Monday, September 10, 2007

Can atheists be moral?

Thanks for the comments on the first post in this blog, where I asked if you thought it was possible to discuss spirituality without dragging one another into a religious war. I’m encouraged by the civility you showed, despite obvious differences of outlook.

An interesting challenge came from friendlyneighborhoodatheist, who asked, "Are just theists welcome or can I join in on this debate as an atheist? If so, prepare to defend yourselves."

Of course atheists are welcome to read this blog and to interact respectfully – for instance, to ask for clarification of what a believer means by a certain statement. But this blog is intended to be a place for us to talk about our faith, not to shoot down one another’s beliefs (or all beliefs). "Prepare to defend yourselves" certainly gives the impression that you are interested in battle, not conversation.

The question that friendlyneighborhoodatheist asked later, though, raises issues that I had thought to talk about at some point. Why not now?

The comment on Sept. 9 read:

1. atheists are moral people
2. i would vote for an atheist for
president
3. religion has no place in the public

– if you answer "no" to any of these statements please explain why.


Here’s how I would answer:

1. Some are and some aren’t, just as some churchgoers are moral and some aren’t. Piety doesn’t equate to morality. Organized religions may be inspired by God, but they are run by flawed human beings who sometimes commit horrible, ungodly acts. An atheist who tries to act lovingly and honorably toward others is more moral, to my mind, than a regular churchgoer who runs his business deceitfully or treats his employees with contempt. Religions do such a good job of chasing people away that I consider it miraculous that so many people do believe. As a bumper sticker I once saw put it, "Jesus, save me from your followers."

2. Yes, if the atheist is the best person for the job. However, I would not vote for an atheist who refused to allow the free exercise of religion. Just as I would not vote for a Christian who refused to allow the free exercise of other religions – or no religion.

3. No! Of course religion has a place in public life. Something that has such a deep, life-giving importance to so many people shouldn’t be pushed underground. Belief is private – intensely private – but it is also communal.

Whether candidates should parade their beliefs on the campaign trail is another matter, and perhaps that is what the comment was aimed at. It’s hard to distinguish between sincerely held convictions and poll-influenced blather. It’s useful to know a candidate’s motivations and values. But it matters less to me what a candidate believes than what those beliefs have led the candidate to do, for good or for ill.

What do you think? How would you answer our atheist neighbor’s questions?

57 comments:

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said...

Sorry for the "prepare to defend yourselves" comment. I simply meant that when I talk about religion I tend to ask questions about religion which may make some people look farther into their religion than they normally would. An example can be used by showing a holy books take on religion in public. In the Bible Matthew 6:5-8 clearly shows how even Jesus was against public prayer. Any responses. Maybe not regarding church life and such but more along the lines of politicians and prayer in schools...

pornstudent said...

I would answer pretty much the way you did, Jane. Except that I don't think organized religions are inspired by God.

D.J. said...

Jesus is not condemning public prayer, but actually a "prayer" that seeks personal glory and attention. Public prayer that expresses humility and dependence on God can have a tremendous impact (see Jehoshaphat's prayer in 2 Chronicles 20) on the people who hear it. As for public prayer in schools and by politicians, I couldn't really care less. Teaching the importance of faith in Christ is the job of parents and of the church, not the government. Few things have been more detrimental to the cause of Christ in recent years than the fact that in the minds of many (believers and unbelievers alike) the gospel of Christ is closely tied to the good ol' USA. Yet to say that Jesus clearly is against public prayer based on one passage is incomplete. We must do the hard work and consult the whole counsel of Scripture on these issues.

Chris said...

I think you're rather liberal, Jane. As an Atheist myself, I feel that many Americans don't believe that we can be moral. I simply use my own compass based on, "Treat others like you would want to be treated." Basically, that covers the Ten Commandments, no problem.

As for politics, it's shameful how these guys are using religion to get votes. Yet, a recent study showed that the majority of Americans would not vote for an Atheist President (I remember seeing it in the USA Today this summer but a quick search didn't find it). Anything I would want to do to help politically would be a waste of time. I'm not changing my viewpoint to get elected (which probably means I have more integrity than most of these guys).

As for religion in public, we are widely influenced by Christian beliefs. Many without even knowing it. It permeates our currency, our anthem, our laws, and even federal money (funding of faith-based initiatives). If you take religion out of it, I think you come to a very different conclusion of what we should be doing (supporting gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, etc..).

rod said...

1. Athiests can act morally just as much as anybody. They have no basis, however, to feel guilty when they don't.
2. Any athiest who CAN and WILL get us out of the mess in Iraq has a really good chance at my vote. It was a conservative Christian that got us into the war.
3. Religion has every right to exist in public. You can't ban from public that which is not accepted by a minority. Expressions of religion in public should be respectful of the differences in beliefs of people affected by the public expression.

Brad said...

Jane,

I am glad you have started this blog... I miss Mary's but she is off to bigger and better things...

But back to your questions. I do think atheist can be moral to whatever the current government standard are. Which are different than religous morals.

I try to always vote for the person who I think will do the best job in serving the people. Grant like everyone I have my certain topics which I am bias about but a certain persons religion has never impacted that unless they use that as their only measurement if something is good or bad.

Religion will always be in society. The need to believe in something greater... to explain what is not explained just so you are comforted in knowing some answer will always be around until science can define everything to the Nth degree which will never happen.

Now the role of religion for me is a private thing. I was rasied Catholic by my mother and my father was non practicing but not sure what religion he was raised.

I really don't know what group I would fall into. I still feel the guilt that is so used in the Catholic church (and others) to keep their followers in line but I haven't attended Mass in some time and don't think that I would be welcome since I am a "practicing homosexual"

But I have moved on from that rejection and have begun to love myself and love the good people I have surrounded myself with including my partner of nearly 2 years.

Religion is useful to a point. It helps gather people around a common thing and in a larger group you are able to accomplish more than by yourself but for me at somepoint I would hope people would move away and form those groups for the great good of human kind.

I will stop now as I am sure there are many more topics that will come up that I may have a unique viewpoint to share with the group.

Anonymous said...

1). Of course atheists can be moral.

2). Jesus isn't against public prayer. He's against phonies who bring attention to themselves through prayer.

3). I respect someone's right to be an atheist, even though I believe it takes much more faith to believe our civilization/world just happened as opposed to believing a supreme being (God) created it all.

4). Jesus' biggest targets for criticism were those involved in organized religion.

5). Re: politics, the phonies in that regard are people like Hillary Clinton who has little use for the Bible yet knows she can't get elected if she tells the world her true opinions about God, etc.

6). I believe our country developed into the greatest country on earth because of people's faith in God. I believe even though there are plenty of problems in our world, things could be worse -- we could live anywhere else but the U.S. I believe in the power of prayer and think it's sustained many people through many tough times and those who scorn such belief are too cynical to be objective.

I believe the 9/11 bombings were our wake-up call to the fact that non-Christians in other parts of the world would love to destroy anyone who doesn't think as they do.

I believe we have too many people who've lived too easy and too affluently to believe that we're in any kind of crisis, from a faith standpoint, and I believe that's precisely what radical Muslims want us to believe.

I believe people choose political parties like they choose favorite sports teams and blindly support them regardless of their logic.

A foundation in Christ is our one hope, but too many people think only about themselves and have things too good to be bothered by the fact someone was willing to die a brutal death for us 2,000 years ago so that we could have eternal life.

I believe lots of folks will party and laugh alot here, but when judgement day comes, they'll be sorry.

I didn't vote for Bush. I didn't want the U.S. to invade Iraq, even though I think it was justified. The reason I didn't think we should attack Iraq is because I believed -- and still believe -- that it started a war that won't ever end.

I believe pulling troops out of Iraq will bring us one step closer to doomsday, regardless of what the majority of our country thinks.

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said...

Why do you say jesus is the one true answer? What makes christianity any more true than islam, paganism, hinduism, etc etc?

You write a perfect example of the nuissance of religion being brought public - the need to convert... you threaten those of differing beliefs that "we'll be sorry" when judgement day comes. A perfect example of how religion takes a hold of people by threatening them with terrible things. Its the classic reward/punishment scenario: believe A and you can have eternal bliss in heaven, OR believe B,C,D, etc and disbelieve A and be punished with eternal hellfire and torture.

Sorry for the rambling and I in no way think religion should be 'banned' from public in the sense of churches etc but more of just not being in politics, on our money, or in the pledge of allegiance.

Everyone here may say religion wouldnt affect there opinion on a presidential or political nominee, but obviously the vast majority of Americans feel it is important simply because it is shown on every description of someone (ex. Hillary Clinton - Dem - Methodist).

Anonymous, you also show what this blog is NOT about...intolerance. mainly towards muslims. You come across as if they want to destroy anyone thats different (which is not true) but in reality you do the same thing you accuse them of when you threaten us with damnation.

look forward to the responses.

JAT said...

Moral, absolutely.

President, absolutely not.

So sayeth the American people, if this recent poll is to be believed.

http://www.reason.com/blog/show/122404.html

And Jane, what atheist anywhere -- anywhere they could possibly be asking for your vote -- has ever advocated curbs on worship?

That struck me as an odd little canard to toss out.

Anonymous said...

Pornstudent, the Bible is clear that Jesus founded the Church. When He changed Simon's name to Peter (Rocky), he said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." In Matthew, he tells the disciples how to settle disputes among themselves using the Church as a forum. In Acts we see a definate structure--the Apostles as leaders, the Elders as a deliberative advisory body, and the Deacons administering the community's relief work. The Bible tells us that the Church is the body of Christ. Again and again, Scripture makes it clear that the Christian life is lived in community. The central act of Christian worship that Jesus instituted Himself, the Holy Eucharist (or the Lord's Supper, or Mass, or whatever you want to call it) is one which cannot be performed by one person alone; if nothing else, the Church would be necessary for this.

Does that mean that the Church is always right? Of course not; the church on earth is made up of fallible human persons, who can make mistakes, sometimes even serious ones.

Jane Pope said...

JAT wrote: "And Jane, what atheist anywhere -- anywhere they could possibly be asking for your vote -- has ever advocated curbs on worship? That struck me as an odd little canard to toss out."

To the best of my knowledge, no candidate has ever advocated that. I simply meant that crossing that line would take away any possibility that an atheist could get my vote. The point is that a candidate's faith or lack thereof is not the deciding issue for me unless suppression of freedom of religion enters the picture. Sorry if I was unclear.

Anonymous said...

^
All of the above....


ONLY IN CHARLOTTE.

D.J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.J. said...

FriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist...

Though I didn't write the comment you responded to, I'm intrigued by your comments. Why can one say that Christ is the one true answer? That is my conviction because I believe it was the conviction of Christ himself (see John 8:14, among other passages). Why is it "intolerance" to believe in absolute truth? As an atheist, you believe that Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. are all wrong in our spiritual beliefs. I believe that the words of Christ as revealed through the Bible are true and that other spiritual traditions have a false understanding of God. Why am I intolerant and you are enlightened? I respect followers of other faiths as people and would fight to preserve their right to worship however they wish, as well as your right not to worship at all, but that doesn't mean I accept what they believe as true. The world's religions make claims of mutually exclusive truth, they cannot all be equally true. Muslims, Jews, and I do not worship the same God. The Bible and the Koran, for example, make very different claims about the nature and attributes of God. I accept the Bible as true and by definition understand the Koran to be false.
That was a tangent, I understand, so to answer Jane's question as posed:

1 - Yes, athiests can be "moral people." The question is whether they have reason to be. Without an absolute moral authority (God) morality becomes whatever society at large decides, and thus a matter of personal (and usually majority) opinion.

2 - Would I vote for an atheist? Depends on the individual case, but probably not. I believe faith is as core a belief as one can have. If I disagree with someone to that degree on the issue of faith, I don't think they can accurately represent me politically. Nothing personal.

3 - Individual citizens should be free to exercise their faith in whatever way they wish - including in the public square. Freedom of religion does not mean protection from exposure to one another's religion. However, the government should stay out of the religion business. When they get involved, we all lose, especially the church.

Soli Deo Gloria

Concord said...

I apologize for diverting this conversation - it is really very interesting, but there was a comment that I just needed to throw in my 2 cents:

"Muslims, Jews, and I do not worship the same God. The Bible and the Koran, for example, make very different claims about the nature and attributes of God. I accept the Bible as true and by definition understand the Koran to be false."

Perhaps the writer meant this as his opinion, because technically Muslims, Jews and Christians DO worship the same monotheistic entity, whether it is called God, Allah, Yahweh or Adonai.

Christianity diverted somewhat by introducing the trinity and diverting the main worship and attention from the father, God to the son, Jesus. Jews and Muslims maintained a pure monotheistic theology.

Muslims attribute Allah with being kind, merciful, forgiving, a healer ... Allah has 99 names in the Quran along those lines. I believe Christians also accept these attributes of God - so I'm not sure what the writer was trying to say there.

I'm afraid there's a lot of misinformation out there about Islam and since we only see the extraordinary actions of extremist people who call themselves Muslims we tend to have our negative images re-inforced.

Anonymous said...

Don't you just love when the freaks come uptown and blast their Jesus music and yell at everyone that passes "You will burn in hell".

Then there's the dude that drags around this 15 foot tall cross. He's there every once in awhile. A few weeks back we had a gay basher with a 15 foot tall sign spewing his hatred.

Seems we have had a lot more of this lately. It's very tiresome and very embarrassing when guests come to visit. The city/police need to move these people on. They are simply loitering and looking to start a fight. It makes out of towners think this really is Deliverance.

How come I don't see the Atheists doing the same ?
Oh yeah, we have a life.

D.J. said...

Concord...

I'd be happy to clarify my statement. Just because Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are all monotheistic does not mean we worship the same God. It might as well be said that all Americans drive the same car - four wheels, steering wheel, engine, same basics.
You hit on the prime difference already - the doctrine of the Trinity. The God of the Bible has revealed himself as one being eternally existing as three distinct persons - a mind-bending doctrine that Christians embrace because Scripture teaches it while Muslims reject it as heretical. The Bible teaches that God perfectly revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ (Christ himself proclaimed in John 14, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?"). Muslims say that Jesus was a mere prophet, a good teacher. These are fundamental differences in our understanding of who God is that greatly affect how we worship him. Yes, there are similarities in the things we value and in the way we view God. Yet at the core the differences are so substantial that you might as well say that you and I are "the same person."

Note: In my last post I referenced John 8:14. That should have referenced John 14:6-8. I apologize for the error.

D.J. said...

From anonymous's comment on Christians...

"Freaks"..."tiresome"..."embarassing"..."Deliverance" "No life (implied)"...

Now I'm not defending the actions of all those who do strange things in the name of Christ (I've confronted people myself who have done a horrible and hateful job of trying to uphold the Bible's unpopular teachings on homosexuality), but aren't you spewing the same "hatred" you so obviously dislike?

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

No, I am not spewing it out to all Christians. Sorry if it came off like that. Just the freaky ones. You know who I am talking about. Why is that stuff tolerated and in the center of town non the less.

Again, sorry to all of you decent Christians.

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said...

1. When I said intolerance b/c of the comment about islam I wasnt referring to simply a difference of opinion, I was referring to the fact that the poster felt the need to say everyone whose not christian is wrong and is going to burn in hell. That IS intolerance. He/She is not tolerating those of differing beliefs and simply throwing threats at everyone else.

2. Whether crazy or not, people have the right to walk around shouting at gays or carrying a cross - its freedom of speech. And though I dont agree with those people pushing themselves on others, its there right to. And in this growing police state, any freedom is welcome.

3. Reasonable answer to all who said they wouldnt vote for an atheist due to the likely difference in IDEOLOGY rather than a difference in THEOLOGY. Im the same way in that I will never (most likely) vote for a catholic or a mormon.

3. Looking at history and each holy book, it is evident that the big three monotheistic religions all do trace their origins back to the god of abraham. It is naive to say they dont. Though they seem to worship the same god, they do indeed clearly hold many many different opinions regarding this god, his prophets, etc.

4. DJ - you answer was extremely obscure...Why do you accept christianity over any other religion. Using the bible as a reason is a logical fallacy (circular reasoning).

5. Does everyone disagree with me when I say religion is "hereditary" in the sense that what your parents believe has a strong influence on what you will believe? Or that geographic location has an influence? What can one say when thinking if born in the middle east, you would be a muslim and would hold just as tightly to those beliefs as you do to your christian ones?

6. Last one - contrary to popular belief, atheists do not claim to know everything. I am not saying "I am certain that there is no god." I simply say "There is not enough evidence to believe in a god of any sort - christian, hindu, etc"

Anonymous said...

"hereditary" ....absolutely. It took me well into my adulthood to break free from the reins of religion. My parents and family were a huge factor in it taking so long.

Anyone interested in some great reads:

Sam Harris:
The End Of Faith
Letter To A Christian Nation

I highly recomend it to believers and non believers. It will really get you thinking.

Anonymous said...

From another atheist:

Most people are not offended when people live their religion in public. The battle lines form when people try to make their religion the law of the land.

Next time you go to a public function, let's say a business dinner. When the food comes, bow your head and very quietly thank whoever you believe to be a diety for the food. Then look around. You will find that most people who noticed have stopped talking and sat quietly while you said your prayer.

Then stand up and announce to the table that everyone should close their eyes and join in as we pray. Then look around. Notice all the people who's jaws are set. Notice that the only reason that there is not a confrontation is because most people are not as obnoxious as people who feel the need to pray loudly in public.

President Carter was a deeply religious man. He lived it. Everyone knew it. I never heard anyone complain about it.

President Bush (this one, not the good one) claims to be religious. His claim does not look sincere to me. He makes all his aids attend prayer breakfasts, he channels millions of dollars into "faith based" programs that should be secular government programs. He is helping religious troublemakers aquire control of our government.

Those of us who tend to examine things rather than take them on faith see his religious beliefs as pandering to people who cannot see past the bible that a con man is waving over his head.

A person who does not live his religion openly, is not a true believer. But when that person feels the need to coerce, or even convert, those around him, then he encounters resistance which is mistakenly percieved as criticism of his own beliefs.

If you want people to follow your path, then lead by example, don't try to make the path mandatory.

D.J. said...

FriendlyNeighborhoodAthiest...

Though I understand your allegations of circular reasoning, please understand that the Bible is indespensible in my belief in Christ as the one true savior. Let me explain.

The question is why do I believe Christianity is true while other religions are false. One must then ask, "What is Christianity?" Historic Christianity is belief in God as he has revealed himself in Scripture (Triune, sovereign, holy, just, loving, merciful, revealed perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ who was fully God yet fully human, lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death for sinners (which is everyone) so that we could stand justified before God, and was resurrected bodily - a loaded description, I know, but that is the God of the Bible in a nutshell). That belief is at odds in many respects with the claims of Islam, historic Judaism, etc. In other words, the truth claims are mutually exclusive - they cannot all be true, just as 2+2 cannot equal 4 and 9.

Then, the question becomes, "Why accept Christianity." Reason #1 for me is personal experience - I have seen in my own life that the claims of Christianity are true. How do I know that God is like he is revealed in Scripture? I have encountered him and have seen it for myself. I am well aware that I cannot empirically prove this, and I am okay with that. I cannot empirically prove to you what my wife's personality is like if you haven't met her. I pray that you will encounter God for yourself, for that is the only way you will be convinced of not only his existence, but his greatness. That said, in my journey of faith I have also come to be absolutly convinced intellectualy that the claims of Scripture are true. Whether by the reliability of the ancient manuscripts, the internal consistency of Scripture, evidence from cosmology and biology, the logical consitency of the testimony of Christ's disciples, or other areas, I am intellectualy convinced of the validity of the faith.

I love to discuss these topics, but my aim is not to convince you of an academic concept. The only way you will be convinced of what I believe to be the absolute truth about God is by encountering him yourself. Thus my aim should primarily be to represent him to you as best I can through a life of love, compassion, and intellectual integrity. I hope to communicate those principles in our discussion.

So, am I using circular reasoning in clinging to the Christian faith as true because of the Bible? You could see it that way. However, the only way to evaluate the truth of the claims of Christianity is to evaluate the source of those of those claims, which is Scripture. Hope this clears up any obscurity from my answer, and I look forward to continuing what has become a great discussion.

Soli Deo Gloria

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said...

DJ,

I completely understand that ones views on religion ARE based on faith. Whether your faith is put in the bible or wherever else, fine by me. It doesnt work for me though and you cant justify belief to anyone outside of your views (meaning yourself or other christians). Not sure if that makes any sense at all.

You also said you believe in the bible because of the historical accuracy of the bible as well as the consistency. We could argue the historical accuracy all day long so forget that...but what can you say about the consistency (or lack thereof) within the bible? It is full of contradictions. Each of the gospels tells a totally different story. please explain.

sans wax

D.J. said...

FriendlyNeighborhoodAthiest...

I get where your first paragraph is coming from. It's not really my job to justify my belief to others. Only God can change the heart. My job is to represent God to others as best I can in word and deed (what Scripture calls being an "ambassador for Christ"). I should tell others about Christ, but ultimately its not for me to convince them.

As for your second paragraph, I'm going to need specifics. The claim of "contradictions" is a shotgun argument constantly levied against the Bible, often without support. Give me a specific contradiction and I will be more than happy to address it to the best of my ability.

BTW: Just want to comment on how good-spirited this discussion has been. That is a rare thing with matters of faith, especially on the internet. Kudos to all involved.

Soli Deo Gloria

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said...

Biblical Contradictions (from the New Revised Standard Edition):

Psalm 145:8-9 "The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made."
Contrasted with: 2 Chronicles 15:12-13; Deuteronomy 13:13-19; Deut 22:20-21; 2 Kings 2:23-24; Isaiah 14:21; Jeremiah 48:10; Ezekiel 35:7-9; Exodus 23:23; and 2 Kings 19:35 to name a few.

Genesis 1:25-26
Contrasted with: Gen 2:18-19

Contradictions in the Gospel:
-Matthew 1:17 & Matthew 1:2
-Matthew 10:10 & Mark 6:8-9
-Matthew 1:16 & Luke 3 :23
-Matthew 5:1-2 & Luke 6:17,20
-Matthew 5:16 & Matthew 6:1-4
-Mark 15:25 & John 19:14-15
-John 19:7 & John 18:31
-Matthew 27:28 & John 19:2

Those are just a few I found. The '&' means compare the 2 listed passages.

Also, many thanks to all who are past the "need to convert" stage and can have an intelligent discussion without the need of telling me I need Jesus...even if you think it. :)

Sans wax

D.J. said...

FriendlyNeighborhoodAthiest...

Nice collection. I will begin to anwswer these questions as I am able.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

Is the Bible the one true word? The claims are the same for other religions: who decides.

It has long seemed to me that the god, of whatever religion, is imagined in the mind of the beholder. That generally speaking, those who need religion, the larger portion of the population, need something outside of themselves to believe in. Atheism, by contrast, does not allow this.

This leads to the question of morality and why follow and moral strictures. If one is a believer, the religion subscribed to will usually dictate behavior. An atheist has no such crutch, and must define a moral code idependently, which is not so hard as might be imagined. He too could use the moral code found in a religion, or combination of such. More likely his moral code will be based on the general moral code of the society in which he lives, with some rational thought added to the process helping him agree with the results. Or he may use some philosophical code such as Objectivism to help him find his way.

In all it seems a better way to find your way as those who try to follow a moral code dictated from outside, i.e. religion, will quite often stray from those teachings much as children stray from their parents rules. The evidence of this is seen in the news media regularly.

D.J. said...

Here we go, FriendlyNeighborhoodAthiest...

With your first example, it seems your problem is with God's great mercy, love, and goodness proclaimed in the Psalms contrasted with his judgments in the other passages - they seem too harsh and not very loving. The issue here is understanding God's attributes in balance, namely that he is loving but also righteous and just. This stems from a misunderstanding of two factors: the holiness of God, and the seriousness of human sin. God is infinitly righteous, infinitly holy. He is also perfectly just - he cannot tolerate evil. We look at those passages on judgment and see God making a big deal out of what seems to us to be something small. Yet sin is a big deal. Even things we see as small flaws are glaring when compared with infinite perfection. Jesus himself taught that the primary purpose of the Old Testament Law was to show us our sin and its seriousness. Thus the Bible declares in Romans "The wages of sin is death." And all of us sin. No one is perfect. We are all deserving of God's judgment and it would be just, like a judge who gives a criminal his sentence. However, it is in this area where we actually see God's patience and mercy. He does not blast us off the map the moment we sin. He came to earth in the person of Christ so that we could have peace with him. He gave of himself so that we could be forgiven. Even the most horrendous of people enjoys multitudes of God's blessings that they don't deserve - the beauty of creation, the pleasures of this life, etc. Now, you may not like this view of God, you may reject it. But that does not mean that this description of him is a contradiction. The Bible presents an infinite being for our understanding, not a cookie-cutter God that fits in our intellectual box. You may not like how the Bible describes God, but I hope I've helped you to understand it. Please forgive me for a very surface treatment of this issue. Large volumes have been written on the topic, and we could go on for ages. I'm trying to be succinct for the purposes of a blog.

Your second example is one that has long puzzled people - the differences between the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2. Understand, there is an in-house debate going on about how exactly to interpret Genesis 1, so my answer to your question will be differnent than others. Many Christians interpret Genesis 1 to say that God created the world in six literal 24-hour days. I believe that we should take the Bible literally when it intends to be taken literally. However, Genesis 1 is full of poetic imagery, and the grammatical structure contains many elements of Hebrew poetry. The Hebrew word 'yom,' which we translate day, can also mean an indefinite period of time (ex. "In Jesus' day...). Genesis 1 is all about symmetrical structure, showing the beauty and order of God's creation through a literary framework. Genesis 1 is not trying to give us information on the order in which God created things, it is expressing the beauty of his creation through literary device. The intention is to be theological, not scientific. In Genesis 2:4 we get the transistion from poetry to narrative, and Genesis 2 gives us a much more matter-of-factual description of God's creative activity. God's revelation in Scripture is perfect, yet he has revealed himself through means, including literary genre. You don't read a poem the same way you read a newspaper article. Likewise, I don't believe you should read Genesis 1 and 2 the same way. I don't believe that Genesis 1 is saying the world was created in six 24-hour days. I believe God's creative activity likely spanned the billions of years that science seems to indicate have passed since our universe's conception. Thus, in comparing the poetry of Genesis 1 to the narrative of Genesis 2, I find no contradiction. As I said, others who see Genesis 1 differently will give you a different explaination. This is simply my conviction about what Scripture is telling us. Once again, surface treatment, but I hope it helps.

I'll be back later to continue to address the other points you have raised.

Soli Deo Gloria

D.J. said...

Continuing...

Your third example is Matthew 1:17, which proclaims 14 generations from Abraham to David, and Matthew 1:2, which lists that geneology.

1. Abraham
2. Issac
3. Jacob
4. Judah
5. Perez
6. Hezron
7. Ram
8. Amminidab
9. Nahshon
10. Salmon
11. Boaz
12. Obed
13. Jesse
14. David

Not sure I see your concern. Matthew was by trade a tax collector. He could count.

Next, the question concerning Matthew 10:10 and Mark 6:8-9. Did Jesus tell his disciples to take a staff and sandles on their journey or didn't he? The issue here is largely one of translation. As you are likely aware, the Bible was written in Koine Greek, not English. In Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to "ktesthe" no staff or sandals. The word means "to acquire, purchase, get." In Mark, Jesus tells his disciples to "airo" a staff and sandals. The word means simply, "to take." Thus, the two writers use different language to express the same truth - Jesus told his disciples not to waste time purchasing supplies, they were to take what they had and go, and trust God to provide. The ESV does a much better job than the NRSV at accurately rendering these passages...

Matthew 10:9-10
"Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff"

Mark 6:8-9
"He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics."

When we look at what the authors wrote in their language, the meaning of the text becomes quite clear.

I'll be back for more later...

Soli Deo Gloria

D.J. said...

Continuing...

Your concern with Matthew 1 and Luke 3 is about the alleged discrepancies between these two accounts of Jesus' geneology. First, we must understand a few things about ancient Jewish geneology. The word translated "son of" actually literally means, "decendant of." It was not Jewish custom to give every single name in every geneology, but often to "hit the high notes," so to speak. That being said, the key to understanding these particular texts again lies in the original language. In Luke 3:23, we are told that Jesus was the supposed son of Joseph. This is an interjection in Luke's thought, and a portion of it appears parenthetically in most English translations. In the Greek, the whole tag is an interjection, reading like this: Jesus - the supposed son of Joseph - the son of Heli. What Luke is pointing out is that it was widely believed that Jesus was Joseph's son. In truth, he was born of a virgin - Mary. Luke is saying that while Jesus was the supposed son of Joseph, he was actually the son of (remember, literally "descendent of") Heli, who was Mary's father. Thus, Matthew's account gives Joseph's geneology, Luke's account gives the geneology of Mary. Once again, grammatical inspection clears up the truth that can be difficult to see in translation.

Next, Matthew 5 and Luke 6 - The sermon on the mount. Matthew describes Jesus delivering these teachings on a "mountain," Luke describes them on a "level place." Two possible solutions. First, do we really think that in his 3+ years of public ministry Jesus taught these things only once? As a minister, I can attest to the fact that preachers often travel from place to place teaching the same sermon. This is not uncommon. This is the most likely explaination. However, even if these two accounts are referring to the same instance, they are not neccesarily contradictory. Don't mountains have level places? Can Jesus not be on what we call a plateau? It is not unreasonable to say that Jesus was on a level place on a mountainside.

The question about Matthew 5 and 6 is very simple to explain. In Matthew 6, Jesus is warning his followers about the danger of practicing good deeds for personal glory. We've all seen the people who put on a good show to make themselves look good, yet have hearts that are cold. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says that the purpose of our lives should be to give glory to God, not self. These passages are not contradictory but are teaching two sides of the same coin. Matthew 5 tells us to represent God to the world through a life of love and compassion. Matthew 6 cautions us about using those good deeds for personal gain, for pride is a very real force in the human heart. As in all his teaching, Jesus is more immediately concerned about the condition of his people's hearts than he is about outward deeds, which are important, yes, but can be faked.

Be back soon...

Soli Deo Gloria

D.J. said...

Continuing...

Next up, the question of Mark 15 and John 19 - when was Jesus crucified? Mark says he was crucified at "the third hour." John says the trial was still going on (no cruicifixion yet) at "the sixth hour." Seems like a lapse. The solution - Mark uses the Jewish system of timekeeping, John uses the Roman system. The Jewish system went from evening at 6 AM to morning at 6 AM and back around to evening. Thus, Mark is telling us that Jesus was crucified at 9 AM. The Roman system went from midnight to noon and back around. Thus, John is saying that at 6 AM, the trial was still on. It is thus perfectly logical that three hours later, Jesus was crucified. Lest there be any allegations that this is being pulled out here for the sake of convenience, John consistently uses Roman time throughout his gospel. For reference, see John 1:39 and John 4:6.

The next question is from John 18:31 and 19:7, namely, was it legal for the Jews to put Jesus to death. In John 19:7, the Jewish religious leaders are saying that according to the Mosaic law, they believed Jesus deserved to die. This is what they have sought for years. However, Israel was occupied by Rome, and they could not legally administer the death penalty without Roman approval and using Roman methods (AKA crucifixion). Thus, when they tell Pilate that it is not lawful for them to put someone to death, they are speaking of their political authority from Rome, not their interpretation of Jewish Mosaic law.

Your final concern is regarding the robe placed on Jesus' back during his torture. Matthew describes the robe as scarlet, John describes it as purple. First, this was not a new regal robe. It was an old tattered robe that the soliers had lying around and used to mock Jesus. Most likely it was faded, and not in the best shape. People describe color differently. What I say is blue, someone else may describe as navy blue. What I say is red, someone else may say is maroon. Neither of us would be mistaken, just offering different descriptions from different perspectives. Same with Matthew and John. What one sees as a scarlet robe, the other sees as so badly faded that it looks purple. They are both offering an accurate description of the robe and the event, but they both describe it differently.

Well, I believe I have covered all the examples you brought up. Doubtlessly you will produce more. Yet I hope that I have demonstrated that what appears to be a contradiction in the Biblical text can look quite different after careful examination. The Scriptures were written in another language by people who lived in a different culture from us 2000 years ago. There will be things that will appear odd from our surface readings. However, study of Scripture can be hard work. We must strive to intellectualy close the gaps that separate us from the authors, whether linguistic, cultural, or otherwise. I hope I have demonstrated that effort to you, not to show you my intelligence, but to demonstrate the beauty and the reliability of God's revelation. I look forward to our continued discussion of the most vital questions in human existence.

Soli Deo Gloria

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said...

Impressive DJ. And i surely could produce more but that would be a waste of time. Thanks for the input.

New question to all: Evolution and religion - mutually exclusive or compatible?

Sans wax.

D.J. said...

Evolution and religion...compatible?

Well, obvioulsy that depends on the religion. As a Christian, I can only speak from my own perspective.

Darwin was a brilliant scientist. He observed and documented the process of natural selection, where organizms adapt to their environments through gradual mutation. This "microevolution" is absolutely compatible with Christianity, and it is true. All truth is compatible with Christianity, because all truth is God's truth, for all things were created by God.

Darwin's mistaken assumption was that the process of natural selection that he observed could account for the wide variety of life we seen on earth, given enough time (macroevolution). Modern scientific research is casting increasing doubt on that assumption. For example there is a concept being observed and discussed is scholarly circles today known as "irreducible complexity." In other words, there are many biological structures in organizms that cannot be explained by a series of gradual mutations when reduced to their components, they seek to function, and thus would be discarded by natural selection. Biblically, macroevolution's claim that humanity is descended from a sub-human primate ancestor is at odds with the claim of Scripture that man was a special and distinct creation in the image of God. Yet my rejection of Darwinian macroevolution is on as much scientific ground as it is theological ground. There is an interesting looking documentary coming out in theaters in Febrary called "Expelled" that looks to examine some of these issues.
Nothing like a complicated answer to a simple question. Yet such is life... and often times faith.

Soli Deo Gloria

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said...

The concept of irreducible complexity has no scientific background whatsoever. Its non-evidence. Ex: the eye is so complex it couldnt have just happened. I'm sure youve heard the lineage of the eye. started as a small light sensitive dot, then moved to more of a pinhold camera which could detect shapes, and from then kept going until now where we can see colors, depth, etc. I read a book a year or two ago about intelligent design and Michael Behe's concept of irreducible complexity. There may be many things in nature that are so complex they couldnt have simply evolved to what they are now with no base structures BUT there is an exaplanation.

That there were once structures that acting like bridges to the new components and once they werent needed, they were "naturally selected" away.

Not sure if this post makes any sense at all but I tried. The idea of macroevolution can be compatible with religion though. It may conflict with the genesis account of creation BUT god could have hit the 1st domino of life and watched as it evolved into more complex beings, thus, being responsible yet not putting his "hands" directly in the process.

Also, if you are indeed a minister, when the topic of atheism arises, any help dispelling the stigma attached would be great. And what better place to start then inside religious circles. The whole concept of atheists being less moral is a crock. Of all the thousands of gods who have been said to exist over time, atheists just take it one god further. As George H.W. Bush said, "Atheists arent Americans."

D.J. said...

The process of theistic evolution that you outline is held by many people, but it is my conviction that this "hands-off" God does not line up with God as presented in Scripture. Thus my stance.

As for atheiests being moral people, certainly many are. Never said anything to the contrary. It is the "why" of atheistic morality that interests me. Could you explain your foundation for deciding that certain actions are right or wrong?

Soli Deo Gloria

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said...

Morality comes from a variety of factors. Family, Society, Culture, Friends, religion.

I believe it was you who mentioned in an earlier post that "1 - Yes, athiests can be "moral people." The question is whether they have reason to be. Without an absolute moral authority (God) morality becomes whatever society at large decides, and thus a matter of personal (and usually majority) opinion."

So I will answer with mainly a question(or 2): My morality comes from what society at large decides, but why does that pose a porblem? Also, If religious people follow a certain morality simply b/c gods says, that means you arent moral because it feels right but rather just to please a higher power - at least thats how it comes across. Any thoughts on that idea?

As for society deciding morals by popular opinion: Obviously society is great at morality...it HAS to be. If society fostered immorality, society would not be able to exist. Think about it, if there wasnt pressure to teach murder, stealing, etc as wrong, a society certainly wouldnt last long.

sans wax.

D.J. said...

You ask why society at-large deciding morality poses a problem. Here is why I think it does. 300 years ago, society at-large believed that slavery was right. Was it? Were they mistaken? By your definition of morality, they cannot be mistaken. What is right is whatever society decides is right. If 100 years from now, people decide that murder is ok, will it cease to be wrong? Every day, people decide to do horrible things. Who are the rest of us to tell them that what they did was wrong? Why should our admittedly self-conceived morals dictate their life? We all live like morality is to some degree an absolute reality. When a pedophile or killer goes on trial, we refer to them as "monsters," as "evil" people. We talk as if they have broken some sacred code. By your resoning, all they have done is come up with a different sense of what is right and what is wrong. Now, as a society we can say "You may not do that in our society." But can we say they are "bad people?" What is "bad" but some arbitrary standard we impose on those who do not think like us? These are the kinds of questions you must deal with when you remove morality from an objective, absolute, authoritative source (God) and reduce it to a human construct.

Also, to answer your question about being moral just to please a higher power - that is the fundamental reason that I do everything I do. The Bible teaches that we exist to glorify God. That is the purpose for which we were created. And in that purpose, we find the deepest satisfaction and meaning in life. What ulitmatly will provide happiness to the human soul is to experience God. A great theologian/pastor named John Piper said it this way - "God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him." This is a tangent, admittedly, but I just want you to realize that living to please a higher power is not a problem for me, it is my goal. In that I find purpose and happiness.

My question remains - how can you say that someone's actions (for example, the 9/11 hijackers) are wrong? What makes your personal understanding of morality any more virtuous than theirs, if virtue does not exist outside of the construction of society?

Soli Deo Gloria

Jane Pope said...

I just want to poke my head in long enough to say I am enjoying reading your thoughtful and civil debate.

Carry on!

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said...

Ah...One can say someones actions are "wrong" or "evil" because society HAS created standards and objective morality. Simply because morality is created by society doesnt mean it cant change. Saying slavery was once okay in society doesnt automatically rule out the idea of society based morality. In the bible god talks about slavery as if he approves of it, and he is supposed to be the objective source. Morality can change. Gay marriage is a perfect example. Whether you agree with it your not it is clear gay rights are becoming more and more accepted.

Your point about the 9/11 hijackers can be used to prove my point as well. They were fundmentalist muslims and just read the parts of the quran that said being a martyr leads to heaven filled with virgins etc etc. That same plane could have been filled with fundamentalist christians who read the parts of the bible that endorse violence against non-believers. The passages are there, its just what is accepted by SOCIETY that rules out some over others.

I think we can agree that gay rights most definitely are not totally accepted in society and christian fundies quote passages from the bible (1 that comes to mind is from Leviticus) to justify their beliefs and I dont have my bible with me but I believe its Leviticus 19:19 (same book even) that is so quickly disregarded by those same people. Saying that wearing a woolen blend or linen or something is punishable by death. I may be thinking of the wrong passage but cut me some slack. Its because they know that society sees those views as ridiculous.

I say its a safe bet to say society uses the golden rule and that rule can be traced back to long before the time of jesus.

Gotta go,
sans wax.

Anonymous said...

Basis for morality?

I don't get it, I really don't. Why would someone claim Bible (or God) is the source of our morality. Is someone claiming that before Moses got the 10 commandments from God it was perfectly OK to kill, rape etc? I doubt it.

Also, what are religious people really saying when they claim their morals are because of God? Well they are really saying "if there would be no God and promise of Heaven and punishment in Hell I would not consider being moral". Now you tell me which is a better stance, being moral because you are simply good or being moral because you are afraid of some consequences or you want to suck it up to your deity?

As far as the Bible being inerrant. Just simply look at the question:

Where did Jesus first appear to the disciples?

* Matthew: On a mountain in Galilee (60-100 miles away) (28:16-17)
* Mark: To two in the country, to eleven "as they sat at meat" (16:12,14)
* Luke: In Emmaus (about seven miles away) at evening, to the rest in a room in Jerusalem later that night. (24:31, 36)
* John: In a room, at evening (20:19)

So how can one explain this?

(Sorry, I don't have blogger account.)

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

Questions:
1. atheists are moral people?

They could be or not. It depends on the person. Morality is what society defines as right versus wrong, 'sin' is what God (religion) defines as right versus wrong. An Atheist could be 'moral' or he or shoud could not be. It depends on the person. Something can be 'moral' in one period and immoral in the next. Sin however (what God defines as wrong) is forever. A Christian could act immorally. A Muslim can act immorally. Why not an atheist?

2. i would vote for an atheist for
president?

No. Someone who runs for President or any public office should believe in a higher authority. An individual who only believes in himself (or herself) won't represent the 90% of individuals who do. I owuld not vote for an atheist period any more than I would vote for someone who believed in free love or assorted other whacky theories such as the theory of Atlantis or the Pyramid's as landing pads for aliens.

3. religion has no place in the public square?

No, Wrong. Religion is a valid measure of an individuals ability to see the world beyond himself and to reflect the society that he is from. An individual who is an atheist is not fit for office because they are missing any reliance on a higher authority and not representative of the population as a whole.

90% of Americans believe in a higher authority. An individual who is an atheist could be a 'nice person' but they are missing an element in their life that voters was to see in their elected officials (the idea of reliance on God).

Governments of all levels in America open with prayer. The US Supreme Court, Congress (both House and Senate), there is a National Prayer breakfast each year, resolutions on the Bible by elected officials at all levels, and locally elected bodies pray for guidence with the decisions they have to make.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the basis for morality. Practically, all living things that live in groups with their own kinds in a social/political environment inherently have or develop some sort of code of conduct as to what is or is not acceptable for the group. Some like ant and termite colonies develop rather complex and sophisticated codes of conduct. Survival of one's species demands that it be so. Those who do not have such a code of conduct would go into extinction relatively quickly.

We, humans, choose to believe that this inherently felt yearning to preserve and promote the well-being of our species (morality)is divinely given and directed. That's probably because our arrogance as being so special and unique and our so-called reasoning power will not allow us to believe that we are just like other creatures of the universe, except for these evolved enhanced mental faculties.

In addition, regarding religion in general, heaven, day of judgment, hell, and all this after-life stuff, there is absolutely no evidence and no basis in fact to believe that any living thing thing including humans can retain self-awareness to even know who he is after death without the physical brain, a vital part of the physical body that living things lose at death.

In fact all the evidence points to the contrary. Objective evidence shows that even a previously devoutly religious person whose brain subsequently becomes diseased or severely damaged may not even be aware of his or her own existence to know or understand all this stuff about God, heaven, hell, etc. Neither are infants whose brains are still immature. The physical brain is absolutely necessary for every person's self awareness in life and most likely after life.

To believe that after the physical life, we would know and be aware that we are still that same person we are in life and go to heaven or hell (at what age do we freeze this heavenly self-awareness? 25 or 95 if we die at 95? personally I would choose 25) without our physical brain is folly, fantasy and perhaps arrogance. The evidence and the objective facts lead me to believe that just as I was unaware of my existence as a person before its occurrence in the form of birth, it is just as possible, even likely, that I will be just unaware of it after death.

However, I understand why in life we humans need religion and all of its attendant teachings. Too many things (almost everything) beyond our control. The need for more certainty and for immortality, etc. Personally, although, I do not believe in any of it, I still attend church a few rare times with my wife of 28 years who believes differently than I do just to support her and for social purposes. We have three grown children and I have always told them that I advocate free thinking. If you believe in religion or any particular belief, then feel free to practice it without any pressure from me or from anyone to do otherwise. If you do not believe and choose to be a free thinker like I think I am. That's okay too. Some of our children believe in religion and some do not. I do not use the term atheist because I believe I should not label or define myself by whether I do or do not adhere to someone else's idea of what the ultimate truth is (a-theist). I prefer free thinkers and limited thinkers (those who limit their concepts of life or humanity to what is taught in some sacred book).

Mooms said...

TheFriendlyNeighborhoodAtheist said... “I am not saying ‘I am certain that there is no god.’ I simply say ‘There is not enough evidence to believe in a god of any sort - christian, hindu, etc’”

I’d classify that as agnostic, which is where I put myself.

Anonymous recommended Sam Harris’ Book, The End Of Faith. I would not. I’ve read it, and trust me, it would not convince any really knowledgeable believer. Ol’ Sam really doesn’t know what he’s talking about re theology or the Bible. And I say that as a confirmed skeptic. Hey, when even I know more about the subject than he does . . . .

The Friendly Neighborhood Atheist further asks how anyone can trust the Bible, which has so many contradictions, weirdnesses, whatever. Committed believers are very good at explaining away apparent contradictions on a surface level. They can even explain why the Bible clearly says that slavery is OK, as is killing disobedient children. If you are really interested in learning about how the Old Testament was put together over the centuries by disparate groups, you should read Jonathan Kirsch’s book, The Woman Who Laughed At God. Kirsch is a Jewish Biblical scholar (the Old Testament IS their book, after all), and he views the Jewish Bible as a history of the Jewish people, and how they perceive their relationship with God over time. The oldest writings come from a time when the Jews weren’t clearly monotheist, and their view of God is very anthropomorphic. The Jews had their god, and other tribes also had gods, but the Jews saw their own as the most powerful. The second Genesis story is from this very early writer. There were many, many writers of the Old Testament, and their writings cover many centuries and points of view.

For the New Testament, I’d read Bart Erhman’s book, Misquoting Jesus. Erhman spent the first part of his life trying to reconcile the discrepancies in the New Testament; he ended up explaining them, not explaining them away. Very readable book by a legitimate scholar.

DJ contends that modern evolutionary science is somehow wrong and that “Modern scientific research is casting increasing doubt on that assumption. For example there is a concept being observed and discussed is scholarly circles today known as "irreducible complexity." In other words, there are many biological structures in organisms that cannot be explained by a series of gradual mutations when reduced to their components, they seek to function, and thus would be discarded by natural selection.”

If you are interested in the debate on that, you couldn’t do better than to read the transcript of the Kitzmiller Trial, in Dover Delaware. This link takes you to the end of the direct and into the cross of Dr. Behe, one of the (only) scientists with credentials that actually supports Intelligent Design, and “irreducible complexity.” You can, if you wish, read where Dr. Behe is sliced, diced, and left bleeding on the floor. As is his “theory:”


http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day11pm.html

The trouble with Intelligent Design, and all other ideas that try to incorporate science into religion, is that science and religion are oil and water. No hypothesis that includes any element of the supernatural can be tested scientifically, given that a supernatural being can do anything she wants to; any result is possible.

Mooms said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.J. said...

Hope everybody had a great weekend!

This discussion has certainly developed alot since I last checked it out Friday night. Just a couple thoughts I want to reiterate...

On the question of morality - without an objective moral authority (God), it would seem we can agree that the basis for morality becomes the individual and/or society. That said, my question for those who derive their morality from society is this: If morality is a construct of an individual or a society (a group of individuals), does it not follow that morality is an opinion, derived purely from the minds of those who create it. There is no outside standard to draw on. So, what makes the opinion "murder is wrong" any different than the opinion "blue is the best color?" How can we say that someone is a "bad person" for disagreeing with us on the first, but its just a "difference of opinion" if we disagree on the second?

Now, for the matter of the Bible and its supposed contradictions...

"Committed believers are very good at explaining away apparent contradictions on a surface level."

Could it also be that committed athiests are very good at finding contradictions to support their unbelief?

I do not have any delusions about convincing anyone of Christianity's truth through historical arguments. As I have said, only God can change the heart, and the heart - not the brain - is what must change for one to come to God. What I do hope to demonstrate is the intellectual integrity of the faith. We as believers are accused of "explaining away" any contradiction. I ask you, was I not very thorough in my dealings with the contradictions FriendlyNeighborhoodAthiest proposed? Did I show an abandon of logic and reasoning? I believe I provided logical and textual support for my assertions. I certainly don't feel that I was casually dismissing each point without sound reason. I ask you to just consider the possiblity that perhaps when you look at the Bible you see what you want to see. Is that not what you accuse believers of? Could that not also be true of unbelievers? Do not assume that athiests are the only ones who do not reason based upon presuppositions.

To address Iztok's concern...

Where do any of those passages assert that those instances were the first time Christ appeared to his disciples? They are each the first instance recorded in each gospel, but none claims to be the first encounter. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us four perspectives on the same events. Different things stick out to each. For example, several of the four give the mountaintop account you cite from Matthew. However, in Matthew's case, this happens to be the only post-resurrection account he gives. Mark, Luke, and John include others. Incedentally, the two men in Luke's "Emmaus Road" account are not even among the "twelve." They are simply travellers who were in Jerusalem that weekend (it was, after all, the passover, when many Jews made pilgrimage to the city).
Let me give this example. This morning, I woke up, ate breakfast, showered, got dressed, and headed to work. If two people were to chronicle my day today, what if one gave that detailed account and the other simply said, "D.J. woke up and headed to work this morning." Would they be contradicting each other? Of course not.

I do not shy away from any criticism of Scripture, for I have full confidence in it. Some of you have brought up concerns. I feel that I have at least been thourough and reasonable in dealing with those concerns. I hope I can at least demonstrate to those with the caricature of the Bible as "full of contradictions" that the truth runs a little deeper. Please consider the possibility that you see what you want to see. A good friend of mine put it this way - "People will go to great lengths to discredit that which demands their allegiance." Thanks for your continued good-natured discussion.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mooms said...

DJ notes:

“I do not shy away from any criticism of Scripture, for I have full confidence in it. Some of you have brought up concerns. I feel that I have at least been thourough and reasonable in dealing with those concerns. I hope I can at least demonstrate to those with the caricature of the Bible as "full of contradictions" that the truth runs a little deeper. Please consider the possibility that you see what you want to see. A good friend of mine put it this way - "People will go to great lengths to discredit that which demands their allegiance." Thanks for your continued good-natured discussion.”

That is all quite true.

For anyone who is interested in a readable, yet scholarly treatment of the apparent – and in the scholar’s opinion, quite real – contradictions in the New Testament, you couldn’t do better than to read Bart Ehrman’s book, “Misquoting Jesus.” It’s a good, short read. But DJ is correct: For both believers and skeptics, any contradictions in the New Testament, if they exist, are irrelevant. The believer accepts both the Bible and the god it describes as an act of faith. He is correct that no rational argument will bring on this faith; you have it, or you don’t.

And for those who do not believe, even the most coherent and tightly woven document would not convince. There is just no empirical, rational reason to accept any of it. For a skeptic, any contradictions in the text are also, at base, irrelevant. The whole argument has a sort of “gotcha” flavor to it.

Mooms said...

DJ notes:

“On the question of morality - without an objective moral authority (God), it would seem we can agree that the basis for morality becomes the individual and/or society. That said, my question for those who derive their morality from society is this: If morality is a construct of an individual or a society (a group of individuals), does it not follow that morality is an opinion, derived purely from the minds of those who create it. There is no outside standard to draw on. So, what makes the opinion "murder is wrong" any different than the opinion "blue is the best color?" How can we say that someone is a "bad person" for disagreeing with us on the first, but its just a "difference of opinion" if we disagree on the second?”

Ah, now this one is a softball! What if the person to whom you are speaking has a different god – or a different conception of god – than you do? What if he has a whole different sacred text that sets out a whole different set of rules? What if that person’s god, and his sacred text, orders him to consider blue as the “best” color, and orders him to murder all heathens – or at least, make them all slaves? What if his text says that men should each have 4 wives? Why would he consider any appeal to your god’s rules?

Heck, we have trouble convincing even those folks who supposedly follow the same god and read the same sacred text to follow the same moral rules that we do. Many biblical scholars believe that interpretations of the Bible that call homosexuality sinful are incorrect. Parts of the Bible can be read to justify slavery – and indeed, have been read that way in the past. There’s even a rule in there that says it’s OK to murder disobedient children.

To get to a real world problem: How would you convince an illiterate Afghani tribal elder that honor killings were wrong? For him, an appeal to the Christian Bible would be not only wrong, it would be blasphemy, just as an appeal to the Koran would be blasphemy to you.

So we come to the same place: We try to convince on the basis of reason; the greatest good for the greatest number, and grope forward from there.

D.J. said...

Mooms...

I think we are largely on the same page on the issue of contradictions in the text. However, I would disagree with you on one point - if contradictions do exist, they are not irrelevant. The inerrancy of Scripture is one of the most foundational doctrines of Christianity. If it is demonstrated that the Bible contains contradictions, its truth is cast into doubt, and its absolute truth claims crumble. In fact, that is why Ehrman attacks the trustworthiness of Scripture - he accurately understands that if you remove that, the whole house comes down. I don't want to make light of that fact. The reliability of the Bible is absolutly vital to the faith. That said, I have the utmost spiritual and intellectual confidence in the Word of God. Bart Ehrman may be accessible and a skilled writer, but his ideas are far from new and serious Christian scholars who have interacted with his work have found it seriously lacking. For an example, see this review...

http://www.reformation21.org/Past_Issues/2006_Issues_1_16_/2006_Issues_1_16_Shelf_LIfe/May_2006/May_2006/181/vobId__2930/pm__434/

Now, on the topic of morality, I think you miss my point. Of course my moral beliefs are going to be foreign to many people (for instance, your hypothetical Afghani elder). Yet that does not change the fact that I believe that what is right and wrong is absolute, for it has been declared by the God who created all things and rules over all things. I believe that murder is wrong because God has declared that murder is wrong, whether someone else believes that it is wrong or not does not change the fact that it is absolutly true. It is not my opinion, it is an external, objective standard given by God (obviously you reject this, but my point is that this is my moral framework). To illustrate, that Afghani elder may belive wholeheartedly that 2+2=7, but that does not change the fact that 2+2=4. That is an external, objective standard that is true whether he accepts it or not.

The problem with the "society decides morality" model is that in that framework, everybody gets to decide for themselves what 2+2 is. There can be no right or wrong answer, because there is no objective, authoritative standard by which to evaluate - everyone's personal standard is equally valid. Your moral code, which says honor killings are horrendous, is in no way superior to the Afghani's code, which says that they are noble. Both of you are simply following a code that you (or your society) has devised for yourself. With no objective standard by which to evaluate, both of you are equally right. Now, you can say all you want that my beliefs are false, my God doesn't exist, and absolute morality is a myth. What you cannot deny, however is that from my framework, I have good reason to tell someone that their actions are wrong, whether they agree or not. How would I convince that Afghani? I would share with him the truth about Jesus Christ, try to demonstrate Christ's love to him, and attempt to persuade him through word and deed of the truth of God's Word. He may well disagree, he may well kill me for what he sees as blasphemy. But that is my task, and I rejoice in it. Yet from your framework, you have no good reason to condemn any action, for that person's moral code is just as valid as yours.

You bring up people using the Bible to justify immoral actions (justifying slavery from Scripture, etc.). I've got no problem discussing that, that's fine. But that is irrelevant to the point that I am trying to make: my worldview gives me a reason to make moral judgments, yours does not, since it takes morality into the realm of personal preference and decision.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mooms said...

DJ writes:

“I think we are largely on the same page on the issue of contradictions in the text. However, I would disagree with you on one point - if contradictions do exist, they are not irrelevant. The inerrancy of Scripture is one of the most foundational doctrines of Christianity. If it is demonstrated that the Bible contains contradictions, its truth is cast into doubt, and its absolute truth claims crumble. In fact, that is why Ehrman attacks the trustworthiness of Scripture - he accurately understands that if you remove that, the whole house comes down. I don't want to make light of that fact. The reliability of the Bible is absolutly vital to the faith. That said, I have the utmost spiritual and intellectual confidence in the Word of God. Bart Ehrman may be accessible and a skilled writer, but his ideas are far from new and serious Christian scholars who have interacted with his work have found it seriously lacking. “

Oh, but the contradictions noted by many scholars, not just Ehrman, really are irrelevant to you, because to you, they do not exist. They cannot exist, because, as you say, your faith would fall. Therefore, anyone who discovers any MUST be wrong.

But not all Christians depend so on absolute biblical inerrancy. Indeed, most do not. Decades and decades and decades ago (my daughter refers to me, lovingly, as her “old bat”) I attended a small Presbyterian girls school, known at the time as Queens College. Yes! I was a Queens “Lady!” As a Catholic, I wasn’t required to take New Testament, but I DID take Pentateuch. We were taught modern Biblical scholarship, even then. We learned that there were 4 separate authors of the Pentateuch, each writing at a different time and from a different perspective. Yes, there were many inconsistencies, due to these different time frames and perspectives. Although the text was thought to be inspired by god, it was written by fallible humans, translated and copied over and over and over and over by fallible humans, compiled from among many competing texts by fallible humans.

Roman Catholics, who are certainly Christian, have always recognized this, and have never preached the absolute inerrancy of the Bible. Nor do most Protestants or Jews. Indeed, I have previously referred you to Kirsch’s beautiful book, “The Woman Who Laughed at God.” He built on what I learned in College in fascinating, loving detail.

Another scholar who has spoken to a different aspect of this question is Karen Armstrong. According to her (See “The Battle for God”) the sort of fundamentalism that holds to biblical inerrancy is a modern phenomenon. Before modern times and the ascendancy of science, she says that humans understood the difference between logos – or a practical understanding of the way the natural world works – and mythos – which was understood to speak to larger “truths,” and was not expected to be literally true.

But what any of the scholars say will, indeed, be irrelevant to you. They will just be wrong. And that’s fine. Faith is faith, after all.

DJ writes:

“Now, on the topic of morality, I think you miss my point. Of course my moral beliefs are going to be foreign to many people (for instance, your hypothetical Afghani elder). Yet that does not change the fact that I believe that what is right and wrong is absolute, for it has been declared by the God who created all things and rules over all things.

. . . . . Your moral code, which says honor killings are horrendous, is in no way superior to the Afghani's code, which says that they are noble. Both of you are simply following a code that you (or your society) has devised for yourself. With no objective standard by which to evaluate, both of you are equally right. ”

Au Contraire. The Afghan elder certainly has an absolute standard of right and wrong – a standard as real to him as yours is to you. His God has likewise decreed, absolutely, that honor killings are correct, and when you argue with him, you are arguing with the precepts of god himself. His god. The correct god.

DJ writes:

”You bring up people using the Bible to justify immoral actions (justifying slavery from Scripture, etc.). I've got no problem discussing that, that's fine. But that is irrelevant to the point that I am trying to make: my worldview gives me a reason to make moral judgments, yours does not, since it takes morality into the realm of personal preference and decision.”

Au Contraire, yet again. I would argue that my own morals are as right, as firm, as absolute to me as yours are to you, and I resent the implication that I form my ethics from the basis of mere whim. They are based on our common humanity, and love for and comradeship with all humankind. I could call myself a Humanist.

Indeed, science is coming to the understanding that humans, as a complex social species, are hard wired to form religions, and ethical systems, and that these ethical systems have some commonalities across wide differences. One commonality is a belief in life after death. Even nontheistic religions, like Buddhism, hold such a belief. Mostly. Another is the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule has been formulated by all religions and ethical systems that we know of, long predating Christianity. Personally, I hold with the formulation by Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus: “Whatever is harmful to you, do not do to another.”

The trick is how you define “another.” We are steadily expanding our concept of who is a human worthy of our acceptance. In fact, we are expanding our concept beyond even humans, extending it to all sentient beings. That is, I think, a lovely development, that we can both agree on.

Even if you think I’m going to Hell.

D.J. said...

A couple clarifications...

"Oh, but the contradictions noted by many scholars, not just Ehrman, really are irrelevant to you, because to you, they do not exist. They cannot exist, because, as you say, your faith would fall. Therefore, anyone who discovers any MUST be wrong."

As we've been saying, to a large degree you see what you want to see. Keep in mind, this is not confined to those who believe in the Bible. Those who do not believe the Bible apporach it with the presupposition that it cannot be divinely inspired, and thus must have contradictions. We cannot pretend that atheists are the only objective ones. We all bring presuppositions to the table. That said, if Scripture can be demonstrated to truly contradict itself, the house falls. Yet I've never seen that demonstrated. Several in this forum have brought up examples, and I feel that I have treated their criticisms rationally and fairly. You be the judge as to whether that is true.

"According to her (See “The Battle for God”) the sort of fundamentalism that holds to biblical inerrancy is a modern phenomenon. Before modern times and the ascendancy of science, she says that humans understood the difference between logos – or a practical understanding of the way the natural world works – and mythos – which was understood to speak to larger “truths,” and was not expected to be literally true."

Ms. Armstrong may assert that a belief in Biblical inerrancy is a modern invention, but a simple historical survey shows that to be false. I would recommend you read such Christians throughout history as Jonathan Edwards (1700s), John Calvin (1600s), Martin Luther (1500s), John Huss (1400s), Thomas Aquinas (1100s), and if you want to go way back, such early Christians as Augustine, Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaus, and Polycarp (all 400s or earlier). The "modern invention" argument simply doesn't hold up.

Yes, modern Catholicsm and many liberal groups hold to a Christianity without Biblical inerrancy. However, a belief in the accuracy and authority of Scripture is and has always been a foundation of the historic Christian faith. To branch out to an interdemoninational debate right now would be a long tangent that would take us nowhere.

Concerning our morality discussion, you have misunderstood my point, and I fear we are nearing the realm of being counter-productive. Of course the hypothetical Afghani elder believes his code comes from God. In the portion of my post you quoted, I was writing from your perspective. Obviously you would deny the existence of this elder's god. Thus, you believe his moral code really comes from himself and his culture, just like yours does. If that is the case, your code is no "better" than his, for you are both conducting yourselves with honor according to what you (or your society) believes is right.

"Au Contraire, yet again. I would argue that my own morals are as right, as firm, as absolute to me as yours are to you, and I resent the implication that I form my ethics from the basis of mere whim."

I never said you came up with your morals on a whim. If I have painted that caricature, I apologize. But what I have said, and I still contend, is that YOU (or your society) have come up with them. They are the inventions of the human mind, drawn from subjective reasoning rather than an absolute standard (What is "our common humanity?" An afghani would answer that question quite differently from you, I think). Because you deny the existence of an authoritative God who has defined what right and wrong are, if you want to hold on to morality you must define right or wrong for yourself, either individually or as a group. You and the Afghani on the other side of the world (or even the murderer across town) come up with very different moral codes. What makes yours superior when they are both (according to your thesis) human inventions?

A couple sidenotes in closing...

"Indeed, science is coming to the understanding that humans, as a complex social species, are hard wired to form religions, and ethical systems"

"Hard Wired.." - I find it very interesting that even those who deny the existence of a creator use passive language in describing our existence that indicates design and purpose. Just a thought.

"Even if you think I’m going to Hell."

I don't have a problem discussing my views on eternal life and punishment. However, in a world where evangelical Christians are charged with throwing judgment and damnation around like candy, I want to be very clear for the record that you said that, not me. Let the concerned reader search my posts and see that for themself. The last thing I want is for what has been an interesting and challenging discussion to devolve into the nonsensical, rhetoric-filled shouting matches that so dominate religious discussion in America today. Not accusing you of that, Mooms, just trying to head off the train before it leaves the station.

Soli Deo Gloria

Mooms said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mooms said...

DJ writes:
“As we've been saying, to a large degree you see what you want to see. Keep in mind, this is not confined to those who believe in the Bible. Those who do not believe the Bible apporach it with the presupposition that it cannot be divinely inspired, and thus must have contradictions. We cannot pretend that atheists are the only objective ones. We all bring presuppositions to the table. That said, if Scripture can be demonstrated to truly contradict itself, the house falls. Yet I've never seen that demonstrated. Several in this forum have brought up examples, and I feel that I have treated their criticisms rationally and fairly. You be the judge as to whether that is true.”

I have little patience with quote mining on either side. As I’ve said, it too often devolves into an exercise in “gotcha.” As you have already illustrated, you can read any number of meanings into any complex text, creating the illusion of inconsistencies, or creating the illusion that they do not exist. So, I will go back to a couple of my own examples of the real world effects of inconsistencies in the way honest folks actually read and interpret the text.

One really great book I’d recommend is Hugh Thomas’ book “The Slave Trade.” For centuries, good, honest Christian folks read the text of the Bible as saying that God accepted and even supported slavery, especially as practiced on Pagans and heathens. And it is easy to understand how they came to this reading. As the old spaghetti sauce commercial said, “It’s in there!” And so, good Christian folk could practice slavery with an easy conscience. Then, long about the 18th Century, other good, honest Christian folk found that the Bible could be read in quite another way, and came out against slavery. The anti-slavery movement was also the work of good, honest, but differently minded Christians.

You can find the same inconsistency over time in the treatment of women. At one time, it was OK to beat your wife as long as the staff was no wider than your thumb; at another, we have gone back to the notion, also in the Bible, (see the first creation story) that man and woman were simultaneously created in god’s image. Both views of women can find support among honest people in the Bible.

DJ writes:
“Ms. Armstrong may assert that a belief in Biblical inerrancy is a modern invention, but a simple historical survey shows that to be false. I would recommend you read such Christians throughout history as Jonathan Edwards (1700s), John Calvin (1600s), Martin Luther (1500s), John Huss (1400s), Thomas Aquinas (1100s), and if you want to go way back, such early Christians as Augustine, Athanasius, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaus, and Polycarp (all 400s or earlier). The "modern invention" argument simply doesn't hold up.”

I think that Ms. Armstrong has a different view of inerrancy than you do. Or perhaps, I am misinterpreting what YOU mean by the term. She comes from the Catholic tradition, after all.

DJ writes:

”Yes, modern Catholicsm and many liberal groups hold to a Christianity without Biblical inerrancy. However, a belief in the accuracy and authority of Scripture is and has always been a foundation of the historic Christian faith. To branch out to an interdemoninational debate right now would be a long tangent that would take us nowhere.”

I’d hardly call Catholicism liberal – and you don’t here. And their view on Biblical inerrancy is not modern, but ancient. They are the ones who put the Bible together, after all; they know precisely what’s in it.

Yes, an interdenominational debate would be fruitless, unless, of course, you would lump Catholics and liberal Protestants in with us skeptics as being wrong, in which case, I’m arguing for them as well?

DJ writes:
”Concerning our morality discussion, you have misunderstood my point, and I fear we are nearing the realm of being counter-productive. Of course the hypothetical Afghani elder believes his code comes from God. In the portion of my post you quoted, I was writing from your perspective. Obviously you would deny the existence of this elder's god. Thus, you believe his moral code really comes from himself and his culture, just like yours does. If that is the case, your code is no "better" than his, for you are both conducting yourselves with honor according to what you (or your society) believes is right.”

As you would be. Since both you and the elder believe that your code comes directly from god, you and he would also be on an equal footing in any debate.

DJ writes:
“I never said you came up with your morals on a whim. If I have painted that caricature, I apologize. But what I have said, and I still contend, is that YOU (or your society) have come up with them. They are the inventions of the human mind, drawn from subjective reasoning rather than an absolute standard (What is "our common humanity?" An afghani would answer that question quite differently from you, I think). Because you deny the existence of an authoritative God who has defined what right and wrong are, if you want to hold on to morality you must define right or wrong for yourself, either individually or as a group. You and the Afghani on the other side of the world (or even the murderer across town) come up with very different moral codes. What makes yours superior when they are both (according to your thesis) human inventions?”

That IS the conundrum isn’t it? What makes YOUR morality, or rather, YOUR god, superior to his? That you both believe it so does not make it so, for either of you. The skeptic would, of course, say that god herself is a human invention. Ambrose Bierce once wrote that God created man in his image, and man has been returning the complement ever since.

DJ writes:
“ find it very interesting that even those who deny the existence of a creator use passive language in describing our existence that indicates design and purpose.”
Far from it. Humans are a complex social species. The development of mechanisms in the human brain that make social life possible are easily explainable through the mechanism of natural selection. Many evolutionary biologists have covered this point; it certainly doesn’t require any supernatural intervention. Just today, the New York Times had a long article on this subject. You can find it at:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/18/science/18mora.html

Some quotes:

“At first glance, natural selection and the survival of the fittest may seem to reward only the most selfish values. But for animals that live in groups, selfishness must be strictly curbed or there will be no advantage to social living.”

“[Dr. Haidt] identified five components of morality that were common to most cultures. Some concerned the protection of individuals, others the ties that bind a group together. . . . The five moral systems, in Dr. Haidt’s view, are innate psychological mechanisms that predispose children to absorb certain virtues. Because these virtues are learned, morality may vary widely from culture to culture, while maintaining its central role of restraining selfishness. In Western societies, the focus is on protecting individuals by insisting that everyone be treated fairly. Creativity is high, but society is less orderly. In many other societies, selfishness is suppressed “through practices, rituals and stories that help a person play a cooperative role in a larger social entity,” Dr. Haidt said.“

Other scientists, like primatologist Frans B. M. de Waal, have found clear indications that our closest cousins among the other primates also exhibit altruistic behaviors that are the evolutionary precursors of our much more complex moral systems.

DJ writes:
“The last thing I want is for what has been an interesting and challenging discussion to devolve into the nonsensical, rhetoric-filled shouting matches that so dominate religious discussion in America today. Not accusing you of that, Mooms, just trying to head off the train before it leaves the station.

I do have to say that you are one of the nicest conservative Christians that I’ve met. Thanks.

D.J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.J. said...

A couple points in response...

Concerning the issue of slavery, and the overarching issue of Biblical interpretation - sincere misinterpretation is still misinterpretation. Just because someone can read the Bible to say a certain thing doesn't mean that interpretation is valid. In communication, meaning is the domain of the author, not the interpreter. We need to seek what the Bible means, not say "They say it means this, they say it means that, who's to say who's right?" Either Scripture supports slavery or it doesn't. One side or the other is mistaken.

Let's continue with the slavery example, since its one I have wrestled with. I minister at a Southern Baptist church. As the name would indicate, my denomination was formed from a split brought on by the Civil War. Many of the founders of our convention, men whom I greatly admire as theologians, sadly had no problem with owning another human being. I have often thought and discussed with friends, "How could those guys get so many things so right, yet get that (slavery) so wrong?" I have read many of their arguments myself, and let me assure you, it is not a matter of two equally valid interpretations. They made serious textual and logical errors. They ignored context. Yet these were not idiots, but brilliant Biblical scholars. How could they make such mistakes? The answer - culture.

All of us are influenced by our culture more than we know. These men lived in a culture where slavery was predominately accepted. They brought that sinful viewpoint to the table of Biblical interpretation and it colored the way that they saw the text. They were brilliant, and in many other areas admirable men, but in this area their sinful hearts clouded their spiritual vision, and it over-rode their ability to correctly interpret Scripture. The inconsistency lies in the interpreters, not in Scripture. The fact that the meaning of a text is dictated by the author and not the interpreter is being proven as we write, for each of us puts down our thoughts reasonably expecting the other to understand us, not to take our words and make them say whatever they want.

With our morality discussion, I still don't think you understand my point, though that may well be due to a lack of clarity on my part. I am writing about our ability to make absolute moral judgments based on our moral framework. Let me put it this way - If I am right (God exists, he has given us an absolute standard of right and wrong in the Bible, all people are accountable to him for their actions, etc.) then you must admit that hypothetically I am on solid ground in telling that Afghani, "Honor killings are wrong, no matter what you may believe." If you are right (God does not exist, we are not accountable to a higher power for our actions, morality is determined by society or the individual), I do not think you can make that same judgment. From your perspecive, your moral codes have the same origin - your respective cultures. Thus, neither is more virtuous than the other, they are simply a difference of perspective. That is the point that I am trying to make. Hope that makes sense.

BTW: My reference to your use of the term "hard-wired" was a little more tounge-in-cheek than I think you took it. I simply found irony in your choice of language ("hard-wired" - can a computer hard-wire itself?) that implies design and a creator when you deny both. I understand that atheists have explainations for the origins of morality. I was simply making a half-joke.

I appreciate the compliment, and I admire how good-spirited you have been in our discussion as well - indeed the discussion as a whole has been great, a rarity for both religious and online discussion, much less a combination of the two. Can you believe we've had 55 comments on this post, and we're not even discussing Britney Spears? :)

As I said, your compliment is appreciated, but I want you to know that everything good in me is but a by-product of the work of Christ in my life. If you see good in me, I rejoice, for it means you are seeing more of Christ and less of me. As with every post, this is to the glory of God alone, or in Latin...

Soli Deo Gloria

Mooms said...

DJ. said...
”Concerning the issue of slavery, and the overarching issue of Biblical interpretation - sincere misinterpretation is still misinterpretation. Just because someone can read the Bible to say a certain thing doesn't mean that interpretation is valid. In communication, meaning is the domain of the author, not the interpreter. We need to seek what the Bible means, not say "They say it means this, they say it means that, who's to say who's right?" Either Scripture supports slavery or it doesn't. One side or the other is mistaken.”

Yes, but if honest people can honestly disagree on the meaning of the text, then, in real, human terms – the terms of the real humans who have to read and understand the text – there are inconsistencies. Surely, an omnipotent, omniscient deity could have written the text in such a way that no one could misunderstand. Say, by saying: “You shall never, ever own another human being as though he or she is property.”

DJ writes:

“All of us are influenced by our culture more than we know. These men lived in a culture where slavery was predominately accepted. They brought that sinful viewpoint to the table of Biblical interpretation and it colored the way that they saw the text. They were brilliant, and in many other areas admirable men, but in this area their sinful hearts clouded their spiritual vision, and it over-rode their ability to correctly interpret Scripture. The inconsistency lies in the interpreters, not in Scripture. The fact that the meaning of a text is dictated by the author and not the interpreter is being proven as we write, for each of us puts down our thoughts reasonably expecting the other to understand us, not to take our words and make them say whatever they want.”

But what about those “sinful men.” They did not believe they were being sinful. They believed in the text before them. And the text could, indeed, be read to support their “sinful” position. Again, as the spaghetti sauce commercial says, “it’s in there.” They were honestly wrong. And if the text could be wrongly understood then, by honest, Christian men, what makes you believe that you, and other honest, Christian men and women are not wrongly understanding it now?

I am not a homosexual person, and I don’t know many, but what if in the future, we come to understand that readings of the Bible that say God hates homosexuality – hates people who through no fault or choice of their own are born preferring same sex relationships - are as wrong as our current understanding that God does not, in fact, love slavery? I have read that our children (God bless ‘em) are lots more accepting of individual differences than we are, and that most of them find that hatred of homosexuality is incomprehensible.

So: Basing your morality on a text that can be read many ways is not necessarily any more firm than basing your morality on our common human dignity.

DJ writes:

”With our morality discussion, I still don't think you understand my point, though that may well be due to a lack of clarity on my part. I am writing about our ability to make absolute moral judgments based on our moral framework. Let me put it this way - If I am right (God exists, he has given us an absolute standard of right and wrong in the Bible, all people are accountable to him for their actions, etc.) then you must admit that hypothetically I am on solid ground in telling that Afghani, "Honor killings are wrong, no matter what you may believe." If you are right (God does not exist, we are not accountable to a higher power for our actions, morality is determined by society or the individual), I do not think you can make that same judgment. From your perspecive, your moral codes have the same origin - your respective cultures. Thus, neither is more virtuous than the other, they are simply a difference of perspective. That is the point that I am trying to make. Hope that makes sense.”

It does, indeed, make sense. I think that you misread my position as ethical relativism. If you take ethical relativism to its logical conclusion, it is impossible to praise or criticize other cultures merely because they are different from our own. I would bring in the concept of universalism, which basically states that while the morals of certain cultures are different, there are some universal moral values, and that the roots of these values – our common humanity - are the same. Indeed, the science of sociobiology has studied how certain values contribute to our survival as a social species. If you want to actually argue a point, you have to have a common ground. Religion does not offer that ground; the Afghani elder’s religion is fundamentally different from yours or mine.

DJ writes:

”BTW: My reference to your use of the term "hard-wired" was a little more tounge-in-cheek than I think you took it. I simply found irony in your choice of language ("hard-wired" - can a computer hard-wire itself?) that implies design and a creator when you deny both. I understand that atheists have explainations for the origins of morality. I was simply making a half-joke.”

Thanks. I am not an atheist, by the way. I am a skeptic; an agnostic; a seeker. I don’t pretend to have an answer. I find that those who call themselves the “new Atheists” are as obnoxious and as unconvincing as the most fervid religious evangelists. That is why I warned folks off Sam Harris’ book. The man is simply ignorant of what religion is, and what it means. There are other “village atheists” who would call themselves and their cohorts “brights,” with the understanding that folks like yourself - and myself, come to that - are something other than “bright.” I really don’t sign on with the likes of those.

DJ writes:

”I appreciate the compliment, and I admire how good-spirited you have been in our discussion as well - indeed the discussion as a whole has been great, a rarity for both religious and online discussion, much less a combination of the two. Can you believe we've had 55 comments on this post, and we're not even discussing Britney Spears? :) As I said, your compliment is appreciated, but I want you to know that everything good in me is but a by-product of the work of Christ in my life. If you see good in me, I rejoice, for it means you are seeing more of Christ and less of me. As with every post, this is to the glory of God alone, or in Latin... Soli Deo Gloria”

Oh, I understand that, I surely do. In my youth, I remember men and women of good will, religious people all, walking arm and arm, singing “we shall overcome,” and dying for their religious beliefs. Men and women of DIFFERENT religious beliefs, but with a common humanity. Men like Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney - two Jews and a black man, dying for their common humanity. Dr. Martin Luther King expressed the best that there is in Christianity. Humanity needs that; humanity needs more like him, and Gandhi, and other holy people.