5) Basic Tenets of Christianity
Before going into the niggly bits, let us look as some basic tenets of Christianity.
God wants each and every one of us
Christians seeking God are told that he loves us all and wants to reach out to us. This passage was quoted to me: Jeremiah 29:13-14 - "You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart. I will be found of you". From there, it is but a simple step to concluding that if you can't find God, it must be because you aren't looking hard enough, or with all your heart.
There are many assumptions here (among them being that there is a God and that he wants to be found, and that he will let himself be found - basically that this passage is the infallible and eternal word of God), but the problem is that there is no escape route! What about all those who look for him, but can't find him? If someone is not touched or found by God, he can be told that he is not looking hard or sincerely enough. He can then spend his entire life searching and die a broken, disappointed man. Countless anecdotes abound of how people have tried to search for this God, but somehow, he has ignored them and let them stumble in the dark. It's not that they don't want to find this God, but that they cannot find him. Could it be part of his divine plan, then? Perhaps - just like Ebola.
Why does this God not come to all who ask for him? He has a long and proven track record of appearing to people - Noah, Moses, the Apostles, Doubting Thomas, St Paul (a vision converted him from a hater of Christians to one himself) Muhammad and others. Why is it that modern day credited manifestations of him and his power are all of events that were ambiguous and not witnessed by a large group, including sceptics? Why does he not resolve the doubts of and give signs to those looking in vain for him, and lose faith and die cynical and broken - or worse, continue seeking and die deluded? Does he really want people to stop believing in his existence? In short, what gives? Some statistics show that there are 850 million agnostics/atheists - it is the fourth largest "religion" in the world (and that doesn't count statutory theists who are de facto agnostics/atheists). Perhaps it is this God's plan that so many do not know him, since many of these 850 million gave him a chance, but found nothing.
Hell, I can make up my own God, or use a pre-existing one - Baal, say, and insert this clause into my Holy Text. Then my adherents will be locked in forever! How fortuitous. For those very strong in their faith, on the other hand, they will "feel" the presence of my "God" psychosomatically, due to their mind conjuring up mirages and will feel vindicated. Their faith will lead to their perceived existence of my God being a self-fulfilling prophecy!
Christ on the Throne
Have you heard of the Four Spiritual Laws? Law One says that: "God LOVES you and offers a wonderful PLAN for your life. [Christ speaking] "I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly" [that it might be full and meaningful] (John 10:10)". I find the interpretation for this to be extremely suspect. But let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that he *does* have a plan for our life. We are urged to follow this plan and surrender to the inscrutable divine will. We are to let Christ be on the throne and submit to him in all things.
This idea of servitude rankles me - it sounds like a euphemism for slavery. Is it good to be mindless automatons, zombies controlled by God? If that was our purpose in life, to be puppets with him pulling the strings, then why were we created in the first place? If we should submit to his "plan", then why were we put on this earth? To be expensive, semi-intelligent playthings? The question of free will comes up, and the prepared refrain is that God gave us free will so that we could choose him without compulsion. However, religious representatives tell us to "do this and be happy forevermore or burn in hell for all eternity", so is there really no compulsion or coercion? Furthermore, we are told that our body comes from God, and belongs to God, so whither and wherefore Free Will?
Even putting all our doubts aside, we are told that we were given free will just to have it taken away from us. That sounds like he is putting us here to play with, and test us. Life then sounds like a cruel, inane divine game. A more plausible explanation given to me was that submitting to him, we realise that his plan is the best for our life. Put that way, it doesn't sound like we have a choice. Is submitting to a pre-determined plan and going to a pre-destined fate really what we want?
Also, how do we know just what is in the Plan? Supposedly, if we have accepted him, we will know what to do. But what about the murderers who thought that voices were telling them to kill their fellow Men? What if that was really the voice of God? Who's to say?
Even though doctrine varies, most denominations are in accord that Sin is bad. Very bad. Especially in Catholicism. Personally, I find it overrated.
First, how are we to know what is sin? Subjective and flawed human interpretations of Holy Text aside, let us look at Natural Conscience. Now, we are, almost all of us, born with an endowment of Natural Conscience. For Christians, let's say it came into the race when our ancestors partook of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If we imbibed the knowledge present in the fruit, then would we not know what is sinful, and what isn't?
However, in many societies, polygamy - both polyandry and polygyny - is practised, and in some African tribes, free sex is the norm. Homosexuals are highly valued in some societies for, with no children of their own to take care of, they can aid in the parenting of others' offspring. Now, it can be argued that social norms have distorted the Natural Conscience. So if we give this argument the benefit of the doubt, we can still see that in babies, sexual instincts are present. Some male babies are born with erect members, and some female ones lubricating, and one reason why swaddling is so popular is that it stops babies from touching their gonads - something that comes naturally to them. If that is the case, why is "self-abuse", something eminently and obviously natural, so condemned?
Excepting such things as murder, then, it is hard to define sin, unless we accept what we are told.
What's wrong with Sin?
We are told that God hates Sin. But why is Sin so bad? If it does not destroy or control you, or hurt others, what is so bad about a moderate amount of "sin", especially since we are all tainted already by Original Sin? We are told that God hates Sin, but not why. In fact, Sin humanises us.
Sin in life
Sin is a fact of life. If you want to survive in the Modern (or even the Ancient world), it is necessary to commit some form of sin, especially in the fields of business and politics. To do other would to be trampled upon. For example, when people ask questions, we usually respond with a degree of tact. Another name for that would be "lying" - a form of sin. "These six things doth the lord hate: Yea, seven are an abomination unto him... a lying tongue... a false witness that speaketh lies" - Proverbs 6:16,17,19. It is also written by David, "I hate and abhor lying" - Psalms 119:163. But how about when colleagues or friends tell us to tell callers looking for them that they aren't around? Even monks, living in communities, have the potential for sin. Unless one retreats to a cave and lives as a hermit, it is almost impossible to live sin-free - with the Church's broad definition of Sin, that is. Perhaps even harder to escape - Original Sin. Even when babies have just been born into the world, they have already been tainted by Original Sin.
It is necessary to sin somewhat to survive in the real world, and if someone
has such an obsession with eradicating sin, that person will lose all sense
of perspective, and this obsession will destroy him. The danger with being
obsessed with eradicating sin is that the person tries hard to look for sin
everywhere. Thus, everything becomes a sin, and he is trapped in a vicious
circle. The more he purges his perceived sin, the more obsessed he becomes
and he tries to wring yet more 'sin' from his life. Perhaps that is the greatest
sin. We were told, too, to dig out the roots of our sin, and the priest gave
the analogy of grass growing in a field - if you just trim the grass, it
will grow back. I counter: If the grass is sin, imagine that the field is
a person - if you dig out the roots, the field will erode and the place will
become a desert. Are we enslaved by sin? More like enslaved by religion.
The priest proclaimed that, however good a life you try to live, unless you have divine help, it is impossible to lead a sinless life. And I agree, for with his Universal, Puritan, all-encompassing definition of Sin, it would be impossible to even breathe without sinning! For it seems to follow human, congenital, totally natural desires is to sin, and all along we are already burdened with Original Sin. Isn't following our Natural Conscience (implanted into us when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil) and following the Golden Rule and its corollaries is surely insufficient! Methinks that it is best not to focus too much on inevitable, omnipresent sin but instead to concentrate more on moderating the sin and on being a positive force.
Sin, Original Sin and Redemption
"Eternal damnation. What a cruel hoax your priests have inflicted on your people. Souls change. Only God is eternal-- and what kind of God would damn any created thing eternally? What sin could possibly be so great?" - A. A. Attanasio, The Dragon and the Unicorn
"We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful
God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes." -
The notion of sin and redemption is questionable. Why can't this God simply forgive everyone and not send them to eternal torment, if he is so good, vast and benevolent. The reparte is that he loved us so much that he sent his son as a "sacrifice", but then it seems he sacrificed a part of himself to himself (taking back the sacrifice in the process), for he is the one who determines, by setting the criteria, whether someone goes to heaven or to hell. The analogy is that someone takes away $10 from you, gives you $1 back, and tells you that you're supposed to be happy. Further, how great was this sacrifice anyway, seeing as Jesus knew that he'd be resurrected within 3 days, to sit in glory forevermore at the right hand of his father? More pressingly, why can this forgiveness not be extended past the death bed? Why are we forced to choose during our mortal lives, with incomplete and contradictory information on which to decide our fates for the rest of eternity?
Further, the great, all-encompassing sin - Original Sin - that supposedly stains us all is suspect. Just for doing nothing, we are condemned to die and suffer for all eternity. For one, why should we, the descendants of Adam over a thousand generations, have to pay for his folly? Following similar logic, Christians should all be responsible for the various atrocities that Christians have committed in the past, as should the Church. God himself should also have to be called to account for his various infractions (to put it chariably) and brutalities.
More pressingly, why is Original Sin a sin in the first place? Since Man had not eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, he could not have known that what he was doing was wrong. Further, what was the Tree doing at the centre of the Garden of Eden? It seems that God was trying to tempt - to entrap, even (a crime in modern law) - Man.
Why can't this minor mistake - a minor violation of impossibly high standards - be forgiven? Perhaps it is because this is:
"a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the sons to the third and fourth generation of those that hate me" (Exodus Chapter 20 5)
"It is a counterfeit love that is contingent upon authority punishment
or reward. In a nutshell, God had to kill Himself to appease Himself so
that He would not have to roast us, His beloved creations, in HELL forever.
He loves us more than we can ever comprehend, but if we don't return His
affections, He will make us regret it for eternity. Now that is AMAZING
In summation, I found this quote very meaningful: God and Christians are analogous to an abusive husband and his wife. The husband beats the wife relentlessly, but has instilled such fear in the wife that she cannot possibly conceive of her husband being wrong. Thus, she believes that it is her fault that she is being beaten, and that her husband has no other recourse. This is not tolerated in today's society, but, when God does it, it's perfectly alright. This is what Christians who accept the belief of Hell do to themselves. They've been brought up to fear God from birth. This fear forces them to accept the completely illogical and unbacked statement that God is perfect. Thus, whenever they question the existence of Hell and how just it can be, the leash of God's perfection tightens around their necks. They simply recite the above mantra and put all the blame on themselves, absolving God of all responsibility for his actions, allowing them to live comfortably with their illusory belief in the biblical God being perfect.
Redemption and accepting the Word
Christianity is founded on the idea of Love - God loved us so much, he sent
his only Son down to die for us. Whoever believes in him will receive Eternal
Life. So, a question comes up - what about those who don't? In the deepest
heart of Africa reside pagan tribes which have never been visited by Missionaries.
So when they die, they will not be able to receive Eternal Life - just because
the news never got to them? Why does God not send his missionaries to the
heart of Africa, then? Does he want to condemn more people to hell? Even
when people have been preached too, they may not believe, as there is no
compelling reason for them to. Perhaps what the missionaries say sounds like
the words of Snake Oil salesmen (and who believes them, anyway?) - what makes
one so different from another, and which faith should they believe in, then,
with so many clamouring for their souls? Or how about those who want to believe,
but who are never touched by Divine Grace and die bitter and cynical? Or
even people in religions which punish apostates - some with death, even,
resulting in the rate of conversion being low due to the fear of punishment?
Is it fair to all of these people?
"God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent--it says so right there on the label. If you have a mind capable of believing all three of these divine attributes simultaneously, I have a wonderful bargain for you. No checks, please. Cash and in small bills." - Lazarus Long (Robert A Heinlein)
What is good?
People say that God is Good, and we can see it from what he does. However, this begs the question of the definition of "good". Is God good because he does good things (which then subjects him to an external moral law, just as we all supposedly are subject to his), or are the things he does defined as good? But then if this God advocated murder, genocide, rape, arson, infanticide, killing of hermaphrodites and 8 month old fetuses and the like (much of which he is recorded to have done - see below), would we then say these things were good? [Note: Saying that he wouldn't define these things as good is *not* an acceptable counter. I could also say that he wouldn't define homosexuality to be bad.] And you wonder why I hate meta-physics.
In any case, if we accept that God is good, how do we reconcile this with the widespread misery in the world? This is explained off with reference to quotes from scripture, and various excuses, that Evil comes from Man through his free will, God is trying to mould people, misery is good for the character, the Universe being God's creation and not his plaything and perhaps the most disingenuous of all, that God has his 'divine plan' for everything, and all mishaps somehow fit in with this "plan".
How can the deaths of innocent people in natural disasters, say, be justified then? God is good, God is merciful and God is kind, after all. If we take the view that God should not intervene in his creation, then why are there still so many instances of supposed miracles? Or why, indeed, has God even appeared in this world, to mess around with it? Even if he does want to appear, it is suspicious that he chooses such indirect and doubtful means to do so. And how about the Evil supposedly arising from the hearts of men? Many people become "evil" because of their circumstances - poor neighbourhoods tend to have higher crime rates, say, so this "evil" does not really come from men, but from what happens to men, since most people are born good. Most disturbing: If God lets bad things happen for a purpose, who are we to question him? Ergo, famine relief should be stopped as God wills it that little children should starve to death.
And then there's the 'plan' - the last ditch attempt by Christians to explain how a god God could allow babies to be born with Down's Syndrome or spastic, and stop us questioning his supposed benevolence. If all this is part of his divine plan, all has been determined, so why the need to pray? Since this God knows what is going to happen, and has a plan for what is to happen, who are we to pray for World Peace, when it will never come unless He wants it? Who are we to defy his plan by striving, as humans, to do something we believe is good if he does not want it to happen? Providing humanitarian aid could thus be seen as defiance of this God.
Ramifications of God being good
God is also assumed to be able to see into the future and into the past, he already knows what is going to happen and this cannot change - which raises more questions about the imprudent decisions made by this God which, with his foresight, he should have avoided, like why he created Man knowing that he'd damn himself, or commit so much sin that he'd have to kill almost everyone on Earth with a flood, and why he tempted Adam and Eve by telling them about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil even though he knew they'd eat from it. Could it be that he isn't that good?
Evidence from the Bible on God being Good
If God is so good, why do we have a Vengeful/hateful God who urges genocide and rape (and this after 'thou shalt not kill'):
Exodus 34:17: I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Take care, therefore, not to make a covenant with these inhabitants of the land that you are to enter; else they will become a snare among you. Tear down their altars; smash their sacred pillars, and cut down their sacred poles.
Genesis 7:4: For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. [Ed: Even the surely guiltless children?]
Numbers 31:17-18: Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourself every girl who has never slept with a man.
Specifically, it seems the Unchanging, Eternal God makes himself out to be spiteful, vindictive, cruel and sadistic in the Old Testament. Many more examples abound - see the Book of Joshua for more war, violence, sacrilege of the dead, sadism and torture, for example.
Perhaps worse than physical cruelty: condemning us to hell.
2 Thessalonicans 2:11-12 : And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Translation: God will cause us to believe lies so that he can damn our souls to hell.
The Riddle of Epicurus, Why assume God is Good?
Perhaps the notion of God being good can best be rebutted simply and succinctly in the Riddle of Epicurus.
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
It is puzzling why people like to assume that their God is good (among many other things), and then work backwards to try to justify this stand with rationalisations and justifications that grow increasingly wild and implausible. Should we not judge by his actions, looking at the evidence? If we presume his innocence (so to speak), and then work so hard to prove it, what if we discover that we are wrong, and that a good God does not exist? Imagine how cheated we will feel, having frittered a whole life away defending a lie.
"If religion cannot restrain evil, it cannot claim effective power for good." - Morris Cohen
God is Perfect
God is supposed to be perfect, all knowing, eternal, infallible and the like. If that is the case, then why is his creation, the Universe so imperfect? Just one example would be extinction - if the Earth was created perfect, then species needn't die, need they? Or how about the supposed Great Flood?
God repenting as he has made a mistake: Genesis 8:21: "I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done."
Jesus doubting God: Matthew 27:46: And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Genesis 17:14 "But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised
in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people;
he has broken My covenant."
Didn't God create us in His image? Why mutilate ourselves just to fix His mistake?
Many other examples can be found in the Bible. Just look.
Implications of Perfection submitted by Sphere
If God is perfect then God cannot change.
If God cannot change then God cannot interact with the rest of existence.
If God cannot interact with the rest of existence then there is no way we can ever interact with God.
If we cannot interact with God then we can never know anything about God.
If we can never know anything about God we can treat God as non-existent from our viewpoint.
An implication of God being both Good and Perfect
If this God is there, and he is so good, why is that that more people do not recognise and see him? Why does he hide himself so much, and make himself out to be imperfect? Why is it that people find him imperfect? Surely, if he is the epitome of perfection, none of his flaws would be glimpsed, and his perfection and goodness would be as obvious as the sum of 1 and 1 being 2. On the contrary, an objective analysis of the evidence - without prior prejudices, preconceptions or assumptions, reveals that this God is, at best, indifferent to us, if he does exist. For every miracle, there is a tragedy, for every uplifting moment, a period of depression and despair and for every improbable fortuitous coincidence, an unbelievable spate of bad luck.
6) Basic tenets of Christianity
12) Further reading