[SEB Guest Post] The abyss looking back.

Here’s something that’s been bothering me so much that I just have to write about it. But I can’t put it on my own blog; the subject might read it there.

Sound petty? Hypocritical? Might be. I could certainly avoid hurting this person’s feelings by not writing about it at all, but I need to get this said and hear what you think about it. You be the judge; I won’t use any real names.

An old family friend – someone our age – has an adult daughter with bone cancer, which has spread to her lungs. She’s been sending out emails updating all her friends on the progress of the cancer and the treatment, as she takes her daughter to the clinics and nurses put her through punishing radiation and chemotherapy.

Every message is laced with; “Yay God!!!” and “God is so good to us”. Nausea wasn’t too bad this time? “Yea God!” Have to take your beloved cat to the no-kill shelter because her daughter’s white count is down? A major sacrifice, but nary a word about that. Doctor is really on the ball? Sure was great of God to take them to him. The messages all end with Romans 8:28; “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Please don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not offended by the narrative; it just make me sad. We only have a little time on Earth, we’re pursued by death the whole way, and I get the impression her daughter is not even allowed to feel bad about having cancer. You’d think the threat of death1 would give us a little vacation from pretense; at least a short while to own our feelings and just be human about it. But no, she has to pretend God is being “good to us”.

I suppose I could send her back a message saying; “There’s no god, and you’re wasting the chance to be human in the short time you have together.” Nope, can’t see myself doing that. In one scenario, she’d just get mad at me and there’s no point giving her any negative emotions at all right now. In the other scenario, supposing – it’s unlikely but just suppose – her faith finally crumbled and she had to deal with her daughter’s cancer and the loss of her faith2, both at once? No matter how you slice it, a bad situation is made worse.

If there’s a point to writing this post, it is that religion isn’t coming to terms with death: it’s denying death. And often, even denying suffering too. Stop being human! If you cry out, you are saying God is not merciful. God, after all, restored Job after promising that he would “come to death at a full age”. This empty promise – contradicted every day by the world around us – is somehow supposed to give comfort to us as we face the dark abyss.

I have faced death twice in the last 7 years, and didn’t turn to a phantom either time.  My attitude is;  “All right, this is bad, and I’ll do everything I can within reason not to die. And whatever the outcome, that will have to be enough.”

Fine, but why should I care if anyone else takes that approach? Just this: by denying death, we devalue it, and life, and give license to war and every destruction of the environment for human gain. We throw down moral responsibility, making death and oppression something that God will balance in the end.

That, and not just some comforting platitude, is what surrounds the hospital room, when we just can’t face the reality of death. But not having the stomach for afflicting the already afflicted, I’m damned if I know how to respond.

1: Of course, we’re all, always under the threat of death but sometimes it’s more obvious and immediate.

2: When you have a lot invested in faith, the loss of faith can be as real and traumatic as the loss of a loved one or a partner. You get over it eventually, but it’s a rough ride. /VoiceOfExperience

64 thoughts on “[SEB Guest Post] The abyss looking back.

  1. What bothers me in the tale above is not the denial of death, but the denial of suffering. Bad news doesn’t exist. Any scrap of good news is a cause for celebration. And, below it all, a desperate, nigh-unvoiced plea to God to make it *all* better, not just the few scraps from the table of “chemo wasn’t as horrific as usual”.

    That just strikes me as wrong. I haven’t gone through the experience, but it really comes across as being the child of an abusive parent saying thank you for only being beaten once today. If that’s what your faith teaches you about the universe, that’s really sad.

    There are a lot of ways Christians deal with the Theodicy, the Problem of Evil. This is a fairly unhealthy one, it seems to me.

  2. Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life,

    This is from a Buddhist leader of 13th Century Japan, Nichiren Daishonin. What a pity to deny life in its fullest. Probably nothing you can say or do at this time would help this poor lady, but after the mourning period you may be able to enter into a humanistic conversation with her and help her to learn to truly enjoy what is left of her life.

    Peace.

  3. Nature brought this lady’s daughter into the world, and through an act of somewhat unnatural statistics the daughter is leaving first. The dynamics of losing children as opposed to children losing parents is a hard pill to swallow. I know you feel for these folks, and I am glad to see that you are concerned.

    She is about to bury her child. It sucks and she hates it deep down inside. Her Christian beliefs are where she has been banking all these years, and now the bank is finally disclosing it’s true agenda about the warranty. People need to read to fine print (Look around at nature and see how cruel it can be at times) for themselves and stop listening to the salesmen ( Pastor or whatever is feeding her head ).

    I am Jew as well as a Sioux Waken Spiritualist. Both are actually about the same. I look at birth the same way I look at death. Both are completely natural. We don’t get to decide if it’s right or wrong. We just get to decide if we are happy with today’s results. She would like to be hopeful, and she would like to be thankful. But she has set the bar too high on reality. ( other people get cured, why not my daughter ) She thinks she will be pissing G-D off if she in not a part of this role playing endeavor.

    A safe approach to this may be in a conversation where a person would make the remark. “I can hear clearly your thoughts about this, but what are some of the thoughts of your daughter.” If she makes one statement that her daughter is indifferent to her overzealous nature. Then you have found the door to tell her some of your thoughts. You sound like a kind and thoughtful person. And that is what she needs. You don’t have to bombard her with Atheism. But you can let her know that not everyone thinks like her.

  4. That is the problem with religion, and I don’t mean a “problem” in the sense that it is wrong, but a problem in that it is something of a paradox. They say that having faith makes you a better person, but in reality having faith makes you care more (to some degree) about your immortal soul than about the world around you. You are LESS invested in this life, except as a preparation step for the afterlife. What happens to our flesh and bone lives is ultimately less important than our soul, and most religions only push belief, not actually doing good things as the way into paradise. Secular institutions consistently have more and better organized charities, and never place faith restrictions on those that benefit. Religious people always talk about how much better things will be in the next life, when we could use that effort to make this life pretty damned good.

    Sad.

  5. Pema Chodron somewhere remarks that the only advice we will not routinely get from others when we are faced with hardship and suffering is the advice to face it, rather than run from it. Instead, we will be told that our suffering is wrong or unjust, that we should distract ourselves, take a pill, hope for a better world to come, and so forth — All ways of running from our suffering.

    There is much trouble with that advice, I think, but one thing it does is increase our fear. When we hope for a better world to come, for instance, we have added another thing to fear might not happen.

    I think she should face her daughter’s death, along with facing her own fear and suffering, but I agree with you, DoF, that she is not ready for that. At this point, if you were to raise the issue with her, it might do no more good than to give her an excuse to distract herself from her fear and suffering by taking out her feelings on you.

    I admire how you are handling the situation, DoF. I think it’s often harder to do nothing than to do something foolish. Perhaps, as Paul suggests, she will someday give you an opening to raise the issue with her. But even then, she must be ready to hear what you wish to tell her or the opening is useless.

  6. It does seem anti-human to me.

    Unfortunately this is what passes for “comforting the afflicted”. You can bet that there’s a condescending pastor behind the scenes here, smugly calling it spiritual leadership. Fine, as long as it works but it seems to me that it sets up the parishioner to be marooned in an emotional desert if the worst happens.

    There’s a chance she won’t die. If she lives, you can bet it will be a miracle and God will be great and all that. The doctors and nurses, who have seen this play out any number of times and are used to it, will fade into the background.

    I do wonder about what her daughter feels about all this; the only information I have is through the mother.

    Religion does evil when it makes the destiny of the soul more important than anything else. All sorts of atrocious ends justify those means. I don’t think it’s what Jesus taught but it’s how evangelicals take it.

    It’s very improbable that they would decide atheism is more likely, and even less likely they’d be happy if they did. I might be at too great a remove to be of any help at all, other than to offer sympathy. Because no matter what they’ve been told to say by their pastor, this has got to hurt.

  7. @ Paul:

    Her Christian beliefs are where she has been banking all these years, and now the bank is finally disclosing it’s true agenda about the warranty. People need to read to fine print (Look around at nature and see how cruel it can be at times) for themselves and stop listening to the salesmen ( Pastor or whatever is feeding her head ).

    That strikes me as exceptionally well put, Paul. I also think it is all too human that we so often do not read the fine print of our beliefs until our beliefs prove inadequate.

  8. Christians do not believe what you’re ascribing to this person. Like Christ on the cross, this mother undoubtedly is crying out to God every day “why have you forsaken me”, but perhaps just not to you. Nor is she turning to a phantom when she is thankful to God. Rather, you believe that. To her, Christ is very real and really did suffer on the cross and really did cry out to God. And she also believes that Christ is risen and that her daughter’s life here is not the end. These beliefs are not yours, but that does not make them phantoms. The best thing you could do for her is to accept that she believes. Notice I did not say you need to believe, but rather only accept that she believes. If you could do that, you will see that she is thankful for each moment of her daughter’s life, no matter how hard that life might be right now. You will see that she knows her daughter’s life is a gift from a loving God, who she praises and thanks for her daughter. Most importantly, this is a person — with unalienable rights from her creator, since it’s the 4th of July — you know personally who has these beliefs, not a symbol of all you’ve decided is wrong with religion. Instead of injecting your beliefs in her, try injecting her beliefs in you.

  9. Michael: I wonder how you can type while waving the flag and making massive assumptions like that. Do you use a special keyboard? I never said her god isn’t real to her. He must be, or how could she engage in such industrial-strength denial at such a critical time in her daughter’s life? Besides which I’ve known her a long time, and have never had reason to suspect she is insincere.

    And even a cursory reading of my post and comment above should lay to rest any concern that I would think to “inject my beliefs into her”. I went on at length to say that I thought attempting to undermine her faith would only cause her more pain. What I don’t know is how her daughter feels. As Paul says above, that is crucial.

    “Christians” believe quite a range of things, and I have a pretty good idea what slice of that range she calls home. This post has two purposes. One is that I am hoping for perspective on how to be helpful and supportive to her without being untrue to my own beliefs. Another is, as you say, to confront what I believe is a common and problematic Christian approach to the problem of evil. It seems to be, as ***Dave says, unhealthy.

    I do wonder why many Christians oppose death so strenuously when paradise awaits on the other side. The answer would seem to be that their belief is untested, and untestable, and they know it.

  10. You will see that she knows her daughter’s life is a gift from a loving God

    crying out to God every day “why have you forsaken me”

    Ummm . . .does anyone here see the irony? What a great and loving god that must be!

    :cry:

    Peace.

  11. DoF, what I meant by you injecting your beliefs into her is that you appear to only hear her statements through your lens of unbelief. For example, you insist that her expressing thanks to God means she is in denial of her daughter’s illness or the evilness of the cancer, yet the two things (thanks and evil) are not incompatible, given her belief in God. Only your unbelief makes her thanks to God “denial.”

    Also, you seem to presume that this woman’s faith is so weak that one statement from you (“There’s no god, and you’re wasting the chance to be human in the short time you have together.”) will simply blow her mind and her faith. This is perhaps the best example of you not being able to see this from her perspective of faith. You only think her faith is weak because you don’t believe and, even though you say she’s sincere, you can’t get past your own unbelief to think for a moment that her faith is stronger than your unbelief. Though I don’t know this woman, I’m pretty sure you are not the first atheist she’s encountered and she’s probably pretty aware that there are people who do not believe in God and yet she has decided she does. Have faith in her faith.

    If you’re sincerely wanting to love this Christian woman and not correct what you see as her error, perhaps you could simply ask her how her daughter is doing? In doing so, however, first try to see your own bias so that you can avoid approaching her with an agenda for correcting what you see as her error. Instead, be truly concerned for her and her daughter without agenda. Perhaps she’ll be grateful for your warm heart and someone to hear her cry of pain.

    Lastly, you conclude generally that many Christians oppose death strenuously, when earlier you said that Christians over-value life after death. Both statements are vague generalities that get the basic tenets of at least my Catholic Christian faith wrong. I wouldn’t presume to speak for all Christians, but my Catholic faith teaches me to love my life (and the life of everyone else) now in anticipation of the after-life. Faith in God does not make you de-value this life or fear death, but rather love both. In contrast, some of the greatest devaluations of human life in history have been by guys like Stalin and Hitler or eugenicists like Margaret Sanger, who well knew that the first step to making them god was to try to kill God, who gives us all value.

  12. leguru: I think you’re hitting on the key ingredient in faith. It’s not the belief in God that requires so much faith. People have been believing stupid things since history began, and probably earlier.

    The “faith” is something like this; You’re taught that God does everything. You’re taught that God is a just and loving God, perfect in his love for us and that he has a benevolent plan.

    When bad things happen, you are told it’s God’s will. Now, the conventional, rationa response to that SHOULD be: “Well then he’s not a just and loving God if he takes my kid from me, causes the child to suffer and die and won’t even tell me WHY.” but faith makes you say “I have to trust that whatever his reasons for inflicting this cruel and seemingly unwarranted suffering on so many (me included) they are benevolent reasons that are necessary for the cosmic plan.”

    THAT takes an awful lot of faith. Merely believing in God is such a simple thing by comparison.

    And Michael: You obviously a believer, and good for you… but did you have to use your last paragraph as a blatant attempt at recruiting? Especially the tired (and utterly wrong) cliche about Hitler. Godwin’s law… You lose :)

  13. Will, my reference to Stalin, Hitler and Sanger was in response to the basic premise of the post: “by denying death, we devalue it, and life, and give license to war and every destruction of the environment for human gain. We throw down moral responsibility, making death and oppression something that God will balance in the end.” The logic apparently is:

    * belief in a loving and all-powerful God conflicts with bad things happening to good people;
    * the conflict is tantamount to denial or avoidance of death;
    * such denial devalues life;
    * devaluing life leads to war; and, therefore,
    * belief in God leads to war.

    I disagree with all but the fourth point. That all evil cannot be explained does not mean God is or does evil. Christians acknowledge the existence of evil and that sometimes its cause is not known to us, but they believe God is not and cannot be the cause of evil. For the believer, then, there is no conflict between a loving and all-powerful God and bad things happening to good people. Further, the lack of conflict for the believer is not a denial of death and certainly not a devaluation of life. Rather, belief that each of us is endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights requires the highest valuation of life. War is not caused by a belief in God but rather belief that we are god.

  14. Michael, you say you wouldn’t presume to speak for all Christians, but you are attempting to do just that. It seems to me you are extrapolating Catholicism to Christianity generally. Injecting your beliefs into them, to coin a phrase. I am speaking about a Protestant-Evangelical (PE) frame of mind. That is different from Catholicism. Think Pat Robertson, Don Wildmon, etc.

    I will give this to Catholics; Your denomination has generally been somewhat more consistent about valuing life than the PE’s. Notice I didn’t say totally consistent but a step up from the abortion-opposing, war+death-penalty-supporting Protestants. Many prominent Catholics have been heavy social-justice crusaders; a perspective specifically disavowed by PE’s.

    Of course the mother church has other issues, like sitting on fabulous wealth while promoting social justice but hey, nobody’s perfect.

    Thanks for mentioning the atheism-Hitler-Stalin linkage; it saves time. Thanks to that I know there’s no point arguing with you because you’re driving down a blind alley. Go read this thread with all its 900+ comments if you want a full exploration of the uselessness of that theme. That should keep you out of the pool halls for a while.

    War is not caused by the belief that we are god; it is caused by tribalism and sometimes by competition for resources.

    Also, you seem to presume that this woman’s faith is so weak that one statement from you (“There’s no god, and you’re wasting the chance to be human in the short time you have together.”) will simply blow her mind and her faith. This is perhaps the best example of you not being able to see this from her perspective of faith.

    Might want to work on your reading comprehension, sir. A little hint: context helps establish meaning.

  15. You’re right, you did say it was unlikely her faith would crumble. I apologize, I only recalled the “crumble” part as I was writing my reply and didn’t take the time to look back.

    I glanced at the post you referenced and you’re right again, the pool hall is more important. So many people arguing in circles over vaguely defined terms. Ugh.

    Regarding war being caused by tribalism or competition for resources, I agree those are some of the reasons humans choose to wage war but the choice is the ultimate cause of the war.

  16. “Bad news doesn’t exist. Any scrap of good news is a cause for celebration.”

    “There are a lot of ways Christians deal with the Theodicy, the Problem of Evil. This is a fairly unhealthy one, it seems to me.”

    As a child, my first experience of this (as I was raised in a laid-back atheist home) was when reading the personal family chronology entries in the fron of our family bible handed down two centuries. It seemed to have an awful LOT of “Today the village was flooded, and two houses with their people swept away – may God never send such wrath again” kind of stories in it. Never even addressing the contradiction.

    I am pretty helpless in suggesting something to you, DOF. Especially as you don’t want to spite your own ethics by telling her it’s just going to be “alright on the other side”, even if this life can be hell. Is there a way to point her to appropriate parts of religious teaching that encourage “the right life” in this life, rather than just focusing on the next? While you may not believe in them being divinely inspired, they could serve the same purpose (though not being a bible person, I wouldn’t know what (if) sections of the bible could support such a more here-and-now stance).

  17. @ Michael Wurzer:

    * belief in a loving and all-powerful God conflicts with bad things happening to good people;
    * the conflict is tantamount to denial or avoidance of death;
    * such denial devalues life;
    * devaluing life leads to war; and, therefore,
    * belief in God leads to war.

    Not the logic at all. That Christians believe that death is not the end is what devalues life, on the other hand, “denial” comes from refusing to see the evidence that is in front of you, and in that case, Christians are just as guilty as the rest of us. The point being that they are taking on faith the idea that not only do they continue on after death, but that the suffering in the world is both coming from God and is for some greater good. One has to fervently believe that a tree falling and crushing an infant for no apparent reason is for some greater good, that innocent people suffering the torture of disease, going through trials worse than Jesus on the cross is for some master plan that will make up for all of it. I’m not saying that those people are crazy. I’m saying that there is no rational argument you can make for that state of belief, because all the evidence we see from the perspective of the human condition tells us otherwise, hence the faith.

    And for the record, Belief in God doesn’t cause wars, but it gives license to the crueler natures of humanity when it is used by scam artists (like Hitler) to hijack basic belief and turn it into a crusade where everyone on one side of a conflict is a holy warrior and everyone on the other side is an evil animal not worth the basic compassion and consideration we normally have even for strangers we’ve never met. The hints you are making that denial of belief is somehow responsible for suffering is not new, and just as wrong now as when they were first brought up. The “famous atheists” that are always paraded in front of us as examples of how bad atheists are are really believers who are manipulating their flock. They used religion to get people to do what they want. They were, simply put, bad people. Whether they were true believers or not is largely irrelevant. They did not preach Atheism to those that did their bidding. They did what every leader of the Crusades did; they pointed a finger and said “God is on our side and wants those people dead.”

  18. That Christians believe that death is not the end is what devalues life

    How?

    taking on faith . . . that the suffering in the world is both coming from God and is for some greater good

    You are over-stating what Christians believe. Suffering that has no reason apparent to us is not thereby attributed to God or some greater plan. There may be many causes we do not see or understand, but that doesn’t mean they are caused by God. Of course, logic dictates that if you believe in an all-loving and all-powerful God, you either believe that God did not cause the suffering at all or that, yes, it was for a loving reason (e.g., granting us free will). But that does not mean that every suffering is attributable to God or that those who believe in God need to invent false causes. We’re perfectly comfortable acknowledging the mystery and hoping for justice, which, I suspect, is not really very far from the end result for atheists as well.

    The “famous atheists” that are always paraded in front of us as examples of how bad atheists are are really believers who are manipulating their flock.

    I don’t follow this argument. In what did Stalin, Hitler and Sanger believe, other than themselves? To be clear, I’m not in any way saying all atheists are evil or the cause of suffering. Rather, I’m using the examples to counter the argument in the post that belief in God is the cause of war by pointing out that those who do not believe in God also cause war. In other words, neither belief or unbelief in God are the cause of war.

    The hints you are making that denial of belief is somehow responsible for suffering

    I did not say that denial of God is responsible for all suffering but I did state that choices by humans are, in fact, the cause of much suffering. The question is what governs those choices. What gives a human value or unalienable rights? Why are we not free to decide for ourselves whether someone else should live or die? Those who believe a loving God created them logically must acknowledge the same about every other person, too. Those who believe we’re just floating along have no reason not to make up whatever they want and decide for themselves who is valuable and who is not.

  19. I didn’t think I had much to add in regards to DOF’s thoughts; I think he has the right idea in regards to the woman and her daughter and how and how not to address the situation. Michael’s comments struck me as so inane that I didn’t think it worth bothering with, nor did I want to disturb the elevated discussion that had been going on before he appeared. But four posts in and its just too much.

    I have heard Communists say that Capitalism is responsible for all wars. A couple of years back in a drunken stupor we learned from Mel Gibson (in the tradition of Catholic anti-Semitic scapegoating) that the Jews are responsible for all wars. Now, apparently, atheism or something akin to it is responsible for all wars; and to back this up we see the name Hitler appear on the list of atheist culprits. One could write books about this… stupidity. But let me just say a few things.

    Hitler was not an atheist. I share Will’s sentiments that someone basically disqualifies themselves from a discussion when they raise that lie. It is not a matter of opinion, it is a lie. Hitler in his private and public life spoke of his belief in God. He believed that Providence had saved him from numerous assassination attempts. He persecuted atheists. He was raised in a Catholic tradition, and while he does not seem to have been a Catholic in his adulthood, there is no evidence whatsoever that he ever rejected the concept of God. He believed that he was doing God’s will. Moreover, he was a man of absolute certainty, not a moral relativist.

    If you’re too lazy to be bothered to do a little research on Hitler before rushing to throw his very loaded name out as a propaganda point attacking atheists, then I really have no interest in anything else you have to say. And if you can’t get historical facts right, why should anyone care about your religious/philosophical speculations? Moreover the Croatian genocide during WWII and the Rwandan genocide, perpetrated in part by Catholic clergy, and the fact that the majority of people in Hitler’s Germany were Christians somehow escapes all discussion, as do episodes further back in history like the Albigensian Crusade where the Medieval equivalent of a genocide was perpetrated on the orders of the popes.

    The reasons why wars occur are complex and multifaceted. Anyone who claims that all wars are the doing of one group, ideology or mentality is spouting demagogic nonsense. This is particularly ironic, given that this is coming from someone using Catholic apologetics, and I have to ask what religious institution has started or advocated for more wars than the Catholic Church? Al-Qaeda probably doesn’t come close… and, no, they aren’t atheists either.

    The rejection of the Candide-mentality that this is the best of all possible worlds and that everything will be great in the end is one of the foundations of modern, critical, logical, common sense society. This is a universe of natural laws, people can die at any moment in nearly any manner, and these laws will not be suspended for our sake. Nearly every religion has its ideas about the afterlife, some quite positive and others rather negative. But these are the same “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” speculations that waste human talent and drain human conversation of any substance or worth. If religion has committed a crime against humanity, it is that St. Augustine wrote three million words about irrelevance when he could have been putting his considerable mind to work writing about medicine or even plumbing, which would have saved more people than anything he wrote about the trinity or original sin.

    All of that is obvious and I still might not have written anything. This is what really pushed me into writing this post:

    Those who believe we’re just floating along have no reason not to make up whatever they want and decide for themselves who is valuable and who is not.

    Making up whatever we want… as opposed to virgin births and water into wine or wine into Jesus juice. And the evil atheists will decide who is valuable and who is not… as opposed to the blessed Church that has called for the extermination of heretics and the burning of witches and the covering up of child rape cases because the Church’s image might be damaged.

    The point about faith is that it is belief without evidence, without reason. As easily as one can believe in the ascension one can believe that there are magic leprechauns on the dark side of the moon plotting to steal Earth’s atmosphere. Just as easily as an atheist might conivingly decide that he is pro-choice (as I am) or pro-life (as Christopher Hitchens is), one pope can decide that slavery is bad while another can decide that slavery is just fine. The religious do not have an elevated morality that the rest of us cannot understand, and no pope ever said anything that hasn’t been subject to the contradiction of another pope or another council.

  20. Oh, and I found the notion of Thomas Jefferson (who wrote against “monkish ignorance”) being conscripted on to the side of Catholic apologetics quite irritating as well. Jefferson believed in religious freedom; I doubt that there is anyone who has posted here who does not. But no where in the Declaration of Independence did Jefferson say that we are not allowed to criticize others, the Declaration is mostly about criticism, and Jefferson is well-known as a prominent critic of traditional Christianity.

    Again, apologies to DOF, I did resist posting any of this.

  21. Pingback: God, War, and Logic « Café Philos: an internet café

  22. We can’t have a single thread around here without the fundevangelicals derailing it.

    And both Hitler and Stalin were christians.

  23. Michael:

    Lastly, you conclude generally that many Christians oppose death strenuously, when earlier you said that Christians over-value life after death. Both statements are vague generalities that get the basic tenets of at least my Catholic Christian faith wrong.

    You have not traveled much, have you? Many Catholic chapels in Brazil, when I was there in 1963-1965, celebrated the death of Jesus, to the point of having open coffins with a sculpture of Jesus in the coffin, covered in blood. The faithful were supposed to have a copy of the Bible in the home, but it was a mortal sin to read that Bible. They were supposed to believe anything the priest or the Pope said, even when that was against common sense and opposite to humanistic rules of society. And they DID overvalue life after death. Maybe YOUR chapel in the U.S. teaches differently, but I suspect you have cherry-picked its teachings, as well.

    I am reminded of this story from another blog (Cafe Philos):

    “Life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things:
    One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell.
    The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.” Butch Hancock

    Peace.

  24. Thank you Positive, Leguru, Julian; well said.

    Just a note for anyone happening upon this thread later; citing examples of Christian atrocity does not mean proposing that Christianity makes you evil. Rather, it only puts the lie to Christian claims of special morality. Christians are quite as capable as anyone of being lovely people or absolute rotters. The trouble is it also allows lovely people to unthinkingly cause suffering, like religious prejudice against gays or the well-documented burden of knowing that if you aren’t healed, your faith wasn’t strong enough. For Catholics this might seem like a strange mindset; I recommend Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy For God as an introduction to PE emotional abuse. (Michael, this is my subtle hint that we’re just done with you because you apparently don’t know what we’re talking about. Or what you are talking about either.)

    My friends with the sick daughter are very nice people indeed and by their lights have no bad intentions to anyone – it just works out that way. If you are an immigrant, a gay person, or an African-American president, their faith allows them to “love” you by hating you but they don’t recognize it as such. That’s all in the way of business, you know, but it also means they are, with the best intentions, they can set their daughter – and ultimately themselves – up for amplified suffering if the worst should happen.

    Her emails come in every few days, sent to old friends who care deeply – as I do. But I know that I am outside her current circle now – since our college years I’ve moved on from Christianity. If her daughter dies she’ll be surrounded by a church community telling her that, somehow, God had a purpose in it all. And she’ll have to be very careful to keep her balance on that emotional tightrope. I wonder if her daughter will be able to, as she goes through the experience with no room to express doubts.

  25. Will:

    When bad things happen, you are told it’s God’s will. Now, the conventional, rational response to that SHOULD be: “Well then he’s not a just and loving God if he takes my kid from me, causes the child to suffer and die and won’t even tell me WHY.” but faith makes you say “I have to trust that whatever his reasons for inflicting this cruel and seemingly unwarranted suffering on so many (me included) they are benevolent reasons that are necessary for the cosmic plan.”

    THAT takes an awful lot of faith. Merely believing in God is such a simple thing by comparison.

    Exactly. That’s what’s so sad about this. I wonder if many evangelicals in later years fall silent, unable to express doubts without being even more isolated; some becoming closet unbelievers and others just… suffering. I’ve read enough accounts to suggest both are possible.

  26. @ decrepitoldfool:

    I wonder if many evangelicals in later years fall silent, unable to express doubts without being even more isolated; some becoming closet unbelievers and others just… suffering. I’ve read enough accounts to suggest both are possible.

    You might be interested in this article from Evolutionary Psychology DoF. It reports on a series of interviews done with preachers who have lost their faith while remaining preachers.

  27. @ decrepitoldfool:

    I wonder if many evangelicals in later years fall silent, unable to express doubts without being even more isolated; some becoming closet unbelievers and others just… suffering. I’ve read enough accounts to suggest both are possible.

    Either that, or like a tiny minority go in another direction and start believing that suffering and death caused by a follower (ie: them) of God is also part of “The Plan” That is the justification for many wars, genocide, and general opression; the belief that an evil is made good because of who does it. The vagueness and contradictory nature of the Bible has allowed it to endure through the centuries, but it has ALSO allowed it to be interpreted to justify the most heinous of crimes against our fellow humans.

    Now… about Michael:
    I try to keep an open mind when dealing with Christians, and not automatically believe that they are closed minded fundamentalists who think donkey blinders are the fashion of the day and that the Bible is a fountain of truth that cannot be questioned, but you’re making it damned hard.

    Mostly what Positive said, but a few points:

    That Christians believe that death is not the end is what devalues life

    How?

    Because when you believe that there is another life after this one, and ultimately that one is the one that matters, not this one… then the only effort you spend on this one is that which makes the next one better, and the only things that do that are what you are told by the leaders of your faith.

    There may be many causes we do not see or understand, but that doesn’t mean they are caused by God. Of course, logic dictates that if you believe in an all-loving and all-powerful God, you either believe that God did not cause the suffering at all or that, yes, it was for a loving reason (e.g., granting us free will). But that does not mean that every suffering is attributable to God or that those who believe in God need to invent false causes. We’re perfectly comfortable acknowledging the mystery and hoping for justice, which, I suspect, is not really very far from the end result for atheists as well.

    You stepped in the classic Christian paradox, my friend. If God can do anything, and he loves everyone, then he is responsible for all the bad things that are done to those he loves, either because he directly caused the bad things for some reason, or because he allowed them to happen. If he can do anything, then he can stop the bad things from happening. If he doesn’t stop them, it is because he wanted them to happen for whatever reason.

    The paradox is that God doesn’t make bad things happen, so bad things happen without his approval, but God can do anything, so bad things can’t happen without his approval, but God does not approve of bad things, so…. see where this is going?

    In what did Stalin, Hitler and Sanger believe, other than themselves? To be clear, I’m not in any way saying all atheists are evil or the cause of suffering. Rather, I’m using the examples to counter the argument in the post that belief in God is the cause of war by pointing out that those who do not believe in God also cause war. In other words, neither belief or unbelief in God are the cause of war.

    Postive said it better, but I also said the same thing: These “examples” you use are examples of people using religion to justify the suffering they caused. How can you use them as examples to counter the argument that God causes wars when your examples are men who believed (or at least told their followers) that God wanted them to make war on their enemy?

    I did not say that denial of God is responsible for all suffering but I did state that choices by humans are, in fact, the cause of much suffering. The question is what governs those choices. What gives a human value or unalienable rights? Why are we not free to decide for ourselves whether someone else should live or die? Those who believe a loving God created them logically must acknowledge the same about every other person, too. Those who believe we’re just floating along have no reason not to make up whatever they want and decide for themselves who is valuable and who is not.

    There are two things wrong with this statement. One is that you contradicted yourself. You claim you did not say that denial of God is responsible for all suffering, but the choices humans make is the cause of much suffering. Points for that; you did not say ‘all’, but ‘much’ Granted… But then you turn around and say that the bad choices we make are because we don’t believe in God.

    The second thing wrong with that statement is that you assume without offering any evidence (evidence not easily refuted that is) that those without a belief in God are going to make up their own rules. Would it shock you to know that this was how religion got started in the first place: people making up rules to govern their behavior toward their fellow man? An Atheist believes that the very essence of what Christians consider morality was conceived and developed out of a secular ideology. This means that morality, not anarchy comes from secular thought. I’m not the first Atheist to say that a lot of the Bible’s morality is good, but as a secular human being, I’m allowed to say “This rule is good.. I think we should keep that” without being forced to agree with all the garbage in the Bible that is only tolerated because it is between the same book covers. The Bible is long overdue for a very severe edit, but don’t be shocked. It’s already happened many times… by Christians.

    Now you can argue whether what Atheists believe is true or not all you want, and I’d gladly debate you, but don’t for a minute think that just because we’re Atheists, that means we don’t have some of the same goals in mind that you do, that we’re not good people trying to stop the suffering in the world and allow people to get along better with each other.

    Oh and just for the record:

    Those who believe a loving God created them logically must acknowledge the same about every other person, too.

    What have you been smoking? Did you read the Bible? Are you new to this discussion? If there is one thing that is hammered into me with ruthless consistency while dealing with debates concerning religion, it is that logic and religion have nothing at all to do with one another.

  28. DoF, I apologize for intruding and I hope you, your friends and their daughter find peace.

    Positive, apparently you were so blinded by the mention of Stalin, Hitler and Sanger that you failed to read or comprehend what I actually said, which clearly was not that atheism causes all wars.

    Julian, neither Stalin or Hitler were Christians as rulers. Stalin grew up Christian but firmly rejected and sought to extinguish it. Hitler placated people with statements about the Church but also was clear that it was just an instrument for him and a “meek and flabby one” at that. The point I was making is best summarized by this side note from The Straight Dope:

    An interesting side note: Two of my sources, both of whom are well-versed in WWII history, said something to the effect that Hitler acted as if he had a messianic complex and perhaps believed himself to essentially be a god or the messiah. As one put it, you could certainly make the argument that he was a firm believer in God, if by “God” you mean “Adolf Hitler.”

    Can the same also happen to Popes and atheists and anyone else? Sure. Humans mistake themselves for God all the time, but the prevalence of our error doesn’t prove the non-existence of God.

    Again, DoF, I apologize for intruding, especially when I don’t know the context of the PE faith you’re concerned about. I was pointed to this post by a tweet from an atheist colleague and was prompted to comment by what I saw as an error in your second to last paragraph, which appeared to conclude that faith in and thankfulness to God results in de-valuing life and ultimately war.

  29. Humans mistake themselves for God all the time, but the prevalence of our error doesn’t prove the non-existence of God.

    No one here is trying to prove the non-existence of God. Whether Stalin or Hitler were religious rulers or not isn’t the point. They knew their subjects were. The point is that they used religion to justify what they did, not Atheism. The tennants of Atheism would not have worked on the populations of Germany or Russia as they were predominantly Catholic and Christian. As examples to counter the idea that a belief in God causes wars, both fail.

  30. Michael – it’s no error. Please re-read what Will said.

    “when you believe that there is another life after this one, and ultimately that one is the one that matters, not this one… then the only effort you spend on this one is that which makes the next one better…”

    It results in real suffering and even real death by real people, and I don’t even think it’s a good representation of what Jesus taught. If you get the chance you might find Schaeffer’s book really interesting. And the ending might be a surprise to you; after everything he went through he didn’t become an atheist because he does believe in God. But he isn’t a leader in the Christianist right anymore. He has gone from parading Christianity as The Superior Religion over everyone to a supplicant of faith. From being a Pharisee he is (a’la Matthew 5:3) poor in spirit.

  31. Thanks, DoF, I will read it. I understand better already that we’re talking about two different “faiths” here, but I am interested in understanding more about what you’re talking about and so will read the book.

    “when you believe that there is another life after this one, and ultimately that one is the one that matters, not this one… then the only effort you spend on this one is that which makes the next one better…”

    Hoping that I’m not missing some other PE implication and only addressing the above statement on its own merits, there appear to be a couple of errors here. First, an effort to make one thing better does not require that other things are made worse. Second, valuing one thing more than another does not place a limit on the value of the other thing; to the contrary, valuing one thing more can actually raise the value of the other (as can the effort to make one thing better also make other things better).

  32. @ Michael Wurzer:

    First, an effort to make one thing better does not require that other things are made worse. Second, valuing one thing more than another does not place a limit on the value of the other thing; to the contrary, valuing one thing more can actually raise the value of the other (as can the effort to make one thing better also make other things better).

    Belief in an afterlife creates two situations that apply to THIS life. If you have a finite amount of “Effort” inside you, then if you spend any effort at all working on your next life, you are doing that at the expense of effort in this life. Secondly, it creates the idea that suffering in this life, while tragic is only transient, and sometimes through that suffering you attain a better place in the next life, so you are less inclined to challenge that suffering, especially when a Christian leader whom you respect tells you that it’s God’s Will and there’s nothing you can do about it. You are encouraged to simply “grin and bear it” rather than find real world ways to eliminate it.

    On the other hand, if you firmly believe that this is the only life you get and after that there is nothing, you are encouraged to try to make the best of this life, because you aren’t going to get a second chance or a 11th hour reprieve by confession, or by conversion, or by accepting Jesus.

  33. Putting aside that Michael dodged most of what I wrote about natural law, Jefferson, the capricious nature of religious morality, etc. he writes…

    Positive, apparently you were so blinded by the mention of Stalin, Hitler and Sanger that you failed to read or comprehend what I actually said, which clearly was not that atheism causes all wars.

    If you notice, I said…

    Now, apparently, atheism or something akin to it is responsible for all wars

    Having watched EWTN for a number of years, and having gone to Catholic school, I understand the equivocations. Whenever the subjects of atheism, WWII, the Nazis or the Communists come up as a topic the talking point is usually that atheism leads to the notion that the government/the dictator is God, which leads to the suspension of decency and morality and then to genocide. The idea being that atheism is often/always disengenuous, and that atheists are not atheists at all. It is not that they do not believe in God, as they claim, but that they are, if you like, “egotheists,” i.e. people who believe that they are God. And the reason why atheists want to be God is so that they can murder, rape, steal and live in one big Darwinian dystopia.

    Actually Glenn Beck has also used similar rhetoric. He has said, basically, that we live in an evil secular society where “Big Government” is now God. Indeed, he has said in effect that the evil liberals want us to put Obama in place of God. Obama, of course, is another Hitler or another Stalin who will eventually kill us all (apparently by giving us health insurance.) So don’t feel bad, Michael, your rhetoric of trying to conflate Hitler, atheism, egotheism, war, genocide, etc. is no where near as irresponsible as his. But keep trying.

    At any rate, this is all horseshit. Firstly, there have been genuine egotheists in history such as Caligula, the Japanese Emperors, and indeed Jesus Christ; at least as he is depicted some of the Gospels. But the examples that you used were of Hitler (who you did indeed call an atheist and a non-believer, which is historical illiteracy) and Stalin. Now, it is of course true that both men had cults of personality and certainly Stalin tried to do away with religion as much as he could; at least until the Germans invaded, and then he began promoting Orthodoxy in order to rally the people. And it seems true that Hitler in his adulthood was not an orthodox Christian but used Christian rhetoric for propaganda purposes; and it worked, which you seem to want to ignore. German Christians were indeed complicit in Nazi war and crime; “Gott mit uns.”

    But what we are contending is that belief in God, not merely atheism, not merely anything akin to it, not simply any notion of a demigod earthly ruler, not any egotistical notions that “I am God,” nor merely any Nietzschean notions that “God is dead,” but belief in traditional Catholic/Christian notions of God has lead to war. In the Bible, for instance, we see many conflicts that are being led by God. Joshua does not claim to be God, he is fighting in the name of God. Similarly, the Crusaders did not say that they were God, but that “Christ wills it.” Point being, God is a nebulous concept; it is whatever the religious believer wants it to be. A religious believer can decide that God wants him to help some poor people, he can just as easily decide that God wants him to bomb an abortion clinic. All religious belief is subject to the whims of the religious believer and/or the religious authorities. There is no way for you to demonstrate to us what the “true God” wants, if there is such a thing. Therefore what God wants is basically whatever the religious say he wants; they are the ventriloquists and he is the puppet.

    In short; when Pope so and so declares that such and such group of heretics should be stripped of their property, burned or put in prison, you could say that he is serving his own interests, is enacting his own will; but that itself is the definition of organized religion, be it Catholicism or any other faith. And that, after all, is his job as “Vicar of Christ.” Similarly, Hitler did not speak of himself as Providence, he spoke of himself as acting in accordance with the will of Providence. So did Genghis Khan, who claimed to be working for Heaven. It is true that Hitler had a messiah complex but, again, so did the founder of Christianity and, again, this is par for the course when it comes to religion. Speaking of which; the pope at the time, Pius XI, said at the time that Mussolini was a “gift of Providence”; try to work that one out.

  34. belief in traditional Catholic/Christian notions of God has lead to war

    No, the choice to wage war made by those people professing belief in God led to war, not the belief itself.

    Point being, God is a nebulous concept; it is whatever the religious believer wants it to be.

    God said something about not killing, but, unfortunately, that doesn’t stop people from re-interpreting it to their own ends. As Chesterton said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

    Will, I am trying to understand why this follows one from the other:

    if you spend any effort at all working on your next life, you are doing that at the expense of effort in this life

    Why can’t an effort on your next life also help you in this life? For example, if I exercise today so that I’m able to love my wife and daughters longer, wouldn’t that be a benefit to both simultaneously?

    You are encouraged to simply “grin and bear it” rather than find real world ways to eliminate it.

    This must be one of the PE things, because my faith very much encourages finding real world ways to eliminate suffering.

    Thanks to all of you for tolerating me as long as you have. I’ve definitely learned some things.

  35. Michael, I hope these examples will be helpful:

    Consider lying to people about condoms as AIDS prevention, in the service of some “spiritual” goal, as an example of overvaluing the next life at the expense of this one. Or forbidding one’s child to receive an HPV vaccination because it might, in some obtuse way, make them less worried about being promiscuous. Or (and this is very much a PE thing) opposing anti-bullying legislation because “peer pressure” (so severe it can drive kids to suicide) supposedly helps kids not to make the “choice” to be gay. Or cutting funding for women’s health care – even when no abortion funding is involved – as a political move to appease Protestant Evangelicals, and not a few Catholics either. Or supporting the government of Uganda because they are murderously anti-gay in ways that PE’s would love to be here in this country, if only the pesky secular government would get out of the way. Or ditching the First Amendment to have official prayers in schools, or while we’re at it, ditching good science education because the most fanatical PE’s think evolution is some kind of commie plot. Or cutting EPA funding because of alleged promises in the bible about not repeating the flood. Or promoting war with Islamic countries on the basis of religious difference – our former President actually called the Prime Minister of France and tried to get him into Iraq by citing bible prophecies about “Gog and Magog”. The best part of a million people have paid in this life for those next-life aspirations. Or making a virtue of poverty in Calcutta because it somehow pleases God to see people suffer like Christ did, instead of working with anti-poverty programs. Or forcing women to be silent and subservient to their husbands because that’s what the bible commands.

  36. DoF, those are a lot of examples of poor thinking and I wholeheartedly agree that people make many stupid decisions, and that many of them are from religious nutcases (though I’d guess — but can’t prove — that the distribution curve of stupid decisions is pretty well balanced across the various nutcases of humanity). What I thought was being posited is that it is not possible to act to the benefit of both this life and an afterlife; that the two are mutually exclusive such that the example I provided was not possible.

  37. Michael, don’t dismiss them so quickly. They are mainstream examples that cause a lot of suffering, and they are not fringe elements or “nutcases” but include major right-wing Christian politicians, institutions and public figures, any number of US school boards, a US president, Mother Theresa, and The Pope.

  38. With the two exceptions I’m sure you can imagine I’d make, I’d likely include all the others in the nutcases category. :-) Seriously, though, I agree with you and the others that religion often is confused, used, distorted and contorted by people all the time both intentionally (evil) and mistakenly (stupidity), including some Popes and priests and other religious. Only a nutcase would argue that believing in God makes you perfect (frees one from error), let alone argue that merely professing some faith or the other does so. However, that conclusion does not then also lead to the conclusion that faith in God or an after-life excludes the possibility of making good decisions for this life, which is what I thought you and Will were arguing.

  39. Michael Wurzer wrote:

    Only a nutcase would argue that believing in God makes you perfect (frees one from error), let alone argue that merely professing some faith or the other does so. However, that conclusion does not then also lead to the conclusion that faith in God or an after-life excludes the possibility of making good decisions for this life, which is what I thought you and Will were arguing.

    I was arguing that the existence of an afterlife is a distraction from this life, either a little or a lot, depending on which faith you subscribe to. I never said that time spent improving one was mutually exclusive to improving the other, but killing two birds with one stone and improving both doesn’t happen as much as you would think and if you go by the “official rules” of most religions, this world and the next have quite a few mutually exclusive rules, especially when it comes to dealing with those “not of the faith”

    I also have a problem with this statement you made.

    That all evil cannot be explained does not mean God is or does evil.

    That’s the paradox I was telling you about. If God is all powerful, then he permits evil to exist. If he isn’t all powerful, then he’s not God. This is not an opinion. The definition of God is quite explicit in the Bible. There is nothing he cannot do, just things he chooses not to for some reason. This is as logical as it gets. Either you say that God isn’t all powerful, or you say that he willfully permits evil. Logically, you must choose one.

  40. Will, thanks for the clarification on the earlier premise about the two not being mutually exclusive and I agree that it’s very difficult to keep the two aligned.

    Regarding evil, I would distinguish between intentional acts of harm and suffering without an apparent cause. Intentional acts of harm (evil such as war) are permitted by God so that we have free will. Suffering from disease or accidents or natural disasters that cause suffering are the more difficult case, because the true cause often is unknown. The cause may be an act or acts of free will (whether evil or accidental, e.g., chemical pollution causing certain cancers, both with and without knowledge) or there may be some other cause or purpose we don’t understand, and, yes, those who believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God are logically required to believe that such suffering isn’t without a loving purpose. But the bottom line is that we don’t know the reason, which is why I said I’m content to accept the mystery and hope for justice, which doesn’t seem too far off DoFs approach of:”“All right, this is bad, and I’ll do everything I can within reason not to die. And whatever the outcome, that will have to be enough.”

  41. The vast majority of what I wrote again ignored, Michel says…

    No, the choice to wage war made by those people professing belief in God led to war, not the belief itself…
    God said something about not killing, but, unfortunately, that doesn’t stop people from re-interpreting it to their own ends. As Chesterton said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

    Again, the religious can make God say whatever they want him to say. They do not know that he exists, much less what his will is, and they take it upon themselves to fill in the blank. You are pretending to be God’s mouth piece no less than any Crusader or Inquisitor, the difference being that you are advocating for peace and they for violence; it is still the same delusion, even if your delusion is more palatable. The Bible contains as many verses advocating killing as it does advocating peace, and just as there are many peaceful Church teachings there have been many calls for violence by the Church. Not in the Church’s name, in God’s name.

    You and Chesterton are hypocrites in as much as you claim to belong to a church, the Catholic Church, which itself claims infallibility, while at the same time denying that Christianity has ever been truly practiced. It seems to me that you cannot have it both ways; either the Church is at fault or the religion of Christianity itself is no good.

    And, again, lest we go in circles about the question of violence coming from man or violence coming from “God”; the popes did not condemn witches by their own authority, they condemned witches on the basis that witches had been condemned in the Bible by God. The Crusaders claimed that they were doing God’s will, not their own. They were *not* acting on their own authority, they were claiming to be acting on God’s authority. And the verses about “thou shall not kill” have always been taken quite loosely, in and out of the Bible. Moses and Saul do not kill civilians by their own will, it is their God YHWH who is prodding them to do so.

    One thing is certain, it is not the rejection of God that leads to war.

  42. Positive, I’ve chosen not to respond largely because we agree except on the crucial point that I believe in God and you do not, and I don’t see the point of, as you say, going in circles about that. In all your examples, I agree with you that those committing evil were making shit up about a god in which I do not believe and the Church does not teach. The principle of infallible teaching does not mean the Church is run by perfect humans or that acts by those humans even in the name of the Church are perfect. And, yes, even in the Bible, there is much discussion of sin and error by humans. I cannot claim to be an expert on every Bible verse or how to interpret it, especially in terms of the Old Testament, and I’m sure you’re replete with citations to seemingly contradictory verses. Were I more of an expert there, perhaps I’d debate you but I’m sure I would not do it justice. In the end, though, our disagreement is one: I believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God and you do not, which we knew from the start and so I’ve seen no point in debating it with you.

  43. Fair enough. But I would be remiss if I did not reiterate that, in the Bible (Numbers 31, 1 Samuel 15, for example) it is not merely a case of Moses or Saul going off and killing civilians and fighting wars of extermination in acts of “sin and error” by their own will. Rather, they are being ordered to do so by their god YHWH, who punishes them when the killings do not take place.

    Nor was I speaking merely, for instance, of one church official in an isolated incident taking it upon himself to incite violence (though there are plenty of examples of that.) I was speaking of formal and public acts where popes and councils, in their official capacities, and in the name of God, have ordered persecution, segregation and extermination. Those instances are not merely matters of informal whim and personal sin, but are institutional.

  44. Michael:

    I believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God and you do not, which we knew from the start and so I’ve seen no point in debating it with you.

    It’s not quite as simple as that… at least not for me. If you’re saying that bad things happen because God permits them, but evil comes from men, then I completely agree. Anything else doesn’t really make sense.

    On the other hand, God does “evil” if you measure it by the way we measure our own criminals. He steals, he murders, he cheats, and he tortures. Straight from the Bible and condoned and used as cautionary tales by the church. The only reason we seem to tolerate it is because he created the universe, but he is as ruthless and vain as any dictator running a third-world country. He expects loyalty under pain of torture and death (and sometimes the torture and death of your family too). He kills those who do not bow before him, even if they grew up in a different culture and haven’t been taught about him or even done anything to him or his followers. He seizes land that doesn’t belong to him and gives it to his own followers, killing or driving out anyone already living there. Any human being who acted like that would be universally denounced and censured by the United Nations… but it’s God so it’s all right.

    No… God is not ALL loving. I don’t…. can’t quite accept that. He doesn’t merely permit evil. He’s got some of his own too. You can argue that it is all for some greater good, but for a Cannanite brutally killed (tortured? raped?) because God directly commanded it… the difference is non-existent. Job’s life destroyed and his family slaughtered on a bet… I don’t really see the distinction there. Lot’s daughters raped because Angels shouldn’t have to defend themselves?? Not really seeing it there either. Abraham commanded to kill his son just to see if he’d really do it (which God should already know)?? Not feelin the love there either.

    Or is it only evil depending on WHO commits it? or WHEN it is committed?

    or is the Bible wrong?

  45. “Only a nutcase would argue that believing in God makes you perfect”

    Ahh, the “Christians aren’t perfect…” canard. Michael, I’m not asking for perfection but it would be nice if religion didn’t institutionalize insanity. A President of the United States invaded Iraq because of his Protestant Evangelical religion – insanity. And one of your exceptions – your Pope – still lies about condoms while AIDS rages in Africa – insanity. All the finery he wears can’t cover up the evil of that lie. You don’t need to be perfect to look at evidence and come to logical conclusions.

  46. If you’re saying that bad things happen because God permits them, but evil comes from men, then I completely agree.

    Yep, that’s what I’m saying, except I added two things: 1. that I don’t the know the reason God permits them; and 2. I believe it is a loving reason and not for evil. As I said, I won’t be able to respond in detail to every Biblical reference and, admittedly, the murderous ones are challenging. Generally, though, suffering to a greater good is not irrational. Athletes do it every day of training. Addicts endure severe suffering to get and stay clean. Fire fighters risk their life to save others. Parents undergo all sorts of crazy things to raise their children.

    DoF, I also cannot debate all the intricacies of the condom wars most likely, but my understanding of what Pope Benedict was saying is in the first sentence of the CDC article:

    To achieve the maximum protective effect, condoms must be used both consistently and correctly. Inconsistent use can lead to STD acquisition because transmission can occur with a single act of intercourse with an infected partner. Similarly, if condoms are not used correctly, the protective effect may be diminished even when they are used consistently. The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are to abstain from sexual activity or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.

    I’m also guessing that there exist conflicting studies about whether the use of distributed condoms is consistent or not.

  47. Michael Wurzer wrote:

    Athletes do it every day of training. Addicts endure severe suffering to get and stay clean. Fire fighters risk their life to save others. Parents undergo all sorts of crazy things to raise their children.

    Not the same at all. Athletes suffer because they know that their success is a direct result of their suffering. You tell them that if let you rub poison ivy all over them and they’ll get a gold medal, they’ll tell you where to stick the plant. Firefighters risk their lives TO SAVE OTHERS. Parents do all sorts of crazy things, and by and large they are crazy things.

    The common denominator there is that they CHOOSE to suffer. If someone walked into a crowded room, shot six people and said “It’s for the greater good” you wouldn’t say “Ahmen.” You’d tell the police and have his ass arrested. My point is that you accept that kind of crap from God because you are told by a guy in a dress that God’s will is benevolent, not sadistic… not evil, because all the tangible evidence says that it’s just sadistic crap.

    As I said… Faith. To believe that innocent children dying by the thousands can potentially be justified in order to bring about some kind of greater good. A LOT of faith.

  48. I’m also guessing that there exist conflicting studies about whether the use of distributed condoms is consistent or not.

    You wish. The link I posted is to the CDC, and represents the scientific consensus based on many studies. Denialists try to find one or two studies that contradict the whole (often because of methodological errors) and seize on them in hope of protecting their ideology; don’t be that guy. Your pope is lying, sir, or delusional; and people are dying as a result.

  49. You’re right, my analogy wasn’t very good and, as someone willing to defend my faith, I clearly should be able to articulate better a consistent interpretation for each of the stories you referenced. That’s my failing but here’s what I do know on this point: the Catholic faith teaches that the Bible must always be read as a whole and not in parts, and that the Old Testament cannot be read or interpreted accurately without reference to the New Testament, which is clear that God is love. Further, the Church teaches that the Bible contains both factual and allegorical stories (e.g., the Genesis account). Again, as someone willing to defend my faith, I should be able to tell you which of the stories you referenced are allegorical and which are not, if any, but I’m thinking most are allegorical, especially when a literal interpretation suggests God is sadistic.

    Further to DoF’s reference to the AIDS/condom question, the Church’s theology of the body is admittedly idealistic and incredibly difficult to follow. At the same time, our world’s more practical attitudes toward sexuality result in a lot of very serious problems (rape, slavery, disease, abortion, abuse (yes, even by some priests), eating disorders, esteem, etc.), and, if we were to be more respectful of each other and not so sexually hungry and willing to objectify each other, the world would be a more loving place, especially for women. Teaching abstinence and mutual respect for our bodies is idealistic and not terribly practical, but there can be no doubt, as the CDC said, that abstinence is the only true protection against AIDS. That doesn’t mean it is the practical solution, but being practical isn’t in Christ’s wheelhouse.

  50. Michael, if even priests can’t abide by the church’s teaching then it can’t be public policy. And under no circumstances should lies be told to support it, and the pope is lying.

Leave a Reply

Connect with:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>