My siblings do a ski trip every year. No children; only adults and February of 2004 we did the same. After a day of skiing, we were lounging in the hot tub, and I wondered what their thoughts were:
Me: You know, I have been reading on an atheist site recently, and they raise some interesting points.
Brother: I watched a debate between a Christian and an atheist once. The atheist made a fool of himself; I thought he looked completely stupid.
Got it. End of discussion. I casually mentioned it in 2 or 3 other private conversations, and in the same way, was immediately made aware the conversation would go no further. My family was not interested in this type of information.
I mentioned it to my pastor at one of our lunches. “They say some pretty wild things. Don’t get too caught up in that stuff. Hey, we are looking for a sponsor for the College Age group. Are you interested?” Again, a preference to not talk about such things. As I mentioned previously, I fired off an e-mail to my former High School teacher. With the same results.
I was doing this on my own. Although to be fair to these individuals, I didn’t push the conversation either. If I genuinely thought I was in trouble, I would have, perhaps, been more forceful to talk about these questions. Although probably not—I presumed this was a time of doubt which would pass upon further research. I was praying: God would provide the right direction.
So I lurked. And read. And researched. I read what other Christians would post in response in iidb, and could see, immediately why the response would not be convincing to a skeptic. The skeptics’ responses were ineffectual against the Christian claims. I read the articles and recognized the bias in the responses. I saw what I would expect to see in any lawsuit—two sides with extremely different takes on the same evidence.
What I didn’t like was the fact the skeptics’ arguments were more persuasive. As an attorney, evaluating the two cases, I would be confronting my Christian clients with the strong suggestion of settling their case—a neutral trier-of-fact would more likely find for the skeptic.
Finally, I stepped in and started posting. Unlike my original intention, I was not posting blistering arguments, tearing their pitiful claims to shreds with brilliant, unexpected evidence. No, I was posting my position in an attempt to communicate. I was starting to understand why it would not be convincing.
As I was reflecting on my own Christianity, cracks were starting to form. Tiny, hairline, nearly invisible cracks. Cracks so small, I didn’t even know they were there…building…until later. Each topic presented new problems:
Description of Creation I read various positions on Old Earth Creationism, Young Earth Creationism, Theistic Evolution, and Natural Evolution. (Not to mention the two creation accounts under Documentary Hypothesis.) Is Genesis 1 literal or allegorical? Was God creating ex nihilo (out of nothing) or does the Hebrew indicate something already was there?
Whatever the position, one thing was universally agreed—the accounts were not written contemporaneously with the events. They were written billions or thousands of years after the Earth formed. The only possible way to obtain this information would be through God. And I couldn’t help wondering—if the Earth was billions of years old, why not include a long “age” to account for it? God could take that argument away from the skeptic. If Genesis 1 is an allegory, why wouldn’t God put the sun before the earth, and plants after the sun? (Not to mention birds after reptiles.)
Look, assume God is informing Moses in 1500 BCE. God can say anything he wants—who is Moses to argue with God as to how creation was formed? While Christians claimed Genesis was written for a certain people at a certain time, why couldn’t God see in the future that someday, in 2004 CE, skeptics would question the viability of Genesis? What would prevent God from laying it out correctly to remove those questions?
Why would God place stars 13 Billion light years away, and then write a book indicating the universe was formed 6000 years ago? Yes, Yes, I read the claims of light speed differentials, and creating the light path at the time of creation—giving it the “appearance” of age. Those looked, tasted, felt and smelt of excuses for God. The solution was simple—don’t create the problem in the first place.
What I didn’t see were arguments for why it was necessary for God to paint an inaccurate picture. Other than the traditional—who are you to question God?
I kept thinking the answer to who I was: “I am the one looking for you, God. Can’t I ask a question in my search?”
God kills children The God of the Tanakh killed children in the flood. In Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Joshua Genocides. In Saul’s genocide. And then, in the New Testament, does a complete 180, and loves children. Growing up, in our mind, we always differentiated those two Gods. YHWH, the Father, was the God of the Tanakh. A punishing, aloof, harsh God. Jesus, the Son, was the God of the New Testament. A firm, but gentle, loving, caring God.
However, in the face of skeptics, I could no longer justify that distinction. One thing in a court case—no opposing lawyer will ever let you “have your cake and eat it too.” I can’t claim a letter is both entirely genuine (when it helps me) and entirely a forgery (when it does not.) Likewise, I couldn’t claim Jesus was not the “God” of the Tanakh, but the “God” of the New Testament. If there is one God, Jesus was God of both.
Jesus killed kids. Why? Even as humans, we recognize children can be rehabilitated. Oh, I can understand why God would declare some adult so rotten, so immoral the only viable alternative was to end their existence. But a 2-day-old child? Is God so ineffectual he could not reform a baby? And again, I read the Christian defenses of how they were like gangrene and doctors may be forced to cut off a limb which is partly healthy, to rid the person of the disease. I thought, “This is the best you can come up with? God has the same limitations as a human doctor? God can’t cure gangrene?”
As I reviewed these defenses, it became apparent the Christian defenses were not designed to convince the skeptic. They were designed to counter the skeptic in order to preserve those who already believed the same as the Christian. They were preaching to the choir.
On occasion we represent clients who do not care about winning or losing. They do not care about the money, or about the conviction. I had one criminal defendant who was clearly guilty. The prosecutor offered a plea agreement, I recommended we take it, but he refused. He wanted a trial. He wanted the police officer cross-examined.
I gave him a trial. I shouted, I screamed, I cross-examined the police officer. I demonstrated the complete incompetence of the officer, the department, and the entire judicial system. My client was thrilled to bits. He absolutely loved every single minute of it. “Boy, you sure tore him apart. That was GREAT!” The jury took less than a half-hour to find him guilty.
My client didn’t care; he got what he wanted. It made no sense to me. Didn’t he understand after all the yelling, and finger-pointing, the jury still believed the police officer? That if we won the battle (which was questionable) we certainly lost the war? Wasn’t the conviction worse than the satisfaction of the show? Nope. It didn’t matter.
I got that same feeling in the defense to these questions. The apologist (lawyer) was screaming and shouting and gesturing for the client (Christian) and the client is immensely impressed. The client is fully persuaded they are winning.
To me, the key was not whether the client (Christian) is pleased with the theatrics—the key is whether the jury is. Would a neutral party, after all the hoopla, be equally convinced?
Would the Christian be convinced by the same arguments of another religion that justified killing of children? Then why would they accept it in their own?
Numbers 31 What a terrible chapter. God orders the Midianites to be wiped out. The soldiers do NOT kill the baby boys, and are chastised for it. Moses orders the death of all the males, and all the non-virgin females. God wants the Hebrews to keep the virgin females, the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, the lead, the cattle, the sheep and the donkeys as “booty” for their victory. God will receive His portion of the plunder.
In Star Trek V the crew of the Enterprise meet up with an extremely powerful creature on a distant planet. This creature informs them it is God; which is quite convincing when coupled with the display of power. God discovers the crew arrived by space ship, and indicates it would have need of this ship. This causes Capt. Kirk to pause and inquire, “What does God need with a starship?”
I kept thinking of this line when reading Numbers 31. What does God need with Virgin Females and Gold? Why does the Hebrew God desire the same thing a human does? What is more plausible—that God “needs” Virgin Females and Gold, or the humans took what humans want, and placed the blame upon a God?
Worse, all those apologetics attempting to rationalize genocide, due to the pervasive immorality of the society fail in this situation. God could not rehabilitate a 2-day-old baby boy, or 18-year-old widow, but can rehabilitate virgin females. Would Christianity accept such a claim from any other religion?
God’s Justice As discussions circled around actions of God, often I would see the defense proposed: “God is Just.” Yet upon inspecting the simple three-word phrase, the word “Just” is unlike any Justice humans conceptualize. It appears to be an excuse to absolve God of the responsibility of doing something the defender of God doesn’t like. “Hey, we may not like it, but God is just, so what can one do?”
The first problem is “Just” means to follow a law, and no one can explain what law it is God is required to follow. Is it something other than God’s nature? Is it something God can change? Secondly, God is also “merciful” which means God does not always have to follow this law! What is so spectacular about a creature that does and does not have to follow an unknown law? Every time I saw “God is Just” it raised the question—why couldn’t he be merciful in this situation?
Of course the worst display of this is in the Situation of David’s baby. God has a standing order to kill Hittites. (Deut. 20:17). David does so. (2 Sam. 12:9). Because David followed God’s Law, God’s justice demanded David be punished. (2 Sam. 12:10). God then grants mercy, and decides to NOT punish David for following God’s Law. (2 Sam. 12:13). However, God’s Justice then determines it is appropriate to kill David’s newborn child. (2 Sam. 12:14) And take seven days to do it. (2 Sam. 12:18)
If God is “Just” can the Christian apologist please explain what law God was following in absolving David? And what law God was following in punishing David’s baby? You can’t! There may be some hope the reason God does what He does is because of some sort of system of Justice, but this defense is seen for exactly what it is—a hope. To claim God may (or may not) be bound to some law which may (or may not) exist is not persuasive.
A Christian telling another Christian, “God is Just” may elicit a knowing furrow on the brow, with a wise nodding of the head, “Ah, yes indeed” but to a skeptic who wants to unpack more, these three words ring hollow because they have no definition. No force. No information.
God’s Love A fascinating study, in which God requires us to “Love our Enemies” (Luke 6:35) but is not required to love His enemies. (Luke 20:43) A God that forgives the Jews for killing him (Luke 23:34) but will later torture them forever for not believing in him. What was the point of “Father, forgive them...”? Forgive them for what? What is one sin amongst many, when the person was doomed to hell anyway?
As I was looking at these (and more I will cover later) areas of study, I started to sweat. How is it over and over I conceding the skeptical position has the stronger position, when placed in front of a neutral party? Why would I rather be representing the non-believer as a lawyer?
I began to lose sleep. During the day I would study and read. But at night, the demons would come. I would wake at 2 in the morning, unable to sleep, my head full of questions. It was there I would start to cry out to God. Where were the answers I was looking for? Why was my brain constantly falling on the side my heart didn’t want?
I understood my concept of the Christian God was probably wrong. Human limitation and error would necessarily result in my being wrong on some point or another. But now I was starting to wonder where I was right. As a Christian, I figured somewhere in the 90-95% of what we knew about God was “correct.” (Obviously there was a great deal unknown about God not factored in the equation.) That we would arrive in heaven and learn that we were wrong on this minor point, or that minor interpretation, all totaling up to round of laughter to our simplicity and then billions of years of bliss.
Now I was dropping my percentage. At 2 in the morning, I felt like I was 75%, maybe 60% accurate. Then 50%. Then less than 30%. I was realizing I was more wrong than right about God.
It was here I prayed. I could read, study and compare during the day, but at night I prayed. I begged God for direction. The right site, article, book. He knew better than I what I was looking for.
I had spent the last 15 or so years of my life concentrating on one thing—loving others. I know if you asked me for help, I would gladly give it. Need help roofing? I’ll be over with my hammer. Need help plumbing? Don’t know what I am doing, but I can fetch-and-carry with the best of ‘em. If God, who has 100 times the amount of love I could muster, knew I needed help—surely he would come? Surely he would point it out?
So…for all the study of the day, at night it was God and I. And one of us was begging to hear from the other.
To be Continued…