Friday, February 29, 2008

Questions on Morality

Over at rob’s rants the pastor has written a meandering and difficult to follow entry in which apparently he believes atheists say “truth is relative.” I will leave it to the reader to make heads-or-tails of what he is claiming.

At the end he asked a few questions. I’m a little surprised this individual would reach the level of a senior pastorate in a church and never encounter these very basic questions, or contemplate them from an alternative perspective. Giving him the benefit of the doubt—that this is a genuine inquiry, I will go ahead and answer them:

Does it exist (moral absolutes)?

The short answer: no.

Is it the same for everyone? Absolute?

Here is where I develop some confusion. What does he mean by “it”? Presuming he means “absolute morality,” then, by definition it would have to be the same for everyone. (And that would include any gods, too!)

The problem within the absolute vs. relative morality is that two people very often talk past each other, because (and I cannot emphasize this enough)--they define “moral” differently. We often see the conversation:

Skeptic: What God did in the Tanakh was immoral.
Christian: Do you believe in Absolute morality?
Skeptic: No.
Christian: Then you can’t say what God did was immoral, because that is just your opinion.

The misunderstanding which is occurring here is in the definition. The Christian defines “morals” as something which is absolute. Therefore, if the skeptic applies something (whatever that “something” may be) to god, if that “something” is not absolute, in the Christian’s mind, the skeptic cannot be talking about “moral” because contained within the definition of moral is absolute.

Imagine I defined swans as “white birds.” By definition—it is impossible to have a black (or red or blue) swan. Why? Because once it is no longer white—it is no longer a swan. In the same way, we understand an Absolute Moralist mandates morals to be absolute. We understand if we apply a non-absolute standard, they think it can’t be a system of morality. Because our system of morality is different.

A relativist considers morals to be a breach of an accepted code of behavior. We do NOT require the word “absolute” to be contained within the definition of immorality. The question we ask to determine “is it moral?” is the search for the accepted code. NOT whether there is some absolute contained within the system.

More and more I see Christians who just don’t get it. Ask us both to define morality—you will see the difference. Now, there may be an argument as to which is the more accurate definition—THAT is an interesting discussion. But until the difference is seen, the conversation will not get off the ground.

Is it different for everyone? Relative?

Here I assume “it” means “system of morality? In the end—yes. It is different for everyone. As humans we reach consensus through interaction. We may even have vast groups who all agree on a moral code. But we recognize this is a consensus which can change. Think of the stigma of divorce in our moral system. That has changed within our lifetimes.

The danger here is that the person holding to absolutes often believes this renders morals to be simply a matter of individual taste. Everyone can do what they want. Nonsense—we all mutually succumb to authorities in which we voluntarily inhibit our desires for the good of the society, other individuals and ourselves.

Think of it as a four-way stop sign. We don’t “do what we want” at the intersection, because we recognize by doing so—others will as well. We voluntarily give up a few seconds of time in order to better society, others and ourselves.

If moral absolutes do exist, what are they?

Good question. Ask someone who holds to absolutes. Start with polygamy. Move to slavery. Then ask when is it acceptable to kill a baby for the father’s sin which was absolved. That one is a tricky absolute, let me tell ya!

If they [moral absolutes] do not exist, what are the standards we live by?

I think the author meant a different question. I think the question was supposed to be “What are the standards we should live by?”

I would argue we should live by the Platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated. Clearly as a society we see that will raise conflicts and we have passed laws to balance the desires as compared to the greater benefit of the society. But in an individual capacity, living with other individuals—this is a good basic rule.

The reason why would be based upon aversion and social contract theory.

If they [moral absolutes] do not exist, but there are undeniable standards by which we all live, why listen to them?

I don’t think there are undeniable standards by which we all live. A glance through any newspaper of a foreign country should dispel that idea.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Now that’s original

When an inerrantist is pressed, we often hear the battle cry, “Well, I only believe the originals were inerrant.”

Curiously, the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy does not quite arrive at this conclusion. The Statement brushes it by claiming the autographs (originals) are inspired, and “copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.” (Not having the original, it doesn’t do us much good to say “where they agree with what we don’t have, they are the same as the original.”)

Humorously though, the long-winded statement designed to persuade toward inerrency, loses its entire argument by conceding: “the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.”

That’s a fancy way of saying “We see errors in what we have.”

And I have always wondered, when the statement says
Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.
What “apparent inconsistencies with no convincing solution” these esteemed authors were referring to. If they couldn’t find a “convincing solution”—why should I believe there is one?

This is a bit like saying, “I bought a lottery ticket, and while I don’t have it anymore, I am certain the numbers on it match last night’s multi-million dollar drawing.” Funny how they don’t give out money on such a claim!

But when the topic switches to Textual Criticism, I am assured by astounding percentages, we have narrowed the field to 99.5% of the original. The last bastion is that persnickety .5% we can’t quite cover.

Er…hello? If our copies are 99.5% accurate to the originals (a completely speculative face-flop in the mud, in my opinion) and these copies we have include errors—doesn’t that mean the originals have errors too?

When it comes to errors, the poor copies are blamed. When it comes to integrity, the copies are lauded. Why is it I feel someone wants to have their cake and eat it too?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

What if You’re Wrong?

What if You’re Wrong?

Recently Jake & Elwood Blues asked the question What if you are Wrong? The Barefoot Bum responded with an excellent blog on the subject.

Here’s my .02…

I am wrong all the time. Just yesterday I made the perennial mistake of choosing the wrong grocery line. In one was a woman with what looked like 15-20 items and in the other was a woman with only a few. I chose to stand behind the woman with a few. Who needed a price check. On the last item in the store, apparently. I watched the other woman complete her purchases and walk out while still waiting.

What happened when I was wrong? I had to wait a little longer and exert some patience.

In my professional life, I am faced with clients who have significant problems. The worst thing I could do is not file their suit in time. To miss the Statute of Limitations. (We typically call this “Blowing the Statute.”) It is malpractice, and will cost my client the value of their case. In some situations, literally millions of dollars. And I am very likely to be sued for malpractice.

What happens if I am wrong? I will potentially harm lives, and suffer financial lose.

See, inherent in the question “What if You’re Wrong?” is a fear of the consequences. The lesser the fear; the lesser the worry if you are wrong. If being wrong means you have to turn your car around because you missed the turn—this is of little consequence. If being wrong means your child is severely harmed or killed, this has far, far greater consequences.

We all know what this question means when posed in the theist/non-theist debate. It is a question about an after-life that divides people between eternal reward and eternal damnation. I have never seen a Universalist ask this question. I don’t recall a non-believer asking this question. Why? Because the consequences are not as great as to a theist thinking a person could either miss out on heaven, or be damned to hell.

They aren’t asking me, “What if you’re wrong?” when I question the authenticity of Mark 16:9-20. Or if I am a Calvinist as compared to a partial Calvinist. The fear here is “What if you are wrong about hell?”

But here is the problem—in order for us to consider the consequences significant enough to contemplate the question we would have to believe the consequences actually exist. First you have to convince us hell exists before we worry about the question, “What if you’re wrong?”

Imagine tomorrow a man in a sandwich board boldly claiming, “The End is Near” accosts you, proclaiming a nuclear war will happen within 30 days, and you must prepare a bomb shelter. As you pass by, thinking this fellow is a nut; he shouts out, “What if You’re Wrong?” Good question. If you are then you will seriously regret not barricading yourself in a bomb shelter.

The obvious problem is that you probably don’t believe it. You are not concerned about “What if You’re Wrong?” because you don’t believe the consequences.

We see this all the time. A person who has been hurt in a relationship will advise caution to others. Why? Because they have greater empathy to the question, “What if You’re Wrong?” The consequences are more poignant to them. Or a person who has had bad sushi. They will recommend you avoid a particular restaurant.

To the theist; we don’t care about being “wrong” because we are persuaded we have a snowball’s chance in hell of there being a hell for a snowball to be in.

To the non-believer: this is actually a genuine question out of concern for us. Believe it or not.

I was once a firm believer in hell. The eternal torment, darkness, screaming pain of being burned with no comfort. It was as real to me as the fact I was losing my hair. An unavoidable reality.

Obviously I did not want anyone going there. And I could not imagine jeopardizing one’s eternal future by daring to believe anything but.

It was as if we had a time machine that could take us back to September 10, 2001. And we were running around, telling the U.S. government to restrict air travel because of the terrible tragedy that was about to occur. And being mostly ignored. Telling people in New York to NOT go to work tomorrow. And being mostly ignored.

Telegramming airlines with no success. Taking out T.V. ads, and radio spots trying to warn the world of what was about to happen. And being treated like a man in a sandwich board with the sign, “The End is Near.” And fully expecting (because we know the future) that on the evening of September 11, 2001 to have the world lamenting, “Oh, if only we had listened.”

In the exact way, I expected people I knew to, in 100 years or so, saying “Oh, if only we had listened.” To realize the full consequences of being wrong.

When, as a Christian, I asked, “What if You’re wrong?” It was because I was scared of hell and thought you should be too. The fact you did not believe in hell was both incomprehensible to me, and compelled me to even more firmly convince you of the existence, so you too could be as afraid as I am. (There is the threat The Barefoot Bum is talking about.)
The person who asks, “What if You’re Wrong?” is more scared of the consequences than the person being asked.

At one time I looked forward to the Judgment seat. While I would regret all the things I did incorrectly—I was entering an eternal reward. As a new deconvert, I figured if there was a judgment, I would tell God exactly all the things I did in my search for him (to satisfy myself, if no other reason) and ask why he failed to respond.

Now? If (and it is only a momentary passing fantasy) there could possibly be a judgment before a god or gods, I would merely shrug and say, “Commend me or condemn me; it makes no difference. Either way I did the best I could with what knowledge I had.”
“What if I am Wrong?” I have to fear the consequences before I fear the question.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pastor Blogs

A month ago I wrote on a situation in which Vinny caused a Pastor to shut down all comments on his blog. Vinny managed to do it with just one comment!

Recently I have been observing another Pastor Vs atheist discussion that is equally amusing. Hold on to your seat…

Pastor Rob Singleton wrote a blog entry entitled Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby! and our friend, The Barefoot Bum posted a few comments. The Barefoot Bum then posted a blog entry Evolution and Chance responding to some of the comments in Rob Singleton’s blog. Rob Singleton also posted a few comments in The Barefoot Bum’s blog.

Rob Singleton then published We’ve Brought Sexy About Halfway Back! in which I posted a few comments. Rob Singleton suggested this particular blog was “also for discipleship, pastoring, shepherding, church chat etc.” and asked we retire to his new blog, rob’s rants in which to have believer/non-believer discussions.

rob’s rants is now posting new blog entries which consist of comments submitted to The Barefoot Bum’s blog called A Response to ‘Evolution and Chance,’ Let’s Just Give it Time, and Do as I say, not as I do.

If you ever watched the Television series SOAP--the show always started off with a rapid-fire cacophonic history between the numerous individuals and ended with “Confused? You won’t be after this episode of SOAP!” That is what I feel in trying to follow and recount the interaction occurring here.

However, these two instances have raised a question for me—what is the moral thing to do when it comes to Pastor Blogs?

Years ago, if you were looking for a new church, you had four sources. Word-of-Mouth, the newspaper, the Yellow pages, or driving by one. The problem with the last three is you never really knew what the church was like until you attended. Oh, titles like, “Our Lady of ___” gave away the Catholicism and “First ____ of Local Town” usually designated Baptist or Methodist. And years ago the various denominations were demarked both within the title and within the service. But there has been a blurring. Now “Baptist” may no longer mean conservative. And we have titles like “Grace Fellowship” or “Local Town Community” or even more non-descript like “Riverside Church.”

Luckily churches have discovered the internet, and we now have a fifth and far more valuable tool in which to find a church—its website. The church website has directions, and service times, and pastor names, and core beliefs, and programs offered and history and interesting tidbits. And many Pastors, in utilizing the new technology of the web, have started up…a blog.

Blogs are peculiar things. (You know this; you are reading one.) They can contain nude pictures, or pictures of one’s grandchildren. Recipes for guacamole or spell incantations. Some blogs are replete with expletives, and if I look hard enough, I imagine I could find a blog written in Olde English. Some moderate comments, some allow comments to fly free.

Anyone who has read me knows I respect a blog-creator’s desire to limit or expand their blog to whatever their little heart desires. If you want to start a blog in which you only talk about Salsa, and no comment can contain the letter “e”—you go right ahead.

But of course, one should think about the purpose of having a blog. Despite their differences, all blogs have a purpose. It may be to vent. It may be one line in order to post comments elsewhere. It may be to share family secrets. But it is something. Because a person has to actively take the time to create it at one point.

I wonder if many Pastors think through the purpose of their blog. Is it something to keep up with technology? Is it to continue their speaking/writing craving in a different forum? Who is it designed to reach? Who do they want to read it?

And if I come across a Pastor’s Blog, are they expecting or dreading my input? Look, I am not completely stupid—I get a blog which informs me is a place for parishioners to share prayer requests is most certainly not a place for me to come blazing in with some long comment about Textual Criticism. Or a daily devotional blog is not looking for an evolution/creation debate.

Yet what about a blog in which a pastor writes how they have studied science, and then displays the most uninformed or out-of-date position? Can I respond? Should I respond? How can I tell whether they want to just read themselves write as compared to actually interacting with non-believers?

Or when I read a Pastor’s Blog which says, “their hearts are malfunctioning” or “they insisted on being the boss over God” or “they are irrational and unthinking” or “they think they know better than God” and I realize the “they” the Pastor is talking about is ME!—is it moral for me to respond? Can I post a comment and say, “perhaps you might like to look at this from a different point of view.”

How can I tell if the Pastor is looking to preach to the choir? Or talk with the world?

So the question I ask you (and this is up for grabs): If you are a non-believer, when do you think it is appropriate to enter a Pastor’s Blog and say, “Wait a minute…”?

I think, if the comments are open, and the Pastor is discussing what non-believers say, do or think, it is appropriate for me to post a comment. One thing about truth—it can withstand the scrutiny. It may not persuade; it may not even prevail. But it is not afraid of discussing with the other side.

If the Pastor thinks they hold truth, there is no reason to fear postings by non-believers. I know the rhetoric—“Protect the flock,” “Many Christians are not mature enough to debate these issues,” “We focus on discipleship.” Hornswoggle. If you are leading these people, it is partly your responsibility to lead them in the right direction. It is up to YOU to research, study, discover and present your position to explain why the non-believer is incorrect. It is not very persuasive to avoid the topic. (And coincidentally, the very people who are mostly likely reading you are prone to believe you anyway! You have a ready, willing and able choir happy to sing out how right you are with but minimal response! And still you are worried?)

As for pastors, the question I wonder is this: Do they want to about us; or do they want to talk with us?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Today is Not a Good Day

Did you ever have a great pet? One that fulfilled every family member’s expectations of what a great pet is?

We have one—Alix. A chocolate lab. She’s the type of dog that the kids could pull her ears, or try to ride her, or take her on walks, and she would look at you with those chocolate eyes shining with love. The kids would fight over who got to sleep with Alix each night.

Being a lab she loved the water. We took her up north and she would hardly get out of the lake. At night she would splay out in the middle of the living room, snoring loudly. Exhausted from swimming, splashing and fishing. (Since she refused to put her nose in the water, she wasn’t very good at fishing.)

But Alix is 14 years old. (My oldest child is 15, so you can see all three kids have never known life without her.) And she has not been doing well for the last few months. She has had a few episodes showing her age.

This morning was the worst. Today it is time. So we called the vet at about 11 a.m. and scheduled an appointment for 4:45 p.m. As I type this, we prepare to take Alix in to be put to sleep.

Needless to say, this has not been a good day for the kids. There has been many a tear-filled eye in my house. Nothing will break your heart more than see your 8-year-old drawing a picture of her and “laxe” (my daughter is dyslexic) with great big wet marks on the paper where the tears have dripped off her nose.

Little hard to get excited about the theistic/non-theistic debate right now. Because today has not been a good day…

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why I don’t trust Acts of the Apostles

At least not for history. On a number of occasions, I have made reference to historical errors within the book of Acts as they pertained to the discussion at hand. For a handy reference (at least for me) I thought I would compile them.

First—a note of caution. At times people categorize Acts as “history” whereas the question of which Dewey Decimal to assign to the book is not resolved. Simply because one happened to find “Gone with the Wind” in the historical section of the Library, and it even includes historical events, does not mean the author intended the book to be taken as actual history.

I often see the argument (made out of hyperbole), “If you don’t accept Acts as history, then you can’t accept any ancient writing as history ‘cause that would be a double standard.” Posh and nonsense. First of all, we don’t know Acts was considered history. Second, we treat various historical books with varying degrees of skepticism. There is a difference between “Gone with the Wind” and an 8th Grade History book’s account of the American Civil War and General Sherman’s personal diary. In the same way, we don’t treat ancient documents with an all-or-nothing approach, either.

We don’t know what the author intended the book to be. Was it a Greek Novel? It shares many of the same elements as such. Was it an argument for Christianity? Was it solely intended for the in-group of Christianity? Was it an argument against the Jewish roots of Christianity for a Roman audience?

We don’t know where the author obtained his information. We don’t know when it was written. We are not certain it was this fellow “Luke.” It is not until 180 C.E. Irenaeus attributes the Book to to Luke (and due to the similarities, I presume the author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts to be the same author).

The famous “we” passages do intonate the author to be a one-time traveling companion of Paul, and perhaps it was the Luke of Philemon 1:24. The fact the pseudo-Pauline writers of Colossians (4:14) and 2 Timothy (4:11) both mention Luke only bolster the connection between the two. (Although the author of 1 Timothy demonstrates knowledge of the Gospel of Luke when s/he quotes Luke 10:7 in 1 Tim. 5:18.)

However, the author’s record of Paul’s speeches is unlike the doctrine we find in Paul’s letters. The author has Paul portrayed as a great orator in such passages as Acts 17:22-31, yet Paul indicates his presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. 2 Cor. 10:8-10. Further, the speeches contain little of Paul’s doctrine of Justification. (Once in Acts. 13:39)

So here’s a list--a few will have a link or two for further study (I will not address the additional errors in the Gospel of Luke.)

1) Acts has Jesus telling the disciples to stay in Jerusalem (1:4) whereas Mark (16:7), Matthew (28:16) and John (21:1) all have Jesus telling and meeting his disciples in Galilee. I wrote on the fictional nature of this mass move here.

2) Acts does not know who the High Priest was at the first Jewish accusation of the Disciples. Acts 4:6. This makes chronology of the claim of persecution difficult. I touch on the issue here.

3) Acts 5:36-37, has Gamaliel putting Theudas and Judas of Galilee in the wrong order which appears to be a misunderstanding of Josephus’ account.

4) Acts has a mob stoning Stephen (7:58) whereas the Gospel of John (18:31) claims it is unlawful for the Jews to put anyone to death.

5) Acts contradicts Paul’s account of visiting Jerusalem three and 17 years after Damascus in Galatians 1:17-2:1. The most common resolution of this contradiction is to ridiculously place a three (3) year interval between 9:19 and 9:20. For example. I wrote on this problem here.

6) On a related note, Acts has Paul persecuting the Church in Jerusalem (8:1, 9:1) yet Paul says he was not known by face in Judea. Gal. 1:23. Only by reputation.

7) Acts chronologically places a famine (11:27-28) followed by the death of Herod (12:1-23) The order is actually reversed: Herod died in 44 C.E. whereas the famine was in 46-47 C.E.

8) Acts has Ananias the Priest talking to Felix the procurator. (24:1-3). Since Ananias was High Priest from 46-52 CE. and Felix was the Ruler from 52-60 C.E., the only year in which this could occur was 52 C.E. Yet Acts says Festus replaced Felix “two years later.” (24:27) Festus replaced Felix in 60 C.E., not 54 C.E.

(Edited to Add: I am wrong on this one as demonstrated in the Comments.)

9) There are differing portrayals of the people with whom Paul deals (in 15:2-21 James is the mediator between conservative Pharisees on one side and Peter, Paul and Barnabas on the other. However Paul records in Gal. 2:9 to be sided with Barnabas against Peter, James and John.)

10) The decision of the apostolic conference differs between 15:22-29 and Gal. 2:10

11) Why did Paul have to defend his Gentile mission against the “three pillars” (Gal. 2:1-10) if Peter (one of the pillars) had already been given such a mission in 10:1-11:18?

12) One of the intriguing aspects of Acts is how it incorporates common Greek themes regarding gods. For instance, one theme was that the opening of prison doors or the magical releasing of prisoners, (such as that found in 5:17-20, 12:6-11, and 16:23-30) was a sign of divine intervention.

Or the fact the phrase “kick against the goads” (26:14) was used for more than 500 years previously as a saying about a person arguing against a god. Peter Kirby has written an outstanding article outlining these themes. (And it should be noted the author of Acts demonstrates at least a passing knowledge of Euripides when he quotes him at 17:28)

Acts demonstrates a propensity to be anti-Jewish. It is almost exclusively used as a claim the Jews (not the Romans) persecuted the early church—yet when one reads it as a whole it is demonstrated the Jews are perpetually portrayed as the “bad guy” and the Romans are portrayed as the “good guy.”

In Acts 9:23 it is the “Jews” who plotted to kill Paul in Damascus. Yet in 2 Cor. 11:32 Paul records it was the local authorities; not the Jews who were attempting to arrest him.

 Sadducees imprison Peter and John. (4:1) No Roman authorities involved.
 Sadducees imprison Apostles. (5:17-18) No Roman authorities involved.
 Jews flog apostles. (5:40)
 Jews seize Stephen (6:9) and stone him (7:58). No Romans involved.
 Jews persecute all Christians (8:1-3) including in foreign countries (9:1-2)
 Jews in Damascus seek to kill Saul/Paul, not non-Jewish government. (9:23)
 Herod (Jew) arrests Christians, kills James, imprisons Peter. (12:1-2)
 Roman leader wants to learn about Christianity, but Jewish sorcerer opposes Paul and Barnabas. (13:6-8)
 Jews oppose Paul and Barnabas. (13:45) whereas Gentiles welcome them. (13:48) Jews stir up local governments against Paul and Barnabas (13:50)
 Jews stir up Gentiles against Paul. (14:2)
 Jews go from Antioch and Iconium to Lystra to stir up crowd against Paul. (14:19)
 Local governments beat and imprison Paul and Silas. (16:22-24) Curiously, the Magistrates then order them to be released (16:35) and then attempted to appease them (16:38)
 Jews harass Paul and Silas in Thessalonica. (17:5) Then travel to Berea to pursue them. (17:13)
 Jews oppose Paul in Corinth (18:6) accusing him before the local Government. (18:12) However the Roman Government supports Paul. (18:14-16)
 A non-Jew, Demetrius stirs up trouble against Paul. (19:23-26). A Jew, Alexander, is unsuccessful in calming the crowd. (19:33-34). The Roman City Clerk, however succeeds quite easily. (19:41)
 Jews plot against Paul. (20:3)
 Jews stir up crowd against Paul in Jerusalem. (21:27) Roman authority saves Paul. (12:30-32)
 We enter a familiar, repetitive scene. The Jews seek to kill Paul (23:10, 12; 24:1; 25:7) while the Roman Authority wishes to free Paul (23:23; 24:23, 26; 26:32)

Over and over the designation between Jew and Gentile is stated, with the chief instigators and problem-makers being Jews. I encourage the reader to spend the time reading Acts straight through, comparing how many times “Jew” and “Gentile” is contrasted. The author apparently intended the comparison to be emphasized.

Finally, a few links if any of this has whetted your appetite. Those interested in textual criticism are aware the Western Text of Acts is 9% longer than the version we have. Here is another article on Acts’ Reliability. And if you prefer a Christian perspective on the book, please read Chris Price’s article on Acts. (This is a download of a Word Document.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Who Does God Cheer For?

My best friend is originally from New York and has always been a Giants fan. Our 20+ years of association (has it been that long?) causes me to equally support the Giants when they play anybody except my poor Detroit Lions. He was at our house for the Superbowl, each of us on the edge of our seats hoping the underdogs could pull through.

When the Giants gained the lead with only seconds left to play our entire house erupted with shouts and screams of joy. We were ecstatic.

The next day, I was talking with a co-worker who was at a party with predominantly Patriot fans. At the same moment we were whooping and hollering, they were swearing and punching fists in the air. They were enraged.

So what was your God doing at that precise second in time? Cheering? Jeering? Or ambivalent…it is just football.

See, we are social creatures. We react to both positive and negative reinforcement. If a crowd roars approval, or our spouses give support or our employers give a word of encouragement, we get a boost of confidence; a shot of adrenaline. We think we can take on the world.

As humans we react to those social signals. We also react to negative signs. All my parents had to give was a slight pursing of the lips, and I knew whatever I was doing needed to stop. A sigh from a spouse. A lack of laughter from an off-color joke. When we are in our social settings we are constantly interacting and reacting to the signals relayed back to us from other humans.

What reinforcement do you get from your God? As a Christian, I would have to honestly say I received silence. Sure, there were times I would talk to God, and as I was talking a solution would present itself in my mind, or I would feel better about a decision—thinking somehow God had given me an emotional pat on the back, or messed with the synapses in my brain to present the resolution. And I thanked him for it. But I never heard words. I never heard, “Good Job!” or “Bad job!” or “I don’t care!” What I heard was my own brain working.

At best all humans get is some type of feeling that somehow their God is saying something. I do not need to point out how humans vastly disagree with each other on these feelings.

And a second issue comes into play. As humans, when attempting to figure out other humans, we use ourselves as a baseline. We start with the premise what motivates us would motivate others. What we like; others like. Sure, we quickly realize other humans are different, but to start off, we presume they are like us.

I prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla. It makes no sense to me as to how anyone could like the blandest flavor in the word as compared to the rich, semi-bitter sweet wonderfulness that is chocolate. Yet I have heard such people exist. If you came to my house, and I offered ice cream, I will presume you would want chocolate. Because I would at your house. If you said, “No, I would like vanilla” I attempt to suppress my shock. If you said nothing, you would get chocolate.

In the same way, it always intrigues me what people think motivates others. I often think it says quite a bit about the person. Husbands who come to me claiming their wives are having an affair are often the ones guilty of it. Mothers fear the man will want custody of the children; that is the mother’s prime concern. And we all know the adage of people who don’t trust others are generally untrustworthy themselves.

We all start with the basic presumption other humans are like us, and then look for variances from there. We like chocolate; they probably like chocolate. We would have an affair given the opportunity; they would probably as well. What happens when we couple this with the lack of reinforcement from any God? I see many theists naturally veer towards a god who is similar to themselves. They don’t receive any positive or negative reinforcement to believe otherwise!

The way we are raised, and our social setting creates a conscience within us which many then equate to God’s approval or disapproval.

“God, I felt pretty good about giving to charity.”

“God, I feel guilty about seeing pornography.”

The lack of any response causes the theist to believe their God just supported their own internal feelings. Because they felt good about charitable giving and their God didn’t say anything otherwise—it must be moral. Because they felt bad about seeing pornography and their God didn’t say anything—it must be immoral.

We see it in history. Long hair “seemed” wrong. Felt wrong. So it must be wrong. Rock ‘n Roll felt wrong. In the southern United States, mixed bathing felt wrong. Alcohol feels wrong. Smoking feels wrong. Without any God giving yeah, nay or indifferent, people elevate their own feelings to claiming God must be against it. ‘Cause he isn’t saying he is for it.

I am seeing it in doctrinal shifts. People don’t like to be against homosexuals. Feels discriminatory in some way. So they claim, “I interpret the Bible to say…” and lo and behold the Bible no longer teaches against homosexuality. And the person knows its right, ‘cause it feels right. And their God doesn’t provide any negative reinforcement to claim it is wrong.

I am watching more and more god(s) being created in the Christian community as this person goes with their gut, eliminating Hell, but keeping homosexuality prohibited. Or that one eliminates both. Or this one eliminates inspiration. Or that one is pre-millennium. Or preterist. Or some faction of some faction of some faction. And it all “feels good” and it all must be true, because their God isn’t providing any negative reinforcement.

The answer to the question posed is quite simple. If you are a Giants fan, when Plaxico Burress drew that football in, and the numbers on the scoreboard changed, your God jumped up and knocked over the popcorn bowl.

Because that is what you did