(Is God) Good Friday?

512px-TWELFTH_STATION_Jesus_dies_on_the_Cross

Dear Russell & Friends,

Is God good? Of all the skeptical questions to consider as life unfolds, this one rings truest to me. If you answer the way I used to, please stop here. I thought that the objectors protested too much. Why care about the qualities of the non-existent? Then I considered – – does the skeptic care more about God’s character than I do? Couldn’t God exist and be bad? Why conflate goodness and existence? Probably because the faithful say and mean – – God is good, and that’s how I can handle the bad. So this is no straw man. Is God good?

I’ll start with a syllogism that logical people of faith could accept on this Passover & Good Friday: God created everything. Evil is part of everything. Therefore, God created evil. Maybe God only created the capacity for evil with natural laws and crooked hearts that could do wrong. Would do wrong. Nature and the heart of man are violent albeit beautiful places. They are broken. How can a good God willingly create evil?

Passover and the Hebrew Scriptures

Perhaps you’ve seen the new Exodus movie about Gods and Kings. I have not yet. I’m fairly sure that this retelling of the Moses story will at least include the last plague that occurred on the night we now celebrate with the Passover meal – – every first born son of Egypt from heir of Pharaoh to slave — murdered by God’s agent. Every first born of the Jews spared by the substitute blood of a sacrificed animal. Follow Moses and the Israelites into the 40 years of desert wandering and find a record in Deuteronomy 2 of Sihon the King of Heshbon when he refused Moses safe passage to the promised land:

And we captured all his cities at that time and devoted to destruction every city, men, women, and children. We left no survivors. (v. 34)

Why did Moses do this?

And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land over to you. Begin to take possession, that you may occupy his land. (v. 31)

Why didn’t Sihon just let Moses pass?

But Sihon the king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him, for the Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that he might give him into your hand as he is this day. (v. 30)

Don’t stop yourself from asking – – is God good? Can’t I find passage after passage of what could honestly be called genocide without sensationalism? I am glad that the skeptic asks this and says: one reason I can’t believe is that I can’t reconcile this God with what my heart wants to be.

Several posts ago I was asked, “Does the Bible read like I think it does in Deuteronomy? Did God instruct Moses to kill men, women, and children?” I had just finished Karen Armstrong’s book. She spoke of the Deuteronomist editors in Babylonian exile who constructed the book and others from the 7th to 5th century BCE. She thought, as do many Biblical scholars, that God’s wrath was written into the text as an explanation of Israel’s failure to maintain sovereignty.

Armstrong vindicated God and ascribed the violent depictions to human invention. I was tempted to join her, just as I’m always tempted to blame humanity instead of God for the evil that is all too evident in my own heart and all around me. Another syllogism for believers: God created humans, humans are violent beings, God created violent beings. Did God instruct the death of men, women, and children? Did Moses and his soldiers obey the order with dread or glee? The line between good and evil runs down the middle of every human heart.

Does this bother you? It has always bothered me. It bothers me because I don’t have a clear answer. It bothers me because I desperately want to worship someone good – – clearly better than my instincts and selfishness.

Good Friday

See a man on the cross dying. It is a common sight in imperial Rome and others before and since have certainly had equal and greater physical pain and humiliation. But this man claimed to be from God, even to be God. Is it cosmic child abuse? Is it God completing what he asked Abraham to be willing to do to Isaac? What could be good about the God who requires his son to suffer for others?

Heaven & Hell

If heaven is a restoration of our intended humanity – – complete, not selfish, and a restoration of a groaning earth – – green, not black topped, then what is hell? Isn’t it the place where suffering lasts forever? Isn’t it the place where 100 years of evil purchases 1 trillion years of pain? Isn’t it exhibit A-Z writ large that God cannot be good? And so, says the skeptic, it causes me less dissonance to say – – God does not exist. Who lives in Heaven and who can’t die in Hell? God decides, even chooses – – just as he did with the hearts of Pharaoh and King Sihon.

If separation and suffering like this does not cause you grief, then how do you call yourself compassionate?

Answers

I’ve just tried to be honest with the questions – – to show you that a follower of Christ agrees with a skeptic’s stumbling block: If God is like this then I cannot worship him. How have I answered the questions?

Passover and the Hebrew Scriptures

I see more than wrath and genocide in the pages of the Old Testament. I see new instructions on how to treat the poor, dispossessed, and sojourner. I finished Deuteronomy yesterday. With this reading I opened my eyes to both – – wrath that I cannot understand, mercy that I cannot live authentically. Did we put words in God’s mouth to define our behavior? Did God command us to the evil that our genes enjoyed? I don’t know.

I do see that the Exodus began something different in my heart. I was a slave to my nature and my nurture. I fear that I would have enjoyed the command to battle. I was invited into a new covenant and way of life. Justice and mercy came to oppose fearsome wrath. I found both in Deuteronomy.  That resonated with reality.

Good Friday

Why does a triune view of God matter to the Christ follower? Consider two scenarios:

You are distracted while crossing the street, bending down to pick up an important dropped slip of paper. A woman behind you in the crosswalk sees your danger and responds:

a) She pushes her stroller and the child in it ahead of her to divert the vehicle that will hit you. It works. You are saved. Her baby dies.

b) She leaves her stroller on the curb and jumps herself to push you out of the way. It works. You are saved. She dies.

We can easily accuse God of being the woman in scenario A, doing a wonderful thing in a truly awful way – – the ends just can’t justify the means.   But — if Jesus was the body and God the mind, joining the Holy Spirit in divinity – – it makes more sense. I understand and admire someone dying for me in sacrifice and hope that I would have the courage and love to die for my family or even for you.

I am so thankful for the God who came himself to join our suffering then conquer it.

Heaven and Hell

I’ve meditated on hell before and it still causes me grief. I think that hell avoidance is a poor theology and is the main reason I reject Pascal’s wager. I don’t know if the flames of hell are a metaphor or actual. I do, however, believe in God’s ultimate justice. I actually believe, with C.S. Lewis, that the door to hell will be locked from the inside. It is less about flames and more about continuing to get your own way and be your own center. I fear a perpetual self-centeredness. It is taking all my life to be less self-centered and Jesus has been the way that allows it. So no – – I don’t understand hell. I’m not sure that I was ever supposed to.

Heaven? I don’t think it is escape – – rather restoration. I’ll be kind without constant struggle. I’ll love you for who God created you to be. We’ll enjoy a new earth that looks and feels and smells like it was supposed to be. Fantasy? When religious faith wanes through history, utopian hopes rise. I’m glad that we have hope. It is a good way to live and a better way to not fear the death that comes to us all.

Is God good? Yes. Is he complicated? More than I every imagined. I feel loved by this good God and feel called to love you, whether you believe with me or only want a safe place to rest and talk. I won’t promise you answers that I don’t have. But I’ll tell the truth to the best of my ability.

Pascal,

–1:16

photo credit: Church of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Avranches, Manche, Normandie, France. Fourteen enamel paintings, technique from Limoges, representing the Stations of the Cross by Tango7174 (Tango7174) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

49 comments

  1. You see both genocide and wrath as well as mercy and justice in the Old Testament. So do I. But if God is good, we should not see the genocide and wrath attributed to him at all. Like us, he could exhibit both good and evil. But then like us, he could not be the good God that you and so many others believe him to be.

    Are his evil acts simply words written into scripture by evil people to justify their own bloodthirsty acts? Perhaps, and maybe he could be good. But then I couldn’t trust scripture. How could I have confidence that his mercy wasn’t also written in with ulterior motives? This is what I argued persistently with you about at détente one week ago.

    I would be okay with you suggesting a number of things about what hell really is. Like much of the Bible, perhaps the descriptions weren’t meant to be taken literally. Maybe it’s not a merciless fire that never gives its conquests the relief of full consumption. But please don’t suggest that humans choose it—that it’s locked from the inside. The choice of hell (or even perpetual self-centeredness) over Christ can only be made out of ignorance if He truly is who he claims to be. And if any ignorance remains in the end, a good God of truth would let the truth be known by all. I think that the idea that humans choose hell for themselves might just be something you turn to so you can continue to trust God and believe in his goodness. Even if it were a state of self-centeredness locked from the inside by its inhabitants, a loving sovereignty would break down the door and save us from ourselves.

    I’m not saying that he isn’t good—just that if I believe that he is as he has been described in scripture, he is not.

    Thank you for validating the questions, though, and for providing a safe place for us to wrestle with these things.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t know how long you’ll wrestle with this J. More and more I realize that one person’s journey is singular. I’ve come to settle on trust. I’ll either trust or I won’t. I’ve chosen trust as the synthesis of the good, the bad, and the ugly after studying scripture in the context of science, history and my own heart. Reasonable people – – Madalyn and me for example – – will come to different conclusions and still wish to talk. Blind faith is to accept things without consideration – – to abrogate thought, reason, and study.

      Trust is to consider, not fully understand and yet hope. Our mutual friend Russell does not know if inflationary cosmology is correct. But he understands the argument and it fits the math. Sean Carroll acknowledges that other failed theories fit the math before but it is reasonable to trust. That’s where I am. I can choose (I think I can — the more I read about neurobiology, the more I doubt that) to trust or not to trust.

      I can’t say, “just trust” to you. That’s like saying “just believe” and I know it is not an acceptable answer. I can suggest this – – indecision is not a destination. Have I decided things and reconsidered? Of course. I had to reconsider the concept and importance of the biblical literalism that I was raised with. I had to reconsider my approach to the LGBT community. I had to decide if I wanted to enter honest dialogues with atheists.

      I suppose that you can decide not to decide. The problem I see with that approach is that it won’t resonate with your experience professionally or in many other spheres. Life is more clear to me when our magisteria overlap. Life is more clear when you know who you are, others know who you are, and you can both agree to address that person with respect.

      Please don’t suggest that humans choose it. If 100 years does not determine forever, do you still not want the choice? Maybe that is why non-existence is genuinely attractive to so many in the end. I still want forever to be true. Enjoy the weekend with your family. I’m sorry that Easter doesn’t hold the same hope for now. There are other reasons to hope: the beautiful Spring, two precious girls, and a husband who loves you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with you that indecision is not a destination—that’s why I’m still talking about all of this when others encourage me that I can just accept never knowing and rest my mind and heart.

        And if trust is “to consider, not fully understand and yet hope,” then I guess by that definition I do trust. I still have hope, even this weekend. Especially this weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate your honesty and candor, Pascal. I know these ruminations must be difficult for you.

    God’s perceived evilness does not make me an atheist. It isn’t even what made me question his existence. It just makes me certain that, if he does exist, I am not interested in worshipping him.

    I offer a third scenario. The woman on the street could have grabbed onto you, pulled you back into safety. No one needed to be hurt. No one needed to die.

    There are many scenarios in the Bible where I thought of what I think are far better solutions than God came up with – less bloodshed, less judgement. I was always told that my human understanding could not appreciate why God made the decisions he did. I’ve never bought that. If my imperfect brain can imagine more peaceful approaches, then the ultimate rule-maker must enjoy the chaos and pain. The Devil looks like the good guy when I come across Bible passages these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Madalyn. I know that you like quotes. I do too. I remembered this quote, but not the attribution (I found Voltaire or Charles Baudelaire and Bartleby.com could not break the tie):

      “If there is a God, he is the Devil.”

      I don’t agree with this, but I take it very seriously.

      Like

    2. Madalyn,

      I’m not sure if you’re still subscribing to comments, and I’m preparing a post to address my own morass with this topic, but if you are . . . what did make you question God’s existence?

      Pascal

      Like

      1. Hi Pascal,
        I’m around. I rarely subscribe to comments because I am usually on the app and it does not have an option to follow them. Homeschooling has demolished my blog reading, but this is a conversation I’m interested in having.

        I think that you know I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness. We were moderately devote, more so when my mother found friends at our local meetings. When I was a young teenager, I realized that I held contrary views. I could answer and trust what I was learning in science class about the beginning of the universe, but I would turn around and answer questions about the absurdity of cosmology at the book study meetings. I didn’t allow myself to look too closely at these contradictions.

        I prayed to God occasionally and believed because I had no reason not to. Around me, my friends were getting baptized. As a JW, you have to study and be questioned by the elders before being baptized. I began studying because it seemed like the logical next step in my life.

        Then my mother divorced my stepfather and moved us a few hours away from those friends. We went to a few meetings after the move, but my mother was ready for a bit of freedom after a toxic marriage. Dropping the meetings was the easiest thing to do. The contrary beliefs fell away. For the next several years, I called myself ‘spiritual’ and said things like ‘surely there is something out there, but no one knows what it is’.

        Fast forward to my daughter’s first birthday. My husband and I are all but alone in a big city with one car. My life was my daughter and weekends with my husband. I was lonely. I wanted friends and family. Friends and family had almost always come from being a Witness. I started thinking about what we would teach our baby about the universe, about God. I realized I wanted to figure out what I thought so that I could tell her, so that I could find a new community.

        I started researching. Everything. I looked at the religions I was more familiar with, sects of Christianity. Then Judaism and Islam. I ventured out. Hinduism, Sikhism, then religions I had never heard of. Buddhism was the most appealing, but I didn’t buy the few supernatural elements there were.

        I realized in every instance that was the problem. Parts of all the religions sounded promising, but the claims they made could not be substantiated. I went back to Christianity. It was familiar. But now I really had to look at Biblical claims through new eyes. If holy books were not enough for the other religions, I had to look at the Bible the same way. I looked more into the history of Christianity, the accuracy of Biblical claims, and the timeline of Jesus. All the questions I had ever had, ones that had been taped over with non-answers suddenly exploded into gaping chasms. I didn’t believe any of it.

        I had a small panic attack. What if I was an atheist? What is an atheist? What’s agnostic? And what the heck is Humanism? I typed the phrases tentatively into Google, my stomach aching. What I found made sense. I listened to talks on YouTube, found a cable access show where theists called in to talk to atheists. Every link, I was nodding my head. Yes. This made sense. This was what my mind was always edging around. I bought books on atheism and humanism and Quantum Mechanics. I ingested years worth of material in about a month. My whole life had shifted upside down and I found that everything was finally right side up.

        My daughter is about to turn eight. In the seven years since I realized I was an atheist, I have listened to arguments from all sides. Never has anything even given me an inkling that there might be something more. But I have found that there was so much more already here that I was refusing to see. I was looking at it all through Armageddon colored lenses. The world is bolder and better without them.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thank you so much for this. I’m going to re-read it slowly, think and ask questions. I knew that you came from the Jehovah’s witness faith, but I know so little about it. There is a crisis when we consider our children isn’t there? I’m glad that this is a conversation that interests you. It honestly interests me deeply too.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Pascal

    An interesting discussion. When reading this I kept had coming to my mind George Rumsfeld’s infamous comments on the known unknowns.

    The issue of hell seems the big issue here. Because everyone (well except Enoch and Elijah – rapture etc) dies. So dying a bit sooner is a matter of degree, obviously suffering is bad, but that too in this life is limited. However if hell as taught by many in the church is reality, i.e. conscious eternal suffering with no relief, suffering apparently worse than anything experienced on earth: Then that makes genocide and suffering on earth trifling by comparison.

    So it is hard to even try to answer this question unless we know more about hell. That seems to be the elephant in the room.

    Like

    1. Hello Peter,

      Thanks for joining us and commenting. It is the elephant. The bigger elephant is election. I expect to live and die without fully understanding it. But – – if it doesn’t bother me, then something is deeply wrong. I’ve come to peace with trust and with a tolerance of the unknown. I’ve also come to comfort in the honest wrestling of millions of people before and after me. I never want to simplify hell or pretend that I have solved what is honestly for me – – a conundrum. I’ve been blessed with mentors in faith who were honest with misgivings. Telling the truth about what confuses me can be done at my dinner table or in my Sunday school class.

      Like

      1. Hi Pascal

        Yes you are correct the Doctrine of Election combined with Eternal suffering in Hell makes it even more challenging. I have listened to some supporters of these two doctrines, such as John MacArthur seek to justify them. He has argued that those in hell want to be there and would not even repent in hell. I can’t see that myself.

        I recall reading a comment from R.A. Torrey (the first principle of the Moody Bible College), he said the concept of Hell troubled him for a long time. But when he was filled with the Holy Spirit and came to understand the holiness of God it then made sense to him. The implication of Torrey was that an unholy person cannot come into the presence of the Holy God without being consumed. This makes sense in explaining why people can’t get into heaven, but it still does not explain hell. To explain hell then the theologians argue that it is the only place left for people to go. This logic implies that humans have an immortal soul which God chooses not to annihilate.

        If we assume that Hell is a reality and it is eternal and that God chose who he would save before they were born, then it would seem to me that the kindest thing God could do would be not to allow those who were not elect to be born.

        Like

        1. Oh Peter,

          Our struggles are so similar. There is a man whom I consider a spiritual father. He and his wife of over thirty five years taught a young married Sunday school class that Mrs. Pascal and I attended. He and I came to disagree at several points of theology and science, but I love him just the same and he loved me. I want to be like him as a father, husband, and faithful physician.

          We were driving back from the men’s conference at our church one day over ten years ago and the topic of hell and election came up. I cried. How could God create someone to be damned? I still cry when I think about it too hard. I’ve found hope in the belief that my understanding is meager. I do believe that hell is a reality in the same way that I believe creation is a reality. But I don’t know if it is eternal or to what degree we retain our ability to worship freely. I just don’t know. I would rather be clear about my uncertainty than stand firm in justifying God in what honest humans find unjust. God put that sense of justice in my heart for a reason. I can’t appeal to the moral law as evidence for his presence above and beyond evolutionary psychology in one instant, then dismiss it in the next. That would be inconsistent.

          So I stand, and likely will stand here – – I don’t understand hell. I hope that while the place may be permanent, the residence is not. But I honestly do not know. I do know this – – it is complete folly for me to suppose who is and isn’t right in the heart. There are antagonistic atheists who will enter the kingdom before some of the claiming believers. I know whom I love and whom I have been commanded to love (other humans).

          As followers of Christ, I think it is healthier to claim distress when we are distressed than to justify and reconcile every difficulty. I just don’t know. I do trust God as the balance of evidence in my life tips strongly in that direction.

          Pascal

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Part of the difficulty in these issues is that the Bible is not as clear on either point, eternal hell or election, as proponents of these doctrines imply.

            An old lady at my church told me how she had been walking one day through the countryside and found a lone grave of a small child that had died around 100 years ago. This puzzled her and she asked her companions why. They said the child had died before it was able to be baptised an as a result could not be buried in the church graveyard. She felt so sad when she heard the story.

            St Augustine who likewise believed only the baptised could get into heaven. He struggled with the issue of babies that died young. To try to reconcile his theology with his heart he concluded that there must be various grades of hell and the young babies that die would be in the least bad part.

            Modern teachers such as John MacArthur argue that babies that die young don’t need to go to heaven, rather they get a free pass into heaven. This view is based on an interpretation of 2 Samuel 12:23. It is also supported by a very unusual apocalyptic book, ‘The Vision of Marietta Davis’. But this interpretation has a very significant problem as it would imply the kindest thing we could do to our children is the kill them as that guarantees access to heaven. Any sort of theology that leads to this conclusion must surely be in error.

            If humanity is made in the image of God and our heart struggles with this issue then surely it must be an issue for God. This is why the universalists teach that in the end everyone is saved. There are some passages in the Bible that could be interpreted this way. But the vast majority of theologians would not support the idea.

            In the end I just don’t know. But there are many things I don’t know anymore.

            When we see someone suffering greatly it is relief to see them die as we say, ‘their suffering has ended’. But if that was only the beginning of suffering, how terrible it would be.

            We are told that in heaven God wipes away every tear. But if someone when to heaven and knew that their loved ones were suffering eternal torment elsewhere surely such sadness would stay with them.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you Peter. I’m learning more about St. Augustine indirectly by studying Blaise Pascal. The Jansenists followed the life and meditations of Augustine. They stood against the Jesuits. That’s too bad. I always admired Jesuits. I appreciate your empathy and humility. I don’t know. I trust God’s character, but respect the stumbling block that incomplete knowledge is with something as serious as this.

              Like

              1. I realised I left a word or do out in my comment. MacArthur believes young babies don’t need ‘baptism’ to get into heaven.

                I have a lot of respect for Augustine, perhaps too much. I was accused of idolising him on another blog, when I sought to defend him from a Christian who suggested he was a heretic.
                https://holdingforthhisword.wordpress.com/2015/03/28/how-old/comment-page-1/#comment-1494
                The Christians on that site are less respecting of alternative views than your good self.

                The words empathy and humility are such good descriptions of what I believe Christianity should look like. Jesus only gave described his character once in the Bible when he said that he was gentle and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29). It is encouraging to see that characteristics manifested by people such as yourself, that to me is a positive witness to the Christian faith.

                When I studied Christian history I was depressed by all the bickering and fighting in the church across its whole history. There were the odd beacons of hope like St Francis and St Martin of Tours, but less than I would have hoped.

                Like

          2. I have got caught up at work and was not able to keep up with reading blogs…or anything other than work for that matter. I am sad that I missed out on this conversation and wholeheartedly agree with you and Peter. I hope that the conversation arises again and I have time to participate.

            Seth

            Like

  4. Great post, Pascal. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the seriousness with which you treat these issues. Thank you for that.

    Allow me to offer some thoughts as well.

    I agree with everything CC said about Hell being locked from the inside. That just makes no sense to me. If people are presented with a clear choice between something unequivocally good happening to them and something unequivocally bad happening to them, they choose good every single time. [Someone could argue that a masochist might choose for something bad to happen to them, but I disagree. A masochist actually receives pleasure (something good) from certain kinds of pain. So not exactly the same thing.]

    Therefore, anyone who goes to Hell is going there against their will. They absolutely do not want to be there. After all, if it was “locked from the inside,” what do we make of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus? Wouldn’t he have let himself out?

    So Hell is a punishment inflicted on certain people. But when we punish people in this life, it’s typically for one of two reasons: it’s either meant as penance to fit some crime, in which case, we can’t punish beyond the level of the offense. So this brings up questions about how a finite life could ever merit an eternal punishment. We also punish when we want to change someone’s behavior. But Christianity teaches that Hell only comes at the end of one’s life, when there’s no further opportunity for them to change. Nor does God seem willing to intervene while we’re alive to let us know we’re getting it wrong.

    Add to that all the evidence that points to the concept of Hell entering into Judaism (certain sects) and Christianity after influence from Greeks, Persians, etc, and it’s very hard to accept the doctrine as true.

    But there are also problems with Heaven, aside from its sounding too good to be true. To explain a good God, evil is usually said to be the result of our free will. You haven’t necessarily made that point in this post — and if I understand you correctly, you may even be acknowledging that God isn’t completely good. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    But if evil is a result of our free will, then we either have to lose our free will in Heaven, or we don’t get to stay in Heaven forever. After all, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and the Bible claims that some angels disobeyed while in Heaven as well. So given enough time, Heaven would be empty.

    Our mutual friend Russell does not know if inflationary cosmology is correct. But he understands the argument and it fits the math. Sean Carroll acknowledges that other failed theories fit the math before but it is reasonable to trust. That’s where I am. I can choose (I think I can — the more I read about neurobiology, the more I doubt that) to trust or not to trust.

    Yes, but these aren’t really the same thing. What we think about different physical models doesn’t affect much in our day-to-day lives, nor does it make any difference when we die. Yet a religion like Christianity says what you believe about it has eternal consequences. There are no bigger stakes than that. Shouldn’t the evidence be such that sincere individuals can figure it out? Why make it so complicated, why make the evidence so faulty, that even believers can’t understand or explain major portions of the belief system? Why do sincere believers differ on almost every detail?

    Out of curiosity, what do you think the default state of belief should be? Should every individual, regardless of culture or education, try to be a blank slate? In other words, should we all strive to be a skeptic about everything, until a reasonable threshold of evidence is met? Or should all people hold to a religious belief as default?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Nate,

      What you’re saying makes too much sense to me. So maybe my understanding of hell is wrong. Maybe hell is never escaping my own orbit. Maybe hell is always getting my own way. Maybe hell is having the freedom to esteem myself forever. I just don’t know. Luke 16 and Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man is just that – – a parable. I used to wonder why my Bible always had a parable and then an explanation to the disciples. Were they dense? Why did they need an explanation? And then Luke 16. I needed an explanation.

      I’ve enjoyed C.S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia and in The Abolition of Man. I’ve never actually finished Mere Christianity. The concept of hell being an open door hinging out was his. It fascinates me. Is it right? I certainly don’t know. Why think of it in the first place? Because your exposition on the difficulty of hell and what it could say about God is right. Thinking people must consider this. Can it be solved in a lifetime? I’m not hopeful. Paul didn’t solve it other than to say trust. I don’t expect to solve it, but will open my hand to say that I absolutely do not understand it and that I agree with your chain of reason. I just don’t know that the premises are correct.

      Did I say that God was not completely good? I didn’t mean to. I did say that if God created everything, and evil is part of everything, then he created it. That is a simple syllogism only for the theist. I realize that many skeptical friends, not believing in God, would not accept the first premise. If God works all things together for good, then evil is part of the mix.

      Is the comparison between inflationary cosmology and eternal hell the same? No. You’re so very right. I can live and die without the deep secrets of the universe mattering one iota. My point was that honest scientists are humble about what they do not know and what may not become known in their lifetime. Perhaps they are humble because they believe (at least in Carroll’s case) that after they contribute one lifetime’s work it is over and they’ll pass the baton to the next in the great relay race of humanity. In that respect, non-existence is attractive – – a restorative sleep from which you need not awake.

      What do I think the default state of belief should be? So, I’ll speak from my phase of life and experience so far and ask for permission to change it if age brings me wisdom. I think that the default should be what trusted parents teach. Do our parents all fall off their pedestals? Yes. Do many readers here not have trusted parents? Yes. But your children seem to have a father than can be trusted. I would honestly tell them of your upbringing, your journey, and the conversations that you have with skeptics and people of faith – – people of reasonable and unreasonable stripe in both camps. I enjoy hearing my Hindu colleagues tell of the Gita school that their children attend. I was raised on Bible stories on the lap of a trusted father. My children are having the same experience.

      That said, I was raised by an engineer who allowed me to respectfully question Church of Christ dogma and scriptural interpretation. I was raised academically by careful scientists who taught me that evolution was not heresy. What would it take for me not to believe? That is a question that I’m still thinking about – – asked by Russell some time back. I’m a fairly metacognitive guy, but that reflection is still so dim. One man’s testimony is just that – – one man’s testimony. I’ve experienced a change in my attitudes, relationships, and sense of purpose that are so profound that I’d have to see something dramatically better. I know very well that I could be wrong – – it would be delusional not to acknowledge that, but following Christ has given me a sense of purpose and love for others that is sublime. I am unlikely to leave. I am, however, not closed to the skeptic – – on this virtual table and on the corporal table upon which the laptop sits.

      Pascal

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve experienced a change in my attitudes, relationships, and sense of purpose that are so profound that I’d have to see something dramatically better. I know very well that I could be wrong – – it would be delusional not to acknowledge that, but following Christ has given me a sense of purpose and love for others that is sublime. I am unlikely to leave. I am, however, not closed to the skeptic – – on this virtual table and on the corporal table upon which the laptop sits.

        If theist and skeptic alike could have the same view, this world would be a far better place. Even though I’m definitely an atheist, I’m not bothered by the kind of theism you’re advocating. Not that you need my permission, of course! But I just wanted to point out that I’m not the rabid kind of atheist that thinks all iterations of religious belief should be eradicated.

        Also, I completely empathize with your struggles over Hell. You may already be familiar with this, but if not, you might get some comfort from it. Are you aware of the different teachings about the afterlife between the two gospels? To me, it’s extremely strong evidence that Hell is not real and wasn’t being taught by the majority of the Bible. If you’d like information on that, I can send you some.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Pascal,

    Happy Easter! I see what you did there with the Good (Friday) thing. 🙂 Perhaps the timing is why you started with God’s character instead the trustworthiness of the Bible (which deals more with God’s existence or non-existence). In your last post you said you’d tackle both questions.

    I confess that J read this to me the day you posted it and I haven’t looked at it since. I should probably skim it now before commenting but it’s getting late, so I’ll work from memory of the gist. Thank you for tackling these very tough issues. I admire you so much.

    As you know, the question about whether or not God is all good, all bad, or somewhere in between (e.g. what is God’s moral character) is only relevant to me insofar as it demonstrates consistency or inconsistency with the claim of His existence. I’ll leave out the classic arguments for this comment. Imagine if I told you I had two friends, but one of them was imaginary and you have to determine which one is real just by my descriptions of them. Their morality may not even come up or be very relevant. In the same way, as you’ll probably agree, there’s nothing about a God existing that requires that said God be what we might consider “good.” Of course, we would each probably desire that any God who exists be good rather than bad, just as we want our friends to be (real or imaginary) – but our desires have little to do with the reality that IS.

    So, here’s how I break down the argument about God’s goodness, since I’m only interested at the first level in His existence. Either God is all-good, or he is not (meaning he has something in his character/nature/etc. that is not 100% good, and I won’t get into the weeds about what we mean by good). As I’ve claimed, neither case, by itself, affects the evidence for or against a God’s existence. Hypothetically, the existence of evil could be the result of other Gods or forces (assuming the God in question isn’t the ultimate authority or responsible party), or other ends might justify the evil and suffering through a balancing system that we don’t presently understand, or good and evil can mean different things than we think, etc., etc. There are other possibilities. However, what about the God of the Bible? Do the claims about his moral character balanced against the claims about his actions provide evidence for or against his existence? I think so. Here’s why.

    We all agree that the stories tell of God committing some good actions in the Bible, many of which are very worthy of imitation. However, if God did not commit all of the evil attributed to him in the Bible, then the Bible is not ultimately trustworthy. Thus, it’s claims about God are less likely to be true and that God is less likely to exist. If God did commit any of the evil attributed to him in the Bible (or if he is ultimately responsible for it), then the Bible’s claims about his ultimate goodness are in conflict with the claims about his actions. Thus, the “God is good” (implying ultimately good) messages are untrustworthy, which also means the Bible’s claims about God are less likely to be true.

    Either the Bible is untrustworthy with its claims about God’s evil acts, or it’s untrustworthy with its claims about God’s goodness. He cannot be both responsible for evil and all-good. He must be a mixture of good and evil, like the rest of us (that line between good and evil must go down the middle of God’s heart as well). However, in that third case as well (God being a mix of good and evil), the claims of his ultimate goodness are untrustworthy. If you don’t believe the Bible claims he is “ultimately” or “perfectly” good, then the existence of some evil conflict with the claims that he cannot lie or deceive (which are often used to justify trust what we are told are His intents and actions, e.g. his character and morality, and also to justify trust in the Bible). There’s no way I’ve found to come out of evaluating God’s character with the result that the evidence is in favor of the Bible’s trustworthiness, and thus His existence.

    In summary, if our answer is “God commanded the evil,” then the Bible is untrustworthy. If our answer is “God did not command the evil,” then the Bible is untrustworthy. If the answer is, “I don’t know,” then the Bible is untrustworthy. So, God’s character doesn’t matter beyond what it says about his existence, and the conflict between the claims about his character and the claims about his actions cast doubt on the trustworthiness of the Bible, which casts doubt on the claims about his existence.

    That’s just my personal result for considering this years ago. Perhaps you can illuminate a solution I’ve missed.

    Gentleness and respect,
    –Russell

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ending World War 2 was good. Commanding the deployment of Little Boy and Fat Man was bad. Good came from bad. Bad served good. I realize that this is too simplistic by half, but it is reasonable to include in our consideration. Can a good God create evil and use it serve the purpose of a greater good realized only with the retrospect of distance? Would a God who created humans in his image (through evolution in my opinion) work through human agency? We need to keep talking because our syllogisms do not align and because our friendship has value.

      Like

      1. Hi Pascal,

        I think our syllogisms do align. At least I didn’t see anything in your response that I wasn’t intending to include in my original comment. 🙂

        Okay, now I need to be honest with you. This topic gets to me. Deeply. Almost every time I consider it I find myself pacing, thinking fast, thoughts coming like a flurry in my mind with no outlet. I wish we could just talk about it. I almost wrote about it during lunch today but I wrote and Apple Watch app to count-down to my daughter’s birthday so we could finish it together tonight. I consider writing a post this evening but it got long, and I want to write positive assertions, not about negative things that make me sad. Considering biblical morality is one of those negative things for me. I can write or talk for hours about it without even getting into the technical classical logical arguments. I took a break to watch a movie (something I haven’t done in quite a while) and sat down for a quick response to your comment. Now I see even this comment has gotten long (I inserted this paragraph last). I have to stop. I just want to tell you that what follows may sound harsh and there’s a tendency to feel like people are attacking when they challenge the character of someone we love, but please remember that you know me. You know my heart here. I’m not attacking. I do need to be honest with you about morality here. I barely covered anything I wrote earlier in that partial post, and this is scattered, but I just had to respond with something tonight. Every time I mention the morality of God it’s a shorthand for saying the morality of the stories or claims about God. You may or may not agree with those stories and I don’t get into much detail. Here goes…

        It’s possible that God could use evil for good ends, but if he’s responsible for the evil that led to those ends, it’s hard to assert he is “ultimately” or “perfectly” good, especially given the examples. The arguments being made are that our morality needs to be compared with his divine, perfect standard (you can read about such claims here). Using evil to accomplish a good is not always a great moral compass, and in many cases our cultural morality seems superior to the examples of the evil God committed in the Bible to accomplish the ends (at least as we can understand those ends now, admitting they may not be the ultimate ends). However, in this life, in this one reality that we know we have, the descriptions given to the actions of God in the Bible do not measure up to the standard of morality that you and I have. Here are some examples, mostly in addition to the ones you acknowledged. You probably agree with most or all of these.

        The circle of life that requires suffering and death is not “good.” A God that exists and is both omniscient and omni-benevolent would create a universe where we all subsist on something no more harmful than photosynthesis. Cancers due to mutation are not good and they aren’t logically necessary. Being jealous and desiring to be worshiped are not good qualities. Creating humans who are tempted to eat fruit they are told not to eat (seemingly before they had knowledge of right and wrong) does not morally justify the decision to curse the world to increase suffering. Creating a world that requires organic life to feed off of other organic life, requiring the suffering, agony and death of trillions of living creatures just for us to evolve to modern day humans who he deems are fit to worship and enjoy him – that’s not morally good. The threat of eternal torment (whether it is real or not) is not “good.” The slaughter of most living things in a flood is not “good.” The command to torture humans in capital punishment by stoning or fire is not good, much less the reasons for these sentences to be carried out. Torture may be a deterrent, but our sense of morality and the laws of virtually all developed societies tells us there are better ways to accomplish this. The treatment of women, the slaughter of animals for sacrifice, the treatment of other humans in slavery, and the anti-intellectualism for areas that challenge the faith are not good.

        These are a few of the many types of things that we know our consciences rage against. It’s part of the cognitive dissonance we experience when reading the Bible. The justification we’re trying to apply for such actions to keep them “good” may exist, hypothetically, in some future reality – there may hypothetically be some end that justifies some of the evil. However, to the woman who was brutally stoned to death, the baby who was eaten alive by hyenas that (like many animals) don’t do the courtesy of killing first, the child dying of starvation right now (on average one child under five dies of starvation every five seconds today), and the literally trillions of other pain-sensing beings whose lives aren’t as fortunate as our own… to each one of them who suffers and dies, can we truly put ourselves in their shoes and say with assurance that the actions that lead to this suffering are morally good, in every case?

        As I see it, it’s really not about some potential justification that might morally absolve a God of such actions in some other realm. We have to answer questions of morality according to our moral sense right here on this earth. Here our fellow creatures suffer and die, and if the Bible’s record is correct, God is responsible for more of it than Hitler, and Hitler was the more humane in his genocide. He also had a divine precedent to try to justify some of his actions. But none of that matters to the trillions in their agony, and none of it will have any hope of balancing the scales in any reality if even just one person, even Hitler, has to suffer an eternity of torment. If we’re positing that all the actions attributed to God in the Bible must be good, we’re doing so for the same types of reasons people posit inerrancy, and like inerrancy, I believe it fails. Either that, or we’re misusing the word “good” by redefining it in some way, similar to how the writers of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy redefined it to not include the types of obvious errors that the writers believed were demonstrable in the Bible.

        To be sure, the Bible stories also tell of much good from this God, and much good has been done in His name. We both agree some of the Old Testament commandments and many of Jesus’ teachings are moral, though I think we challenge the perfect morality of others. The question for me isn’t whether the Bible stories contain good, but whether we can honestly assert that God is all-good. I cannot read the stories and believe that. I understand those who can. I used to. But it’s because I was brought up being told by those I trusted and loved that I needed to not question such things, but rather to trust in His ultimate goodness. His ways are above ours. Who are we, the clay, to judge the potter. But that is what your asking. Is God good? I honestly don’t believe that this specific God exists, and a substantial part of the reason is because the book that describes this God claims contradicting things about His character and abilities. As an unrelated aside, I do think there is a better moral system than what we find either in the Old Testament or the New. We’ll save that for another time.

        As I’ve said, I don’t doubt the Bible because I’m mad at God’s character. I doubt the Bible because the descriptions of His character are logically incoherent when put together. We’d have to postulate a future state that exists unbounded by our current laws of logic in order to find absolution, and that absolution wouldn’t apply in our world. Given the conflicting claims between God’s perfect moral nature and his actions and commands, it honestly just seems more likely to me that the Bible is wrong about one or more of descriptions of God’s character. Once we’re there, the hypothesis that this specific logically incoherent God exists seems less plausible than the the competing hypothesis (He doesn’t exist in that form). This is especially true given the rest of the conflicting biblical claims about God’s character and the already sufficient explanations for why false God beliefs were are part of our history to begin with. Concerning morality, when I hear the regular church chant, “(Person 1) ‘God is good…’ (Person 2) ‘all the time!’ (Person 1) ‘All the time…’ (Person 2) ‘God is good!'”, or the quote from John that “God is love,” etc., I feel very strange. It feels as though something very deceptive is going on. Something like denial, or battered wife syndrome. That isn’t quite right, but I feel uneasy.

        We’re too close to judge our loved-ones objectively. Something like that is at work in the church. We’re commanded to put the highest priority on loving God. There is a need to, how was it phrased in church last Sunday, “Stand firm in the face of inevitable opposition.” My 4-year-old knows the stories that Christ died for her, He loves her, and that God saved Noah and all the cute animals who came two-by-two. She doesn’t know that some of them came 14 by 14, many of them were going to be sacrificed, God drowned all the other animals and killed babies like her little sister, and that Christ’s death in the stories also means there’s a good chance she’ll be kept alive after death for a torment that will never end. That’s the way we were taught as children and the way we teach our children, right? First to love and trust God because he loves us. Then, once this love is firmly established, we might one day choose to read and face the moral issues in the Bible. But I think you’ll agree that nobody can honestly assess the moral character of a person they love, especially when there is the promise of eternal bliss for them and their loved ones and the threat of eternal torment for doubting that this God can be trusted. Though Job and other’s questioned God in the stories, some such questions lead to doubt and it’s a slippery slope believers are fearful of and try to avoid. The whole setup, that our lives are judged first on belief rather than on heart, intentions, actions (what we’d normally weigh morality upon), only furthers the feeling of unease about the faith.

        I think this is part of the reason atheists have the reputation of seeming so bitter about the faith, especially when they first leave it. Once that fear of Hell subsides enough to begin to look honestly at the question of the morality of the Bible stories, there’s often a feeling that they were taken advantage of. It’s almost like a sense of repulsion when considering how much their conscience was swayed by the need to fit in with the loving believers and family members around them. “Everyone else reads these passages and still believes this describes a moral being, so I can too.” When they step away from the faith, it can feel like coming out of a cult, and there can be an uneasy feeling when these topics are brought up by those believers they love who are still wrestling with these issues.

        My apologies for all this. Maybe this should be an in-person discussion. I need to make myself stop.

        Gentleness and respect,
        –Russell

        Liked by 3 people

        1. You don’t need to apologize for this. Never. And when you share your doubts with your daughter, share this. You’ve said before that you are writing in some measure for posterity. How do I reply? I stand against a blithe sidestep that will not grieve or wrestle with this.

          Why do I believe that our syllogisms misalign? God is all good. God is all powerful. There is evil. So, God is either not all good or all powerful. I have paraphrased but hopefully stated your syllogism honestly. The Bible says that God displays wrath and grace. I hear you assert contradiction.

          My syllogism. God created everything. Evil is included in everything. God created evil.

          I don’t think that creating evil and being evil are the same. Several things about your argument and the emotional fight of flight that it triggers. I’ve shared it. In my response to Nate I describe my bitter tears that flowed freely in the company of a man who I considered a mentor. The reason for those tears was hell, election and the concept of “why be born at all?” I could almost see the twisted logic that Peter described above of one wanting to release children from hell by murder before a so-called age of accountability or baptism. But it is twisted.

          I hear you say – – I accept your syllogism, but the Bible states that God commands evil things. You ask me to judge God as you would judge me – – by my actions. I want you to judge me by my actions. You are a friend and I desire your audit in my life. If I stray in kindness, faithfulness, gentleness or love I invite and request you to judge and speak to me. It would not be a matter of believing in my existence unless we really are just bit players in another’s computer simulation.

          I hear you reject the logical coherence that a God could have a purpose inaccessible to human logic – – yours or mine. I may be hearing wrong. Perhaps you’re hopeful that I’ll have an answer to this, frustrated that I don’t – – neither hopeful nor frustrated, just wanting to be heard. I hear you. If I said I was glad that this bothers you could you see my motive? Not that you suffer. Not that you trigger. Not that you feel like a battered wife. But that you care more deeply about the character of God than any Christian who would dare to put the concept of hell to song.

          I’ll keep chewing on this. I have been for 20 years as have many other people who love and respect you.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Hi Pascal,

            Thank you for your thoughtful comment that, again, shows your attempt to face the issues. It’s very admirable.

            Thank you for explaining what you think I mean. That was helpful in showing me where I still need to clarify my position. In summary, I’m not addressing the problem of evil. I’m addressing the problem of that the specific claims about God in the Bible are logically incoherent. The Bible’s claims go beyond the problem of evil to something more concrete, with examples. Those examples are in conflict with the character of God as the Bible describes it (as I’m reading it).

            I’ll expound on where I see the differences between where you thought I’d object and where I actually do.

            First, what you thought was my syllogism isn’t quite right.

            God is all good. God is all powerful. There is evil. So, God is either not all good or all powerful. I have paraphrased but hopefully stated your syllogism honestly.

            It’s a good try and close, but not quite fully representative of my syllogism. I’ll save it for the end of this comment.

            Here’s what I’ve noticed. The Bible tends to hyperbolize anything it can about God. You may have noticed this as well. In the early books or thoughts about Yahweh, He was much more human-seeming (anthropomorphized). Then there were commands to love and worship him. Then worship came and the descriptions of him grew from powerful, to the most powerful God, to all-powerful and the only God. Soon he was not just a God-man who wondered were Adam and Eve were, where Cain’s brother was, and feared we’d build a tower to Heaven, but became explicitly immensely wise and the granter of all wisdom, and then all-knowing. He possessed all-knowledge across all space and time at once. While it was probably always believed that He always existed (forever), his morality became more explicitly perfect later on. He went from declaring things good to being good, holy and righteous, worthy, and to be revered and feared. He was always believed to be awesome, but worship led to claims that he was all-good – the very standard of moral perfection we are to emulate. There is no evil in him. He cannot abide evil. His very presence is the rejection of evil, hence he demanded the sacrifices of pure and spotless animals His need to turn his back on Jesus at the cross because He was not able to look upon the sin of humanity. Hell exists because God and evil cannot exist in the same place at the same time. God is love, evil is the absence of God. God is only good… all the time. He never lies. He never deceives. This is why we can trust the Bible and the claims God made about himself through it. We are made holy (righteous, good, set apart from the world which is, in part, the absence of His fulness and thus in sin) in following Him. In the end, as I understand it, the claim is that God is moral perfection – God is all-Good and in no way evil. You may disagree with the specifics here. I do as well, because there are many verses that seem to contradict this view and I think much of it is spin used to dismiss our legitimate questions so we can arrive at a place of trust. I’m also not suggesting that the writer’s views of God changed, just that the descriptions of God seemed to changed some as the Bible progressed, going from simple to all-encompassing. The most possible knowledge, power, wisdom, intelligence, love, truth, justice, mercy, grace, righteousness. Heaven is the best possible place you can imagine and then much much better. Hell is the worst possible place and then much much worse. The evil around us may color our lenses so that we naturally think God is responsible for the evil in some way (thus giving rise to the problem of evil). However, if we just look at what the Bible says about God and who’s responsible for what, these claims seem to remain. Despite what we see, God is believed to be all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful, exists forever, doesn’t change in nature, isn’t evil and can’t abide with evil. If we don’t look at the world and just read of His character alone, or if we close our eyes and worship, that’s close to an accurate representation of what the Bible teaches, right?

            I’m not proposing syllogisms to prove how a good God can’t exist. I’m assessing the Bible’s claims at a natural reading (as best as I understand them) to see whether the specific God argued for in the Bible can logically exist. If so, I may be able to defer judgment and trust based on hope/desire/etc. If not, I must conclude that the Bible got some things wrong and reduce my trust in it, and thus my confidence in the existence of such a God. That’s what this is about for me, and it’s all this is about. When you ask if “God is good,” I’m reading it as the Christian God described in the Bible, not some other possible being. That’s a different question.

            Once you get to the end of the Bible, the concept of God seems logically incoherent in several ways. One of them has to do with His moral character that we’re discussing now. This is a high-level view of the first premise in the syllogism I’m evaluating.

            Premise 1: I believe the Bible claims that a being exists with the following properties: he exists for all-time AND is his character is never-changing AND is all-knowing (even of future events) AND is all-good (perfect in goodness and has no capacity for evil and cannot abide with it) AND is all-powerful (possesses all possible power) AND is perfect in mercy AND is perfect in justice AND desires for us to know, love and worship him AND desires for us to be with him forever AND is love.

            If we’re just looking at some of the claims about Him and ignoring his actions, this is basically the picture we get, correct? Feel free to disagree. As I see it, these are the types of things that are believed about God based on claims made of Him in the Bible and how we worship. The problem I have is that, first, these things are (at a surface reading to me) logically incoherent (sometimes individually and sometimes together), before we even look at evil. In most cases, I’m able to suspend judgement as we’re urged to, but it leaves me feeling very uncertain in the end because I have to give the benefit of the doubt in many places. For example, nothing can be all-knowing in our universe because it has been proved mathematically that there is no set of all sets. In other words, one can never know if there is something one didn’t know. However, for a being that exists outside of this universe, it is possible that the set of the our reality is entirely contained within its set (e.g. that all sets are available to him). Nothing can be all-powerful. The “can God make a square circle” or “can God make a rock so heavy he can’t lift it” questions are not silly. God’s abilities in this universe must be constrained in some ways by some of the more fundamental laws He’s set up (all this is assuming a God like this exists). However, I’m okay with the notion that God can be all-powerful because I assume that means within this universe (or that He’ll could possibly have the ability to change the fundamental laws of the universe if necessary to accomplish an end). No actions can be all-good (every action has some consequence that might be less than ideal for some other stakeholder). However, this is an inductive argument and I can assume God can work around it. Mercy is the suspension of justice, etc. This one is tricky. I don’t have a solution for perfect mercy and perfect justice other than to assume the meaning is different than I take it and there may be a workaround in a higher context. Those words and phrases together are nebulous so there is wiggle room. The list is really much larger than I’ve outlined here. However, I’m able to suspend judgment on these issues, though with concern. So, the first premise in the Bible’s syllogism is doubtful, but I will give it the benefit of the doubt for discussion and move to premise 2.

            First, however, comes the problem. If I give the Bible the benefit of the doubt that it is describing a being that exists (according to the claims made about it that I’ve listed so far), I’m good. I can have hope there. Unfortunately, when we insert evil into the mix, things do unravel for me. We agree that evil exists. Let’s leave aside what we technically mean by good and evil now, and speak broadly. Now, at the the first level, we’ve entered into the classic Problem of Evil which you started to outline in your assessment of what you thought was my syllogism. Your outline was incomplete because it left out all-knowing which could be a valid loophole. I could write a software simulation and have complete autonomy over it (all-powerful) and completely good intentions (all-good) but no idea that some bit of code would lead to conscious suffering (not all-knowing). Some would argue that one can’t be all-good without also being all-knowing, but that’s not a necessary discussion to get into because both are claims of the Bible’s God. Also, God could exist but not be dualistic in nature, and thus be “above” good and evil, which actually seems more simple. But the claims about the traditional theistic Gods we’re evaluating do include goodness explicitly.

            Back to the traditional classical syllogisms that represent the Problem of Evil. You can read a good summary of them here. I’m not going to get into them in this comment other than to say that it’s not super-relevant to our discussion. The reason is that, as I said, I’m not trying to determine whether “some God” might be logically possible. I’m trying to assess whether the Bible’s claims are logically possible, and the natural reading of the Bible (as I read it) leads to a more specific set of claims than are outlined in the problem of evil arguments. Those arguments deal with the existence of evil. The Bible deals with God causing evil. I’ll get to this in a moment.

            A short diversion. You said,

            The Bible says that God displays wrath and grace. I hear you assert contradiction.

            Not at all. A God can display both wrath and grace without being a contradiction. The idea of both perfect in justice AND perfect in mercy may be a contradiction, since mercy is a suspension of justice. But grace and wrath aren’t in opposition, in my opinion. Perfect goodness AND never-changing-character AND wrath may be.

            Now, back to the problem of evil and your syllogism.

            My syllogism. God created everything. Evil is included in everything. God created evil.

            Being honest, I agree with the logic, but I think this is incomplete. It doesn’t address the God of the Bible or specific issues of evil there, and it stops short of addressing what I’m wrestling with, which is whether I can suspend judgment and trust the Bible or whether I’m forced to reject parts of it that describe God’s character (and I can’t always know which parts). You say you can reserve judgement. If you stop with that syllogism you’re able to maintain cognitive resonance with an “I don’t know.” I’m past that, though. If I look at the specific claims of the Bible, I find contradictions, so I can’t reserve judgement. In light of that, I admit that your syllogism seems like the sidestep that you stand against. You followed with an acknowledgement that I would object to it.

            I hear you say – – I accept your syllogism, but the Bible states that God commands evil things. You ask me to judge God as you would judge me – – by my actions.

            This is the crux of the issue. You stated it, but you didn’t clear up why your using your syllogism if you don’t think it is complete. Where do you address the evil in what is claimed of God in the Bible? How is your syllogism accounting for all the data? It seems like you’re acknowledging the problem of evil, but I believe there may be logical workarounds for the problem of evil. The potential solutions aren’t pretty and my personal view is that I can’t get through it far enough to accept them (and reach the pinnacle of being able to suspend judgement) unless I’m already highly motivated to believe (which tells me I shouldn’t trust my conclusions to heavily). Also, I think the hoops I’d have to jump to in order to suspend judgement would represent a hypothesis that is not more likely than the hypothesis that traditional theism (with a good God) is wrong. However, the traditional problem of evil is not what I’m assessing, so it just isn’t that relevant to our discussion about the Biblical God. What any syllogism that could have the potential to get me to a place of suspending judgement would need to account for is not that “God created evil,” but rather all the specific claims of evil allowed by AND committed by the God it’s promoting. If a syllogism can do that, support its premises and be sound then it’s facing the issues head-on and I’ll have a chance of suspending judgment and trusting the Bible. If not, it seems like that syllogism is another that is sidestepping the real issues and only addressing the general but less relevant problem of theism, not of the Bible.

            Another small detour.

            I hear you reject the logical coherence that a God could have a purpose inaccessible to human logic – – yours or mine. I may be hearing wrong.

            That’s not what I meant, unless I’m misreading you. 🙂 God can certainly have reasons we don’t see. What I’ve been trying to say is that if He exists and if He has reasons we can’t see which morally justify His actions then 1) He is still not all good by our usual meaning and context because he allowed some evil, and 2) We cannot objectively justify any belief that assumes as its premise a form of logic we don’t understand. We can trust and hope despite such a logical failure, but not justify belief that it exists because we can know nothing of it. However, this is not the final point in my argument. It does not address the contradictions, which I should have phrased more strongly than logical incoherence because people can interpret that in different ways. It’s not a logical contradiction to think some moral justification might exist to make the suffering in humanity worth the cost (and just be logically incoherent to us). It’s just not something we should try to convince ourselves is the case (unless we’re so invested in the idea that our motivated reasoning forces us to so the house of cards of our beliefs doesn’t collapse). My ability to suspend judgment and “just trust” (admittedly due to my bias for the Christian God to be real) may be able to pass right through a logical incoherence, but it stops exactly at the point of a logical contradiction, or any other logical problem that violates a fundamental law. I think/hope God would honor this. I can suspend judgement on things like, “why did he do this or that?” Violations of fundament laws of logic, however, are not things for which I will likely ever be able to suspend judgement, my friend. In those cases, I must go with the null hypothesis and conclude that something about the claims is incorrect. If I’m wrong, I’ll find out later. But my desire to believe something cannot outweigh the strength of a contradiction. I cannot suspend judgement on those which is why I cannot just choose to have faith or to trust what the Bible claims. And here’s why…

            A feeble attempt at what might be close to my syllogism for this issue…
            1. I believe the Bible claims that a being exists with the following properties: he exists for all-time AND his character is never-changing AND is all-knowing (even of future events) AND is all-good (perfect in goodness and has no capacity for evil and cannot abide with it) AND is all-powerful (possesses all possible power) AND is perfect in mercy AND is perfect in justice AND desires for us to know, love and worship him AND desires for us to be with him forever AND is love.
            2. I believe the Bible claims that the being from point 1 both chose to create evil AND intentionally committed many specific evil acts by threat, command, deception and/or his own hand which resulted in the torture and death of trillions of living conscious beings including human women and babies for which the stated purpose was so others would fear and/or worship him because he is a jealous being. This being also instituted a system by which people are judged based first on their belief about him and second on what we typically consider moral goodness, and another system of punishment that results in the eternal suffering of beings that do not hold this required belief (despite the level, strength, quality or quantity of evidence and counter-evidence they’ve received in their lives, their understanding of logic as this being granted it to them, and other factors that might affect their ability to acquire this required belief).
            3. I believe that in order for me to reserve judgment and trust that the Bible is accurate about this God, I would not need a solution for all issues, but points 1 and 2 would need to be, at a minimum, logically compatible.
            4. Points 1 and 2 are not logically compatible because they violate the combined fundamental laws of identity (including Leibniz’ Law), non-contradiction, and excluded middle.
            5. Therefore, I cannot suspend judgement on the accuracy of all claims that I believe the Bible makes about this being and I must believe that the Bible provides an inaccurate description of this being.

            That is my very quick attempt at the syllogism I’m wrestling through. I know it isn’t well-formed but I had a late lunch break and I spent the whole time writing this. It’s almost over now. Hopefully this is enough to start from and clarify in a more concrete way where my issues are. Let’s refine it and “find where the assumptions are in the premises, where the false premises are, or where the errors in logic are.”

            As I final side-note, I’m wondering how we can distinguish legitimate love for a real God from a hyper version of something like traumatic bonding, which is “the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change.” When we look at people who emerge from cults don’t we think they’ve experienced something like that? How could we tell if what we’re feeling is any different? How could we distinguish our experience, presumable with a real God, from theirs, presumably without, when the outcomes and behavior are the same while we’re in the belief system?

            Thanks for sticking with us to work through all this, my friend! 🙂

            Gentleness and respect,
            –Russell

            Like

            1. Pascal,

              I need to apologize to you and our fellow readers. I’m realizing that I haven’t had good blog etiquette by respecting other people’s time. My posts and comments are getting too long and scattered again.

              J and I just had productive conversation where we accomplished with a single diagram what I haven’t been able to accomplish with thousands of words in comments here about “God’s morality.”

              She challenged me to keep my comments to 5 grammatically correct sentences and my posts to < 1800 words because some people are getting lost – and I accepted. 🙂

              Gentleness and respect,
              –Russell

              Liked by 1 person

              1. You don’t owe anyone an apology, babe. The lengthy comments are who you are, and we love you.

                Last night, when I was deep in a question bank for school, you showed me a comment that was many thousands of words longer than the post it was to go beneath, all to answer one question from me that I had not communicated well—I could tell after three paragraphs of your comment that the length was due to your attempt to respond to everything I might have meant with my question (since you weren’t sure of my intent), and you weren’t quite getting it. I told you that one sentence asking for clarification would have been sufficient, and in frustration (and exhaustion, and awareness of what my priorities are 4 days before a shelf exam), I refused to read further. I’m sorry too.

                Your napkin drawing (that happened on paper, but same idea) was far more effective. Even if you has said the same thing in many thousands of words, I think fatigue would have prevented me (and perhaps others) from getting it. Are there readers who skip your comments altogether because of the length (knowing that they don’t have time in the Subway line)? You have so much to offer that I don’t want it to be missed for that reason.

                I offered a challenge (not a requirement) as an experiment, and you accepted. It’s not something we demand or anything you owe us. I don’t want to change you. But I also don’t want you to worry so much about being diplomatic and covering all bases that your comments get missed altogether. Ask questions of those you write to for clarification to narrow your comment before you reply. And draw diagrams—another effective way to reveal what’s in your beautiful mind.

                I love you. Don’t ever change.

                Like

    2. I listened yesterday to a discussion between Robert Price and Hector Avalos. They noted an interesting trend in Biblical apologetics. In years past apologists would argue for the historical reliability of the Books of Joshua and Judges. But as the moral norms in society have changed apologists are actually starting to argue against the historical reliability of these books because the moral issues raised by these books have become a bigger issue now than historical reliability.

      Like

      1. I would not consider Karen Armstrong to be a traditional apologist in any sense, but I did get that impression in her account of Deuteronomy. I plan to continue reading. She is a diligent scholar who writes well.

        Like

  6. Pascal,

    Thank you for still engaging us and especially for engaging in these very tough topics. I’ve never had a problem with the idea of the death of Jesus. If a god wanted to become a man and die on a cross so he could give me a gift of forgiveness I’d gratefully accept the gift. I’d think it was a little weird, but hey if it’s what he wants to do I don’t see too much of an issue.

    As far as conflating goodness with existence, I don’t think atheists are really doing that. Here’s the short summary: I think the hypothesis of a godless world is a better explanation for our experiences than one with gods, and there are several reasons for that, some of which I’ve written before. However, given that I am a possibilian, I am fully capable of envisioning a world where gods exist, one case being a world where the god of the bible exists. Given the horrors of the old testament and the idea of hell, I believe that if the god as described in the bible exists then he is a very scary god that fits the bill of having evil in him. Frankly, if I believed that the god of the bible existed then I would be worried for each and every one of us, because with a god like that there could be no assurances of how kindly he would treat you no matter what you were to do or believe.

    I do have a big problem with the horrors of the old testament in the same way that I have a problem with terrorism within some strains of Islam. But Hell truly is the ultimate in evil. The evangelical groups I was involved with saw hellfire as figurative, but they still believed it was a place of eternal conscious sadness where no love was to be found. Either way it sounds absolutely awful, and to think about it never ending is an idea I want to hide from my children as long as I can (luckily we’re at almost 10 years with the oldest and she still hasn’t heard of it – I think the idea would destroy her because it is often I have to sleep next to her to calm her of her fears of burglars and “bad guys”).

    After I left my church, my pastor and I met weekly for almost 2 years, and we talked about hell often in the beginning. His first attempt at helping me see why hell wasn’t such a bad idea was to ask me to envision myself creating a community of pigs and to envision some of the pigs turning against me. Truth is I was really surprised he thought that analogy would work, and he went completely silent when I gave him the response which I would think would be the response that any compassionate human would give. Pascal, I think you know what I told him, and I am pretty sure your response would be the same.

    How could we even imagine any kind of mind deciding to start off the creative process fully knowing that some conscious beings would be in a place of complete sadness for eternity? The idea is completely absurd to me.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Howie,

      I agree. I just can’t reconcile or justify it to my own satisfaction. I expounded it a little in my comment to Nate above. I read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, by Jonathan Edwards as an assignment in early American literature in high school. I was horrified. I reject Pascal’s wager for much the same reason. I do not have an understanding of hell. It is honestly not a big part of my theology. Justice, mercy, and respect are big parts of my theology. I hope that my children have seen that loving Christ means loving people. When you, Nate, CC, or Russell explain what bothers you about hell you are doing believers a great service. I can’t solve it with an NT Wright book. I can only hold it with possibilian humility (I finished the first book!) and say – – I don’t know, so I can’t teach it.

      Pascal

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Hi Pascal,

        I applaud you, my friend, as always, for tackling the tough issues in a way that shows you understand. You continually validate my praise of you in Why I Respect Pascal, and this comment is no exception. You’ve stated several times here, “I don’t know.” This is like Dr. Tyson’s example of stopping at UFO, rather than positing aliens from another world. This is worth watching…

        While you do a truly amazing job of avoiding the argument from ignorance that subtly finds its way into many of these types of discussions (e.g. Hell), something still remains that’s been pulling at me. I’ve mentioned it in several posts (I know it was in Inerrancy?) but I keep burying it in words. I wonder if you agree that we shouldn’t hold a conclusion with more strength than we hold the weakest premise in the argument it depends upon? If so, I wonder if it’s clear why not having an answer to conflicting claims about God’s morality (and the subsequent choice to trust despite evidence in opposition, e.g. Hell) would naturally lead the science-inclined skeptics among us to lessen our confidence in the Bible? If I can’t see a solution to a logic problem in the Bible, that’s a weak spot in the argument about the reliability in the sum set of all biblical claims about God. We all operate to some extent on coherentism, and the claims of the Bible, like most other sets of claims, are often fairly interdependent (even more-so when we consider 2 Peter 3:16, and notions of divine moral perfection). One of the conclusions of the Bible is that this specific God it’s describing exists. If the premises that describe that God’s character or nature are weak, we shouldn’t hold the conclusion that “God exists” with more certainty than we hold the weakest premise. Maybe some slightly different version of the God exist, but probably not the logically invalid one, right? If any of those weak premises represent something logically incoherent, we should reduce our confidence in the reliability of the Bible, and thus in how strongly we should trust that it accurately describes a God that exists, correct?

        Sorry for being so direct. I feel like I’ve been trying to explain why I doubt God’s existence (explaining why some of these issues are on my list of 43 reasons), but I haven’t heard a lot of response from you concerning whether or not you understand just how my confidence dropped. You probably did address it and I just missed it. 🙂

        I concede now, as I always do in my heart, that the Bible could be close to accurate. It could definitely be on to something. There could be a deity that is powerful and mostly good that is worthy of worship. I always have this feeling that our anxiety about the God whose morality causes cognitive dissonance is blocking us from seeing a real God who is just misdescribed. I would much prefer it if I could believe the Bible painted a consistent picture of a good God. Lacking that, I would next prefer a consistent picture of a God with a few rough edges and some evil, leaving out the divine moral perfection parts, if it represented the truth. I’d rather believe in a less-than-morally perfect God that exists than fail to believe in a perfectly-good-God that exists because he is described in a logically incoherent way. In most cases, I value truth over comfort and desire. That’s my personal plight. I understand how many would choose to default to trust in the comforting but unlikely, rather than waffling in uncertainty before a horizon of despair. I don’t see that my phenotype currently offers me that choice.

        Gentleness and respect,
        –Russell

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I get what you’re saying, Russell—you know that I do.

          But I don’t know if I will ever stop wondering if my human logic is actually the weakest component in the system.

          And with regard to morality—I keep wondering if God created evil directly or if he created good things AND free will by which we desire too much of certain good things. Even pride and selfishness are good things. Also, I am more inclined to worship a God who delivers us from evil than a God who places us in a world where evil is impossible. Maybe that’s the writer in me—a story without conflict has no plot.

          I know you’ll have answers to all of these things. Many of you will. And then maybe I’ll have answers to your answers. But I just can’t stop at the weakest premise when I’m not sure I’m qualified to make that determination about concepts so much greater than myself. I have to reserve judgment—at least for now.

          I can’t tell if I’m losing my mind or finding peace. Thanks for your patience, either way.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Well hello beautiful!

            First, I love you. 🙂

            Second, about logic… some logic is bad, so it’s okay and healthy to question the process of reasoning, but I’d caution the implication that it might be worth throwing out the fundamentals (I’m sure that’s not what you mean, but for readers I have to say it). They are fundamental. If faith is to have any meaning, it must be in standing upon those fundamentals, not in objection to them. That’s my honest assessment and I can’t imagine ever seeing it any other way. I know you’ll just love this part, but I’m going to briefly outline what I mean. 🙂 When someone says “logic,” that can mean a lot of things. But please keep these three tradition laws in mind (identity, non-contradiction, excluded middle). You can read more about them here

            The law of identity: “Whatever is, is.” For any proposition A: A = A.
            The law of non-contradiction: “Nothing can both be and not be.” “Two or more contradictory statements cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time”. NOT(A = NOT-A).
            The law of excluded middle: “Everything must either be or not be.” In accordance with the law of excluded middle or excluded third, for every proposition, either its positive or negative form is true. FOR ALL A: A OR ~A.

            Sorry, I know you know this and I’m sure I’m boring you by now. 🙂 Here’s why I bring it up. When I speak of the descriptions of God in the Bible conflicting with logic, I don’t mean some vague interpretation of logic that is nuanced and may be wrong. I mean God is either wholly good or not wholly good (non-contradiction). Both claims cannot be true, and therefor the premise of this God’s existence is logically unsound. To hear someone say that applying that logic is the weakest component in the system does make me very sad. As we all agree. Truth is Truth. If God exists and isn’t the worst of tricksters, His nature should not conflict with the laws he established. If it does, we should have no objective reason for believing in it on account of those conflicting reasons. We can believe for other reasons, but we should acknowledge the conflicting ones. If we don’t it’s like putting our heads in the sand. If we’re going to critique something and throw it out, it’s better to drop a version of something we desire that is strongly supported by motivated reasoning (which we know is an unlikely path to truth) than it is to drop the very rules by which we make any sense of reality.

            To your second question, “I keep wondering if God created evil directly or if he created good things AND free will by which we desire too much of certain good things.” I’ve often wondered the same. This is certainly possible, but it doesn’t get to the heart of my concerns regarding the Bible’s conflicting claims about God’s character. If he created free will that lead to evil, that doesn’t explain his choice to create a universe with ionizing radiation, floods, earthquakes, volcanos, a faulty genetic copying mechanism, competition for survival, pain sensors that don’t have a decent limit, and all the many many other non-human-caused evil and suffering. Either he created the world that way, or he created it perfect and then cursed it because we did something he didn’t like (or allowed this evil in some other way). If he’s omniscience, he chose to create knowing the possible outcomes of evil. There is evil. The fundamental logic is that He either created it himself or allowed it to happen. One of the other must be true (law of excluded middle). If he just allowed it to happen, he did so with foreknowledge or he isn’t God. The Bible says he caused evil acts himself over and over, and yet is wholly good. It just is a logical conflict, and there are many more that don’t deal with morality, but with conflicting claims about God’s attributes. We both want to believe He’s real, I just can’t trust the Bible’s word on what He’s like. This is part of the reason why.

            The argument about it being a better story to rescue someone from evil rather than have everything always be good is definitely one I’ve considered as well. We think alike. 🙂 First, though, for me, it doesn’t solve the problem of the Bible’s conflicting claims (and thus it’s trustworthiness about the existence of such a God). The idea that God allowed evil so that he can save us from it doesn’t address the specific actions claimed of him in the Bible that cause suffering, pain and death so that we’d fear Him and worship him more (because he is jealous that we love him more than other Gods and more than ourselves). For me, each incident needs to be examined separately and weighed (including the consequences of the threat of Hell) without bias to see if we can honestly trust that in each case there is a solution that allows God to have claimed and done those things while still remaining all-good. If there’s a case where we can’t find such a solution, doubt is what we’re left with. It may be small, but small things accumulate. If God is going to deliver us from evil, there could be less evil. There was less evil in the garden of Eden, supposedly, and will be in Heaven. If those scenarios are logically sound, why can’t they be here and now? If it’s the drama of saving us from ourselves that is compelling, first I’d say that it’s not easy for me to say that with assurance since this is all we’ve ever known. I’m sure we can both imagine universes where there is drama and salvation but much less evil and suffering. Second, it still think that the value we place on the drama and the storyline doesn’t affect the logical soundness of the proposition that God is an perfectly moral being. Trust me, I want the storyline too. It just needs a good foundation first, then I’ll soak it up.

            I adore you. It’s so great to have a life partner and best friend who can wrestle these ideas with me and understand me (and forgive me for my typos and complete brain failures). You’re brilliant!

            Gentleness and respect,
            –Russell

            Like

            1. I don’t have a problem with the laws of logic, Russell. Don’t drop the rules. I just feel like my understanding of the premises may be flawed. God cannot be both wholly good AND evil. But what if he isn’t evil (or what if allowing evil isn’t itself evil)?

              How could he create a world subject to disarray? How do we explain natural disasters? If we only ever lived in Utopia, would we ever look beyond ourselves? I don’t think I have a problem with a God who allows hurricanes and cancer. Yes it hurts and makes me long for heaven, but it doesn’t have to mean that God is not good. Science doesn’t support the idea of a “curse” that happened after human evolution—we needed the horrors and disorder of natural selection to get here at all. I don’t think that disorder implies weakness or evil on God’s part. Yes, it can appear that way in a closed system, but we’re only a small part of something much bigger. When the sun engulfs the earth and then eventually explodes itself, we might be the raw material for a new system with completely different properties—All that to say, I can’t say with confidence that an erupting volcano is a mistake or an evil act. Yes, it does cause suffering, and an omniscient God would have foreseen it. Can he allow it and still be good? Is it worth it because of a bigger picture that we can’t see? In the limitations of the system I’m in, I can only say “I don’t know.” I reserve judgment. Now go take a cold shower, because I wrote about star dust, and that’s just sexy.

              What about the evil God commanded? That’s a tough question that I’ve asked here many times. What I do know is that I should question those claims the way I question (and ultimately do not trust) the origin of rainbows and the 6-day creation story and some other claims in the Bible. It’s not fair to call the stories of mercy lies and then use the terrible acts of God as honest evidence against his goodness. If I’m going to use the Bible itself as evidence against the existence of God (because it is written and compiled by biased humans and not a coherent account), I cannot then use it also as reliable evidence against the goodness of God—if it isn’t reliable for the former purpose, it can’t be for the latter. We both agree that we can’t worship a God who allows the Luke 16 hell—and I’m just not convinced that he does. That said, much of the Bible is still useful for me. For the other parts, again, I reserve judgment.

              You see me shifting. The remarkable thing about all of the thoughts I’m having is that they’re not coming from anyone else. I haven’t read a book that is swaying my thoughts. I haven’t developed a friendship that encourages me toward belief—conversely, some of my closest friends now are atheists I met through blogging. My disbelief has been strongly validated, and my believing friends have been less involved in my life. Yet I’m seeing things differently anyway. I’m finding that it’s easier to believe if I hold less tightly to the truth of the Bible—if I see it as useful, but not altogether a perfect account. No matter where I end up with belief, my home is with you. I love you.

              Liked by 2 people

              1. Hello my bride!

                What if God isn’t evil? That would be so great! But many parts of the Bible are then untrustworthy and it’s hard to have much confidence that such a God exists.

                Your second paragraph was about a God allowing disarray (essentially entropy) as a mechanism for our development, and you seemed to be asking if we could allow that God might be good if we ignore all the Bible says about him and just assume that he created the universe as science finds it. I can allow that such a God might be good, but I would not conclude he is perfectly good. I wouldn’t posit that such a being was necessarily evil, but I’m thinking of the bell curve again. As far as the suffering of all living beings, you and I living in the 21st century in an industrialized world with human rights, democracy, and pain medications, are on the far end of that curve. Most living things have suffered immensely more. If we could live out the lives of just one creature in the bottom 1% of that curve, we might have a different view on whether or not such a God is good or evil. There are trillions of such creatures in the bottom 1%. Without knowing for certain that eternal bliss comes after this life, I doubt most creatures would find existence worth living. You and I aren’t existing in an infinite number of possible conscious states right now and are non-the-worse for it.

                For the third paragraph (about God commanding evil) I mostly agree. I’ll add that I’ve never really concluded that I wouldn’t worship a God that allowed the traditional view of Hell. The question hasn’t been relevant since my belief in His existence must come first, and I did worship Him back when I believed in Him and that Hell. I find much of the Bible useful as well and I will reserve judgement where I can. Logical contradictions are not places I can, as you know. 🙂 In each of those cases, I’m forced to accept the null hypothesis that some part of the claims are incorrect and the Bible is not trustworthy in those places.

                I’m very happy with you, no matter what you believe. I hope you find coherence and peace (and I hope you lead the girls and myself to your happy oasis).

                Love you!

                Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey Pascal,

    I’d really like to continue discussion on this topic because while it is not the only reason I think Christianity to be false, it is definitely one of the biggest ones. I’m with Russell, I have strong feelings about all this and it’s hard to keep from letting my passion get the best of me in my comments. While discussion in person may be better, that would leave others who are here out of the discussion.

    First you mentioned something about syllogisms not aligning. What are we missing?

    Also, I’d like to turn more to the atrocities of the old testament. For me the passages about killing all that breathes have always hit me as the worst, and “I Samuel 15:3” where killing children and infants are mentioned is the clearest example. Saying “I’m not sure – perhaps God had a reason for it that I can’t think of” was my response as a Christian and it sounds like that may be close to your response (although that’s not clear to me).

    But I think this leads to a bit of a problem. Taking that point of view makes it difficult for us to stand against things like Muslim terrorism and KKK rallies which you’ve stood against here.

    While terrorists and the KKK obviously have their own reasons for justifying the acts they commit, and even believe their God backs them in their actions, I feel the need to stand up and say “No – absolutely not. These things are not good. To label them as such would mean redefining the word good to where it no longer means what we all agree it to mean”. So if a Muslim says “I’m not sure – perhaps God has a reason for terrorism that I can’t think of” that doesn’t sit well with me at all. But yet “I Samuel 15:3” which meant Israelites had to chase down every living thing including 2 year olds running away from them in order to hack them with a sword rises to an even worse level than terrorism. I believe if we really do desire to follow in a way that is good, then we should stand firmly against the atrocities of the bible. There are ways to do this while still affirming your belief in God/Christ. Thom Stark in “Human Faces of God” has a way to work this, and his is only one of many solutions that maintain the core of what it seems you desire to follow in. Does any of that make sense to you?

    And if you still think atheists can’t believe in objective morality please listen to the less than 5 minute video of Shelly Kagan on my latest blog post (no need to read the post).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Can you make the next Detente? I think that we can do both – – write here, talk in person. I accept that you are an atheist. I absolutely think that you believe in objective morality. I will read your post, but I’ve been reading your writing for a while and I enjoyed observing your demeanor and joining you in conversation for over three hours. I know you live and believe a moral life. I also know it is not necessary to base that morality on a theistic foundation. I’ll frequently argue an indirect approach, but I could certainly be wrong.

      Will I join you in standing up against racists, sexists, bigots and terrorists? Yes.

      Will I join you in caring about high quality public education that teaches real science? Yes.

      Will I join you in compassion for the poor, disenfranchised and abused? Yes.

      To be honest, after thirty pages of reading and three hours of shared fellowship – – you are a friend that I want to have. My brevity here does not reflect disinterest, but just a twenty minute warning for leaving the house and facing the day.

      BTW – – Little P #1 is reading over my shoulder as I type. He says Hi.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I can make the next Detente and I am very excited about it! I sincerely share completely in hoping our friendship will continue and grow. I may respond more to this comment after work. Have a great day.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hey Pascal,

        Just wanted to clarify one thing – while I definitely have a preference for there being objective morality I’m not actually sure there is (so maybe saying “I believe in objective morality” isn’t exactly correct). Although perhaps it is in some sense correct, because I do make an effort to live my life as if there is objective morality. And as I’ve said before, I am imperfect at that in the same way I am imperfect in my claims of knowledge about reality.

        Say hi to Little P #1 for me – that’s really cool that he has an interest in your blogging. I don’t think I told you but I was so impressed with the good manners that all of your children displayed. Not that I was surprised given what I know about you of course.

        Pascal, I don’t like to push too hard because talking about religion always seems to feel like walking along a precipice, but there are a handful of items that are very important to me, and this topic is one of them. So I’d like to continue a little more on this. I am very honored and happy to join with you in those things you listed. Do you think my reasoning makes any sense for why I feel it’s just as (and maybe more) important to stand against the genocides of the bible? As I said, there are Christ followers who affirm that the God they believe in is all good and also believe that those passages are evil and wrongly attributed to their God. Is this something you are considering?

        Look, I held the view of “I don’t know” on this topic for 5 years and I don’t judge my former self for it. I felt a little trapped in it, but claiming the bible to be wrong at that time didn’t fit with my beliefs, so I understand if that’s where you are at. I’m just curious what your thoughts are here.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Hello Howie,

          I don’t feel like you are pushing too hard if you are willing to give me time.

          I do consider your reasoning sound. I’m not sure about those passages being wrongly attributed to God or the alternative that they reflect the nature of man and God progressively changing that nature. This topic writ large is where I would falter if I ever did – – is God bad? I felt that way once and was willing to die and be punished as I thought I understood it. That was twenty-five years ago. I have changed and the world has not.

          I don’t claim the Bible wrong, but I do think that a lot of what I was taught about its interpretation and context probably was wrong. I’m also quite serious that I’m in the process of remediating a very technical education and I’m willing to give that process time. If it takes ten years to process, so be it. Less than 10% of one life in billions. Chump change.

          Your new friend,
          Pascal

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Hey Pascal. I want to really thank you again for hanging in there with us on this. After related discussions on Nate’s blog as well as my own I think I may have burnt myself out on this topic. I still have some thoughts though, some of which may help others.

            We all feel bad recommending books because all our lists have grown unwieldy, but I really do highly recommend Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God” for all those people who feel drawn to belief in a Christian God, yet may be sensing or wondering if parts of the bible may be faulty. I’d like to quote him on his views of the genocide passages:

            “These texts cease to be revelatory and become impediments to revelation if they are read at face value as the very voice of God. Such readings produce incoherent moralities and theologies… These texts must continue to be read, and they must continue to be read precisely as condemned texts… Just as history’s madmen have justified their genocides in utilitarian, idealogical, and moralistic fashion, we have been trained to justify the genocides of our spiritual ancestors in the name of Israel’s physical preservation, Israel’s “right” to land, and in the name of moral depravity of Israel’s enemies. Our scriptures have trained us to reason like war criminals, and whether we like it our not, that capacity abides in us. To ignore these texts is to push that reality out of our sight, where we are powerless to chasten it. We must keep these texts in our liturgies, so that God can speak through them, urging us not to be yet another people willing to kill in the name of some land, some ideology, or some god.”

            While Thom Stark’s metaphysical conclusions about reality are different than my own, his view of these texts as wrong and condemned is something I could consider if I ever returned to some kind of traditional monotheistic view. It still leaves some open questions, but it’s better than the alternatives I see that are more prevalent.

            Pascal, you know I lean a little toward naturalistic views, you also know my main confidence lies in that I’m likely wrong about a lot of my metaphysical views. And you know as well that I entertain and am friendly to a great many different world-views. But eternal hellish afterlives and things that go drastically against the moral sense of a great many humans create too much cognitive dissonance for me. They go too much against my non-negotiables like we talked about before.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you for this Howie. I’m not sure if I’ll read the book. Karen Armstrong had similar views and they indeed enthralled me. I’m yearning for more reading outside of theology now. Just as my education was narrowed in my twenties, I could accept theology/philosophy restricted reading in my forties and make the same mistake. That would not align with my lifelong learning goals.

              I know that the evidence of your heart and morality speaks strongly to me. I just don’t think my concept of hell (at least the one I was raised with) is correct. It conflicts too deeply with my own moral law and with the moral law of someone whom I know could be a friend.

              Liked by 2 people

  8. I came across this verse the other day – it did intrigue me:

    “So I gave them other statutes that were not good and laws through which they could not live” (Ezekiel 20:25)

    Does this mean we should not assume every instruction from God in the Bible is ‘good’?

    Like

Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s