Brian Edwards Media

“God is weeping with those who weep” – Peter Beck. I beg to differ.

 

I know Peter Beck, the Dean of Christchurch Cathedral, reasonably well. We’ve had a few decent atheist/believer donnybrooks in the past and I admire and like him. His great sadness at what has happened to the Cathedral and the people of Christchurch could not be more patent or moving. So I write this with a degree of trepidation for two reasons: first, because the timing isn’t great; and second, because I have no interest in denying anyone the comfort which religion brings them at times like this.

But what I have to say arises directly from my enormous admiration for the generosity, bravery and self sacrifice of the people of Christchurch and of the hundreds of others, from all parts of the world, who came to their aid.

Answering the question ‘Where is God?’ Peter recently replied as follows:

‘God is in all these people. God is in the midst of all this. God is weeping with those who weep. God is alongside those who are finding the energy to just keep going. God is in the people who are reaching out and seeking to sustain one another. God is about building community, about empowering people.’

He was then asked:

‘Yes, but where was God was when offices pancaked and burned and hundreds died?’

He replied:

‘Well, we live on a dynamic, creating planet that’s doing its thing. For whatever reason, our forebears chose to build this city on this place. They didn’t know we were on this faultline. God doesn’t make bad things happen to good people. We make our own choices about what we do.’  

Every year millions of innocent people die in natural disasters. Every year bad things happen to millions of good people. Peter, a liberal priest, says it isn’t God’s doing. He’s not a believer in a god of (often capricious) retribution. ‘God’, he tells us, ‘is weeping with those who weep’. That’s nice. A sympathetic, do-nothing God. A sympathetic did-nothing God.

There are so many problems with the idea of God ‘weeping’ that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Weeping involves sorrow about an event. It seems to imply  lack of foreknowledge of the event and impotence to prevent the event or its aftermath. Such concepts are incompatible with the Christian idea of an omniscient, omnipotent creator. And, perhaps more significantly, incompatible with the idea of a loving father.

So where was God when those offices pancaked and burned and hundreds died? The nitty gritty question, to which  Peter replies:  ‘Well, we live on a dynamic, creating planet that’s doing its thing.’

He then seems to suggest that the tragedy of Christchurch was somehow of our own making, the same sort of argument that John Key has been making about the poor – bad choices:

‘For whatever reason, our forebears chose to build this city on this place. They didn’t know we were on this faultline. God doesn’t make bad things happen to good people. We make our own choices about what we do.’

You might have thought that not knowing about the faultline would absolve our ancestors of any blame for siting Christchurch where they did. And anyway, for the Christian believer,  that ‘dynamic, creating planet, doing its thing’ was designed not by man, but by God, who might be weeping less out of sympathy for those in Christchurch who have lost everything, some including their lives, than for the divine design flaw which led to it all.

I was about 15 when I first started to question the idea that all the good things came from God and all the bad things were man-made.

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wide and wonderful.
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.

I wrote a parody of this lovely children’s hymn, substituting bad things for all the nice things. I wouldn’t do it now. Atheists have to be wary of blaming bad things on an entity they don’t believe in.

But if you do believe in God, then you have to ask the question: how come God, the loving father, allows terrible things to happen to good people? How come He doesn’t intervene? That is the most troubling question for the believer.

The theological answer is that God can’t intervene, because He has given us free will. We’re on our own, free to get it right or get it wrong, to make good choices or bad choices. Not terribly comforting really, since it means that prayer is totally pointless, because to answer a single prayer would require God to intervene in the natural course of events, thus breaching the free will principle. That sort of god is less likely to be weeping with those who weep than saying, ‘Told you so!’ 

What offended me about Peter’s statement was that it was an invitation to deal with the effects of a natural disaster by recognising that God shared in your suffering, that, however bleak things seemed, you were not alone, that you could put your faith in Him.

Yet all around him as he spoke was the incontrovertible evidence that you can’t put your faith in God, that, if there is  a god, the prevention of suffering is not on his agenda. And all around him too was the incontrovertible evidence that the best, the only place to put your faith is in the indomitable spirit, the limitless courage, the unfailing generosity, the inexhaustible kindness, the selfless dedication of men. 

And so somehow, though no doubt he did not intend it, I was angered by the sheer irrelevance of this fine-sounding nonsense against the backdrop of real human tears that have been shed here and around the world and will continue to be shed for months and years to come. If the people of Christchurch are to take comfort from anything, it should be in the knowledge that there is one thing they can rely on – the unfailing goodness of their neighbours, next door and across the world.

The Bard, of course, said it first and best:

Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie,
Which we ascribe to heaven

  All’s Well That Ends Well

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81 Comments:

  1. To each his own Brian but, for me, I’d rather have a shattered town WITH Peter Beck than without him.

    BE: So would I, Gavin, but that’s hardly the issue under discussion.

  2. 2

    Jonathan Marshall

    I think, if there is a flaw in your logic, it would lie in the assumption that death is a bad thing. If you assume that heaven exists and that a Christian’s time on earth is a series of tests and trials to pass the entrance exam, then you can start to understand. A useful analogy is perhaps higher education. I remember as a boy working hard to pass one set of exams only to be confronted by another and another at increasing levels of difficulty while my mates who left school at 15 had jobs and were earning money and could party rather than having to study. Of course, the lesson we teach our children is that this sacrifice of our youth will be paid back many times over when we are adults. This is perhaps similar to a Christian’s view of life – a series of trials and tests in a cruel and unfair world which hopefully lead to an eternity in heaven dishing out harp music.

  3. Of course Beck doesn’t have a logical leg to stand on, but what else could he say except to renounce his religion?

  4. …I share your degree of trepidation in dialoguing on this topic as well, but here goes…

    I mentioned a while ago that I remember you once wrote a piece in The Listener about Lloyd Geering, and his 1967 heresy trial. Something to the effect that you were glad they let him off, but really, he beat the rap, because if you say you believe this Bible thing, then there are some things you really can’t escape.

    I share your frustration with Beck’s liberal theology, although I’d agree that the human capacity to endure and assist one another as the folk of Christchurch are now having to do, is a reflection of their original creation in the image of God.

    Don’t think if you go to a more traditional view you have to ascribe to God the ‘malevolent intervention upon deserving sinners’ approach. I certainly don’t think that is the case last week.

    Just out of interest, and with the true intent of open dialogue – what, as an atheist, would you find intellectually dissatisfying with the view God’s original creation has been marred by human disobedience, opening the door to chaotic forces that unravel the perfection of that original creation? Also, join it to the view that an omnipotent, patient, and loving God will ultimately restore – but his main problem is still disobedient, fallen, and marred human nature? In the interim, chaos such as earthquakes are not fair in terms of where they strike, and who dies.

    Just asking, because you are obviously not satisfied with Beck’s take, and like a good amenable Anglican vicar, he is a bit too polite to give the traditional line that this is what the world can look like when it is not in proper relationship with its creator…

  5. …have to disagree with you, Jonathan Marshall. The “go to heaven/earthly life is merely a prologue” view may be rooted in church tradition, but does not reflect the view of the Scriptures. Earthly life is real, meaningful, and will ultimately be restored – hence the doctrine of the bodily earthly resurrection (see the recent spat between Garth George and Brain Tamaki), rather than the neo-Platonic “escape away from earth and float up to heave like a ghost schema, especially favoured by Renaissance artists.

    Sorry to get technical and precise on the theology, but then this is about theology – I think (and please, someone tell me to shut up real fast if I have obtusely misunderstood!)

  6. Religion is much like the national party – lot’s of words but no substance. I happened to hear a little bit of the ‘2 mins silence’ service on national radio and was quite offended when one of the hym/prayers talked about thanking god for “his compassion and infinite caring” and I felt like throwing up. I also get quite uncomfortable when this toss is forced down my throat when I visit marae as though it’s part of maori history and culture. Your song reminded me of a ‘quote’ from a many years ago “I love all things great and small but streptococci I love best of all”. One excuse for god ‘missing’ the earthquake may be that he was too busy keeping track of all the sparrows that fall from the sky and stuff like that.

  7. 7

    Diane Gilliam-Weeks

    Brian
    Me old mate. I think the most telling comment in your piece is ‘That is the most troubling question for the believer.’ Since you are an avowed atheist I have to ask how you would know? Given the crucifixion I would say bad things happen to really good people. To say that prayer is pointless is like saying conversation is pointless. I don’t believe God intervenes in the physics of the universe but I do believe God is trying to guide us toward health and wellbeing and especially loving action. The issue is always are we listening or are we distracted by the noise.
    mwa mwa
    Diane

  8. How many prayers have been said for the people of Chch? As the great Mojo Rising once said: YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER! We need more TV shows from the seventies – irreverence for religion was at its height then. Something like “Fall of Eagles” showed the Romanovs and Hohenzollerns constantly praying for guidance, and where did it get them in the end?

  9. As a Catholic I think that we live in a world with suffering and death as a consequence of original sin. I’m not a believer in a literal Adam and Eve, but I believe the poetic truths of it – that somehow we as species disobeyed God and as such death and suffering entered the Cosmos.

    The Bible talks about a new Earth and a new Heaven where death is overcome, and that this perfect existence was what God willed for us all along. For me, natural disasters are just a part of a Creation that was broken and bruised, but will one day be healed.

    Natural death is a doorway not a destination for our immortal souls. I find comfort knowing that the two babies killed in the earthquake are in the loving arms of Jesus and I pray that the adults who died chose to be with Jesus too. Catholicism teaches that we choose where we go after death, God does not send us to Hell, we refuse to be with God.

    The oldest book in the Bible is Job which deals specifically with suffering and how God would allow good people to suffer. What I think that shows is that people have struggled to understand suffering all along. The Crucifixion shows that God understands our suffering and that He participated in it as a human being.

    Out of interest, what did you want or expect Peter Beck to say?

  10. “YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BBZcbeTq0k&feature=player_embedded

  11. If the only reason that one is being good is to earn entry into heaven then to some this might seem hypocritical or even dishonest.
    One might be better off just doing good to one’s neighbours because it feels good and might help the neighbour. Perhaps the atheists might fit the latter model. Perhaps a god is just a symbol of the latter but some like to believe that god is an entity?

  12. Diane, I’m sure you didn’t intend it, but I found your response patronising to someone who is prepared to at least listen to Beck’s words, and subject them to scrutiny.

    Beck has made it clear he sees his cathedral as a public place, with a role in the community, and a focal point for hope and renewal for Christchurch. Therefore if he places the Church squarely in the public domain, the unwashed folks like Brian have a right to kick the tyres on Christianity and other forms of theism. Coming the old, ‘how would an atheist know…’ line may have some existential validity, but in the context it is fudging.

    So is your musings on prayer being a conversation, in which, presumably God doesn’t directly speak (which is the logical inference of your statement he doesn’t intervene in the physical universe). Don’t disagree prayer has elements of conversation, but it is also most certainly petition. Suggest you are moving goal posts…

  13. 13

    To be absolutely clear, I am agnostic – a Catholic so lapsed that I’m prolapsed. But, of course, Catholicism is like the Eagles’ Hotel California: “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. The traditional Catholic response to the existence of misery and evil in the world is because God, being much more hands-off since the Old Testament, allows us free will as a kind of test… That, and the mind of God surpasseth understanding. But to even be discussing this at this time puts me in mind of my favourite passage from Voltare’s Candide seconds after the Lisbon quake of 1755 – scuse my translation from the French:

    Candide had been injured by splinters of flying stonework and lay prone in the street, covered with debris.

    “For Heaven’s sake,” he cried to Pangloss, “bring me some wine and oil! I am dying!”

    “This earthquake is not a new phenomenon,” Pangloss replied, “the town of Lima in the Americas experienced the same shocks last year. The identical cause generates the identical effect. There is likely a vein of sulphur running beneath the ground from Lima to Lisbon.”

    “Nothing is more certain,” said Candide, “but oil and water, for pity’s sake!”

    Of course, it was the Lisbon quake that in part triggered the materialist/atheist elements of the Enlightenment, but of course you knew that. It doesn’t, however, make it any better taste.

    BE: I find the idea of mankind on its knees, praying to and worshipping an invisible being, in fairly bad taste too. As Hitchens demonstrates in everything he writes and says, the expression of some truths is more important than considerations of taste. However, my aim was not to hurt and I regret the words ‘new age claptrap’ which were gratuitous and unkind. I’ve belatedly removed them.

  14. Well said Brian. As usual God gets all the credit for the good deeds but has no responsibility for the tragedy. Ta too for the Christopher Hitchens piece. Much appreciated.

  15. I would expect a media professional, such as yourself, to be capable of writing an article without typos.

    BE: Well Sharon, you might at least have told me what they were. But really doesn’t complaining about typos in a discussion about God, man and human suffering indicate a serious lack of perspective on what is important and what isn’t?

  16. Isn’t God just a literary character?

  17. “That is the most troubling question for the believer”

    I do not find the question in the least troubling. I would find it more disturbing having this omnipotent being that every time something bad is about to happen, stretches out his or her hand and says “whoops, can’t allow that to happen; someone might graze their knee.” The notion is absurd. We have the choice whether or not we belive in God. If God is no more than the Wizard of Oz where is the choice? One reqires faith.

    Neither does God’s lack of action negate the power of prayer unless you believe in absurdities like God helping you win Lotto. The Anglican Church is guilty of this. Its form of evening service contains the Munich Clause; a prayer for Peace in our Time which should give God a chuckle.

    I firmly believe in the power of prayer; I believe in God’s guidance when I am indecisive; I believe in God’s power to comfort and help one bear one trials and tribulations; scoff as you like but I believe in God helping me to do His will. But I do not believe in a God who will make life easy for me.

    Finally on the wider issue of Christchurch Cathedral I wonder why all the fuss. I would be surprised if 10% of the population of Chch had ever ste foot in a church let alone the cathedral. Perhaps God decided the principle of “use it or lose it” should apply.

  18. Lloyd Geering, having denounced the concept of a big guy up in the sky calling all the shots, was asked “Then what is God?”. He replied “God is love”. I’m happy to keep it that simple. Personally, I choose not to proactively use “god” as a euphemism, but I do find it useful in my personal interpretation of the words of others, including various writers of the bible’s content.

    ‘Love is in all these people. Love is in the midst of all this. Love is weeping with those who weep. Love is alongside those who are finding the energy to just keep going. Love is in the people who are reaching out and seeking to sustain one another. Love is about building community, about empowering people.’

    BE: I’m sorry, Willie, but if ‘God’ is just a synonym for ‘love’, then we don’t need the ‘God’ at all. I always thought this was one of Lloyd’s sillier utterances. But he has not been alone. Redefinitons of ‘God’ have proliferated among believers desperate to find a more acceptable version of the bearded old man in the sky with the carrot and stick of heaven and hell. There is at least a mass of empirical evidence of the existence of love. None that I can find of the existence of God.

  19. Religion the ‘opiate of the masses'(Marx)is still a good business to be in.Ask Tamaki.Thank God its …Sunday.

  20. …not wanting to try and dominate this conversation, but Willie, I think it was only a matter of time before someone made a contribution like yours, which essentially shares Beck’s sentiments: Universal fatherhood of God, brotherhood of man, etc.

    I go back to Albert Schweitzer’s quest for the historical Jesus in the early 20th century. Schooled in the best of 19th century liberal German theology, Schweitzer investigates what we can really know about Christ, thinking he’s going to find an urbane, sophisticated, white middle-class liberal.

    Instead, he comes up with a first century Palestinian Jew who does indeed subscribe to “a big guy up in the sky calling all the shots”, as well as other untrendy beliefs that this God is going to intervene dramatically and decisively in the near future, and that he, Jesus, is the pivotal personality in that ‘invasion’ of the kingdom of God into the present order.

    Don’t dispute, like Brian, that some folks can draw subjective comfort from Peter beck’s opinions. All power to them. However, like Brian, I find Beck’s words unsatisfying, and possibly even trite, and disconnected with the historical faith that is meant to reside in that damaged cathedral.

    BE: “Don’t dispute, like Brian, that some folks can draw subjective comfort from Peter beck’s opinions.” I have never disputed that. My mother was a prime example of someone who gained great comfort in a troubled and painful life from her belief in God.

  21. In a way, this thread is a continuation of: http://brianedwardsmedia.co.nz/2010/10/whats-the-connection-between-mary-mackillop-and-the-chilean-miners/

    Getting into a vigorous debate with someone over God and religion, is a total waste of time. Not so much an exercise in intellectual rigour as it is one of self-flagellation. For the believer and the non-believer it’s a debate — they never want to lose. But it’s also one they can never win. But, if mutual obduracy, intransigence and smug omniscience happens to be your fancy — go for it.

    For those who exist Outside the Fold, their study of the Bible’s teaching is not because they have the slightest interest in God, it’s because they are curious about the internal contradictions and jarring paradoxes.

    Respect those who have their God; respect them, even more, when they don’t proclaim their beliefs, loudly, and try to impose them upon you.

  22. “None that I can find of the existence of God”. You put your finger on it right there. It never ceases to amaze me how many people waste so much of their energy and intellect on something that is not only patently absurd, but for which there is not even the merest suggestion, hint, whiff or skerrick of evidence. In this day and age there is really no excuse.

    Children stop believing in Father Christmas and the Easter bunny, but so many adults cannot let go of their ludicrous god fantasy. Bah. It makes me cranky just thinking about it. Lately I’ve been enjoying the website of American biologist PZ Myers, who unapologetically disects, slices and dices the nonsense with punishingly direct, surgically precise prose almost every day.

  23. 23

    I don’t believe in God and oppose organised religion. There is a good chance the Christchurch earthquake was man-made, which (if it is proved true) would probably suit The Dean.
    Here’s the conspiracy theory:
    The earth is covered by HAARP arrays – one of the weapons paid for from the Pentagon’s $56 billion per year black budget. There is a well-documented one in Alaska but the growth in power spectral density recorded by induction magnetometers seems to confirm there are now more scattered worldwide.. We’ve also got our own smaller scientific centre devoted to buggering with the ionosphere in Birdlings Flat in Canterbury. HAARP is a weapon – the US admits it openly. They are testing it currently. You do not need a fault line to be able to produce a man made earthquake, HAARP can create quakes anywhere there is water or trapped moisture and our planet is honeycombed with water and pockets of gas. HAARP can move tectonic plates in any direction it is aimed at (apparently scalar waves which are generated from EM waves can accomplish this).
    Before the Haiti quake and the Christchurch quake chemtrails were reported in the sky. The usefulness of these to the whole set-up are a mystery to me but it ties into the whole thing somewhere. The HAARP array was recorded as being activated a couple of hours before each earthquake. Cities around the planet recorded small earthquakes on February 21 2011 as a result but Christchurch was the only really big one.
    http://thecontrail.com/photo/albums/activiy-around-the
    9 members of the US Congress were in Christchurch for a summit meeting on Feb 21 & 22 but left Christchurch two and a half hours before the earthquake hit and relocated to Wellington even though the meeting was not due to finish until the evening of Feb 22nd.
    The US Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, was supposed to be visiting Christchurch and speaking at the summit meeting but she cancelled her visit giving four days notice.
    Recently retired US Admiral Thad Allen was in Christchurch at the time of the earthquake. Admiral Allen directed the US federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Gulf Oil disaster. The Deputy Administrator of FEMA (US Federal Emergency Management Agency), Timothy Manning was in Christchurch at the time with a US delegation. All of the rest of the delegation left Christchurch shortly before the quake hit except for Mr Manning who stayed behind, and then after the quake hit he assisted with directing the emergency response. Exactly the same thing happened with FEMA delegates with the Haiti earthquake. In Haiti , the FEMA delegates just happened to be there at the time conducting training exercises for responding to major earthquakes.
    116 members of the Singapore army were in Christchurch at the time for training exercises and were also able to assist with the response operation.
    At the Port of Lyttleton, a Navy ship, HMNZS Canterbury, was moored.
    The NZ Defence Force had been preparing for a large exercise in the region and assets were immediately diverted to the rescue effort – the ship’s timely positioning allowed an immediate response with the unloading of personnel, vehicles and equipment into the damaged areas.
    I think the chances of the Christchurch quakes being man-made are greater than that of God existing. Mother Nature may exist – that would make more sense to me. Karma may exist too. But everything else that organised religion spouts seems to be designed to control your actions and money. Sharia law anyone? The fact that in many countries I could be killed for writing these words lends weight to my belief not to “have faith” other than in myself, those I love and in those who love me. Thanks for the article Brian.

  24. @ Brian, “There is at least a mass of empirical evidence of the existence of love. None that I can find of the existence of God”.

    and also @ Bill Forster, “None that I can find of the existence of God”. You put your finger on it right there”.

    The orthodox Reformed Protestant response would be that you can forget Aquinas and the Roman Catholic theological/philosophical/empirical attempt to wrap proof up in one seamless bundle. Instead look at the person, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, because that is where God has chosen to demonstrate himself most fully. All other proofs flow from there.

    Which, I’d suggest, leads to an investigation of the New Testament, and an assessment of its historical worth. Don’t expect to persuade you from your points of view, but nevertheless, I’d tactfully suggest if you want to well and truly debunk Christian theism, that, not a secondary discussion over theodicy, is the place to go…

    Can understand why you would consider the accounts of Christ’s resurrection a fairy tale. However, like any empirical claim, it deserves to be treated on its merits, and studied with an open mind. As I say, just a suggestion. Would be interested to hear your feedback if you choose to give it a go, if you haven’t already…

  25. With regards to your athethist argument This religon has existed for over 1500 years through all kinds of trials and tribulations.That doesn’t make it right but what that has been so wrong has existed and flourished for even a portion of this time.
    I prefer the agnostic approach, maybe it right maybe its wrong but on balance what harm has it done in the context of the soceity we live in today compared to the immense and immeasurable good it has achieved.
    Thankyou and best regards

    BE: That’s a reasonable view. Where I would disagree is that I think the damage done by religious belief around the world far outweighs the good it has done. There is no better evidence of this than at the present time in history.

  26. …sorry Brian, I didn’t phrase what I said very well. Should have written, “Like Brian, I don’t dispute that some folks can draw subjective comfort from (religious belief) etc.

    Your posts, comments, and respectful dialogue are always very clear. You reject personal theistic faith, you may find it actively disagreeable and counter-productive at points, yet you can respect those who hold to it, and see it can have some subjective benefits in their lives.

  27. The existent of gods have evolved over many thousands of years. What cave-men believed the gods to be is very different from say the Romans or the Greeks or the Chinese or the Indians. Christians decided on one god as did Islam. I guess the point is that gods are man’s creation. The perception of a god is so fluid that only the believers in a particular age can even get close to what he/she currently is. (I am sure that a medieval god would be very different from a modern Mexican or NZ one.)
    God is made by man.

  28. Internet conspiracy theories are one of the saddest manifestations of modern life. The credulous, the gullible, the vulnerable are ripe for manipulation and exploitation. Quite a lot like religion actually.

    Kimble, extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. A man named Jesus Christ may well have lived 2000 or so years ago, but he surely performed no miracles, and he most surely was not resurrected from the grave. It just makes no sense.

    If such things allegedly happened to someone today, I am sure your every instinct would reject the claims (assuming you’re a reasonably rational person, and in general you seem to be so). Even if you had incredible, detailed, high resolution evidence and a bunch of reliable eyewitnesses, I am sure you would suspect fraud or trickery. To be convinced of such an unlikely reality you would no doubt set the evidence bar incredibly high, and quite rightly so.

    Why so different for something that allegedly happened millenia ago? With no evidence to speak of, bar a bunch of contradictory accounts written hundreds of years after the alleged super natural incidents. Reading Christopher Hitchens analysis of the origins of the New Testament were a real eye opener for me. Why someone would build their worldview on such a flimsy foundation is quite beyond me.

  29. Belief in God is a cop out. Take a look around you. When it comes to this planet our species is for practical intents and purposes God. Just ask the teeming Passenger Pigeon or the Huia or the Blue Walleye, if you can find one.

    We should pretending someone else is calling the shots, grow up as a species and start behaving with the maturity that the responsibility we have to our fellow inhabitants of this awesome world demands.

  30. @ Bill Forster

    “A man named Jesus…surely performed no miracles, and he most surely was not resurrected from the grave. It just makes no sense”. I know dogmatism when I read it – I’ve encountered it for years in the Church! However, I can understand your incredulity.

    Agree extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. What would satisfy you? What is your criteria?

    Also, yes, my instincts would (and ARE) most certainly to reject claims of the supernatural. And no, I don’t lighten those demands just because the event in question allegedly took place in AD 30. It is what you do next after the first instinct kicks in that decides if it is worth investigating further.

    This is not the context to debate New Testament critical scholarship in detail, but I would take issue with yours, and Hitchens view that the New Testament was written hundreds of years after the event.

    The first letter to the Corinthians, including chapter 15 which deals with the claims, proof, and implications of Christ’s resurrection, was written less than 30 years after the event, by someone who knew the witnesses. I think only the most liberal and revisionist of New Testament scholars would dispute Pauline authorship, and the dating I’ve suggested. Other epistles and Gospels, yes – but not 1 Corinthians.

  31. 31

    @Kimbo Jesus (the spelling is slightly different such as Jaysus) was the name of the Dalai Lama at the time between BC & AD so I think it’s possible that the three wise men took him away and he returned briefly in his 30’s with all of these new ideas that conform more with Buddhism than Judaism.

    The notion that aliens exist is the main game changer for all religions – which all posit that humans and earth are the centre of the universe. The Catholics only recently accepted that they’d done Galileo a disservice for example. The overthrow of Mubarak may mean the overthrow of Zahi Hawass’s rule of the Egyptian archaeology service allowing us to see inside and below the Great pyramid and sphinx for the first time. We still couldn’t build the Great pyramid ourselves with all of our technology – six million perfectly positioned 3.7 tonne blocks. People say that there is no proof of aliens but at the same time accepted science reckons we were basically cave men in 4500BC. No-one has been able to prove when the GP and Sphinx were built and anything that suggests they were non-Egyptian has been locked by Hawass.
    The oldest version of the bible found are the dead sea scrolls and they suggest that a very different version of the new testament. They were found in 1948 and the Catholic church promised to release them in 1952. They finally got around to it almost 5 decades later. Many books of the bible have been suppressed by the church when they didn’t suit their political aims. I could go on about how organised religions cause more wars than they stop etc but just want to say that atheists believe in redemption so when you do find you have been taken for a ride, we will forgive you. :-)

  32. What would satisfy me? What are my criteria? I have no idea. It hardly seems worthwhile deciding what evidence would be required to convince when, as you put it, the evidence at present is a text written 30 years after the fact by someone who knew someone who might have observed something extraordinary. I suspect that evidence of that nature is about 0.000000001% of what would be required to get the job done.

    But I am not going to argue with you Kimbo. We’ll have to agree to disagree. I’ve observed your particular breed of persistence on this forum too many times, you’d simply outlast me. I’m simply going to reassure you that whatever your theology says (incidentally an entire discipline built on nothing but thin air and waving of hands, basically a non-discipline), you are hopelessly, completely and totally wrong on this one.

    There is no god. When you die your consciousness evaporates and your body disintegrates. Just like every other animal on Earth. Denial of this simple and self evident fact is nothing more or less than wishful thinking.

  33. 33

    I’m inclined to be more tolerant of religion (provided it is stripped of such nonsense as fanaticism, creationism, biggotry and whatnot)than I am of New Age conspiracy bollocks, if only because the existence of God can be neither proved or disproved, whereas someone like Ken Ring is clearly either deluded or a shyster and can be proven so with reference to logic and science (Prof Jim Flynn at Otago armed me well years ago).
    However, the sad reality is that only the very rich or the supremely addled cannot be dragged from their painted heavens, so Andre Dromgool, some dates for you:

    Earthquake, Rhodes, 226BC, toppled the COlossus.
    Earthquake, Crete, AD1303, devistated Alexandria with a tsunami.
    Eartquake, Lisbon, AD1755, virtually destroyed the city.
    Earthquake, Sumatra, AD1833, all of southern Sumatra flooded.
    Earthquake, Edo (Tokyo), 1855, 10,000 houses destroyed.
    HAARP, completed 2007.
    You do the math, sir.

  34. Thanks for the response, Andre. Unsure how to engage with you completely, as I don’t share the plot theories – but then I’m sure atheists share the same frustration at times in dialoguing with theists!

    I’ll engage with what I can. Think it highly unlikely there is a Buddhist influence on Jesus (‘Iesous’ in Greek, the language of the New Testament, ‘Yeshu’a’ in Hebrew and Aramaic). Like I said before, Schweitzer decisively placed Jesus within the context of the theistic beliefs of first century Palestinian Judaism – which, as you rightly suggest is also the context for the Essene community and their Dead Sea Scrolls. Suggest you may have Qumran discoveries confused with Nag Hammadi discovery in Egypt the same year (1948)

    None of the books of the Qumran community were “New Testament” books, although they do share some theological elements with the New Testament. Hardly surprising, and pretty much what you would find if you compared David Koresh’s writings with the catechisms of the 1st local Presbyterian church of Waco c1993. Also, the oldest existing copy of a portion of the old Testament book of Isaiah (amongst others) was discovered at Qumran.

    Yeah, I’m aware the earth is not the physical centre of the universe, and I’m grateful I don’t have to whisper under my breath (as Galileo is alleged to have done after recanting before the Inquisition), “but the earth still goes around the sun”. Your observation, I’d suggest, is of little use, however, in deciding if it is the theological and spiritual centre of the universe.

    Also, I’ll do you a deal: I’ll acknowledge that yes, organised theistic religion has a patchy record on the human casualty front, but that leaves me free to parry with the observation it was two atheistic ideologies (nazism and communism) that racked up a higher body count. Either way, I’d suggest it proves little. I’m not accusing atheists such as (presumably) you or Brian of wanting to dispatch me to a gulag, or a concentration camp. I’m certainly not planning a jihad or a crusade. And neither possibility flows logically or inexorably from the respective intellectual perspectives.

    Nevertheless, thank you for the gracious offer of forgiveness. I find I’m in constant need of it :-)

  35. OK, Bill.

    I’ll pass up on trundling out the material on why a thirty year gap between original event, and written record is not the significant impediment the 21st century perspective presumes, when it occurred within a highly sophisticated oral culture.

    Was a pleasure dialoguing. I’ll keep your advice in mind. And (genuine) thanks for the gracious way you framed it.

  36. Brian, man created God as an explanation for almost everything in an age when there was a great deal less scientific knowledge than there is today. As an atheist I can see much of value in biblical scripture when one allows for the the contexts of the time in which it was written, but I, personally, feel no need to access it through a conduit of religious dogma. I have no problem, however, with people who prefer to do so. I greatly admire the work of some christian organisations, the Salvation Army being an example whose mind-boggling efforts I have witnessed first hand in Christchurch in recent days. If their belief in God is their motivation, that’s fine with me. I am motivated by my love for mankind and nature, and I don’t think there’s a lot of difference in the end result. I cannot understand why many atheists are so intolerant of believers in a god, or why some who claim to be christians are intolerant of non-believers. Intolerance and love are like oil and water, whatever name you give to love.

  37. 37

    If you ever needed more proof that the discussing of religion, is not only turgid and mind-numbingly dull, look no further than this.

    BE: I generally find that boredom is in the person complaining of it, rather than in the issue. Kids are always telling their parents that things are boring. It’s generally because they don’t want to make the effort to think.

  38. @Brian, 6 March 11:40.

    The notion of ‘God’ and ‘Love’ being synonyms is as old as scripture.

    If you as the atheist define how a believer may / may not understand or (as you put it) ‘redefine’ God, you are framing a debate that cannot ever be won by the Christian. Throw in a bit of rhetoric about ‘desperation’ and it looks like you are not really interested in genuine discussion. Your mind is already made up. You’ve defined the perameters of ‘religion’ and decided you don’t like the notion you’ve constructed. It’s a hermetically sealed argument. No problem with that – as long as its acknowledged.

    BE: No, I don’t accept any of that. There have been a whole range of re-definitions of God, all of which were designed to dispose of what had become the unacceptable (but easily grasped and very useful) notion of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent grand old man with a long beard. The re-definitions all involved an equation, the most popular being ‘God = Love’. If God and Love were one and the same, then one of the terms was superfluous. To have a distinct identity, God has to be different from Love and, I would have thought, more than just Love.

    My mind is not at all closed on the issue of the existence of ‘God’. My atheist position is that I do not believe that God exists, but this is not something that can be proven, any more than the existence of God can be proven. Only a fool thinks that the existence or non-existence of God or an afterlife can be proven.

    I have no doubt that you are absolutely sincere in what you write. But it’s all so imprecise. I am not defining how a believer may or may not define God. I am merely pointing out the logical or semantic difficulties arising from the = sign. Saying ‘God is loving’ is very different from saying ‘God = love’ or ‘God is just another word for love.’ We don’t need another word.

    Then you say, ‘Throw in a bit of rhetoric about desperation…’ and proceed to draw some conclusions on the basis of that premise. But, as far as I know, I have never referred to desperation at all in this debate, so all your conclusions are not merely false, but less than honest.

    Someone recently accused me of being a pedant. I replied that I would wear that badge with pride. I’m careful with what I write and fanatical about precision in thought and expression. Without that, as is often the case in debates like this, we are simply talking past one another.

  39. I feel encouraged to have found your website.

    I admire your courage in posting this.

    Please keep up the good work.

  40. …um, and I’m really not wanting to dominate, but Brian, I have to agree with you. David Clark, you are free to say that God is love (and the Scriptures affirm that I John 4:18 – but a lot more analogies besides that one).

    However, this debate was framed with the words of Peter Beck. No matter what Beck is, believes, or professes, he is at the very least a representative of the historic branch of theism that is Christianity. That faith has a particular take on the nature of God himself, and I’d suggest the Apostles Creed (an ancinet attempt at a summation of biblical theology) is a good place to start.

    “We believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only begotten Son…”

  41. Hi Brian, re: your comments 7 March @ 10:21

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that only a fool thinks the existence of God can be proven or disproven. Certainly this must be true where God is by-definition beyond definition.

    You’ve said you ‘don’t accept any of that’. At this risk of attracting also the label pedant on matters theological, I’ll take it that you’re refuting all of my statements and attempt to provide a little further precision on at least some of them:

    1/ The phrase ‘God is Love’ appears in one of the new testament letters attributed to John. It is therefore as old as scripture.

    2/ A comment: language is necessarily imprecise. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of scriptural texts. The texts have been written, (mis)transcribed and variously (mis)translated. If you subscribe to the notion of divine inspiration of the scriptures, then you think this is all ‘as it should be’.

    3/The ‘omni-god’ as classically described has never been my cup of tea either. It simply doesn’t fit with the model of God put forward in the life of Jesus of Nazereth. At all.

    4/ With reference to desperation, I regret that you say my conclusions are less than honest. I was refering to your (intentionally or otherwise) loaded statement: “Redefinitons of ‘God’ have proliferated among believers desperate to find a more acceptable version of the bearded old man in the sky…”. Perhaps not a deliberate attempt to tar religious folk with an ‘overly-emotional’ brush, but that language is loaded.

    5/ Further, can you please give me a little more context explanation for your ad hominum attack. Elsewhere you write that you have no doubt I’m sincere in what I write. Unless you’re setting up an intellectual honesty argument presupposing and reliant upon on a particular model of God, surely you can’t also believe I’m being ‘less than honest’. But perhaps you are setting up that kind of argument? I’m just not clear. I’m happy to discuss further.

    6/ On a seperate tack, I fully accept that empirical evidence is important to science. This must be tempered with recognition that each generation may find the previous one’s science flawed. (Flat-earthers are now out of vogue; Newtonian worldview has been debunct by Einstein; no doubt our Grandchildren will smirk at our science). Talk of ‘empirical evidence’ as though it was a trump card (comment at 11:40 above) must at least be tempered with caution, lest it become itself an unhelpful fundamentalism. And, from the other angle, and at risk of stating the obvious, religion is not science. Religion does not seek to describe causality in a literal sense. When it does, it gets itself into a power of trouble. Science should be left to the scientists.

    7/ This issue won’t be one we’ll solve today. From my perspective, most arguments that seek to refute God start with a straw man. And from the perspective of others, I’m told on occasion by frustrated interlocuters that my notion of God is not easy to pin down. I will concede that that is a fair criticism.

    I’m a Presbyterian minister, and interestingly, I tend to agree with much of what Willie says despite Willie being a self-described atheist. Such is life.

    I hope you and I are not talking irretrievably past one another.

    BE: “4/ With reference to desperation, I regret that you say my conclusions are less than honest. I was refering to your (intentionally or otherwise) loaded statement: “Redefinitons of ‘God’ have proliferated among believers desperate to find a more acceptable version of the bearded old man in the sky…”. Perhaps not a deliberate attempt to tar religious folk with an ‘overly-emotional’ brush, but that language is loaded.”

    Fair enough. I didn’t think I’d used the word ‘desperate’,

    “5/ Further, can you please give me a little more context explanation for your ad hominum attack. Elsewhere you write that you have no doubt I’m sincere in what I write. Unless you’re setting up an intellectual honesty argument presupposing and reliant upon on a particular model of God, surely you can’t also believe I’m being ‘less than honest’. But perhaps you are setting up that kind of argument? I’m just not clear. I’m happy to discuss further.”

    Much too complicated for me to have devised. And I can’t find the ‘ad hominem’ attack you’re referring to.

  42. 42

    Point well made Kimbo, one cannot fault the delightful Peter Beck being both self-consistant and true to his job description.

  43. BE: Where I would disagree is that I think the damage done by religious belief around the world far outweighs the good it has done. There is no better evidence of this than at the present time in history.

    It would indeed be an interesting score-card to compare the amount of damage done throughout history by those of genuine religious belief to that done by atheists. I could name a few individuals on both sides who would rack up high points, but my first impression is that the atheists would have caused the most. (Especially if they are also gay vegetarian Austrian artists).

    By “the present time in history” I assume you mean the damage done by Islamic extremists. Putting aside the fact they are disowned by many of their co-believers, as I’m sure most atheists disown Hitler (gay vegetarian Austrian artists do as well no doubt), you may well be right for now, even though you lightly dismiss the vast amounts of good done by all religions but you don’t have to look back very far to disprove your argument.

    BE: Well, you make a reasonable point. A distinction may perhaps be drawn, however, between evil done in the name of God, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the Islamic extremism you refer to, and evil done by dictators, totalitarian regimes, warmongers, imperialists and the like. Many of these are, as you rightly point out, atheistic regimes or societies (China, Russia etc), but the evil which they have done was/is not a product or tenet of their atheism. There is certainly no necessary connection between atheism and lack of morality.

  44. Anyone who believes in the “unfailing goodness” of his neighbour in light of all that history has to show on that score, has an ability to overlook the evidence that puts Christian belief in the shade.

    BE: Quite right. But I didn’t intend to refer to ‘all that history has to show on that score’. I had New Zealand in mind rather than the entire world and I agree that we are certainly not representative of the world at large. However, it is a truism for anyone who does not believe in the existence of God, that you’ll be on better odds putting your faith in your your neighbours who do at least exist.

  45. …you didn’t invite me in to your discussion, David, Clark, but I’ll nevertheless, as you’ve posted in a public setting, I’ll make the following technical observations: –

    I’d suggest your problem is the use of the term ‘synonym’ to describe “God is love”. Historically, the father of the Reformed/Presbyterian expression of Christian faith, John Calvin, would have rejected your use. Instead, he’d use the term analogy – that is two things that are otherwise different, but have one point of comparison. Not sure if that is what you mean by the language of Scripture is imprecise. Either way, I suspect BE’s and my instincts are the same. Ditching an orthodox view of a transcendent deity with the phrase God is love is a semantic sleight of hand.

    Doesn’t mean it is an ad hominem attack against you – people can believe in “Intelligent Design” sincerely – doesn’t change the fact it is a flawed, and therefore ultimately dishonest position.

    Found your views on the composition of Scripture, and textual issues simplistic. Also, your opinion that

    I’d also tactfully suggest your view of an “omni God” (as you put it) “simply doesn’t fit with the model of God put forward in the life of Jesus of Nazereth. At all”, is more a reflection of your own views, rather then the Jesus presented in the New Testament. Not to labour the point – he was a first century Palestinian Jew.

    Finally, like you, I’d also agree you are a fool if you think you can ‘prove’ God exists.

  46. Miniluv – The Ministry of Love, dealing in torture – Orwell was having a go at religion, one of those `smelly despotisms’, and its easy concept of God as Love in 1984

  47. Every last Peter Beck on earth selectively ignores the Law Of Omnipotence, which states very simply: “If He is with you in your time of trouble, He also caused it in the first place”.

    Omnipotence is not frangible, and God’s either responsible for All of it, or None of it.

  48. Actually, my favourite circular argiument on this is Peter de Vries’s famous “It is the final proof of God’s omnipotence that he need not exist”. :)

    BE: Sounds like the riddle we used to have in Stage 1 Logic and Metaphysics: If God is omnipotent, can he create an object so heavy that he can’t lift it? Any takers?

  49. “So I write this with a degree of trepidation for two reasons: first, because the timing isn’t great; and second, because I have no interest in denying anyone the comfort which religion brings them at times like this…”

    So, why do it?

    BE: Because I considered this a significant issue, which will have been in the minds not only of atheists like myself, but of many believers in God, including, I suspect, some of those who lost their loved ones in the earthquake.

  50. I’m constantly bewildered by those who escape certain death by some obscure quirk of either fate or nature, who then declare their thanks to God – clearly forgetting that God was the one who sent the quake/flood/tsunami/volcano to wreak havoc in the first place.

    My wonderful, crumbly, ordained aunt of 83 has no believable answer to my questions.

  51. …look, I’m honestly interested to know, because I’m on the inside of Christian theism, looking out, scratching my head, not understanding why folks like BE, and you too, Zinc, find the traditional view of Christian theism illogical in regards to the question of evil: –

    Omnipotent, loving God creates perfect Universe.

    Included in perfect Universe is capacity of humans to misuse their free will.

    They do misuse it, and in keeping with areal and rationale Universe, there are consequences.

    As a result, perfect creation is no longer perfect, and chaotic and unjust forces are unleashed, e.g., earthquakes.

    Omnipotent, loving God has option to scratch creation mark 1, and start again – which entails destruction of all imperfect elements within it – which means the end of humanity.

    Instead, omnipotent, loving God seeks to redeem and transform the root cause of the problem, disobedient, sinful human nature, first by means of a unique people, Israel.

    Israel, like all humanity, continually fails to live up to standards of perfection, so omnipotent, loving God humbles himself and takes on fully human form as unique representative of not only Israel, but all humanity. Lives perfect life, and then suffers real, and unjust death, but is vindicated by power of resurrection, providing the basis for a new transformed humanity and Universe.

    Before the new perfect Universe arrives in its entirety, humanity is given the opportunity to decide, as a result of their free will, if they want to align themselves with the source of new life. In the interim, omnipotent, loving God restrains the worst excesses of human nature, and does provide comfort, support, and hope (in ways we cannot properly comprehend from our limited perspective – which means we can all, including clerics like Beck, get a bit presumptuous) by means of the God-man, Jesus, who also suffered.

    OK – I’ve obviously drunk the Cool Aid, and I’m looking at it from the inside. I don’t dispute that folks like Bill Forster will dismiss all of the above (as is his prerogative!), as lacking any empirical basis, and therefore equivalent to a wishful fairy story. While I’d disagree, I’m not talking as such about the empirical at this point. Brian, if I understood your original post properly, it was especially the lack of logic of a supposedly omnipotent loving God who allows suffering.

    Not wishing to dispute – just wanting to know, from another perspective, why what I’ve outlined is illogical, and why it doesn’t address the issue of divine sovereignty and love, and our finite lives of occasional by inexorable suffering. I’ll grant that aspects of what I’ve outlined transcend logic (as much of life does!), but where is the departure from logic?

    BE: Two problems: If everything and everyone is God’s creation and the product went wrong, then the divine maker must surely shoulder the blame. And, since God is also perceived as omniscient, he must have known that man would sin. So the idea of God being either disappointed or angry with his creation really doesn’t make sense. Unless God was perverse and decided to go ahead anyway.

  52. OK, thanks, Brian. So it is the divine sovereignty/foreknowledge/even predestination if you want to go that far, versus human responsibility conundrum. At least you didn’t take aim at the doctrines of the trinity, and the incarnation, which were both implicitly woven into my last effort!

    Your objections are certainly ones the Church has been kicking around since at least Augustine. I’d agree they cannot be addressed in thoroughly rational and logical terms. I, and I guess the majority of the Church throughout history, would settle for ‘paradox’ – not necessarily a contravention of logic – more something that transcends it.

    Would I be right in assuming, Brian, you would see those as ‘weasel words’, and a side-stepping of the issue? Fair enough if you do.

    Also, not trying to turn the tables, and change the onus of responsibility (because, as I’ve proposed a construct of reality, the onus is on me to answer the objections, rather than saying ‘you can’t disprove it!). However, we presumably both hold to some view of human free will and responsibility (and I’m trying to interact with your views regarding the effect of environment on those who end up before in the justice system). That being the case, is there any way, given your views, that an omnipotent, loving God could exist alongside human beings with free will?

    Also the only tweaking I’d also make on your view that God is ‘disappointed’ or ‘angry’ is the one I made before – human emotions are used as an analogy when describing God, as there is only one point of comparison between two things – in this case fallible humans who act capriciously and arbitrarily in anger, and God, who is perfect, and whose anger has to be juxtaposed with other analogies such as love, compassion, and involvement in the effects and solution to suffering through the person of Christ.

  53. Goodness me, I applaud BE’s restraint in limiting himself to only two problems. So earthquakes are caused by humans ‘sinning’. This is logical ?

  54. Back again, Bill! Thanks for indulging me!

    No, I don’t believe I said, “earthquakes are caused by humans ‘sinning’”. Although, I guess they are ultimately related, but not on a personal retributive level.

    What I said was, according to Scripture (which you reject – fair enough!) human moral freedom was exercised in a foolish manner, separating itself from its creator, and as a result chaotic and arbitrary forces unravel the original perfect creation. Not a direct quid pro quo, and not necessarily a denial of the science of tectonic plate movements – although that is an empirical matter, and I thought (just for the moment) we were simply examining the purely logical, rather than empirical arguments.

    Also, the original author(s)/redactors of Genesis 1 to 3 didn’t have a modern ‘scientific’ intent in mid, so they have to be interpreted on their terms, not ours. Same reason why the fundamentalists are missing the point when they use ‘creation science’ or ‘intelligent design’, or what every label they think will circumvent US Supreme Court decisions on separation of church and state.

  55. “So earthquakes are caused by humans ‘sinning’.”

    Maybe, maybe not – but I’m told that it may be true of rugby match results :)

  56. >> No, I don’t believe I said, “earthquakes are caused by humans ‘sinning’”.

    You said, and I quote;

    “Included in perfect Universe is capacity of humans to misuse their free will.

    They do misuse it, and in keeping with areal and rationale Universe, there are consequences.

    As a result, perfect creation is no longer perfect, and chaotic and unjust forces are unleashed, e.g., earthquakes.”

  57. Jeeeeez, Brian, I’m amazed that your moderate and well-structured opinion can generate this kind of response. I’m a Catheist (severely lapsed former Catholic) and I now subscribe to the Ricky Gervais ‘well-meaning-liar’ view of the genesis of all religions. His film, “The Invention of Lying” should be viewed by every believer.

    BE: Yes, very interesting movie.

  58. I lost all faith in my belief of God, when I received a midnight sepulchral visit from Him in my bedroom, advising me of the week’s winning Lotto numbers. I went out and bought a ticket with those numbers He told me about, and I didn’t win. Nuthin’.

  59. “BE: There is certainly no necessary connection between atheism and lack of morality.”

    This is a highly arguable point – one doesn’t find too many hardened criminals who are genuine Christians. The key word is “necessary” – atheists don’t have to lack morality, its just that in practise they seem to do so on average more than believers do. Ethics are arguable, 10 commandments dictated by God and carved in stone are not. When Christians sin they consider themselves to have fallen, when atheists sin they occasionally argue along the lines that they reject your morality. Stalin in his youth robbed banks, but it wasn’t theft, it was appropriating money stolen from the working class. He found similar excuses for greater crimes as he got older.

    Speaking as an agnostic lapsed Catholic (this blog seems to attract them!) I think that your approach to religion is over analytical – it appeals to the emotional side of the brain, not the logical. It provides solutions to the unanswerable questions, comfort to the distraught and a sound ethical framework for life. The vast majority know or suspect that creation stories, the notions of heaven, hell and possibly God itself don’t stand up to rigorous analysis – churches themselves acknowledge this via the idea that a “leap of faith” is required. Of course they have a foot in both camps by saying that belief in God is also based on (sometimes “consistent with”, an interesting distinction) reason and logic.

    I think someone once said that analysing religion using logic is like reading sheet music instead of listening to it.

    Human beings are essentially irrational creatures, so I think you should not criticise Peter Beck’s words of comfort by using it as an opportunity to weaken faith or push atheism. Your own “fine sounding words” about “the indomitable spirit, the limitless courage, the unfailing generosity, the inexhaustible kindness, the selfless dedication of men” are also valid, but at 3am when the ground shakes people should be permitted to pray to whatever God they choose.

    BE: There are so many wild assertions in here that I wouldn’t know where to start.

    “one doesn’t find too many hardened criminals who are genuine Christians” Nothing whatsoever to do with atheism. A product of poverty, lack of education, joblessness, abusive backgrounds etc.

    “atheists don’t have to lack morality, its just that in practise they seem to do so on average more than believers do.” – I’m afraid I need to use some bad language to express my feelings about this. What fucking ‘average’ are you basing this load of horseshit on? You can see you’ve got my dander up with this preposterous and offensive statement.

    “I think someone once said that analysing religion using logic is like reading sheet music instead of listening to it.” – ‘Someone once said’ isn’t a great recommendation. Of all things we should analyse religion has to be at the top of the list with politics.

    “at 3am when the ground shakes people should be permitted to pray to whatever God they choose.” – Aye, there’s the rub. The best possible reason for believing in God:- Fear.

    Harsh response? Possibly. But I think you asked for it.

  60. Even though this is going slightly off topic on the original post.

    You get wacked out comments like “atheists don’t have to lack morality, its just that in practise they seem to do so on average more than believers do”.

    In 2009, I went to a lecture on “where do ethics come from?” and I can assure you that it definately wasn’t the bible.

    Quite! Mind you, God does have the biggest stick.

  61. I’d suggest both steve and robw’s posts on the formulation of ethics from either religion, including the Bible, or atheism, represent two incorrect extremes, and the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  62. Kimbo I sent you to the sin bin with my last comment and your ten minutes aren’t up yet. You don’t get to play again unless you admit you got it wrong.

  63. …thought you had taken your bat and ball and gone home a couple of days ago – “What would satisfy me? What are my criteria? I have no idea. It hardly seems worthwhile deciding what evidence would be required to convince…”

    Also thought I had addressed your question by suggesting my original response, and others, tried to capture a more dynamic nuance than you were trying to box me in with – see my use of phrases (some of which you quoted) such as, “chaotic and unjust forces are unleashed”, “ultimately related, but not on a personal retributive level”, and “not a direct quid pro quo”.

    Also, you seem to be chopping and changing between a demand for empirical proof, and then logical consistency. The two are related, but in the context of this discussion, as BR originally framed it, I understood they are provisionally separate. For example, why is it illogical to see a connection between human estrangement from its creator and earthquakes? I know the empirical objection – tectonic plate movements – but that is not logic alone as such. Please clarify your criteria (which you previously indicated it wasn’t worth your while doing).

    Not sure who appointed you the ultimate arbiter who gets to determine right and wrong, and who gets to play. A theologian would muse that your desire for one reflects a yearning capacity for justice and truth that comes from being created in the image of God :-).

  64. Harsh response indeed – “What fucking ‘average’ are you basing this load of horseshit on?”

    If you really want to know I made a rigorous scientific investigation and googled “list of the 10 best and worst people in history”. Lists of 10 best was filled with religious figures, and lists of the 10 worst were loaded with atheists (Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc etc).

    May I be permitted to say that you are judged by the company you keep, without eliciting an angry emotional reply?

    Speaking of which I agree with your final comment – people do believe in God for emotional reasons, fear being one of them. As your reply amply demonstrates, human beings are essentially emotional creatures, not rational ones.

  65. > Not sure who appointed you the ultimate arbiter who gets to determine right and wrong, and who gets to play.

    Just having a little fun with you Kimbo, you are quite right, BE and JC are the only people who get to decide who plays.

    That said, you can wave your hands around all you like and you can wax eloquent about ever more complicated nuances of logical consistency versus empirical proof or whatever other theological nonsense rocks you boat.

    But the fact remains, in one post you claimed that earthquakes are caused by humans misusing their free will, and in another you denied saying any such thing. If I did that, I’d simply admit my mistake, I wouldn’t obfuscate and evade.

  66. interesting item on UNREASONABLE FAITH Blog recently! never mind about whether god exists??
    DOES RELIGION ACTUALLY EXIST!

  67. Glad to be the mutual recipient of your irony.

    Not sure I evaded and obfuscated – more qualified, but ultimately acknowledged – and I note you haven’t really engaged with my arguments. “Whatever other theological nonsense rocks you boat” may seem like self-evident truth to you, but

    a. It doesn’t really engage with what I wrote, other than another bout of rhetorical sighing and eye-rolling, and

    b. empirical proof and logical consistency are independent of theology.

    Happy to engage any time you want to raise the level beyond amusing banter, and into the realm of serious discussion. A bit difficult when you pick and chose your moments of engagement, and seem to be oblivious of your own responsibilities to examine your assumptions. In the meantime, I’d rate you about a 7/10 on the repartee scale.

  68. Only 7 out of 10 ? That’s brutal. Did you get the sin bin pun ?

    I have every right to pick and choose. To use your own argument against you; You don’t make the rules. If I engaged in everything you brought up, I’d be here all day and wouldn’t have time to make a living.

    Buried in your latest missive is an implication you acknowledged your mistake. Come on don’t imply an acknowledgement. Show me you have some character and simply admit it properly. Something like;

    I Kimbo presented my worldview, it includes a perfect god, who created a perfect universe, and everything would have been fine except that humans decided to misuse their free will, and there were consquences, including earthquakes. Another deeply insightful and wise commentator has pointed out that this is deeply silly and just plain wrong on a number of levels but in particular since it implies human folly is responsible for earthquakes. So I concede I was wrong.

  69. With a few alterations: –

    I Kimbo presented my worldview, it includes a perfect god, who created a perfect universe, and everything would have been fine except that humans decided to misuse their free will, and there were consquences, including earthquakes. Another deeply insightful and wise commentator has ALLEGED that this is deeply silly and just plain wrong on a number of levels but in particular since it implies human folly is IN SOME WAY responsible for earthquakes. So I concede I AM PREPARED TO ADMIT I was wrong – AS AND WHEN SAID SAGE PONIES UP WITH SOME REASONS.

    And yes, ‘sin bin’ showed a modicum of wit – but lacked originality. And yes, you do have the right to pick and choose, although usually in a forum such as this, appeals to principles of universal logic (known as ‘reason’) and demonstrated cause-and-effect (known as ‘empirical evidence’) usually suffice to unite Christians, atheists, Buddhists, Pagans, and Jedi in organised and coherent discourse. If not, it all gets a bit erratic.

  70. Now that is a better post. Well done. Although it now looks to me as if you are now defending the concept that human folly is responsible for earthquakes. I thought you had (sensibly in my view) backed away from that one. (Kimbo: “No I did not say that earthquakes were caused by sin”).

    I will now demonstrate to you why human folly cannot possibly cause earthquakes. I would have thought an appeal to common sense would do the job, but apparently not in your case.

    Earthquakes are caused by release of energy as tectonic plates occasionally adjust their relative positions at the points where they meet. The field of siesmology has been intensively investigated by serious scientists. They have developed and refined theories that have enormous explanatory power, and are quite independent of human activity. The phenomena they have observed is entirely explicable in terms of nature, nothing supernatural has ever been required to gradually increase our understanding of the universe by rational, scientific, evidence based analysis.

    In another natural sciences, biology, scientists have revealed an extraordinary story in which every known living thing is related to every other living thing, in a tree like relationship. The tree structure is observable at the level of DNA. Amongst many other wonders it shows humans to be a primates, nothing more or less. Like all other species on earth, humans are evolving in a battle to survive. Our particular strength is a giant brain, that evolved to help us survive, but co-incidentally gave us the apparently unique ability for abstract thought.

    Our species has been around and capable of abstract thought for perhaps 100,000 years. During this period we invented the god concept, something no other species has ever needed, since we had enough brain power to question things like earthquakes, but not enough built up institutional knowledge to really analyse and understand them. The gods must be angry was an explanation for earthquakes that made sense for millenia, but is now well past its use by date, because we have much better explanations now.

    Infuriatingly, people who should know better cling on to ancient superstitions. It is very hard to understand why.

    Fortunately we have very smart people, for example, Christopher Hitchens, who can skewer these irrational people much better than I. For example, see the video BE posted recently on this very site. Christopher Hitchens succinctly delivered a vastly superior version of the ten commandments, something that adherants of the ancient superstitions insist were written by god himself. How an all powerful being could be so easily outclassed as a moralist, ethicist, and writer by a mere mortal is hard to explain. For believers.

  71. we don’t need a useless steel cathedral in the middle of nowhere, religious old fathers

  72. Ok, Bill. I’ll try and keep it as brief, and as free as possible of academic jargon. Apologies to you and others if this comes across as pretentious. Is not my intent:

    “…it now looks to me as if you are now defending the concept that human folly is responsible for earthquakes”.

    A careful reading of Genesis 3, and Psalm 8, would indicate there is some sort of relationship between the two. More precisely, Scripture presents personal and corporate humanity as a moral being, intimately related to the earth. For that reason there are aspects of environmental care within the Mosaic law. Any more than that would be, on reflection, presumption on my part. I never suggested a supernatural connection. However, you are right. I over stated the matter, which meant I was wrong, and one wiser than I graciously corrected me.

    I realise you probably feel I talked right past you with much of that last paragraph. If so, join the club! I previously acknowledged the existence and validity of the science of geology, and the concept of plate tectonics. So most of what you wrote in that regards was unnecessary. I don’t dispute you have accurately explained the MECHANICS of earthquakes. However, what you and any empirical science is unable to do is explain WHY, or more precisely, WHY DOES the Universe have to be that way, and what is the appropriate response beyond the obvious physical necessities, which of themselves are insufficient to sustain us? And no, I don’t think I’m sidestepping your point – you also acknowledge the existence of abstract thought (the basis of philosophy and theology) – indeed, you are even engaging in it.

    Moving on to your discussion of the evolutionary history of the belief in God/gods. Sorry – your ideas are too simplistic. I mentioned previously that Protestants look to Christ, rather than reason or empiricism as the primary basis for their belief in a deity. More precisely, it is Christ, and the preceding history of Israel. I’d suggest that the evolutionary view of the development of Israel’s religion had currency about 100 years ago as the explanation for her unique monotheism and ethics. Certainly her modes of expressions are reliant on other Ancient Near Eastern literary forms – often deliberately to stress a point of variance, or as satire. However, archaeology tends to confirm that Israel had a faith that seems to have little evolutionary antecedents. The explanation seems to be the result of a decisive act in history – the Exodus.

    Same with the Christ event, which, according to the New Testament, stands in continuity with Israel’s salvation history. Something happened that Easter morning. By any reasonable standard Christ existed, as sure as any other historical figure of ancient history. Also, there is little doubt the oral proclamations and traditions and subsequent writings around that event demonstrate an understated simplicity and internal credibility. Just as one example: If you want to spread the propaganda your Messiah has risen from the dead, you don’t discredit yourself in the chauvinist ancient world by having a group of women as the initial witnesses.

    The problem I have with Hitchens is that he is superficial and cavalier in his dismissal of the textual issues. For example, in his discussion of the 10 commandments, he dismissed the first (“I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery – you shall have no other Gods before me”) as no commandment at all. Excuse me?! It is the commandment upon which all the others, not to mention the entire Old and New Testaments rest!

    I don’t pontificate on matters of science, although I consider myself an informed layman capable of accessing when necessary reputable sources, and recognising areas of uncertainty. But why should I listen to a man like Hitchens, who has made no real effort to understand the literary and historical issues surrounding the composition and content of the Scriptures?! I don’t do that when I want to study Shakespeare, or Homer, or the Punic wars.

  73. 73

    Kimbo

    “The problem I have with Hitchens is that he is superficial and cavalier in his dismissal of the textual issues. For example, in his discussion of the 10 commandments, he dismissed the first (“I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery – you shall have no other Gods before me”) as no commandment at all. Excuse me?! It is the commandment upon which all the others, not to mention the entire Old and New Testaments rest!”

    Technically, the New Testament rests on the Shema (the First Commandment) and the so called New or Great Commandment:”A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:34-35
    Otherwise given as Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” – Gospel of Matthew 22:35-40.
    This being the “Golden Rule” that underpins all useful religions and sane philosophies, even athiest ones. Jus’ saying. Don’ be hatin’

    This is quite a good article on how the 1755 Lisbon quake of helped lead to the Enlightenment by leading philosophers to question the existence of a God that could allow such things to happen and generally criticising the positivist followers of Liebnitz.
    http://www.internationalist.org/lisbon1755.html

  74. Thanks, APW,

    Noticed your earlier contribution. An interesting read. Voltaire is always amusing! Christ pretty much sums up the direct connection between human sin, and natural and other calamities in Luke 13: 1-5, by denying a direct quid pro quo, but issuing a directive to the hearers to respond to the proclamation of the kingdom of God.

    You are right about the centrality of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), which leads into the great and programmatic commandment of 6:5. Was taking a few liberties to simplify, although the key issue is that the ethics in the Scriptures are relational. God has acted to redeem, and his people respond – which means that they may not necessarily be applicable and advisable to those who don’t believe. If that maens the “bring back the 10 commandments as a basis for civil law” brigade are disappointed – so be it! Let the chips fall where they may!

    For that reason, I’d have problems with your assessment that the commendment to love God and neighbours “underpins all useful religions and sane philosophies, even atheist ones”. Outwardly yes, but for monotheists in the Judaeo-Christian-Muslim stream, there is a different dynamic and motive. Not saying it is superior, or that it is lived up to – just different. And, no, didn’t think for a moment you were hating – like you, I’m just saying.

    So of course Hitchens would find them inadequate – he has ignored the relational context. Also, due to his facile approach, Hitchens ignored the highly surprising, given the Ancient Near Eastern context, egalitarianism inherent in the 10 commandments, which are usually considered an important modern ethical concern. For example, the motive in the Deuteronony 5 version for observing the sabbath and giving rest to all, including servants – “remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath days”.

    Don’t dispute that Hitchens is a clever and erudite man, but when it comes to biblical textual and archaeological issues, his expertise reminds me of Ken Ring on earthquakes – basically issuing missives and directives on the sidelines, implying the experts in the field are to be ignored and possibly colluding to maintain a professional fiction, yet refusing to actually contribute in a way that cooperates with the requirements of valid peer review.

  75. ” Archeology tends to confirm that Israel had a faith that seems to have little evolutionary antecedents. The explanation seems to be the result of a decisive act in history – the Exodus.”

    No, Kimbo, archeology in fact tends to confirm that the Bible is nonsense. The “Israelites” were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer “the land of Canaan” in a military campaign and did not pass it on to “the twelve tribes of Israel”. There was never a “united kingdom of David and Soloman” as described in the Bible. At most, it was a small multi-ethnic kingdom.

    Thus, archeology also undermines the Zionist narrative.

  76. No, no, D-D-D-Damn!

    If you read carefully, you would have seen I didn’t claim archaeological support for the Exodus, although there is possible circumstantial evidence from non-Biblical sources – have a look at the “Habiru”. Also, you are over-looking the Old Testament itself, which, if nothing else, is a source from antiquity. But I will acknowledge it is a highly stylised reading of whatever happened in Egypt. And yes, there are obvious multi-ethnic elements within ancient Israel. The name Moses/Moshe is not Semitic.

    Also, I’m scratching my head how you made the leap to the late-19th century ideology o0f Zionism from what I wrote. A couple of posts ago Morrissey mention Norman Finkelstein, whom I’ve always considered, despite his theological and political views, a good and sober critic of the Israel/Palestinian issue. As both a Christian and a gentile/goyim, I usually find it best, for pragmatic reasons, to let Jewish commentators like him give a worthwhile analysis of that regrettable problem.

    Look, about a week ago my new good friend, Bill Forster, made the point that that I was likely to exhibit a persistence that would outlast others in this forum. Was not my intent, although the issues discussed now are so technical, they are well beyond the scope of what BE originally posted. Mea culpa, as it seems i bear the primary responsibility for that. I’m happy to dialogue further if anyone wants to further, but also mindful that this is likely about as far as we can go in this forum.

  77. Off topic a little I know, but I’ll just say that Norman Finkelstein is superb. I’ve read all his work over recent years (I even put him ahead of his friend/mentor Noam Chomsky and the late great Edward Said). And because he demolishes Israeli apologetics with such forensic precision, he naturally comes in for the standard vitriolic character-assassination from the US Israel Lobby.

    I could see from Morrissey’s comments on other blogs that he’s read at least as extensively as I have on Israel/Palestine. He always hits the nail squarely on the head.

  78. @ D-D-D-Damn !

    I remember Finkelstein’s description of how the memory of the victims of the Holocaust are misused to propagandise the worst excesses of Zionism: “There’s no business like Shoah business”.

    A searing critique, but like I wrote before, for a whole bunch of historical and psychological reasons, one best made by a Jew, not a Gentile.

    And if you can assess a person’s worth by the enemies they attract, then Finkelstein is doing pretty well to have Alan Dershowitz as a foe!

  79. Homo sapiens as a species are one tiny twig on a vast tree of life that has evolved over billions of years. This is a demonstrable fact. And yet there are people who believe the following;
    An all powerful god created a universe comprising of billions of galaxies, each comprising billions of stars, solar systems and planets, one of which is home to the tree of life mentioned above. But in fact the whole point of this creation was simply the twig in that tree. And furthermore only a few of the people on that twig were really of interest to that god, certainly not the people of China or South America or Australia. He concentrated his energy and attention, and a fair amount of what can only be considered the worst kind of rather human like emotion (rage, jealousy, violent revenge) on twig dwellers in the Middle East for a small slice of history thousands of years ago.

    It’s just ridiculous isn’t it. And yet people have bought into it for centuries, and they still buy into it, and they have perpetuated countless horrors and continue to live in and spread ignorance because of it. And they are proud of their thoughts and their theocracy. Oh my.

  80. 80

    This deity is supposedly a “loving god”.

    Well, all I can say is that, after the Christchurch and Japan earthquakes, I don’t know how much more of his “love” we can take…