I often want to ask Christians (or any theists for that matter) whether they believe things are right and wrong inherently, or because they are commanded by God.  Why does that matter?  Well, if the former is true then we can figure out what is right and wrong and decide what is best without relying on God.  If the latter is true, we must rely on God to help us figure it out -- and that is extremely problematic with Christianity.  Here's why:  

 

First, let's look at some of the key properties of God, according to the bible: 

1. God exists.

2. God communicates with some humans at certain points in time, in different forms such as a burning bush (Exo 3:1) or an angel (Judge 6:11).

3. God has asked specific people to break the primary rules he provided man (Exo 20 and Deu 5), like telling Abraham to kill his own son (Gen 22:2) and giving Moses authority to command the Levites to murder thousands of their brothers friends and neighbors (Exo 32:26-29).

 

But Satan has very similar attributes:

1. Satan also exists. (Rev 12:9)

2. Satan can also communicate with some humans at certain points in time, in different forms such as a snake (Gen 3:4) or an angel (Corin 11:14).

3. Satan has also asked men to break God's rules (Gen 3).  He's also quite tricky and can tempt even the most righteous (Matt 4:1).

 

So how would a Christian be able to tell the difference between God and Satan? Couldn't Satan come to a righteous Christian and claim to be an angel (which he is, according to many interpretations of the Bible) in order to make that person do something horrible, such as commanding the rape of women and murder of infants?  And why would that Christian believe that such a thing was actually terrible, since it has been condoned by God (e.g. Isaiah 13:16)? 

 

 

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And after committing such an atrocity as rape or murder, which would be most likely? For a "Christian" to claim he/she was commanded by God? Or by Satan?

I've debated a large number of Christians over the years and the four most common answers I've heard are:

  1. "I just know"
  2. "The Bible clearly tells us that God is good and Satan is evil."
  3. "I have faith that God is good and Satan is not."
  4. "I can feel God's love"

All of these answers are not only stupid but some of the clearest demonstrations of circular reasoning and delusional thinking. Not only that but none of these answers clearly demonstrate they know the difference between God and Satan. They're all essentially forms of "I just know because I know". The perfect answers to keep Christians from having to answer or deal with uncomfortable questions and answers.

I get all of these NONSENSE answers so much, its ridiculous. It's as if they are UNABLE to see the lunacy in such thinking as "blind faith", let alone "faith" by itself. I once was told that if faith was illogical, then hope is as well. Hope someone responds to my post, LOL!

That's actually quite interesting. Let me see if I can give you a good Christian answer:

Christians believe that, indeed, the devil would make himself look an an angel of light. "And no wonder: for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light." (2 Corinthians 11:14). It's similar to how a person, in real life, knows he cannot show his bad intentions and makes himself look good - so as to deceive others.

To this, Christians have what is called a discernment of spirit. It's the process where one judges whether something is indeed good or bad - or whether a person is acting on behalf of God or devil. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit, and the evil tree brings forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit." (Matthew 7:15-20)

Finally, to answer, I'll give you a script of the early church. It's found on Novaks book "Christianity of the Roman Empire" and it quotes a Christian text called the Didache in the last third of the first century (or so it states)

"...It is by their conduct that the false prophet and the [true] prophet can be distinguished.... Again, every prophet who teaches the truth but fails to practice what he preaches is a false prophet...

Everyone who comes to you in the name of the Lord must be welcomed. Afterward, when you have tested him, you will find out about him, for you have insight into right and wrong. If it is a traveler who arrives, help him all you can. But he must not stay with you more than two days, or, if necessary, three. If he want to settle with you and is an artisan, he must work for his living. If, however, he has no trade, use your judgment in taking steps for him to live with you as a Christian without being idle. If he refuses to do this, he is trading on Christ. You must be on your guard against such people."

Okay, this is just a rough estimate and I hope I could, at least, clear some doubt. What I meant to show is that, indeed, the devil, in Christian theology, can masquerade himself as an angel of light. In such cases, a Christian is obliged to make in inquiry through discernment, and that this is done through knowledge of what is good and wrong, etc.

Lastly, on whether things are inherently good or good because God says so - the two are intertwined, to the best of my understanding.

For example, envy. Envy is the anger directed at something or someone for for having what self-love claims, unjustly, as one's own. One may envy another persons excessive wealth, for example, since one, through self-love, desires such goods.

Nevertheless, God, theologically speaking, who is creator of the entire universe, can justly be called the owner of all. Thus, it is not a sin for God to desire something that is not given him, since it is truly His. I'd bring you some examples, but I'm sure you can think of some (hopefully good) examples.

Does that make sense?

What I'm trying to say is that what is good or bad, at times (emphasis on "at times", for it is not always so) depends on many factors - such as judging.

One should not judge needlessly other people, but if one is the parent of a child, it becomes necessary to judge at certain times so as to make good decisions on how to teach one's child. You may have to judge the child guilty of doing something with full intent and chastise him, whereas another person, who does not know the child, is obliged to give the benefit of the doubt.

Thus, certain things that would be inherently bad for certain people - or people at all - would not be a sin for other types of people or for God.

To this, Christians have what is called a discernment of spirit. It's the process where one judges whether something is indeed good or bad - or whether a person is acting on behalf of God or devil. - Carlos A. Pérez

 

So Christians are (by definition?) endowed with an ability to figure out what's good or bad?  Does this apply to all Christians, or maybe just specific types, like Catholics? 

 

If you have this ability, why would you ever need to listen to God?  Wouldn't you just inherently know what to do in all situations? 

 

Do you have discernment of spirit?  Can you tell over the internet?  Can you tell which side I'm working on, or would you have to see me first?

 

Even though my response may seem dismissive, I'm trying to get to a very serious issue that even Jesus identified as a potential problem:

 

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road.  -Jesus (Matthew 13:19)

 

This presumably refers to Satan (the evil one) and his ability to confuse some people who hear the "word of the kingdom".  How would anyone know if they really understood the true meaning of the word?  I might site the enormous separation of beliefs within Christianity as proof that there is no single unanimous interpretation of what is right and wrong.  Surely, every single Christian in the world could not reliably determine whether an angel is working on God's or the devil's behalf, could they? 

 

I must say that your quote from Novak's "Christianity of the Roman Empire" doesn't appear to really address the core problem -- it simply gives some vague guidelines for determining whether someone is acting as a false prophet in rather antiquated and specific situations...  This doesn't even touch the issue of Satan.  Why would Satan be unable to claim to work on God's behalf?  In fact, he did work on God's behalf when tormenting Job! 

 

Lastly, on whether things are inherently good or good because God says so - the two are intertwined, to the best of my understanding.

 

That's the problem with this question -- most Christians cannot answer this directly.  This isn't as complex a question as you frame it.  Either God commands us to do things because he believes they're right (and forbids things that are wrong), or he just commands things because he wants things a certain way. If your answer is that right and wrong changes over time, then there is no universal truth -- God simply determines what is right and wrong and we are subject to those whims. 

 

It seems, though, that you're answering this question without knowing it when you say that you have "discernment of spirit".  That concept requires a notion of an ultimate truth, which couldn't possibly exist if good and evil change over time.  Your discernment may work today, but be woefully inadequate tomorrow.

 

You confuse me a bit further when you mention the example of envy and how it relates to God.  It sounds like you're saying that God cannot be envious because he (by definition) owns everything. 

 

Nevertheless, God, theologically speaking, who is creator of the entire universe, can justly be called the owner of all. Thus, it is not a sin for God to desire something that is not given him, since it is truly His. I'd bring you some examples, but I'm sure you can think of some (hopefully good) examples.

 

But what about things that don't exist (from a Christian perspective)?  Could God be envious of another (non-existent) god?  Why even bother with the first commandment (You shall have no other gods before me), if not?  If there is only one true God, then worship of another God would simply be confusion (perhaps even caused by the devil snatching understanding away). Gnostic disregard for God is really impossible, for who would willfully disobey a ubiquitous, omnipotent, omniscient God?

 

Anyway, it sounds like you're defining God to be unquestionably infallible and outside of moral boundaries.  If that's the case, then further discussion is probably fruitless....

Ok, I can honestly say that there are a lot of questions here so, if I do not answer something, tell me and I'll answer it later on - either by saying I don't know or the best answer I know.

Lastly, I'll be honest and say you're racking my brains. Not that I don't necessarily have the answers - but truly - the "simple questions" that you ask wouldn't be touched even in a seminary except through a semester long class. One answer depends on other questions until you have a VERY long web of questions I'm not an expert on.

I am not saying that what is good today changes tomorrow because the law changes. The law remains the same. What changes are the circumstances.

I'm pretty sure that you could think of something that is true, both in the past and in the present, but it's practice was different because of the circumstances of the day. Take the death penalty, for example.

St. Thomas of Aquinas writes that the death penalty would be "ok" if - and only if - the death of a particular unrepentant killer provides for the safety of society as a whole. Better to lose one serial killer than to lose 40 innocent civilians.

Now, however, we have more resources (e.g. non-lethal weapons, etc) to stop potential murderers from killing the masses - making the use of these resources the moral imperative - when possible. Thus, the moral law remains the same, but through time, through a change of the circumstances, the way of applying it is changed. (It's a silly example, but I think that you could think of others - I'm just trying to pull through the argument)

What I meant with the difference of circumstance with God is merely an extension of the last argument.

A more clear example (I think): God may ask us to adore him... because He is God! For us humans, it would not be moral for us to ask to be adored because, well, we are not God. Adoration is a term used for the praise that is deserving of the Supreme Being. Creatures, being created, do not have the possibility of asking for adoration without incurring on a sin - they are not supreme.

What I meant with Novak's clip was to put attention on the sublimity of knowing whether a particular act is good or not - and it's not something that is necessarily restricted to a Christian. The only thing that is necessary is to actually know good and wrong. Of course, in terms of Christianity, the good and wrong has to be on a basis on Christian morals.

For example, and this may sound silly, but it's one that I've heard some people go through: Suppose you hear a very choice piece of gossip from some particular person that would fill you with pleasure of saying it to another but that, however, would shame the person needlessly and even ruin a good reputation... needlessly.

The obvious thing is that the charitable and good moral decision is to withhold from saying it. Nevertheless, there comes a moment where the person might feel a nagging thought that says: "But is true... it's a true piece of information. You're not lying".

You have two choices in front of you. One is good and the other one seems good even though it isn't - perhaps because you really want to say the piece of gossip and you feel that it is excusable to say so.

The discernment of the spirit (and I'm sorry for the fanciful term) is when you analyze that, indeed, it is true that you are not lying. You recognize the partial truth behind that nagging thought while you further meditate that it is still not a good reason to ruin the reputation of another.

There is a mixture of lies and truths and the discernment is the process through which you carefully pick apart something to see if your inclinations are according to morality.

The reason why I find the question of inherent good vs. good by God's decision intertwined is because God is unchangeable (in Christian tradition) and God can only be described by either what he is not or by his virtues.

So yes, there are things that are inherently good, but they are also determined by God to be inherently good since God is not changeable.

In theology, God is a perfect being, and by definition, perfection is the state of something that cannot be improved upon. Thus, what is considered virtue, the qualities of a being, particularly, of a person that sticks to moral good attributes, are unchangeable in God, since they are perfect, his morality would not change on "whim".

Lastly, the reason why God would "bother" with the first commandment was the utter tendency of people making creation greater than the creator. Upon deifying things in the world and praising them out of love of the objects causes a disproportionate love for things from what it should - which to a certain degree is the very definition of sin: to love something disproportionately as to reason and to God's law.

I might have missed some questions. Tell me which ones I missed and I'll try to answer them insofar I can... or elaborate where I might have gone short.

"by saying I don't know"

This is a lesson for both Christians and Atheists alike. Admitting to I don't know seems difficult to most people on both sides of this aisle.

My only question to you, seeing as I seem to only disagree on a specific point - the existence of a deity - is: Why? Why not just have the same opinions and lifestyle without invoking a God as the foundation for your being? You are smarter than the God I've been taught about and generally smarter than most people of faith I've met, so... Why..?

Hopefully you won't mind an Atheist such as myself asking a somewhat difficult question. :)

The odd thing of the matter is that I used to hate the Church. Actually, I would have been willing to say that it was like that of a rabid dog towards a prey.

A Christian, a priest, for example, could have been doing a pious act and he was a hypocrite. If he did something immoral, even a slight immorality of which everyone could be verily guilty of, he was more immoral than the rest. The Pope? I admired him - but only insofar I admired the deadly wicked like Hitler who could manipulate people through different means into following them.

I remember that at some point or another, I actually noticed how I was inadvertently hating these people with what could only be described as an irrational hate. I felt that, at the very least, I should be fair to them, as I was to others, and study more in depth their beliefs and, corny as it might sound, (and I'm honestly nervous here, since I know conversion stories aren't very welcomed in here - though I find it the best, albeit still crippled way of answering your question) next thing I know, it was the beginning of a wonderful love story.

I was enthralled with their teachings. Every argument I could throw against the Church was answered in some way or another. Mind you, it wasn't through the many petty apologists which, sadly, live today. I started reading the "Summa Theologica", by St. Thomas of Aquinas; "Introduction to the Devout Life", by St. Francis de Sales; and "The Dolorous Passion of Jesus Christ", by St. Catherine Anne Emmerich; and the various books of G.K. Chesterton (Heretics and Orthodoxy, and others)

Too many questions were answered -- many of which the atheists in here ask constantly about. Finally, there came a moment - and odd moment - where I had to choose the odd call of either living life like any other or to choose the life of a Christian - Catholic in particular.

The rest is history, I suppose.

Look, what I mean to say with this story is that the reason I became a Catholic was never because of their "lifestyle". The reason I became a Catholic was more of an unexpected turn of events while I was answering myself a host of different questions. I wasn't looking for a "good lifestyle", I was looking for what was true.

I can't honestly expect anyone to look at this story and go "Look at his testimony! Let's believe!!" What I am saying, however, is that after so much constant searching of these hundreds of questions and making sure I was right on every one, Catholicism was my conclusion.

I know this isn't a "reason". Heck, it might not even be the answer to the "why" you asked.

I suppose that, in the end, what I'm trying to say is that, out of the thousands or millions of questions that can keep one away from the faith, all I can do to defend the faith through here is to answer as many questions as I can, individually, until a person reaches what I believe is the inevitable conclusion of correctly connecting the answers to such questions.

P.S. Sorry if it wasn't what you were expecting.

Well, no need to be sorry, it was what I was expecting, and that is not a hidden criticism. I have nothing against thoughtful Christians (or any other religious denomination), but I believe we can unite in a hatred of those who pervert both our Weltanschauungs.

I like to paint myself in the image of Augustine of Hippo: "Grant me chastity  and continence, but not yet."

And he turned out to be a Saint, didn't he? :)

Oddly enough... I don't have anything against the idea you propose in hating malicious perversions of both our "Weltanshauungs" (Odd word, by the way). I've met quite the number of decent atheists around here - and while I may disagree with them, I still wouldn't want the kind of... sticker they put on atheists as a whole. Especially when they are not true.

And yeah, he did become a Saint! Paradoxically enough, because, partially, he had the confidence to be honest and say to Him he didn't want to follow his teachings, for he liked his particular lifestyle, yet also had the perseverance to constantly ask him for strength to do as He wished anyways.

Anyways, I'm supposed to actually go to do a full day's of work tomorrow (today) and, considering the sun is about to rise and it's 5:35am, I need to sleep NOW. So have a good one...  :)

(Odd word, by the way)

My apologies, I'm native Norwegian speaker and the dirty german nazis stole a word and it's meaning from us (btw, not concidered offensive this side of the pond) ;)

"I'm supposed to actually go to do a full day's of work tomorrow (today)"

It's just past noon here, and I'm having a vodka breakfast. I know, immoral bad atheist who somehow doesn't 'get with the program'. Except, of course, having my house in order and allowing one day of controlled carelessness is somehow irresponsibly immoral..

May you sleep tight and wake up an Atheist (yet another well meant joke btw, you may wish me to wake up Christian but know I will not.). :)

You know, whether or not we share Carlos’ beliefs, I for one have to give him credit for doing research. Most believers won’t go to those lengths to educate themselves.  

 

That being said, Carlos, The books you have cited only represent one side of the coin. That makes for a rather skewed finding. If your intent was to do actual research, you would be doing yourself a great disservice if you didn’t put equal time and effort into researching the other side of things. Judging by your own account, it seems that you have not done this.

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