armed with a degree in theology, over the years i have come up with specific questions to ask of christians.
indeed i even attend "alpha courses" (introductory courses to becoming a christian) and put these questions to the hosts (usually under the guise of "well i'm thinking of becoming a christian but i have some questions...)
confrontation and causing offense gets you nowhere. also being impolite just reinforces their smug assertion that atheists are angry.
the question i have had most success with at putting people on the spot goes like this...
"a priest rapes a choirboy. the choirboy becomes depressed and traumatized, rejects jesus and the church (understandably), turns to drugs, dies young and spends an eternity in hell, unsaved and condemned by god.
the priest repents on his deathbed, embraces christ, is forgiven and spends forever in heaven.
by what measure can we consider this to be justice?"
i'm hoping that this question might one day become a meme, so that anyone who brings up the subject of christianity is immediately reminded of this question and has an answer demanded of them.
i have many other questions like this that cannot be simply swatted away with theology, mystery or dogma.
i'd be happy to share them with anyone who is interested.
thanks for reading, let me know if it has an impact on anyone you ask.
Richard Dawkins frequently says and has written that just because the consequences / outcome of something are distasteful, it doesn't mean its not true. His example is that just because life on earth is hopeless and meaningless ending in death, because there is no God, it doesn't mean that there is a God. An unpleasant uncomfortable outcome doesn't mean athiesm isn't true.
Taking a leaf out of Dawkins book there are several things that can be said about your scenario, which isn't as clever and all condemning as you imagine it to be.
1. The abused person going to hell does so for his own sins, not for the sins committed against him. Lets turn this on its head as an example. Lets say then the boy grows up and before he dies he abuses other boys. He is caught and put on trial and when he is in the dock he gives his defence that he was abused as a child and it became a cycle. What is the judge to do? Is he to say, 'ok that explains it, you can go free' (whilst the victim screams and cries) or does he say, thats terrible but you are still responsible for your own behaviour and that is what you are here called to account for. Being a victim doesn't mean that your not responsible and accountable for your own actions. God holds everyone accountable.
2. The scenario is a plea to justice and injustice. If God is real then the desire for justice we find in ourselves is a faint echo from our creator - who must be all just. As well as being just He is also loving. And so to both the man and the priest he wants to offer forgiveness and salvation, but cannot without justice being done for both of them. So He sends Christ to be punished in their place so that justice is served and love offers the hand of salvation to both. Both of whom are undeserving, but in different ways.
Christ being God meant that His sacrifice was enough justice to cover all crimes. Imagine a homeless drunk with a long rapsheet in Thailand and he starts selling drugs. In Thailand its a capital offence, but he is also a British citizen so the Queen of England sends a message that she will fly to Thailand and take his place and be put to death for him. Thats a pale reflection on Christ's sacrifice.
3. Many people see hell as unfair and wrong. Whenever I have asked someone who holds this view I always ask, "If your daughter was raped and the person was never caught and then died, what would you want God to do to that person" - they always say, send them to hell. The point is, if there is a God we want Him to serve justice the way we see fit. Whereas humility would dictate that He, being the creator, would be better placed to decide how justice should be served.
Those answers may be unpleasant for you. But as Dawkins says, truth does not have to be pleasant in order to be true.
Of course you could go further and ask why justice is important to you. Dawkings rightly argues that without God there is no good or evil, there is just what people do. And somethings are helpful for society and somethings are not. The problem is athiests live as if there is a God, as if there is moral good and evil. Question: Is it the case that the priest abusing the boy would always be wrong, no matter where, when and no matter if everyone around at the time said it was a good. idea. If you say yes to that, then you are living as if there is a God who provides an objective moral standard that is true even if no one believes it. Athiesm teaches in theory that with no God there is no standard, except what society decides. But in this example, and things like the Holocaust, if your honest you would agree that even if society said they were good, they still would be morally wrong. You live as if there is a God, you cannot help it.
Hope that helps.
Your friendly neighborhood Christian.
Justice demands that the punishment fit the crime(s), otherwise it is injustice. We can take the accumulated suffering caused by even a very evil person's crimes and still not be justified in subjecting them to any punishment which is not finite and of the appropriate severity in general. This is especially applicable to Pauline Christians who have a very black or white, fire and brimstone view of justice. If I were to close my child's hand in an hot oven for even a second, regardless of his misdeed or my status (man or god), sane persons would rightly condemn me as a monster and consider the punishment cruel and unusual. Even for lighter or gradualistic views of hell, the punishment does not even come close to matching the crime.
Justice also means that, the person perpetuating the crime is the one who is punished for it or makes amends. Anybody (god or man) can suffer for someone else's sake, but if it is not for his or her own crimes, justice, by definition, has not taken place. Justice by proxy is a contradiction.
Your view that the child is still responsible for his own past mistakes is partially acceptable. (Genetics and upbringing greatly effect human behavior, especially for children, which places partial responsibility for crimes on god, the priest, and parents). However you depart from making a valuable argument when you argue that he is being subject to justice, when the behavior and threatened punishments of god of the bible, and even less so of evangelical Christians, is clearly not just. In addition, the ignorance and evils condoned and committed by the god of the OT make him wholly unworthy to enact any form of justice against anybody.
God's choice of applying justice to the boy versus the priest must fall into one of these cases, in your scenario:
- God must hold everyone accountable, justice means his hands are tied.
- God chooses to hold everyone accountable, and can choose who to show mercy.
In the first scenario, god must hold everyone accountable. Ignoring my argument that god's punishments are not just to being with, you cannot argue that god must apply (that form of) justice to the child (as you do in #1), then argue that god can make exceptions. These are mutually exclusive, thus the first choice cannot be true with a Christian god.
The second choice is, god chooses to hold everyone accountable. You cannot argue that god is loving, but then argue that he, being the one who chooses to enact justice, capable of making exceptions, chooses to save the regretful priest simply because the priest accepts him, and chooses not to save the (mentally ill) boy. Love prefers mercy over justice, and (unjust) punishments which fulfill no purpose (i.e. the protection of society, or rehabilitation of the criminal) are vengeance. Again, these are mutually exclusive, you cannot be said to "love" someone, or claim to be "merciful" toward anyone who you subject to eternal vengeance.
Either god is not loving, or he cannot save anybody from justice, Christians included.
We've heard your apologetic views before; they still don't work and only help to reinforce our view that Christians (particularly evangelists) have very warped views.
You also misrepresent Dawkins' and most atheists views of morality, which you can get a better idea of here:
Dawkins' reference to the Bible and the Quran is dealing with the fact that they actually condone slavery, rape and misogyny, ethnic cleansing, child murder, infanticide and other moral abominations. Pre-civil war, Southerners, (especially evangelical preachers), actually quoted many biblical passages (from Yaweh-Moses/Jesus/Paul) to support slavery. There are no passages which could be quoted prescribing abolition. Yet, most Christians oppose slavery and many forms of misogyny... in other words, even Christians get their morals from a source other than god, even contradicting and decrying his morals. That source is plain and simple human philosophy and reasoning.
I don't think I misrepresented Dawkins, its in his book, The Blind Watchmaker. He is just contradictory as he cannot live with the conclusions that athiesm takes him too, just as Burtrand Russel couldn't (and admitted it), and John Paul Satre.
The caricature of the Old Testement is just a lack of understanding. I would recommend the book, Is God a moral monster by Paul Copan. The likes of Dawkins are so hell bent on destroying all religion he is not at all careful to understand his opponents positions. In debates with people like John Lennox, you here the christian say, 'well the God you don't beleive in, I don't believe in either' - as its a strawman caricature.
I would touch on hell, which again you present a caricature. In the Bible there are degrees of punishment in hell depending on the severity of the crimes. Peoples experience of hell will be vastly different, and it is the judge of all the earth who IS able to judge justly. It is also a topic that Christians, even evangelical christians disagree on. Jesus talks about few blows and many blows in regard to different levels of justice. Some see that to mean that when the set number of blows is over, the punishment is over, and they cease to exist. Others believe that the reason hell is eternal is because people keep rejecting God and sinning and so stay in a cycle of punishment. No one really believes that a finite sin is repaid with infinite punishment. Its just the argument athiests keep coming up with.
In terms of your scenarios, the correct option is that God holds all people accountable and holds out the offer of salvation to all people. Those who reject the offer suffer justice, those who accept, justice is already done on the cross. So God is both loving and just.
You mention that justice is a person paying for their own crimes. That is true. However, we know and aspire to more than that. Hollywood spends millions on films depicting one persons sacrifice on behalf of others, its heroic and there is something in us that resonates with it as a nobel act. How nobel it is is often scene in how unworthy those being saved are. I think our creator is able to solve the love and justice issue in a way that is mind boggling, i.e the cross.
Of course people have abused christianity and used it to do evil, like the crusades. Unfortunately that is human nature. Politicians do it but we still believe in the political system, atleast to some degree. A doctor in the UK, Harold Shipmen, killed scores of his patients, but we still keep the medical service. As the Bible says, human nature is corrupt.
It doesn't matter that a christian says he does not believe the cruel stuff in the bible. His religion is based ON the bible. He is expected to believe it! We can rightly debate them regarding the savagery required and promoted by the bible , and the brutal acts and statements of god in the bible. We all know that lots of christians are nice, kind folks. Still, their beliefs are vicious, irrational, and anti-intellectual.
Dogly, I think you cauht hold of the wrong end of the dog ;-)
Evangelical christians like myself do believe the Bible, but your making the mistake of thinking we are picking and choosing, which we are not. What savagery is promoted and required in the Bible of Christians today? That you think I am ignoring.
This is a straw man that comes up over and over again. I am happy to see though that you are still in your right mind when it comes to saying that lots of christians are nice folk. Some on this website are saying christians are evil. The mind boggles!
What savagery is promoted and required in the Bible of Christians today?
It does not matter if the savagery is "required of christians today". Savagery is savagery, and the fact that it exists in the Old Testament, condoned (and often commanded by) Yaweh (through Moses), and occasionally shows up in the new testament (albeit in much smaller degrees), is a good reason to reject the OT and anything even extended from it as being derived from a divine source. What is immoral remains immoral under grace or otherwise.
However, it should be noted that Joshua did not invite Christians to reject the OT or its laws. The writers of the NT repeatedly asserted their claims by quoting OT scriptures, and Joshua himself said of the LoM and previous prophets:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.
But maybe you meant something other than the copy and paste "fulfilled by Jesus" I've seen so much of.
By straw man do you mean that Christians actually do "believe the cruel stuff in the bible", but have some reason (other than the one mentioned above) that it shouldn't be objectionable? Do you mean that the OT (and to lesser degree the NT) don't have the Israeli's doing things as evil as we make them out to be? What part of Dogly's claim is creating a straw man, if neither of these?
As for the "saying christians are evil" thing, it is some apologists' defense of many OT events/laws, or attempt to brush them off that I (and many non-Christians here and elsewhere) find so disturbing, more so than (most of) Christians general behavior.
As I pointed out before, I believe modern Christians practice many moral views that are not found in either the OT or NT, and outright reject many things as evil which are found in the OT.
No, none of us is saying all christians are evil. We are saying CHRISTIANITY is evil. The teachings of your faith are heartless. The punishment, or more correctly, the revenge it promises is without compassion or justice. The belief that all but you holy ones will be burned for eternity - is that nice?
Now there's the straw man. You've placed all of Christianity all behind one doctrine, instead of the actual 1000 versions of that one doctrine that actually exist among Christians.
Name a Christian sect that categorically doesn't believe in hell. If there are any, there are less than five.
Name a Christian sect that doesn't believe in Original Sin. There may be some, but again, they would be fringe groups. The main issue for mainstream Christianity seems to be what Original Sin really means and what the consequences are. Not that it exists in the first place
Sure, on the surface, there are sects that have humane, compassionate beliefs. But the core doctrines of Christianity such as Original Sin, infinite punishment for finite crimes and vicarious redemption (a human version of scapegoating) are deeply disturbing, immoral and inhuman. And those are shared by 95% of all believers in one form of another. Even if they don't place much emphasize on it in some cases
I've been a member and believer in a variety of christian churches, and have read and heard hundreds of sermons, books, articles, apologetics, pamphlets, etc. from virtually every kind of christian faith. I've also listened to christian and atheist debates, talks on discussion shows, etc.. I've read through the bible multiple times, studying passages closely (line upon line, precept upon precept), even believing that my understanding was being inspired by the holy ghost, experienced the whole "burning bosom", inspired rush of knowledge in my head, touched by god's love, etc.. Now with this context in mind...
No one really believes that a finite sin is repaid with infinite punishment.
You can state "really" to soften the idea, however, many, many of the people and articles mentioned above DID and DO believe exactly that. I agree that to make the most biblical passages make sense together, you have to accept the idea of few or many stripes, "until the debt is payed", etc. Many Christians do not though (mostly found in southern evangelist circles), and it is no straw man to attack this view, and every variety of it.
Those who reject the offer suffer justice, those who accept, justice is already done on the cross.
You mention that justice is a person paying for their own crimes. That is true. Hollywood spends millions on films depicting one persons sacrifice on behalf of others, its heroic and there is something in us that resonates with it as a nobel act.
A person making any sacrifice for others is not a valid analogy (regardless of how noble the person making that sacrifice is). A person being punished for another person's evils is the analogy we are looking for. Justice is not fulfilled. This does not solve the problem I posed at all (which already acknowledges and rejects proxy justice).
Again, why bother enforcing justice if its enforced by choice, if you are going to do something that (illogically) allows you to ignore it? Just ignore Justice without the illogical sacrifice!
If you have no choice in the fulfilling of justice (i.e. it was some kind of eternal law which god must obey), how are you then choosing to ignore it in some cases! This would require an acceptance that justice can somehow be fulfilled by punishing an innocent person, and not affecting the guilty person at all! Hence, fine connoisseurs of skepticism such as those found here, find the Christian view of justice mind boggling (sorry for stealing). We find the doctrines of some subset of churches, which suggest that god is tossing babies into Hades or Gehenna or what have you to be very disturbing (as most Christians do, too). However, even just the fundamental tenet of paying for another's sins (justice by proxy), that is required by any and all versions of Christianity, do not make any sense. Arguing otherwise is where non-Christians see Christian beliefs about after-life justice as weird, evil, or just plain wrong.
I don't think I misrepresented Dawkins, its in his book, The Blind Watchmaker.
A full bodied, full context quote would help. (A quote straight from a hard-copy of his book, as I have seen "Christians" misquote and dishonestly edit videos of him repeatedly). Never-the-less, the video I showed you did demonstrate that he offers at least one clearly defined source of morality, and specifically rejected the idea, not of morality, but "absolute" morality like those found in scriptures (i.e. biblical, quranic) as actually being immoral. He may or may not have contradicted himself (or maybe poorly worded his statement on morality, or maybe was misquoted) elsewhere, but I haven't read that book. Here is another quote from him, though:
Over the centuries, we've moved on from Scripture to accumulate precepts of ethical, legal and moral philosophy. We've evolved a liberal consensus of what we regard as underpinnings of decent society, such as the idea that we don't approve of slavery or discrimination on the grounds of race or sex, that we respect free speech and the rights of the individual. All of these things that have become second nature to our morals today owe very little to religion, and mostly have been won in opposition to the teeth of religion.
True story. Sad but true.
he cannot live with the conclusions that athiesm takes him too,
You are putting words into people's mouths (or heads). You cannot read his mind and come to such a conclusion. In general, atheists complain about Christians straw-manning us just as often in response to christian statements about what we think, what our beliefs regarding morality are, etc., as Christians do. This is such an example.
The caricature of the Old Testement is just a lack of understanding.
Wrong. I'm quite aware of the history and context of ethnic cleansing, slavery, forced marriages/concubines, cruel and unsual punishments, etc. that the OT speaks of, both as claimed to be practiced by the Jews, as well as the neighboring nations. I am also aware of many philosophical arguments made for seeing them in a different light. Most aspects of the culture, reasoning, and context for these things can even be found directly in the OT and NT themselves. I simply reject them as coming from a god, and rather see them (considering the context for their existence) as being the stories of an ignorant ancient culture playing "god chicken" with their neighboring cultures.
Stop right there. Paul Copan is a terrible apologist that is at ends with the majority of even Christian biblical scholars. Here is a good link to a free critique of Is God a moral monster (by a much more educated Christian by the name of Thom Stark).
As Stark puts it: "Contemporary popular apologists tend to look for any way to salvage the text, no matter how unlikely or untenable the argument. They’ll use scholarly sources selectively, or pounce on one scholar’s argument and run away with it, with-out any concern for the fact the vast majority of scholars haven’t been persuaded by it." If an apologist's claims cannot even sway Christian scholars, and receive excess criticism from their fellow Christians for dishonesty and ignorance, their words aren't going to be persuading any changes in atheist attitudes towards religious texts, especially for those themselves who know more about the same topics than the author of the apologetics.
Thats crazy to see you quote Thom. He and I went to the same seminary together in the same class. I dropped out though when I realized it was a pointless life pursuit. I remember when I first got there and was expressing my doubts with the inspiration of the bible and he was criticizing me for it. My how times have changed.