Hello, folks! It’s good to be back. I just had my first powerlifting session since returning and, while I am a bit, er, “more cuddly”, I’m still on track with my goals.
Just before I left, I came across this post by Siriusbizinus. I started to reply to him, then decided that it was worth a whole post on its own—after all, the topic under discussion was nothing less than the reason I left the Church back in 1990. And I should say, Siriusbizinus has done a good job of picking apart the opposition: I agree with him on several points. So, I’m just going to go down point-by-point:
1. “Bottom line here is that God wants you to [choose] Him, as I have while, at the same time, He is willing to let people reject Him, as you have.”
This is a quote by Isaiah53:5, whose poem started this conversation. As I have mentioned before, the defining attribute of God is perfection. God does not, by definition, ‘want’, ‘need’, ‘desire’, or ‘will’ anything. God is not a person. When someone starts referring to God as if God WERE a person, they are projecting their own persona onto God. Isaiah53:5 is describing what HE wants, and calling it “God.”
2. “I’m taking a position here that FREE WILL(TM) is one of the most assholish things anybody can use to excuse sending people to Hell, justifying misery, and imply people deserve eternal punishment for anything.”
This is a quote from Siriusbizinus, and it is true—but based upon bad information (this is in no way Siriusbizinus’ fault. I used to have the same bad information, and it is the foundation of the entire Evangelical ‘Christian’ movement.).
The first correction that needs to be made is that there is no such thing as “Hell” in the Bible, nor is it a correct Christian teaching. The idea of a place of punishment for the wicked was borrowed from Zoroastrianism in the Middle Ages; it was completely alien to Jewish culture during the time that any of the Biblical tracts were being written. The words translated as ‘Hell’ include Sheol (Hebr.)/Hades (Gr.), which actually simply refers to the state of being dead; and Ge-Hinnom (Hebr.)/Gehenna (Gr.), which refers to valley of Hinnom. This was a well-known burning site for refuse, and the stinking fires figured prominently in Semitic allegory for regret, retribution, etc.
In Pre-Christian Judaism, there was only life and death (Sheol). Long life was seen as a reward for holiness, which is why Biblical characters are often described as living for centuries. Mar Yeshua did not teach that souls would be separated into a ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ after death, but that there would be a physical Resurrection at the end of time. This would be the Kingdom of God, with the word ‘Kingdom’ (Malkuth) referring very specifically to the material world. As an aside, there is also no ‘Devil’ in the Judeo-Christian cannon. The Angel of Temptation, Satanael, figures prominently in several stories—he was the Accuser of Job and Tempter of Mar Yeshua. But he was not evil; it was his job to determine who was worthy of God’s gifts, such as the long life I mentioned previously. It was not until the syncretic mixture of Zoroastrianism that Satanael took on the de facto role of Ahriman and became ‘Satan, the Devil’.
The second correction that needs to be made is that free will somehow ‘excuses suffering’. Siriusbizinus demonstrates two meanings for this: one, referring to Christians ‘ignoring the pain of those around (them)’, and two, referring to God allowing suffering at all.
Towards the first one, I will posit that most everyone has heard of the “Seven Deadly Sins.” Unfortunately, very few people today are aware that those sins are actually balanced by Seven Virtues: the Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude), and the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity). Modern Evangelical ‘Churches’ have taken the idea that ‘man cannot be saved by his own works’, and developed it into an idea that Christians should DO no good works. However, this is contrary to both the teachings of the Christ (“Love your neighbor as you love yourself”) and the traditions of the Church (notably the Virtue of Charity). Christians are specifically and repeatedly called NOT to ‘ignore the suffering of those around them.’
(Another aside: this is one of the reasons that I so despise Socialism. It is Avarice and Pride masquerading as Charity and Justice.)
The second one (‘why does God allow suffering’) takes up most of the balance of Siriusbizinus’ post, and shall be answered in several following points.
3. “In short, like most other apologist argument, one has to prove God’s existence before FREE WILL(TM) even comes close to being a good thing.”
Free will isn’t a ‘good thing’. Free will is just ‘a thing’. Whether good or ill results from its use, is up to the user. What is unique about free will, is that it is the VEHICLE for that choice. As for proving God’s existence, please see my post here.
4. “First, it defies good sense to believe a deity would sacrifice himself to pay the penalty of His own system, all the while being very quiet and unassuming when it comes to war, famine, and pestilence.”
Actually, it only defies the way you believe that a god—a supernatural person—ought to behave. As I have previously explained, God does not ‘do’ things. To ask why God does not do this or that, is akin to asking how much a hole weighs. Weight is irrelevant to the nature of a hole, as taking action is to the nature of God. Action is for those of us who have free will—the correct question is, what are YOU doing about those things?
5. “If God could send Jesus, why not take a more hands-on approach elsewhere?”
Well, I’ve already gone over the concept of God taking action. But while we’re here, let’s take a look at the manifestation of the Christ. Notably, what I consider to be a serious misunderstanding regarding John 1:1.
From the NSRV: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The word being translated as “Word” in the above passage is ‘logos’. However, the Greek word for ‘spoken utterance’ is ‘rhema’. We know ‘logos’ in English, not only from its direct counterpart, ‘logic’, but also from the sciences: biology (the ‘logic’ of life), psychology (the ‘logic’ of the mind), etc. While ‘logos’ can be used to mean ‘word’, this is rare, and I feel unjustified in this case. The better translation is ‘reason’ or ‘logic’. Compare:
“In the beginning was Reason, and Reason was with God, and Reason was God.”
Doesn’t that make so much more sense? Moreover, it establishes God as First Cause—since cause-and-effect is the basis of reason. As for ‘sending’ Mar Yeshua… being Gnostic, I have a more mythological view of these events. However, the Rational Order of the Universe is always around us. There was no ‘sending’; simply a personification.
6. “Second, it implies that everyone values their free choice more than curing the misery they see around them… Sometimes, in my depressed state, I’d offer to get rid of my own free will if only God would have mercy on someone else.”
There are several problems with this position. The first being that it expects God to be some sort of magic wishing-well. The second being that, even if we were to accept the existence of ‘Hell’, that the author’s free choice should trump the free choices made by the other people. The third being the assumption that your free will is your own to get rid of (I hate to quote the Bible in theological arguments—it seems circular—but see Matthew 5:36).
7. “Third, the antics that some Christians will go through just to “help” others remember their choice to love God really stretches the imagination of FREE WILL(TM).”
I actually agree with this entire paragraph. Except that I would put the word “Christians” in quotes, because as I described in the paragraph about the Seven Virtues, these are not Christian actions. And calling ones’ self a Christian is not sufficient to be a Christian; there are actually membership requirements.
I will finish by pointing out that what Siriusbizinus (actually, what Isaiah53:5 and everyone in that conversation) has described as ‘free will’ is not. It is an imagined system of supernatural coercion. ‘Free will’ is our ability to act as individual causal agents—to act, not as simply another link in a chain of cause-and-effect, but to start our own chains. While we can, certainly, run on pure instinct and programmed reaction, we also have the ability to act mindfully. To consider our actions and their consequences, and choose, freely, which action to take. This is what is meant when we are said to be ‘made in the image of God.’