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A Civil Religious Discussion


Off-Topic Discussions

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With the "Religious Demographics in D&D" thread up in the Gamin/D&D forums growing a bit off-topic from demographics into discussion of actual religious concepts, I've decided to redirect down her for further discussion so as not to bog down that thread.

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Now, on to the discussion...in the aforementioned thread, Sebastian noted the following:

Sebastian wrote:

What if you've never heard of/been exposed to the bible? This is a slightly more academic question in our day and age, but there was a significant period of time in human history (say, 1500 years or so) where an entire hemisphere contained people who lived, grew old, and died without ever having seen the instructions contained in the bible to ensure their place in Heaven. Were they just screwed, and if so, how is that reconcilable with an all-knowing all-loving God? If they were capable of getting into heaven without knowing of the bible, doesn't that imply that there are alternate routes?

I just can't see how the one true path can be contained in a book which was not widely distributed for centuries and centuries.

To this, I mentioned the concept of Natural Law as it applies to Christian belief. This is, notedly, a topic of much debate among Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike. One can read up on this through people such as St. Thomas Aquinas and Richard Hooker. So, I figure I'll lay out some basics foundations of the conceot and we'll see where conversation flows from there.

One note, "Natural Law" (a law whose content is set by nature, and that therefore has validity everywhere) in this discussion is distinct from "law of nature" (a scientific generalization based on empirical observations of physical behavior). Natural Law dates back at least to Greek philosophy, with folks like Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. I'll let folks not familiar with Natural Law dig around a bit for more info, as it'd take forever to fully explain it here.

Instead, I'll focus on a particular passage of scripture that is typically the basis for discussion of Natural Law in relation to Christianity. Understand that I do not advocate pulling particular sections of any book out and using them in a vacuum, separate from the rest of the book. This means I make my own decisions on the meaning of a passage of scripture based on other scripture. So, this all said, I will first present the passage in question, for general reading and comment (emphasis mine):

Romans 2:1-16 New American Standard Bible wrote:

Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.

For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

and later:

Romans 3:19-4:17 New American Standard Bible wrote:

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."

Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
"BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED.
"BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT."

Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, "FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS." How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.

For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.

For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, (as it is written, "A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU") in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.

We'll let that soak in, take any comments/questions, and go from there.

Andoran

erian_7 wrote:


Sebastian wrote:
What if you've never heard of/been exposed to the bible?

You're pretty screwed, socially speaking.

Other than that, I'M STAYING AWAY FROM THIS THREAD.

I've been in religious discussions that have gotten quite violent, and I've resolved to stay away from them.

That's my two cp,
-Mr. Shiny

Osirion

I guess my biggest point here would be that I'm not too much of a believer in any set of common "Natural Laws" that define human behavior. They eat people in some places, go naked in others, set their daughters on fire if they are unsatisfied with dowries. I mean even Judeo-christianity has some weird skeletons in their closet--things that seemed "right" to them according to Natural Law and the gospel as they had it, but seem abominably wrong to me.

If there's no set standard of right and wrong across humanity, it seems like the idea of Natural Law goes right out the window.


Here is my revised answer to Sebastian's classic question:

Sebastian wrote:


What if you've never heard of/been exposed to the bible? This is a slightly more academic question in our day and age, but there was a significant period of time in human history (say, 1500 years or so) where an entire hemisphere contained people who lived, grew old, and died without ever having seen the instructions contained in the bible to ensure their place in Heaven. Were they just screwed, and if so, how is that reconcilable with an all-knowing all-loving God? If they were capable of getting into heaven without knowing of the bible, doesn't that imply that there are alternate routes?

I'm pretty sure that was one of the first questions asked in the time of the early church in Rome, when there were actually pagans running around everywhere and some of them were observably good people. As far as I know the answer lies in the way religions interacted in the ancient world. Most (if not all) religions considered that all gods worshipped by human beings were real (except the neo-platonists, who it seems thought of gods as metaphors), and that which god(s) you worshipped showed what nationality, tribe, social class, etc you belonged to, sort of like a sports team. The idea now common to monetheistic religions that the one god is the only real god (and all of the others are imaginary) is a much later development. The early jews for example believed that YHWH was the only god they were permitted to worship to be considered a jew. They didn't think Baal and Zeus were imaginary, which is a very different thing.

The early Christians too, being by and large Jews or converted pagans, didn't worry much about followers of other religions. I think it is safe to say that they assumed if you were a good initiate of the Orphic mysteries or a good priestess of Isis then you would be rewarded by your god/ess in the way you were promised, just like heaven was the reward for those who followed the message of Jesus. It would never have occurred to them that an Orphic initiate would be a candidate for heaven, as he no doubt had some other afterlife he'd rather be in. Early Christians didn't think that heaven was the only afterlife, it was just the best one in their opinion, which is why they were Christians. Alot of the pagan afterlives were considerably more bleak (eg Hades), which I think is one of the reasons why Christianity eventually proved so popular.

So the answer was, heaven only has Christians in it, but there are other places for everyone else, if you like that sort of thing.

Don't know if that's helpful or not. For the modern answer to your question, I would have to say that it would vary considerably depending on the sort of Christian you talked to. Hardcore puritan predestinationists for example would say that everyone who was born before Christianity or in a place where they had no access to it was simply predestined to go to hell. The current catholic view (espoused by the Pope) is that anyone of any religion can go to heaven, but it's much easier for catholics and eastern orthodox who have the been given the truest path.

I like this website, religioustolerance.org, and I found this page informative:

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_savn.htm


Grimcleaver wrote:

I guess my biggest point here would be that I'm not too much of a believer in any set of common "Natural Laws" that define human behavior. They eat people in some places, go naked in others, set their daughters on fire if they are unsatisfied with dowries. I mean even Judeo-christianity has some weird skeletons in their closet--things that seemed "right" to them according to Natural Law and the gospel as they had it, but seem abominably wrong to me.

If there's no set standard of right and wrong across humanity, it seems like the idea of Natural Law goes right out the window.

And, as near as I can tell, that is exactly what separates a born-again Christian from everyone else: the insistence that the Christian faith and its tenets are "obviously" correct to everyone, and that anyone failing to follow them is doing so intentionally, knowing full well that what they're doing is wrong. Or, that's what I'm led to understand from many friendly, candid, and well-meaning folks in my state of residence, who take pity on me for my benighted state, but at the same time implore me to stop being masochistic, because it's really all my fault. I love them a lot, but it's STILL not obvious to me that I'm doing anything wrong (by not being a Christian), and I don't think that's just because I'm in denial or anything.


P.S. Interesting stuff. Thanks, Erian, for being emcee here, and thanks, Paizo, for hosting.

Paizo Employee PostMonster General

1 person marked this as a favorite.

C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man approaches this topic from a slightly different direction. It's been a while since I've read it, but he argues that there are cross-cultural, naturally moral, values which (in his view) are evidence for the existence of god.

In any case, I think it's one of his underrated books well worth reading. Plus, how can you not like a book that contains stuff like this?

CS Lewis wrote:
There is a difference between a real moral advance and a mere innovation. From the Confucian 'Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you' to the Christian 'Do as you would be done by' is a real advance. The morality of Nietzsche is a mere innovation. The first is an advance because no one who did not admit the validity of the old maxim could see reason for accepting the new one, and anyone who accepted the old would at once recognize the new as an extension of the same principle. If he rejected it, he would have to reject it as a superfluity, something that went too far, not as something simply heterogeneous from his own ideas of value. But the Nietzschean ethic can be accepted only if we are ready to scrap traditional morals as a mere error and then to put ourselves in a position where we can find no ground for any value judgements at all. It is the difference between a man who says to us: 'You like your vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly fresh?' and a man who says, 'Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and centipedes instead.'

Bricks and centipedes. I love that image!


Just to dovetail on that sentiment, while the Chronicles of Narnia are wonderful books, The Great Divorce is probably one of my favorite books of C S Lewis, although The Screwtape Letters are up there as well. Mere Christianity, at least in my opinion, is a good book for anyone to pick up that has never really "gotten" Christianity before. Its not written from a "accept Jesus as your personal savior or burn in Hell," point of view, but really just logically states what Lewis has observed as an atheist and later as a Christian, and points out what Christians have in common (and does a lot of redirecting of where a lot of Christians go wrong in how they view their own faith).


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

You know what? I had a huge long thing written and then realized that it was pointless. Natural Law and Human Nature are bunk. Morals and religion are chosen, not written in the core of a human being. If you believe in one afterlife, why not several? Natural Law is a pointless concept founded in a stiff ideology. That's my opinion. I do not offer it as anything but an opinion, because in the realms of ideology and theology there can only be opinions. I am also not seeking to insult anyone; disagree as much as you like. Do you prefer a chocolate heaven or a vanilla heaven? Or, if you're like me, no heaven at all? Put no more thought into it than that.


Okay, I need to back up the conversation a bit for some clarification...Natural Law in itself is not actually a Christian concept. Indeed, it is adamantly rejected by many (esp. in the Protestant tradition). When I say Natural Law, I'm not meaning the 10 Commandments, the Laws of Moses, the various sets of rules and regulations derived from Jesus's words, etc. I'm referring to a more basic concept that at it's root refutes the "you must believe exactly what I believe and do exactly what I do to get into Heaven."

I'll start with a basic example that holds true in most cultures. Is Murder wrong? Natural Law (using Thomas Aquinas's approach) asks that we consider this question in relation to certain core "truths" such as procreation and self-preservation. For this question, the basic precept of Self-Preservation (if we grant that each person has a right to self-preservation) means that Murder is "bad." Natural Law gets complicated when we get into "gray" questions like "Is it wrong to kill someone when that person will otherwise kill me (i.e. murder in self-defense) but can still be applied. For this question, one person (the attacker) has failed to respect/accept the basic truth of self-preservation in relation to the other person (the defender). The Defender should (if they go by strict Natural Law) make all attempts to stop the Attacker without killing him (thus maintaining his acceptance of each person's right to self-preservation) but the Attacker has forfeited his right to use Natural Law as a defense by his actions. So, Killing in Self-Defense, when it's the only option, can be seen as at least "not wrong" if not "good."

Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, heck one could even argue Karl Marx, all built some of their thought/philosophy from this concept of a basic "law written on the heart" that each and every human (barring developmental issues in the mind and body) can comprehend. This Natural Law is the basis for conscience, for much of the legal structures in Western culture, etc. And this Natural Law is also reflected in Middle Eastern and Eastern faith. This is the level that should be obvious to everyone according to Natural Law--certain inalienable rights, basic/fundamental precepts necessary for rational human existence. The weird twists and turns of legalism that have been injected into Judeo-Christian belief are not, necessarily, in any way based on Natural Law.

Now, referencing back to the scripture from my first post, this passage has caused HUGE "problems" (I quote, because to me dialogue and struggling with one's faith is never a problem) in Christianity for centuries. It is commonly held that "(Jesus Christ is) the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through (him)." So, the hard-liner will argue you've got to voice ardent belief in Jesus (and of course adhere to all the rules associated therein). It's even been argued in the past that Deaf folks couldn't get into Heaven since they couldn't voice their faith (my wife's a Sign Language interpreter...that story blew me away to say the least!). Yet in the passage in Romans, Paul (the author) talks about people that have never heard the Law (Jewish Torah) having some "Law written in their hearts" that will be "alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." He goes on to talk about Abraham, founding father of Judaism and Christianity, and obviously someone that existed before either Christ or the Jewish Law. Abraham was "justified" to God based solely on his faith...you'll be hard pressed to find many of the Christian or Jewish faith that would argue Abraham "ain't gonna make it in" because he lived before the right sets of rules were in place.

So, where's this going? I don't want to ramble on too long, as I might lose folks, but here's where this leads me...It's not my job to judge* who's getting into Heaven, or even how their getting in; God will do that through Christ. I even hold firmly to the belief that this "our first call is to go out and save people" concept is entirely misguided, especially when it involves beating people into submission. Jesus himself says our first and foremost goal is to Love God. That's it. Driving the Natural Law discussion over to Christian morality, a "Good" person, is one who upholds Natural Laws not out of fear for reprisal, but because they truly believe All People are equally favored (thus they Love their neighbors as themselves). So, morality is about motivation, not simply action. God, through Christ, will judge each and every person based on this morality. Adhering to Christianity as a life-path is the surest way to "Salvation" because if we strive each day to be as "like Christ" as possible, we are acting in our true, heavenly nature and obeying Natural Law.

Now, go drop that on some Christians, and you're going to have a bunch of freaked out people, I'd bet. However, Jesus has also told us we'll be very surprised about who gets into Heaven and who doesn't...

*A note on judging--I do believe it is not only my right, but my obligation, to "judge" (in truth, it is more properly "hold accountable") my fellow Christians (those who have joined into my same faith community in mutual relationship) in relation to their adherence to living a Christ-like life (as we both have established through dialogue), but that's another conversation. If we exhaust this topic, I'll be happy to delve into that!


James Keegan wrote:
You know what? I had a huge long thing written and then realized that it was pointless. Natural Law and Human Nature are bunk. Morals and religion are chosen, not written in the core of a human being. If you believe in one afterlife, why not several? Natural Law is a pointless concept founded in a stiff ideology. That's my opinion. I do not offer it as anything but an opinion, because in the realms of ideology and theology there can only be opinions. I am also not seeking to insult anyone; disagree as much as you like. Do you prefer a chocolate heaven or a vanilla heaven? Or, if you're like me, no heaven at all? Put no more thought into it than that.

Man, better not say things like that in Texas! "Freedom of religion" was explained to me by a Texan as meaning something along the lines of "this was founded as a Christian country, and the founding fathers wanted to be sure we were free to make sure everyone stayed that way!" What got me was, he really thought that was the kindest, best thing that could possibly be done. Everybody's got their own opinions, sure, but some people don't feel that you're entitled to yours... for your own good, of course.


Erian, by the way, I'm digging your posts. It's nice to read someone talking about following the teachings of Jesus, as opposed to simply joining the club that names itself after Jesus. Speak on!


James Keegan wrote:
You know what? I had a huge long thing written and then realized that it was pointless. Natural Law and Human Nature are bunk. Morals and religion are chosen, not written in the core of a human being. If you believe in one afterlife, why not several? Natural Law is a pointless concept founded in a stiff ideology. That's my opinion. I do not offer it as anything but an opinion, because in the realms of ideology and theology there can only be opinions. I am also not seeking to insult anyone; disagree as much as you like. Do you prefer a chocolate heaven or a vanilla heaven? Or, if you're like me, no heaven at all? Put no more thought into it than that.

I tend to agree. Religion fascinates me but I think, not to state the obvious too much: Religion is for the religious, not for everyone. There were religions and priests before monotheism and there will (maybe) be religions afterwards. I think it's much more sensible to hold the pagan (note: I mean ancient pagan, not reconstructed neo-pagan) idea that hey, there are heaps of different gods, one for each gang, and if you do the right rituals and follow the rules of your god/ess you'll get what you expect from him/her in the afterlife.

The pre-monotheistic view I mentioned above means that people are free to have whatever god(s)they like, and free to think their god is the best, without thinking anyone else is wrong. In my humble opinion, and with the benefit of hindsight, one of the biggest wrong-turns in human history was when various people came up with the idea that not only was their god the best (it's OK to think that), but that no-one else's gods were even real. Once that doozy got out of the bag it caught on, and now most people will assume that all religions claim that all other religions are lies, which is not true and does religion in general a disservice. For one thing it makes the whole thing less believable; It's an unnatural mismatch of an empirical claim and a "spiritual" truth, but you can't have it both ways and I think many atheists/agnostics/people dissatisfied with religion notice that and jump on it.

But in the ancient world there was no reason why you couldn't be for example a Roman soldier who made offerings to Mercury, then after campaigning in Britain add Epona to your household idols, and pay lip service to both. They were all real, just tied to particular lands and ways of life. That is why the Romans had such a struggle with the Jews, but even the Jews weren't denying the existence of Jupiter etc; They merely had a religious law that they could only worship their own god. The early Christians were the first to claim that all other gods were imaginary, which is an extremely powerful claim and naturally the other religions either followed suit or closed their doors. Tolerance can't compete with people who are certain they are right, as Im sure we all know.

Like I said religion fascinates me, but despite the fact that I have had my fair share of tragedies (as much as the next guy I guess), I honestly don't feel like I need a religion, and that should be OK too. The whole shebang seems like an unhealthy thing to worry about and doing so never does any good, at least to my mind. Makes for great conversation but that's as far as I'll commit to any of it.


Erik Goldman wrote:
Man, better not say things like that in Texas! "Freedom of religion" was explained to me by a Texan as meaning something along the lines of "this was founded as a Christian country, and the founding fathers wanted to be sure we were free to make sure everyone stayed that way!" What got me was, he really thought that was the kindest, best thing that could possibly be done. Everybody's got their own opinions, sure, but some people don't feel that you're entitled to yours... for your own good, of course.

Natural Law would dictate this fellow was wrong (he's denying another the right to "living in society"). Unfortunately, much of the problem Christianity faces today is self-inflicted, by (sometimes) well-meaning folks that just don't quite get it. At it's heart, Christianity is a very simply faith: Love God, Love Your Neighbor, Love Yourself. But humans unfortunately don't like things that simple. We've got to build structures around this so we know exactly what to do at any given time to be in the right. Problem is, Christ taught that acting "right" because that's what others wanted is not moral at all. In fact, it's just as bad as committing the act. Fundamentally, being a Christian means living a transformed life that looks vastly different from most people in the world today. Luckily, it's not an all-or-nothing game where we've got to make sure we keep God happy by our actions all the time. We can never please God by works, and God knows we're going to fail. But Christ died for us anyway so we could try each day to come a little closer to living that transformed life. My witness is not the words I speak, but the life I live.

EDIT: kahoolin, some supporters of Christian Natural Law (as opposed to just Natural Law) would indeed allow all those "pagans" a shot at Heaven. Each will still be judged by Jesus, not against strictures and policies but rather against the God-law with which they are born.

Now, on monotheism, there's actually evidence of it dating back long before Christ (and even outside Judaism) in such places as Egypt and Iran (in aspects of Zoroastrianism).

Cheliax Bella Sara Charter Superscriber

Not much time to post and then I'm off for a week or so. Hopefully my name won't get slandered too much while I'm gone. This remains my point: as novel as all this Natural Law stuff is, it still begs the question of why we need Christianity in the first place. If the Law is written in the hearts of all persons, claiming that the only route to salvation passes through some long dead martyr and his accompanying handbook is clearly false.

Now, I admit, that doesn't make a whole argument against the existence of god, but it sure makes a strong argument against the absolute truth of the bible. Natural Law at best places the bible as one book of wisdom among many books of wisdom. Jesus must be, at best, a figure used to tell stories, and not the literal son of god.

Have a good weekend Paizoians.


someone wrote:
Now, on monotheism, there's actually evidence of it dating back long before Christ (and even outside Judaism) in such places as Egypt and Iran (in aspects of Zoroastrianism).

That's true, but I think the character of ancient monotheism was very different from what we think of when we think "monotheism" today. Modern monotheism is the idea that only one god is real and all the rest are imaginary. It owes it's character to Aristotelian logic which was a big part of western civilization and the development of Christianity after Paul.

The ancient zoroastrians actually had two gods (Ahuramazda and er... I forget the evil god's name!) Ahuramazda was the template for Jehovah, and the God of Christianity, in that he was the supreme god of all creation and the only god that needed to be propitiated. The other dude was responsible for everything bad in the world. This didn't mean that zoroastrians thought Baal, Jehovah, and the other gods of major middle-eastern tribes weren't real; they just weren't necessary to the zoroastrians, who had their own god who could by definition do everything any other god could do. The Jews took on this idea for Jehovah, and through them it was transferred to Christianity. Ancient monotheism was more like "my god can do anything, all your god can do is control the rain (or whatever), and I'm not allowed to worship any other god because my god is so powerful he'll smite me if I do." For evidence of this look in the Torah at the first of the 10 commandments: "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other god before me." This is not saying that other gods aren't real; only that to be a Jew you have to put Jehovah first. Many of the more bizarre commands in Deuteronomy like "don't boil a kid in it's mother's milk" are commands against specific religious rituals of other gods, to make sure the Jews stuck to Jehovah.

That sort of monotheism is similar, but very different in tone to: "Pfff! Only my god is real. Yours is just a kid's fairy tale." This is the gist of modern monotheism, and was a main claim of Augustine and the medieval scholastics who were very scientific in their outlook.

It is also the reason, I think, why there are now so many athiests in the west. They quite rightly notice that all of the arguments that can be used to discount one religion can be used equally on all religions (including Christianity). So in my view (you may disagree of course) scientific atheism was caused by the narrow intolerance of later Christian ideas of monotheism. If modern monotheists just said "sure, Zeus and Vishnu and Thor are real, God is just better," they would have a lot more credibility against the arguments of atheists.

Heh, I don't know where I'm going with this discussion. It's fun, but I feel a little all over the place!


Off to bed myself, and up early in the morning, but I'll definitely get back to you, Sebastian. And don't worry on any slamming...I'll whack somebody in the head with a leather-bound book if that happens...'cause that's what we do... ;^)

Oh, and my wife just mentioned a referral of folks interested in reading on this to Lee Strobel and in particular his book, The Case for Christ. Ranks up there with C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.

EDIT: Oh, and that evil side of Zoroastrianism was Angra Mainyu. It should be noted that this "evil spirit" was not part of Zoroaster's original teachings.


erian_7 wrote:
At its heart, Christianity is a very simply faith: Love God, Love Your Neighbor, Love Yourself. But humans unfortunately don't like things that simple.

On the contrary, I think many of them want it too simple: "What I was taught is right in all aspects, is unchanging, and is whatever I imagine it to be (or whatever Rush Limbaugh says). That's the TRUTH. Everything else is false!"

The Buddha took the simple message you describe and ended up with an Eightfold Noble Path out of it... he couldn't see how to break it down any simpler than that.
I have great friends, very devout Christians, who describe their faith as you do. But they seem a tiny minority, surrounded by those who murder abortion doctors to "sustain a culture of life," or who claim all gays are going to Hell (while they themselves sleep with male prostitutes in some cases, as we've seen recently).

If people would only READ the New Testament as often as they QUOTE from it... what a different country this would be!


kahoolin wrote:
Ahuramazda and er... I forget the evil god's name!

Ahriman, was his name. Sorry, I might have neglected to mention I'm something of a student of comparative religion.


Erik Goldman wrote:
If people would only READ the New Testament as often as they QUOTE from it... what a different country this would be!

Dang it, Erik, I'm trying to go to bed!!! :D

I'll talk to some of the rest of your post tomorrow, but I wanted to note that we are in agreement on the above statement...


Erik Goldman wrote:
Ahriman, was his name.

Erian, I like your spelling better... looks a lot closer to Farsi, and hence to ancient Persian.


erian_7 wrote:

Oh, and my wife just mentioned a referral of folks interested in reading on this to Lee Strobel and in particular his book, The Case for Christ. Ranks up there with C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.

For the reading tips, I was fascinated by prison letters of Protestant priest Dietrich Bonhoffer, where he argues for secular interpretation of Christianity...that God is no stern father or prayer automat and humankind should grow up to be adults and start taking responsibility themselves.


Ah yes, Bonhoffer is good stuff! I think we'd all be in a lot better shape if more Christians were well-read, or at least explored their faith to understand it beyond a juvenile acceptance of what a parent or preacher has stated.

Now let's see, stepping back through the post...

Erik Goldman wrote:
On the contrary, I think many of them want it too simple: "What I was taught is right in all aspects, is unchanging, and is whatever I imagine it to be (or whatever Rush Limbaugh says). That's the TRUTH. Everything else is false!"

I think the difference in opinion here lies with what constitutes simplicity. As I see it, following a set of rules/regulations handed down by tradition may be an easy way out of struggling with one's faith, but it doesn't necessarily simplify that faith. It's just spiritual/intellectual laziness.

Erik Goldman wrote:
The Buddha took the simple message you describe and ended up with an Eightfold Noble Path out of it... he couldn't see how to break it down any simpler than that.

The Eight-Fold Path (Right view, Right intention, Right speech, Right action, Right livelihood, Right effort, Right mindfulness, Right concentration) would compare very well to St. Thomas Aquinas's Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, Temperance). I would argue that both are still fully encompassed in the three-fold command of Jesus regarding Love to God, Neighbor, and Self. If one truly understands Love (not an easy task) and executes this command, then one will walk the Eight-fold Path and live the Virtues.

For those really up for some reading, you can go through Aquinas's Summa Theologica free of charge. In relation to our earlier conversations, Natural Law is covered in the Prima Secundæ Partis, while the Virtues are in the Secunda Secundæ Partis. I will fail miserably as an Apologist trying to mirror Aquinas, so offer this up for folks really interested in delving into the subject.

Erik Goldman wrote:
I have great friends, very devout Christians, who describe their faith as you do. But they seem a tiny minority, surrounded by those who murder abortion doctors to "sustain a culture of life," or who claim all gays are going to Hell (while they themselves sleep with male prostitutes in some cases, as we've seen recently).

Indeed a sad fact, and I believe one of the reasons Jesus told his followers (and thus us today) that we'll be surprised at who we see in Heaven. Labeling oneself as Christian ensures neither morality or assurance of reward (in this life or the next). This is the same as an Atheist who believes their position makes them intellectually superior (not the case with all atheists, I know, but sadly the case with most I've met personally). The same holds true for those following ancient beliefs (taking on the label Pagan, a term which I don't prefer considering its history and derogatory nature) in large part seeming to be young adults and/or teenagers looking for a way to rile up their parents or "fight the system." Again, I know this is not true of all those following such religious traditions, but it is by far the more common experience for me personally. Now, in both cases I think I am seeing largely a cultural issue--I live in Alabama, and so Atheism and Paganism are two easy roads for those that want to rebel against the ubiquitous Church. With these, as with Christianity, defining the entirety of the concept by a certain portion of its adherents (even when that portion is the majority) does a great disservice to the Truth behind the concept. For an example of a true Christian, look to someone like Mother Teresa. A cliché, I know, but there you see a person truly living their faith rather than simply talking about it or going through the motions. Back to an earlier statement, being truly Christian (and indeed being truly in support of any religion, ideology, or philosophy) must be evidenced in life transformation. If you see someone claiming Christianity, but in the same breath condemning (judging non-Christians...stated earlier as the province of God) they are either (a) not truly Christian or (B) someone young in their faith (and spiritual maturity has nothing to do with age, number of years in the Church, education, or title). The former should be opposed by Christians as defamers of the faith, and the latter should be corrected by those in communion relationship so that they do not lead others astray in regard to the message of Christ.

Sebastian wrote:
This remains my point: as novel as all this Natural Law stuff is, it still begs the question of why we need Christianity in the first place. If the Law is written in the hearts of all persons, claiming that the only route to salvation passes through some long dead martyr and his accompanying handbook is clearly false.

A much-used route discussing the nature of Christ is Lewis's "trilemma": Jesus was either (1) a lunatic, (2) a liar, (3) or Lord. This argument is founded on Jesus's claims to divinity. As the fact he made such claims is fairly irrefutable (barring theories that the Gospels are a fabrication, not a tenable argument historically or archaeologically) he would had to have been so, or else he (1) knew he was lying to people (an act which seems untenable as lies in general are told to better one's position and his actions brought no reward, but instead punishment); or (2) he was insane. Of course, this does not "prove" the divinity of Christ. While the Liar route seems untenable, by this argument he could still have simply been insane. But he was definitely not simply a "good teacher" or great man.

So, to the question of why we need Christianity, I can't answer this for you...But for me I return to Natural Law. From where does this Law originate? Is it the complex result of chemical and physiological developments over time? Or is it placed there by something greater than us?

I've struggled with that question much in the past. Despite being raised "religious" and having an education in Religion from a Southern Baptist college, I was not satisfied with simply accepting what others told me as truth. I've studied evolution, other religions, philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and several other "ologies" I've likely mostly forgotten by now. I abandoned my religion for a time, because my logical, analytical mind didn't grasp the inconsistencies I found between human action and scripture, and also the obvious contradictions one can find in scripture. Yet I found no more support for "why" we are what we are in science and reason than in my juvenile understanding of religion.

Sebastian wrote:
Now, I admit, that doesn't make a whole argument against the existence of god, but it sure makes a strong argument against the absolute truth of the bible. Natural Law at best places the bible as one book of wisdom among many books of wisdom. Jesus must be, at best, a figure used to tell stories, and not the literal son of god.

Define absolute truth of the Bible. I likely have a very different understanding of scriptural truth than many Christians you might have talked with in the past. For instance, I do not view the Garden of Eden as the literal beginning of Man, nor Adam eating a piece of fruit as the source of all our wicked ways. These are ancient writings (from at least two authorial sources, considering the specific language used in those chapters of Genesis) describing ancient humanity's struggle to understand their place in the world. Accepting or rejecting the literal existence of First Man doesn't specifically factor into my concept of being a follower of Christ.

The entirety of the Torah, Neviim, and Kethuvim (Hebraic Law, Prophecy, and Writings--what Christians call the Old Testament) is a continuing revelation of God to Man, from primitive, even animistic roots to a highly regimented religion to the fall of said religion under its own legalistic weight and governmental corruption. I see this same revelation in religions all over the world--God revealing himself in fragments that humans can comprehend. The entirety of the Gospels (along with Acts, which is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke) is pointing to a culmination of this revelation--Jesus, God made flesh seeking a relationship with God's creation. And the Epistles (or Letters) are a narrative of our first attempts at showing others the transformed life that comes from entering into this relationship with God through Christ.

This all culminates to explain, to me, how this Natural Law comes to exist in me. I frankly never found so compelling an argument elsewhere, and believe me I have looked! Now, my perspective is one that holds humanity's capability for rational thought fairly high (and indeed, an ability God wants us to use to understand ourselves and Divinity), but not high enough to fully understand our origins or place in existence. For this, we require faith. When it comes right down to it, even the principles of science are based on faith--the belief that what we've seen before, witnessed with our own eyes, will occur again. Science has been proven wrong in its observations and attempts to explain the world (poor Einstein and his unified field theory, upon the discovery of strong and weak nuclear forces, for instance), and continually adjusts as needed to incorporate new data.

Hmm, gotta go to a meeting. I'll let this one sit for a bit and then come back to see what's what...


Erik Goldman wrote:
Erik Goldman wrote:
Ahriman, was his name.
Erian, I like your spelling better... looks a lot closer to Farsi, and hence to ancient Persian.

Meeting cancelled so I'll post an aside on Zoroastrianism,...

"Angra Mainyu" is the original Avestan, becoming "Ahriman" in Middle Persian. Ahriman (as used in the later texts) was not considered the equivalent of Ahura Mazda in the original writings of Zoroaster, but rather one of two twin spirits created by the Creator. The elevation of Angra Mainyu to an equal of Ahura Mazda (Middle Persian "Ohrmuzd") didn't occur until the faith intermingled with Zurvanism (Zurvan being the personification of Time). Interestingly (from a comparative religion analysis) Yahweh was likewise seen as the creator of "the Satan" (an opposing angel that worked for God's purpose) in early scripture and the Satan was only later elevated to "Satan" (a being opposed to God, and elevated by some to near-equal status).

Now, this is all me pulling fragments of memory together (thanks in part to some quick refreshers from the Internet), not having had the need to read much on Zoroastrianism in quite a few years. If we've got any Zoroastrians out there, please correct as needed!


erian, again, thanks for this wonderful conversation.

I noticed as I read through the thread that many people were referencing C.S. Lewis. Lewis seems to speak to a lot of Christians I know.

Lewis never spoke to me the way Tolkien did. I attribute this partially to having been raised Catholic, but I think it's more than that. Tolkien still speaks to me, even as a vaguely defined a/nontheist, I think because Tolkien's Middle Earth is a world without a revealed God. His heroes never have unshakable faith because they are never given any reassurances that will prevail.

This speaks to me quite deeply, as I too see the world as being without a reavealed God (or perhaps too many revealed Gods, enough to make me doubt that anyone's holy book is as authoritative as they would have me believe).

I feel that I can still tell right from worng, and that there is a right and worng to be found in the world without God. As I like being alive and do not believe there is any afterlife, I do not wish to be murdered. I therefore extend this courtesy to others in an attempt to "be the change I wish to see in the world."

I like my possessions and wish to keep them while I am alive, so I do not steal. Though I also realize that material possessions are ultimately meaningless in the long run, and try not to attach too much importance to them in my life.

As someone (erian, I believe) pointed out upthread, this line of thinking can get murky if you start trying to get into odd circumstantial details, but I don't think that's necessarily unique to any kind of Natural Law-esque philosophy. I think if you put any religion's moral codes through a ringer, you are certain to find "gray" hypothetical situations where the "right" decision to make is difficult to discern.

I think more than anything, all that does is point out the inherent flaws to hypothetical situations. Yes, reality can be a murky place, but it rarely presents the kinds of hypothetical situations we like to come up with when defending our pet positions.

(I started typing a long case in point, dealing with a politicaly charged hypothetical, but decided that was too far off topic)

Contributor

erian_7 wrote:
1) knew he was lying to people (an act which seems untenable as lies in general are told to better one's position and his actions brought no reward, but instead punishment)

You're ignoring two facts: 1) Jesus was not the only person claiming to be the Messiah at that time; 2) People will do self-destructive acts to get attention.


Natural law ,for me, is supported just fine through evolution.

Animals started small with no parenting instincts.

Empathy and protective behaviors showed up as mutations.
These mutations are passed on in subsiquient generations because their exhistance increases the survival rate for offsring.

These tendacies grew more and more complex, and then soon animals could survive without producing as many offspring. Instead they could get by giving birth to more advanced children. With so few (comparitively of course dependant on the species) offsring they had more space to grow. This extra boost of developement led to stronger creatures capeable of more complex developement and simply a larger size.

With more organ systems came a more complex means of managing them. The brain became a wonderful organ capeable of reasoning. And through a long, long time of behavioral mutations became man and his society. His empathetic urges amazingly complex because these things led to organised society, which seems to be the final building block for natural selection. Beyond that the rest litterally is history.

This is by far the most acceptable explaination as to why things are the way they are. I hold no stock in the bible. It is a book to me. It has some valuable lessons to impart to it's readers. Then again so does Green Eggs and Ham. If you see the bible as divinely inspired well fine. But other than people saying it is, (not a powerful convincing argument for me), I see no evidence at all that a divine hand tipped to create it. Jesus Christ probably exhisted but he also lived and died insighting a lot of social change and heat. And we all know that during historical times like this nothing but truth and honesty makes it into the history books. Or whatever you consider the bible.

Religion is bunk. I have no faith because I fail to see how it makes sense.

Either one religion is true and God is real but he only works for the people he decided to talk to first. Everyone else is screwed (Which is no definition of a just god that I would ever bother praying to).

Or alternatively he works for everyone wether or not he even made his divine presence aparent in ANY form at all. People instinctively know good from evil and will choose their path if they never see religion. This to me, seems stupid. If this were true then why would a just god even bother to create religion?

I say this because (as Sebastion said) religion is not useful in the least. I openly challenge the idea that religion helps people. I have never seen someone saved from harm or depression or whatever you like because of religion or faith. I have seen people helped by other people or by themsleves using religion as a tool to guide them. In these cases these "helpers" were just good people I don't think their faith made them good. It just framed their obvious altruism in an easy to digest form.

I have helped quite a few friends in need too. I just listened, applied reason to help them deal with their problems, and I showed them compassion or honesty, whichever I felt would serve their best intrests. My point is simple, their is more than one way to help people and accomplish altruistic goals. In fact the people that do good in the name of religion are following this plan. The religion used is needless fluff and their message is just as powerful without it. Cutting out this "fluff" is much more efficient.

Why? Because listening, reason, honesty, and compassion cannot be used in the many ways religion can. Namely, they cannot be turned into fanaticism. Reason and compassion prevent this. They do not start wars with millions killing and killed in the name of their personal "prince of peace". They cannot be used to inspire bigotry. They cannot result in crusades, inquisitions, witch burnings, wife burnings, human sacrifice, or social exclusion and antipathy.

Everything one can accomplish using the many virtues of a religion, can do it without them. It is important to realize that religion is a tool, and a powerful one. In the right hands It can accomplish exactly what that person could have done on their own. They could have learned how to be good from others and then teach and practice these qualities on their own. In the wrong hands it has been weilded to commit the greatest attrocities this world has ever seen.

As always just my humble outlook, your milage may very.


Whoops! Just realized I threw Sebastion in with my response and I don't think my suggestion is quite in line with what he was saying. Plus he won't be able to clarify one way or the other for a while, consider that part of the above post edited out (though I now lack the power to do it)


erian_7 wrote:
Now, this is all me pulling fragments of memory together (thanks in part to some quick refreshers from the Internet), not having had the need to read much on Zoroastrianism in quite a few years. If we've got any Zoroastrians out there, please correct as needed!

Not bad! I get a discussion with a real (not an "I'm better than you!") Christian, and a history and linguistics lesson besides... Erian, if you ever need a geochemical interpretation of mineral assemblages, or groundwater flow calculations, feel free to call on me anytime.

In the meantime, allow me to say it's a pleasure to converse with a Christian who can even NAME the parts of the Eightfold Path, much less discuss them intelligently. You, me, and Thich Nhat Hanh all seem to share a view of the Living Buddha and the Holy Spirit. Christianity becomes not only palatable but even enlightened to me when I ignore those who insist in literal scriptural infallibility and fundamentalist rhetoric and instead muse that (a) evolution is a pretty slick system, worthy of an omniscient Creator or just a pretty cool universe in general, (b) the idea of Christ as the literal son of God is probably less important than the teachings he left us, and (c) compassion and good deeds are probably self-serving pragmatism, in many cases, but are no less excellent and redeeming for that.

Thanks again for the conversation and the comments, Erian.

Contributor

Sexi Golem wrote:
I say this because religion is not useful in the least.

Voltaire: "If god did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

Don't blame the tool, blame the user.


Hill Giant wrote:
Sexi Golem wrote:
I say this because religion is not useful in the least.

Voltaire: "If god did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."

Don't blame the tool, blame the user.

I do blame the user. Make no mistake I have no qualm with faith. I have as much faith in my theories as any theist has in their creators.

Religion, that simply scares the hell out of me. A tool is good only if it is made for its job. Using religion to solve lifes problems is like opening a tin can with a chainsaw. It can be done easily by those smart enough to use the machine safely. There are however, those that find many more uses for the power of religious fervor. This is where I have a problem.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Sexi Golem wrote:
I say this because religion is not useful in the least.

Religion and the faith in a God (in which god(s) ever) have produced clearly more hatred, grief, death and bloodshed than peace!

Most wars on this planet were led for reasons of belief and because of religion (crusades, inquisition, and what not). How good can religion then be for a person, or even humanity?!


Dryder wrote:
Most wars on this planet were led for reasons of belief and because of religion (crusades, inquisition, and what not). How good can religion then be for a person, or even humanity?!

I'd argue that people are basically xenophobic, and that any differences will do in a pinch. Religion is just one option. Historically, tribal/ethnic differences have led to more wars than religion, I think, and territorial disputes have often been the rule, rather than the exception. I'd also suggest that religion is often the excuse, rather than the cause, of many "religious" wars.

Andoran

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules Subscriber
Dryder wrote:

Religion and the faith in a God (in which god(s) ever) have produced clearly more hatred, grief, death and bloodshed than peace!

Most wars on this planet were led for reasons of belief and because of religion (crusades, inquisition, and what not). How good can religion then be for a person, or even humanity?!

Strange for me to write about religion, since I do not consider myself as a believer, but as someone respectful toward religions.

Sorry, Dryder, but I don't agree with what you wrote here.
I think that religion was used by a few as a pretext (is that the same word in english as in french ?) of gaining power over the silent majority.
I think that, in the above-mentionned things (inquisition, crusades and so on...), religion was clearly misused.

In my (small & not universal) knowledge, I think that no religion has ever stated "kill your neighbour".
Religion has often been used as a "reason" : if "he" doesn't believe the same as you do, "he" must be wrong, even bad, and maybe "he" should be taught the truth.
At the end of any of those conflicts, who won ?
Spain was unified and strengthened when the crown decided to convert spanish jewish people and retake the whole Andalusia.
It was also used as a kind of weapon to gain power over southern american.

In France, lots of noble catholic families gained lands and power over protestant families after the "religious civil war".

Many such examples could be found.

I have nothing against any religion as long as the main teaching remains "love thy neighbour" : this is where religion is important, to me.

Also, I do believe that the concept of "afterlife" was invented because humankind was scared by death, the fact of dying.
It's true that knowing you'll be dust in about a hundred years is a very scary thing : nothing will truly stay behind once you're dead, nothing will remind of you.
Your grand grand grand children won't even remember you first name, who you were, what you liked... !

Such a distressing idea is awful, most of the time (and for the majority of the people), and if you want to make something of your life (or have the impression you've made something of your life), believing there is an afterlife is very reassuring, and could make you feel better & relieved.

Sorry if I hurt somebody's feelings, but this is what I (speaking in MY name only) believe.


Ah, lots to do, lots to do...

Sean, Minister of KtSP wrote:

I noticed as I read through the thread that many people were referencing C.S. Lewis. Lewis seems to speak to a lot of Christians I know.

Lewis never spoke to me the way Tolkien did. I attribute this partially to having been raised Catholic, but I think it's more than that. Tolkien still speaks to me, even as a vaguely defined a/nontheist, I think because Tolkien's Middle Earth is a world without a revealed God. His heroes never have unshakable faith because they are never given any reassurances that will prevail.

Tolkien is easily my favorite author, has been since I read LotR in 5th grade. I would note that he did indeed have a revealed god, Eru Ilúvatar, and Olórin (a lesser Ainu (spirit) or Maia who we all more commonly know as "Gandalf") was a direct servant of Ilúvatar through the Valar Manwë and Varda. In some of his letters, Tolkien actually clearly states Eru is simply a fictional name for the Christian Yahweh-God. Tolkien saw far more "potential variety" (as he called it) of how God could relate to humanity.

Sean, Minister of KtSP wrote:

I think if you put any religion's moral codes through a ringer, you are certain to find "gray" hypothetical situations where the "right" decision to make is difficult to discern.

I think more than anything, all that does is point out the inherent flaws to hypothetical situations. Yes, reality can be a murky place, but it rarely presents the kinds of hypothetical situations we like to come up with when defending our pet positions.

I do actually think it is necessary to put one's morality through this ringer as best and often as one can. The gray area I mentioned above, killing in self defense, is one example of a hypothetical situation that most definitely might affect me. One of my best friends is a narcotics officer and Special Forces soldier. He has to struggle with the question of killing people in self (or other's) defense on an almost daily basis. Now, getting into silliness with hypotheticals is generally unproductive, but possible real-life situations, no matter how unlikely to occur, should be considered so one will be prepared if the improbable suddenly faces you.

Hill Giant wrote:
You're ignoring two facts: 1) Jesus was not the only person claiming to be the Messiah at that time; 2) People will do self-destructive acts to get attention.

Not ignoring them, accepting them.

For item (2) (the easier one) I'd simply note that I do allow above the possibility of Insanity. One who claims divinity to the point of death while not actually being of a divine nature would, at least in my assessment, demonstrate mental instability.

For item (1) it is definitely a recorded fact that various persons claiming to be the Messiah appeared at various times after the Babylonian captivity and all the way up to modern day.

We should note that the term "Messiah" has very different meanings to specific groups. Within Judaism, there are no less than three interpretations of the word Messiah (and indeed in the original sense, messiah simply meant anyone anointed to do God's work) and in pretty much all cases this refers to a man (or spirit) separate from Yahweh-God. The Messiahs that appeared around the time of Jesus would have been of this variety.

Within (most branches of) Christianity, the Messiah is more commonly known as the Christ (the Greek for Messiah being &#967;&#961;&#953;&#963;&#964;&#959;&#962; or Khristos) and is regarded as the physical manifestation of God, wholly Man, but not a separate being (this delves into the mystery of the Trinity, or Triune God). This Messiah is obviously different from, and generally rejected by, the various branches of Judaism.

Other faiths (Islam, Bahá'í, the Unification Movement, Rasta) have their own takes on Messiah.

As I noted earlier, as I now understand it, the old Hebrew scriptures point to (prophesy) a Messiah wholly different from what the majority of Judaism expected--a Messiah that would bring about spiritual rather than temporal/physical liberation. No other claiming to be the Messiah has fulfilled this role, and also the prophecies regarding this role, as did Jesus. As such, all others claiming to be the Messiah fall into category (1) or (2) of the trilemma. Is this personal opinion? Yes, yes it is...but it is not one based simply on my acceptance of tradition or doctrine. It is based on (going on decades) of study and reflection. I do not take this faith-step lightly, as I understand it rejects much of what other people believe. I value other's opinions too much to simply reject them as false without consideration.

Sexi Golem wrote:
Natural law ,for me, is supported just fine through evolution.

Before I delve into evolution, I would ask if those posting regard evolution as fact, or theory? I see later you state you have faith in your theories...I just want to confirm this.

If you regard it as fact, what evidence do you have to support it as such? I do not reject evolution out of hand as a theory, especially microevolution (minor variations in an organism to adapt to environmental change), though macroevolution (all life emanating from a single cell organism) stands on very shaky ground as best I can tell. But I do not accept it as irrefutable fact.

Erik Goldman wrote:
Erian, if you ever need a geochemical interpretation of mineral assemblages, or groundwater flow calculations, feel free to call on me anytime.

I'll definitely do that! Maybe when I get off my tail and finally submit an adventure idea to Paizo, as I always like to make my adventures as "real" as possible...

Erik Goldman wrote:
In the meantime, allow me to say it's a pleasure to converse with a Christian who can even NAME the parts of the Eightfold Path, much less discuss them intelligently. You, me, and Thich Nhat Hanh all seem to share a view of the Living Buddha and the Holy Spirit. Christianity becomes not only palatable but even enlightened to me when I ignore those who insist in literal scriptural infallibility and fundamentalist rhetoric and instead muse that (a) evolution is a pretty slick system, worthy of an omniscient Creator or just a pretty cool universe in general, (b) the idea of Christ as the literal son of God is probably less important than the teachings he left us, and (c) compassion and good deeds are probably self-serving pragmatism, in many cases, but are no less excellent and redeeming for that.

I must admit, I haven't as yet read Living Buddha, Living Christ as it came out just after I graduated and my reading list took an unfortunate dive...Your reminder will likely lead to me picking it up here soon!

For the points above, I do indeed accept evolution as a possible tool of God--God being the creator of all science. I do, obviously, hold that there is evidence of a Creator in the Created and while the current state of macroevolutionary theory leaves me wanting for better explanations (as noted above), the concept that God works through (and authored) the very scientific processes we are now discovering does not in any way detract from my faith.

The deity of Christ has come back to me as a fundamental belief, though I abandoned it for many years. To reject this aspect of Christianity, I have come to see, greatly lessens the significance of God seeking relationship with humanity, to the point of self-sacrifice. When I came to understand God wasn't sending a proxy, but rather sacrificing himself for his "friends" (as there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend) even when those friends might reject that sacrifice, the profundity of living a life transformed in the image of Christ took on a much greater and deeper meaning. To be like Christ fully, one must be willing to die even for those that reject you. And truly one goal of Christianity is to recognize that exact self-serving pragmatism you describe, then transcend it. In this regard I have found St. Ignatius of Loyola to be quite enlightening when he noted in his Spiritual Exercises, "For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created." Christianity is a call to a life of contentment, not advancement of personal gain. Unfortunately, many go down the path of praying for more money, better health, a greater place in the world, etc. It is not that wealth, health, or success are bad things, but they should not be the primary motivation of Christian life, and definitely not the usual content of prayer.

Sexi Golem wrote:

I do blame the user. Make no mistake I have no qualm with faith. I have as much faith in my theories as any theist has in their creators.

Religion, that simply scares the hell out of me. A tool is good only if it is made for its job. Using religion to solve lifes problems is like opening a tin can with a chainsaw. It can be done easily by those smart enough to use the machine safely. There are however, those that find many more uses for the power of religious fervor. This is where I have a problem.

I do think the distinction between faith (a set of principles or beliefs) and religion (an institutionalized system based on faith) is important to note. However, in this argument (a "user" abusing a "tool") faith could just as easily be misused as religion.

Dryder wrote:

Religion and the faith in a God (in which god(s) ever) have produced clearly more hatred, grief, death and bloodshed than peace!

Most wars on this planet were led for reasons of belief and because of religion (crusades, inquisition, and what not). How good can religion then be for a person, or even humanity?!

A sweeping generalization is always subject to rebuttal...as Erik notes below...

Erik Goldman wrote:
I'd argue that people are basically xenophobic, and that any differences will do in a pinch. Religion is just one option. Historically, tribal/ethnic differences have led to more wars than religion, I think, and territorial disputes have often been the rule, rather than the exception. I'd also suggest that religion is often the excuse, rather than the cause, of many "religious" wars.

Indeed, religion is often cited as the cause for conflict, when in fact greed, revenge, and other such vices are the true cause. Religion (and faith, as noted above) might be misused by some to manipulate others, but that does not invalidate the religion any more than misuse of medicine to kill patients would invalidate medicine as useful. One issue I have with the common "cover" of religion as the cause for strife is that it frees up the individual from blame. Ultimately, religion can't "make" anyone do anything. Humans are creatures of choice, and we choose the atrocities we inflict on one another for whatever reason. I have this same issue with Christians and the "Devil" argument (i.e. the Devil made me do it, things are going bad because the Devil is making people do bad things, etc.). Don't blame the Devil, blame the Self.

EDIT: And it seems silenttimo is echoing Erik as well

silenttimo wrote:

Also, I do believe that the concept of "afterlife" was invented because humankind was scared by death, the fact of dying.

It's true that knowing you'll be dust in about a hundred years is a very scary thing : nothing will truly stay behind once you're dead, nothing will remind of you.
Your grand grand grand children won't even remember you first name, who you were, what you liked... !

Such a distressing idea is awful, most of the time (and for the majority of the people), and if you want to make something of your life (or have the impression you've made something of your life), believing there is an afterlife is very reassuring, and could make you feel better & relieved.

Sorry if I hurt somebody's feelings, but this is what I (speaking in MY name only) believe.

I actually think the Afterlife has been one of the most distracting things to Christian growth in faith. Obsession with getting into Heaven, or avoiding Hell, drives people toward the checklist mentality that goes against the "simplicity" (notedly simplistic in my view, though not others) of Christ's actual teachings. When folks ask me what I think about the End of Time, Heaven, Hell, etc. my general answer is "Meh, I don't really care." What I mean by this is that I do not (well, in honesty I try not to, but ofttimes fail) live my life "good" in hopes of an eternal reward. I live my life as a Christian because it's the best way I can possibly live my life right now. We Christians are not called to simply "get saved" then sit around waiting for Heaven. We are called to action, daily, to transform not only ourselves but the world around us into Heaven. And we are called to do this through Love, not abuse/fear/confusion/etc. that would subjugate others to our belief (thus leading to the misuse of religion noted above).


erian_7 wrote:
Before I delve into evolution, I would ask if those posting regard evolution as fact, or theory?

As a scientist, I should point out that, technically, a "fact" is an observed datum (e.g., I am 6' tall). A "hypthesis" is what most people mean when they say 'theory': it's a guess as to what underlying principle fits the observed data (facts). A "theory" is a hypthesis that has withstood repeated testing.

No theory is ever "proven" in science; they only stand up to another test, get tinkered with if they don't quite fit, or get thrown out if shown not to work at all. Dismissing something as a "theory" with a sneer, as many scientifically illiterate folks do, makes no sense. Referring to a theory as a "fact" or "belief" is equally incorrect. Pure science accepts that man is not perfect, and therefore no theory is ever 100% correct-- they just get better and better at making accurate and/or useful predictions.


erian_7 wrote:
I would note that he did indeed have a revealed god, Eru Ilúvatar, and Olórin (a lesser Ainu (spirit) or Maia who we all more commonly know as "Gandalf") was a direct servant of Ilúvatar through the Valar Manwë and Varda. In some of his letters, Tolkien actually clearly states Eru is simply a fictional name for the Christian Yahweh-God.

I should clarify here. I'm using a very specific term when I say "revealed God," and it's a definition I'm pretty sure is backed up both by Thomas Shippey and by writings of Tolkien himself.

Yes, there is a God in Middle Earth -- Eru Illuvitar -- and yes, it is a direct renaming for the Christian Yaweh God, and yes Olorin (Gandalf) and the Valar are direct servants of God, *but*....

That is not technically a "revealed God." Why? There is no Middle Earth Bible, and there is no Middle Earth Jesus. God is considered (by some) to be revealed in this world, because of the Bible and Jesus' sacrifice for us.

Middle Earth shares no such comfort. They have neither a book nor a martyred prophet to assure them that they are "the chosen" of Eru, or that they have any way of winning.

Gandalf himself (though we are never told if he has any restrictions placed on him) never intervenes directly (in LoTR). He only ever steps up to battle foes that are on his level. He very specifically leaves the actual struggle to the humans and hobbits whose world Middle Earth now is.

In fact, according to the living lore of elves and the first men (the only extent to which Eru *has* been revealed to them), God/Eru has explicitly abandoned elves and men to their fate, since much of it was of their own creation.

Frankly, the heroes of LoTR not only are not given any assurances of their righteousness and eventual success, they operate under the explicit understanding that they are *not* assured any victory, nor are they likely to succeed given the strength of the foe they face -- a situation deliberately crafted by Tolkien to explore the idea of "Eucatastrophy," or the sudden victorious turn of events when all hope semmed to be lost.

So yes, Middle Earth is explicitly a world with a God (and even the Christian God), but because of the situation crafted by Tolkien it is a world which coincidentally mirrors the position and struggle of the deist and the reflective atheist or agnostic who still strives to do and find good in the world.

erian_7 wrote:
I do actually think it is necessary to put one's morality through this ringer as best and often as one can. The gray area I mentioned above, killing in self defense, is one example of a hypothetical situation that most definitely might affect me.

Oh, I agree that all moral systems should be put through a ringer and tested in various hypothetical situations, but even when hypotheticals aren't loaded by the hypothesizer, those pondering the question still have the luxury of time to ponder. They are by nature non-representative of any actual real life situations, even if the present quandries an actual person might face.

And they should always be checked carefully for pre-set conditions designed to produce a favorable or desired outcome, or to provide a straw man for the hypothesizer.


silenttimo wrote:

In my (small & not universal) knowledge, I think that no religion has ever stated "kill your neighbour".

Actually, the Book of Mormon explicitly states, in 1 Nephi 4:13, "Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief."

God tells Nephi (I think) that he must slay this man Laban for the evils he has done to Nephi's people. Nephi finds him drunk in the streets, easy to kill, but feels it is wrong to kill this helpless man, regardless of what he's done, and begs God to release him from this task.

God's response is essentially, "No! You go back and kill him, BECAUSE I TOLD YOU TO."

In the Vedas, Krshna tells one of his followers (on the cusp of a great battle) that it is okay to kill all those people, because God said it was okay.

There's plenty of other places in other religions where passages can be interpreted as saying "It's okay to kill in the name of God, even if I told you killing wasn't okay. This is the exception to the rule...."

It's how good, thoughtful Christians get their teachings from the exact same book as KKK members and other white supremecists. It's how thoughtful, concerned Muslims read the exact same text as extremists willing to kill themselves as long as they take out as many other people as they can on the way, and each comes away with vastly different understandings of how Allah wishes them to live their lives.

These holy books, despite what some of their adherents would have us believe, don't solve anything. They only seem (to me) to make the waters murkier.

Now I know plenty of Christians will have any number of responses to those statements, but this truth still stands -- whatever holy book you read, always remember that there are plenty of others who would read the same book you do, but come away with vastly different interpretations. Each of those people would say theirs is the Correct Interpretation, and each would be able to cite passages to support their cause. Citing the book is inherently non-conclusive in settling arguments of gnosis.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

Perhaps this is out of tone with the subject matter, but this thread is like scholarly crack to me, and I'm following it like a greyhound on a metal rabbit's ass. More!

Contributor

erian_7 wrote:
For item (2) (the easier one) I'd simply note that I do allow above the possibility of Insanity. One who claims divinity to the point of death while not actually being of a divine nature would, at least in my assessment, demonstrate mental instability.

Veering off from the specifics of Jesus, I don't think that necessarily indicates madness. The first rule of confidence tricks: A con artist never, never admits when he's wrong or lying. Supposing our hypothetical con artist - I make no claims about Jesus here - admits that he was making the whole thing up: either the authorities kill him anyways for fraud or he goes the rest of his life being "that guy who claimed to be the messiah". Some people prefer death before dishonor, even if they're not that honorable.

erian_7 wrote:
Before I delve into evolution, I would ask if those posting regard evolution as fact, or theory? I see later you state you have faith in your theories...I just want to confirm this.

I see evolution at work everyday; I think people are foolish not to accept it.

erian_7 wrote:
When I came to understand God wasn't sending a proxy, but rather sacrificing himself for his "friends" (as there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend) even when those friends might reject that sacrifice, the profundity of living a life transformed in the image of Christ took on a much greater and deeper meaning.

The "Aztec" gods also self-sacrificed so you could have a world to live in, as revealed in the Codices. Show them any gratitude lately? ...Which I suppose is my sarcastic way of saying the concept of divine sacrifice is not uniquely Christian.


Sean, Minister of KtSP wrote:


In the Vedas, Krshna tells one of his followers (on the cusp of a great battle) that it is okay to kill all those people, because God said it was okay.

Krishnas answer is more along the lines of "Arijuna, don't be simple. You can not kill anyone as you are mortal. The best mortals can manage is to is move a person out of their bodies and into their new forms faster. So is that really so bad? Now kill them, it is your duty as a member of the warrior caste. This duty is holy."

You're still right, I just wanted to post the long version because I like it.

Also I agree with all of the above.

Further, faith is good.
Religion is bad.

I have faith, just not in a god. I can be helpful and self sacrificing. I can be base and tyrranical. But if I am. It is just me being who I am. Who I am is not who I want to be. So I try to improve. Try to be a better person. This can be taught but religion gets in the way.

The most important message in any religion is the preaching of altruism. Do good things because it is good to do so. It makes the world a better place.

Not because X man made X amount of miracles and asked you to, or god will give you X amount of virgins if you do. There is a ton of crap that doesn't make sense and does not help advance the message. X day of the week be nicer than normal, X things are holy, X things are wrong just because X prophet said so. All that crap gets in the way of the important stuff that actually has the chance to do some good.

Religion has people putting stock in things that don't help them be better people. And lets them group peoples ideologies without good reason. As we have seen here on these boards it is rare that we post anything about a religion without one or two people (usually actual practitioners) poping up and saying "no not really". Why would you even consider yourself the same faith. There are plenty of catholics in my family that cannot agree on the simplest of doctrines. I have plenty of lutherin and baptist friends with internal dissagreements as to how god decreed this or whatever. Claiming a religion makes you a part of a huge group of people that likely feel differently than yourself about how the world works. At least in small doses. Then there are others you might have little in common with.

People don't think alike. They do not feel alike. Therefore there are things in a religion they will and will not agree with. But religions are filled up with so much crap that these people can believe whatever they want. Some Catholics look at the bible and see that gay people go to hell. Others see compassion toward others and love your fellow man and acceptance and choose to embrace those different from themselves. The idiocy of religion is that these people can be on THE SAME TEAM!


Oh, since it's come up, I also wanted to address Lewis' question: that Jesus was either a) a liar, b) insane, or c) the Son of God.

I disagree that those are the only options. Among any number of other possible answers to Lewis' question, I would propose:

d) The events transcribed in the Bible are to some degree or another not entirely accurate to one degree or another, including: e) The dialog is not necessarily 100% word for word, particularly after almost 2,000 years of translation through multiple languages, f) The tale maybe grew in the telling, especially considering the Gospels weren't even written down immediately, but went through a few generations of oral transmission first, and there's not perfect agreement between the denominations on exact events (bodily or spiritual resurrection), g) None of it happened.

I make no claims as to the validity of any of those extra possibilities, I merely propose them as alternatives to the answers Lewis suggests.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

If Evolution isn't a fact then it's a pattern that reimprints itself a trillion times a second. We see evolution just by performing an Elisa (Enzyme Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay) on any shifting antigen virus, like say, the common cold. They change, they evolve. They become something new that better survives and then thrives. If you don't believe in natural selection you haven't seen me work a club back in the day. I should have been humanely gelded by law.

One could argue that gravity isn't a fact, just a divine codependent unwillingness to let us go.

For those who letter-of-the-law it and think that fossils are a mischievous trick, that carbon dating isn't valid, and that the world is only six grand old... I don't feel I can participate in a serious discussion that isn't destined to devolve into rhetorical infinity loops.

Then again, quantum is very sloppy mathematically and often states things definitively that cannot be verified. I think those who dabble in proclaiming absolute knowledge over the unknown, regardless of how brilliant their system of thought is, are out of their depth.

I've always enjoyed reading C.S. Lewis' essays, even as a young atheist. He was a brilliantly talented wordsmith who gently wondered.


Afraid I've got to head to bed early tonight for a long day tomorrow. I'll get back to this tomorrow night hopefully!

For the evolution discussion, that common cold is, technically, a disease rather than an organism. The particular organism causing the disease (let's say rhinovirus) will indeed mutate into more adaptive, resilient rhinovirus (microevolution). However, nothing's yet convinced me 100% on that rhinovirus becoming, say Penicillium candida (because I love me some Brie!), or later still a tsetse fly (macroevolution, at least as much as I have studied thus far). I'd welcome some specific direction to further research, however, as I always like to speak from a position of knowledge rather than supposition.


The Jade wrote:
One could argue that gravity isn't a fact, just a divine codependent unwillingness to let us go.

And, scientifically, the "law" (theory) of gravity is NOT a fact (just as a falling object is an observation, and its speed and acceleration are data, or "facts"). We recently (in the 30's or 40's) tweaked Newton's gravitational theory in order to take into account some of Einstein's findings. So, in science-talk, gravity is "just" a theory (not a hypothesis anymore... the two are NOT synonymous, and what laypeople mean by "theory" is NOT the scientific definition).


erian_7 wrote:
The particular organism causing the disease (let's say rhinovirus) will indeed mutate into more adaptive, resilient rhinovirus (microevolution). However, nothing's yet convinced me 100% on that rhinovirus becoming, say Penicillium candida

But how far removed from the root rhinovirus does your new bug have to get before it's just not a rhinovirus anymore? If you go through 100 generations of them a month, and then give it 100,000,000 years, you've got 1,200,000,000,000 generations worth. If there's only a 0.01% difference each generation, you've still got many whole new bugs in that time. And the Earth is something like 4.6 billion years old (unless you belive that God, being a merry prankster, altered the rocks and all of the chemical elements to yield a consistent false age because he has a weird sense of humor).


Changes in the fossil record over time are observations, not theories, by the way... the origin of species by natural selection is a theory, yes. But evolution is an observable phenomenon (positing no "trickster" God). And natural selection as the origin of species has withstood a whole lot of testing (and been tweaked more than a bit since Darwin's day; read up on punctuated equilibrium when you get a chance, if you're interested). It has an undeservedly bad rep because (a) most people don't understand it, or have any idea what a theory even is, and (b) it contradicts the Biblical story in Genesis (assuming that the Bible is unerringly accurate and that people are being duped by a fun-loving trickster).


Finally, assuming an omniscient God, it's a pretty cool thought that he could have created a one-celled organism (or just a bunch of amino acids) and then gone on vacation to the celestial version of Hawaii for a few billion years, knowing in advance how things would turn out. That kind of image makes me smile. Imagining God frantically tinkering with radiological and other tests in order to create an illusion of an old planet implies that he's not omniscient, but rather a charlatan. And, honestly, I don't know of any God-loving Christians who really want to think that. So, is God omniscient, or is the Bible infallible? For this and a whole variety of other reasons that I'll get into if people are really interested, I can't see it working both ways.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Erik Goldman wrote:
The Jade wrote:
One could argue that gravity isn't a fact, just a divine codependent unwillingness to let us go.
And, scientifically, the "law" (theory) of gravity is NOT a fact (just as a falling object is an observation, and its speed and acceleration are data, or "facts"). We recently (in the 30's or 40's) tweaked Newton's gravitational theory in order to take into account some of Einstein's findings. So, in science-talk, gravity is "just" a theory (not a hypothesis anymore... the two are NOT synonymous, and what laypeople mean by "theory" is NOT the scientific definition).

Einstein's theories are getting a little knocked around these days as well. The world isn't safe for absolute statements. If gravity isn't a fact then we're kind of cracking open the idea that everything is theoretical. 'Round and 'round we go on the spinning wheel. That's why I said earlier, if evolution isn't a fact, it's at least an observable pattern that repeats itself visibly many times over; adaptations to enviroment, both from genetic to behavioural... oh man, it's 1:09 and I'm putting myself to sleep with this.

Hey, did you guys see this neat story?

http://news.aol.com/topnews/articles/_a/chimps-make-weapons-to-hunt-scienti sts/20070222203809990001?ncid=NWS00010000000001

Although it hasn't been determined if I am an organism or a disease... I have personally adapted genetically to my environment. My hearing is worsening, not from all the hard rock music from my youth; rather, a clever evolution to spare me the volume of all that criticism coming at me. I've grown tree canopy-tall, not because my father was tall; rather, I'm getting taller so as to avoid understanding the specifics of any of that critical chatter going on down there by my knees. What's more, the length of my rapier wit has doubled in the last three years; was it a drug I bought off the internet? No. This growth allows for me to duel criticism back to its source. I'm nature's perfect survivor of the beechy rag, grinning in the center of a firestorm.


The Jade wrote:
Einstein's theories are getting a little knocked around these days as well. The world isn't safe for absolute statements.

And that's what science is all about. As soon as one claims to have THE answer, he or she stops learning and becomes stagnant and dogmatic.

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