I think that the below dialogue between a Christian and two atheists is informative. How would you answer the atheists’ questions (if you are a religious believer)?
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First, I think that God uses “evangelistic” atheists in order to show many people who think that they are Christians that they actually aren’t. These atheists often raise excellent questions which people should consider. They shouldn’t be considered attacks–rather, they are tests of faith. If someone’s faith can’t stand the test, probably that person actually isn’t a Christian.
The “Hell” problem–the atheists see God as a monster and man as good. I think that the actual problem is an inadequate view of the biblical God. If God is as perfect in every aspect as the God of the Bible, then a sin against God is unspeakably monstrous. So the question which we can analyze without resorting to the Bible is man’s moral aspect–is man tremendously good? Does man do tremendously bad things? I murder in major U.S. cities tremendously rare or is it common? How about drug violence? STDs? Drunkenness? Homicides due to drunkenness? Suicide bombings? Columbine and similar rampages? Child neglect? Thefts of various sorts?
Now if a sin against man requires capital punishment, then what of a sin against the infinitely perfect God, who must know of all the evil, pain, and anguish and experience it in excruciating detail? What sort of pushnishment might that require of a finite being? An infinite punishment? Surely, the level of pain of man cannot begin to approach that of God. So what avenue of justice is left but torment unto eternity?
I won’t go into the question of evidentiary support of the Bible since that would lead inevitably to the question of epistemology.
That should be “Is murder in major U.S. cities….”
Thank goodness! For a second I thought you were confessing and that we should alert the authorities!
But then I also realized that this is from over two years ago, so… 😉
Two quick points on Tom H’s response (which I like)
1. I’m not sure if you can propose that atheists contrast the goodness of man versus God. The statement made in the dialogue that God was a monster was a hypothetical. It is based on a literalist reading of the old testament which characterizes God as an imperfect and wrathful being.
In the old testament, God changes his mind – a perfect being by definition would not change anything. If something perfect changes, what can it change too, something more perfect? Something less perfect? The God of the old testament strikes down entire nations for believing in the wrong thing. Amongst humans this is called a holocaust.
I think the point being made by the atheist is strictly in context to the literalist reading of the Bible and doesn’t lend itself to the Hell problem.
I think you’re formulation of the Hell problem would be accepted by a non-Christian believer in God, but not an atheist. This is because it presupposes the existence of God. An atheist and a strict logician would be forced to challenge your argument as circular.
2. I really appreciate the approach you’re taking of engaging the evangelical atheist as a means to question and hopefully strengthen the ground for your beliefs. It breaks with the devisive evangelical model that the atheist was describing and forms a basis for an inclusive and productive dialogue.
If God is a monster for telling the Israelites to wipe out another nation, how much worse must God be to the atheist mind for judging ALL mankind to be guilty of sin a priori</i< and condemning us to death! However, if we accept that all mankind is sinful and deserving of death, how is it so bad that God would command his chosen people to wipe out another people for their idolatry? Wouldn't they all die eventually anyway? Are we to set the timetable and method for death, or is that God's prerogative? I see the Holocaust argument as exceedingly weak.
Now as to the assertion of OT divine imperfection, to what passage are you referring? For example, the Jonah passage, when read properly, clearly is aiming for mercy rather than judgment, so to assert that God changed his mind is an error in this case. It teaches a lesson to believers that God desires repentance rather than the death of the sinner. But what passage are you thinking about?
Regarding the atheist and the Hell problem–one of the atheists was objecting to Hell as a hypothetical, so my formulation applies to that atheist argument.
I have a few atheist online friends with whom I have discussions. Most of my former (in-person) non-Christian friends are now Christians.
What you cannot escape concerning hell is that it is torture reified to eternity. In other words, it’s the barbaric practice of a barbaric era of human history placed into the afterlife. It makes God a tyrant.
When you say that you endorse the existence of hell, you are endorsing torture. There’s no way to make pretty the obscenity of the position.
If the situation is as I describe, then to condemn a sinner to an eternity in hell is just. If you oppose this, then you oppose justice.
Your scenario is contingent upon belief in a perfect god. I find the Bible to actually show quite the opposite. For instance, all of us, now days, consider slavery to be an immoral act. Yet, the OT not only condones, but directs slavery. Likewise, murder and likely rape. Christians often defend the murder as you do, by wrapping up the will of god as the justification of murder. Yet, when terrorists kill others in the name of their beliefs, we call it immoral and evil. The cases of biblically condoned murder in the OT are numerous. Leviticus alone has a bunch.
It seems that Christian morality is contingent? Murder, slaver, rape are good when god commands it, but not when it is the will of man? How do you rationalize this?
Sure, one assumption of my argument is a perfect God, which is what the bald atheist in the vid was assuming.
Why do you think that all of us consider all slavery to be immoral? Garnishment of wages is a type of slavery. This was the Hebrew variety. The Romans had power of life and death over their slaves, unlike greeks and hebrews. What reference do you have to the OT directing slavery?
Do you think that capital punishment is murder?
There is no need to rationalize obeying God’s commands. Either God is king or the law is king. Both cannot be king. The law only applies to God’s subjects–not to God. This is standard reformation theology, which has been around for a few hundred years.
Maybe we do not all consider slavery to be am immoral act. I thought that most westerners did though. While you may consider garnishment of wages as “slavery” that is a pretty loose representation. The individual still maintains free will and choice in their daily lives in almost every respect. Numbers 31:7 is a good example of murder, theft, slavery and likely rape as directed by god.
I get that the concept of applying God’s will has been around for a while, that does not make the argument any more valid. I also understand why you do not desire to rationalize the answer, as it is one of the grand contradictions of the bible. Either you consider slavery (theft, murder, rape, etc.) to be immoral or you do not. If you decide that it is moral when commanded by god, then situations are impossible to judge. How do you know if god commanded an individual to commit such acts or not? Should all claiming to take these actions in the name of god be ignored?
I have a few points.
First, divinely ordered killing isn’t murder. We’ve already established that, given the biblical context. The bald atheist seems to understand this, but you don’t.
Second, slavery isn’t immoral, given the biblical context. It’s true that a principal value of Christianity is freedom, but divine justice allows for the possibility of slavery.
Third, garnishment of wages was a key element of greek slavery. The slave didn’t necessarily even work for the owner, but instead remitted a periodic fee, just like wage garnishment. In the Hebrew system, the slave owed a set amount and the owner was required to free the slave once the slave had performed service equal to the amount owed. In the Hebrew system, slaves were also required to be freed at the time of Jubilee. I recommend reading the Wiki entry on slavery. There were many different kinds of slavery.
Fourth, you don’t seem to understand that you cannot bring in an external fact (e.g., modern morals) to prove an internal contradiction. The application of the concept of God’s supremacy doesn’t make the internal logic invalid. You may not like the system because of your own metaphysical/ethical commitments, but your dislike doesn’t render the system contradictory.
Fifth, your assertion of possible rape is obviously weak. We simply don’t know what happened to the virgins. Given the principle of charity, we might assume that they married the men. Otoh, the theme of this passage is judgment on midian, so perhaps they were sold as slaves to other nations.
Sixth, as regards certification of divine credentials, the Bible contains a prescription for this: the prophet’s words must not “fall to the ground” (i.e., be proven false by subsequent events) and the prophet must not lead the people (Israel) to worship other gods.
Hope that helps.
Tom may need to be a bit more gracious.
I think the idea of hell comes down to a matter of justice. No Christian (in their right mind) would say that the doctrine of hell is a great doctrine. If you are a professing Christian, it should make you squirm that we have to believe in hell. But hell is in the Bible so we are forced to deal with this issue.
God (in the Bible anyways) creates mankind so that they can enjoy a relationship with God and to partake in the world that God has created. But mankind rebels against God, and so puts into effect this idea that justice needs to be delivered. But God finds a way to fulfill the justice that needs to be served by sacrificing his son as a substitute for us so that we won’t receive such a punishment. Our only qualifier is to accept God’s gift to pardon us.
I think we all seek justice in this world. The biblical view of justice though is that all have sinned and are to suffer death because of that. It’s not a matter of what sins we have committed (ie. stealing, lying, etc.) but rather the attitude of the heart that stems from that sin and I think we can all agree that we aren’t perfect people and we probably have more days where we do wrong to others.
That’s just my 2 cents. But Christians do need to be more gracious and understanding. Atheist arguments are very valid arguments that Christianity sometimes lacks a good answer to.
Seth and Tom,
Aren’t what you describing (whether gently or more directly) the Stockholm Syndrome? (The one who captivates and threatens you is also the one who says “I love you” and “I will protect you”.)
And isn’t the fact that the Bible adopts the attitudes of the cultures in which it was written (such as that torture is okay in punishment) a good reason to disbelieve its inspiration?
Wouldn’t it be more impressive if, bucking its time, the Bible’s authors had rejected torture altogether as a means of punishment? Instead, the Bible has made it central to the whole program—fundamental.
That alone ought to make you doubt its truth claims. Put another way, if you are going to believe that hell-torture exists, you should have good reasons outside of the Bible’s claims about it. The very fact that hell is in the Bible puts the whole text under suspicion as being a wholly man-made product.
Tom’s argument about justice, for example, does not strike me as a good reason to believe in hell for finite beings. It’s as if an ant bit my toe and I, being much greater than the ant, became so offended by the gesture that I consigned the ant to decades of torture in keeping with my perception of duration and offense. It’s patently ridiculous. To make a similar analogy to God is to make God into a weird and twisted Gadhafi-like figure. I would call this an idol.
Gadhafi, by the way, made a Stockholm-style announcement to his people: he said that they had a choice: live under his rule or die under his bullets.
I gave you an argument following a logical methodology. You replied with postmodern psychobabble. E.g., Godel’s Theorem is wrong because he was suffering from depression when he wrote it.
Why is all torture wrong? You assume that it is. Please defend your view.
You asked for evidence of hell from outside the Bible–the ancient greeks had such a place that they called “Hades.” Remember Sysiphus?
As regards the ant, you aren’t God and you aren’t perfect in moral character, knowledge, or power. How will you keep the ant alive for eternity? On what basis are you superior to the ant? Did you create the ant?
Gaddafi controls the air force, which is why he retains power. The army seems to oppose him, but the navy seems to support him. He is the head of a triumvirate which may be undergoing some internal struggles.
If there’s any lesson from the middle east revolutions, it’s that benign dictators who rely on the west and allow any semblance of enlightenment freedom can’t retain power. Only those willing to use force can make it. Mubarak was quite benign compared with Kim Jung Il.
As a believer, the siege mentality of many N. American Christians — a leftover from the modernist/fundamentalist conflicts of a century ago — honestly distresses me to no end. Reading Genesis 1-3 in a wooden literal manner is effectively the same as insisting on a wooden literal reading of…
“Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forest of the night…” (“The Tiger” by Wm. Blake)
Is this referring to large feral felines spontaneously combusting during their nocturnal wanderings through deep, dark jungles? Should we argue “William Blake said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me”? If somebody were to argue this way and to insist on such an understanding, wouldn’t we be justified in concluding that such a person was either woefully misinformed (at best), or perhaps at least a little nuts?
Obviously “The Tiger” is a poem and we are to read it as such. Identifying the genre of the text — any text — and interpreting it accordingly is the implicit contract between an author and reader. We don’t read a poem the same way we do a news article in a local newspaper, or a science text, or a work of history, or even another work of fiction, like a novel.
For example, when we turn to Gen. 1, we should notice right off the bat all the repetition (e.g. “And God said…” “And God said…” “And God said…” “… let it be…” “… let it be…” “… let it be…” “… and it was so…” “… and it was so…” “… and it was so…” etc.). What genre of literature is associated with such repetition? Historical writing? Scientific texts?
I would allow that it is at least up for debate, but two genres it most obviously is NOT is either history or science. (Now, I’m not saying this is poetry; we know what classical Hebrew poetry looks like and, strictly speaking, this isn’t that. So, while this may not read like the Psalms, it definitely doesn’t read like 1&2 Samuel either.) Therefore, we can safely conclude that Gen. 1 is not intended to be read as though it is a scientific, chronological account of God’s creation of the universe. AND, we should recognize that it actually does grievous harm to the text (and to our credibility as believers) to insist on such an interpretation.
Needless to say, I agree with you.