Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Not True

How far can we take the “No True Scotsman” claim? Can we extrapolate it out, to the absurd point in which we can claim the other person does not even qualify as a human?

We all know and most have seen the claim in one form or another, of the “No True Scotsman.” Most commonly used as “You weren’t a true Christian in the first place.” Briefly, it is a claim that, a person was NOT part of a group, even though they claimed to have been, because it is important to the person making the claim.

For example, I may want to insist that Joe is not from Michigan. Joe claims to be from Michigan. Joe has documentation to prove he is from Michigan. But when I ask, “Where did you live?” and he replies, “Ann Arbor” I scream out “A-HA! ‘True’ Michiganders use their hand as a map, and point out their location. Since you did not use your hand, you are not a ‘True Michigander.’ I do not care about your paperwork, or even if you actually lived within the boundaries of the state. You do not qualify.”

We, of course here it as in “You were not a True Christian.” Or those that performed the Inquisition were not “True Christians.” Or any person that Christians do not want to be associated with, are disbarred from the group, since they were not “True Christians.”

I can understand the reasoning behind this. First, because it may conflict with a person’s beliefs. If they believe once saved, always saved, they cannot have people being Christians and then not being Christians. Or if they believe faith is demonstrated by works, they cannot have murderers and torturers qualifying.

Second, because if we allow anyone to claim to be a Christian, the word becomes so diluted that it would effectively have no meaning. Of course, we have the perennial problem of who gets to define “Christian” so as to use it correctly. That is still a toss-up.

And Christians aren’t solely to blame. If somone claims to have been an atheist-turned-Christian, and I learn they had no idea of any of the arguments against God(s), or how the Bible came into being, I choke back the “No true atheist” fallacy. I have had to learn to take people at their word. Yes, they really were an atheist.

Or if someone told me they were an atheist, yet believed in a God that only interacted on occasion, the thought, “not an atheist” would certainly cross my mind. There are a few ways to approach this fallacy:

“I was a Christian”

A) “No you weren’t.”

The problem with this approach is that we have immediately created a hostile environment. This implies I am at the least deluded, at the most dishonest. Further, the person saying this to me loses credibility, as they are making a statement that I am very aware is untrue. Yes, I was a Christian. So not only does it increase hostility, it loses one’s credibility. Why use it?

B) “From my perspective, I don’t see how you could have been a Christian. Can you explain what being a Christian meant to you?”

Notice the difference? See the dialogue opening up? Maybe we could reach some understanding whereby I see why you wouldn’t claim I was a Christian, and you would understand why I claim I was. We may not agree, but at least we learn something without losing credibility.

For those reasons, I never became too involved in the problem of the “No True Scotsman.” Never gave it much thought. Used against me, I ignore it. I didn’t use it on others.

Until I recently read a “No true Calvinist” claim. Not only can a person claim another was never a Christian, they can claim they were never a certain type of Christian. If one isn’t dipped, we can use the “No true Baptist.” If one isn’t confirmed, the “No true Catholic.”

But why stop there? If one doesn’t conform to the right 66 Books, one is not a “True Biblist.” If one questions (or perhaps does not) the Pericope Adultera one is not a “True Gospel of Johnist.” If one does not hold to the correct theory of the development of Matthew, Mark and Luke, one is not a “True Synopticist.”

It reduces to a level of lunacy!

Where are these definitions? Is there some diamond-encrusted golden cornerstone of the Universe that lists the “true” definitions of every word, so we can peer into a telescope and determine who qualifies for what? Of course not! Definitions are just common usages of words. What was “cool” in 1800 is much different than “cool” in 2006. What was “gay” in the 1920’s is not what is “gay” in the 1980’s.

The dictionary is not some absolute truth, by which we must conform in order to be correct or not. By using a word in a different way, over time we can change the definition of that word. Just because a word has religious implications, does not imbibe it with properties by which it becomes a one-time absolute meaning.

Who defines, “Christian”? Many would say “God.” But where? In the Bible? This raises questions as well. “He who believes and is baptized will be saved, and he who does not believe will be condemned.” We could choose this as a bright-line definition of Christian/non-Christian. The problem? Jesus goes on to further define “believes” as being a person that casts out demons, drinks poison, handles snakes and heals. Is that also included in our definition of Christian? What if we only do 3 out of 4? Worse, this is in the long ending of Mark, so a “No true Markist” that believes the ending is not inspired would say this is “No True Definition” of a “No True Christian.”

Is it one that God has predestined? One that never sins? One that never lies? All are possible definitions, depending on what verse in the Bible one uses. Is it all, some, none?

I suggest we all drop any such statement. It doesn’t progress the conversation a bit. It only creates hostility. It only loses credibility.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mission Control - we have a problem

Yesterday, I was traveling in rush-hour traffic behind a car with a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t worry – God is in Control.” And as we crawled along we passed a fender-bender, pulled over to the side of the road. I couldn’t help wondering if God was in control of that!

What if it wasn’t just a ding in some metal? What if it was a pile-up, with hurt people, and severe, life-altering injuries? Would God still be in control of that?

How much is God actually in control? Does He care as to who is elected President of the United States, or Prime Minister of Great Britain, and get actively involved in politics? Does He monitor the finances of Christian corporations, to prevent embezzlement?

One of the catch-all excuses for why the world is the way it is, is the claim that God holds Free Will as the highest precept. The reason we even have a hell, is that God does not want to interfere too much, thus eliminating faith. He needs free will to reign supreme. It is over love, over communication, over evil, sickness, disease and death.

Why did God even have that awful tree in the Garden of Eden? To give Adam & Eve Free will. Why do we have the problem of natural evil, such as tsunamis? Because, in order to protect free will, God must allow such events to happen. Time and time and time again, I am assured by the theist that the reason God won’t communicate directly with me, is that it will somehow impinge on my free will.

But as God is in control, doesn’t He impinge on Free will all the time? Theists that pray actually hope that God will force his way into a life, and set aside their Free will. Think of the simple prayer, “God, help the doctors that do this surgery. Guide their hands. Give them strength, and wisdom to perform their work. Amen.” How many 1000’s of times have I heard that prayer!

Yet the theist is directly asking God to impose himself on the doctor’s free will. That doctor has the ability and freedom to slip with the scalpel, cutting too much, or not admitting the surgery is beyond his capabilities, or perhaps not getting enough sleep the night before. What the theist is asking is for God to set aside the doctor’s free will, preventing the knife from slipping too far, giving him a quick kick in the seat of the pants to wake him up.

Deists, of course, don’t have this problem, but most brands of theism have their God intervening all the time, crushing free will. The story of the tower of Babel is a great example. Humans had the free will to communicate in one language. God couldn’t have that, so he stepped in and deliberately caused confusion.

In order to take blame away from God (who is in Control) and impose it upon humans, the free will excuse will be employed. But if a person starts to worry that free will may eliminate their brand of theism, the God is in control excuse is brought out. It is the best of both worlds. However, a pattern comes forward that becomes suspect.

As we watch these arguments unfold, amazingly free will is always, always, always happening just at the moment it is most convenient for the theist’s position. When we inspect why God would let children die, free will is handy to let the children stay dead, and keep God from being implicated. God didn’t want it that way, it just had to be, to protect free will. When we attempt to use reason to investigate God, free will becomes most inconvenient, and God’s sovereignty is brought out. Who are we to question a God?

Yet this is unconvincing to an atheist. Why? Because we realize the theist is in no better position to determine what is free will and what is God-controlled. And by constantly defending God in the most favorable light, the theist’s credibility is compromised as being biased. No theist is going to state, ever, “There you got me. God shouldn’t have imposed his will against the humans in that situation.”

Look at this minor automobile collision. Was it just God, letting two drivers use their free will? Or was it God, attempting to have two drivers meet, so that they could show love toward each other? Was God preventing a much more tragic accident? Or was God sending a message to other drivers in the area? Or did God, not caring, never even know about the accident? Was he in control, or was it free will?

There simply is no way to determine this.

I can read all the fancy philosophical arguments on whether humans have free will or not. I can read them on whether God has free will or not. The one thing I do not read is a method by which we can determine, “Here God is restricting free will and here he is not.” And if we cannot determine it on any occasions, how can we say He ever does, or never does?

What would a world look like, if God sat back and never interacted at all? What would a world look like if God interacted at every decision, no matter how slight? As we have no basis of comparison, either prospect is a guess. I, obviously, think the world would look like it does without God’s interaction, but a theist would equally obviously disagree. O.K., but with this “sometimes in, sometimes out” theory, we are left with pure speculation.

If God is in control, then why do people get traffic tickets? Can’t they state that God is the one that was driving at the time?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Story or History?

Have you noticed how in stories, the characters can “pop in” at convenient times, and convenient places, at the will of the author? If they need Aunt Maude to appear at Sunday dinner, in order to propel the story along, she is written in. We don’t question as to how she got there, or why, as we understand that this character is necessary to the story and therefore at this moment, she will appear.

In fact, we chuckle a bit at Star Trek fans (such as myself) who argue over incongruous events in differing installments. “In Episode #27 they turned left from the Captain’s office to go to the engine room, but in Episode #83 they turned right. Which is it?” The reason we laugh, is that we know it is just a story. These aren’t factual events. These are television shows, penned by Hollywood writers who have no intention of keeping the facts congruent, as they aren’t facts—they are stories. To argue over the validity of the “facts” of these fictions would be silly.

One of the questions that continually perpetuates throughout discussions of the events of the First Century in Palestine, as recorded in the Bible, is how much is fact, and how much is fiction. Now, one may take the position that if it is recorded, it is absolutely positively, no questions asked a historical event. But is this argument convincing? If someone was coming across the events, as written, for the first time, would they be persuaded that it is a story, or that it actually happened that way?

One of the events that has all the elements of a story and not an actual happening, is the moving of all eleven disciples, and Jesus’ entire family from Galilee to Jerusalem overnight. It was done to make the story convenient, out of a desire to move the story along, rather than out of any historical basis.

First of all, it is to be noted that Jesus’ base of operations was in Galilee. (Mr. 1:28) It was here that he did miracles, preached, traveled and talked to crowds. But most importantly, it was from here that he chose his Disciples.

Every disciple was from Galilee. (Acts 2:7) They had wives (Mr. 1:30), jobs (Mr. 1:18), families (Mr. 1:19) and even homes (Mr. 2:15). In a word—roots. This is where, if things went wrong, they would go first.

For a year or three, they travel with Jesus, both in Galilee, and out, and we can fast forward to the night of the Last Supper. After eating, all but Judas (off betraying), go to the Mount of Olives. Jesus explains that he is about to die, and says that after He is resurrected, he will “Go before you to Galilee.” Mt. 26:32. This is most natural. Jesus recognizes that they are about to be scattered, and their most natural retreat would be home—Galilee.

Jesus’ mother and two of the Disciples mother still live in Galilee at this time, because it is noted they came from there to see Jesus die. Mr. 15:41. When the women go to visit the tomb, they find a young man there, who again confirms exactly what we expect, exactly what was said, “Go tell the disciples Jesus will meet you in Galilee.” (Mr. 16:8)

Exactly as they were told, exactly as suspected, Jesus meets the disciples in Galilee. Mt. 28:16. According to John, the Disciples hung around the room for eight days (John 20:26) but after that, met Jesus right where we expected—Galilee. (John 21:1) (Yes, I am aware of the added ending of John 21. So which one is the inspired version? Chap. 20, where we leave the disciples 8 days post resurrection in Jerusalem, or Chap 21, where Jesus rehabilitates Peter? If one wants them in Jerusalem, the only way to do so, is place Chap. 21 chronologically before Chap. 20. Why, then, are they reversed? Good study.)

At this point we see what we would humanly, naturally expect. Jesus and his Disciples’ base is in Galilee. The crowd is unfriendly in Jerusalem. The obvious point of retreat is Galilee. Or look at it this way. Assuming the Jesus movement is dead. Kaput. Jesus died and wasn’t resurrected, where do the disciples go? Back to their jobs. Back to their families and homes. Back to the lives they had before. Sure, one or two may continue the farce, but not all eleven. They would go home.

Or, if they are convinced by seeing a resurrected Jesus, both in Jerusalem, but later in Galilee, what better place to start the movement than at home? These are the people that saw Jesus’ miracles, heard his preaching, know the disciples personally. Even today, when people are converted, who are the first they attempt to win over? Their friends and family! The most natural place in the world for the disciples to start this church movement is in Galilee. Home.

Up until now, everything seems fine. There is only one catch. Luke wants to be a historian. And what Luke knows about the history of the church is that it started in Jerusalem. (Acts 2:1-7) Peter was from Jerusalem. (Gal. 1:18) Jesus’ brother is from Jerusalem. (Gal. 1:19) In fact, all of the apostles were staying in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:13)

The Church grows in Jerusalem. (Acts 6:7). Every indication Luke has before him is that the church’s earliest leaders are from Jerusalem. How in the blue blazes can he rectify the problem that the legends say these were people from Galilee, yet the church clearly began in Jerusalem?

Just like any storyteller, Luke moves the entire group to a place he wants them without necessity of providing a reason. All eleven disciples and Jesus family (Acts 1:14), move, en masse to Jerusalem, in less than a month, with nary a thought of Galilee again. But does it make sense?

To give an idea of the complete abandonment of Galilee, the word “Galilee” or “Galilean” is mentioned 60 times in the four Gospels. True, some are descriptions of persons, such as Herod being tetrarch of Galilee (Lk. 31:1), but most of these are mentions of people from Galilee, or persons active in Galilee. In the whole rest of the New Testament, “Galilee” or “Galilean” is only mentioned another 9 times. It is as if it dropped off the face of the earth!

Or, perhaps another way of looking at it. Luke has the initial preaching, and growth of the Church in Jerusalem. (Acts 6:7) One of the most obvious initial outreaches would be Galilee, for all of the reasons stated—friends, family and familiarity. So is this where they go? Nope, instead, as the persecution began they start sending Christians out to Judea and Samaria. The apostles stay in Jerusalem. Acts 8:1. Not a single apostle is concerned about his family back home in Galilee? No one says, “Hey, why don’t I go back to Galilee and ride this thing out?”

They send Christians everywhere but Galilee! In fact, when Samaria gets the Word, the disciples are more than happy to send Paul and John to them. (Acts 8:14) Peter and John have no problem preaching throughout Samaria, but somehow their own region is completely missed. (Acts 8:25)

Finally, Paul becomes a Christian, and begins contending with Hellenists. It is only after Paul is converted, and begins his missionary work, that we finally learn of churches in Galilee. (Acts 9:31) Paul is more interested in converting the disciples’ family than the disciples were!

Paul, in his writing, has no notion of a Galilee, or teaching there. He talks of meeting the church the church leaders in Jerusalem, and ministering to the saints in Jerusalem. (Romans 15). Mark, writing the first Gospel, leaves us hanging with Jesus intending to be in Galilee, but the disciples never getting the word. Matthew, following Mark, leaves the disciples in Galilee. As well as John.

Luke is conflicted by the legend that places everyone from Galilee, and the history (as he knows it) that they were from Jerusalem. Simple solution—have them move. But why? Shouldn’t there be some continuity for the move? And Luke creates one.

As John did, after the death of Jesus, Luke leaves the disciples in the city of Jerusalem. (Lk. 24:33) When Jesus makes his starling appearance, he adds a phrase that isn’t found in the other gospels: “Stay in the city of Jerusalem until you receive the power from on high.” (Lk 24:29) There. He did it. Like a masterful weaving of tales, Luke has forced the move from Galilee to Jerusalem. Luke assumes Jesus family will only naturally follow the disciples.

In a story, this works very, very well. In reality, this raises questions. How easy would it be for Eleven men, as well as Mary and her other sons to ALL move. Not most. Not some. But every single one. First Century Palestine was primarily an agricultural society, with the farmers making only enough to live on. They were taxed/tithed at about a third. This would include wages, produce, spices, everything.

The cities lived off of these lands, the wealthy landowners being absentee landlords, having what excess was provided shipped to the city. A situation where the cities were parasitically living off the country. Any disciples that were fisherman would be out of a job. At best, they could hope to find labor work, but such work was primarily in farms—back in the country. How could they manage to obtain food to eat? Or rent a room for shelter?

Did they institute offerings as payment for their services? There are subtle hints to that effect at Acts 4:37 and Acts 6:3-4. This opens Pandora’s box, though, as it could remove the motivation factor of “Did they die for a lie?” No, they died because they needed the income, and were too much competition for the temple cult.

And how does Luke’s phrase “stay in the city” work in connection with the other gospels? It was said, while they were still startled to see Jesus. So, presumably, it was done before they saw him again (and again) in Galilee. Jesus says, “I will see you in Galilee” so, according to Luke, they stay in Jerusalem. Jesus says, “Stay in the city” so they go running off to Galilee. Jesus says, “You will be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria” so they stay in Jerusalem, sending everyone else to Judea and Samaria. It is like it is opposite world—whatever Jesus says, they do the exact opposite!

There is no reason for the church to begin in Jerusalem. Jesus drew crowds out to Galilee. There is no temple requirement in Jesus’ religion. (Although curiously enough, they continued to go to the temple.) It was intended to be a missionary work, and its base of operations could be anywhere. In fact, where better than Jesus’ childhood home?

Jesus’ tomb was not venerated. The location of his death not visited. There was nothing keeping the disciples in Jerusalem. Just the pesky fact that Luke had to work with—that the church started with people in Jerusalem, and Luke had to move ‘em there.

Do Christians just shrug this off, saying, “If the Bible says it happened, it happened” or do they think this through, saying, “This does seem a bit odd”?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Wadda ya know?

A common argument is made, and I have seen it a few times recently, that with all the information we don’t know about the universe, how can the atheist rely upon what little we do know to say there isn’t a god?

It usually looks something like this: “Think about all the information there ever was about the universe. How much does the smartest person in the world know about the universe? 10%? 5%? It seems likely, realizing there are 100 billion galaxies with 100 billions stars that we know less than 1% of the total knowledge there is about the universe. Isn’t it possible that within the 99% that we don’t know, a god exists? An atheist is relying just as much on faith as a theist by relying upon 1% to say what is true about the other 99%”

Of course there are minor variations on this argument, “how can you rely upon finite knowledge when humans have been shown to be wrong,” etc. There are numerous problems with this.

Let’s all be agnostic Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the theist really believed that we should not make positive (or negative) assertions about the universe until we have more than 1% of knowledge, then they also cannot make the positive assertion there is a God. If it is possible within the other 99% there is a God, it is equally possible there is not a God.

Why stop there? It is equally possible there are more than one gods, and more than one universe. In fact, with our limited capability, we should refrain from making any claims about anything, until we know more. Clearly, the theist does not hold to this proposition for their own position, why, then, impose it on others?

Look at what we do know Within our little 1%, we know that the Easter Bunny is made up by humans. Doesn’t exist. We know that Santa Clause is made up. Doesn’t exist. We know that severed arms do not re-attach and, with the wave of a wand and a few magic words, start functioning normally.

With what we do know, we can make assertive statements, regardless what the other 99% consists of. If there is a supernova exploding on the other side of the universe, does it make a difference whether it is going blue or red, as to whether there is a god? Nope. Since that is part of the 99% I don’t know, it does not provide any new information as to God’s existence, so who cares if we don’t know it?

Or, look at it this way. I am sure I know less than 1% of American History. When we look at all the facts of all the things that have happened in America over the last 400 years, I am certain I know less than 1% of 1%! Yet even with this miniscule knowledge, I am aware that Daffy Duck was never President of the United States. Can we say, “A-ha! You don’t know 99% of American History, therefore you cannot know this?” Of course not. The minute amount I do know lists the Presidents that have been elected, and Daffy Duck is not one of them.

What is interesting is that the theist will often point out what they don’t know, and therefore claim they do know there is a god. This hardly makes sense. “Within the 99% of what we don’t know is how, exactly life formed on earth, whether there is life elsewhere, what existed prior to the Big Bang, how much dark matter there, and therefore within the 1% of what I do know, I will claim there is a god. One we don’t know 99% about.”

If the theist is able, within ,their 1% of knowledge declare there is a god, why am I prohibited from using the same knowledge and saying there is not? Why must I have to wait for the other 99%, and they do not?

Further, the “limitation” of human knowledge is what we have to work with. Even if there was a supernatural being, the only way that we as humans can know it, is by our own knowledge—i.e. human. This presumes there is something “other” than human knowledge, which is a bit silly, considering the only way to discuss it, or even conceive of it, is by discussing with other humans, and interacting with their knowledge.

Guess what? Every single thing we know is confined within human knowledge. There isn’t anything beyond it. The instant one starts to talk about some knowledge “beyond it” it becomes part of human knowledge!

What happens when knowledge increases? We weren’t always at 1%, or whatever number one wants to put on it. We used to be less. As knowledge of the universe and the world about us has increased, we have modified what we can theorize and surmise about the other 99%. At one time, within our little amount, we did not know that light had a speed, acted as a wave and a particle, and can be moved by gravity. As we learn these new facts, we modify our information about what the other 99% looks like.

In fact, part of what little we know, is that Heisenberg Uncertainty principle, which states we cannot state at a moment in time, the exact nature of the universe. The more certain we are as to the direction of a moving particle, the less certain the speed, and vice versa. We can never know 100%, by the very limitations as to how we can observe the universe.

While our little bits of knowledge increase, we are able to modify and reduce the possibilities of what the other 99% is like. Is theism equally willing to change?

Upon learning through textual and higher criticism that the works of the Bible were not accurately copied and recorded, is theism willing to modify its belief regarding canonization and inerrancy. Upon learning that the earth is billions of years old, and was not made in spurts and spats, is theism willing to embrace evolution?

See, within the naturalist 1% of knowledge is the ability and recognition to modify its understanding of the other 99%. If a person began to regularly perform miracles, won the Randi challenge, and exhibited unexplained supernatural phenomena, every naturalist I know would be willing to abandon their 1% naturalistic ideal, and study the new, supernatural concept. But a theist, with their 1% of knowledge, only rarely will view facts and reason, and modify their beliefs, to the point of becoming a naturalist.

Theism fails to provide for any ability to modify its belief.

Faith So is each claim, “no god” vs “a god” a matter of faith? That somewhere out there in the other 99%, whatever a person happens to believe, may be confirmed, but in the meantime both parties are relying upon unsubstantiated assertions?

Here is the problem with that. Other than pantheists, the theist has made a non-faith based determination. They have eliminated, as possibilities, other deities as even remotely being possible in the other 99%. In the same way that a theist says, “Isn’t it possible there is a god, because of what you don’t know?” I could say, “Isn’t it possible there is a different god than the one you subscribe to, because of what you don’t know?”

Within this small scope of knowledge, the theist uses reason to eliminate all other god(s) except the one they hold onto. Can they do that, and yet claim I cannot, because of the vast unknown? What they are saying is two contradictory statements: “Within the 1% that we know, we do know that this god, and that god, and those gods, and these gods cannot possibly exist. You, the atheist, cannot say that god’s don’t possibly exist.” Yes, I can. I apply the same method the theist does to their god, with the same limitation of knowledge, and poof—there is no proof.

“We don’t know” does not equal the possibility of a God.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Eeny Meeny Miny Mo

I have been informed (more than once) that once my death is upon me, I will revert back the Christianity. I have thought on this…

Of course it is impossible to actually place oneself in this situation, unless you really have lived it. I have not. I do not know what my emotions will be like, my reasoning, my thought process, upon learning that I will die. I could certainly see how, at that moment, an afterlife would be very attractive.

As best I can, I imagined the cliché of “The doctor informs you, that you only have two months to live.” What would I do? What would I think? Who I turn back to Christianity, in the hopes of a perpetuality? In the hopes of seeing those I love again?

Frankly, my first thought would be, “I better get this right, since I only have a short time to figure it out!” It would be tempting to pick the religion that has the best heaven. One that I would enjoy, and would hope those about me enjoyed as well. In a selfish fit, it would be really tempting to pick the one with the worst hell. This way I could be certain that, even if wrong, I was not in the worst possible hell there is. I could breathe a sigh of relief, knowing somewhere out there is a worse hell.

But I would think what most would compel me is to pick the “right” one. Again, I don’t have a lot of time to do this, really only have one shot at it. Need to take the best possible shot there is at it.

I was born into Christianity. It was “correct” because it claimed to be correct, and it claimed to be exclusive, therefore by definition, all of the other religions are “incorrect.” Easy as pie. Now, outside Christianity, I see that it claims to be right and exclusive, but a variety of other theistic beliefs also claim to be right and exclusive. In fact, MOST theistic beliefs, by virtue of their defined god(s) exclude the possibilities of other god(s), and therefore cannot both be correct. One cannot hold to a deistic, impersonal god, and an interactive personal god at the same time. They exclude each other.

Being outside of any religion, I have to pick them on their merits alone. Just because I am told, “Over here! Over here! Pick me, and I will exclude the others” doesn’t help me one bit, because to the left of that religion is another, shouting, “No, pick ME!” and to the left of that religion, another shouting, “No, I am right!” and another and another. Guess what? You all claim to have the “in” on God, and the others are on the “out.” I don’t have time for that nonsense—I only have two months to get it right.

Now I only have time to look at the merits of the viability (there’s that word again!) of each religion as it stands or falls on its own. Christianity would be out. I know too much. I have studied too far to convince myself in the facts of that religion. And if I couldn’t convince myself, there is no way I could convince a God. In fact, having studied the basis of Christianity, all of the Abrahamic God(s) would get the boot. That God surely does not exist. No time can be wasted there.

But what about reincarnation? Hinduism? Taoism? Some African religion I haven’t even discovered yet? I don’t have the time to start investigating each and every one. And, from my philosophical study, and study of evolution, and study of how humans are so good at creating god(s), I would be skeptical of almost every theism there is.

I might see a selling point of a deistic force that started the universe in a mistaken belch, and has long since forgotten its faux pas. But what good does it do me to start believing that for the last two months of my life? I haven’t believed it before and there is no after-life there!

The safest bet, would be continuing to be convinced by the evidence I have before me, that there is no God, and continuing to exist in that manner. It’s like finding out that I only have 10 minutes to complete a test. No sense wasting it going over the answers I had written previously. Just because I thought I had 2 hours, and now I only have 10 minutes doesn’t mean to change the previous answers.

No, I don’t see me reverting back to Christianity, simply because time becomes more limited. Religions need to learn to rise or fall on their own, not just to “hedge a bet.”

Sunday, March 05, 2006

It's Not Like It's a Law

The question was raised--why I stated:

“Christianity felt the only way it could demonstrate its viability, was not though good works, not by demonstrating love, not by loving one’s neighbor, but by passing legislation.”

How can I say that? Because actions speak louder than words. Christians don’t show the viability of their belief by practicing them, they attempt to show them by passing laws about plaques and prayers. Look, if you don’t believe them in practice, why should I?

By ”viable” I mean relevant, actual, capable of success or continuing effectiveness, practicable. If someone tells me a method that is effective to implement a goal, it is exactly that—a successful way to reach the ends desired.

It is similar to someone telling me they have the best instructions to build a doghouse. Instructions that resulted in the winningest Doghouse ever made. And then they go and build a dog house completely different than these instructions. Do they really believe these are the best instructions? Naw.

What does the Bible say about determining the “viability” of Christianity? (I have no hesitation in looking at the Bible. While it is of human manufacture, Christians assure me that this is the basis of their belief. That their “absolute” morality is based therein. If I am told that is where to find Christianity—that is where I will look.)

Love Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to quickly figure out what the distinguishing characteristic of a Christian must be: Love for others, and following God’s commands.

“All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” John 13:35

“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar and the truth is not in him.” 1 John 2:3-4

“Whoever loves his brother lives in the light…” 1 John 2:10

“Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.” 1 John 3:13-14

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 1 John 3:17 (ouch.)

“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those how obey his commands live in him, and he in them.” 1 John 3:23

“Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8.

That seems pretty clear. If you are Christian, you love and obey God’s commands. If you don’t—you aren’t. Want to look at some of God’s commands? Sure!

“If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Luke 6:29-30

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” Matt. 5:44

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” 1 Tim. 5:8

“If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap…for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” 1 Tim. 6:8-10.

“Do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” Matt. 6:31

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin….” James 2:8

There is more, of course, by why point it out? You want to show the world the viability of Christianity? Start acting like Christians! It is hard for us to buy that you believe this stuff, when we see you living in million dollar houses, generating college funds for your children and driving new SUV’s. Oh, we do too, but we aren’t claiming the Bible as the absolute moral authority. You are.

We aren’t the ones mandating that Christians must do such-and-such, and act in a certain way. Your Bible is. We are the ones reading it, and seeing that you have no interest in following its mandates either. If you aren’t interested, why should we be? More importantly, why should we have to follow some of your rules, if you aren’t?

I see an Americanization of Christianity. As if rights generated by the Constitution and subsequent case law, somehow become “Christian” rights.

“We have a RIGHT to place the Ten Commandments on a plaque.” Give me a break. Can you point out this “right” in your Bible? “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil: live as servants of God.” 1 Pet. 2:15-16

Want to put non-believers in their place? Shut them up, as it were? Stop whining about monuments and rights, and start acting out the Ten Commandments!

You aren’t being oppressed by a prohibition of a plaque. Even if you were, you should be thankful for it. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3

As I have said before, and will say again. These are legislative acts that do not cost the Christian anything. What is a plaque? A prayer before a football game? Christians will scream out that their “rights” (where are those rights found in the Bible, again?) are being violated by not getting these things, but become silent when we point out their complete lack of Love for fellow human beings. Where is the outpouring of money to homeless shelters? Help for pregnant teenagers? Counseling for those in need? Support for neighbors?

Are Christians seriously saying that their lives are more fulfilled if a homeless person dies under a Plaque that reads, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”?

Christians don’t want to show the viability of Christianity as required in the Bible. That is too much. Oh, they will read these words, or hear them in a sermon, and nod their head, thinking, “Yeah, I need to do that more,” and then drive off in their new cars, worried about whether to go out to eat at a restaurant, or eat steak at home. That afternoon will be filled with clothes shopping, as this year’s fashions just came out.

I would love to see a story come out of Missouri that claims Medicaid and Medicare have ceased being necessary in that state, as the Christians have begun to demonstrate that Christianity is relevant. Real. Viable. That the health care system has been reformed, as Christians no longer need health care, now that James 5:13-15 and Mark16:18 have become actual to the Christians. That all the women have sold their gold, and pearls to help fund this endeavor. That abortions have dropped to nothing, because Christians are more than willing to adopt, raise and support children that are unwanted.

Is that what we see? Nope. What we see, is “We have a majority that believe in a God” (although what that “God” is remains vague) “so we will pass legislation. We have a right.” Why do I say that this is the only way Christians demonstrate the viability of Christianity? Because, as a whole, it is all Christians do!

(There a few, and far in-between exemptions. Curiously, those that are, seem to be the least interested in passing legislation, and would agree with me that it is ridiculous.)

So I started looking in the Bible about “passing legislation.” The Book is contradictory enough—wouldn’t surprise me if somewhere there is a statement that Christians must be actively involved in passing laws about plaques and prayers. What I found wasn’t very complimentary:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices…but you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Mt. 23:23

“Do not do what they do…Everything they do is done for men to see…they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important eats in the synagogues.” Mt. 23:3-6

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside fo the cup and dish, but inside are full of greed and self-indulgence.” Mat. 23:25

“Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!..on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Mat. 23:27-28

Jesus wasn’t too thrilled with people who passed laws, rather than practiced love. Does anyone really think that Jesus would be petitioning for this law to be passed, or would he be simply demonstrating love by working in the community?

Ever read Otto Koenig’s The Pineapple Story? He was a missionary in New Guinea when he decided to grow pineapples. He tells of the hard work, and labor put into the planting and tending to these plants, and waiting for three years before the first crop.

But the villagers stole them all before he could eat one! He began to impose his “rights” by placing signs, putting up fences, and preaching on the ills of stealing. None of it did any good, they kept stealing his pineapples. He became angrier and angrier, and finally obtained two mean dogs.

This kept the people out of his pineapples, but they also wouldn’t come visit him anymore because they were afraid of these dogs. At least his “rights” were secure. On furlough, he realized that because of imposing his “rights” he was losing his effectiveness as a missionary. Upon returning, he got rid of the signs, the fences and the dogs, and allowed the villagers to “steal” from him at will.

Only it was no longer “stealing” because he was starting to practice the love he preached about. The point was driven home forcefully when a villager eventually asked him, “Mr. Koenig. Did you become a Christian?”

Pass all the legislation you want. We see through it. All we can do is hope that someday you become a Christian.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A vote for God

Thanks to that sharp moderator over at Xnforums, I saw this article on Missouri attempting to pass legislation that says it recognizes a Christian God, and since the majority favors the expression of the belief of that God, the voluntary prayer and religious displays are not a coalition of the Church and State.

Admittedly, my first thought was this was ridiculous that Christianity felt the only way it could demonstrate its viability, was not though good works, not by demonstrating love, not by loving one’s neighbor, but by passing legislation.

I see a modern day Paul, writing a letter to the Jefferson Citians, “I thank God in my every remembrance of you, as to how you passed that legislation and really showed them who was boss!” Amazing that Christians would even bother wasting their time on this nonsense.

Apparently it wants to protect a majority? Then let’s protect the majority! What is the majority “God” so we know which one to favor? They have already determined “Christian” so all you pagans, wiccans, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Christian Scientists, Scientologists, pantheists, deists, and other non-Christian Gods need not apply.

According to this statistic the primary majority were Christians, followed by secular/non-religious. (“We’re No. 2! We’re No. 2!”) But, among Christians, the majority was Catholics! Are the Protestants of Missouri going to stand for a Catholic God? I think not!

According to Barna if go by denomination designation, Catholics win again with 22%. However, only 22% of those Catholics are born again, whereas 88% of the Assembly of God, who comprise only 3% of the total denominations, are born again. Whew! What statistic do we use to determine “majority”?

Is the majority by state? The opening paragraph states it is relying upon the God of our “forefathers.” Do we determine which forefathers we use, and then use that majority?

So now a state can “opt-out” of the mandates of the Federal Government, regarding separation of church and state because of a majority position. If a county, within Missouri, happens to have a majority of Protestants, can it “opt-out” of this Catholic God? Or vice versa? Or a city, within a county that opted-out of the State’s opting out, can it opt back in? And at this point are you even sure which “opt” that city is going with? What about a subdivision within the city?

One of the most dangerous concepts, the very fear of our forefathers, was rule by majority. Anyone heard of the checks-and-balance system? From Eighth grade government class? We all fear majority rule, that’s why Christians want to beat everyone to the punch, and get it first!

But if we are going to do this thing, let’s do it right. One thing about legislation, it likes to get its definitions right. What is the majority definition of “God” so we know which one to favor? Watching how tragic this idea is, the only humor I can find, will be watching them define the correct God!

If they start with the God of tradition, the Catholics will be pleased as punch. Of course, the Protestants will raise the cry of ”Sola Scriputra” and the battle will be off. Will the Charismatics prevail by use of force? They have more exercise, from jumping up and down. All the Baptists have are pot-luck dinners. Where will the Wesleyans fare against the stalwart Calvinists? They have the freedom of will, against the awful pre-determined force.

Want to show the “majority”? It’s easy. Forget your statistics. Forget your roll calls. Start to define “God.” It will only take a few words, and we will see the “majority” quickly become 1000 quibbling minorities.

Hopefully No. 2 will be there to pick up the pieces.