Wednesday, April 05, 2006

That all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel (Exodus interlude)

So what is the reason that God gives for deciding to go through such a complicated and difficult process to save the Israelites? Part of it is given here in chapter six, and we see a bit more of it explained in chapter seven. There's a twofold point to all of this, and both parts of it are similar:
Exod. 6:7 "...ye [Israelites] shall know that I am the LORD your God..."
Exod. 7:4 "And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD..."
I suppose someone might call it "showing off", and in a sense, they'd not be far from the truth. God doesn't just want to rescue the Israelites, He wants to rescue them while taking the time to drive home a point to everyone involved. Sure, God could have just forced Pharaoh to change his mind about the Israelites, and they could have just walked away, but what would be the result? Aside from the fact that God is forcing someone to change their mind (something that I think is against His basic nature), there is no justice in it, and no lesson for anyone to learn. What lesson should they learn?

Here's a pretty good analogy, I think. Suppose it was God's will for me to get a Master's Degree in Mathematics (something I've been considering pursuing lately). I could check out a college that offered a good program, get accepted, pass the courses, and earn my degree, with all of those actions proceeding smoothly and easily from one moment to the next because God paved the way for me. After it was said and done, I probably wouldn't think to thank God for the series of everyday miracles that brought me there. On the other hand, if I was reluctant to go back to school, and God firmed my resolve not to, I would say with surety, "I'm not going back to school." Then God could strike me with some sort of awful disease, make me lose my job, and have my car stolen. I might ask, "God, have I made a wrong decision? If you want me to go to school, I don't understand, because I need $22,700 dollars to pay for my expenses, and I just don't have it!" The day after praying this, a check arrives in the mail from the IRS for exactly $22,700 saying that they discovered a mistake on some of my previous tax returns. (Not likely, as I've never made enough to pay that much in taxes, I'm pretty sure.) Then I would enroll in school and my disease would clear up, I'd get a new, better job, and my stolen car would be found. "Wow," I'd say, "clearly God is trying to tell me something."

God is trying to tell somebody something here. He's sending a clear message to Pharaoh, Moses, the Israelites, the Egyptians, and a number of neighboring nations that will all see these bizarre miracles. Message? You'd better take the God of Israel seriously.

Now, people ask (as the SAB does in Exodus) whether it's worth killing children to make this statement. It's a question worth asking, no doubt. In my view, the answer to that is, you have to look at the big picture. We, as living beings, are afraid of death. Why? Well, if you don't believe there is an afterlife (or if you believe the afterlife is something generally unpleasant), then there is a sense of loss in having a loved one die. If, however, you believe that there is such a place as Heaven, and specifically that all children who die go there (I may have mentioned this common Christian belief in an earlier post, I'm not sure...), then while killing hundreds, nay thousands of Egyptian children is cruel to the parents of those children, we have no reason to believe that the children themselves suffered in any way. So we are only left with the question of whether the parents deserved to be punished.

I remember reading a bit of an essay by Jean-Paul Sartre several years ago in which he addressed from an entirely atheistic point of view the idea of responsibility of citizens of a nation for the actions that nation takes as a whole. (I probably don't remember it so very well, and I've not read Sartre extensively, so forgive me if I get his ideas not quite right; in the end, I'm making my own point, but isn't a bit of namedropping fun?) Essentially, it doesn't really matter what sort of government you live under--although perhaps in a democracy, you participate more than would those living under a monarchy--if your government commits some atrocity, you are, in part at least, responsible. Don't like the war in Iraq? Too bad, U.S. citizens, your government is waging it in your name. Lived in Germany during the Third Reich? If you stood passively by as millions were gassed in concentration camps, their blood is on your hands as much as the Nazis. The fact is that Pharaoh systematically tried to kill off the Jews, and he wasn't overthrown by an outraged citizenry. The Egyptians were responsible for the deaths of those Israelite children, and the time was about to come upon them when they would receive the comeuppance for it.

Was it cruelty, or was it justice? It's all speculation, and in a sense, it's only God's place to judge. As for myself, though, I see the strong possibility that this was a righteous act on God's part, despite the personal distaste I may have for the result.

14 comments:

XIOMANGER said...

You DO realize why I as an atheist am considering your words far worse and far more monstrous and far more despicable than the words you are trying to "apologize" for themselves. So, it is appropriate and justifiable to kill children in order to get to their parents because the children will end up in heaven anyway? And then Christians have the gall to say that they value human life!

Brucker said...

I appreciate the feedback.

You make some points that I think I have already addressed, but I don't mind clarifying just in case.

"You DO realize why I as an atheist am considering your words far worse and far more monstrous and far more despicable than the words you are trying to 'apologize' for themselves."

I'm guessing you already know this, but "apology" in a context such as this does not mean saying you're sorry (I have nothing to be sorry for, not having killed any Egyptian children personally) but essentially stands as a homonym for "explanation". I don't know why you find my words more troubling though; perhaps you consider the topic barbaric, and it's more shocking to hear such words coming from a 21st-century American than a 3,000-year-old document written in what was admittedly a barbaric culture anyway?

"So, it is appropriate and justifiable to kill children in order to get to their parents because the children will end up in heaven anyway?"

Not for me personally. We're talking about God. This is an important distinction, but a hard one for an atheist to fully grasp I think, as one really needs to suspend disbelief in order to fathom what it's really all about. If I kill a child, it's murder. if God causes circumstances in which a child dies to be actualized, it's not. Why? Because all things, even our very lives belong to Him in the end. (That's a simplified answer, but honestly, a full answer is definitely beyond the scope of what I'm writing here, and possibly beyond my ability to verbalize.)

That concept of ownership is not a foreign one even to our modern society. The ancient Hebrews actually seem to have believed you had a right to have your own child stoned to death up to age 13 (so I've heard this means), ancient Greek sometimes would sometimes leave unwanted infants outside to die of exposure, and in our modern society, an unborn child's right to live is subordinate to its mother's personal rights. (Please, no value judgement implied in the latter; I hate abortion debates.) Whether any of these practices is "appropriate and justifiable" is largely defined by society. In my opinion, even the Bible doesn't really have anything definitive to say on these matters.

"And then Christians have the gall to say that they value human life!"

Christians do value human life, but there is a yet-still higher calling that the Bible gives to us, and even many Christians lose sight of it. According to this article, "[Corrie ten Boom] once said that saving lives was wonderful, but nothing compared to saving souls..." (If you're not familiar with Miss ten Boom, you really ought to read the article; she's an inspiration to all of us, even non-Christians, I think.)

The question that a person must ask from a spiritual perspective is, "What course of action will bring about the most saved souls?" While I don't think a Christian is likely to be presented with that question in the context of deciding whether to commit genocide, (and shouldn't have the right to make a decision like that anyway) I think God has to make such decisions from time to time. When I was being raised Jewish, many Jews I knew felt that God must have allowed Hitler to do what he did so that the Nation of Israel would come to be re-established. It's not just a Christian idea, in any case.

XIOMANGER said...

Perhaps you consider the topic barbaric, and it's more shocking to hear such words coming from a 21st-century American than a 3,000-year-old document written in what was admittedly a barbaric culture anyway?

Well, that is definitely the part of the reason, especially considering that you are not even on the fundamentalist end of the spectrum. I can only imagine what they think. But, also, quite simply, trying to justify it makes it objectively sound even worse, not to mention hypocritical.

Not for me personally. We're talking about God. This is an important distinction, but a hard one for an atheist to fully grasp I think, as one really needs to suspend disbelief in order to fathom what it's really all about. If I kill a child, it's murder. if God causes circumstances in which a child dies to be actualized, it's not. Why? Because all things, even our very lives belong to Him in the end.

Now this is a bogus argument to try to justify the unjustifiable and you know it. At the very most generous, you could say that a God is like a hypocritical parent (you guys love these parent-child analogies for God so I see no reason not to use them) who with a cigarette in his hand berates his kid for smoking, only here we have something far worse then nicotine. You know, do as I say, not as I do. At the very worst, you could call God a jealous, vindictive, genocidal, murderer and sadist. How can moral norms not apply to God? If you think that moral norms are universal, why should they not apply to God? If you think he created them, why is he breaking his own moral norms?

Plus, needless to say. In a way, I am the creator of my children, but that does NOT give me the right to kill them or do with them as I please. (And this is why we no longer follow the ways of ancient Hebrews, who wrote much of the Bible, and the Ancient Greeks. Abortion is another topic, one which I don't have much interest in debating right now.)

Neither would God have an absolute right over us if he DID exist, which I believe with good reason is not the case.

Christians do value human life, but there is a yet-still higher calling that the Bible gives to us, and even many Christians lose sight of it. According to this article, "[Corrie ten Boom] once said that saving lives was wonderful, but nothing compared to saving souls..."

No, Christians don't value human life when they put it in second place with respect to something called "eternal life", something which they have no solid indication that exists, only belief, a belief justified solely from their (and everyone else's) natural fear of death. Trust me, when you REALLY believe that the life you have is the only thing you are ever gonna get, and barring strong evidence to the contrary there is no reason not to have this belief, every moment takes on a whole new level of intensity and meaning. THAT is when you can truly value and appreciate life.

And let's talk about your definition of "saving souls." When you talk about this, you are solely referring to how many people believe in Christianity, and perhaps only your own branch of Christianity. You are not talking about how fulfilling and good someone's life is; without Jesus Christ, they are not saved "souls".

While I don't think a Christian is likely to be presented with that question in the context of deciding whether to commit genocide, (and shouldn't have the right to make a decision like that anyway)

Well it HAS been decided that way, and many times. The famous quote I can dig up from the Catholic Church is "Kill them all, God will sort them out." And genocide and forced conversions certainly brough about a large number of saved souls.

It's not just a Christian idea, in any case.

Which is why I am not a follower of ANY religion, not just Christian.

Brucker said...

"...you are not even on the fundamentalist end of the spectrum."

That's actually a matter of opinion. Depending on the definition of "fundamentalist", there are times I would wear that badge proudly.

"But, also, quite simply, trying to justify it makes it objectively sound even worse, not to mention hypocritical."

I attempt to justify because there is a call/challenge among skeptics to justify it. Faith in and of itself requires no justification.

As a person who has faith but is also skeptical at times (they're not 100% incompatible), the subject matter of this blog interests me both as an excercise in faith *and* intellect.

"At the very most generous, you could say that a God is like a hypocritical parent (you guys love these parent-child analogies for God so I see no reason not to use them) who with a cigarette in his hand berates his kid for smoking, only here we have something far worse then nicotine. You know, do as I say, not as I do...How can moral norms not apply to God? If you think that moral norms are universal, why should they not apply to God? If you think he created them, why is he breaking his own moral norms?"

I don't know who "you guys" are, but as I have said earlier in my blog, I'm *very* fond of the parent-child analogies. Let's talk about moral norms and parents.

Here's a few scenarios. If you're a 5-year-old, you wonder why your parents get to control who gets the cookies. Let's say you're a 15-year-old girl, and your parents drink wine at dinner, but won't let you for whatever variety of reasons, but foremost, because it would be illegal. Is this hypocrisy? Say you're a 25-year-old man, and all things are as legal for you as for your father. Does that mean you have as much moral right to sleep with your mother? You're 35, and your parents, about to retire, want to sell the house you grew up in. Since you feel like the house is yours as much as anyone, since you lived there most of your life, can you sell it out from under them and take the money?

One of the reasons that I particularly enjoy the parent-child analogy is that these sorts of scenarios are so abundant, I could sit and think them up all day if I wanted to. Morality is *not* universal, at least not in the way you are trying to construe it. Children simply have less rights, and this is designed to protect them.

"At the very worst, you could call God a jealous, vindictive, genocidal, murderer and sadist."

You could, if you want to. I prefer to put things in perspective. "Jealousy" is a state of mind in which you are worried that someone you care deeply about is going to be taken away from you, when you feel you are the best person to take care of them. I consider jealousy to be a positive trait in the person of God. In each of the things you have mentioned, there's a bad way and a good way to look at them. (Often the good way goes by a different moniker.)

"Neither would God have an absolute right over us if he DID exist..."

May I ask why you believe this?

"No, Christians don't value human life when they put it in second place with respect to something called 'eternal life'..."

So you can't value something if you put it second in importance? I don't follow you.

"And let's talk about your definition of 'saving souls.' When you talk about this, you are solely referring to how many people believe in Christianity, and perhaps only your own branch of Christianity. You are not talking about how fulfilling and good someone's life is; without Jesus Christ, they are not saved 'souls'."

That's assuming that believing in Jesus Christ does not make for a "fulfilling and good" life. Most Christians will tell you that their life had never been fulfilling until they came to belief. Most likely, if a person claims to be a Christian, but doesn't feel that way, they're kidding themselves. I once heard a pastor say, "If you're sitting in church every Sunday morning thinking you'd be happier at the ball game, then you're probably right, and you ought to go. Don't put your money in the offering plate, save it for a hotdog and a beer!"

"Well it HAS been decided that way, and many times.

That's why I said "shouldn't" rather than "couldn't".

"The famous quote I can dig up from the Catholic Church is 'Kill them all, God will sort them out.' And genocide and forced conversions certainly brough about a large number of saved souls."

I doubt genocide (of non-Christians) and forced conversions (to Christianity) brought about a single saved soul. I feel very sorry for those people who were subjected to such things, and in a way even sorrier for those who perpetrated them, as I have very little doubt that God has a nasty bit of wrath in store for them. Corrie ten Boom's father said during the Holocaust that the people he pitied the most in the midst of that horror was that Nazis, as he was sure God would punish them severely for daring to attack His chosen people.

"Which is why I am not a follower of ANY religion, not just Christian."

Strange, it's not like it's a universal belief of all religions. I would think Buddhism would hold some appeal for you.

Anonymous said...

To me, the fact that there are people who strive to explain away God's actions that offend speaks volumes. Falling back on the explanation that "God is different and can't be judged against human standards" also speaks volumes since these are the only standards we have to judge by, and God would know this. I say what appears wrong IS WRONG, i.e. the end does not justify the means, for God or anyone else. When we lose sight of this FACT is when we have stepped beyond right.

Brucker said...

"To me, the fact that there are people who strive to explain away God's actions that offend speaks volumes."

To some people, it speaks volumes in that it is strange that anyone would question the actions of the creator of the universe. I'm not one of those people; I'm the sort of person who enjoys discussing the implications of such things instead of accepting them without question. Do you think that makes me a better or worse Christian? If you really think it speaks volumes, then let's hear a bit of it, since the implication is far from obvious.

"Falling back on the explanation that 'God is different and can't be judged against human standards' also speaks volumes since these are the only standards we have to judge by, and God would know this."

Yes, and I know that my children can only judge by their standards, but I choose to live by my own anyway, and offer no apology for it. It probably doesn't seem fair to my two-year old that not only is she not allowed to drive the car, but she can't even sit in the front seat. Too bad.

"I say what appears wrong IS WRONG, i.e. the end does not justify the means, for God or anyone else."

Sounds like two different issues. Let me tell you something a Jewish man once told me. (Just in case you don't know, a devout Jewish man would not be allowed to eat anything at McDonalds by Jewish Law.) He said, "Suppose I saw a fellow Jew walking into a McDonald's. I should assume that he is going in to use the restroom. If I came by a few minutes later and saw him by the window with a cheeseburger in front of him, I should assume that a gentile asked him to watch his lunch for him while he went to go get something." While the point he was making was part of larger story and therefore not the point I want to make here, I think it illustrates my point nonetheless. That which appears wrong MAY BE part of a larger story that you do not yet understand. People that come to my blog and make comments like yours could be assumed to be hostile, to me, to Christianity, to God, or to all of the above. Attacking me out of hosility would be wrong. Should I assume that you are up to no good, or attempt dialogue, assuming you are only a fellow seeker of knowledge with a different perspective?

As for the second part of your statement about ends and means, there are a thousand examples of ends justifying means that can be given. While that doesn't mean that the end always justifies the means, it shows that it's possible. I hurt my kids. I hurt them when I scold them for running out in the street when they know better. I hurt them when I tell them they have to go to bed when they'd rather stay up all night and play. I hurt them when I take them to the doctor to get vaccinations. I hurt them when I pull splinters out of their feet. Why do I do it? I believe their health and safety (the ends) is more important than making them feel happy and unhurt 100% of the time.

"When we lose sight of this FACT is when we have stepped beyond right."

On what basis do you call it a "FACT"? Did you read it in a scientific journal? Did you find it in the dictionary? Did you prove it mathematically? What is truth?

Anonymous said...

I'm not hostile by any stretch of the imagination and yes, I'm fortunate to know quite a few Jewish people, both very strict and devout and those who could care less.

What really makes it difficult to actually debate religion seem to be staying "on point", i.e. how can we discuss a specific act/verse, etc. if we wonder off into larger areas such as the true nature of right and wrong, good and evil, etc. Also, why is it that with God, and I'm speaking only of God as described in the bible or other "holy books", we think we are possibly "missing information" and therefore not capable of reading something and judging if it is agreeable or disagreeable to us? We seem to do this mainly with points that are a bit on the "iffy" side. Very few would claim the possibility of missing info from any of the "good parts".

Is a Jewish man eating a cheeseburger wrong? Only viewed from the standpoint of his personal beliefs maybe, maybe not. Is a Jewish man wrong if he kills someone or steals from someone, YES. We don't need to know if there was something that occurred earlier that caused it. We don't need to know that he was losing his house and needed money, etc. Our society and our morals allow this determination excluding any other circumstances. Two wrongs don't make a right so to speak.

I think the discussion started far from splinters and cheesburgers. Maybe I/we don't always have all information concerning all circumstances, however, it's fairly simple to take a specific example, with whatever circumstantial information available, and judge it versus what is considered right or wrong. I'm not talking about, for example, is it right or wrong for a vegetarian to have a steak or any of those other things like that. Religion is always allowed an "out" that we would not give to other circumstances. If someone broke into your house, you'd consider it wrong. If you were fired because your boss's brother need the job more than you, you'd consider it wrong.

My last point, it's a slippery slope to say that in some cases, the end justifies the means. This very logic has been used and is still being used in some very bad cases, i.e. the pro life psycho who murders a doctor, the muslim who murders the christian, etc. It's very dangerous to equate two acts that are so very different in an attempt to not judge either, i.e. murder versus splinters.

Anonymous said...

I overlooked answering your following query:

To some people, it speaks volumes in that it is strange that anyone would question the actions of the creator of the universe. I'm not one of those people; I'm the sort of person who enjoys discussing the implications of such things instead of accepting them without question. Do you think that makes me a better or worse Christian? If you really think it speaks volumes, then let's hear a bit of it, since the implication is far from obvious.

Ok, here's some of an answer.
First, I'm sure that you are a fine person. I've generally found people who quest for understanding to be fine people.

Don't you find it at least strange that so many claim God as the source of morality or at least the defining word on it, but are ready at any and every turn to excuse God's violations simply by a "because he's God" statement or other such opinion. Can one be comfortable with a God who exhibits this "Do as I say, not as I do" attitude. I don't truly think so. Disbelievers aren't, so they question. Believers on the other hand aren't either, and so they attempt explanation. My opinion.

Previously you have stated:

"Aside from the fact that God is forcing someone to change their mind (something that I think is against His basic nature)"


I don't personally share that opinion based on the verbage of the bible itself, but everyone is welcome to their opinion. However, why do you make the above statement/assumption but allow for his violation of morality, his own commandmants in other cases? Could not we see this as going against his nature?

I personally feel that if God exhibits inferior morality so as to require explanations that end up being contradictory and/or overly cumbersome, something is wrong. "Because he's God" never satisfied me on these type issues.

I think the reason it bothers me is because I find myself wondering what other things one may be able to explain away so long as God is involved.

As to questioning the actions of the creator, I see it only as evaluating the content of a story. I've never been overly concerned about lighting bolts or anything like that, even if I have it all totally wrong. Afterall, in the case of a disbeliever such as myself, who is really to blame? Is it me who fails to see or is it God who fails to convince. I'm certainly open minded enough to believe but not on a faith only basis. Which is probably a good time to say that I've always considered faith as an explanation for believing in something for which there is no other proof.

Brucker said...

"What really makes it difficult to actually debate religion seem to be staying 'on point', i.e. how can we discuss a specific act/verse, etc. if we wonder off into larger areas such as the true nature of right and wrong, good and evil, etc."

Athiests often point out that you can't judge the Bible based on the Bible, because it would be self-referential, circular logic. There are definitely issues at to when to "stay on point", and when you have to look at the issue from outside of the issue.

"Also, why is it that with God, and I'm speaking only of God as described in the bible or other 'holy books', we think we are possibly 'missing information' and therefore not capable of reading something and judging if it is agreeable or disagreeable to us?'

Because God is a being who supposedly in nature is beyond the scope of the universe to understand. And, as I pointed out in my other blog, this is not a uniquely Chritian concept. (Hmm, I swear I had discussed the Hindu concept of "Brahman" in there...)

"Very few would claim the possibility of missing info from any of the 'good parts'."

But it's not at all unheard of. There are very few people who claim to truly understand how exactly the Cross brings redemption. It's considered one of the greatest things in Christianity, but is very hard to fathom fully.

"Is a Jewish man eating a cheeseburger wrong? Only viewed from the standpoint of his personal beliefs maybe, maybe not."

Jesus' brother James said "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." Sounds extreme, and maybe Jews would not agree but if you are breaking the commandment of God, aren't you also disrespecting God, and therefore indirectly blaspheming? Therefore, your personal beliefs may be very important.

"Is a Jewish man wrong if he kills someone or steals from someone, YES."

That's not universally determined. Killing in self-defense? Killing in time of war as a registered combatant? Killing to defend the life of another? All of these are widely considered acceptable.

"If someone broke into your house, you'd consider it wrong. If you were fired because your boss's brother need the job more than you, you'd consider it wrong."

Yes, but without knowing the full story, I might not know what exactly the wrong is. For instance, if the person breaking into my house was stealing money because they were supporting a drug addiction, I'd be inclined to blame the drug dealer, ultimately. Religion is offered "outs", but in a similar way. The death of the children of Egypt is an evil for which I blame Pharaoh.

"It's very dangerous to equate two acts that are so very different in an attempt to not judge either, i.e. murder versus splinters."

I wouldn't equate them, certainly, but I am trying to say that the splinter is an example of end justifying means, and therefore examples exist. While murder may indeed never be justified, somewhere between murder and splinter-removing, there are possibilities.

I'll be back for more discussion tomorrow.

Brucker said...

"First, I'm sure that you are a fine person. I've generally found people who quest for understanding to be fine people."

It sure beats the alternative.

"Don't you find it at least strange that so many claim God as the source of morality or at least the defining word on it, but are ready at any and every turn to excuse God's violations simply by a 'because he's God' statement or other such opinion."

Maybe, but I have thoughts on that as well. First of all, I am not a person who believes that God is the "source" of morality qua morality. I think that the Bible does contain some rules that God has made arbitrarily, but most of morality would still apply if God did not exist. I feel like I hear some Christians say that if there were no God, then nothing could be immoral, since there would be nobody to judge actions. I think this is a confusion between morality and justice which, while related, are not the same thing.

Still, even if God is the one who is the creator of moral law, as a Christian, my immediate response to that is that God voluntarily made himself just as subject to those laws by becoming a human in the person of Jesus. I think as the person who makes the rules, God has the right/ability to exempt Himself, but He doesn't.

"Can one be comfortable with a God who exhibits this 'Do as I say, not as I do' attitude. I don't truly think so. Disbelievers aren't, so they question. Believers on the other hand aren't either, and so they attempt explanation. My opinion."

Mmmm... I suppose I'd agree, actually.

"However, why do you make the above statement/assumption but allow for his violation of morality, his own commandmants in other cases? Could not we see this as going against his nature?"

You'd probably have to take it on a case-by-case-basis, but in particular, because of God's very nature, I find it hard to imagine Him being said to have murdered someone. God may bring about circumstances in which someone's life is in jeopardy, and may even kill them, but if you're killed by God, aren't you dying of "natural causes" so to speak? Maybe it's splitting hairs, but I think there's some truth to it.

In any case, as I'm sure I've said somewhere in one of my blogs, I think we as humans in the material world value the material more than the spiritual, but God sees things the other way around. I'd tend to think that He's the one whose priorities are straight.

"I personally feel that if God exhibits inferior morality so as to require explanations that end up being contradictory and/or overly cumbersome, something is wrong. 'Because he's God' never satisfied me on these type issues."

But that's where the parent/child metaphor comes in best. What do you mean by "exhibits inferior morality"? I bet my kids consider it hypocritical that my wife and I stay up after they have to go to bed, but we have to stay up in order to do things (many of which are directly for their benefit) that we can't get done with them about. They might get angry at things like that and know that we are unfair.

"I think the reason it bothers me is because I find myself wondering what other things one may be able to explain away so long as God is involved."

That I can understand. There's a long terrible history of people doing bad things because they believe, or at least say they believe, that God wanted them to do it. So yeah, there's a possible open window for abuse of the concept.

"As to questioning the actions of the creator, I see it only as evaluating the content of a story."

In the case of evaluating the Bible, sure. Did you read my early post where I compared the Bible to a sci-fi novel? I think that's a good way for a skeptic to approach it at times.

"...I've always considered faith as an explanation for believing in something for which there is no other proof."

I tend to think that there is virtually nothing in the world that we have undeniable proof for. You know the old questions, what if we're just a brain in a jar somewhere dreaming all of this? What if we're just being dreamed of by God? What if the world is real, but this is not the real world, only an illusion in some way?

To me "faith" is saying I am willing to cling to my belief in something even when the evidence for it is not immediately before me. I don't understand quantum physics, but I know that there are a lot of reputable people who do, so I'm willing to believe without seeing or understanding. I don't understand the Revolutionary War (history is not one of my strong subjects), but I know there are a lot of books on it that tell about it as truth that are believed by people who are not fools and have no reason to deceive me, so I believe in George Washington. It's not so different for why I believe in God and/or the Bible.

Anonymous said...

I will say that I appreciate your approach to religious debate and you do a good job explaining your points of view. We may not see things in the same way but that's what makes the discussion interesting. Most places I've tried to join in on a debate ends up as either a christian bashing or an atheist bashing where neither side actually learns anything. Too many people on both sides approach the subject with a crusader mentality.

I also would rather talk about the more philosophical aspects of belief/disbelief as opposed to arguments of parts of the bible where translations, context, etc. rule the day. Most of the "professional" debates I've listened to start sounding rather petty after just a few minutes.

Before moving on, I would mention that I'm not personally opposed to the concept of a "God" on some scientific basis or anything of that nature. I've always allowed room for the possibility of God's existance, just not in the fashion or of the nature described by things such as the bible, quran, etc. I simply see too much of "man" in these writings. In other debates I've made the statement that none of the "holy" writings exhibit any indication of divinity, by which I mean that there is nothing contained within them which indicates knowledge, morality, etc. above that which man himself could have come up with. I've always thought God written or God inspired documents should bear some indication of their orgin. I've heard the argument that the writers simply could not fully understand their visions and revelations, and I think that is a weak point of view. Also, if I consider it true, it opens up a whole new can of worms. Also, while the bible may be the starting point of religious thought for christians, many religious views have evolved through the years from nothing more than the writings of man as they interpret and reinterpret different passages, etc. I've always been a bit bothered by this "flexibility" since I would expect God's words to be fairly percise. I guess, in a round about way I'm saying that I could believe in God if there was ever a sufficient reason to do so. I simply haven't ever seen it.

You make a good point in highlighting the confusion of morality and justice that occurs with many. I'd also suggest that lack of clarity in both the bible and other religious writings help inspire this and other confusion.

On an entirely different subject, if I want to become something other than anonymous, does signing up for a blogger account do that PLUS set up my own blog? I'm not interested in blogging anything but it'd be nice to write under a specific ID.

Brucker said...

I can't recall if you need to have a blog to be a member of blogger. You could just try it out; or make a blog and not post to it.

Zipi said...

Hello. I am a (grown up catholic) atheist reading the Bible, and recently found your blog via SAB. I am very interested in hearing the explanations from a Christian/Jewish point of view of many passages of the Bible that shock and outrage me. With that in mind, I like your blog, because you are among the few Bible apologists (may I use that word?) I have encountered that tries to reason and understand, actually listens to criticism, and does not reply to them with insults, or mere threats (such as "You, heathen, rot in Hell!" ) Because of that, I am interested in your blog.

However, it took me a great effort to read through your rationalization the story of the plagues of Egypt, which already as a child made me uneasy (among other things because it was God who hardened the pharao's heart so that he would not free the Israelites). Here are my questions for you: Is there anything at all that God could do that would make you call him "evil", or at least that would make you say that he did something wrong, bad, or unfair? Is everything that God does right just because he does it, even if we do not understand it, even if it looks wrong to us, no matter the consequences, and no matter what we call "right" and "wrong" in regard to human actions?

I am very interested in hearing your opinion. Thanks.

Brucker said...

Actually, someone was recently asking me similar questions in response to another blog entry much farther along than this one. It's actually a tough question to answer, and one of those questions that makes you question where the balancing point between faith and reason is. While one doesn't want to give up faith, at least not easily, one also must decide whether faith is blind faith or has a worthy object to have faith in based on what evidence there is. At least I think so, I know not everyone does.

Whether or not the average Christian is willing to admit it, the possibility at least theoretically exists that God is a being that does not act in an entirely moral manner. If we are intellectually honest, I think we need to ask what basis we have for believing that God is moral, and/or whether it matters to us. As for me, it matters, but the former part of the question is far more difficult to address. How do we judge the morality of God? I'm honestly never 100% sure, and thus I don't know if I have an easy answer for your question. The thing is, as a Bible-believing Christian, so much of what I can know about God is based on the Bible, and as a document that has remained largely unchanged for 2,000 years, there isn't a lot of hypothetical action to consider in the future or recent past, only the actions of God outlined in these ancient texts. For me, the troubling passages are ones like 1Kings 22, where God does something that seems to go against His nature. So things exist that disturb me theologically, but while I find the plagues distasteful, I feel that I understand them enough to not call God "evil' on account of them.

Anyway, I'm attempting to open up the subject further in my other blog, so for further ranting, click here.