Friday, January 04, 2008

Define God

It is always fascinating to watch language develop. 20 years ago, if I included “xoxox” within a letter, people would immediately recognize it as “hugs and kisses.” However, if I included “lol” I would get a puzzled response. Communication would break down. Or if I said, 15 years ago, I “googled” my sister, people would wonder whether to throw me in jail, or what that meant.

We relate with language. With the simple modification of a few letters, a completely different depiction is made between “few” or “many” or “most” or “vast predominance” or “all.” Or the placement of particular words can change the meaning. We understand the contrast between “I love my wife” and “I love chocolate ice cream” despite both being a declaration of love, dependent upon the object of my affections.

A comment has stated the term “God” is meaningless, and I have reflected on that observation with a growing resignation it is correct. When a person states, “I believe in God” this provides so little information as to, in essence, provide none at all. It could be a primal source, or a creator. An absentee landlord or an invasive pest. Good, evil, indifferent—all are possibilities. Monotheistic, polytheistic, or triune. Frankly, stating the word “God” provides no insight whatsoever on what a person means by it.

At one time, I might argue at the least we all recognize a God as something that is “more.” In some way it is larger and greater than what we perceive as humans. But then I am informed of gods who cannot commit immoral acts. We obviously can. By fiddling with the definition of “more” we are left with the puzzle of which is “more”—the inability to be immoral, or the inability to be solely morel? We can wonder about the future. A god who predetermines cannot. Which is “more”?

We are also a society which focuses on people being individuals. We demand our “rights” to believe differently than others. If I want chocolate ice cream, and others want vanilla, we think we should be offered a choice. We want the choice of being Liberal or Conservative. To like plays over movies. Blondes, brunettes, redheads or bald. Our cell phones and iPods come in various colors, just to provide the consumer with choice to be individuals. Only to be covered by individual cell phone and iPod covers, and to download individual ring tones, songs, wallpapers, etc.

This individualism couples with the indistinct definition of God to create a murky soup where anything goes. “I think God is _____.” That blank can be filled with something, anything, or nothing; yet the theist requests we respect it--no one can prove it technically wrong. Everything becomes open for acceptance, since nothing can be proven out of the question. Time and time again, I hear as a defense for some attribute of god, “It is possible…” As if the best we can say is that some attribute of God, while not provable, and not even probable, we could hope it may be possible.

When I first deconverted, I landed on a certain place of the internet, teaming with what are best described as liberal Christians. “Who ARE these people?” I thought. “How are they so easily able to dismiss the Jesus of the Judgment seat, yet embrace the Jesus of ‘Love your neighbor’? How is it they are able to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to accept as divine, and which parts to ignore as man-made?” It was only after many discussions and some enlightenment on my part that I realized anyone who uses the Bible as a basis for their theology must, to some extent, play “pick and choose.” Either they must pick what verses trump others, or what verses no longer apply because of others or what books (*cough, cough* Tanakh) must be interpreted in light of other books.

Due to the make-up of the book—every Christian or Christian group comes to the point of choosing some part to take predominance over another. Liberal Christians are no better or no worse than any other.

And broadening my scope, in relating with other theists and their descriptions of their God, it has become this cosmic salad bar. Where people take their individual plates, with tongs and spoons, going ‘round about the salad bar, choosing which attributes of God they like, which ones they would never accept, and displaying indifference toward others.

Curiously, we then sit together and each theist picks apart the other theist, as to why they chose a particular item off the salad bar! Hello!? If you didn’t like the crunchy noodle things when you are picking out your salad—why is it any surprise you wouldn’t like the salad of your fellow person when they picked out the crunchy noodle things?

In the same way, due to this individualistic ability to define one’s own god, if you didn’t pick the god of hellfire, why is it any surprise you don’t prefer someone else’s god who has it? Yet you both are basically claiming your own preference for what you like on the salad bar, with no ability to prove the other person’s god exists or not. No one can demonstrate what the God salad is supposed to actually be.

I am coming to the conclusion we are uselessly communicating by utilizing the term “God.” It has become an entity molded around each person’s own inclination, with attributes affirmed or discarded as quickly as the individual’s taste changes. We are left with the speculative guess of “I think god is ___” and a blank which can be filled in to each person’s content.

With a complete inability to verify what god is (or is not) we are left with billions of opinions generated from billions of people as to how to define a god. None considered completely correct; none considered completely incorrect.

So how is it we determine our view of God (or lack thereof) is the best we can do with the information we have? What qualifications do we put in place to avoid picking what parts we like to assimilate, and discarding parts we do not like; to instead ascertain what most likely is regardless of our own personal desires?


  1. To be perfectly honest, I've had trouble with the premises of your last two posts. They both describe a Christianity that is not my own, but one I think I recognize.

    As I will mention at the least provocation, my background is in the Reformed faith, the Presbyterian Church (USA) in particular. I get labelled a "liberal Christian", but usually by those who don't understand the nuances of definition between "liberal" in a theological sense and "liberal" in a political one. While there are subtleties at work here, I could be described as more theologically liberal than those in the church you were brought up in. I am, however, much less theologically liberal than many self-described "progressive Christians".

    Regardless, my personal opinion is that Reformed Christianity, when it is being the most honest to itself, is to some degree agnostic (in the truest sense of the word: we don't know for certain). We cannot claim to know about metaphysical things with absolute certainty, but we have trust--faith--that it is so. That's what's beautiful about faith: I have the knowledge that I could be 100% wrong about this thing I cannot ever know fully in this lifetime, but I live in hope that it is true nonetheless.

    In the Reformed tradition, we understand that we as human beings are imperfect, and therefore anything that we touch is likely to get little smudges of imperfection on it. The most spectacular case in point is religion and what humankind has done in its name. One of the classic slogans of the Reformation is ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, secundu Verbum Dei, "the Church reformed, always being reformed, after the Word (John 1) of God". We understand that, in the words of the Westminster "Divines", "the synods and councils do err." We therefore acknowledge that we have to be open to change, but in a means that holds true to our core beliefs.

    We believe that Scripture is the best testament we have to Christ. Because it was written, compiled and translated (not necessarily in that order) by imperfect humans, it does seem to have a lot of those smudges of imperfection. We are given seemingly irreconcilable portraits of God, not just in the New Testament, but within the Tanakh itself. I can list off theories of why that may be, but it's mostly speculation on my part. The very real possibility is that those humans who set chisel to stone or quill to papyrus also were dealing with incomplete glimpses of God. I do believe that the Bible, en toto, in context and properly understood in terms of the inherent limitations of its medium, does tell a central story of creation-fall-redemption with a central character of that same Jesus who delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

    I think that when Christians (or people of any other faith for that matter) are being honest, then they will admit that, yes, there are bits of the Bible we emphasize more than others, but that's true of just about any literary work. I've always thought the "Song of Solomon" didn't necessarily belong in the Bible, and the lengthy lists of "begats" are of little-to-no theological value, and I don't stay up nights worrying about their inconsistencies.

  2. I agree, DagoodS, that any discussion about "God" must begin with the definition of what we mean by "God". It is my firm belief that the most important question of all in relation to God is, "Who is God?" On this all else hangs.

  3. I think that it would be much easier for people to define what God is not, rather than what God is. For instance, I think many conservative Christians can point to Allah and say that is not God. Or, in dealing with a tree-worshipper, immediatly conclude that the tree is not God.

    Yet when trying to define what God *is* ... well, that's where the confusion can come in. Calvinists seem to describe a different sort of God compared to Arminians (sp?). Liberal Christians define God differently than conservative ones. All pull from the same source, "picking and choosing" which verses trump the others.

    And yet, as you've asked before, by what criteria do people use to determine what God is (although you were using this question more inline with what criteria people use to determine why something is literal, and something else is not)? If we say that God is moral -- that's a useless judgement if God is the absolute source of morality, because then morality becomes whatever God says. If there is an outside criteria of morality that God does not define but rather is bound by, then it imposes a limit upon God. This outside criteria is "higher" than God, which would cause many people to dismiss this entity as God, because by their definition, nothing can be higher than God.

  4. Flycandler: Your post illustrates Dagood's point perfectly. You have your opinion, and unsurprisingly your own opinion is pleasing to you. But you've completely defined the religion out of your religion. It's just a pastime, no better or worse than being a football fan.

  5. Dagood: The multiplicity of idiosyncratic meanings is one excellent sense that renders "God" meaningless as a socially-constructed word.

    But there's another sense, at least as important, that we see in flycandler's post: An idiosyncratic definition of "God" that is itself vacuous and meaningless (as well as his definition of "agnostic").

    Flycandler's "god" simply labels his preferences and fantasies. But we already have perfectly good words, such as "preferences" and "fantasies"; adding "God" or "religion" or "Christianity" just labels his as narrow-minded fan of a particular work of literature.

    Now, there's nothing wrong per se with having preferences and fantasies. It's a free country, you can believe anything you please. But, by that very token, one must be suspicious of someone defending his preferences and fantasies: Why are you defending that which needs no defense at all?

    If you want to believe that a magical sky fairy will take you to the Big Rock Candy Mountain after you die, what business is it of mine? I really don't care until you attempt to use your fantasies to justify imposing your moral beliefs on others without a majority. And in this case, I'm going to object to such a justification even if I'm in total agreement with the moral beliefs: It's more dangerous to religiously justify an agreeable moral belief than it is to justify a disagreeable belief, because the very agreeability of the belief seduces one into later assenting to disagreeable beliefs.

    "I'm against the war in Iraq," says the theist, "God doesn't want us to gratuitously kill a million Iraqis to have a pretext for making defense contractors even richer." All well and good.

    "I'm against capital punishment, because God doesn't want us killing people without proximate cause." Ok, no problem there. This God guy seems pretty decent.

    "I'm against abortion, because God doesn't want us killing innocent babies." Well, this God guy is pretty good, maybe we shouldn't... Wait, what?

  6. there are bits of the Bible we emphasize more than others, but that's true of just about any literary work.

    See my article on Religion as literature.

  7. Barefoot, you're projecting your own biases regarding religion in general and Christianity in particular on what I wrote.

    I've never said that Christianity is not a religion. This is a talking point that evangelicals have been spouting a lot lately that confuses the hell out of me. "Christianity is not a religion, it's a personal relationship with Jesus" is nonsensical to me--a Christian. Of course it's a religion, just like Islam or Judaism or Buddhism or sun worship. That's why I described it in terms of the history of the religion. The people who developed these doctrines over the centuries acknowledged that "we could be wrong about all this, but we trust that we're right. And if it turns out we're wrong, we'll be reformed again." I understand that the Calvinist's view of God is different from the Arminian's, the liberal's different from the conservative's. As the kids say, "no shit, Sherlock". My view makes the most sense to me, but I acknowledge that none of us have it completely right and trust that we are all reasonably pointed in the right direction.

    Barefoot, the problem with your premise (and frankly Dagoods') is that it assumes that the only Christianity up for discussion is the kind that asserts 100% correctness in doctrine and takes a fundamentalist view on Biblical hermeneutics. Yes, these Christians exist (boy do they ever), but if the discussion is limited to that kind of Christianity, an awful lot of Christians get excluded from the conversation.

    Por ejemplo, I am offended at your assumption that I "attempt to use your fantasies to justify imposing your moral beliefs on others without a majority". I tend to be a First Amendment absolutist. I firmly believe in the separation of Church and State, and God knows I alienate myself from a lot of my fellow Christians because of it. In America, policy needs to be shaped in the terms of the Constitution, not the Bible. Now, should my personal ethics (regardless of the source) inform my political beliefs? Of course. "To promote the general welfare" dovetails nicely with "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick". However, "go make disciples of all nations" is incompatible with "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion", so in regards to matters of civil government, I defer to the Constitution, just as in matters of metaphysics, I defer to the Bible.

    Note that I have never used insulting or dismissive terms to describe any of the personal beliefs of the atheists on this blog. I would hope that the courtesy would be reciprocated.

    Can you come up with a definition of "agnostic" that is less "vacuous and meaningless"?

  8. No, flycandler, I am not assuming just a Christian fundamentalistic god. If I gave that impression, I apologize.

    I see this in ALL theisms—Christian and non. A propensity to find a god which is comfortable to the individual person. Oh, they may align with other individuals who find most of the same attributes of the same god pleasing to themselves—this is a very human trait. When we go to a foreign country, we gravitate towards those from our own. When we cheer on a particular team in a stadium, we sit together.

    So it is little surprise that those who find a god with a distinguishing attribute, find others with the same belief in the same god. Sure, you can trace the roots of your belief in your particular god through history with others who had similar beliefs, or over the course of history “reformed” those beliefs.

    The one thing no one can do is verify the correctness of those reforms. You use the terms yourself to demonstrate the problem—“speculation” “I believe” “my personal opinion.” I think it is honest of you—yet shows the problem. If your personal opinion says one thing about a god, and another person says another—how can we verify which is accurate?

    Flycandler: My view makes the most sense to me, but I acknowledge that none of us have it completely right and trust that we are all reasonably pointed in the right direction.

    Exactly! This is what each theist does—assume a god which makes “the most sense” to that person. Whether for comfort, or belief, or lifestyle—they are picking and choosing a god, NOT on what is—but on what they want.

    Let me get a bit personal to show what I mean. You have a god who accepts homosexuality. A god which does not declare homosexuality immoral. Yet you are a homosexual. How do you remove yourself from the natural bias in being homosexual and remarkably finding a god who equally accepts homosexuality?

    Likewise, I find many against homosexuals are railing against a sin by which they are not tempted. How easy to have a god who hates what the person is not tempted to do.

  9. flycandler

    I've never said that Christianity is not a religion.

    I didn't say that. I said you'd defined the religion out of your Christianity. Unconsciously, I'm sure. If you don't somehow believe that your religion really is the truth, it's just not a religion.

    What do you mean you "could be wrong?" Do you mean you could be wrong about religion in the sense that I could be wrong about the law of gravity? Or do you mean in the sense that I could be wrong that the moon is made of green cheese? It's pure weaselry.

    When a scientist says, she could be wrong, she means it in a very specific sense: There are logically possible experimental results that would falsify her theory. Do you mean anything specific in this sense or is this just empty pseudo-agnosticism?

    it assumes that the only Christianity up for discussion is the kind that asserts 100% correctness in doctrine and takes a fundamentalist view on Biblical hermeneutics.

    That's a pure straw man and you know it.

    I am offended at your assumption that I "attempt to use your fantasies to justify imposing your moral beliefs on others without a majority"

    Po' baby. I am suspicious in general of attempts to reason morally from the existence of God. Since I label your own definition as vacuous, that seems enough justification to assume I'm not speaking in this sense directly to you.

    Now, should my personal ethics (regardless of the source) inform my political beliefs? Of course.

    Your personal ethics. Yes, absolutely. Call them your own, and not God's, and you're on solid political ground.

    The primary meaning of "agnostic" is "uncertain by virtue of practical lack of theoretically available evidence": I'm agnostic about the distribution of intelligent life on other planets. I just don't have enough information to make a reasonable decision, but I have no reason to believe the information is unavailable in principle.


    I find many against homosexuals are railing against a sin by which they are not tempted.

    I'm not so sure (cough Ted Haggard cough).

  10. DagoodS,
    I believe you've hit on something here. The acid test for whatever "God" I believe in ought to be his/her ability and right to make me uncomfortable. I've certainly never seen any aspect of reality that doesn't, sooner or later, do that. Only in our imaginations are we without pain, without confusion, and without restriction. The sharp corners of reality have a unique way of cutting into us when we hold to them for any length of time.
    I hadn't considered it in just that light, but it's an excellent point.

  11. God -
    the one Supreme Being, the creator and ruler of the universe.

    Dagoods What qualifications do we put in place to avoid picking what parts we like to assimilate, and discarding parts we do not like; to instead ascertain what most likely is regardless of our own personal desires?

    When we do what is right at great cost to us. That is the qualification. Unfortunately the vast majority of Christians have that solipsistic view of God that you described in your post. Its when we behave as if we are certain we will be held acountable for what we do that qualifies the believer as a theist.

  12. Jenny
    Just saw your last post. You made my point, only better and then some.

    Only in our imaginations are we without pain, without confusion, and without restriction.

    Very true.

  13. I'm still mystified as to what point you're making, Dagoods. Of course you can't verify who is accurate when we're talking about something that is scientifically unverifiable. I am being totally honest with you when I say I don't know for sure and really can't, yet I have faith that it is true.

    There's a trend in evangelical Christianity in particular that purports dead certainty about everything. There's no mystery. This is exactly how the world works, cuz the King James says so. It's a tendency to take a modern event or phenomenon, go back to the Bible and twist it around to provide an "explanation". It's weird and I think harmful in that it discounts faith.

    You seem preoccupied with the fact that I cannot scientifically prove what I believe about something metaphysical, that I have faith in something without tangible proof. My reply is, well, yes of course. That's what faith is about. Can I have faith in the moon being made of green cheese? Yes, but then you can show me a sample of rocks brought back from the Apollo missions. You can scientifically disprove it. Can I have faith in a God that transcends the observable world and who loves us? Yes, and you can't disprove it. It's actually the same reason I object to the ridiculous "Intelligent Design" movement. It's unscientific and it's bad religion.

    So tell me, did we go through all this just to get back to the point of "some people have faith in things that cannot be scientifically verified"?

  14. Flycandler,

    You want your faith and facts, too. (As in “You want your cake and eat it, too.”) If we can’t verify who is accurate, then anything said about God could or could not be correct. You are left in a position where one person can claim there is one God, and you can neither say that is true or false. Another can say there are five (5) gods, and we equally can neither say that is true or false. And another can claim one god with three separate manifestations and we still cannot say whether that is true or false.

    How can we say anything positive or negative about God, if it is impossible to verify as accurate? Further, how could you ever say someone is wrong (or correct, for that matter) about god?

    That was my point—by making god simply a matter of individual taste, justified by the labeling of “faith” as a “grand concept” we ultimately end up reducing god to being whatever each individual person wants him/her/it/them/none/some to be. The fact that 100 persons or 100,000 or 100,000,000 can agree on most of some of the concepts of god do not remove the problem—it is simply made up.

    The reason I say you want your facts too, is despite a claim of individual faith, you make positive assertions about what this God is, as compared to what this God is not. You claim “Scripture is the best testament we have to Christ.” You claim the Bible, provides a picture of creation, fall, redemption with the central character of Jesus who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Elsewhere you affirm a triune God, made up of God the Father, Jesus the son, and the Holy Spirit.

    These are all positive assertions to the exclusions of other god(s). You may recognize the possibility of being incorrect, yet how could you even know that, if you cannot know if a triune god may or may not be accurate?

    Do you accept Allah as equally viable? Hinduism? Aztec Gods? Roman Gods? Yet people all had (have) faith in these gods. What makes your faith or affirmation any stronger (or any weaker) than any of these?

    I am not looking for “dead certainty.” I am looking for “more probable.” Given the information we have—what is more likely to be true. If it is truly impossible to verify anything about God, than there is no such thing as “more likely to be true.” Anything goes. Yet what I see in theists is a propensity to make assertions about what God is (or is not.) And when we attempt to inspect those assertions, it is defended as a matter of personal preference. It is the god of “Well, I believe _______” and then defended as supported by faith.

    How do you determine your faith is “more accurate” than others’ faith in something you admit cannot be verified as accurate? How do you know God doesn’t hate homosexuals if it cannot be verified what God hates or likes or even cares about?

  15. Dagoods, what I keep trying to say is that I don't necessarily want or need to "verify" anything about faith. Faith is not an argument to be won. It is the ability to believe in something NOT in spite of the available facts, but when there are no facts available either way.

    Look, this is where I think your projection gets out of hand: I do not claim to have a "better" or "more correct" religion than anyone else. As far as I know, the Greek gods of yore are still living out their divine soap opera up on Mount Olympus (I've flown over it and didn't notice anything, but then I'm a mere mortal). My faith tradition is a confessional one. I can tell you what I believe, who we are and what we intend to do in the world, but that's ultimately it. You can take it or leave it--if you feel you want to join us, fantastic; if not, I wish you well on your personal search for truth.

    Again, I'm not quite understanding where you and I disagree on the fundamental point: faith is personal and the faiths of any two people are not identical. Yeah, so......?

  16. This is THE defining issue in relation to God.

    If we claim a personal God, that God must be knowable. If he is knowable, that knowledge must be based on something outside my own head - NOT because I need to justify my knowledge to anyone else, but because I need to know that I am not worshipping myself and my own ideas. For the human, this knowledge must involve the evidences gathered by some combination of sense, intellect, and spirit.

    DagoodS, as you've pointed out, a God who never crosses me, never interrupts me ought to be extremely suspect - to me. Putting faith in a God who is little more than a glorified super-me raises questions not about faith, nor about the basis of faith, but about what I have placed my faith IN. What is it and how have come to put faith in it?

  17. Flycandler,

    If you don’t want or need to verify anything about faith—why bother responding? (I am not saying that because I don’t want you to respond—I am saying that because comments you have made both on my blog and Jim Jordan’s would seem to indicate you DO care.)

    For example, the best example I can give for my lack of need or want to verify my position on surround sound processors is my lack of posting on blogs, forums and websites dealing with surround sound processors. If I cared enough; I would. If I don’t; I won’t.

    flycandler: It is the ability to believe in something NOT in spite of the available facts, but when there are no facts available either way.

    Again, this flies in the face of things you have previously stated. You make factual statements; you use factual terms:

    “Scripture” – what scripture? What canon? How had you derived a method to include certain writings or exclude certain writings?

    “Christ” – is he historical? Is he completely mythical? Is he a mixture of history and myth? How do you determine the difference between the historical and mythical.

    “Christ who delivered the Sermon on the mount”—a statement indicating a historical Jesus who literally stated Matt. 5-7. Or is this an opinion where “no facts are available”?

    Yet I see facts. Facts such as copies, and early church father’s quotes, and higher criticism, and the synoptic comparison, and comparison to other Christian writing, both canonical and non-canonical. It is one thing to claim there are no facts available; it is quite another to ignore facts while making the claim.

    And quite a third to be making factual claims yourself and then claim there are no facts available either way.

    flycandler: Look, this is where I think your projection gets out of hand: I do not claim to have a "better" or "more correct" religion than anyone else.

    So you agree a God who considers homosexuality the worst blasphemous sin, worthy of eternal torture for all participants to be equally “correct” as your particular God? That a God who claims, “Hate all; Kill as many as you can” is no better and no worse than your particular God? That blood sacrifice to continue the sun on its course is as good and as correct as your particular God?

    I don’t think it is a huge leap of projection to think most humans assume a theistic belief they feel is “more correct” than other theistic beliefs. (Please, please, PLEASE note I did not say, “All other theistic beliefs.”) That is the reason they assume it. But to be fair, it may be you believe ALL theistic beliefs are equal, since you are no more correct than anyone else.

  18. jennypo,

    So what method do you use to avoid creating a “super-me” god? How does one use “sense, intellect and spirit” to make that determination? How have you come to put faith in your particular God

  19. I think we're both dancing around the points we're trying to make.

    Yes, faith is a deeply personal thing, and it is also something that can help people relate to their world and to each other. Because I believe I do not have to "save your soul" by convincing you to believe exactly as I do, I simply wish to tell you how I see things, listen to you tell me how you see things, and then we can compare notes and hopefully learn something from each other. I tend to drive more conservative Christians crazy by being open to people of other faith traditions (or of none at all) and being willing to respectfully discuss them. I know from both knowledge of the science of psychology and personal experience that no two people will view anything in precisely the same way, never mind religion.

    That having been said, I don't think all faiths are equal. Not by a long shot. I forget who said it, but the quotation roughly goes along the lines of "your right to swing your fist through the air ends at my nose". When someone's faith compels him or her to pray at certain times of day, I don't make a value judgment. When someone's faith compels him or her to murder someone else, then yes, I have a serious problem with it. As I'm sure you'll agree, basic universal notions of ethics do not have to be religious in origin. And yes, the world's great religions have an awful lot of mayhem in their holy texts, not to mention their histories, and have a lot of explaining to do. You know the arguments that theists make about all the horror that certain atheists have wrought, and I reject them. A lot of horrible things people do can be seen in terms of human nature and how it reacts to power, zealotry, greed, and ambition, regardless of the stated reasons.

    When I talk about "facts", what I mean is that ultimately, my faith in God is about something transcendental, something that cannot be observed scientifically, so discussion about it in scientific terms is dodgy at best. Yes, I do talk about God in theological terms, which perform a lot of metaphysical shorthand--they are broadly agreed-upon assumptions about concepts that are ultimately unscientific.

    I don't delve into definitions as much because I know that you know what the church has traditionally meant by them. Otherwise, we could spend the next hundred years defining terms.

    A "problem" with Christ is that he represents the borderlands between the physical and metaphysical for Christians.

    There are scientifically proveable facts (through the archaeological and historical record): there was a Roman province called Judaea, a historical center of Judaism, with cities called Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem. It had a governor in the first century named Pontius Pilate. It is scientifically feasible (though difficult in practice) to develop a test to determine whether during the first century there was someone who considered himself a Nazarene and belonged to a carpenter's family and talked and acted like a rabbi.

    Where we get into the weeds is when we start introducing the untestable, unscientific, metaphysical elements. There's no way to test whether or not this individual was the physical incarnation of a metaphysical God. There's no way to test whether or not this individual somehow ascended onto a higher plain after he died. As far as I see it, faith begins where science necessarily ends.

    Again, I'm just telling you what I think. I don't expect you to think or believe the exact same thing; I just thought it might be useful to compare notes.

  20. Flycandler: It should be noted that "not precisely the same" is a much different concept than "completely different"; you seem to be employing these ideas almost identically.

  21. Jennypo

    "Only in our imaginations are we without pain, without confusion, and without restriction."

    There is another way of looking at it.

    Pain is inevitable, Suffering is optional.