the battle for women’s rights, when people were of the idea that women should be grateful for the nice, easy roles they were given in society. Some of them were probably quite happy to stay at home and take care of things, but the ones that weren’t had no alternatives.

    In my mind you can’t spin sexual discrimination as ever being positive simply because it ignores ability and forbids having a choice.

    Because it’s still the inspired word of God (according to Christian belief).

    But isn’t it the message that’s important, not the book itself? Too many people these days seem to view the book as sacred, rather then the messages inside. If you keep the same ideas, but rewrite it in a modern context, hasn’t the important part been preserved?

    And who’s to say that the person who undertakes such a task isn’t being inspired by God?

    The comic pushes a fallacious definition of Biblical ethics. That’s what is wrong with it. It’s deceptive. Unless you stop reading the Bible at book three (of 66) you can’t possibly believe that Biblical ethics are summed up as “stone people” – especially when Jesus stopped the stoning of an adulterous woman on the basis of nobody being righteous enough to carry out the sentence the law requires.

    I think a lot of people stop reading at the King James Bible and call it good. Some probably only go so far as to read whatever the pastor is reading on Sundays. That’s beside the point, however.

    I don’t believe the comic is suggesting that the ethics of the Bible are summed up so simply. It’s simply a jab at those people who use one part of the Bible as a club, while completely ignoring other parts. This includes the people who seem to conveniently ignore the messages of peace, reason, and understanding that Jesus preached. Jesus, if he existed and did the things he’s claimed to have done, was a great humanist, but people seem less inclined to follow his examples, and much more interested in using the Bible to push an agenda.

    You mention the Westboro Baptist church conveniently ignoring the friendlier aspects of their religion, and that’s a great example of the types of people the comic is aimed at.

    The argument of context seems to be used most often as a way of countering the negative aspects of the Bible and of blowing off those customs which people don’t want to adhere to. There seems to be no real inclination to use it in order to gain understanding.

    I have no problem with marriage being extended to gay couples. It’s just a word. In Australia they essentially enjoy the same legal rights short of stuff associated with parenting (and that’s changing). The only argument I see as justifiable for keeping the definition restricted to opposite sex relationships is a desire for the government to provide tax incentives for procreation, and certain protections for children.

    In America they don’t enjoy the same legal rights. Last time I checked into it I believe there’s some 200 rights that are extended to married couples that the unmarried have no access to. Big ones are things like parental rights concerning children, joint ownership of wealth, and the ability to make medical decisions for an incapacitated spouse.

    The problem, in my mind, isn’t so much that Christians believe it’s a sin. I would like it if they didn’t believe that, but I can’t tell people what to think. The problem is that they’re using religion to push for legislation banning same sex marriage. In a few cases there are individuals who want to make same sex relations illegal.

    It’s all fine and dandy to want marriage to be a civil affair, but it’s not, and the homosexual community and those of us who support them are rather fed up with having people attempt to cram their religion down our throats.

    Who says equal rights is the role of government anyway? Broadly speaking, once human rights and equal standing under the law have been acknowledged, the government’s function is to redistribute wealth and resources where they think it best for the survival of the country and its economy, in order that we might all live our lives as we please. That might mean discriminating for, or against, certain constituents.

    We tried this. We called it segregation. It went quite poorly.

  • BlueRidgeLady

    lol @ the explanation of a kinder, gentler form of slavery, and that yeah, women should STFU, but the men are supposed to love them. It makes subjugation totally okay!

  • cat

    @ Peterson, your comment was so good it was worth reading twice 😉 That said, your number for legal rights is too low. At last official count, there were over 1100 federal rights alone that are granted to married couples, many states give rights in addition to those as well.

    Though, after spending several hours today in ConLaw discussing the fourteenth amendment, this part of Nathan’s comments made me super pissed off all over again. “Who says equal rights is the role of government anyway?” The US Constitution does, in fact, say this. We call it the fourteenth amendment… Nothing like a semester of law school to make you want to throw your fifteen pound ConLaw book at someone’s head as your response to their asinine comments.

  • Myrmidon

    Nathan,

    Thank you for elaborating on Corinthians. As far as Christians go, i’d dare to say that you seem to be the type that i, as an atheist, am pleased to become acquainted with. Of course i don’t agree with some of your opinions, e.g. the nature of homosexuality, but i do appreciate your stance opposing the attempted legislation of biblical morality. The problem, i think, is that politics and moral legislation are so conflated (at least here in the US) that there is no way to cleanly separate them. Instead of being their brothers’ keepers and minding their own behavior, many Christians here seem to feel obligated to concern themselves with the perceived sins of others. They don’t seem content to spread the “good news” — they take it upon themselves to point out exactly where others — nonbelievers — are falling short. I can understand doing this among and within the church, but doing this to nonbelievers and furthermore attempting to legally sanction them is, i think, a major cause of the frustration and resentment seen even in this very thread.

  • Secular Stu

    As a woman I find it fascinating that this “not really slavery” you speak of Nathan involves raping women to force them to bear children to their masters (“go in unto her, and she will bear us a son”) I guess when it’s women it is happening to, it is “not really slavery” then.

    Well, hell, that sounds almost as bad as a bank loan. (Rolls eyes.)

  • Sean

    Can you tell me where that attitude is hateful, ignorant or prejudiced?

    I don’t really care about your relationship with your wife specifically, and I also mentioned that I’m not that interested in accusations about hate. I find prejudice in the implication that a specific type of relationship is the type intended by God, and that therefore it is special compared to others. This includes not merely “androgynous” marriages, but also ones in which the gender roles are largely reversed, or simply mixed up, due to the specific personalities of the couple involved. My father is essentially uninterested in most leadership, an empathetic, sensitive, go-with-the-flow, routine-maintaining, submissive kind of guy. My mother is full of initiative, command, energy, common-sense planning, thick skin, and quick action. She took most of the initiative in the relationship. They have a great relationship that would not have lasted five minutes with my father in the “protective” role. A view of human relationships that can’t account for that is surely based on ignorance of the facts.

    I also find prejudice in the implication that a gay relationship has limited (or negative!) value because it lacks some kind of complementarity or is outside of God’s plan. Frankly, I think that most straight people, anti-gay or not, seem to get by with a certain degree of ignorance about how gay couples work (at least, compared with the elaborate cultural mores built around straight relationships, which everyone has at least a passing familiarity with by a very young age). Not that gay couples are all that different ultimately, but there are obviously some unique obstacles and advantages involved.

    And I think that Christianity itself is a symptom of ignorance; or perhaps not ignorance so much as crank-ness. Someone who believes that the moon landing was a hoax may be intimately familiar with the video footage in a way that I am not (and thus legitimately claim not to be “ignorant” about certain aspects of the matter). But if an explanation of events is based on elaborate rationalizations that rarely touch base with the empirically observable (or interpret neutral evidence, which fits with several explanations, as positive evidence for one particular explanation), there’s clearly a problem somewhere. And it seems to me that that’s precisely what apologetics is about.

    A discriminatory bias that’s based on ignorance or a distorted view of reality; isn’t that what private prejudice is?

  • Robert W.

    So those of you who say us Christians can’t vote our value system- are you serious? If not explicitly said, it is certainly implied by the comments that we need to leave our religous beliefs out of the secular society.

    I am devoutly pro life and I will not vote for any person or legislation that supports abortion.

    Are you saying I don’t have that right?

  • Where do I begin? From the bottom.

    Stu,

    That’s a definition of rape from silence – who says Abraham raped Hagar and she wasn’t actually a concubine already?

    Myrmidon,

    Thanks. I should point out to you, and to Cat, who seems to assume that everybody who speaks English is American, that I’m not from the U.S. Last time I checked the Internet is a global thing. We have electricity and stuff in Australia too.

    Cat,

    Since I’m not from the U.S the political context from which I write may be slightly different – in Australia if you speak out against homosexual marriage, or other religious beliefs, in the context of a church, you can be jailed or fined. We don’t have a constitutionally enshrined freedom of speech, and the church’s license to conduct marriages is supplied by the state.

    So Cat, before you go running around throwing your constitutional textbook and fourth amendment at me as if I care – remember, and repeat after me “America is not the whole world.”

    I even pointed out above, in an earlier comment, which Peterson quoted in the comment you said was worth reading twice. I’m sorry I don’t share your American view of the world. I apologise for the nation of my birth, perhaps you think my race is inferior and I should stay silent when my religion is being besmirched.

    Peterson,

    We tried this. We called it segregation. It went quite poorly.

    It’s also called welfare. The government discrimates positively all the time.

    The problem is that they’re using religion to push for legislation banning same sex marriage. In a few cases there are individuals who want to make same sex relations illegal.

    Yeah. I agree with you. I’ve said that above. I don’t think the church should be meddling with government on personal morality – they have a role in speaking out to protect the poor and on humanitarian and ethical issues, and I’d hate to see the church not being able to speak out about politics (which is what the radical left in Australia are suggesting – I feel like I need to mention the word Australia wherever I can for Cat’s benefit now). But we agree, equal rights is a good thing, and I think gay marriage should be legislated, we just disagree on whether or not it’s hate to suggest that marriage isn’t a “right” or that its definition should be limited to a male and a female. It’s not hate. It’s almost never motivated by hate (lets ignore the Westboro twerps for a moment).

    I don’t believe the comic is suggesting that the ethics of the Bible are summed up so simply. It’s simply a jab at those people who use one part of the Bible as a club, while completely ignoring other parts. This includes the people who seem to conveniently ignore the messages of peace, reason, and understanding that Jesus preached. Jesus, if he existed and did the things he’s claimed to have done, was a great humanist, but people seem less inclined to follow his examples, and much more interested in using the Bible to push an agenda.

    Yep. I agree. Quote mining is bad whatever form. And that may have been the point of the comic – but the comic presented a fallacy, which I pointed out earlier. And it wasn’t incisively targeted at those Christians, it was a broad brush approach – and the “which is true Christianity” title served to frame this subsequent discussion.

    I don’t think it was well targeted – I think it lumps all Christians in the same boat and presents the Westboro mob as the ones who are using the Bible properly. It’s as if the cartoonist thinks that all verses of the Bible are to be treated equally and interpreted literally with no regard to everything else.

    If you keep the same ideas, but rewrite it in a modern context, hasn’t the important part been preserved?

    Who’s to say what is and what isn’t important? The historical context is pretty important for interpreting the Bible – what happens to the message if you remove that historical context?

    And who’s to say that the person who undertakes such a task isn’t being inspired by God?

    The problem is who is to say that they are – people modernise Bible stories all the time, C.S Lewis did it with some success. Preachers do it every week. The idea of having an authorised rewrite (authorised by who) is just ungainly – but if you think you might find a modern version more convincing then by all means proceed.

    In my mind you can’t spin sexual discrimination as ever being positive simply because it ignores ability and forbids having a choice.

    I think we have different ideas about what discrimination means – I think there is bad discrimination – like not letting a woman become CEO because she’s a woman, and good discrimination – like a husband realising that his wife is uncomfortable with disposing of a dead mouse, and disposing of a dead mouse (that can go both ways, there are some personality traits that require discrimination too). I think rather than tossing all discrimination out to stop bad discrimination we should salvage the positive aspects of being able to tell two different people apart and treat them accordingly. We academically discriminate against the unintelligent – and I bet you’re thankful that your doctor isn’t a doctor just because she wants to be, but because she’s qualified to be.

    The problem with assigning roles based solely on gender rather than ability is that it precludes choice. That makes it negative discrimination.

    Yes, I agree. If we’re talking about roles broadly. I think there are some times when it’s nice though. Like chivalry. And honouring your wife because she’s your wife. So I agree with your first two statements and disagree with your conclusion that it ‘makes’ it negative discrimination. Wrong use makes it negative discrimination, not all use is wrong.

    BlueRidgeLady,

    I think the point is – that we read the word slavery and equate it with more modern forms, and it absolutely wasn’t like that. It was bad. But it wasn’t the same bad. And slaves were both in Roman and Jewish law, human.

    Jeff P,

    I almost completely agree with the first half of your statement. But then you go seriously close to denying Christians the right to participate in the political process simply because you disagree with them:

    But I don’t think your church members should be voting on any propositions to keep marriage illegal for homosexuals. That is imposing your religious views on the larger society. The same argument goes for the other hot-button topics of the day (like abortion). “

    If there is a vote called then Christians have every right to vote how they like. That’s a democracy. All democracy essentially functions to impose consensus view across society – the balancing act is figuring out how rights and civil liberties fit in with that picture. The question about how they should vote is different. As is the question about whether this issue should be a matter for voting at all. I don’t think Christians should be voting against anything that has to do with liberty (though again, I am Australian, and we don’t have constitutionally enshrined freedom of speech – so questions of liberty are all the more important in Australia because they set precedents for other questions of liberty).

    Cat’s First Comment,

    The reason you do not object to the sexism and homophobia in the bible is because you are a homophobic sexist, glad we cleared that up.

    Can you find me a place where I’ve said anything that makes you think I fear gay people? Or that I negatively judge women (or men) on the basis of their gender?

    Homophobia and sexism aren’t in the Bible they are in the actions of people wrongly using the Bible. The Levitical laws regarding rape sound nasty, but they were a retrieval ethic trying to salvage some good from bad. Rape was also illegal. It’s not as if the law said “run around raping whoever you want, just so long as you marry them afterwards.” Read the story of Dinah in Genesis to see how Israelites treated rapists (and this story formed part of the Torah). Her brothers convince the rapist’s village to get circumcised – all of them – and then they come in with swords and put them to death. Primitive. Yes. But it shows that rape wasn’t taken lightly by the men. Do you know what happened to a raped woman who fell pregnant in the Ancient Near East? She was killed as an adulterer, or exiled from her people and her home (which was also essentially a death sentence). Forcing a rapist to marry the woman saved her life, and provided for her material needs – poor recompense, yes, and we’d certainly do it differently today. But these were primitive times, and evil people existed then as they do now. Seriously. What do you think “law” does now? It seeks to protect and recompense victims and punish wrongdoers. The law in the OT was the minimum standard. We’re talking about the criminal code. Israel was meant to act with love to their neighbours and surrounding nations. It might not look like justice to our modern eyes – but that’s some sort of anachronistic superiority complex. There aren’t many cultures from the past that look good in our eyes. Nor were non-Christian cultures any better with how they treated women. In fact, they were worse.

    Samiimas,

    YES OR NO: Someone who refuses to marry an interracial couple is a racist, even if they’re only refusing because of their religious beliefs. No BS about how it’s not a valid comparison, just a yes or no answer.

    Yes. If you refuse to marry a man and a woman because they are of mixed race because they are of mixed race you are racist.

    I would marry a gay man to a woman, or a gay woman to a man. Because that is how marriage is presently defined, as between a man and a woman, and I believe that’s how God defines it. But if you want to find someone who’ll conduct marriages for same sex couples then that’s their own choice.

    If you refuse to marry a black man to a white man you are neither racist, not homophobic – you simply don’t recognise that marriage as a marriage. Or marriage as a universal human right between whatever parties you choose. It’s a crude analogy (and should be read in the light of my stance above on gay marriage – namely, I’m fine with gay marriage and equal rights). We don’t let adults marry children, or children marry children – and we’re not childist. It’s a question of the definition of marriage, not of the humanity of the parties involved. Or hating the parties involved. The question that needs answering from the government’s point of view is “is it worthwhile positively discriminating for stable heterosexual unions that are the ideal circumstances for raising our future generation of citizens.”

    Any vote then should be conducted on that question. And if you’re gay and in a stable relationship and you love the person you’re in a relationship with and want to commit to them for life, then call it marriage. Just don’t expect the government to be providing the same tax breaks and welfare payments for you to help you give birth to children (which they do in Australia, not sure about in the US). This becomes more complex with the issue of adoption and surrogacy, and once that happens you should, by all means, be entitled to the same financial benefits from the government.

    Right. Sorry about the disjointed and out of sequence responses. But there are lots of you and one of me. And I’ve spent enough of my time on this already. If you want to pick up this discussion with me further feel free to drop in on my blog, I probably won’t respond to anything more on this thread.

  • Robert W.

    Cat,

    “my main concern is that churches be allowed to say “even if the state says gay marriages are ok, we won’t marry you because we believe otherwise”…” Learn the fucking basics of US laws then, instead of opening your big fat heterosexist mouth. No church in the US ever has to marry anyone it does not want to, for any reason. Civil marriage laws only apply to government agents in terms of performing marriages. Churches can be as nasty as they want in regards to who they marry (yes, hatred of queer people in thinking we are inferior and do not deserve the same rights is nasty).

    You can’t be serious. You don’t think that those that support gay marriage would not next attack churches that refuse to marry homosexuals? Of course they would under the guise of equal protection (state approval of tax free status, much like they go after the boy scouts and other private groups).

    Nothing like practicing law for over twenty years to know where these things lead.

  • Robert W.

    nathan,

    What is your blog. I would like to follow it.

  • Sean

    state approval of tax free status, much like they go after the boy scouts and other private groups

    I don’t think religious places of worship should have tax-exempt status anyway (Why should they, and who gets to define what’s a “real” religion?). If they want to do charitable work and get tax benefits from that, they need to keep track of said work separately from money spent primarily on preaching, proselytizing, lobbying (which they aren’t supposed to do anyway), or hosting social events.

    “Oh no, they’re going to go after us by taking away a benefit we had no right to in the first place!” Oh yes, that’s some pretty terrible persecution of Christians there.

  • Myrmidon

    Nathan,

    Yes, that’s why i tried to make sure i limited my description of Christians to those “here in the US” 🙂 Thanks again.

  • Robert, click my name. It’ll take you there.

  • Samiimas

    We don’t let adults marry children

    So you dance around my point that you’re no different from someone thinking racemixing is wrong, they claim to be following their religion to, and then you compare me to a fucking child molester. I have better things to do then argue with lying bigots like you. I’ll be busy being ‘going against the natural order because of my twisted thinking’.

    You can’t be serious. You don’t think that those that support gay marriage would not next attack churches that refuse to marry homosexuals? Of course they would under the guise of equal protection (state approval of tax free status, much like they go after the boy scouts and other private groups).

    Exactly like how the Catholics were forced to make women priests after the government made it illegal to discriminate based on sex. Oh wait, that never happened and you’re lying.

  • “So you dance around my point that you’re no different from someone thinking racemixing is wrong, they claim to be following their religion to, and then you compare me to a fucking child molester.”

    That’s really not what I did. But if that’s your general mechanism for interpreting things – then fine.

    I answered your question without dancing around it. Yes. It is racist to stop an interracial heterosexual couple marrying on the basis of race.

    No, it’s not homophobic to suggest that marriage be defined as between a man and a woman. For it to be homophobic you’d need to demonstrate that it’s based on the fear, or by popular usage hatred, of homosexuals. I neither fear or hate homosexuals. You’d also have to show me that marriage is an unalienable human right, and not just the name for a committed relationship between a man and a woman that the government recognises by treating the couple as a legal entity. If you want to keep cheapening the definition of homophobia by throwing it around at people who are not, and who are in fact amongst the more moderate conservative Christians out there, who are also trying to speak reasonably about the church’s role with the state, then by all means. Go ahead. But it’s a pretty loaded term, and when homophobia, actual homophobia, does happen – it’s an abominable thing and you cheapen those instances by talking about this issue in that light.

    The two are different issues that you are conflating. And that was the point of the statement about children. I didn’t call you a child molester, it’s not even implied – I simply commented on the definition of marriage precluding certain relationships – and noted that it’s a question of how we define marriage, not who we hate, that determines our approach to the question.

    Your emotive and defensive way of taking every argument as a personal attack isn’t particularly rational. I can see why you do it. But you’re confusing me with some body else. I’m not lying. I’m not a bigot.

    If they are Jewish and suggesting it’s wrong for Jews to marry people outside of Israel based on the Old Testament then these anti-racemixing people may have a Biblical point (I happen to think that’s a bad way of handling the Old and New Testament together though). If they were making a case for Christians only marrying Christians using the Old Testament as an example, and other New Testament principles like “don’t be yoked with an unbeliever,” they’d have a point. As it stands, you can’t use the Bible intelligently, and as it uses itself (as in, the way books within the Bible interact with the other books of the Bible to build theological principles), to justify not allowing different races to mix. You can use it to justify seeing marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, I don’t think you can use it to justify extending that to the secular state – the Bible mostly deals with how God’s people are to live. You’re clearly not one of them, you clearly don’t want to be one of them… so go. Eat, drink, and be merry.

    Just don’t call me a bigot because I believe different things to you, and don’t judge me as a “lying bigot” on the basis of my faith. And on wanting others who share my faith to be able to live their lives freely according to that faith, without fear of persecution. That’s also prejudice and bigotry.

  • AxeGrrl

    The question of whether or not believers should be voting for propositions that ban same-sex marriage isn’t really the main ‘point’……

    Such legal issues that relate to civil rights/privileges shouldn’t even BE up for vote to begin with.

    The ban on interracial marriage wasn’t lifted because it was put to popular vote, it was done because it was found to be unconstitutional…..I’ve yet to hear anyone explain why the issue of same-sex marriage is any different.

  • AxeGrrl,

    I agree.

  • cat

    @Nathan, you specifically mentioned US law as well as Australian law. When you say ‘Who says the government should control X’ in a forum where the vast majority of posters have X written into their constitution, you are being an ignoramus.

    “If you want to keep cheapening the definition of homophobia by throwing it around at people who are not…” Fuck you. No hetero gets to tell a queer person about cheapening the pain of homophobia, ever. I have been physically and sexually assualted and denied employment because of homophobia, I know what is it a hell of a lot better than your nasty ass. You think gay people are 1) inferior, 2) comparable to child molesters (why am I not the least bit surprised you went there?) 3) should not have rights over their children and relationships comparable to those of heteros (because the fact that you have defended this dozens of time already indicates that this is so) 4) are evil (because, yes, a claim of sin is a claim of evil). Your clear and repetive statements about how you think queer people are wicked, inferior, and may rightfully be denied legal equality is proof positive of your hate. You have spouted sexism and homophobia, and defended rape, racism, and denials of equal civil rights. You are a bigot and it is obvious that you are also… well, I will let Takei say it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_QDGdbg-QQ

  • Nathan:

    Mike,

    If I was Jewish and a Christian the situation would be less clear. Though Paul was pretty Jewish and he only kept the law when hanging around Jews who thought it was an issue. He, like Jesus, was much more interested in the spirit of the law than the letter of the law (see Jesus’ seven woes on the Pharisees later in Matthew (23 from memory).

    Matthew 5:18 – “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
    “One jot or one tittle” sure sounds like the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law…

    I view the Bible as the literal word of God, and I view Genesis 1 as truth. I just don’t think “literal” means what the fundamentalist/YEC thinks literal means.

    Then you don’t believe it’s literal. Literal is literal. Words have meaning. If it’s not literal, it’s not literal, and you should stop calling it that. If you believe any of it is allegorical, then you don’t believe it’s literal.

    Unless you stop reading the Bible at book three (of 66) you can’t possibly believe that Biblical ethics are summed up as “stone people” – especially when Jesus stopped the stoning of an adulterous woman on the basis of nobody being righteous enough to carry out the sentence the law requires.

    You do realize that this story was likely added to the gospel several hundred years after it was written, right? You do also realize that the gospel was written by someone who could not have actually met Jesus, right? How can you possibly take seriously the thought that you’re describing something Jesus actually did when it’s so dubious?

    I’ve seen atheists on this site (and I know you’re not all the same) suggesting that Christians raising their children with the intention that they become Christians is child abuse. Essentially they oppose Christians being allowed to parent.

    No. That’s not at all an accurate interpretation of the criticism. THe issue is labelling children as followers of an ideology that they can’t have possibly come to accept themselves. You wouldn’t call a child a Republican child, or a Marxist child, or any other such thing, but somehow people don’t see a problem with calling children Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc. When you tell children what they’re supposed to believe and shun them for showing disagreement, you’re impinging on their freedom of thought.

    I can’t understand why atheists keep suggesting that we’re crazy haters simply because we believe actions have consequences and want to stop those consequences befalling you…

    Actions have consequences, yes, but you’re suggesting that it’s reasonable to criticize someone’s behaviors that would keep them from getting into a place they don’t even believe exists, even when those behaviors have absolutely no negative effects apart from that.

    I think God declaring something as moral, by definition, makes it moral – it doesn’t matter what those under God think, it’s a bit like might is right – but you can overthrow hostile governments by numbers, and you can’t overthrow God…

    If God told you to murder your child and declared that doing so would be moral, would you do it? (And no, “God wouldn’t do that because it’s not in his nature” is not a valid answer.)

    I would marry a gay man to a woman, or a gay woman to a man. Because that is how marriage is presently defined, as between a man and a woman, and I believe that’s how God defines it.

    How do you square that with the fact that a) the Bible is full of people whose polygamous marriages are never mentioned by God in all the times he praises them for their faithfulness, b) the Bible basically boils marriage down as a solution for men who can’t stay celibate, and c) the church used to refuse to sanctify marriages, since they were considered a pagan custom?

  • I had a vision last night that Jesus was a practicing homosexual who was in love with Paul (also homosexual) and they wanted to get married but the Pharisees wouldn’t let them. In my vision, Jesus told me that he wants modern homosexuals to be able to get married. It must be true since I had the vision and that is how God communicates with people. There, that should settle it. We can all now agree that gays should be able to get married and Christians can embrace that idea because it is what their savior wants.

  • Cat,

    Not really worth commenting again…

    But oh well…

    “You think gay people are 1) inferior”

    Nope.

    2) comparable to child molesters (why am I not the least bit surprised you went there?)

    That’s not what I said at all. I said that marriage is currently defined as between an adult man and an adult woman. We’re talking about changing the definition of a word here, not about hating people who currently fall outside of the definition of that word.

    If you choose to interpret it that way, then so be it, but I could have said a woman and her cat. Would that have been ok? It really was just a demonstration of the issue at hand being the definition.

    3) should not have rights over their children and relationships comparable to those of heteros (because the fact that you have defended this dozens of time already indicates that this is so)

    That’s actually precisely what I didn’t say – I said as soon as children come into the equation all economic benefits should be equal, I simply floated the idea that the government may choose to provide benefits to stable heterosexual relationships in order to incentivise the production of children (future citizens) who are raised in the optimal environment. We can talk about studies of same sex parenting and its outcomes if you like – and if its demonstrable that there’s no difference in the well being of the child then that argument dies. I said the only reason I think the government should have anything to do with marriage (or with recognising any relationship) is if it fits within their remit of acting for the good of the country.

    4) are evil (because, yes, a claim of sin is a claim of evil).

    All people are sinners, therefore all people are evil. I don’t cut myself any slack on that point. I’m evil too. Homosexuality is no more evil than any sin. But the Bible says it’s a sin – and I’m going to take its word over yours. Sorry Cat.

    Your clear and repetive statements about how you think queer people are wicked, inferior, and may rightfully be denied legal equality is proof positive of your hate.”

    I’ve really made no such statements here, or elsewhere. I don’t think any of that – I think you should have legal equality and I’ve said over and over again that I SUPPORT GAY MARRIAGE SO FAR AS THE STATE IS CONCERNED. I just understand that opposition to gay marriage is not the same as hatred of gays. And I won’t be conducting any gay marriages in any church I run. That is all. You can’t, so far as the Bible is concerned, be a Christian and be gay. You choose one thing to identify yourself as. That’s the rule. Plenty of people will try to come up with exceptions to that, but it seems pretty clear from the text.

    Since you don’t seem to want to be a Christian (you’re an atheist afterall) I don’t know why this idea threatens you.

  • Jeff,

    I call shenanigans on your vision, on the basis of the Bible’s standard for measuring false prophets. Firstly, you’re not an eyewitness which means you’re not an apostle (or Paul, whose miraculous conversion meant the other apostles recognised him as an eyewitness). Secondly, you sound a lot like one of the “scoffers who will come” (as does Joseph Smith, to answer your earlier question about Mormonism).

    2 Peter 3:3-4

    “3 Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.

    And Jude (especially because you’re all about following natural instincts):

    ” 17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” 19 These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”

    Galatians 1 suggests that any new prophecy, should it come about, will be able to be measured against the old prophecy:

    “6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”

    So I think I’ll ignore your dream. Sorry.

  • Damn Nathan. You exposed me as a cursed natural instinct following scoffer! Now, if I could just find some writing predating the bible passages that you site that warn of scoffers to come, I could expose the authors of your sited passages as scoffers and one-up you! That is assuming that you follow the rule that he who had the vision first gets to claim it is true and all visions to follow are false.

  • Mike,

    “One jot or one tittle” sure sounds like the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law…

    Yeah. But like I said, we’re not Jewish, and the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 makes it pretty clear what the obligation of Gentiles under the law is.

    And then, if you flip forward a few chapters to Matthew 22 and 23 you get statements from Jesus like this:

    “22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
    37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.””

    And this:

    “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”

    See, the Pharisees were pretty good at the letter of the law stuff. And then he says:

    ” 23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

    25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

    The letter of the law stuff was there to demonstrate God’s impossible standard. Jesus makes the standard even harder to meet. He doesn’t make it easier – he says you guys have been getting it wrong.

    Romans 5 makes the argument that the law actually exists to make sin more of a problem for people. We can’t possibly say “I’m good enough” if even eating food without washing our hands makes us unclean. Though I think washing your hands is a good idea.

    Romans 5:
    “13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.”

    The whole point is that Jesus came to fulfill the law by taking the penalty of the law. At least that’s Paul’s explanation, and before he became a Christian he was a pretty top gun pharisee who knew how the law worked:

    ” 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

    20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    ” Literal is literal. Words have meaning. If it’s not literal, it’s not literal, and you should stop calling it that.

    Words have meaning, meaning is determined by context. If I use a series of words in a sarcastic sentence you interpret them based on the framework – and they mean something quite different to their written meaning. If I use words in an allegory or a parable then they are still to be read “literally” but that should take the literary style into account too. Literary meaning is tied to form as well as function. You can’t ignore either without robbing text of meaning. But you’re right. It’s a tough distinction to make – I will say “I literally believe that every word of the Bible is true” – how’s that?

    You do realize that this story was likely added to the gospel several hundred years after it was written, right?

    I realise that the earliest copy of John’s Gospel with the passage in it are from the fourth century – but that’s arguing from the earliest copy we’ve got, not necessarily the earliest copy written, and it can be traced to an earlier document, the Didascalia Apostolorum, from the 230s, and its likely that it was a story circulating around as part of the extra-biblical literature that was plausible enough to be included as a genuine event. The end of John’s gospel notes that Jesus did many things that weren’t recorded in that book.

    You do also realize that the gospel was written by someone who could not have actually met Jesus, right?

    John’s gospel? Or that bit? I take it your citing Ehrman’s suggestion that John was illiterate and couldn’t have possibly written something like the gospel?

    Which is an interesting position to take and is pretty anachronistic – it’s quite possible John was an illiterate fisherman before he became one of the twelve, but the chances of him not learning to read and write when he became an apostle and a leader in a geographically disparate movement are pretty slim, and they had scribes. Paul wrote most of his letters by scribe. That doesn’t mean he was illiterate, just that he outsourced. And furthermore, it is an extremely anachronistic view to just assume widespread illiteracy in the first century in Rome. I was in Ephesus four weeks ago standing in front of the massive library that held thousands of volumes, and I was in Corinth the week before that… book publishing was an industry, everybody was able to borrow books from the libraries, and you could have scribes copy out your favourite books to add to your home collections. One scholar disputing Johanine authorship in a sea of others suggesting that the book is almost identical in style to the letters of John – which press his eyewitness claims – is not going to convince me. Especially when you state it as fact guised in a rhetorical question.

    How can you possibly take seriously the thought that you’re describing something Jesus actually did when it’s so dubious?

    It’s really not that dubious. Like I say. One semi-serious New Testament scholar amongst hundreds speculates that John was illiterate and couldn’t possibly have been the author and we’re wanting to toss out 2,000 years of tradition. A tradition that started within decades of John’s death. He’s assumed to have been quite young as disciple and lived to a pretty ripe old age. We can’t know for sure that that’s true, but there’s plenty of circumstantial evidence that leans that way.

    Actions have consequences, yes, but you’re suggesting that it’s reasonable to criticize someone’s behaviors that would keep them from getting into a place they don’t even believe exists, even when those behaviors have absolutely no negative effects apart from that.

    Yeah. I know. Pretty altruistic hey. I’d hate for you to be in Hell saying “why didn’t anybody tell me?”

    If God told you to murder your child and declared that doing so would be moral, would you do it? (And no, “God wouldn’t do that because it’s not in his nature” is not a valid answer.)

    I love how I’m told before hand what is not a valid answer. Abraham was prepared to do it because he believed that God could raise the living from the dead. That answer’s good enough for me. But we’ve been over this before. I’d have to be pretty incredibly convinced that it was God telling me, I’d have to ask you to fly to Australia and verify it for me, and have multiple independent witnesses, I wouldn’t want to take that step on the basis of delusion (this question really has been done to death here previously, I even linked to that discussion up there somewhere ^).

    a) the Bible is full of people whose polygamous marriages are never mentioned by God in all the times he praises them for their faithfulness,

    Yes it is. Because their faithfulness, like ours, is separate from their keeping of the law. It’s not entirely true that they’re never mentioned – they’re mentioned before the fact when it comes to the future kings of Israel. Israel is warned not to ask for a king like the other nations because they’ll take lots of wives.

    Polygamy is ruled out in the New Testament for teachers and elders of the church, but it seems to be mainly ruled out now because it is against the law of most countries.

    b) the Bible basically boils marriage down as a solution for men who can’t stay celibate,

    Paul basically boils marriage down as a solution for men who can’t stay celibate. The Bible, as a whole, recognises that argument as valid, but only part of the picture. So yes, it’s better to marry than to burn with lust, and Paul says singleness is ok, and to be content with your lot in life, but the rest of the Bible suggests that sexual desire is part of the way God has created humanity, and that marriage is a good gift from God, to be enjoyed, and that the children produced in marriage are also a good gift from God. I’d be hard pressed to agree that that one verse is the refined, or boiled down, summary of what marriage is.

    and c) the church used to refuse to sanctify marriages, since they were considered a pagan custom?

    I’m unfamiliar with this, can you point me to a time and place in history where this was the case?

    This is what Jesus says about marriage (he’s quoting Genesis 1 and 2.

    5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

  • Robert W.

    Mike the Infidel,

    I realize this was directed at Nathan, but since he is getting it from all sides I thought I would respond.

    Matthew 5:18 – “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”
    “One jot or one tittle” sure sounds like the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law…

    you need to read the rest of the sermon on the mount to but this in context. Jesus was talking about fulfilling the letter of the law but not in the right spirit of righteousness.

    Then you don’t believe it’s literal. Literal is literal. Words have meaning. If it’s not literal, it’s not literal, and you should stop calling it that. If you believe any of it is allegorical, then you don’t believe it’s literal.

    Not at all what he is saying. The Bible is the inspired word of God but some of it is allegorical. You are smart enough to see what he meant.

    You do realize that this story was likely added to the gospel several hundred years after it was written, right? You do also realize that the gospel was written by someone who could not have actually met Jesus, right? How can you possibly take seriously the thought that you’re describing something Jesus actually did when it’s so dubious?

    Not exactly correct. The general consensus among biblical scholars is that this story was an oral story that was added to the gospel but that there is no indication that it didn’t happen or that it is an incorrect narrative. There is nothing dubious about it. A story like this talking about a woman who sinned is first mention by Papias in Ad 125. This exact story appears in writings as early as 300 AD.

    No. That’s not at all an accurate interpretation of the criticism. THe issue is labelling children as followers of an ideology that they can’t have possibly come to accept themselves. You wouldn’t call a child a Republican child, or a Marxist child, or any other such thing, but somehow people don’t see a problem with calling children Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc. When you tell children what they’re supposed to believe and shun them for showing disagreement, you’re impinging on their freedom of thought.

    It is an accurate description of the criticism. Hitchens says it as well, he even uses those words. The notion that raising your children to become Christians is considered indoctrination and brainwashing is calling it child abuse.

    Actions have consequences, yes, but you’re suggesting that it’s reasonable to criticize someone’s behaviors that would keep them from getting into a place they don’t even believe exists, even when those behaviors have absolutely no negative effects apart from that.

    Sins have real life consequences. For example, adultery. To argue that sins have absolutely no negative effects other then Hell is misguided at best and apparently an attempt to justify your actions.

    If God told you to murder your child and declared that doing so would be moral, would you do it? (And no, “God wouldn’t do that because it’s not in his nature” is not a valid answer.)

    You can’t give a supposed direction from God and then disregard His nature in an attempt to illicit an answer. In order to properly pose your hypothetical you can’t exclude God’s nature. That makes the entire hypothetical based upon a false premise.

    How do you square that with the fact that a) the Bible is full of people whose polygamous marriages are never mentioned by God in all the times he praises them for their faithfulness, b) the Bible basically boils marriage down as a solution for men who can’t stay celibate, and c) the church used to refuse to sanctify marriages, since they were considered a pagan custom?

    The bible is clear that marriage between a man and a woman is an institution that was established by God starting in Genesis and going all the way through the New Testament. The Bible’s support of marriage is far more then simply to a solution for a man who can’t stay celibate. That comment is a gross misstatement of Paul’s writings.

    Finally, it is true that the early church would not recognize some of the symbolism of weddings because they came from pagan culture, such as the ring, but it not true to say that the church did not recognize the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.

  • muggle

    Muggle,

    I’m barely even able to bother responding to your comments to me these days

    Good, don’t because I wasn’t responding to you, you egomaniac. I was just commenting on Hemant’s post. He, I respect; you, not so much. I’ve found it prudent and time-saving to largely scroll by your comments, blowhard, and only occasionally get sucked in by someone else’s response to one wherein I usually have to scroll back up and see what nonsense they were responding to. Please feel free to likewise scroll past my comments. We have nothing to say to each other.

    As for the rest of your blustering, it was very well refuted by cat but I see when you reached the point with her that you still couldn’t rebut, you took the same I’m not talking to you any more tactic. cat – 1; nathan – 0

    the fact we’re having this conversation is just mind boggling to me.

    We’re not having the conversation except inside your head. I don’t find you worth conversing with. I only found this post because I search my name to quickly find my comment and read any comments posted after it.

  • Sven

    @Robert W

    The Bible is the inspired word of God but some of it is allegorical.

    This is an opinion, not a fact. To most people on earth it is just a book.

    You are smart enough to see what he meant.

    The problem with citating scripture is that it is all interpretation from texts that are more than a century old. Every day we see how many people claim to know what bible text means, and many people come up with a different meaning.

    It is funny to see that interpretations now are so different from interpretations of a century ago, and the century before that one, etc etc.

    Have all those christians been wrong for all those centuries?

  • Robert W.

    Sven,

    Have all those christians been wrong for all those centuries?

    Sorry, that question is too general to respond to.

  • sven

    @Robert W.

    Sorry, that question is too general to respond to.

    Let me make the question easier. Which christians are right?
    Bonus question: Which is the right bible?

  • Peterson, C.

    It’s also called welfare. The government discrimates positively all the time.

    Yes, but that wasn’t the point I was attempting to make. You had suggested that it wasn’t governments place to enforce equality. My rebuttal was to point out that, historically, when our national government chose not to enforce equality things went very badly for various segments of the population.

    like a husband realising that his wife is uncomfortable with disposing of a dead mouse, and disposing of a dead mouse (that can go both ways, there are some personality traits that require discrimination too).

    In your example, sexual discrimination isn’t actually being exercised. Person A has noted that Person B does not enjoy performing Task X, and so does it himself. It becomes discrimination when one concludes that all women are afraid of dead mice, and create rules that evolve to say, “Women are not allowed to touch dead mice. It is the role of the man to dispose of such vermin.”

    Discriminating based on personality isn’t a bad thing so long as it’s based on an individual’s personality rather then a blanket assumption that, say, all women are afraid to touch dead mice.

    When a person’s ability to perform a task is judged based on criteria other than they’re actual ability, it’s bad. Knowing that your wife doesn’t want to deal with a dead mouse and taking care of it yourself is a big step apart from assuming that because your wife is a women she’s too timid to handle dead rodents.

    Your academia example is not negative discrimination for the same reason. Universities give people the chance to prove their ability. If you fail your science and medical classes, you don’t get to be a doctor. But it’s not because you’re a woman, or homosexual, or black, or whatever. It’s because you were unable to prove that you have the ability to be a doctor.

    Yes, I agree. If we’re talking about roles broadly. I think there are some times when it’s nice though. Like chivalry. And honouring your wife because she’s your wife.

    See, the kicker here is that, as men, it’s not the place of you or me to decide when it’s nice. Some women like to have doors held for them, and have you pick up the check at the end of dinner, and all that other manly chivalrous stuff. Some don’t. We don’t get to assume that all women want us to behave in that fashion, and we have to respect their wishes when they don’t want us to.

    We don’t let adults marry children, or children marry children – and we’re not childist.

    In the case of children we actually have solid, fact based reasons on denying them marriage and sex. They’re emotionally immature, easily taken advantage of, and there’s proven psychological damage in cases where it’s happened.

    In the case of same-sex marriages, or inter-racial marriages, it’s opinion that denies them the ability to get married. I know people are trying really hard to show how gay people getting married will irrevocably damage society, but I have yet to see any real evidence.

  • Robert W.

    Sven,

    Let me make the question easier. Which christians are right?
    Bonus question: Which is the right bible?

    Sorry Sven, still too general. Different Christian denominations have different interpretations of different passages. Without knowing which ones you are referring to, I can’t tell you one way or another.

    I can say that over time with new discoveries of archeology or information about the culture of the times, scholars have obtained more knowledge that will aid in their interpretations of the scriptures.

    As for the “right Bible”, modern translations are very accurate whether it is the NIV or revised standard version etc..

  • Sven,

    The Catholics are right (along with their bible) since the Catholic church is the one true church. If you can’t trace your church leadership right back to Peter, then you aren’t in a true Christian church. That is the way God wants it.

  • sven

    @Robert W.
    To general? So you can’t tell if your brand of chistianity is the right one? How am I suppposed to believe your notions about the bilbe, if you are not even sure you are following the right type of christianity?
    As for the bible being translated correctly? Is the first commandmant “Thou shalt not kill” or “Thou shalt not murder”?

    @Jeff P
    Thanks for clearing that up! The next time Jehovas knock on my door I can tell em they are wrong. 🙂

  • Robert W.

    Sven,

    Try not to change your original question. You are attempting to be coy with your questions so why don’t you get to what you are really trying to discuss.

    The Hebrew word for murder is retzach. That is what is contained in the Ten commandments. It is the term used by the Jewish translations and new Protestant translations.

  • sven

    @Robert W.
    So you DID understand my original question.

    I am trying to find out which chistian brand is the right one. If so many brands have so many interpretations, how do I know if I am discussing with someone who has the correct interpretation?
    How do you know if you if your interpretation is the right one?

    So all the bible that have “Thou shalt not kill” are wrong? Now we are getting somewhere.

  • Nathan,

    I’d hate for you to be in Hell saying “why didn’t anybody tell me?”

    But you’re A-OK with saying that the being that created that place and the laws by which people’s eternity are determined is a morally perfect being. You find the idea of hell repulsive, but the guy who made the place is morally perfect. Not just that, but the source of all morality.

    Forgive me if I’m not impressed.

    And no, I wasn’t talking about Ehrman’s belief that John was illiterate, I was talking about the fact that most of the gospels were written at a point in time that was beyond the average human lifespan away from the events described therein, and even the earliest one was several decades away. Are we really meant to believe that the gospels, written 30-40 or more years after the fact, are a reliable description of events that took place in a society steeped in tribal storytelling, during a time when history was typically written in the form of mythological reinterpretations of real events? What of the fact of the serious factual discrepancies between the various accounts? How can they all literally be true?

    Robert,

    The Bible is the inspired word of God but some of it is allegorical. You are smart enough to see what he meant.

    Sorry, what? He said he believes every word of the Bible is literally true. If any of it is allegorical, it is not literally true. “Literal” and “not literal” is a true dichotomy. You can’t be both literal and allegorical.

    It is an accurate description of the criticism. Hitchens says it as well, he even uses those words. The notion that raising your children to become Christians is considered indoctrination and brainwashing is calling it child abuse.

    Read for context, Robert. Nathan said that he thinks some atheists here think Christians should not be allowed to raise children.

    Sins have real life consequences. For example, adultery. To argue that sins have absolutely no negative effects other then Hell is misguided at best and apparently an attempt to justify your actions.

    Your applying the label “sin” to adultery is meaningless. Adultery is wrong because it wrongs a person. Calling it a sin is making it an offense against God, rather than the person you’ve actually wronged. I don’t believe in God, and thus I don’t believe in the concept of sin. You can’t offend a being that does not exist.

    To both of you: Why should I care what your holy book says, in exclusion to all others?

  • But you’re A-OK with saying that the being that created that place and the laws by which people’s eternity are determined is a morally perfect being. You find the idea of hell repulsive, but the guy who made the place is morally perfect. Not just that, but the source of all morality.

    Trying to reason with Robert or Nathan is like playing a broken record. They will excuse anything (sin, hell, biblical genocide, biblical slavery, biblical sexism, etc.) as long as they believe it was commanded by their god. They can’t see it as wrong because that would mean their god promoted something that was immoral, and their fundamentalism simply can’t accommodate that.

  • Sean

    Are we really meant to believe that the gospels, written 30-40 or more years after the fact, are a reliable description of events that took place in a society steeped in tribal storytelling, during a time when history was typically written in the form of mythological reinterpretations of real events? What of the fact of the serious factual discrepancies between the various accounts? How can they all literally be true?

    Of course it’s worse than that, because there are people right now going around talking about miracles they have seen performed by holy men within the last year, or aliens who have abducted them, and whatnot. On some occasions, several people claim to have seen the same things. I think many are sincere believers who were fooled by magic tricks or hallucinations or the exaggeration of each other’s faulty memories, and those are interspersed with outright con men.

    I would go so far as to say that eyewitness accounts are not enough to even make plausible, let alone verify, the existence of miraculous events, not without clear physical evidence or a massive amount of corroboration from different sources. That would be the bare minimum to even take it seriously. Accounts which are merely descended from eyewitness accounts after a generation or two (or dozen) are simply unacceptable as evidence. (And to head off the obvious criticism, yes, in fact I would apply the same standards to other unusual events in history, even the non-miraculous ones. For example, although I might tentatively accept the existence of Socrates, and that there is a good chance that he was executed as well, I have very little confidence that we have much accurate knowledge about his life.)

  • Sean

    They can’t see it as wrong because that would mean their god promoted something that was immoral, and their fundamentalism simply can’t accommodate that.

    Well, to be clear, although I’ll admit not to investigating deeply, it looks like Nathan supports something like divine command theory. In that case morality is defined by God’s desires/attitudes/commands, and so by definition he’s always right. In that case, it’s useless to present a moral argument against Christianity to him (although he probably considers moral debate within a Christian framework to be valid). Or rather, you can do so, but he would never accept it unless you first persuaded him of a different meta-ethical theory. Which, to be honest, I think having a meta-ethical debate just because it’s on the route to something else, and not because you take it seriously in and of itself, is generally a waste of time, especially trying to talk someone out of a subjectivist theory. Rather like trying to talk someone out of post-modernism “on the way” towards promoting some legal policy.

    Really, I think that this exactly the sort of problem elucidated by “Newspeak”. If your definition of “good” encompasses agreement with or obedience to some entity, then moral criticism of that entity becomes literally impossible to express; it’s a direct contradiction. Great way to keep the flock properly respectful. Such a definition of morality isn’t really disprovable (Can any definition without a blatant contradiction be disproven?); you can only argue that it’s not a particularly useful or common definition, and that you don’t think people should accept it.

  • Sven,

    I know you’re having this discussion with Robert, but I thought I’d chime in.

    So all the bible that have “Thou shalt not kill” are wrong? Now we are getting somewhere.

    Not really. Hebrew words have pretty broad semantic ranges, and trying to get an exact equivalent is difficult. But there are a few different words for kill, and the one used in the Commandments would tend to suggest what we would describe as murder.

    Anna,

    Your comment is broadly inaccurate and unfair.

    They will excuse anything (sin, hell, biblical genocide, biblical slavery, biblical sexism, etc.)

    What I (I can’t speak for Robert, but I presume from his comments he shares my stance) will not excuse is the wrong use of the Bible to justify genocide, slavery or sexism – which has happened. The Bible has been used wrongly to justify all sorts of things. While Jews were allowed, and perhaps encouraged, to take captives as slaves from the nations they conquered – the alternative was putting those people to death. Which is more ethical? Possibly to not conquer them in the first place. But the Ancient Near East wasn’t a place where you could survive on pacifism. The Old Testament represents the creation of a nation from a pretty hostile environment – in a bit of land that is still hotly contested today (albeit for mostly religious regions)- back then it was in the middle of a trade route between two mega powers, and was eventually a tract of land that was traded back and forth between different empires. The law had to allow for slavery. But like I said above, the law was the minimum standard of behaviour, not the maximum. It wasn’t like Israel was meant to run around doing whatever they wanted so long as they didn’t break the law. They were to love God, and love their neighbours as themselves. Our nations aren’t evil because they have laws that determine what to do in a situation of war. We just live in different times.

    The sexism thing is much the same. Particularly in the Old Testament. In an agrarian society where producing children was truly in the family and national interest paternity was a big deal, so adultery was a big deal. Sure, looking back from thousands of years later we might think that the adultery laws are heinous – but again, adultery wasn’t a daily occurrence. The penalties were there as a deterrent, and there was no three strike policy. The law did what it could to ensure female victims were provided for, in an age where an unmarried woman was a financial burden on her father’s household and would often not be cared for all that well – hence the Old and New Testament’s concerns for widows and orphans.

    as long as they believe it was commanded by their god. They can’t see it as wrong

    See, this is actually a logical position to start from, even if you disagree. It’s fair to assume that an all powerful God would be the arbiter of morality. The question of whether or not it’s fair to assume an all powerful God is different. And we have different opinions on it.

    because that would mean their god promoted something that was immoral, and their fundamentalism simply can’t accommodate that.

    Fundamentalism just isn’t the word to be applying here. That’s a trait of fundamentalism, but most fundamentalists would read the conversation we’ve had here and suggest I’m a liberal. Which I’m not.

    But based on the assumptions outlined above, it is not possible for God to act immorally because he is the framework of reference for absolute morality – whatever he defines as moral is moral, if he exists. That’s the nature of being God. You may disagree with his definition, that is your prerogative, but don’t complain if your deliberate rejection of his morality leads to punishment – that’s the way all systems of law work.

    Mike,

    “But you’re A-OK with saying that the being that created that place and the laws by which people’s eternity are determined is a morally perfect being. You find the idea of hell repulsive, but the guy who made the place is morally perfect. Not just that, but the source of all morality.”

    That’s not what I said. I don’t find the idea of hell repulsive, I find the idea of you (or anyone) being in hell because you hadn’t had a chance to avoid it repulsive (which kind of begs the question about people who haven’t heard, and I think Romans 2 (quoted above somewhere) answers that question. So since I don’t find hell repulsive the rest of your statement kind of falls apart.

    I was talking about the fact that most of the gospels were written at a point in time that was beyond the average human lifespan away from the events described therein, and even the earliest one was several decades away.

    That’s simply conjecture presented as fact. The dating of the gospels is far from settled. And most people suggesting late datings are doing so with a declared or obvious bias against the notion that God might have had something to do with the production of the Bible, and an anachronistic superiority complex.

    during a time when history was typically written in the form of mythological reinterpretations of real events?

    Have you actually read any first century histories? Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus? Any first century philosophical biographies (which is what the gospels end up looking most like in terms of genre comparison, but the similarities aren’t exact). That’s a misrepresentation of the genre of written histories from that time. Their mythology does influence their writings, but not in a way that dismisses the reliability of the historical facts they are writing about. Most written histories will have some sort of bias. That’s why people are writing them.

    What of the fact of the serious factual discrepancies between the various accounts?

    Which ones? I assume we’re talking about the synoptics, because John is literally in a league of his own. Perhaps things are left out or focused on because each gospel writer is addressing a different audience who expect different things from their accounts. So Matthew majors on Jewish stuff, Luke on Roman stuff and Roman legal proceedings (in Luke-Acts), Luke’s gospel appears to contain excerpts from formal court proceedings. Or at least transcriptions of Paul’s trials from people who were there.

    How can they all literally be true?

    You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. The literal meaning of a passage must pay regard to its form. Otherwise you pull sentences from a parable and think they’re talking about fact. So, the Left Behind mob read the book of Revelation as literally true. They don’t pay any regard to genre though, and they think a dragon is going to come down and eat stuff, and that there’ll be a thousand years of tribulation… I read the book of Revelation as literally true, but I pay heed to the genre, to the idea that apocalyptic texts of the 2nd century BC to the first century AD often contain political statements about the present age as well as expressing future hope, and these political statements are often couched in apocalyptic language.

    Literal doesn’t mean “reads without interpretation,” it means several things according to google (the first dictionary that came up):

    “1. Being in accordance with, conforming to, or upholding the exact or primary meaning of a word or words.
    2. Word for word; verbatim: a literal translation.
    3. Avoiding exaggeration, metaphor, or embellishment; factual; prosaic: a literal description; a literal mind.
    4. Consisting of, using, or expressed by letters: literal notation.
    5. Conforming or limited to the simplest, nonfigurative, or most obvious meaning of a word or words.”

    You want to push only 3, and the first part of 5, as the definition for literal. I want to push 1,2,4 and the second part of 5, while acknowledging that one part of “literal” is taking at face value (I just think understanding form, or genre is vital to “face value”).

    “Nathan said that he thinks some atheists here think Christians should not be allowed to raise children.”

    Some do, at least some think that some Christians shouldn’t be allowed to raise children. Your statement above is broad enough that I could point you to the poll held a few weeks back about one Christian woman, and the comments on that poll.

    To both of you: Why should I care what your holy book says, in exclusion to all others?

    Not going there. This is the standard package of Mike The Infidel questions, and we’ve been there before.

    Lets stick with “because I say so, and I seem like a reasonable guy (unless you’re Muggle or Cat who seem to hate me).”

    “I don’t believe in God, and thus I don’t believe in the concept of sin. You can’t offend a being that does not exist.”

    The word sin just means missing the mark – you can sin against God and against other men. Like in the parable of the prodigal son, the guy comes back and says to his father “I have sinned against heaven, and against you”… Sure, it often carries an implication that God is wronged as well. But sin cuts both ways.

    Peterson,

    Broadly speaking I agree with almost everything you’ve written…

    Yes, but that wasn’t the point I was attempting to make. You had suggested that it wasn’t governments place to enforce equality. My rebuttal was to point out that, historically, when our national government chose not to enforce equality things went very badly for various segments of the population.

    My point is, that as it stands, gay people are just as entitled to marry as straight people are (I know this is a bad argument, but hear me out). They can enter a marriage as currently defined. They just can’t enter a marriage as they would have it defined. It’s not a question of equality. It’s a question of changing the definition of a pre-existing structure to suit an alternative view. And that’s fine. The government should do that – a) because it seems fair, and b) because it’s a democracy and its popular (at least in Australia it is, not sure about the stats in the U.S). They should do a before b is even an issue. But they don’t. Because democracies as they stand, and market politics, means that governing is much more about staying in power than governing.

    My argument against the way the gay issue is put forward here is that Christians aren’t acting out of hatred, but love for the current definition of marriage and hope for the souls of those who identify as GBLT. It’s not hate. And it’s not about denying equality. It is about preserving the positive discrimination of defining marriage as it is currently defined. Sometimes that’s motivated purely by the Bible, sometimes it’s motivated by the Bible and research or economics, I think a case could be made (I’m not interested in making it) purely on an economic basis with regards to incentivising the optimal context for the production and raising of children.

    None of that is hatred. It costs more money for an IVF baby than it does for a natural baby. It’s less legally complicated producing a baby in the context of a heterosexual couple than through adoption or surrogacy. There are all sorts of reasons you could come up with why there’s an economic benefit for preserving marriage, or at least for positively discriminating towards heterosexual couples in terms of financial provision, or tax breaks, from the Government. But like I said, broadly speaking I’m pro the government sanctioning gay marriage (so long as the church doesn’t have to – which is an issue outside of the U.S, and quite possibly will become one inside it).

    I agree too that my examples were bad in terms of sexual discrimination – they were more examples of positive forms of discrimination in the context of marriage. Though there are other forms of discrimination that are exercised in our marriage purely on the basis of gender – for example, I often punch my male friends on the arm as a greeting (not sure if that’s an Australian thing). I would never do that to my wife. I also don’t hit other girls. Because they are girls. It doesn’t matter to me if some girls would like to be punched on the arm as a greeting. I just won’t do it. Does that make me guilty of negative sexual discrimination? Does opening a door for a girl who doesn’t want a door opened for her make me guilty of sexual discrimination? Or just helpful?

    Muggle,

    I know I said I wouldn’t…

    But, I’ve got to wonder who the “you’re” is in this sentence if it wasn’t at least an oblique reference to the only Christian voice in this comment thread when you posted it:

    “Oh, and if the Old Testament/Torah no longer applies, why, precisely, is it then included in Christianity? Just to have something to predicate a Messiah on? Gimme a break. God’s suddenly deciding all the rules he made up are just silly and tossing them out the window, I suppose? This the same gawd who you’re claiming is infallible. Of course, if he were, there’d be no need for a Messiah to begin with. The whole thing’s so fucking preposterous and makes no utter sense.”

    That paragraph reads a lot like an interaction with the conversation up until that point on the thread. I apologise for assuming you were engaging in dialogue with anybody but Hemant.

  • Sean

    To both of you: Why should I care what your holy book says, in exclusion to all others?

    Not going there. This is the standard package of Mike The Infidel questions, and we’ve been there before.

    *shrug* But you must understand that this is directly descended from the only question of direct relevance to a skeptic (oh sure, there are other criticisms of religion, and lots of people spend a lot of time on them, but this is The Big One). Mike the Infidel and other personalities aside, most of us don’t really care as much about any other issue when forming our own personal beliefs.

    My version of the question would be more like:

    Why do you believe what you believe? And whatever reasoning or standard of evidence you use, is that widely applicable, or is there some kind of special pleading involved with regards to your religion?

    I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily something to get into right now (or that it has to be discussed any time religion comes up, ever). But any time a skeptic is criticizing religion, that’s going to be the elephant in the room if she doesn’t bring it up directly. So even if you don’t want to talk about it (for example, you’re only arguing that your viewpoint is consistent rather than trying to prove that it’s correct), you’re not going to win a lot of respect by making a response that sounds like “Oh, you silly atheists always do ask these questions, tut tut, just take my word for it for now.”

  • Your comment is broadly inaccurate and unfair.

    Well, Nathan, I call it like I see it. All I see from you and Robert are excuses, rationalizations, and justifications for some of the most hideous things imaginable.

    What I (I can’t speak for Robert, but I presume from his comments he shares my stance) will not excuse is the wrong use of the Bible to justify genocide, slavery or sexism – which has happened. The Bible has been used wrongly to justify all sorts of things.

    No, that’s not what I mean. I mean you excuse the genocide, slavery and sexism in the Bible. And you prove my point by continuing to offer rationalizations for why slavery and sexism in the Bible wasn’t really wrong; in fact, you assert that might even have been ethical and moral. To me, this is yet more proof that fundamentalism warps a person’s sense of morality.

    See, this is actually a logical position to start from, even if you disagree. It’s fair to assume that an all powerful God would be the arbiter of morality.

    Yes, you base your morality on the whim of a god. If your god commands people to keep slaves, then slavery in that circumstance is fine. If your god decides to commit genocide, then genocide in that situation is fine. Naturally those of us who don’t believe in any gods are horrified by the resulting morality you seem to have developed as a result of this belief system.

    Fundamentalism just isn’t the word to be applying here.

    You are a biblical literalist, are you not? I believe you have admitted that earlier in the thread.

    But based on the assumptions outlined above, it is not possible for God to act immorally because he is the framework of reference for absolute morality – whatever he defines as moral is moral, if he exists. That’s the nature of being God.

    Yes, that’s why I find your system of morality absolutely immoral.

    You may disagree with his definition, that is your prerogative, but don’t complain if your deliberate rejection of his morality leads to punishment – that’s the way all systems of law work.

    “I was just following orders, sir.” If you do not condemn hideous things, you are no more moral than the one carrying out those actions. If your god tortures people for eternity simply for not believing in it, then it is a monster, and it should be condemned. Of course, I think the possibility of your deity existing is nil, but unfortunately it has many devoted followers who are all too willing to excuse barbarity in the name of their god.

  • Sean,

    ““Oh, you silly atheists always do ask these questions, tut tut, just take my word for it for now.””

    That was, in fact, tongue in cheek. I thought that would be obvious. I have an aversion to emoticons or I would have used a little :P. Oh well.

    My point was that I believe I have adequately discussed that with Mike previously – and I don’t think every conversation about issues needs to be resolved down to the point where we’ve already agreed to disagree.

    I do understand that that, after the distinction between theism/atheism has been established, is the other big question. I certainly haven’t just landed on Christianity by default (though I acknowledge it is my “default” – I think sticking on the default setting without exploring the other options is both a boring and unproductive way to live).

    Anna,

    “I mean you excuse the genocide, slavery and sexism in the Bible. And you prove my point by continuing to offer rationalizations for why slavery and sexism in the Bible wasn’t really wrong”

    My point is that the sexism and slavery was a product of a different time and place to where we are now – and while that doesn’t excuse it, it does explain it to the point that I am comfortable with it being in the Bible. Your problem with Israel’s laws is a universal problem with laws from that time and place. I assert that in many cases the Bible offered an improvement on the laws of surrounding nations, and point to a different use of the law to that which is commonly held out by atheists (and is reinforced by the comic), and suggest that views condemning the Bible’s laws for being primitive are anachronistic precisely because they are primitive and made no claim to be anything but the laws for God’s people in the time in which they were handed down, and that they functioned sociologically to create disctinctions between Israel and surrounding nations (in many cases) and to punish wrongdoing in a manner appropriate for the culture and the time. I like our systems of law and government a whole lot better. But we have the benefit of thousands of years of ethical development, and we owe a great deal to the ethics championed by these primitive codicils.

    So I’ll do something different, and turn the tables and make you guys do some hopping around – what would your laws have been back then that would have been moral, ethical and pragmatically useful? They would need to protect your people from military threats from neighbours, uphold law and order, and drive people towards an ethical framework of living. And they’d need to take into account the economic and social realities of the time? Would they be much better than the Old Testament? Bear in mind that plenty of legal thinkers from the time put forward near identical laws.

    “Naturally those of us who don’t believe in any gods are horrified by the resulting morality you seem to have developed as a result of this belief system.”

    I’m sorry, but there were plenty of people who weren’t Yahwists running around in the Ancient Near East doing this stuff already, I really don’t think the morality has been “developed as a result” of the Old Testament system, it’s more likely the Old Testament was designed to curb the excesses of the cultures surrounding Israel that Israel, as a nation, was emerging from.

    I am confident you can draw a pretty straight line from Biblical principles about human life, and even about slavery (see the New Testament where slaves are encouraged to seek their freedom) to the abolition of the slave trade. Because as the reality of slavery changed so to did its position with regard to Biblical ethics. Slavery in the Roman empire as different to slavery in Old Testament Israel, which was different to slavery in Babylon, and again, was very different to slavery in the Middle Ages, and slavery in America and Europe, and slavery today. Sure, there are similarities too. But to suggest if the Bible condones the type of slavery operating in Israel it must therefore condone the slavery operating today is to commit an illegitimate totality transfer where you suggest that the word slavery can only conceptually mean one thing, and read our present meaning back into all past meanings.

  • Nathan,

    My point is that the sexism and slavery was a product of a different time and place to where we are now – and while that doesn’t excuse it, it does explain it to the point that I am comfortable with it being in the Bible.

    Yes, and you continue to offer rationalizations and excuses. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fly with me. Slavery is not morally acceptable, and if your supposedly god-inspired document says that it was okay in a certain time/place/situation, your document is wrong. Talk about moral relativism!

    I’m not interested in the Bible. I’m not interested in those ancient systems of morality because I think those systems of morality were barbaric. I am only interested in the fact that there are modern-day people (you) who excuse the barbarity that can be found there because of what you believe about a deity. You believe your deity inspired/wrote this document, so if the document says that it’s fine to keep slaves in a certain situation, then you will excuse it. Morally speaking, I find that unacceptable.

    I’m sorry, but there were plenty of people who weren’t Yahwists running around in the Ancient Near East doing this stuff already, I really don’t think the morality has been “developed as a result” of the Old Testament system, it’s more likely the Old Testament was designed to curb the excesses of the cultures surrounding Israel that Israel, as a nation, was emerging from.

    I think you misunderstood me. I couldn’t care less about morality in the ancient Near East. I meant your personal morality. The morality that you yourself have developed as a result of your belief system. You excuse slavery and sexism because of what you believe about the Bible. You keep excusing it and excusing it and excusing it, and all it does is make me even more horrified that you think the Bible is a moral guide in the first place.

  • “You believe your deity inspired/wrote this document, so if the document says that it’s fine to keep slaves in a certain situation, then you will excuse it. Morally speaking, I find that unacceptable.”

    And yet, I don’t have slaves, and I think that having slaves is immoral. And I get to that view via the Bible.

    I meant your personal morality.

    I know. My point is that following the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean thinking that slavery is moral – it means seeing ancient laws as ancient laws, in their context, and figuring out what the spirit of those laws was – in the case of the slavery thing I think it was be more loving and humane to your fellow man than people in neighbouring countries.

    You excuse slavery and sexism because of what you believe about the Bible.

    Only if thinking that noting and accounting for difference between genders is the same as sexism, I’m sorry, but science does it too – we’ve got different genetic and hormonal make-ups. We’re likely to be different.

    “and all it does is make me even more horrified that you think the Bible is a moral guide in the first place.”

    Horrified? Really. I suggest you’re being a little hyperbolic at that point. Nothing in my statements on this post is all that different in outworking to how I suspect most people go about making decisions. Biblical ethics can be summed up like this: Think about what’s loving to a person. Do that.

    Augustine, an old, influential thinker who syncretised Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity suggested that man’s greatest good, so far as the Christian understands it, is that they know God (Aristotle called it happiness, so Augustine actually said “man is most happy when he knows God”), so for a Christian to be consistent, and to be loving, they must show a concern for your wellbeing on that level.

    So the question “what is loving” sort of has to include “what is going to help this person be happy” and thus “what is going to help this person know God”… but that doesn’t mean forcing people to know God – that would be far to utilitarian. And we can only really be responsible for our own behaviour, and our own decisions. Can’t we.

    So tell me then, if your view on morality is so much more enlightened, how do you go about framing your morality.

    And I like how you dodged my question about what approach you would have taken to writing laws thousands of years ago – it is completely relevant, because you’re criticising them as being immoral by reading your own morality, the product of thousands of years of social evolution, back into the equation. It’s like me judging your intelligence based on how much you knew when you were five.

  • Sean,

    Just noticed that I’d missed a couple of comments (I really should stop this, I’ve got exams on Tuesday, but you’ve got to procrastinate somehow right…).

    “I think many are sincere believers who were fooled by magic tricks or hallucinations or the exaggeration of each other’s faulty memories, and those are interspersed with outright con men.”

    I think there are many, many cases of psychosomatic persuasion going on in a lot of “spiritual experiences” – I am as skeptical as the next guy when it comes to people’s accounts of miraculous stuff, and it would give me every reason to dismiss Christianity completely – except that I can’t convince myself that the question of our existence boils down to a nothing creating something, rather than a something creating everything. I don’t find the blind watchmaker thing convincing – I think if you find a complex watch it suggests a creator, and I think life exists due to a contingent being. I am philosophically committed to theism, and I think Christianity offers the most rational option, I think it even lends itself to rationalism because in it, God became a man, and was measurable and testable, and produced repeated miracles to different crowds (reportedly). And his appearance was backed up by thousands of years of religious belief that had developed to the point where he was a natural fulfillment of expectations (though not in the way Israel expected) with a global focus. To me, Christianity just makes sense (and sometimes its the stuff that doesn’t make sense that makes it make sense, paradoxically, so the way Jewish expectations about a coming Messiah were both met, and not met, at the same time, the fact that the Lordship of Jesus was an almost deliberate antithesis of Roman shame/honour culture, and that his kingship is described in exactly the same terms as the Roman emperor). So I’ll cut the witnesses in the Bible a little more slack than I will modern prophets, because I think theism makes more sense than hands off deism (what’s the point of being a creator if you’re not acknowledged).

    On the topic of Divine Command Theory – broadly speaking, I think I currently fall into the category of subscribing to it, with a couple of caveats – I don’t think my anthropology suggests that what is good and right for God to do is necessarily good and right for us to do. Humans aren’t perfect. We’re evil and fallible, and part of being a Christian is realising that we’re just as evil and fallible as everybody as well… so an example, in principle I think the death penalty is an appropriate form of justice – but in practice, nobody is infallible enough to pull the trigger.

    So it’s right for a perfect, and all knowing, all powerful being to kill someone in the name of justice, but it’s rarely, if ever, right for a person to do so. And even if it is right, we probably shouldn’t do it, because God is a God of mercy, and we certainly shouldn’t legislate it – because it’s better (ethically) to let a guilty person go free than to execute an innocent person.

    Even if I think meta-ethically that Divine Command Theory is legitimate, my doctrine of revelation (or what I believe about how God speaks and reveals commands) is such that those commands would need to be consistent with what God has revealed in the Bible and through Jesus – so I’m unlikely to follow any new commands to run out and commit genocide simply because they are pretty much ruled out by Jesus teaching, by the spirit of the Old Testament, and by what the Bible says about future prophets.

    I’ve outlined in the previous comment to Anna, what I think Biblical ethics actually look like. I think they look a lot like harm-based ethics within a framework that presumes that God exists and the best outcome for anybody is that they know God’s love, rather than his anger. I think Christian ethics are socially focused, rather than individually driven too. Which is, I think, a distinction from some versions of harm based/happiness pursuing thinking (which seem to focus mostly on personal happiness while minimising harm to others).

    I’d be interested to know what you think an appropriate ethical and moral framework is for somebody who believes in God. Because it has to take God into account somewhere along the line. Which is why I think I have to factor Divine Command Theory into the mix somewhere…

  • Nathan – you’re a joke. Your best defense of your beliefs is either to not defend them but instead act as if the criticisms don’t exist, to pretend to be familiar with history even when your position has been repeatedly disproved, to play word games, or to refuse to answer questions. You give us absolutely no reason to believe what you believe.

    Oh, and if you don’t find the idea of hell repulsive, then you’re morally bankrupt. Sorry.

  • Mike,

    Does Hitler deserve hell?

    You are also a joke – you present as fact or “proven” conclusions that are at worst minority positions amidst academics, or at best the subject of fierce debate and pretty much unprovable, often you present as fact unprovable propositions that are not even the best explanation of the evidence (in this case the evidence is “the gospels exist”).

    Word games are important on questions of definitions. Especially definitions about how words are to be understood.

    I’ve answered every question that has been asked directly, even when the questions are fallacies or designed to put me into a corner where you dismiss me, as you now have.

    I’m not here trying to give you reason to believe what I believe. In this thread I am here to suggest that what the comic, Hemant, and now those who have responded, believe about “true Christianity” and Biblical ethics is wrong.

    Neither Biblical Ethics or “True Christianity” result in the stoning of anybody. Other issues raised have been tangents, or follow ups – and I have answered them as cohesively, coherently, and honestly as I can while defending this initial premise.

    True Christianity, operating on Biblical ethics can not, without twisting passages or ignoring others, lead to slavery, subjugation of women at a societal level, subjugation of women in marriage, the stoning of disobedient children.

    In all legal frameworks I am familiar with, new legislation supersedes the old, while the old is kept in order to track how the new developed. To suggest that Christian ethics requires reading the Old Testament without recourse to the New is a misrepresentation of any but the most extreme versions of Christianity. And in almost all cases it’s the people on the extreme periphery that get treated as anomalies or dismissed as crazy – not the majority. In the case of the comic, a group with little to no credibility amongst anybody outside their own circle, is presented as embracing Biblical ethics and living consistently with the Christian faith.

  • Sean

    So I’ll do something different, and turn the tables and make you guys do some hopping around – what would your laws have been back then that would have been moral, ethical and pragmatically useful? They would need to protect your people from military threats from neighbours, uphold law and order, and drive people towards an ethical framework of living. And they’d need to take into account the economic and social realities of the time? Would they be much better than the Old Testament? Bear in mind that plenty of legal thinkers from the time put forward near identical laws.

    I know this wasn’t addressed to me, but I have to wonder; why are these considerations relevant to God?

    I mean, he spends much of the Torah (well, OK, probably much of the OT) working miracles, destroying opposing armies (sometimes without the Israelites having to lift a finger), and letting his own people be conquered, enslaved, and/or massacred whenever they piss him off. He’s very mighty, very present (sometimes on a daily basis), and meddles very directly (although his interventions grow noticeably more indirect as time wears on, with most of the really huge miracles and direct speechifying happening near the beginning, especially in the bits in Genesis that are most clearly not naively straightforward accounts of history; I wonder where you think the serious history starts, anyway).

    And so I look at something like, say, the laws about the cities of sanctuary in Numbers 35, and I ask myself “Huh, do you think God could come up with a better law about manslaughter than ‘The culprit and the victim’s avenger should play tag?'” You know, even just like, “If you kill a man accidentally, you should get your ass to the nearest city where they can protect you and hold a trial, but in the meantime vengeance is a no-no.”? What about “Hey, don’t worry about driving people out of the land, or about my punishing you if you’re too afraid or not sufficiently bloodthirsty to fight them. I’m just going to magically send you to fertile uninhabited land so you can set up a worthy civilization without destroying thousands of people first?”

    I mean, so many of these rules are in need of explanation, even though God surely would have know that they’d reach a wide audience (I’d wager that far more people have read them post- than pre- A.D.). Is he not very good at communication? Could he not pull say something like “Well, these rules aren’t ideal, so I’m going to allow such-and-such an arrangement, but I’m going to go ahead and mention the ideal now and not wait to send instructions with my son who’s only going to show up after millions of people have lived and died?”

    I mean really, the OT God doesn’t strike one as a perfectly wise being (in fact, you seem halfway to admitting that he’s not much better than the leaders of other Near East civilizations). Frankly I think he could have improved even just by selecting his chosen people from somewhere else (or arranging things so that the Israelites achieved a civilization comparable to, say, some of the Greek cities). Not that it’s a huge improvement, but it would be mind-boggling to suggest that God couldn’t easily have pulled that miracle off. Especially since he’s apparently content to be portrayed as killing thousands on a whim in the Bible anyway.

    On a side note, when you say:

    I don’t find the idea of hell repulsive

    I have to wonder at that. Is there a hole in your empathy made such that anyone who deserves hell, according to God, automatically slips through it? I know your moral system requires you to think that hell is just regardless of your emotional reaction, but to say that hell is not repulsive is going a step further; it’s a lack of interest which I find utterly alien.

  • Sean,

    From the bottom first. The Bible suggests everybody deserves Hell. But God offers everybody mercy. If they take it. That’s the deal. It’s not like I think anybody is more deserving of it than I, but at some point God gets to decide what happens with what he makes – or he’s not God.

    You pretty much dodged my question (which was for all takers). I don’t know why I’m the one being accused of dodging issues here.

    I think much of your point can be explained by the limitations of humanity, not by putting limitations on God. I guess if you’re making laws that nobody is going to keep you may as well make them appear to be achievable to give people something to aspire to.

    What happens to your reading of the law if you understand it as largely didactic and symbolic? That’s what stuff like the scapegoat is there for. The law is a visual aid to understanding God’s holiness – and in not being able to achieve ritual cleanliness or purity. It doesn’t work as a visual aid pointing to our need for God to be merciful (which is where the sacrificial system came in in the Old Testament, and where Jesus comes in in the New).

    The behavioural code the law presents (ie its prohibitions and punishments), as I’ve said, deals with transgressions rather than setting the minimum bar for Israel to jump over. Much like our law does. Tell me, what laws would you have changed, and to what would you have changed them?

    The cities of refuge seems like a pretty pragmatic solution to me. I don’t understand your objection at this point.

    “Hey, don’t worry about driving people out of the land, or about my punishing you if you’re too afraid or not sufficiently bloodthirsty to fight them. I’m just going to magically send you to fertile uninhabited land so you can set up a worthy civilization without destroying thousands of people first?”

    See, your chronology is a bit wrong here. In Genesis God does give the land they end up occupying to Abraham first, and he lived there alongside the Canaanites for almost his whole life (Genesis 12-25).

    In Genesis 15, God says to Abraham (then called Abram:

    ” 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.””

    At worst Israel are returning to their ancestral homeland after time in Egypt and confronting the other people who had settled there. And God could hardly do what you suggest without breaking his promise to Abraham both in Chapter 15, and Chapter 12… and there’s a theological demonstration going on with God keeping his promise here that holds together the whole Christian faith. Christianity is nothing if God’s promises can’t be relied upon.

    I wonder where you think the serious history starts, anyway

    How much is history we’ll possibly never know. It doesn’t claim to be history – it’s a story from the religious manual of God’s people. The story of their creation. I think Genesis contains history from chapter one in that I think God made the world, I also think there was a local flood (multiple attestations from other cultures suggest so too – like the Gilgamesh Epic) so I think Noah actually existed.

    But I think it’s wrong to suggest that Genesis is anything but a biased history of Israel to give the nation an understanding of their significance under God. I think you get in all sorts of trouble reading a book laced with theological symbolism (like rivers and trees representing life, and the people of Israel) as written history in the way we understand history. It doesn’t claim to be objective. You’re making a genre error suggesting there has to be a line

    “I mean, so many of these rules are in need of explanation”

    Explanation provided by the New Testament, by Jesus and then by the Apostles at the Jerusalem Council, and then by Paul in Romans. It’s disingenuous to suggest we’re left trying to figure out what they mean for ourselves. They’re pretty clearly explained.

    First Jesus says the situation is worse than you think – you’re guilty of transgressing the law even if you just think about transgressing the law, then he says that rigid application of the law without understanding the summary of the law as loving your neighbour is wrong, and that it’s more important to understand the spirit of the law. Then his death is framed as an atonement for sins, and his resurrection as the authenticating sign that he had authority to forgive them. The Jerusalem Council announce that Old Testament law is not binding on Gentile converts, and then Paul tells us that the law exists in order to highlight man’s wrongdoing and need of a solution. It’s a pretty cohesive and coherent picture. And anybody who reads anything other than Leviticus can pretty much figure it out without too much handholding.

  • @Anna

    Slavery is not morally acceptable

    While I agree, I have to wonder how you would philosophically underpin this objective claim? One cannot, after all, hold another accountable to a subjective (or intra-subjective) morality. In saying this you are implicitly invoking an objective moral standard – so where do you get it from (don’t forget the is-ought problem either..)?

  • Sean

    I don’t find the blind watchmaker thing convincing – I think if you find a complex watch it suggests a creator, and I think life exists due to a contingent being.

    I’ve never understood why life is like a watch. I’ve never seen a decent intelligent design argument. That, and I’ve read through papers from Dembski (and some of his associates) out of curiosity; I think he has chosen a great set of goals to validate intelligent design, and he has managed to fail at achieving any of them (well, he thinks he has succeeded, but I’m not impressed). I find it dubious that anyone else has done much better. Without a clear philosophical or scientific justification for this claim I find it disappointing that it persists.

    I am philosophically committed to theism, and I think Christianity offers the most rational option

    Why? On either (even if ID on some level was right)? Saying “there is a Creator” surely just gets you to Deism. Well, almost to Deism. Creation by aliens (inside or outside our universe, who did evolve under favorable conditions, or who were themselves created in a long regress) is also a possibility, but not a supernatural one. Or any theory in which the world is a simulation or illusion, but I think that’s wandering off a bit. Even being a theist, why believe that God not only watches over us, but has already chosen to reveal himself (as opposed to doing so in the future or in the afterlife)? You can sort of see why this sort of argument from ignorance (gaps in science -> Jesus) doesn’t usually play well, but I think you’re already quite aware of that.

    I don’t think my anthropology suggests that what is good and right for God to do is necessarily good and right for us to do

    Well, that’s actually quite in line with Divine Command Theory as I understand it. If DCT is correct, God gets to decide what is good and right for himself (and make it different from the rules about humanity if he wants to); if he didn’t get to do that, something other than his own will would be setting the rules, which would imply that his setting of morality would be constrained by something outside of his control. In DCT, “God is perfectly good” is almost tautological; if God wants to be good, then by definition he is.

    Of course, there is no clear, perfectly objective basis for DCT (or any meta-ethics, including nihilism) due to the is-ought problem. The most one can say is that one should adopt a meta-ethics for pragmatic reasons (though moral realists don’t like admitting this). In DCT, the pragmatic reason is “Well, if God’s wrong, you can’t do anything about it anyway, but if you do what he wants it will all turn out all right.” Which is true enough, but of course only matters if there is an omnipotent God who is interested in controlling human behavior.

    Does Hitler deserve hell?

    No. I don’t think retributive justice is good. (Actually, I don’t really think a human being truly experiencing hell is even possible; the human mind doesn’t have the space to store an eternity of experience, so after a certain amount of time you either would not bear much resemblance to your original self as the torture overwhelmed your previous identity, or you would have to be “reset” somehow, which would be more like infinite versions of you being tortured finitely, rather than one of you being tortured infinitely.)

    I’d be interested to know what you think an appropriate ethical and moral framework is for somebody who believes in God. Because it has to take God into account somewhere along the line.

    Well, I always hesitate to answer these sorts of hypothetical. After all, I now lack a personally relevant definition of God; answering this sort of thing is kind of like answering the question “If vampires existed, would you try to ward them off with garlic?” But I can give a partial answer.

    When I was a Christian, I was a moral realist/universalist (that is, believing in universal moral principles; I wasn’t any kind of Christian Universalist). So I basically believed that there was some transcendent set of rules out there, which (like logical universals and mathematical frameworks) was independent of the will of God. Alternatively put, God was omnipotent with respect to all contingent things, like our universe, but there was some logically necessary universal set of rules by which even God was judged (and by which God was judged to be morally perfect, as well as Jesus, who through God’s intervention was created as an extension of His will, and therefore the only perfect human being). God’s role, therefore, was largely to act as interpreter, guide, and enforcer, because man, being limited and imperfect, had an imperfect moral sense, but God had a perfect moral sense (hence the purpose of Christian morality, to be guided by a perfect source).

    So that’s the part you didn’t really ask for, which was the meta-ethics. As for more specific ethical framework, I believed largely as you seem to (albeit with a less sophisticated and detailed understanding of Christian ethics, but I suspect still substantially above average in my small church). Love and prevention of harm to others were the main goals. Gays were sinners, but not particularly so. Separation of church and state was only fair and kept people from imposing their beliefs on me, although God was the true and best basis of ethical behavior. Most particularly weird or bigoted stuff in the Bible only seemed weird because it was tailored to a particular time/place/situation and, hey, compared with hell it was a walk in the park, and everyone deserved hell anyway. The most important thing was the afterlife.

    I was actually very concerned about other people going to hell, very interested in evangelism and maybe taking a detour out of my career in physics to go missionize. I was not deconverted when I accepted evolution, as many people raised in more “literalist” churches seem to be, because as you said earlier, I simply thought “That’s how he did it!” Also, I realized that I was bi after I’d left Christianity, so it so happens that that wasn’t a factor in my deconversion. I was basically deconverted by apologetics; it seemed to me that the only way I could defend my faith to non-believers was by using arguments that would never convince me if I had been an atheist.

    Moral arguments and arguments about hell were sort of a tripping point; moral realism was the basis of the most appealing parts of my Christian worldview (probably the single most important point, or perhaps tied with the concept of heaven for importance), because it explained what was morally unique about Jesus, why God was worthy of worship, and why ultimate justice prevailed, so I couldn’t take your way out and accept DCT (the two possibilities are rather incompatible, via the Euthyphro dilemma). What really instilled doubt in me, however, was the apparently arbitrary way that God seemed to have intervened in the world. I simply could not reconcile what was claimed in the Bible (as much as I loved it) with an omnipotent, omniscient, and therefore presumably infinitely capable God.

    Those things aren’t why I don’t believe now, but they were the original motivation to put my beliefs on more solid footing. After that, everything went uphill from there; I looked more and more into apologetics and criticism of religion and into different religions to try to figure out why I should think Christianity was special (I actually ignored “New Atheism”, which was nascent, altogether). Eventually I became an epistemic pragmatist, and ended up deciding that I didn’t really need the spiritual to explain anything anyway.

    Having taken a long, long diversion into deconversion-story-land, I’m going to stop here.

  • Sean

    The Bible suggests everybody deserves Hell. But God offers everybody mercy. If they take it. That’s the deal. It’s not like I think anybody is more deserving of it than I, but at some point God gets to decide what happens with what he makes – or he’s not God.

    I’m quite familiar with this. I was commenting on how odd it is to not have an emotional repulsion to the idea of hell, not on your beliefs.

    You pretty much dodged my question (which was for all takers).

    I believe that the question was to provide a substitute set of rules for the OT. My point was simply that I was baffled that God (supposedly infinitely more capable than I) had not provided something more enlightened, and so I found whether or not I could do better rather tangential. I think perhaps I could do better, if I understood the conditions of the time more completely (even with the benefit of history it’s hard to be sure what would fly back then without direct experience). God-like powers would probably be useful in making those decisions. Yes, I’ve still dodged the question, but that doesn’t bother me because I can’t reasonably answer it without being in God’s shoes, so to speak.

    I guess if you’re making laws that nobody is going to keep you may as well make them appear to be achievable to give people something to aspire to.

    Huh? If no one is going to make it anyway, why not make them exceptionally worthy goals and inspire people to achieve them. (I mean, other than by threatening them with plagues and conquest, which I suppose is God’s preferred method in the OT, punishing them for not keeping laws he designed to be too hard to keep.)

    What happens to your reading of the law if you understand it as largely didactic and symbolic? That’s what stuff like the scapegoat is there for. The law is a visual aid to understanding God’s holiness – and in not being able to achieve ritual cleanliness or purity.

    I explicitly picked examples related to justice and causing harm to others in order to avoid this issue. I’m mildly annoyed that you didn’t quite notice. I don’t really care about the sacrifices and what-not, although subjectively I still
    find them silly.

    See, your chronology is a bit wrong here.

    I’m actually quite familiar with this. God could have simply made a different promise. And/or found a way to keep the land empty so that it would have remained unsettled. And/or not bothered with the elaborate Exodus plan in the first place. You see what my point is? God controls every part of the story. You are well aware (if I recall you have admitted) that God is responsible for all major events whatsoever. My point is that I find it absurd that a being with that much power would pick this particular outcome in every detail (even if you think human free will plays a role, he still has vast amounts of leeway).

    But I think it’s wrong to suggest that Genesis is anything but a biased history of Israel to give the nation an understanding of their significance under God.

    We agree on something there.

    I think you get in all sorts of trouble reading a book laced with theological symbolism (like rivers and trees representing life, and the people of Israel) as written history in the way we understand history. It doesn’t claim to be objective. You’re making a genre error suggesting there has to be a line

    No, I was wondering out loud (and perhaps it was unfair to suggest there is a short answer) which parts you think correspond closely to actual history, and I think it was fair to assume that the OT aligns more closely with real history in the later parts than in Genesis 1. I’m not knowledgeable on this point, to be honest; I’m not familiar enough with the extra-biblical evidence (physical or from neighboring nations) to be aware of which parts of which books of the OT are well-corroborated.

    It’s disingenuous to suggest we’re left trying to figure out what they mean for ourselves. They’re pretty clearly explained.

    In general, yes, but in the specifics it can be a bit baffling to figure out what the moral/practical (not purely ceremonial) laws were all about. Although I suppose they are all equally at the whim of God in DCT, so maybe they don’t need any further justification. This is, in fact, my main problem with DCT. Every moral question eventually terminates in the equivalent of “Because God feels like it”. Maybe that’s true, but it seems to take the dignity out of morality (plus, it makes the supposed moral perfection of God rather dull; it’s easy, even trivial to be perfect when you’re never accountable for anything you do except to yourself).

    Relatedly, I could note that many things in the New Testament are also rather confusing. Why does God actually care about what you are thinking? Why is faith desirable or a virtue? (This is my pet peeve, and I feel it is never explained adequately.)

  • Sean,

    Thanks for sharing that – it is always useful knowing where someone you’re talking to is coming from.

    I have a couple of follow up questions/comments, feel free to leave them…

    You say:

    “I’ve never understood why life is like a watch.”

    For me the watch is a simplistic analogy for complexity. I look outside my window, or at a cell in a microscope, and randomness over infinite time doesn’t explain things adequately for me.

    I also think the notion that life as we know it is essentially inevitable given enough time and space (which is a simplistic summary of the argument I’ve heard) is also an argument for the possibility of an omnipotent God who seizes control of the universe eventually. But that’s neither here nor there…

    As to theism v deism, I don’t know, I guess I extend certain human traits back towards God (which is perfectly legitimate if we are made in his image) – and I think what human artist doesn’t want to be known for their creation? Set and forget deism just doesn’t make sense. If I was God and had made the world and I was just going to sit back and watch, I’d soon get bored and want to start fiddling with things so that people knew I was there. That’s where I’m at with my thinking anyway. I think pondering the question of “why” is an amusing distraction, but I’d much rather deal with more concrete issues of ethics and loving people.

    “You can sort of see why this sort of argument from ignorance (gaps in science -> Jesus) doesn’t usually play well, but I think you’re already quite aware of that.”

    Yeah, arguments from gaps in knowledge don’t really work for me, like you once did, I see discoveries of science as revealing how God has done something – knowing how something has been done, and understanding the order underpinning creation (natural laws and scientific principles) is great – but just understanding them doesn’t do away with the need for an author of those laws any more than understanding what’s happening as a symphony plays does away with the composer.

    “I basically believed that there was some transcendent set of rules out there, which (like logical universals and mathematical frameworks) was independent of the will of God.”

    I’m curious as to why the transcendent principles transcend the transcendent God. Why couldn’t the principles be instituted by God? Surely that’s part of being God, being the author of natural laws, and universal morality? This just seems to me to be an odd place to place a limit on God. Why aren’t the laws of morality also contingent? That would, to me, seem the point of constant references to God’s holiness in the Old Testament. Even if those laws are logically necessary they are logically necessary in a universe established by a creator. I guess it’s a question of whether the universe pre-existed God, or God the universe.

    To me the Euthyphro dilemma, as its often framed, is a little wanting – because it assumes an equality between God and man.

    So I would say anything God does is by definition moral, but not by definition for us, as finite beings, to copy. Which is where divine command theory comes in – because that which God, who defines morality, commands us to do, becomes moral for us to do. I might be misunderstanding Euthyphro here.

    I look at this question…

    “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”

    And I say “yes” to the first. And also yes to the second. I think people operate with a false assumption that if God does something, or commands something, in a specific context we can apply that principle broadly because that conduct becomes moral (like genocide in the book of Joshua).

    They’re tricky questions, but ultimately I think I’m more committed to my theism, and trying to understand God, than I am to my ability to reason. My mind is limited. There’ll doubtless be things I struggle to understand (and that’s consistent with my observations). So not understanding something is not a reason for me to dismiss it. Though understanding that something could not possibly be the case might be.

  • sven

    @Nathan, @Robert W
    So, the bible could, or could not have been translated correctly. And there are many ways to interpret this book. This would mean it could well be possible that you are interpreting the bible wrong.
    @Nathan
    You say you are committed to your theism. I think this is indeed numbing your ability to reason. Maybe a more realistic appoach to the bible would help you see that the bible is what it is; just a book.
    Sorry to be so blunt about it.

  • Sean,

    We cross posted, and your post deserves more attention than I have time to give it, I’ll be back. Today or tomorrow. For now, let me just say I’ve said a couple of things in a more clunky manner than I’m happy with… on the Hell thing, my empathy exists precisely because I think I should be going there too, I don’t lack empathy because I believe in Hell. I gain empathy because I do, and I seek to keep others out.

    That’s what I was trying to say in response to this:

    “I have to wonder at that. Is there a hole in your empathy made such that anyone who deserves hell, according to God, automatically slips through it?”

    And to this:

    “God could have simply made a different promise. And/or found a way to keep the land empty so that it would have remained unsettled. And/or not bothered with the elaborate Exodus plan in the first place.”

    I’d suggest that too fits in with the didactic/demonstrative nature of the law. Not just the ceremonial stuff. All the law, and indeed, the whole Torah, functions that way. Israel’s history functions that way. Demonstrating God’s faithfulness to his promises, and his people, despite their continued inability to be obedient.

    Sven,

    Or perhaps I feel like my theism is a product of reason and therefore don’t need to have all the answers.

    I don’t think you’re sorry about your bluntness, nor should you be.

    I think atheism is the result of a blinkered approach to the world and confirmation bias born out of God’s commitment to maintaining the order of his creation. You should see your thinking for what it is…

    Anyway, that’ll do me for today. Thanks for helping me procrastinate.

  • sven

    Nathan@
    Atheism is the way I was born. My atheism was confirmed when I realized that the wonders of the world don´t need any gods to be what they are. Funny to see how you cling to your religion, between the thousands of religions in the world, based on a book that could, or could not have been translated correctly, yet call atheism blinkered. Why is your religion the right one?

    They’re tricky questions, but ultimately I think I’m more committed to my theism, and trying to understand God, than I am to my ability to reason.

    Or perhaps I feel like my theism is a product of reason and therefore don’t need to have all the answers.

    This is where you can break the cycle. The moment you understand that your theism is limiting your ability to reason, you might experience the beauty of reality.
    Just try it for a day. I promise you, the world will make a lot more sense without the need for a deity.

  • “based on a book that could, or could not have been translated correctly”

    Which is, of course, why I’m spending hours this year slaving over Greek and Hebrew. It’s not a question of mistranslation, it’s a matter of understanding how those languages work. It’s the nature of translation that some concepts don’t exist in English words that existed in Hebrew – for example, the word sin was borrowed from archery.

    “The moment you understand that your theism is limiting your ability to reason, you might experience the beauty of reality.”

    Alternatively, I might be swapping one delusion for another. I’m pretty happy where I am. Isn’t that enough for you? Why would you want me to be less happy? How is that ethical? Plus, most of my motives for selfless living would fly out the door with my Christianity – do you really want another selfish person running around wreaking havoc? I really don’t think you’ve thought your attempts to deconvert me through…

  • sven

    @Nathan
    So al the people before you had no access to the correct translation?
    I was not trying to deconvert you, I was trying to make you see you have a choise between religion and reason.
    You would only be losing a delusion. And I am sorry for you if you need your delusion to be happy.
    I don’t understand your reasoning between losing your religion and being selfish. Can you explain this?

  • So al the people before you had no access to the correct translation?

    It’s not the translations that are in error – it’s the people who seek to interpret the translations as wooden word for word equivalents. Words carry broad meanings, sometimes these meanings get lost in translation a little bit (because part of the art of translating is picking a meaning).

    But if you’re going to try to have an argument on the basis of whether or not the Ten Commandments forbid killing or murder your best bet is to see it as both, but with an emphasis on wrongful killing. Some Hebrew words, like English words, have synonyms, sometimes synonyms only partially overlap in meaning. It’s just the way language works.

    I think most atheists would benefit greatly if they paid more attention to how language works in terms of the Bible. So rather than refusing to interpret anything past face value, paying attention to the literary context (not just the historical or the surrounding verses). Interpret poetry as poetry (with the possibility that it might contain some hyperbolic or figurative language), interpret theological history as theology first, then history (with historical accuracy secondary to theological accuracy, and interpret apocalyptic stuff like everybody else in the time was interpreting apocalyptic stuff. The literature in the Bible is almost always similar to the literature from neighbouring nations and philosophies. It is a product of its time.

  • A follow up, and then I’m gone for the night…

    I just wanted to ask you which one of the dictionary’s 31 meanings for “so” you meant at the start of your question.

    See what I did there. I showed you that language is flexible, not rigid. Even two letters.

  • sven

    @Nathan

    I think most atheists would benefit greatly if they paid more attention to how language works in terms of the Bible.

    Sorry, which bible are we talking about? Which version in what period of time? Do we include the book of mormon? Why not also the koran or the talmut? I personaly don’t see why I should take any of these more than what they are, just books.
    I think most theist would benefit greatly if they paid more attention to reality.

  • sven

    @Nathan

    PS:

    This is the only part that makes sense:

    It is a product of its time.

    Why not leave it there and let it be what it is; just a book?

    I think most atheists would benefit greatly if they paid more attention to how language works in terms of the Bible.

    This advice is better given to theists. Than there would be less brands of christianity. I still haven’t heard which is the right one.

  • Nathan,

    And yet, I don’t have slaves, and I think that having slaves is immoral. And I get to that view via the Bible.

    Yet you say that keeping slaves in biblical times was not immoral. That’s what I mean by excusing away heinous things.

    I know. My point is that following the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean thinking that slavery is moral – it means seeing ancient laws as ancient laws, in their context, and figuring out what the spirit of those laws was – in the case of the slavery thing I think it was be more loving and humane to your fellow man than people in neighbouring countries.

    But you are arguing that slavery in the Bible was moral. You keep rationalizing it by pretending that it was a “kinder, gentler” slavery, perhaps even a moral thing to do. We’re not talking about ancient laws here. I don’t care about those laws for their own sake. I care about them because millions of people believe they were inspired by a deity. This supposedly god-authored document tells people it is okay to keep slaves. The reason you don’t see the slavery in the Bible as hideous is because of your fundamentalism. You believe your god sanctioned those forms of slavery, so you do not criticize it. I find that repugnant.

    Only if thinking that noting and accounting for difference between genders is the same as sexism, I’m sorry, but science does it too – we’ve got different genetic and hormonal make-ups. We’re likely to be different.

    That’s not what I’m talking about. You believe that women should be submissive to men and defer to men, and you believe that because you believe it’s what your god ordained. I find that inexcusable. Of course you will argue that it’s not “really” sexism, just like you argue that biblical slavery is not “really” slavery. You can say whatever you want, but that doesn’t make it true.

    Horrified? Really. I suggest you’re being a little hyperbolic at that point.

    Yes, horrified. I am horrified by your attempts to justify not only slavery and sexism, but hideous things like eternal torture. I’m sorry, but since you do not believe that such things are repulsive, I can only consider that your sense of empathy and compassion has been severely warped by the religion that you were exposed to. I realize you were probably indoctrinated as a child, but at some point, you need to take responsibility for your own moral development. Based on what you have said here, I cannot consider you a moral person.

    So tell me then, if your view on morality is so much more enlightened, how do you go about framing your morality.

    Not the way you do, that’s for sure. If you’re basing your morality on the whim of a non-existent god, I’m basing mine on enlightenment ideals and secular humanism. It’s just as “objective” as your form, and I don’t have to rationalize away sin, hell, slavery, sexism, and homophobia.

    And I like how you dodged my question about what approach you would have taken to writing laws thousands of years ago – it is completely relevant, because you’re criticising them as being immoral by reading your own morality, the product of thousands of years of social evolution, back into the equation. It’s like me judging your intelligence based on how much you knew when you were five.

    I didn’t dodge your question. I simply don’t care about their laws or why they wrote them the way they did. There’s nothing supernatural about the laws in the Bible, from my perspective. They’re not magically enlightened or inspired, so I have no problem criticizing them. My only issue is with modern-day people who do not criticize them because they feel they are the word of a god.

  • Andrew,

    While I agree, I have to wonder how you would philosophically underpin this objective claim? One cannot, after all, hold another accountable to a subjective (or intra-subjective) morality. In saying this you are implicitly invoking an objective moral standard – so where do you get it from (don’t forget the is-ought problem either..)?

    See my response to Nathan. You can base your morality on an objective standard without invoking the supernatural, and it makes a heck of a lot more sense than basing it on the whim of a deity. At least I don’t to rationalize away heinous things that a god supposedly commanded. Is it immoral for a god to kill all the firstborn children in Egypt? Anyone should be able to say “no,” it’s not moral, but people who are basing morality on the whim of a deity have to excuse it away because it’s what their god wanted, and what their god wants is always right.

  • Robert W.

    Anna,

    You and i have had a discussion on what you deem sexism in the bible so I won’t go there again. But I am interested in the passages you refer to where you claim that God condones slavery. Can you tell me which ones you are referring to?

    I understand Nathan’s explanations of slavery generally in the Bible and he is correct. The slavery I assume you are opposed to is race based slavery that existed in America or sex slaves that is occurring now. Both are heinous and awful and you will not find anywhere in the Bible where this is condones by God. They are however far different then the slavery of ancient times.

    Let me ask you this- If these are the only two choices- what is more moral- killing a prisoner or making that prisoner a slave?

    You can base your morality on an objective standard without invoking the supernatural, and it makes a heck of a lot more sense than basing it on the whim of a deity.

    What objective standard? Based upon humans and rationality morality will always be subjective and never objective.

  • Sean

    I look outside my window, or at a cell in a microscope, and randomness over infinite time doesn’t explain things adequately for me.

    I can’t help but feel that this is not a topic that you’ve examined too closely (well, I suppose few enough people have, but honestly, I think this is possibly one of the weakest theist arguments). I mean, it seems that to jump from this to a creator is an argument from ignorance, which fallacy you explicitly decry in a different context:

    So not understanding something is not a reason for me to dismiss it.

    Then not personally being able to explain how life could arise without being created would not, for you, be grounds for dismissing the notion?

    It seems like when there are unanswered questions about the universe (Like how does life arise, or where does lightning come from?), people are always perfectly willing to claim that purposive beings are responsible. Whether that’s due to a natural bias towards purpose-based explanations, or due to religious upbringing, I don’t think that this leap (no clear natural explanation, therefore artificial explanation) is warranted. Of course, you believe (sensibly enough) that even if there’s a natural explanation, God is responsible. But that makes God rather superfluous to explaining any of this, no?

    As for omnipotence being inevitable if life exists; I haven’t encountered a very clear definition of “omnipotent”, so I can’t speak to whether or not that’s possible. But it may be that, in this universe, certain things are simply impossible (such as faster than light travel) and that as a result there is an upper limit to how much of it any single being can control.

    As to theism v deism, I don’t know, I guess I extend certain human traits back towards God (which is perfectly legitimate if we are made in his image) – and I think what human artist doesn’t want to be known for their creation?

    Well, I don’t think it’s legitimate if you’re deciding between theism or deism. Obviously human and God are only at all alike in some theist philosophies, so it’s somewhat begging the question to use that idea. Besides which, even given theism, why believe that the correct revelation is accessible to you? There is no revealed religion which has been available to all people who have ever lived.

    This just seems to me to be an odd place to place a limit on God. Why aren’t the laws of morality also contingent?

    I’m can’t strongly justify a position I no longer hold. Suffice to say that I placed the laws of morality on the same level as logic, and I thought that the concept of a mind that superseded logic was absurd, so logic and morality either had to be above God, or more likely just a part of God not subject to His will (that is, God could not change some parts of His own nature, which was not a serious constraint on Him because he wouldn’t want to).

    I might be misunderstanding Euthyphro here.

    I don’t know. The original version was based on a polytheist argument. My understanding of the modern Euthyphro dilemma (which is very different from the original) is that it is really trying to answer this:

    Are moral laws caused by God’s will (and therefore set entirely by His personal preference), or are God’s actions (including his pronouncements to humanity) caused by His understanding of a morality not subject to His will?

    That is, it’s causation that’s at issue here.

    I think I’m more committed to my theism, and trying to understand God, than I am to my ability to reason. My mind is limited.

    Isn’t your theism necessarily a part of your mind and a consequence of your learning and reasoning (whether good or bad)? To me, “My mind is limited.” is an excellent argument for fallibilism and skepticism with respect to all ideas.

    I’d suggest that too fits in with the didactic/demonstrative nature of the law. Not just the ceremonial stuff. All the law, and indeed, the whole Torah, functions that way. Israel’s history functions that way. Demonstrating God’s faithfulness to his promises, and his people, despite their continued inability to be obedient.

    Again, this is subject to the “Couldn’t he be more clear?” argument. I think the obvious explanation (well, aside from the very most obvious one, which is that there is no God) is that God didn’t want to be very clear. Much as God was not apparently concerned about giving every human being a chance at salvation. Both strike me as odd.

    Plus, most of my motives for selfless living would fly out the door with my Christianity – do you really want another selfish person running around wreaking havoc?

    Weird. Seems to me that most people have an innate (if imperfect) sense of empathy, and a drive towards altruism and reciprocity, as well as the emotions of guilt and shame. The exceptions being psychopaths, who generally don’t seem to be readily controlled by religion either. I won’t say that religion has never made a person more moral, but I find it an odd possibility that there’s a whole bunch of people who would just throw most of their selfless/social behaviors out the window at the drop of a faith. Much less odd that someone would falsely believe such a thing because they are used to the assumption that morality is intrinsically a God thing.

  • “My mind is limited.” is an excellent argument for fallibilism and skepticism with respect to all ideas.

    Seems to me that most people have an innate (if imperfect) sense of empathy, and a drive towards altruism and reciprocity, as well as the emotions of guilt and shame.

    I actually agree with these statements, that whole statement was meant to be read as dismissive and tongue in cheek. It’s just that I think this innate morality is due to our creation in the image of God. I think that makes sense – as much as the idea that somehow we’re genetically disposed to altruism as a survival mechanism. I’m not a geneticist, or a logician though, so I rely on others and draw my own conclusions from theirs. If anything I’m a theologian, and a communicator, and a philosopher as much is necessary to be both of those things well. I tend to be skeptical of most claims – both academic and mystical. Skepticism is healthy, people have a predisposition to lying for their own advantage. True Christianity, so far as the Bible presents it (not so far as many institutions present it) encourages selflessness rather than selfishness. That’s the fundamental principle of the law both in the Old and New Testament. So in the Old Testament I assume that Israel were told that they could have slaves so long as they believe it was loving to do so, and so long as they loved slaves. They were to be more loving to their own countrymen than to their enemies, but the idea of loving those outside of Israel was their from the foundation of the nation in Genesis 12. It’s an argument from a misunderstanding of the law that suggests taking slaves was a good thing, rather than a thing you do in a bad situation, in order to salvage some good and ethical actions.

    “this is subject to the “Couldn’t he be more clear?” argument. I think the obvious explanation (well, aside from the very most obvious one, which is that there is no God) is that God didn’t want to be very clear.”

    Yep. Which is why Jesus even says he taught in parables. Not to be clear, but so that particular people wouldn’t understand. I think justice and fairness, while similar, are not completely synonymous. It’s just to punish everybody for wrongdoing. It’s merciful to not punish everybody for that wrongdoing. And it’s fair to offer the same mercy to anybody who calls for it. It may not be fair to give only some people mercy though. But that’s ultimately God’s call, not mine. My job, if I believe it’s true, is to make sure people hear the offer of mercy, not to change God’s mind (if, as you point out, logically he is committed to his framework of morality – even if his standard is impossibly high for humans to meet.) There is an elegant logic and consistency to Christian theology that most atheists fail to grasp (see the comic above), and even if most atheists think they’d do it better (which you even suggested yourself). Nobody says being fair is loving. It’s not loving to be rigidly “fair” to your children as a parent. Different children have different needs, and to treat them all the same is actually not loving, even if it’s fair. Why should God not be able to act the same way that we parent by instinct?

    That is, it’s causation that’s at issue here.

    Exactly. We obviously have different assumptions about what’s a more plausible explanation for the causation of life. That’s fine. I think our positions are natural outworkings of that assumption (you might disagree in terms of where my commitment to theism has led me – but I actually do think a strong case can be made for Christianity being the most rational form of theism – provided inductive logic is as valid as deductive for questions we can’t answer clearly with evidence). Deduction is good. But it can be a little limiting on questions of origins. So I think we can draw conclusions about the nature of the creator from the creation, if a creator exists. And I think some of the characteristics of God found in the Bible can be reasonably inducted from creation.

    “I think this is possibly one of the weakest theist arguments”

    The argument from complexity (rather than the argument from design – I think they’re slightly different)? I think the number of people who find it convincing would suggest it’s a reasonable case, if not convincing for you personally.

    It’s one that I think William Lane Craig has used with some success in debates (though he always has the advantage of being vastly more experienced in that particular forum than his opponents).

  • You and i have had a discussion on what you deem sexism in the bible so I won’t go there again. But I am interested in the passages you refer to where you claim that God condones slavery. Can you tell me which ones you are referring to?

    Oh, come on, Robert. You really don’t know about Colossians 3:22? I suppose you’re going to try to find some way to tell me that they’re not really talking about slavery there. You argue that the Bible is a god-inspired document, yet this document details the rules for keeping slaves and tells slaves to obey their masters. If your god was opposed to slavery, you don’t think it might have mentioned that in this supposedly all-important document?

    I understand Nathan’s explanations of slavery generally in the Bible and he is correct. The slavery I assume you are opposed to is race based slavery that existed in America or sex slaves that is occurring now. Both are heinous and awful and you will not find anywhere in the Bible where this is condones by God. They are however far different then the slavery of ancient times.

    Again, with the justifications! My goodness, I guess you two really don’t know how you sound when you continue to say such things.

    Let me ask you this- If these are the only two choices- what is more moral- killing a prisoner or making that prisoner a slave?

    Neither is moral. If your god wrote the Bible, it could have mentioned that somewhere. It might have mentioned that Christians/Jews were not supposed to kill prisoners or keep them as slaves, but of course the Bible also has no problem with killing people who have been conquered, as you surely must know.

    What objective standard? Based upon humans and rationality morality will always be subjective and never objective.

    Sure you can. I hereby declare that humanism is my objective standard. It makes more sense than basing morality on the whim of a deity. First you’d have to establish that deities exist in the first place, then you’d have to establish that they don’t have different opinions on morality (if there are multiple deities), or else you have to determine that there’s only one deity. Then you’d have to figure out what the deity wanted you to do, and since no one has ever seen or talked to a deity or has been able to supply any evidence of them, that’s a pretty tall order. Even if you could do all that, “divine command” is a poor source of morality, as I’ve been trying to point out. If your god commits genocide, that doesn’t make genocide okay. If it’s wrong to slaughter innocent people, it’s wrong no matter who is doing it. Your deity doesn’t get a free pass.

  • Robert W.

    Anna,

    I truly appreciate our discussions and I will try to avoid getting sarcastic during them.

    Oh, come on, Robert. You really don’t know about Colossians 3:22? I suppose you’re going to try to find some way to tell me that they’re not really talking about slavery there. You argue that the Bible is a god-inspired document, yet this document details the rules for keeping slaves and tells slaves to obey their masters.

    I agree that Paul in this passage is not calling for slaves to overthrow their masters. He is not calling for a revolt. This passage is in a list of relationships like parent child, husband wife and individual behavior of those that have been called by Christ. He is talking about living for God and following his commands now that they are saved for its is the Lord they are serving. The very next passage talks about how masters are to treat their slaves and if they treat them wrong they will be judged for they are no better then their slaves. In a nutshell he is talking to people in their current state in life and telling them to serve the Lord.

    Could he have called for slaves to rise up? Sure he could have. But the fact that he was talking about their eternal wellbeing instead of calling them to change their current state in this life is a is a far cry from condoning slavery or promoting it as you imply.

    I hereby declare that humanism is my objective standard.

    You have just declared an inherently subjective basis for your moral standard. Have you read the humanist manifesto III?

    Here is an excerpt:

    Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.

    The fact that these needs and experiences change or are different for everyone means inherently that humanist have no objective standard for morality.

    All of the rest of your objections outlined in your post are answered by believing in God. He exists, there is only one of him, He is unchanging and He has spoken to us through His word.

  • Robert, I find it rather frustrating to converse with you and Nathan.

    Could he have called for slaves to rise up? Sure he could have. But the fact that he was talking about their eternal wellbeing instead of calling them to change their current state in this life is a is a far cry from condoning slavery or promoting it as you imply.

    Okay, whatever you say. Slavery is good, freedom is obedience, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” It’s talking to characters from 1984 and Animal Farm. I really can’t even imagine the mental gymnastics that must be required to get to your rationalization of slavery.

    You have just declared an inherently subjective basis for your moral standard.

    Perhaps I wasn’t clear, but I was being facetious. I was trying to demonstrate the absurdity of declaring morality by fiat. There are certainly atheist arguments for objective morality, though, if you’re interested.

    All of the rest of your objections outlined in your post are answered by believing in God. He exists, there is only one of him, He is unchanging and He has spoken to us through His word.

    I guess it must make perfect sense to you, but it makes zero sense to me. I have absolutely no reason to believe that anything you have said is true.

  • @Anna

    See my response to Nathan. You can base your morality on an objective standard without invoking the supernatural, and it makes a heck of a lot more sense than basing it on the whim of a deity.

    I did see your response to Nathan (and you really straw manning him a lot btw) [edit – well the one above your response here.. just noticed the link at the bottom of the page after I wrote this], and I can’t see that you’ve shown any basis for your alleged objective morality – you’ve just claimed to have an objective morality.. ok, if it’s objective (and that’s interesting, most non-theists argue that morality isn’t but hey.. let’s go with what you said) then how is it objective? What is the philosophical justification for it? Do you allow metaphysics then, or are you justifying it materialistically somehow?

  • Sean

    Different children have different needs, and to treat them all the same is actually not loving, even if it’s fair.

    This would not seem to be enough to justify an infinite disparity in treatment. But I find it a bit dull to argue with someone who always has a “Well, if God does it, it must be OK for him.” card in his hand. I would not argue with a solipsist about the reliability of the senses; arguing with a DCT-ist about the morality of God is not a more promising exercise.

    Deduction is good. But it can be a little limiting on questions of origins.

    But of course science (and all evidence-based reasoning) is based on inductive reasoning. The difference between us is not induction versus deduction, but proper ways to apply inductive reasoning. I’m a pragmatist, and for that reason I will only introduce and accept new concepts or models if they a) predict new observations, and/or b) unify and summarize (parsimoniously explain) existing observations such that they allow more observations to be explained with a smaller theoretical framework. I think “God” here posits a cause without providing a useful explanation of anything empirical. I cannot unify more specific biological principles under a “creator principle” which subsumes them, nor does “God created this” usefully predict anything about living creatures. It’s this insistence on empiricism in all areas which you probably disagree with?

    I think the number of people who find it convincing would suggest it’s a reasonable case, if not convincing for you personally.

    Well, I can’t think of any argument about the external world that I would consider more reasonable because most people found it convincing. As far as I can see, biological arguments for God depend largely on two things: a) they reference subjects that take a great deal of time and knowledge to work through (sometimes knowledge not even possessed by those making the arguments), and b) people who don’t fully understand what’s being referenced are therefore free to conclude that whoever delivers the most appealing rhetoric wins. It’s for this reason that I generally don’t think scientific issues can be decided via debate. Even online/written back-and-forth can be a bit deceptive if presented to an audience without an interest in detailed explanations. (Although I think dialogue is great for the actual participants or for observers who are sufficiently familiar with the theories being discussed.)

    And as far as the argument from complexity vs. the argument from design goes… I think colloquially they tend to be much the same thing. It’s mostly the same people proposing both (complexity being one potential stepping stone towards design). And I’ve never heard someone propose the argument from biological complexity who didn’t believe in design, at least in abiogenesis (there’s also a cosmological complexity argument, but it’s essentially a version of the first cause argument). Maybe you’re the first (I’m not certain).

    In fact, I think that the argument from complexity is generally very weak because a) complexity is a concept that is very liable to be understood mathematically (much more so than “design”), and therefore is more clearly open to scientific scrutiny (where this argument falls down as unsupported), and b) there’s no clear reason why complexity implicates a creator. A lot of the complexity in living organisms seems to be due to relics, bits that function well or badly or not at all, that were locked in long ago due to internal convention or because the organism has no reason to lose them. This is not complexity in the sense of a well-designed watch, so much as complexity in the sense that a pile of rocks is complex or a Rube Goldberg machine is complex. Worse design often -> greater complexity.

    Or to use a more succinct and rigorous argument (Now with more jargon!), no one has found any measure of this quantity called “complexity”, which is said to be possessed by life and to increase monotonically in an open system, and therefore there’s no known theoretical barrier to complex life occurring naturally. The main man working on the theist’s side here, William Dembski (well, maybe he’s tied with the more reserved ID-er, Behe), has proposed such measures, but essentially no fellow experts take him seriously, and there are good reasons for that. I found about a half dozen problems in the first two pages of his last paper (which he journal-shopped in order to publish), and there are very simple known counterexamples to theorems he has touted. There’s not much that can be said for that wing of the ID/prove-God-exists movement.

    As for William Lane Craig, I’ve never heard a particularly convincing argument from him, but I’m hardly his biggest fan who tunes in to and reads all his work, so that’s not too surprising. Is there a particular argument you’re fond of? Or were you merely pointing out that many people find him convincing?

  • Sean,

    I’m a pragmatist, and for that reason I will only introduce and accept new concepts or models if they a) predict new observations, and/or b) unify and summarize (parsimoniously explain) existing observations such that they allow more observations to be explained with a smaller theoretical framework.

    See, I too would describe myself as a pragmatist, and I like points a and b – but I’m not committed to a smaller theoretical framework. I hesitate to apply Occham’s Razor in some cases for that reason. It’s a good rule of thumb. But you don’t necessarily need to chop your thumb off just because you can do everything else with four fingers (to mix a metaphor).

    It’s this insistence on empiricism in all areas which you probably disagree with?

    Yeah, I’m not committed to scientific naturalism. I think it actually dies on its own sword a little – it’s a philosophical commitment based on trusting our own observations at the exclusion of anything supernatural. It simply does not have a category for dealing with things that tangible evidence can’t be produced for.

    I can’t think of any argument about the external world that I would consider more reasonable because most people found it convincing

    Yeah, I see your point here – but let me give you an example, lots of people enjoy Britney Spears as a musician. I don’t. But because so many people do I think she must have some redeeming features that I just fail to grasp using my own particular model of assessing music.

    And I’ve never heard someone propose the argument from biological complexity who didn’t believe in design

    Indeed, there would be no point arguing from complexity if you weren’t arguing for a designer. But some arguments from design are not arguments from complexity, but rather arguments from a philosophical commitment to there being a designer.

    no one has found any measure of this quantity called “complexity”, which is said to be possessed by life and to increase monotonically in an open system, and therefore there’s no known theoretical barrier to complex life occurring naturally.

    I’d say it’s more a qualitative assessment than a quantitative one. While there’s no known barrier to complex life occurring naturally I’d say it’s part of a collection of bits of evidence (perhaps circumstantial evidence) that lends itself to considerations that there might be a creator.

    Or were you merely pointing out that many people find him convincing?

    I was pointing out that many people find him convincing, and many people he debates find him hard to refute. He does take a fivefold approach to the question of God, which I think is consistent with building that circumstantial case for a creator. I think the weight of five arguments is probably greater than the sum of its parts. Which is why I find arguments for God convincing. I don’t like relying on just morality, or just cosmological complexity, or just the Bible, or just anything. I think you can piece together enough strings of evidence for a god to make a compelling case against atheism, and even to tip the question past deism and into monotheism. But we clearly approach the issue from different sets of knowledge and experience, different presuppositions, different evidentiary standards and have different philosophical frameworks that we’re operating from… so we’re unlikely to agree on the question coming from those angles.

  • Sean,

    As a follow up – ascribing the DCT framework to my thinking is also a little misleading – because I don’t actually believe that I’ll ever be in a position where I’m forced to act against an ethical framework that is broadly speaking, humanistic and consistent with most consequentialist “harm based” frameworks. I’d describe my thinking as consequentialist in practice, deontological in theory (I think there are certain “moral rules” that sometimes require breaking in order that worse breakings of those rules don’t happen, or in order that a greater good might happen). Interestingly, William of Ockham subscribed to Divine Command Theory. Classic Divine Command Theory (from what I can gather) is purely deontological and doesn’t consider the outcome of certain actions – since I think the OT law is not a set of black and white rules, but a set of ethical and sociological principles operating under categories “be different from those around you so that they’ll know you’re mine” and “love your neighbour” I think that classic Divine Command Theory fails to accurately describe both Biblical Ethics, and my ethics. So, perhaps paradoxically – I subscribe to Divine Command Theory (because I think moral rules are set by God and we are to obey them), but I do not think that means what you guys think that means because I think the OT deals mainly in ethics (how to live) and not so much in morals (what to do and not do). And I suspect that when ethics and morals collide we’re to choose ethics over moral absolutes – the story of Rahab the Prostitute would be one such example (she lies (morally bad) to save lives (ethically good), and her behaviour is affirmed by her treatment in the narrative.

    This is where Anna keeps straw-manning my moral position. She’s insisting on a standard of moral absolutism that falls apart as soon as you throw other people who aren’t moral absolutists into the mix, or moral absolutists who are unable to meet their standards or who have different standards. She seems to have no cohesive approach to questions of ethics, preferring to deal only in moral absolutes. Which just seems to be a little off the reservation and slightly concerning. It puts her in a category with a bunch of nutty Christian fundamentalists (just with different mechanisms for deciding what is moral).

  • Andrew,

    I did see your response to Nathan (and you really straw manning him a lot btw) [edit – well the one above your response here.. just noticed the link at the bottom of the page after I wrote this], and I can’t see that you’ve shown any basis for your alleged objective morality – you’ve just claimed to have an objective morality.. ok, if it’s objective (and that’s interesting, most non-theists argue that morality isn’t but hey.. let’s go with what you said) then how is it objective? What is the philosophical justification for it? Do you allow metaphysics then, or are you justifying it materialistically somehow?

    If you go back and read my original comment to you, I did put “objective” in quotation marks. And I was being facetious with Nathan up above. I’m not a philosopher, but there are plenty of arguments for objective morality (as well as subjective morality) without invoking the supernatural. I’m not all that interested in the subject myself, but if you do some googling, you can find lots of other essays besides the one I linked. I already explained to you that I base my personal morality on enlightenment ideals and secular humanism, and I consider that a much better basis than the Bible. Since I do not believe the Bible has any supernatural origins, and since it contains an incredible amount of prejudice and barbarity, I think it’s pretty much worthless as moral guide unless you’re doing some serious cherry-picking.

    As I said earlier, if there are gods in the universe, we’d have to first determine that they exist and figure out what they want before we could even begin to base our morality on them. Since no one has ever seen or talked to a god, we have no way of knowing anything about them or what they might want us to do. There could be one or two gods, or there could be twenty million of them. They might not be interested in us, or they might have incredibly human-focused goals and objectives. Who knows? It’s all speculation, and speculating like that is just silly. All we know is that some humans claim that their gods have authored certain holy books, but since those people have never provided any evidence whatsoever to support their claims, I think it’s pretty much futile to go about basing morality on a god (or a bunch of gods) that have never been shown to exist.

  • Nathan,

    This is where Anna keeps straw-manning my moral position. She’s insisting on a standard of moral absolutism that falls apart as soon as you throw other people who aren’t moral absolutists into the mix, or moral absolutists who are unable to meet their standards or who have different standards. She seems to have no cohesive approach to questions of ethics, preferring to deal only in moral absolutes. Which just seems to be a little off the reservation and slightly concerning. It puts her in a category with a bunch of nutty Christian fundamentalists (just with different mechanisms for deciding what is moral).

    I’m sorry, what? I know I keep getting you, Robert and Andrew confused (sorry, there are a lot of comments on this thread!) but I hope I have not misrepresented your moral position. You do believe that hell is moral, correct? You do believe that it’s perfectly just for a deity to create hell and make up rules for people to follow, and then if people don’t follow them, they go to that hell when they die? That is your position, right? That it’s a fair punishment? If not, I apologize. But since you keep conveying the idea that hell is a perfectly moral thing, I don’t see how I am straw-manning you.

    For the record, since there seems to be some confusion, I never actually claimed to be a “moral absolutist.” I did point out that it is possible to make arguments for objective morality without invoking the supernatural. Personally, I don’t have a position on absolute morality because I don’t think I’ve studied the subject in depth, not enough to make strong philosophical arguments. I took Philosophy 101 in college, but I haven’t really studied it since then. However, it is my position that torturing people is wrong. It is also my position that genocide is wrong, in all circumstances. I don’t know why that should be a controversial thing, but apparently in some circles it is.

  • Sean

    Yeah, I’m not committed to scientific naturalism.

    I don’t really ever use “naturalism” as a part of my personal philosophy in any way. I suppose it’s de facto naturalist in that I don’t believe in anything I consider to be supernatural, but I’m not even confident that I know where the difference between “natural” and “supernatural” is, so it’s not as if naturalism is some kind of assumption or principle I’d advocate.

    It simply does not have a category for dealing with things that tangible evidence can’t be produced for.

    I think the requirement for evidence of some sort is a virtue. There is a place for things which no evidence can be produced for; the rubbish bin. I think that’s appropriate; “Belief X provides answers to difficult questions.” is not a virtue. It is actually quite terrible if those answers bear no relation to reality.

    As for “tangible evidence”, I don’t really know where you’d draw the line between tangible and intangible. When I’m promoting empiricism, I’m talking about all impressions and sensations, including self-awareness; “sensory data” and scientific observation are just part of the story. I also think of the issue as being about probabilities and how seriously you take something not just the simple belief/non-belief binary. If someone tells me “I had a burrito for lunch” and then “I also saw a fairy”, one is much more plausible than the other based on prior experience. My explanation for why someone said “I had a burrito for lunch” is “They probably had a burrito for lunch”. My explanation for “I also saw a fairy” is “He’s yanking my chain”. But there’s no physical evidence for either except insofar as the presence of someone asserting something is physical evidence. (See also: Bayesian inference, I guess.)

    I’d say it’s more a qualitative assessment than a quantitative one. While there’s no known barrier to complex life occurring naturally I’d say it’s part of a collection of bits of evidence (perhaps circumstantial evidence) that lends itself to considerations that there might be a creator.
    […]
    I think the weight of five arguments is probably greater than the sum of its parts. Which is why I find arguments for God convincing.

    I know this is an apparently very sensible way to approach things, but it calls to mind the last time I was arguing with an HIV denialist. This person pointed me to a website with several dozen points, each backed up with a considerable number of citations. But each one I looked at fell apart under probing scrutiny. So this thing that looked like a startling edifice of scholarship was built on air. Bad or even merely insufficient (to reach the given conclusion) arguments do not contribute, in whatever numbers.

    But we clearly approach the issue from different sets of knowledge and experience, different presuppositions, different evidentiary standards and have different philosophical frameworks that we’re operating from… so we’re unlikely to agree on the question coming from those angles.

    *shrug* I’ve noticed.

    I subscribe to Divine Command Theory (because I think moral rules are set by God and we are to obey them), but I do not think that means what you guys think that means because I think the OT deals mainly in ethics (how to live) and not so much in morals (what to do and not do).

    At the risk of arrogance, I’m going to exempt myself from this statement. My objections to DCT are mostly to the relationship between God and morality itself, not about what he tells people to do, or your personal ethics. I mean, your understanding of Biblical ethics is indeed consistent and largely consequentialist (frankly, I’ve never seen a successful ethical theory that wasn’t largely consequentialist once applied). But of course that’s not something that actually comes from DCT; in DCT, God can really make anything he wants the moral thing to do, at any time, for any reason. While atheism is my reason for thinking that DCT is false, the main reason I don’t like it is aesthetic; theories in which a being (any being) can declare something moral by fiat seem to describe something profoundly opposed to what we intuitively mean by morality. I’d go so far as to say that if DCT was the only basis for morality, to me that would be effectively the equivalent of nihilism. It would mean that there wasn’t really a set of real moral rules out there, not the kind I would consider worthy of the name, only a bunch of rules we’re told to follow (like pets who are trained to jump through hoops or play dead). Sure, acting selflessly is more appealing than rolling over for a dog biscuit, but that’s just a consolation prize, and not even a totally secure one (God is certainly not bound to care about care/harm all the time no matter what, as the idea of hell illustrates). Perhaps this is related to Moral Foundations Theory. Some of us may simply not be built to consider obedience or authority to be relevant to morality.

  • Anna,

    You seem to be suggesting that because I am saying slavery might not be immoral (or perhaps better, might be more ethical) that I am saying it is absolutely moral.

    I don’t think the laws regarding slavery in the Old Testament deal with moral absolutes, but are rather framing ethical approaches to a broken situation.

    So slavery is better than killing your enemies, so if you go to war take people as slaves rather than killing them, and if you take slaves treat them better than other nations treat their slaves…

    Obviously it’s better not to go to war in the first place, but once two nomadic peoples occupying the same land enter conflict that’s impossible to order without ordering one nation to lie down and be killed.

    Slavery in the Bible is not a question of morality – and you keep using that as a question to determine whether I’m moral or not – it’s a question of ethics – how do we apply the principal “love your neighbour” to the situation of war?

    Sean’s question of why God had to have wars in the first place for Israel to exist is valid – and my answer is “I don’t know, but he did”…

    But my whole argument about the law, from comment one through to now, has been that it’s more about framing ethical responses to bad situations than about framing moral actions (except for the ten commandments – which rule out stuff like raping your slaves anyway (don’t commit adultery) which was one of the suggestions somebody above made about the Bible’s approach to slavery… It’s about what to do when people have done the wrong thing, as much, if not more, than it is about defining the right thing. The right thing is defined by “love your neighbour” – which included foreign nations who Israel were to be a blessing to (Genesis 12).

    That’s where you’re straw-manning me.

    The question of Hell is a question of how fair it is to show mercy to some, but not to others, when it comes to punishing somebody for wrongdoing.

  • Sean

    which rule out stuff like raping your slaves anyway (don’t commit adultery)

    Well, sort of. It seems like men were at points encouraged to marry slaves if they wanted to have sex with them (something that was undoubtedly seen as kind to those women). But since consent isn’t indicated, the whole process obviously does allow rape.

    Which is rather tangential to your argument, but I wanted to take note, because it appears that a lot of sexual mores and practices that seem odd to us today were based on the idea that a woman lost a lot of value and freedom the moment she was no longer a virgin. Which is what chafes me (modern moralization/fetishization of virginity, religious or not, annoys me no less).

  • But there’s no physical evidence for either except insofar as the presence of someone asserting something is physical evidence.

    There’s also the after effects of consumption, especially if lots of beans were involved.

    The problem though is that most evidence brought forward by Christians (that they themselves find convincing) is refuted, or argued away by “better explanation” by people who operate using different philosophical assumptions, or who are perhaps a little to willing to apply Occham’s razor or other skeptical rubrics (which I think have their place).

    So I would say: “I know a guy who was an angry criminal on the cusp of real jail time because he fell in with a violent crowd who liked drugs – who when he became a Christian changed overnight and is no longer angry but seeks to love others and to atone for his past misdemeanours” – most Christians would say that’s consistent with a display of the work of God by the Holy Spirit, and that it comes with the fruit of the spirit – the measures by which we are told to test the spirit’s work – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self control…

    You might call it confirmation bias. But naming a known factor that might account for behavioural change is not the same as demonstrating that that behavioural change is a result of that known factor. And it’s also only a better explanation if you preclude any influence from the supernatural.

    “My objections to DCT are mostly to the relationship between God and morality itself, not about what he tells people to do, or your personal ethics.”

    Yeah, that’s true. I should have picked that up from your earlier comment. Which to me says something about your theology (not that you believe in God, but what you believe a god, must be if it exists). I don’t think there’s much point being a God if you have to subscribe to, rather than author, natural law. You’re not really a God then, you’re a subject to something greater. And using my argument from induction from how we do things (which you think is invalid) – imagine the state our legal systems would be in if we said “the law doesn’t change, and the courts and governments are subject to a pre-existing order that they can’t do anything about” – our courts and legislators exist to create and interpret the law, they are powerless if all they can do is abide by the law, and perhaps just police it from time to time. Law is a construct, not a constructor.

    It would mean that there wasn’t really a set of real moral rules out there, not the kind I would consider worthy of the name, only a bunch of rules we’re told to follow

    And the Christian view of divine command theory that I think is based on Biblical ethics, the law and the way the narrative of the Bible affirms actions that demonstrate obedience to God even when appearing moral (like Abraham and Isaac), isn’t really a case of a set of moral rules, but more a case of trusting that God will do what is right. So even when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son he was doing so trusting that God could bring life from the dead (like he had brought life from his barren wife’s womb). So in that story God stops him anyway, but had he not, had Isaac been killed and not been returned to life, I reckon Abraham would have said something like “stuff this promises from God thing, I’m going to get a beer and a pizza.”

    God can really make anything he wants the moral thing to do, at any time, for any reason

    He really can’t though. Well not in Christian theology anyway. It would be against his character to do that. Which does make he events in Canaan hard to explain (where he condones wiping out a nation), except that the first three books of the Bible consistently describe Canaan as wicked, and consistently demonstrate that they know Israel is coming to take back its home, and they have every opportunity to leave (that’s how it’s presented in the narrative anyway – Canaan get warned, Rahab says she knew the Israelites were coming and that the land had been promised to Israel).

    The account of the Canaanite genocide, the account which people base their moral objections on, is from the Bible, and the Bible says the Canaanites are guity, wicked, warned, and finally destroyed. The Bible paints the genocide as the moral thing to do, and the means by which to stop the spread of Canaanite immorality – some of the more out there prohibitions in the law (like don’t sacrifice your kids to Molech) deal with things the Canaanites do that Israel isn’t allowed to do.

    Some of us may simply not be built to consider obedience or authority to be relevant to morality.

    Which means that you guys are screwed if the authority says “Obey me. Be moral.” Then what is moral? And what are you going to do?

  • Sean

    You might call it confirmation bias. But naming a known factor that might account for behavioural change is not the same as demonstrating that that behavioural change is a result of that known factor. And it’s also only a better explanation if you preclude any influence from the supernatural.

    I actually would not need a different plausible explanation to reject that example; I would use the same approach as with claims about medicines, supplements, or homeopathic treatments. Anecdotes of miraculous cure will come into existence regardless of the efficacy of a certain treatment. There are dozens of ways in which it could happen, and no particular reason to choose an explanation if you’re only getting a modicum of information second-hand.

    It’s not that I would reject the supernatural argument in favor of some natural one, I simply would not accept any explanation at all for such an anecdote (or about my mom telling me that there’s a particular supplement that has cured her arthritis pains). I simply don’t accept a very high percentage of explanations I’m given on a daily basis (neither am I actively convinced they are wrong in every case). Especially about the causes of mental states. This is not a mere bias against the supernatural; many “natural” explanations for things don’t hold up either.

    not that you believe in God, but what you believe a god, must be if it exists

    Well, there’s two things at play here. One is what kinds of things I would prefer to be true or which are appealing (knowing that this has no bearing on reality, only aesthetic judgment). By this standard I find your God kind of ugly. The other is which kinds of god-like things I would actually call gods. An advanced alien intelligence might be “effectively” a god but I have no interest in labeling that with supernatural connotations.

    I suppose there’s a third factor, which is “what would I have called God before I deconverted”.

    But as for saying “what a God is if it exists”, I wouldn’t try to push a definition of that in a conversation with a believer. Some ideas about God are more beautiful than others, but that only really changes how I talk about it, not how plausible the God is. I don’t have a very specific personal definition of that word anymore; there’d be no point.

    Morality is a different story; I’m still a tentative realist, although I’m sort of shopping around, meta-ethically.

    Law is a construct, not a constructor.

    I should maybe be clear. I thought of it as Basic Logic > Fundamental Morality > God’s Will (only part of God, in the same way as your conscious mind is only one part of your whole mind) > Laws of Physics > Contingent World > Applied Morality (Ethics). That is, there were fundamental moral principles, but the world was too complicated for anyone but God to accurately apply them, and insofar as He controlled the universe they applied to, He had substantial control over ethics.

    Again, this is all stuff that I thought, maybe 8 years ago? I can clarify what I thought but it no longer matters to me if it’s defensible.

    As for the natural-law-to-human-law analogy… I don’t think it’s more than an analogy. Much the same way as the creation-is-like-a-painting thing is an analogy. It’s not an argument that something was designed or constructed if you just point to something designed or constructed and say “it’s like that”. Frankly, I don’t know if there’s any useful analogy to be drawn between the laws of physics and human laws; the former are really (apparently) universal patterns, only “laws” in that we’ve found formulaic ways of writing them down. The latter exist explicitly because they can be broken and are normative.

    a case of trusting that God will do what is right

    What can this mean? By what standard can one tell whether what God does is right?

    It would be against his character to do that.

    Is the suggestion that God is psychologically limited to prescribing certain natural laws, as opposed to being limited by something external?

    If so, this is actually only one premise short of my old set of beliefs, that extra premise being “Every feature of God’s character is logically necessary.” (Of course, nowadays I’ve rather abandoned the idea that any existing entity has logically necessary features other than the basic one of non-self-contradiction.)

    But it’s rather an interesting character you ascribe to your God. A character which allows God to decide (apparently by fiat?) that infants are sinful. That all humans deserve hell. All that sort of thing.

    Is there a good reason for me to not look at that and think “If your God was real, he’d be a judgmental dick, no matter how loving he claims to be?” I mean, believing that an omnipotent being exists, that he wrote the Bible, and that he was telling the truth in the descriptive parts, all that still doesn’t necessarily compel me to accept DCT, or otherwise to prefer God’s morality over my own. It may compel me to believe I can’t do anything about it, but it’s perfectly possible to believe in an omnipotent and morally imperfect (or omnipotent and maltheist) God, and some people have.

    Which means that you guys are screwed if the authority says “Obey me. Be moral.” Then what is moral? And what are you going to do?

    Uh, we’d do exactly what I was suggesting. Consider the command irrelevant, and do what we would have done anyway (which may in fact involve being moral for other reasons). Or only consider the command relevant insofar as we have to cope with the coercion behind it.

    (Also, “the authority”? I’m having flashbacks to The Golden Compass.)

  • Bobby

    Christian Response: All of them are wrong. They guy at the top is living by the Law and being a sadistic jerk at the same time. The guy on the left is being judgmental and lying. The guy on the right is living by the law AND like the guy on the left, is being judgmental and lying.

  • Nathan, the problem with you and ALL theists is not that you cannot have your own beliefs. There is no problem with that. The problem is, you want to have your own facts, and you want to impose those pseudo-facts on everyone else.

    Try very hard to understand this. “Beliefs, no matter how sincerely held, do not alter facts.”

    When you use the bible as a basis for your debate, you are not using facts. The immediately makes you statements void of any logical content and completely invalidates your argument. Nor does it make you look any more intelligent or better-educated. But then, if you were those, things, you would not be a theist.

  • Matthew

    Thank you James Smith Joao Pessoa! The bible (in ALL versions of its printing in English and other languages) was even translated (with possibly varying results) from the Dead Sea Scrolls… or at least that was my understanding. I’m kinda on the fence about the whole “God” thing, due to the way the world is going these days and such, but that’s not for here. I would definately be worshiping from the perspective of an atheistic deist though.

  • Sean

    The bible (in ALL versions of its printing in English and other languages) was even translated (with possibly varying results) from the Dead Sea Scrolls… or at least that was my understanding.

    That is incorrect. The Dead Sea Scrolls are recent discoveries of some Old Testament texts only. It would be impossible to produce a complete Bible from them. Modern Bibles are generally produced from texts preserved and copied through the Middle Ages and do not all share identical source texts.

  • Ian

    I am an Atheist humanist. I am not intolerant of god and Christianity, merely ignorance. That said, I have to step in and defend Nathan.

    This guy doesn’t seem to be the crazy christian who is telling us we will burn in hell. And he does a good job defending his point that the new testament is (and i agree with him) a much more tolerant and loving aspect of the bible than the old. I believe that the bible is horse shit, but only when taken literally. It bothers me to see so many people trying to disprove every little thing Nathan says and telling him he is wrong and yet calling themselves humanists. Is it not as bad as Christians being hypocritical and ignorant of their own religion? Humanism is more than the negation of the supernatural, its about accepting all things and leading a fulfilling and tolerant life, basically just being a good person. He may be wrong about a lot, but i see atheists pushing atheism harder on him than Christians pushing Christianity on atheists. Look at the title of this blog…the friendly atheist… look at the picture…Nathan is the former of the two interpretations of a christian (in my opinion). Yes he is wrong to come on and say “you atheists need to understand something”…kind of a stupid thing seeing as there is a lot that Christians need to understand. But the way he describes Christianity, as everyone has proved, is more humanist than christian. I used to be like that when i was Christian, taking a humanist approach to Christianity and ignoring the ignorant aspects (like all the violence in the old testament that god demands). But do you know where that humanistic Christianity lead me? To atheism. But telling him he’s wrong will push him to argue with you and defend his own Christianity, by arguing with a christian you are making them more christian in the sense that they don’t want to be told that they are wrong and will believe whatever they need to back up their beliefs.

    Atheism is not something you can push on to someone, it is a belief one must find on their own, and the same goes for humanism.

    Nathan, if you are happy with being a christian and you follow the humanist aspects of it and don’t tell homosexuals to burn in hell and are a tolerant person, you have my respect because i view you as a fellow humanist (as i do of anyone of any religion who interprets their teachings tolerantly and peacefully)who simply believes in a higher being. I call those Agnostics. And if anyone reads the gospel of Judas (or at least what is left of it) you will see Jesus in his most tolerant and humanist state (that is probably why it isn’t in the bible). He tells Judas, the nay-sayer of the apostles, that he is the most understanding and nobody can understand the universe (yes, Jesus says the universe, not god) the way Jesus does as well as Judas. Jesus even predicts the problems Christianity will cause. Clearly, Nathan, you are looking past the bullshit and living as a christian that humanists SHOULD respect, as you are virtually one of us in terms of the fundamental teachings of being a good person.