Menu Close

“Those” Christians are Crazy: I’m Not That Kind of Christian

crazy christian
Cartoon by Adam Ford

This blog attracts all sorts of readers, from ardent Fundamentalists to atheists. I long ago stopped trying to figure out why this or that group reads my writing. I am just happy that ANYONE does. Most of my focus is on Evangelical Christianity. Liberal and progressive Christians, along with fringe Evangelicals, enjoy my critiques and takedowns of religious beliefs they consider insane. Such people will often leave comments that say, “Those Christians are crazy. I’m glad I am not that kind of Christian!” In their minds, Fundamentalists are crazy, and real Christians would never believe such things. Rejecting the God of wrath, liberal and progressive Christians assert that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Any belief that’s not consistent with “God is love” is wrong — regardless of what the Bible says. Thus, when Fundamentalists thunder and rage against sin, consigning billions of people to the flames of Hell, liberal and progressive Christians say, God is love! While I certainly appreciate the love and kindness injected into Christianity by such a view, I find it intellectually lacking. Only by dismissing or reinterpreting vast portions of the Bible can one come to the singular conclusion that God is love. God is “love,” but he is also a vindictive, mean, capricious son-of-a-bitch. Both Gods are in the Bible, but liberal and progressive Christians choose to ignore the latter. (And it could be argued that Christian Fundamentalists have lost all sense of God’s love.)

When Fundamentalists preach creationism or claim the earth is flat, liberal and progressive Christians rightly say, “those” Christians are crazy. Yet, when pressed on their own beliefs, most of them admit that they are to some degree or another theistic evolutionists. Seventy-five percent of the people of the United States believe that God, either by direct action or guided evolution, created the universe. (Please see Jerry Coyne’s post, Secularism on the rise: new Gallup poll shows that 40% of Americans are young-earth creationists, 33% are theistic evolutionists, and 22% are naturalistic evolutionists)  So, then, it seems that “crazy” is just a matter of degree. Sure, theistic evolution as a belief is better than nonsensically believing that the universe is 6,024 years old, but it is hardly a scientifically rigorous system of thought.

Fundamentalists are known for being literalists — people of the Book. They aren’t, but that’s how they perceive themselves. Fundamentalists, much like liberal and progressive believers, are cafeteria Christians. Down the Bible line they go, picking and choosing what they want to believe. This is why we have millions of Christianities and Jesuses. Each believer makes and molds Jesus in his or her own image. The only difference, really, between Fundamentalists and liberal/progressive Christians is the foods they put on their trays — each believing that their food choices best represent Jesus and historic Christianity. Good luck trying to figure out which group is right. While I prefer liberal and progressive Christianity due to its harmlessness, I find Christianity, in general, irrationally and intellectually stupefying. (Please see The Michael Mock Rule: It Just Doesn’t Make Sense.) I am convinced that more than a few liberal and progressive Christians are actually atheists/agnostics. Many liberal and progressive believers have jettisoned more of the Bible than did Thomas Jefferson, yet, for some reason, they hang on to Christianity. Fear? Family connections? The need for spirituality? I don’t know. I can’t speak to the reasons why people refuse to let go of the bones of faith. What I do wish they would do is at least be honest about their beliefs, hermeneutics, and how they rationalize the teachings of the Bible — rejecting literalism when it’s embarrassing, yet clinging to it when it comes to Jesus, saving faith, and life after death. And perhaps therein lies the crux of their faith: the need to believe that there is more to life than the here and now; that death is not the end.

Liberal and progressive Christians think Evangelicals are nuts. Who in their right minds believes as Fundamentalists do? liberals and progressives think. But, to those of us who are no longer Christians, we see craziness in Evangelicalism and liberal/progressive Christianity alike: a virgin teenager being impregnated by the Holy Ghost and giving birth to a God-man, that God-man working countless science-defying miracles, dying on a Roman cross, resurrecting from the dead, and ascending to Heaven. Every liberal and progressive Christian I know, along with every Evangelical, believes that Jesus was the Son of God, died for human sin, and resurrected from the dead. These three claims alone are, to unbelievers, absurd. So, when liberal and progressive believers say, “those” Christians are crazy, what atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers see is a matter of degree. We recognize the world is a better place the more liberal and progressive religions become, but we can’t ignore the “craziness” that is found in every system of faith.

To my liberal and progressive Christian readers, I say this: I would love to have you explain your worldview, how you understand the Bible, and what hermeneutics you use to interpret the Bible. I would love for you to explain to readers how you make Christianity work for you. I mean it. I am more than willing to grant you the floor and let you explain why you still believe. I am certain that the unbelievers who frequent this blog will give you a fair hearing and treat you with love and respect. We fight a common enemy — Fundamentalism. On that, we can agree. All I am asking for is for liberal and progressive Christians who are willing to do so, to explain “why” they continue to put their faith and trust in Jesus — and by extension Christianity. If you would like to write a guest post, please send your submission to me via the Contact form.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Are you on Social Media? Follow Bruce on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

50 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    I am an atheist, raised Catholic, and was exposed to Fundagelical Christianity for a few years on my way out of faith. Sop, maybe I’m the wrong person to comment. However, I want to speak specifically about the women I’ve known well who have steadfastly adhered to the version of Christianity they were raised in, though their theology might have changed dramatically.

    I’ve observed that what these women desire is comfort about the vagaries of the future, and religious belief offers that. They’ve lived through a lot, but after their darkest hours always came dawns, dawns that were desperately requested in prayer. To them, God doesn’t answer every prayer positively, but their prayer-nudging has helped create overall good outcomes for their families. So they can plausibly believe, if they don’t think about it too hard, that prayer works and God is manifesting himself in their lives in positive ways. He, or in the case of Catholics, his sidekicks, are watching over believers.

    If you’re an anxious person, and the evils of life haunt you (whether they’re likely to affect you and your family or not), being able to connect with a supreme being who cares about you and your loved ones is greatly comforting. Feeling loved, when everyone around you is caught up in their own worries and you don’t feel they appreciate you, is greatly comforting. What’s theology compared to that? If thinking about theology (i.e., the rationality of your beliefs) is going to perturb your comfort, surely there are other things to think about. We humans have strong needs for social support and are often not very good at giving it to those we love. God steps in to help, in our minds.

    Mind you, what I’ve said is not a meant as a criticism. We like to think of ourselves as rational beings, but in truth many of the thought processes that have allowed our relatively physically weak and insensitive species to thrive before we developed civilization are NOT rational. They’ve worked really well on a species level, though, and not everyone can shake them off even some of the time. I don’t believe any of us can shake them off all of the time.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I totally get the emotional aspects of believing. I’m under no illusion that people who want/need to believe in the existence of God are going to change their minds if they just hear the right argument for unbelief. That said, when liberal and progressive Christians root their faith in theological beliefs, it is fair to ask how they come to those conclusions while ignoring/dismissing/revising vast portions of the Bible. The very notion of Jesus rests on a text — the Bible. Without the Bible, there’s no Jesus/Christianity (at least not in any meaningful way).

      I am not in any way suggesting that I am a pillar of rationality. Like all of my fellow primates, I have irrational beliefs. (e.g. I don’t fly on airplanes.) I do, however, genuinely want to know how liberal and progressive Christians come to the conclusions they do about God/Jesus/Christianity/Bible. I tried, for a time, to find a resting place among liberal/progressive Christians, but at the end of the day I couldn’t intellectually reconcile their beliefs. Maybe the fault was mine, but I made a good faith effort to believe in their God (And I can say the same about emerging/emergent Christianity and Universalism). In the end, atheism was the only thing that made sense to me.

    • Avatar
      Angiep

      For my part, I find it comforting to think of the vast, cold universe and to understand that it doesn’t all revolve around me/us. That there is something much, much bigger out there, and a divine being we have created for our own comfort doesn’t begin to rise to that level. But I am a part of that much larger whole, and always will be even after I am gone from this earth. I don’t need life after death or a supreme being to reassure me. Not that I wish to promote myself as superior, just to say that when I relied on God, I found he failed me anyway.

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    It’s a fair question and one I have pondered for a long time. Growing up, I understood deep down that fundamentalism was anti-intellectual. When I did leave fundamentalist church, I picked and chose those parts of Christianity I liked and focused on the social justice loving Jesus. I ignored God, actually, because I couldn’t get over what a horrible SOB he was in the OT. I clung to the comfort and familiarity of Christianity like a child clings to a security blanket, and I crafted the christianity that suited my needs. I ignored the impossible things, considering them metaphors to convey some deeper meaning. I still find some of the music comforting, familiar, and beautiful though some of the lyrics are completely cringeworthy now.

    I would be interested in hearing what current progressive Christians say and hope they will feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.

  3. Avatar
    Troy

    I’m curious to any armchair theologians out there. As mentioned, the Bible says God is love. I’ll take that as face value but then ask the question, is God more than love? Is it “love” that created the universe?

  4. Avatar
    Mary

    I’m an atheist too and have always been one. To me all religion is based on fear and a desire to feel special for the believers and power and control for the leaders. It’s all nonsense.

    But with today’s fundies and Evangelicals , the liberal or progressive Christianity needs to step up the pace to counter this new fake Christianity that is so full of hate, spite and bigotry. The best thing would be no religion, but second best would be to try to steer it back to some semblance of sanity, kindness and inclusiveness or before you know it, it will be like Hitler and WWII .

  5. Avatar
    Michael

    This post is the way I had intellectually left Christianity. It was a hardcore evangelical (Assembly of God). I first left Fundamentalism, then after a short spell, left any type of Christianity, then, after a spell, I left all forms of “Spirituality”. I don’t believe in anything “supernatural”. “Natural” (or nature) is all that exists.

  6. Avatar
    thatotherjean

    I am, on my best days, an agnostic. I used to be an Episcopalian, before the cognitive dissonance got too bad to maintain, but I did read a lot of the Bible. Not being a literalist, I don’t see a “vengeful, prideful, all-or-nothing God, demanding to be worshiped and consigning sinners to Hell in the Old Testament, or the kindly, forgiving, loving God of the New. What I see is religious people trying to make sense, over a long period of time, of what has happened, and is happening to them. In a pre-scientific age, when so many phenomena were not understood, it made sense to assign these things, good and bad, to the will of God–good things to his kindness and mercy, and bad ones to his wrath, when humans strayed from the rules they believed he had set for them.

    A good many of those attitudes remain in force today, particularly in fundamentalist Christianity, unfortunately, stoking the fear and guilt of believers. I hope they’re completely wrong, although I also find it impossible to believe that we, humans on earth, are the pinnacle of life in the cosmos. I’d prefer to give that place to alien life far more intelligent than we are, rather than to the Bible’s God, though.

  7. Avatar
    Chris

    I am definitely not a theologian and someone may have better thought answers for this than me. I am currently deconstructing the toxic fundamentalism I grew up with (and which caused me to torture myself for being bi for years). Yes, there may be some nostalgia of the community life and perhaps that feeling of security that holds me back to my faith, though I have also experienced too much pain and spiritual abuse in life, so don’t miss any of that.

    However, the reason why I still keep some faith in God is to do with human dignity. Knowing that human life is not a mere cosmic accident, but that every life matters, every life bears the image of God is a huuuuuuge thing for me. The implications of this for me are the following:

    1)A sense of worth/identity (I am a human being, therefore I am worthy, I bear part of the image of God)
    2) Ethics: if everyone bears the image of God, I must treat every one as holy. Thus, every life matters, every life is worth. I don’t have the right to violate or attack that dignity.

    3) A sense of mission; Not every human being is being treated with dignity, not everyone has the resources for a life with dignity (because of slavery, poverty, oppression, lgbtphobia, etc… In the world). My task in this life is to fight for justice, peace and equality so that everyone gets to recover that dignity.

    I still don’t know where to put Jesus in this story,but I do really like his radicality and teachings. (Note, not every liberal/progressive believes that Jesus died for people’s sins, I would say most don’t buy onto the Atonement Theory, including myself).

    In any case, other beliefs/religions may have good stuff, but so far, I find the best answers for me on that reasoning (as incoherent as it may be at this current stage of my journey).

  8. Avatar
    Jen

    I’ve always been incredibly sensitive to pain and suffering, even in the smallest of critters. What I hate the most about my fundie years was how I had to repress those sensitivities and embrace a god who slaughtered on a whim. Fundamentalism is rooted in cruelty and it affects everything it touches.

    Once I realized how many contradictions were in the bible I began looking into its history, and found credibility sorely lacking. As I began to unpack a lifetime of beliefs, I also started asking questions—and found out many of the “testimonies” I grew up hearing were blatant lies (surprise surprise).

    Due to personal experiences I don’t want to go into right now, I still believe in God, although not the one I learned about. I was a progressive for about 5 minutes, but have found peace in Universalism. I’m also reading up on evolution (I still flinch when I see/hear “millions of years ago” due to fundie rants) and love feeling intertwined with other living beings. It gives one a sense of responsibility for others and for the planet.

    I see myself as having a foot on each side. I’m a hard-core liberal, but the bulk of my acquaintances—including family—are Evangelicals. My goal is to help them see all living things as worthy of care, compassion, and dignity. It’s going about as well as you can imagine… I’ve been verbally abused and lost friends along the way (well, fundie friendship isn’t really friendship anyway). But I’m finding some amazing people too. I’m thrilled that I can be authentic now, and have room to continuously grow and explore and learn.

  9. Avatar
    Merry Millar

    Following is a wonderful depiction of what it means to me to have faith, or a hope in something unseen. Do you believe that you could live your life without any relationship with anyone. No contact or interaction ever? I have very close relationships, family, mother, work acquaintances, but I still have a yearning for my Creator and why He made me, who He is. The energy and power had to come from somewhere, even if I only believed in evolution. If I WERE the Creator, I would want the created to know me. If I gave them the ability to talk and create language, learn to write that language and read, it would have been for the purpose of facilitating relationships and communicate with myself ultimately. So I would as well communicate with them in the same way. His Word the Bible and Jesus is His communication with us. Our praise and prayer, ours to Him. How else would He share His love for us or be loved in return without word or print? Isn’t it what life is all about, love? Regards, Merry

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Why do you assume this so-called Creator is your God, and not any of the countless other deities humans have worshiped in the past and currently do so today? What evidence do you have for your God being the one true God? How do you know the Bible is how your God communicates with us? How did this God communicate with us before the printing press? Since human history predates Jesus—read the OT—how did your God communicate with us before the incarnation of Jesus? Why should we assume the energy and power you speak of came from your peculiar version of the Christian God?

      So many questions, Merry, you have yet to ask and answer.

    • Avatar
      Astreja

      I, on the other hand, have no yearning for a mythical creator. I assume that any god that’s capable of creating universes is sufficiently mature and self-sufficient to not need my company 24/7/365/∞, and also would be a much better writer than the mortals who cobbled the Bible together.

  10. Avatar
    Eric Hatfield

    Hi Bruce, I’ve come to this post a little late, but I thought I’d try to briefly give my take on your invitation: “I would love to have you explain your worldview, how you understand the Bible, and what hermeneutics you use to interpret the Bible.” I try to follow Jesus and I guess you’d call me a progressive christian.

    What you call “picking and choosing what they want to believe” I would call trying to base my belief on the best evidence I can find. It’s what most sensible people do, and I try to do it too.
    The Bible is quite clearly not an infallible rule book and it nowhere claims to be. So I try to read the Bible as it actually is, as the scholars (historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, theologians, etc) explain it. So some parts can be taken as genuine history, others are legend or poetry or story, etc. That’s how sensible people read ancient literature, and that’s where I start with the Bible. That means I take a lot of notice of the gospels, and the historical basis for the life of Jesus, but less notice of Jonah for example.
    Philosophically, I have never heard an adequate explanation for how the universe exists and how it is so “finely-tuned” to support life, except that a creator God organised it. Likewise I haven’t seen any satisfactory explanation as to why human beings have consciousness and the ability to choose freely, except if God created us, nor how we can have any objective basis for ethics (e.g. an objective basis for saying pedophilia is WRONG). And when I look at some people’s experience of God in healing or mysticism or guidance or turning life around, I find that them actually meeting with God is more plausible than that it was all in their heads.
    And when I interpret the Bible, and conclude that Jesus was divine, I find the God he reveals is very like the God that philosophy and human experience reveal. So it all adds up for me.
    So all that becomes my “hermeneutic”. I adjust my conclusions as I get new information, just as any sensible person would. So far in more than half a century of belief, I’ve changed heaps of my beliefs, but never saw any compelling reason to change the basic belief that God is there, Jesus is his “son” (whatever that means), and those facts make more sense of life and the universe than any other hypothesis.

    I hope that gives you some insight into one way to answer your questions. Thanks for your thoughts, and the opportunity to share mine. Best wishes.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I find it interesting that you think you don’t “pick and choose,” yet that’s exactly what you do — as all Christians do. You say you take a sensible approach to Bible. I suspect most Christians would say the same. Yet every “sensible” believer comes to his own conclusion about what the Bible teaches. Each Christian finds in the Bible the God/Jesus he wants to find. I’ve not read anything in your comments that lead me to conclude you are any different from any other Christian — be they liberal, progressive, or Evangelical.

      Do you believe in the afterlife? Do you believe in a heaven and a hell? Do you believe some people end up in heaven, others in hell? If so, what determine who ends up where? I prefer to cut through all the religious verbiage and get down to the issues that matter. And if you are some sort of universalist, then why bother with the Bible, religious dogma, etc?

      Are you sure you really want to argue that morality requires God? Which God? Your God? The Evangelical God? The Muslim God? Thousands and thousands of gods, leading to all sorts of conflicting, competing moral beliefs. Why should I accept that your God is the right one, and that his moral standard is truth? And might I add, that suggesting your God/Bible is the foundation of some sort of objective morality is laughable. I’ve actually read and studied the Bible a time or two. Not only do I find subjective morality throughout the Bible, I find that God himself does a piss poor job keeping his own laws. No sensible person — to use your favorite word — can read the OT and the NT and conclude that both testaments provide a cohesive objective moral standard for all people of every generation. What people end up doing is “picking and choosing” what laws, commands, and precepts to believe and practice. That’s just how the game is played.

      Keep it short and sweet for me, Eric. Save your lengthy comments for Geoff. ?

  11. Avatar
    GeoffT

    Eric, oh dear, what a convoluted and confused comment. I daresay Bruce will respond in time but for now perhaps I could have a go.

    You say that ‘philosophically’ you cannot explain the existence of the universe, nor the ‘fine tuning’ you observe. Philosophically? Why philosophically and not scientifically? No matter. You say that you can explain the existence of the universe by recourse to god. I say rubbish. God might in days gone by, when people lacked knowledge the way they do now, when they had little time to ponder the wonders they beheld because they were busy hunting and gathering, have appeared to be a quick and easy solution. Those were days of superstition, praying to gods to make it rain or heal the sick, sacrificing babies, witch doctors rather than medicine. Now we know better and can ask questions. ‘God’ is no longer a solution but casts up all sorts of problems of its own, not least where did god originate? The origins of the universe are difficult to comprehend, defy intuitive thought, and we may never have a better perspective than simply ‘the universe is and always has been.

    As for fine tuning, that’s a no-brainer. The universe has settled into its existing form because the forces that constrain it gave it no choice. Of course, looking at it now we attribute all sorts of magical considerations, because it does seem incredible that it hangs together so precisely. It’s rather like looking at stalactites and stalagmites: nobody says ‘how on earth do they know just to stick up like that and down like that at exactly the right point’? Good grief it must be god. No, they are inevitable results of the forces of nature.

    As to consciousness and free will. Consciousness isn’t something I have a great problem with, it’s the way in which we connect our instincts with awareness of our surroundings. It’s tended to be played up, and still is, by apologists who think it’s one of the few ways they have of keeping god in the conversation, but I don’t think that’s true. There are lots of cognitive specialists now who see no great mystery in consciousness. As for free will, most scientists and philosophers are now determinists, denying the reality of free will in a libertarian sense. We have the most intensely intuitive sense of free will, but it is entirely an illusion. Knowing this makes no difference to how I live my life, but I still have to heed the reality.

    As for ethics and morality, I think here is one of the absolutely least compelling arguments for god. What makes you think that belief in god allows you objective morality? You’ve read something in a book (the bible) that appeals to your innate sense of right and wrong and you’ve decided, subjectively, to go with it. Someone who’s never read the bible may come to exactly the same conclusions as you, but via a different route. Others may read the bible and form different views to yours. All are subjective, and based on how, culturally, we see right and wrong, good and bad, and why, for example, some see abortion as evil whilst others see it as a choice.

    God actually complicates further a life that is already complicated enough.

  12. Avatar
    Eric Hatfield

    Hi Geoff, I’m sorry you found my comment ” convoluted and confused”. I’ll try to do better! 🙂

    “Philosophically? Why philosophically and not scientifically?”

    Because the big bang and the “fine-tuning” are scientific facts, but the conclusions one may then draw about God are philosophical.

    “I say rubbish. ….. Now we know better and can ask questions.”

    So how do these statements fit with your later admitting “The origins of the universe are difficult to comprehend, defy intuitive thought, and we may never have a better perspective than simply ‘the universe is and always has been.”? If a hypothesis doesn’t explain the facts, that hypothesis should be questioned.

    There are good reasons to think the universe isn’t infinitely old:

    (1) The majority of cosmological theories about origins suggest it isn’t. (I can give you references for this.)
    (2) It is impossible to count to infinity, so how can we do the reverse and count down from minus infinity to now?
    (3) If the universe was infinitely old, there would have been time for everything to happen that was going to happen, and the universe would now be a lifeless homogenous thin “soup”.

    So that doesn’t seem to be a very plausible solution.

    “As for fine tuning, that’s a no-brainer. …. No, they are inevitable results of the forces of nature.”

    I have read a number of cosmologists on this question (Rees, Susskind, Davies, Lewis & Barnes, Penrose, Smolin) and none of them seem to agree with you. They all say what we see is NOT inevitable as you say, but highly improbable. They all acknowledge that maybe God is the answer, though they generally argue the scientific answer is the multiverse, an ensemble of maybe 10^500 or more universes of which this is one of the few that could sustain life. Some of them accept both the scientific and the God option.

    On what basis do you say it was inevitable?

    “Consciousness isn’t something I have a great problem with”

    That’s fair enough. It’s not for me to say what you should have a problem with. But many neuroscientists have difficulties with it. For example Susan Blackmore says: “How can objective things like brain cells produce subjective experiences ….. The intractability of this problem suggests to me that we are making a fundamental mistake in the way we think about consciousness.”

    “As for free will, most scientists and philosophers are now determinists, denying the reality of free will in a libertarian sense. “

    Yes, that’s true. But they also admit that (1) our universal human experience is that we have free will and (2) we cannot live without that “illusion”. So (a) why do we trust their philosophy of mind over universal human experience, and (b) how is it that we need an “illusion” to live effectively?

    “As for ethics and morality ….. All are subjective, and based on how, culturally, we see right and wrong, good and bad”

    So are you happy to conclude that there’s actually nothing objectively wrong with pedophilia, genocide, rape, murder, theft. domestic violence, etc, that these are just subjective matters of opinion?

    Do you really think that?

    Thanks for you comments, I appreciate you taking an interest, and I look forward to hearing your response. Best wishes.

    • Avatar
      Astreja

      Nothing can be “objectively” right or wrong, Eric, because morality consists of value judgements, which are subjective at their core. It doesn’t matter whether a human or a deity made the decision; it was made by a conscious mind from its unique perspective, rather than from an unchanging external standard.

      The type of subjective morals promoted by a society determines in large part whether that society will rise or fall. A culture that attempts to prevent suffering becomes a desirable place to live, and prospers. A culture that turns a blind eye to one person harming another will decline. Who wants to live in a neighbourhood where people are getting robbed, beaten and killed?

    • Avatar
      GeoffT

      YOU Because the big bang and the “fine-tuning” are scientific facts, but the conclusions one may then draw about God are philosophical.

      ME Okay I’ll accept this at face value as it’s not a significant part of the debate.

      YOU So how do these statements fit with your later admitting “The origins of the universe are difficult to comprehend, defy intuitive thought, and we may never have a better perspective than simply ‘the universe is and always has been.”? If a hypothesis doesn’t explain the facts, that hypothesis should be questioned.

      Me I agree that a hypothesis to be testable has to explain the facts. It’s why hypotheses regarding the ultimate origins of the universe are very carefully phrased, and tend to remain hypotheses. For example, the Big Bang as a hypothesis for the origin of our ‘local’ universe is now reasonably secure, though subject to regular revision, but the multiverse theory remains a largely mathematical model. Mathematical models remain hypotheses until empirical testing is possible, something that is likely difficult for this hypothesis. So I accept that the phrase ‘the universe is and always has been’ is vague, imprecise, and untestable, but it’s the best we’ve presently got and, to my mind anyway, beats inventing a solution via God.

      You There are good reasons to think the universe isn’t infinitely old:
      (1) The majority of cosmological theories about origins suggest it isn’t. (I can give you references for this.)

      Me Our present universe only. We can date this to around 13.7bn years, but that is not necessarily the beginning of ‘all that is’. It is the point at which our understanding of physics begins. The problem is that referring to what preceded this means using language that may not be in any way appropriate, words such as ‘prior’, which has temporal meaning.

      You (2) It is impossible to count to infinity, so how can we do the reverse and count down from minus infinity to now?

      ME The issue of infinity is complex, much more so than apologists realise. For a start, there are different types of infinity, “Enumerable: lowest, intermediate, and highest.
      Innumerable: nearly innumerable, truly innumerable, and innumerably innumerable. Infinite, nearly Infinite truly Infinite infinitely Infinite.” Infinity isn’t a number, it’s a concept.

      YOU (3) If the universe was infinitely old, there would have been time for everything to happen that was going to happen, and the universe would now be a lifeless homogenous thin “soup”.

      Except that I’ve already said that this local universe had a beginning.

      YOU “As for fine tuning, that’s a no-brainer. …. No, they are inevitable results of the forces of nature.”
      I have read a number of cosmologists on this question (Rees, Susskind, Davies, Lewis & Barnes, Penrose, Smolin) and none of them seem to agree with you. They all say what we see is NOT inevitable as you say, but highly improbable. They all acknowledge that maybe God is the answer, though they generally argue the scientific answer is the multiverse, an ensemble of maybe 10^500 or more universes of which this is one of the few that could sustain life. Some of them accept both the scientific and the God option.
      On what basis do you say it was inevitable?

      ME My approach is the simpler distillation of what many of these scientists say. Personally I think they over complicate the matter, but that’s at a philosophical level, which is what my approach has been. Their mathematical modelling, for example the multiverse theory, is formidably complex, yet appears soundly reasoned.

      YOU “Consciousness isn’t something I have a great problem with”
      That’s fair enough. It’s not for me to say what you should have a problem with. But many neuroscientists have difficulties with it. For example Susan Blackmore says: “How can objective things like brain cells produce subjective experiences ….. The intractability of this problem suggests to me that we are making a fundamental mistake in the way we think about consciousness.”
      “As for free will, most scientists and philosophers are now determinists, denying the reality of free will in a libertarian sense. “
      Yes, that’s true. But they also admit that (1) our universal human experience is that we have free will and (2) we cannot live without that “illusion”. So (a) why do we trust their philosophy of mind over universal human experience, and (b) how is it that we need an “illusion” to live effectively?

      ME None of which changes my view that we complicate consciousness unnecessarily. Susan Blackmore, whom I haven’t read but see referred to, is clearly expert in her field. She investigates how the mind works and will, perhaps, be able one day to answer the questions she asks. I’ve simply arrived at what I think is a common sense approach to the issue, without having to worry about the details needed to get there.

      YOU “As for ethics and morality ….. All are subjective, and based on how, culturally, we see right and wrong, good and bad”
      So are you happy to conclude that there’s actually nothing objectively wrong with pedophilia, genocide, rape, murder, theft. domestic violence, etc, that these are just subjective matters of opinion?
      Do you really think that?

      ME Objectively wrong? Yes they are objectively wrong in the sense that they cause suffering to others and suffering is objectively bad for the person who suffers. However, if I benefit from stealing from you, then, as I don’t suffer, that is not objectively wrong for me. To render my action wrong we must invoke the concept of subjective morality.

      I hope this helps you understand my point of view.

  13. Avatar
    Eric Hatfield

    Hi Astreja,

    Thanks for that. I’m interested in your insights. Maybe I can ask you two questions please?

    (1) You say “Nothing can be “objectively” right or wrong” What evidence do you have for that statement? How would you justify it? Or is it too a subjective judgment? In which case, why should i accept tit is true?

    (2) I’ll ask you the same question I asked Geoff. Are you happy to say that there’s actually nothing objectively wrong with pedophilia, genocide, rape, murder, theft. domestic violence, etc, that these are just subjective matters of opinion? If some person or a whole community thought they were all acceptable behaviours, that would be just as OK as them being considered unacceptable?

    Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Astreja

      Eric, read again what I said about communities breaking down if they make bad behaviour the norm. Current studies indicate that I am correct — although the news is horrific, the crime rate worldwide has been going down, not out. Remember the adage “What bleeds, leads” — in other words, good news is overlooked for the news in favour of crime and natural disasters.

      And I see no reason I should bother answering either (1) or (2) until you support your point of view with hard physical evidence. If you believe, for instance, that a god is a requirement for morality you must provide me with testable physical evidence that the god actually exists, supplemented with evidence about its behaviours in the physical universe. Until you do that, we are at an impasse.

  14. Avatar
    Eric Hatfield

    Hello again Geoff,

    Thanks for your further explanations of your viewpoint. I think our discussion has made our differences fairly clear.

    We seem to both agree that you have no explanation for the universe’s existence, and you seem to be OK with that, whereas I feel the lack of an explanation tells us something. (I don’t think any of your responses on an infinitely old universe actually explain anything either.)
    You say your understanding of fine-tuning is “simpler distillation of what many of these scientists say” without actually referencing any cosmologists, whereas my view is based on very clear statements by the cosmologists I referenced, which seems to be the consensus. So here you have an explanation but it isn’t apparently shared by the experts.
    On consciousness, you say: “I’ve simply arrived at what I think is a common sense approach to the issue, without having to worry about the details needed to get there”. Again, it seems that you are happy with no real explanation. I too think there is no naturalistic explanation and I think that tells us something.
    Finally, on ethics you say things may be “objectively wrong” for some people but not for others, which actually means ethics are subjective. It seems you want to say some things are objectively wrong while actually holding to the view that ethics are subjective. I find this inconsistent, and think that inconsistency tells us something.

    I think these differences are not unique, and we probably don’t have to explore them further.

    I mentioned these reasons to believe as part of my answer to Bruce’s request that christians explain how they interpret the Bible. I think our discussion has helped demonstrate how my answers on these philosophical issues are consistent with my understanding of the Bible.

    Thanks again.

  15. Avatar
    Eric

    Hi, I believe you are right, we are indeed at an impasse. Not entirely unexpected I guess.

    “you must provide me with testable physical evidence”

    I disagree, on three counts.

    (1) I haven’t tried to prove my conclusions to you or press you to adopt them. I answered Bruce’s question and I asked you two questions. It is your choice whether you see any merit in anything I have said, or not, and your choice whether you look for evidence or not.

    (2) There are many important issues that cannot be solved by testable physical evidence, e.g. many aspects of philosophy, ethics, politics, aesthetics, relationships, life choices and even the reality of our sense experience. If you don’t require “testable physical evidence” for these matters, I wonder why you require it for God?

    (3) I have in fact offered testable physical evidence of a sort. We can test two hypotheses. 1. A creator God exists. 2. No creator God exists.

    If #1 were true, I’d think it at least possible that an orderly universe exists and that there are beings made in some sort of image of that God (i.e. autonomous, ethical, loving, purposive, etc). But if #2 was true, I’d see no reason for anything to exist, certainly no reason to think it would be unexpectedly fit for life, and likely that any beings that evolved would be functional beings incapable of free choice, ethics, etc. It is obvious that the universe we see and the life we experience is more like the predictions of #1 than of #2.

    “read again what I said about communities breaking down if they make bad behaviour the norm”

    I read it again and I think I understand it. Notice that you have used the word “bad” as if there is some objective standard. But you don’t believe there is. So I think what you mean is “certain types of behaviour”. But it turns out, when we look at the animal world, that all sorts of behaviours that would be unacceptable in human society have nevertheless evolved there. Things that we would call murder (even eating one’s spouse!), genocide, rape and abuse can occur there and aid survival.

    So I think you are left with the same “problem” as Geoff – you don’t want to say pedophilia, rape, genocide, etc, are OK but you don’t have any basis to call them objectively wrong. So you talk about what aids a society without really explaining your moral intuitions. Other naturalists I have discussed with say that it is true that these things aren’t objectively wrong, but we feel that they are. Is that what you think too?

    “Who wants to live in a neighbourhood where people are getting robbed, beaten and killed?”

    Actually, it appears that lots of people do, PROVIDED they are the ones doing the robbing, beating and killing and they can get away with it!

    Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Astreja

      Eric, I see pedophilia, rape, genocide, etc. as evil. That’s because I wouldn’t want them to happen to anyone.

      And if you believe that these things are evil because a god has decreed them to be evil, it can’t be much of a god at all if it forbids those actions but doesn’t do anything to stop them.

      Please don’t go down the “free will” rabbit hole, either. It’s a meaningless concept if the perpetrator has it but the victim does not.

    • Avatar
      Brian Vanderlip

      If #1 were true, I’d think it at least possible that an orderly universe exists and that there are beings made in some sort of image of that God

      The big book of fairy tales suggests this to you, or? It might just as well be (and considering the vile stuff that this Gawd allows including murdering his only son) suggests that the image of the real God would have to be that of a complete and utter monster, not a loving baby Jesus type.

    • Avatar
      GeoffT

      Eric, in the main I’m letting our discussion ride, as you suggest. However, one of your comments I can’t let pass is

      “ So I think you are left with the same “problem” as Geoff – you don’t want to say pedophilia, rape, genocide, etc, are OK but you don’t have any basis to call them objectively wrong”.

      This comment carries far too much baggage for me to give it a pass. Your wording in any event is inconsistent: ‘wanting’ to say something is entirely different to not having any basis. Be that as it may, as I said in my comments you have no more basis than me for any given moral position. Is rape and pedophilia wrong? Of course it is. I could write pages on how I, within a society that deplores these acts, have come to a conclusion that is based on thousands of years of cultural development. I can, however, see both objectivity and subjectivity within the discussion, but any objectivity must be treated cautiously. In short, you have no more right to assert your moral position on the matter as being in way superior to mine, simply because you’ve come to the same conclusion via a different route.

  16. Avatar
    Eric

    Hi Astreja, unlike my discussion with Geoff, I don’t think we have reached a reasonable understanding of each other’s views. So let me try once more.

    “I see pedophilia, rape, genocide, etc. as evil. That’s because I wouldn’t want them to happen to anyone.”

    I do understand this and haven’t questioned it. Of course you think that, as any reasonable person would. My question isn’t whether that is what you think. My question is whether you think these things are objectively evil, i.e. that is a true statement of reality for all people everywhere. Or whether you think that judgment is subjective, i.e. another person could think differently to you and that would be just as right for them as your view is for you.

    I feel you have said things that support both views, and I’m trying to find which view you hold.

    “And if you believe that these things are evil because a god has decreed them to be evil, it can’t be much of a god at all if it forbids those actions but doesn’t do anything to stop them.”

    I actually disagree with both parts of this statement. I don’t think they are wrong because God has decreed them to be evil, I think God, and you, and I, have said they are evil because they really are (i.e objectively) evil.

    The second half is a separate question which I would be happy to discuss, but one thing at a time I think.

    “Please don’t go down the “free will” rabbit hole, either. It’s a meaningless concept if the perpetrator has it but the victim does not.”

    I agree that’s a difficult question, but it is also a different question. I’d like to focus on objective vs subjective to see if I can first understand your view there please.

    Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Astreja

      As I said earlier, Eric, I don’t think there is such a thing as objective morality. It might actually exist, but I don’t know how one would go about proving it.

      Subjective morality is not necessarily bad morality, or weak morality, either; it merely has no unchanging standard to which it is inexorably bound. It is also capable of being improved, which is what has happened over thousands of years of human culture.

  17. Avatar
    Eric

    Hi Geoff,

    Have I offended you? If so, I’m sorry. I certainly didn’t intend to. May I clarify a couple of things.

    “you have no more right to assert your moral position on the matter as being in way superior to mine”

    I’m sorry if you thought that. It wasn’t my intention and I don’t think I have done it. I have assumed all along that your moral position, and Astreja’s and mine were all identical. We all think certain things are right and wrong. It is only on that assumption that I can argue that ethics are really objective.

    And that’s the basis of my saying you and Astreja face a difficulty. Because all three of us agree that my list of behaviours are REALLY all evil, I can then ask on what basis we all share that view. And that is where the dilemma lies. We all feel, think, believe that these things are evil. But you two have both suggested (unless I misunderstand you both) that ethics are subjective, not necessarily true, but just what individuals or communities or nations choose to think. So far I haven’t seen how you put it all together consistently.

    I am pressing you both on that point because I think that is a reason to question the naturalism that I think both of you hold to. If we cannot justify logically from our worldview how we think and feel, then perhaps our worldview is missing something.

    So I hope there’s no offence in that. Thank you for speaking up about it so I can (Hopefully) set the record straight. Best wishes.

    • Avatar
      GeoffT

      Eric, as a regular at Patheos non-religious I can assure you that nothing now offends me!

      My point about the morality issue, which is really what we are discussing, is that there’s vagueness about what constitutes objectivity, and when we should use it. Even among fervent atheists there’s argument on the subject, but those arguments tend to be along the lines of where objectivity fits in, not ‘can morality be objective’ per se. The problem is that many, and I’d use Dennis Prager as an example, pontificate endlessly about how their worldview gives them a right to the moral high ground via the bible, where those who don’t follow the bible act only according to ‘opinion’. He’s completely wrong. Here’s my point. He may take his lead from bible morality (though he needs to cherrypick in the extreme, which itself gives away the game), but he’s doing nothing differently to me taking my lead from one of the great philosophers, from Aristotle to Bentham. Not even great philosophers, but writers of fiction like Mark Twain or John Steinbeck or Robert Heinlein. What one reads (individually and collectively) forms part of one’s subjective worldview. Your approach may lead to different conclusions about morality, but they form in exactly the same way as the rest of us, be it as regards rape, incest, abortion, or eating meat.

    • Avatar
      Astreja

      But why question naturalism? Why not question the existence of gods instead? I think gods are far less likely than a natural-occurring universe, and require a lot more explanation.

      • Avatar
        Eric

        As the internet meme says, “Why not do both?”

        I think God is far more likely than a natural-occurring universe and require less explanation. Obviously we differ. My aim isn’t to convince you of my view but (1) to answer Bruce’s initial invitation, (2) to respond courteously to people who made comments to me, and (3) to have a thoughtful conversation.

  18. Avatar
    Eric

    Hi Geoff, thanks for that reply.

    “there’s vagueness about what constitutes objectivity”

    Here’s how I see it. I think there are argument both ways on the God question. I find many christians, and many non-believers too, refuse to see any merit in any opposition argument, but I don’t think that is a fair assessment. So I think the argument from evil is a strong argument against the existence of a good God, and I think christians who try to say there’s no argument there are not facing facts. There is a genuine dilemma there for christians.

    And I think it is the same, on the opposite side, with ethics. I think there is a genuine dilemma here for atheists. They generally have the same moral feelings as christians, and those feelings say quite strongly that some behaviours really are wrong. But their philosophy leads to the conclusion that there are no objective ethics. Hence the vagueness. If things are kept vague, it eases the dilemma. I am simply drawing attention to the dilemma, just as you would if we were discussing the problem of evil.

    “The problem is that many, and I’d use Dennis Prager as an example, pontificate endlessly about how their worldview gives them a right to the moral high ground via the bible”

    I didn’t know who Dennis Prager was, I had to look him up (I am Australian). And I note he is Jewish by birth. But I get your point. There are christians in the US (where I presume you live) who would aggravate me as much as they would aggravate you.

    “He may take his lead from bible morality (though he needs to cherrypick in the extreme, which itself gives away the game), but he’s doing nothing differently to me taking my lead from one of the great philosophers, from Aristotle to Bentham.”

    I am not concerned where anyone gets their morality from. That isn’t an issue for me. My concern is what make it actually true rather than just my choice. That is the difference.

    BTW, I agree some christians who say they believe the whole Bible cherry pick what they like, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If we take a more nuanced view of the Bible, we can accept what the historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and theologians tell us and take it in a sensible way, which is what sensible people do about all their beliefs.

    “Robert Heinlein”

    I remember him, I was an avid sci-fi reader in my youth, not so much now.

    “What one reads (individually and collectively) forms part of one’s subjective worldview.”

    But it remains true that we cannot logically say something is really wrong if our view is subjective. The dilemma again.

    “Your approach may lead to different conclusions about morality, but they form in exactly the same way as the rest of us, be it as regards rape, incest, abortion, or eating meat.”

    Yes, we pretty much agree here.

    Thanks again.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      You said “BTW, I agree some christians who say they believe the whole Bible cherry pick what they like, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

      But it is, without exception. I’ve yet to meet a Christian who doesn’t pick and choose what they want to believe from the Bible. ‘Tis the nature of religion in general and the Bible certainly lends itself to such behavior.

      Thank you, by the way, for not taking the time to answer my questions. I sense you have an apologetical agenda, so you don’t want to get sidetracked from beating the morality horse to death. I’m not sure what you hope to accomplish? I know you said you wanted to give a different approach to the Bible than Evangelicals use, but from what I’ve read so far, I’m not convinced you have achieved your goal. And that’s fine. As long as Geoff and others want to engage you, I’m content to be a bystander.

  19. Avatar
    Eric

    Hi Bruce,

    I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you had posted a comment up there a couple of days ago. But since you asked questions I’ll give you a quick response just as you asked.

    “Yet every “sensible” believer comes to his own conclusion about what the Bible teaches. Each Christian finds in the Bible the God/Jesus he wants to find.”
    I read a lot and I have changed many beliefs over the years because I found new information. Just as you apparently did. Except my changes weren’t quite as large. What is true for you is true for me too.

    “I’ve not read anything in your comments that lead me to conclude you are any different from any other Christian”
    I don’t have that as an aim. I aim to know the truth.

    “Do you believe in the afterlife?”
    Yes.

    “Do you believe in a heaven and a hell?”
    Not as I think you would use those words.

    “Do you believe some people end up in heaven, others in hell?”
    Not as I think you would use those words.

    “If so, what determine who ends up where”
    We do and God does.

    “And if you are some sort of universalist, then why bother with the Bible, religious dogma, etc?”
    I am not a universalist. I bother with the Bible because I think it contains some important truths. I am not much interested in dogma.

    “Are you sure you really want to argue that morality requires God?”
    I don’t argue that (as you can see from my comments to the others).

    “Which God? Your God? The Evangelical God? The Muslim God?”
    The real God. I’m not much interested in any other.

    “Why should I accept that your God is the right one, and that his moral standard is truth?”
    You should only accept it if the evidence points that way. I think it does.

    “No sensible person — to use your favorite word — can read the OT and the NT and conclude that both testaments provide a cohesive objective moral standard for all people of every generation.”
    This isn’t a question but I’ll respond anyway. I agree.

    “I’m not sure what you hope to accomplish?”
    I thought you meant what you said when you asked those questions in your post. I thought I would give you a response since I thought I had something to say about that.

    Thanks for the opportunity.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      I have no problem with you answering my question. I do, however, see in your subsequent dialog the same tiring apologetical methods as Evangelicals use — particularly when you say you are different from them.

      As far as my present questions, I read what you wrote other places on the internet. I got a pretty good idea of what you believe on these issues. Why all the short answers instead of a full throated defense of your view of the afterlife? (And I’m not asking you to do so now.)

      Maybe I’m reading too much into your comments, but since we are talking about evidence, what I see is Evangelical methodology hidden behind a veneer of politeness. Kudos for the politeness, but the methodology? Tiring, wearying, boring . . . The “evidence” is clear: the Christian God is the one true God, the Bible is some sort of divine truth; Jesus is the way, truth, and life; atheists have no foundation for morality; and people who “know” the truth and reject it will go to “hell” when they die. Pretty well sums up where you are coming from, yes? Again, I read your comments elsewhere, and this helped give some context and nuance to what you have said on this site.

      I’m also curious as to why you commented on this post, and based on your site history haven’t bothered to read anything else I’ve written. Not a requirement, but when a first-time reader/commenter focuses on one post and leaves a lot of comments, I can’t help but wonder what their agenda is.

      Typically, Christian apologists are given one opportunity to say their piece. This rule is born out of 13 years of dealing with apologists/zealots. I’ve given you extra space because of Geoff’s and Astreja’s interaction with you. As long as they are willing to play, I’m content to man the snack bar.

      • Avatar
        GeoffT

        Bruce, to be honest I think Eric and I reached the end of the road in our discussion. Can’t speak for Astreja of course!

  20. Avatar
    Eric

    Hello again Bruce, I’ll try to answer your questions clearly and briefly.

    “particularly when you say you are different from them”
    I am not trying to distance myself from anyone or be the same as anyone, I am just trying to be honest to what I see as the evidence. I do not class myself as an evangelical, and “evangelical” in the US is a far more right wing and nasty beast than evangelical in Australia where I live. I only said I was different to try to help you avoid making wrong assumptions. Let me be very clear. I believe in the basic tenets of christianity, but I could never be part of a US evangelical church.

    “Why all the short answers instead of a full throated defense of your view of the afterlife?”
    You quite specifically and definitely asked me to be brief. You said: “Keep it short and sweet for me, Eric. Save your lengthy comments for Geoff. ?” I tried to do that.

    “Evangelical methodology hidden behind a veneer of politeness. Kudos for the politeness, but the methodology? Tiring, wearying, boring . . . The “evidence” is clear”
    I said to Geoff (you may have missed it): “I think there are arguments both ways on the God question.”

    “atheists have no foundation for morality;”
    I also said several times that I don’t believe this. I said: “I have assumed all along that your moral position, and Astreja’s and mine were all identical. We all think certain things are right and wrong.” and “Of course you think that [these behaviours are evil], as any reasonable person would.”

    “people who “know” the truth and reject it will go to “hell” when they die. Pretty well sums up where you are coming from, yes?”
    No. I have already said to you that I don’t believe that. Do you see why I have tried to say you shouldn’t assume what I think?

    “I’m also curious as to why you commented on this post, and based on your site history haven’t bothered to read anything else I’ve written.”
    I came across this post because I was searching on Google for something like “crazy things christians think” because I was writing about that. I read maybe 10 or 15 sites on the subject and yours was one. In fact I did read your About page, not sure if I read anything else. I wasn’t intending commenting and I didn’t comment on any of the other pages I found, but when I read your invitation (“To my liberal and progressive Christian readers, I say this: I would love to have you explain your worldview, how you understand the Bible, and what hermeneutics you use to interpret the Bible.”) I decided on the spur of the moment to respond. I thought you would appreciate it, even if you didn’t agree.

    You have commented twice about my commenting on atheist blogs, so perhaps I should respond to that. I don’t recall commenting much in the past five years except on blogs where I know the writer and they have commented on my blog too (I’m think Nate on Finding Truth, Travis on A Measure of Faith and Liam on Reasonably Doubtful). I regard those three guys as (internet) friends. Is there some issue here for you?

    “Typically, Christian apologists are given one opportunity to say their piece. “
    OK, two questions: (1) When you asked christian readers to respond, did you not want them to share what they think and why? (2) Do you want me to stop commenting? I recognise I am a guest here, I have been polite and reasonable, and I haven’t actually said a number of things that you have accused me of, but have been more respectful than that. But if you want me to go away, I am quite happy to. I never expected to have the conversation I did.

    Please let me know what you prefer. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Hell is in scare quotes. Based on what I have read on other blogs, I have a good idea of what you believe about the matter. Annihilationism is hardly a better, nicer version of Hell, as other former Christians on this site will oh-so-gladly tell you. I don’t think the Biblical text supports such a doctrine, and, in fact, I am of the opinion that Christians who believe in annihilationism tend to do so because what Christians have historically believed about Hell makes them queasy or uncomfortable. You, however, are free to interpret the Bible as you wish. That is what’s so neat about the Bible: you can make it say almost anything. If Christians everywhere had a unified faith — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one salvation, it might cause skeptics to at least ponder the validity of Christianity. However, the fact that there are countless Christian sects, each with their own truth and their own interpretation of the Bible, suggests that Christianity is of human origin, and not, in any way, of supernatural origin and design.

      You ask: (1) When you asked christian readers to respond, did you not want them to share what they think and why?

      Sure, that’s why I asked. Unfortunately, from my perspective, your answers have taken on an apologetical flair, one that I find tiresome and annoying. Typically, I would say to someone like you, “time to move on.” However, several long time readers have taken an interest in your comments, so I let the ship, so to speak, drift. And I am still fine with that.

      You ask: (2) Do you want me to stop commenting? I recognise I am a guest here, I have been polite and reasonable, and I haven’t actually said a number of things that you have accused me of, but have been more respectful than that. But if you want me to go away, I am quite happy to. I never expected to have the conversation I did.

      Bruce: Nope. I don’t have any problem telling someone to buzz off. I’m just sharing how your comments appear to me.

      Christians who play well with others are generally permitted to comment on this site. I’ll leave it at that.

      Bruce

  21. Avatar
    Eric

    “Bruce, to be honest I think Eric and I reached the end of the road in our discussion.”

    Hi Geoff. Yes I think so too. Thanks for your time. All the best.

  22. Avatar
    Eric

    Hi Bruce, thanks for your response.

    “I don’t think the Biblical text supports such a doctrine, and, in fact, I am of the opinion that Christians who believe in annihilationism tend to do so because what Christians have historically believed about Hell makes them queasy or uncomfortable.”

    That might be true for some, I wouldn’t know. I can only report on how I came to the view I have. I didn’t grow up in a christian family, but I was sent to Sunday School because that was what nice people did in those days. And in my mid to late teens I came to believe it was true. And hell was part of the package, so I believed it for a while. It wasn’t as you say here, but rather reading the explanation of the meanings of Greek words from a Professor of Greek from a prestigious UK university that led me to a different view.

    So I can say quite confidently that the conventional view is NOT what Jesus taught (and he was basically the only one who ever used the word). I can explain further if you wish.

    “However, the fact that there are countless Christian sects, each with their own truth and their own interpretation of the Bible, suggests that Christianity is of human origin, and not, in any way, of supernatural origin and design.”

    I guess there is truth in that. But I think it is also true that it wouldn’t matter what God did, if he gave us free will then people would choose to believe this or that or nothing. I think the Bible and christianity are both partly divine and partly human, and I think that explains the evidence best of all.

    Perhaps I can ask you a couple of questions please. Perhaps I can find the answers on your site if you give me a link. You were a pastor for many years. What sort of churches were you pastor of? Were they very fundamentalist? Did have significant doubts for many of those years?

    Thanks.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      You most certainly can’t say “what” Jesus taught since we don’t know exactly what, if anything, Jesus taught on the subject. All we have we have is what unknown authors said Jesus taught. These authors wrote decades after the death of Jesus. (Paul’s writings precede the gospels.) Anyone who says they know what Jesus believed and taught is ignorant of the history of the Biblical text.

      My point was that annihilation flies in the face of what Christianity has historically taught. That’s a fact, Eric, regardless of what the Greek text says (and yes I’m well-versed in what the Greek says).

      Free will? Not found in the Bible, Eric. The Christian doctrines of election, predestination, and foreknowledge suggest humans do not have free will. Even Arminians don’t actually believe in naked free will. From a non-religious perspective, modern science strongly suggests humans don’t have free will. Not sure, at this point, what I think of that.Maybe this thing we call life is a video game designed and played by an advanced alien race.

      As far as my background, check out the Why page. You will find your questions answered there.

  23. Avatar
    Eric

    I can withdraw my last question. I read your pages on “From evangelicalism to atheism” and I think that answers my questions. Thanks.

  24. Avatar
    Eric

    Hi Bruce,

    You will be pleased to know I have now read quite a few of your pages. We have more in common than you may think. Or wish! 🙂

    “All we have we have is what unknown authors said Jesus taught. …. Anyone who says they know what Jesus believed and taught is ignorant of the history of the Biblical text.”

    That isn’t what the majority of historians think. Sure some of the more sceptical say that, but the majority think a lot of our knowledge of what Jesus taught is well based. I see from what you have written that you read a lot, but our reading must be balanced. For every Bart Ehrman there is an NT Wright. We should read both, but more importantly, find the middle ground. I don’t think your statement reflects that middle ground.

    But this is a sidetrack. We can say that the early church that recorded Jesus’ statements about “hell” didn’t believe what is taught today, and almost certainly Jesus didn’t teach what is taught today. That is sufficient for our purposes here.

    “My point was that annihilation flies in the face of what Christianity has historically taught.”

    So here we are agreed. But the concept entered christianity from Greek philosophy more than from Jesus. It isn’t the last thing to come in from elsewhere. Which makes it good reason to reject the conventional belief.

    But further, I note that you also don’t believe in that hell, and stopped believing in it before you stopped believing in christianity if I read your story correctly. Why is it that so many ex-christians and atheists try to convince me to hold an abhorrent and unbiblical belief that they don’t hold either?

    “Free will? Not found in the Bible, Eric.”

    Matthew 23:37: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

    It is there. (There is much in our stories that is common, but I went the other way to you on this question – from Calvinism to something closer to Arminianism.)

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      “It is there” would be my point. Every sect, every Christian believes they have the truth; that their truth comes straight from the Bible. Here a truth, there a truth, everywhere a truth, each believing they are the way, truth, and life. I used to think my goal was to reconcile the various beliefs. Today, I let each sect, church, preacher, and church member stand on their own two feet. Think Jesus is peccable? Impeccable? Each to their own, both finding support for their position from the Bible. So it is with every essential teaching of the Bible. Shit, Christians can’t even agree on what’s essential.

  25. Avatar
    Eric

    Hi Bruce,

    ““It is there” would be my point.”

    Your original point was that it wasn’t there. (“Free will? Not found in the Bible, Eric.”) Now you are saying instead that there is more than viewpoint in the Bible on many issues, including presumably freewill.

    I think that is a correct perspective and a much better way to describe the issue.

    But before we say anything about modern practice we need to understand the cultures of the Bible. This is where I say we need to listen to the experts first.

    So the experts tell us that in the Old Testament especially there are often more than one perspective, more than one story. To our modern western scientific minds, that makes it inconsistent. But if they thought it was inconsistent, why did they leave both viewpoints, both stories in there? The Jews had plenty of opportunity to make changes.

    I don’t see many people, christians or critics, even considering that fundamental question.

    The experts give us answers to the question, and this should be our starting point in understanding the Bible before we either place our faith in it or dismiss it. That way we base our faith or rejection on the reality (or as close as we can get to it) and not on some inappropriate standard.

    I would be interested to discuss this more if you are.

    PS I read your “Why I hate Jesus page”, and I am planning to comment if you don’t mind. I actually agree with far more than you might expect.

  26. Avatar
    Eric

    Yeah, I agree with that. But I don’t think that is the important question. The question is, have any of them used it fairly and accounting for what the writings actually are? None of us (even you and I) is perfect, so we can’t expect them all to be perfect in their use of the Bible, but are any making a reasonable attempt?

    I think your statement is far too general and doesn’t discriminate between interpretations that are fair and those that are not.

    And it says nothing about whether the Bible is a worthwhile book or not, only that people misuse it. People misuse democracy and their own abilities too, but that doesn’t make democracy or human ability necessarily bad.

Please Leave a Pithy Reply

%d bloggers like this: