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Religious Witterings - Sally's Journal
February 16th, 2005
11:20 pm

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Religious Witterings
Although I'm tired, and should probably go to bed instead, there's not a lot of point going to this LSM course if I don't try and think through my thoughts afterwards.



Well, tonight (Who is Jesus?) was the one session I was really interested in. I can quite happilly believe in some kind of Big God (although if you tried to pin me to definite things like did he create the world? Can he interfer with the world? Is he omnipotent? Does he think humans are special? I'd start getting worried). And I can quite easilly believe in some sort of Holy Spirit, a spark of good stuff from God inside people. But I have a real problem with Jesus.

Sadly, tonight's session didn't really address that at all. It was nice, and reasonably interesting, and I asked the Fig Question, but...

Well, maybe we need a bigger picture (and a slice of the Great God Debate). M seems very convinced that you can't judge God, as our mortal minds will never be able to comprehend him (it's the whole ineffable thing) and we should just trust him. So whats-his-name should go up the mountain and kill his son if God tells him to, even though he knows killing people is bad (and probably knows it for far more reasons than "God says"). I don't like that. I mean, we have morality and reason, and it's wrong of us not to use it. Maybe God is some evil sadist who's playing with our lives, in which case the brave and rightous thing to do would be to revolt against him (the sane and safe thing to do may be to worship him and creep to him anyway, but that's a different argument). I think I have a more intelligent and well developed sense of Good than "what god wants" (what makes people happy?), and can easilly imagine an Evil God. M on the other hand thinks it's stupid to judge God with human morals*. But that's all we've got. And it's wrong to grovel to an evil tyrant who doesn't want what's best for us.

So first of all I need to work out if I believe that God is the Christian God, and then I need to work out if that's a Good God, or an Evil God.

Why should I believe in the Christian God? Well, because Jesus Christ existed. Err, lots of people existed. Well, because he was the Son of God, and died and rose for our sins. Lots of people say that is true. Lots of people I trust and think are intelligent say that is true. Then again, lots of people I trust and think are intelligent are raving atheists. I don't have any burning feeling of "christ" in my heart. Maybe that's what I'm feeling, when I think I'm feeling close to God, but it doesn't come labelled "this is Jesus" in any way I recognise. Some people wrote some gospels about it, but the world is always full of mad fanatics who will say all sorts of things to convert people. Look at the internet. I suppose there is a certain evidence that they succeeded, which proves they're right, but lots of other religions have succeeded to get lots of converts, and they all contradict each other, so that's not a huge argument. I suppose I've felt very close to God in a christian church before now. Which could be him dropping me hints. But I've also felt very close to god in a tree, and haven't rushed off to become a pagan. Some people think there's great power and closeness to God in the eucharist. But don't other religions have similar rituals that they would claim left them just as close to God? Besides, what if I based my faith on that argument, got confirmed in the hope that the eucharist would lead me to believing in christ, and then discovered it did nothing for me?

The only argument that even came close to convincing me was that you have to pick a path to god to be able to even walk in the right direction, and in my life christianity was the path I was lead most easilly to. But that does leave me in the position of being a christian who doesn't believe in Jesus, which isn't very tenable.

Anyway, assume for a moment that the flurry of LJ comments I'm hoping to get from you all convinces me that the Christian God is the true god. Is he a Good God? Lots of things suggest not to me. The exodus from egypt, where he "hardened Pharohs heart" 7 times so he could dicksize over how hot his plagues were. The fig tree: "and Jesus cursed it for he was hungry and it had no figs on it, for it was not the season for figs"**. The whole chosen people malarky - I mean, if eventually he was going to try and indoctrinate us to love one another and treat all people as equal, why localise all his miracles to one tribe for thousands of years? In fact, the whole needing Jesus at all thing seems remarkably stupid, he sets his whole world running and then 4000 years later goes "oops, I forgot to give them any way to salvation, better fix that bug". Not to mention the tower of Babel, and indeed driving us off from the tree of life, all acts designed to keep our power limited so we wouldn't challenge his. And the "this is the only way to me" line - seems a bit harsh, given the stunning lack of evidence as shown above, that those who doubt, but love and live well should all be turned away. And I know that you can wave your arms around a bit and say "well, they knew Jesus, they just didn't know they knew Jesus" but it's a bit of a cop out. I'm sure there's more...

So yeah, I'm still confused.

The confusion is made more so by the fact that even the bible goes on about false prophets and false gods are a bad thing, so there obviously has to be some sort of thought going into whether or not a God is true or false. I know that's different to Bad and Good, but it means we have to be critical enough to judge if we have a false prophet or a true one, yet we have to realise we can't understand the workings of god or judge him???

* We had an interesting conversation once about whether our morals would change if we found out that God didn't exist, he thought his would, and I thought mine wouldn't. I've aimed to draw a lot of influence from christian morals, and have tried to work towards a system that would please any good god, but this has been achieved broadly by hoping for a system that should please whatever I think of as good humans, and I think I'd stand by it if there wasn't a god in the equation. You can believe that life and humanity are important for their own sakes, not just because they're part of Gods plan.

** This has become kind of symbolic to me about so much stuff, eg Christianity thinking being Gay is evil, when god makes people that way.


By the way, a plug for

http://www.godhatesfigs.com

a site I wish I'd written

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From:flats
Date:February 17th, 2005 12:08 am (UTC)
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unitarian universalism? judaism [same god, less jesus]?
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From:filecoreinuse
Date:February 17th, 2005 12:47 am (UTC)
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Or even become muslim for the same reason.
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From:inner_muppet
Date:February 17th, 2005 12:40 am (UTC)
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What a marvellous website.

The witterings are (almost) all quite familiar to me at the moment. Perhaps I should be going to this course too. Are you finding it helpful overall?
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From:atreic
Date:February 17th, 2005 09:35 am (UTC)
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The course? Err, saying "no" would be bad, and probably wrong. The vast majority of people there are already LSM anglocatholics, and the talks really do preach to the converted a little bit, this weeks conpletely missed all my worries of how to believe in Jesus, and was just an interesting talk on what he must have been like. So the talks are interesting, but not all that helpful (as are the little old ladies). However, the_alchemist, yrieithydd and mr_ricarno go, and meeting up with lovely open minded liberal christians who I dare to talk about stuff to every week is a good and helpful thing.

They're every wednesday and the guy talking this wednesday is the priest who's marrying M and me, so that's interesting in it's own right, right? ;-) It would be nice to see you, and at least this way you know where I am...
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From:filecoreinuse
Date:February 17th, 2005 12:48 am (UTC)
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Why not just bundle your beliefs up into a convenient box labeled 'Sally-ism' and be content?
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From:atreic
Date:February 17th, 2005 09:44 am (UTC)
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Because I firmly believe that you shouldn't be allowed to believe just what you want to. My vague ideas of (a good) God are of something that wants what's best for us, not what we want. And I think it's too easy if you live in your own religion to want to do something very much (eg polyamory) and justify it to yourself (ah, but God believes in love) too trivially* You become too vunerable to your own human flaws

Also, it's very easy to stagnate in faith if you're not surrounded by a community of people wanting to make you think, challenge you, talk to you... I'm sat on my arse with my beliefs since aged 18 and now find I can't remember why I believe them half the time. Having a "religion" without a "church" is bad as it takes much much more effort to make the time in your life for god, and there are no people around to carry you through the bad patches.

*I actually don't believe that polyamory is a bad thing, before I get flamed to death. Although I do think that people in poly relationships probably get a broader but less deep set of relationships on average.
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From:bouteillebleu
Date:February 17th, 2005 02:11 am (UTC)
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Oh, and don't forget all those evil shrimp - God hates them too. http://www.godhatesshrimp.com/
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From:atreic
Date:February 17th, 2005 09:04 am (UTC)
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Ah, but there is New Testament Evidence that God Hates Figs! Jesus didn't have much to say on the subject of shrimp
Humanism succeeds - (Anonymous) - Expand
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From:teleute
Date:February 17th, 2005 02:18 am (UTC)
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This has been/is something I wrestle(d) with. I don't always agree with myself as to whether I've sorted it out or not, but the arguement goes something like this:
1. There seems little point denying that Jesus existed, since there are non-Christian contempories and historians who have written about him. He had quite a strong influence on the people, even if they didn't agree with him.
2. His teachings are very much in line with that of the prophets. Therefore it seems reasonable to suggest that he was in some way a holy man, even if not the Son of God (in fact, there is evidence from similar sources that the phrase Son of God meant someone who was very holy and had a close relationship to God. However, it was not a phrase used only for Jesus.)
3. We could then believe that Jesus was just a prophet (as the Muslims do). However, the group of people that believed this were cast out as heretics at the Nicene Council in 325. So you could believe this if you wanted to, but not then call yourself Christian as far as the church is concerned.
4. All the evidence that Jesus was more than human are (almost by definition) supernatural events (the voice from heaven, the Resurrection etc). So, if we believe in line with the church, we have to believe something that (almost by definition) cannot be proven with science as we know science. Which is where it comes down to a faith arguement. And that is what I think the point is...
5. Since we cannot prove Jesus was more than man, we have to have faith that he was. I think that the reason that Jesus was not just another prophet was because the world needed to have something that they had to have faith in in order to believe. I suspect that until recently, the existance of God or a deity of some description was the obvious explanation to most people. Therefore, it didn't really take faith. However, believing that Jesus is divine as well as human has always required faith. Perhaps now that existance of God is a matter of faith, the fact of Jesus' divinity is more questionable. I certainly haven't read anything in my theological history (up to 1400) that talks about people re-questioning the divinity of Jesus.
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From:ewx
Date:February 17th, 2005 10:02 am (UTC)

non-Christian contempories and historians who have written about him

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Who did you have in mind? The earliest reference I'm aware of is Josephus, who wasn't even born when the crucifixion was supposed to have happened. (And there are awkward questions over the authenticity of his supposed remarks about Jesus anyway.)
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From:ilanin
Date:February 17th, 2005 02:24 am (UTC)
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I do not think I will ever come to terms with Christianity. I am restraining the Confucian/humanist rant and the historical/anthropological cynicism, because I should be going to bed, but it comes down, ultimately, to this:

Matthew 10:34 ("Think not that I am come to bring peace...") and Matthew 12:30 ("He who is not with me is against me..."), which, taken together, articulate my biggest problems with Christianity and basically monotheism in general:

It's divisive. Now, whilst I regard compettition as a good way of achieving high efficiency, there are plenty enough natural divisors without creating a large number of artificial (and utterly inflexible) ones as well.

I'll also accept that I don't understand the concept of faith (my working definition is something like "the knowledge that 2+2 is green, irrespecitve of whether or not it is four") at all, and most humans don't like things they don't understand, which might have something to do with it.

From:yrieithydd
Date:February 17th, 2005 10:31 am (UTC)
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Matthew 10:34 ("Think not that I am come to bring peace...") and Matthew 12:30 ("He who is not with me is against me..."), which, taken together, articulate my biggest problems with Christianity and basically monotheism in general:

It's divisive. Now, whilst I regard compettition as a good way of achieving high efficiency, there are plenty enough natural divisors without creating a large number of artificial (and utterly inflexible) ones as well.


Firstly, the 'He who is not with me is against me' quote always makes me want to respond with the `for whoever is not against us is for us.' of Mark 9:40.

Secondly, I find the 'I don't like it; it's divisive' idea very odd. Yes, it's divisive (hence the 'not peace, but a sword'), but that says nothing about whether or not it is true. I believe in one God, who created the world and everything that is, and in his only-begotten Son, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven, ... was crucified, dead and buried and on the third day rose again and in the Holy Spirit. If that is the case then it affects the way I live and how I view the world. This has the side effect of dividing me from others who do not see the world in this way. This cannot be helped.

I'll also accept that I don't understand the concept of faith (my working definition is something like "the knowledge that 2+2 is green, irrespecitve of whether or not it is four") at all, and most humans don't like things they don't understand, which might have something to do with it.

I'm not convinced that I can explain the concept of faith (and/or belief which are not necessarily exactly the same) but I have no idea what it would mean for 2+2 to be green. To me, faith is like 2+2=4. I'm not convinced I could prove it logically (and indeed I know how it could make 1 or 11 or 7 or 10) but it is foundational to the way I see the world. If 2+2 did not equal 4, then the world would be a different place. God is like that for me. Yes, we can't prove logically that he exists (and this point shown at last week's talk 'Is there a case for God?') but there are things (like forgiveness and generosity as Ben Quash said) which point us (or him and me at least) towards that idea and for me, the supreme case is Jesus. If he is God's self-revelation and if he rose again from the dead, then I have to respond to that.
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From:mtbc100
Date:February 17th, 2005 03:13 am (UTC)
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I don't think that the historical "evidence" makes much of a case either way. I assume that if the Jesus stuff is true, one can make an honest attempt at the leap of faith, wanting indeed to accept what Jesus is reported to claim, and you'll be helped along, and that's how it's meant to work. Erm, FWIW.
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From:emperor
Date:February 17th, 2005 03:52 am (UTC)
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I'm too tired to think no, but one thing that occured to me - if you wanted to try receiving at mass for a while to see if that strengthened your relationship with God (with a view to being confirmed if that was the case), you could speak to Fr. Andrew about it - I know LSM allows at least some people to do this.

[I elide my own position on the subject, because it wouldn't include stopping someone who wanted to do this]
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From:feanelwa
Date:February 17th, 2005 09:14 am (UTC)
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Fred Phelps has things to quote. This alone would convince me that if there is a good god, he is not the god that Leviticus was written on behalf of and he is either dead or cannot bear to look.
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From:atreic
Date:February 17th, 2005 09:48 am (UTC)
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But so did Martin Luther King. Maybe the conclusion I should draw is that it's not a case of Good / Bad god, but of fundamentally confused and human god*. That would explain his worry that we were about to get the upper hand on him, and write off the fig tree as a bad day...

* Of course, "in bible" != "of god"???
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
From:yrieithydd
Date:February 17th, 2005 10:10 am (UTC)
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Well, maybe we need a bigger picture (and a slice of the Great God Debate). M seems very convinced that you can't judge God, as our mortal minds will never be able to comprehend him (it's the whole ineffable thing) and we should just trust him. So whats-his-name should go up the mountain and kill his son if God tells him to, even though he knows killing people is bad (and probably knows it for far more reasons than "God says"). I don't like that. I mean, we have morality and reason, and it's wrong of us not to use it. Maybe God is some evil sadist who's playing with our lives, in which case the brave and rightous thing to do would be to revolt against him (the sane and safe thing to do may be to worship him and creep to him anyway, but that's a different argument). I think I have a more intelligent and well developed sense of Good than "what god wants" (what makes people happy?), and can easilly imagine an Evil God. M on the other hand thinks it's stupid to judge God with human morals*. But that's all we've got. And it's wrong to grovel to an evil tyrant who doesn't want what's best for us.

There was a long thread on the ship of fools which turned into an argument about what if by human standards God was evil, what should we do? When I say long, it ran to 725 posts before it was moved to Limbo (having been in purgatory). I can't remember if I posted much, but I was on the 'if I thought God were evil, then it would be our duty to oppose him' side. However, I do not believe that God is evil. There is a sense in which he is beyond human morality, but because he's better than it not worse.

On Abraham and the proposed sacrifice of Isaac, I'm not sure it can said that he knew killing people was bad and for more reasons than because God had said so. It is not clear at this point that God had said 'killing people is wrong', we are still several hundred years before the giving of the 10 Commandments. Child sacrifice is also thought to have been prevalent amongst various groups at the time. One way of understanding the story is that God is actually leading Abraham away from child sacrifice. I certainly think that to get hung up on God ordering Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and forgetting that it was God who provided that ram instead is to miss the point of what was going on.

The whole chosen people malarky - I mean, if eventually he was going to try and indoctrinate us to love one another and treat all people as equal, why localise all his miracles to one tribe for thousands of years? In fact, the whole needing Jesus at all thing seems remarkably stupid, he sets his whole world running and then 4000 years later goes "oops, I forgot to give them any way to salvation, better fix that bug".

But the choose people malarky shows that Jesus isn't a late idea of God's to fix a bug but that it was in the plan all along; at least, that's how I understand it. God was working through Israel, teaching them, leading them, berating them, threatening them, trying to stop them making a mess of it. He doesn't give up on them. Hosea's interesting here -- God as faithful husband, Israel as adulterous wife. This reaches its culmination in Jesus. God in human form. We still mess up and kill him, but God works through that and he is raised and sin vanquished and death defeated.
From:yrieithydd
Date:February 17th, 2005 10:10 am (UTC)
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And the "this is the only way to me" line - seems a bit harsh, given the stunning lack of evidence as shown above, that those who doubt, but love and live well should all be turned away.

I firmly believe that Jesus is the only way; if there is a way to God which doesn't involve Jesus' death and resurrection then his death and resurrection was unnecessary and therefore it was cruel/evil/some word I'm not sure of for God to make him/let him go through it (except that is in danger of being bad Christology and Trinitarian Theology). To me, the death and resurrection is something objective which changed something: opened the gate of heaven that all may go in; put an end to death; removed the sting of the grave. However, I am not convinced that it is necessary to be conscious of this path to be following it. There are people who reject Christianity because of the things for which Jesus criticised the Pharisees; are they condemned? God knows us better than we ourselves and I see him as straining to draw us to himself and to heal us and put it all right not seeking for the slightest excuse to send us to hell. This is why MSG pulled apart the J.I Packer quote Matthew gave us this week (once we'd got our heads round it).* One way I view judgement post-death is that we meet Jesus and we either run to him or away from him. It's our call. Some people who claim to have been following Jesus won't recognise him (or be recognised -- the bit about 'Lord, Lord' ' I never knew you' springs to mind) and others who didn't think they were will recognise him and be recognised (the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 springs to mind).

Mmmmmmm, that got rather long. 994 characters too long! So I've split it into two comments!

*I was the one who understood it best and therefore had to attempt to explain it to the others which was fun as I found it hard to be objective as I disagree with just about all of it.
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From:emperor
Date:February 17th, 2005 05:25 pm (UTC)
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I thought people might have fun with the Packer quote, but possibly in different ways between the different small groups :)
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From:randomchris
Date:February 17th, 2005 10:36 am (UTC)
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[insert babble about conventional use of male pronoun and apology for anybody offended by this]

I've come to the conclusion after writing a bunch of sermons (see links in my userinfo) that God is good, but not omnipotent, and the Bible was written by human beings who were partly influenced by God and partly following their own agendas. However, a lot of the things I've written also contain choices so that people can come to different conclusions. You might find them helpful - I found they were a way to clarify my thinking.

The problem with God is that "omnipotence" makes logic circular. If God was omnipotent, then he'd be able to change things to upset any previous assumptions made.

My conclusions from a lot of thinking a year or two ago:

I think from the actions of "God" that God cannot be both good as we understand the term, all-knowing and all-powerful, otherwise the world would already be a very different place. He can be any two of the three. (I'm reserving judgment on whether he's all-knowing or not.)

Genesis is tribal mythology that has been elevated to a status far beyond what it merits.

Most of the Old Testament is history, and some of it may well have been adapted to serve what happened afterwards.

The Bible is written by human beings, some of whom may have been influenced by God, but we have no way of knowing which ones were and which weren't. (If they were influenced by God, you'd think he would have got at least the basic facts consistent - there are several things which are different in different books of the Bible, such as family trees.)

Jesus was a great philosopher and prophet, and his teachings are worth living by. As to whether he was the Son of God, and what that means in purely biological terms (what did his DNA look like? half Mary's and half something else, and if so, what was the something else?), darned if I know. I certainly believe that he was inspired by God, and is the only person of whom I believe this. Therefore, I'm a Christian, albeit a particularly wussy one by most standards. However, I don't believe Jesus' teachings are the only way to salvation. They're the way that work best for me, and many others - but that doesn't give me a right to tell others that their beliefs are wrong, because they may not be. That's partly because I've done a lot of critical thinking about it - I can see most of the reasons why people might come to different conclusions, and they're valid reasons and make logical sense, therefore I cannot dismiss them.

Anyway, yeah. See if some of the stuff that I've written helps - it's also coming from a mathematical background, so you may appreciate it.
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From:ashfae
Date:February 17th, 2005 11:05 am (UTC)
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If God was omnipotent, then he'd be able to change things to upset any previous assumptions made.

Yes, but why should he?
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:February 17th, 2005 11:02 am (UTC)
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Is God good?

Many people say God is by definition good. That is, they define good to be doing what God wants. That seems almost pathological to me (though I admit from my athiest perspective good is somewhat arbitrary).

Many people say God is completely good, that is, they deduce (in a variety of ways that I personally found unconvincing) that God is good in all things.

Many people come to trust God and then have faith that he is good. This is the same way as you trust friends or parents: they are nice to you, do good things for you (and vice versa) and at some point you decide they aren't just using you or tricking you, they really mean it, and thereafter you'd do something they asked trusting that (1) they think it's for the best (2) they know enough to be right.

If you've felt God this probably makes the most sense. (Though imho it's worth considering how far this goes. Millions if not billions of people think they have a relationship with God, but still have terrible things happen to them. Were they (1) mistaken, and not as christian as they thought they were or (2) suffering anyway, but should have perservered?)
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From:ashfae
Date:February 17th, 2005 11:02 am (UTC)
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A few random thoughts that may or may not help you, but which I think are often overlooked and should be considered:

The God of the New Testatment is not really the same as the God of the Old Testament. This is part of the importance of Christ's coming; he makes a new covenant between humanity and God, which replaces the laws of the Old Testament.

There is a huge difference between God as he is, God as he appears to be in the Bible, and God as he is presented by the Church, even by various factions of the Church. Some of your difficulty in coming to terms with Christianity may be that Christianity quite often disagrees with itself, not just now but over its history. For example, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is frequently presented as the great classic example of Why Homosexuality Is Bad; but when I looked at the story more closely, it was clear that the sins at hand are the breaking of the laws of hospitality, a theme that's repeated constantly throughout all of the Bible. It seems very likely that originally this was clear, in time it became confused with the sin of homosexuality (as mentioned in Leviticus), and now gradually a number of people are returning to the original view. All conjecture of course, and there's a lot of speculation on the subject, and we can't really know for certain. (I won't go into the sheer weirdness of Lot attempting to prostitute his own daughters in order to protect his houseguests, or how one of those daughters went on to seduce him while he was asleep in order to continue the family line. This is a strange, strange story by modern morality)

(as a randomer point {which is of course also subject to a lot of debate}, frequently in the Old Testament it is stated that God is not actually the only God; what is emphasized is that he is the God of the Hebrews, who are his chosen people. They are to avoid false prophets and false gods not because those gods do not exist, but because they belong to the God of the Hebrews)

*shrug* I am not a good person to be giving advice to you, because I've always found that religion puts a barrier between me and God rather than creating a path to him, and I'm not interested in sets of laws which I can only see as being made by people who claim to--but probably don't--speak for God. I am far from atheist and have a huge amount of respect for and admiration of Christ, but I am also very wary of religious systems, which I see as being created by flawed men rather than God. And Christ himself was extremely critical of systems and establishments.

But then, I'm also more in the "God gave us life, a beautiful world to live in, some good rules to live by, and free will, and then stood back to see what we'd do with them" sort of belief system.

In the end, you'll have to find your own way to God. I wish you all the best of luck, whichever road you end up on.

(this was all a lot of babbling and you can of course feel free to entirely disagree with me or ignore me entirely)
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From:ashfae
Date:February 17th, 2005 11:07 am (UTC)
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The God of the New Testatment is not really the same as the God of the Old Testament. This is part of the importance of Christ's coming; he makes a new covenant between humanity and God, which replaces the laws of the Old Testament.

Clarification: not the laws of the Old Testament so much as the definitions, including that of God's nature. Perhaps in part because God has changed (a concept which opens up a theological kettle of fish alone), but more because Christ gives us greater understanding as to the nature of God and how to reach him.
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From:plinthy
Date:February 17th, 2005 11:15 am (UTC)
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I really want to write a lot in response to this, but annoyingly I don't have the time, so I'll restrict myself to a few very short comments:

1) I'd like to consider myself as a laid-back atheist, rather than a raving one (isn't there a quote somewhere about the brand of atheists angry with god for his non-existence?); I know that like many others I argue forcefully when confronted with Christianity (or religion of any shade, for that matter), but it's actually pretty relaxing not to believe in god.

2)"Lots of people I trust and think are intelligent say that is true." In Boots they sell copper wrist bracelets on the packages of which is written "Some people believe that these bracelets help ease symptoms of arthritis. I realise that's not strictly relevant, but I do think it's funny.

3) God Hates Figs: Love it. My favourite bit: why you have to induce vomiting if your child swallows a fig: "Better a little purging than a lot of purgatory"

4) Good God / Bad God. When you first heard (though this is problematic if you were brought up religiously - when converted people first heard) the beatitudes,etc., you (they) thought "that's good", "commendable"; you (they) had morals already.

5) Emotional complaint (a): faith is one more way of getting absorbed in one's own little world, when there truly is an astonishing universe out there that one sullies by claiming it is created.

6) Emotional complaint (b): morality would be too easy if there were a god (the answer would be: "do as god wants"). Don't you enjoy a challenge?

7) Intellectual complaint: there's an approach underlying much of this stuff that belief (as distinct from faith) is a matter of will power, not judgement. And also (not in what you've said here, admittedly) that a person who believes without question is to be lauded.

8) Emotional complaint (c) : It's all so parochial, insufficiently universal. Maybe that's because humans are like that, but still.

9) You matter, whether there is a god or not. You matter because "humans invented the concept of 'mattering.' " There being no god, there is no one to contradict you if you decree that you will think and act as though humanity is significant. I always think that this is like love. A really like the ideas of Evolutionary Psychology (read "The Language Instinct" and "How The Mind Works", Stephen Pinker), and the "function" of romantic and sexual love, why they exist. But absolutely no amount of analysis, explanation or cynical study could possibly take away what it actually feels like to be in love. I've gotten slightly off-topic here, but the link is that you don't need a reason to care about human morality, you don't need deific authority for your ethics to mean something to you.
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From:atreic
Date:February 17th, 2005 11:31 am (UTC)
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If I haven't said anything on a comment, assume that I agreed with you :-)

4) Yes, but there are other bit of the bible that when you first hear them you think "that's bad / wrong / stupid" Some of my basseline morals think some of the things God does in the bible are unfair and mean.

5) I think you have to claim the universe is caused to happen, even if not created by god. Created by random vacuum fluctuations, if you like. Having a cause does not belittle something. Even if I don't believe the universe is run by God I believe it's run by maths, and this makes it more fascinating, not less.

6) Not true in my mind - if we can have the idea of an "evil god" which I think most people can hold in their minds (anyone can imagine kids burning up trails of ants for the fun of inflicting pain) then we can have a morality that isn't "do what god wants". Even if we definitely have a good god, the challenge comes from "knowing what god wants"

7) I don't think that's in my stuff. This is *my* LJ, you have to sort out my problems before other peoples ;-) I think you should judge why you believe in Jesus, and that's what I really want to hear from people, even if it really does just boil down to "My parents told me to" or "every time I take communion my brain melts out of my ears"

8) Yeah, that's what I hate about the old testament. And the new. And the whole idea that there was one man, at one point, who made the difference. Although I am coming round to the idea that that's the *point* that god was trying to get across. And that if something happened, it had to happen at *some* location in space and time, and so why not 30 AD in Jerusalem?
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From:conquest151
Date:February 17th, 2005 11:56 am (UTC)
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Hahaha...brilliant website. Had me chuckling to myself for a good while.
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From:ixwin
Date:February 17th, 2005 11:59 am (UTC)
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But don't other religions have similar rituals that they would claim left them just as close to God?

I'm not sure that all religions would claim that. In fact, I don't think that 'getting closer to God' is even part of the aim of all religions. I mean, Buddhism doesn't believe in a God; and in Hinduism, as I understand it, praying and seeking to get closer to the Supreme God as part of one's everyday spiritual life would be somewhat akin to trying to become friends with the Health Minister in an attempt to help your sore throat. Even Islam seems to be more about submitting to God's will because that's the way human beings are meant to work and everything will run more smoothly that way, than it is about attempting to form the close, loving, personal relationship with God that Christianity claims to offer.
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From:lavendersparkle
Date:February 17th, 2005 12:01 pm (UTC)
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Suffism aims to get close to G-d.
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From:lavendersparkle
Date:February 17th, 2005 12:00 pm (UTC)
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I thought I'd throw in my words of spiritual wisdom/more accurately opinion. I should warn you that this probably won't help with your path towards Anglo-Catholicism as I was raised as an Anglican, rejected Christianity and, having experimented with Hinduism, Paganism and 'Sam-ism', I now practice progressive Judaism with a view to converting.

I think that morality comes completely from G-d. In the beginning there was nothing but G-d. G-d created everything including morality. I tend to think of it as G-d made some things bad in a similar way to how G-d made grass green. I don't know where morality could come from if not from G-d. if I were an atheist I'd be a nihilist.

Sadistic G-d is a interesting question. There's a quite well known book called the abusive G-d which looks at the theological idea that G-d might be abusive. Personally I look at it like this: G-d is good by definition. 'Bad' things happen to 'good' people. G-d is omnipotent. G-d is omniscient. Therefore G-d causes or at least doesn't stop the 'bad' things. Conclusion, the 'bad' things aren't actually bad we just don't understand them. It's like our pets know that we love them so they can't comprehend why, when they feel really ill, we take them to a terrifying place where they are molested by a scary stranger. They don't have the knowledge or intelligence to understand vets. The difference between our understanding and G-d's is infinitely greater than that between us and animals and so we can't understand.

In Jewish theology the Jews are only G-d's chosen people because they accepted Torah whereas other peoples wouldn't take it on. The idea is that the Jews toke on the Torah so that they could be a 'light to the world' to improve everyone's understanding of G-d. Other people get just as much salvation as such they just have less rules to obey.

An interesting interpretation of the tower of Babel is that human understanding is made richer by a plurality of perspectives symbolized by the creation of different languages.

My understanding of the fall is that it's a symbolic telling of how humans evolved to be the intellectually creatures we are. Before the fall we were like other animals and did not the intellectual capacity to contemplate things like morality. Then we gained the knowledge of good and evil but this intellectual development meant that we tend to suffer more and that we are further from G-d because we are not just following instinct but eventually, in the messianic age, we will be close to G-d again and have this intellectual sophistication.
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From:plinthy
Date:February 17th, 2005 05:46 pm (UTC)
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Do you mind if I ask: Is writing "G-d" a personal thing or a common Jewish thing?
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From:ixwin
Date:February 17th, 2005 12:36 pm (UTC)

Re: I miss CICCU ;)

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But surely a moral code can be useful in providing one with handy shortcuts for working out the net gain to oneself? It would be difficult - in fact impossible - to work out every ramification of every course of action open to you at each moment 'from scratch' as it were.
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From:atreic
Date:February 17th, 2005 12:59 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for that.

A small point, you can honestly not know if you believe in something or not. Normally this means that it is irrelavent to your everyday life or that there's no way of collecting evidence. So for the catholics in your second paragraph they *may not know* if not returning means hell fire or not, and they may know that they can't know. There are things that it's really stupid to have an opinion on, because we really can't know (eg "whether there's a red tree at certain coordinates on a planet orbiting that star, when you don't know if the star even has any planets") And in that case you shouldn't say "I believe there is" or "I believe there isn't" and probably you don't really have any belief. But if for some stupid reason the existance or not of that thing altered what you should be doing with your life, you'd have to just randomly pick one. And that's the position your lapsed catholics are in, except without the hope that one day we'll have a really really big telescope
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From:edith_the_hutt
Date:February 17th, 2005 02:29 pm (UTC)
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Wow. It's like you entire friends list is responding to this one.

As a militant apathist I feel I ought to divert the topic:

Any chance you're free a week next Saturday evening? I haven't seen you in ages and feel that cake must be eaten and coffee consumed.
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From:timeplease
Date:February 17th, 2005 02:46 pm (UTC)
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militant apathist

Do you mean "apatheist"?
From:ex_robhu
Date:February 17th, 2005 02:32 pm (UTC)
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Hello! By way of introduction, I am a friend of Safi's (who you might know) who is a friend of pw201 who I believe you do know :0)

It's really interesting to read your post on Christianity. I have myself recently been on a course about Christianity, of which I have made good writeups of their claims and associated flaws here and here, you might also find this and this discussion to be interesting food for thought.

I find it hard to believe that the Christian God is the loving God that Christians claim that he is. He just doesn't act in a way which is consistent with that view of him. For instance in the Old Testament he told the Israelites to mericlessly slaughter the Amelkites (1 Samuel 15:2-3), "Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep..." and their crime? "I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt", something that their ancestors did - not something that the Amelkites of the day did, and certainly not the children. Then there is the issue of killing all the first born (which would have included babies) among the Egyptians for keeping the Israelites as slaves (a practice which I don't believe was condemned when the Israelites did it); this is especially bad given that Moses did agree to let them go at one point but God overruled that and 'hardened his heart'. Then you have the harder problem of a 'God of love' that sends people to be tortured by fire in hell for eternity (which is hardly a fair/just/reasonable/proportionate) punishment.

Christians can (and do) say that we can't say that God is being immoral here because he defines what morality is. I suppose that is fair enough, but as they want to radically change the meaning of the words moral and good from their commonly understood meaning it is quite dishonest to use those words without pointing that out. The Christian God is not moral and good by the normal usage of those terms. It's also worth pointing out that if goodness is defined by being what God is then it is entirely arbitrary, torturing babies is OK as long as God is doing it - the definition becomes circular and is emptied of any meaning.

It's worth noting to begin with that some serious well known historians doubt that Jesus ever existed (although I personally don't agree with them). Outside of the gospel accounts there is virtually no evidence for who Jesus was or what he did, and the miraculous events which occur all over the place in the NT find no parallel in the non-Christian texts of the day which makes them very suspect indeed. Not to mention the fact that the gospel accounts were written about 30 years (or later) after Jesus was crucified, can you remember what someone said 1 year ago nevermind 30? There is a whole raft of Christian arguments that come in here to supposedly counter this problem, none of which actually stand up (I would comment on them directly but that would probably be rather dull!). Wikipedia have a good article on the historicity of Jesus, the practical upshot of which is that there is evidence outside of the gospels that he existed but nothing more than that, the few texts which said he was special or miraculous in some way are considered to have been doctored at a later date in history, and/or the same writers said similar things about other historical figures.

I am in the process of writing up all my thoughts about Christianity at the moment but in essence they claim a great deal that they can't back up, and when they are shown to be wrong in some area they just drop that one and move on to something else. Christianity may be something that is helpful to some people but it certainly isn't the truth.
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From:atreic
Date:February 18th, 2005 01:27 am (UTC)
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Great! You have all the same problems as me and non of the answers :-)

As I wrote this post in an attempt to track down the answers I'm not sure you're much help, but you've been very interesting and thought provoking, so consider yourself friended anyway. Unless you don't want to be...
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 18th, 2005 12:43 pm (UTC)

Another perspective (part 1 - morality)

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(From: Ian Jackson)

I don't normally read or post to LJ, but when I heard about this thread and read it, I felt I wanted to contribute. I'm afraid it's rather long - so long, in fact, that I'm posting in two parts. I hope that's OK ...

On morality

I'm glad to see you taking responsibility for choosing your own moral views. But, you seem to be looking for something else: you say `I firmly believe that you shouldn't be allowed to believe just what you want to'. I have something of a problem with that statement:

The thing that stops you from doing things that are wrong (let's consider things you'd `like' to do and which you could get away with) is your conscience. But it's that very same conscience which you use to decide what you believe in. So regardless of how you look at it, you have to decide what's right in a way that you are happy with - in your whole being, conscience and all.

In my view it's a mistake to try to look outside yourself for a kind of `moral basis'. You can look to others to help you sort out your answers to moral questions, but ultimately you will have to decide for yourself whether to accept their views.

The question then is, what kind of moral answers should you be happy with ? As I say, everyone ultimately has to make up their own mind, but there are some criteria that I use and which I think many other people would also acknowledge. The basic tests, which I use for judging moral statements, are: consistency, universalisability, my own emotional response to it, and discussion with other people.

The consistency criterion is easy to state: if a situation has a particular moral answer, then another occurence of the same situation has the same answer. In some sense you might even think of this as a tautology, or empty, as it leaves open the question as to whether two situations are the same; for me the question becomes then whether the differences are relevant.

By universalisability I mean that I don't have a special place in the world (and neither do you). Something that's moral for me to do is also moral for you to do, given the same circumstances. I try to apply this principle very broadly and in the most general way possible: to try hard to construct an interpretation which works no matter where in the society you start from, or whose shoes you're in.

My own emotional response is important too. This is personal, and rather raw, of course: but together with the other criteria it is necessary to produce moral answers I'm comfortable with. When I generalise this (see above) it can also, perhaps, be expressed as `do unto others as you would be done to' or `behave as you would like everyone to behave'.

Discussion with other people is very important too, because as a fallible human I make mistakes, and because I don't have the capacity to be fully informed about and properly consider every issue. By talking to other people I hope to learn about things I'm ignorant of, and I hope also that they will show me my mistakes and that I will be big enough to acknowledge them.

If you actually look at moral debate on substantive issues, you will see people relying on these principles, or very similar ones, all of the time (often implicitly).

(to be continued in part 2)

From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 18th, 2005 12:45 pm (UTC)

Re: Another perspective (part 2 - religion)

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(continued from part 1)

On religion

You say that you have had experiences where you've felt close to god. I don't know, of course, what these were really like, but I too have had occasions where I've had a strong reaction to something on a broad emotional (perhaps some would say spiritual) level. I don't attribute these experiences to a being outside myself. But, I do think they are important: for me they seem to provide a connection to beauty, truth, the universe, good and evil, and so on, which I find helpful for my state of mind and for my perception and understanding of morality and reality. Whether you would call that `closeness to god' might depend on the definition of `god' :-).

I think that looking for a moral basis in religion is a mistake. To accept a religion's moral authority is to abdicate your moral choices to what I see as a very questionable fallible human institution.

In particular, one of the things that most I dislike about most religions is that they claim that there are some questions which are `beyond human understanding' or `ineffable' or `a mystery which we cannot understand'. I absolutely reject the idea that there are any questions or subjects which are not appropriately addressed by our human efforts to observe, understand and (if relevant) judge them. To accept this notion is to give up the power to decide on those questions to the human instututions which have gulled us into believing they've a better line to the `supernatural' than we do.

I can certainly relate to your experience of feeling close to god in a tree. Personally I find that churches give me the opposite feeling. Being in a church reminds me of the power of human evil; a pale shadow, perhaps, of my feelings when I visited the memorial to remember the bombing of Rotterdam in the 2nd World War, and reading the inscription on the floor: `Yesterday, Rotterdam went from stone to ash' (in Dutch, actually).

In this context the question about Jesus seems bizarrely irrelevant to me - mainly, it seems to me to be a consequence of your social context. I find the Christian theology of salvation odious: the idea that we are all in need of external `salvation', rather than in need of our own and each other's right thoughs and actions, is offensive and dangerous. The story of Jesus's suffering atoning for the sins of the world is repulsive. What kind of good god could countenance such a thing, let alone demand it ?

If you do feel the need for a more formal religious context to support you in your moral choices, I would recommend looking at the Quakers or perhaps certain strands of Buddhism. Certainly my experiences with Quakers have been very positive and, exceptionally for a religious institution, I think the Society of Friends is a significant force for good in the world.

I hope you find what I've written helpful. Do feel free to catch me some time and we can talk about this kind of thing in person. I'll also try to read the discussion here, and make an effort to perhaps respond to the more salient points, though I find LJ isn't the best way of presenting and structuring these kind of conversations.

Ian.

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From:emperor
Date:February 18th, 2005 02:53 pm (UTC)
(Link)
A few historical pointers.

David Rohl has written extensively on the historical reliability or otherwise of the Bible. A summary of his first book can be found here.

The closest I can find to the disputed Jewish texts about Jesus is here.

This article on religioustolerance.org is less well-balanced than their articles usually are, but is probably worth a look.

I believe from what I've read of theologians, that they generally accept that Jesus did exist in about the first Century. Those who claim he didn't are much more vocal about it online, however.
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