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I think I could make this into a 10 part series easily. In fact, I am working on a book about the subject. So for this series, it is really a matter of choosing a handful of things that are representative of the whole. From there, it is a matter of choosing where to start.
I cannot rank these in terms of the most important or least important. This is not a cumulative case. Any one point will make the case. But when it comes to reasons why I jettisoned the bible from my life, there is an embarrassment of riches. We will start with the one I think will be most shocking:
God’s opinion is meaningless to me
Let’s give the Christian everything they claim about god and the bible. God is real and he gave us a book. In fact, let’s go even further. The bible is perfect in all its words, ideas, and implications. It is exactly preserved as god intended. We have both the words and the meanings behind the words. I grant all of that for the sake of this argument.
None of that gets me to the point where I hand over my free will and judgement to a being of questionable morals and limited concern for my temporal happiness. I also have the exact words of the United States Constitution. It doesn’t mean I revere it or agree with all its dictates.
For the record, I don’t. I am happy when the Constitution is challenged, amended, updated, and otherwise improved. I don’t really care what the founders had in mind. They don’t live my life here and now. I do.
I have the exact words of my parents. There was a time in my life when I was forced to obey them. But that time is long past. I consider their words and advice today only if I feel like it, and I follow it only if it makes sense to me to do so. They are as close to my creator as any human gets. But that does not make their opinion better than mine for how I live my life.
Let us further suppose that the god of the bible is a good and wise god who knows everything from the past to all possible futures, and he wants the best for me for the present, and all possible futures to come. So what?
I am human. I am not a machine made only for taking input and following instructions. The best thing about being human is the journey. We get to try things that don’t always work, think things that aren’t always right, and learn things from our inevitable mistakes.
I don’t want some oracle telling me how to avoid all possible mistakes. I want to make some of those mistakes and live the glorious life that is uniquely mine. Life is not on rails. It is on open roads and grassy fields. And I want to explore them all, not just the ones that lead to the theoretical best outcome.
Were I to follow the dictates of such an oracle, I would no longer be human, at least, not the kind of human I would want to be.
My happiness matters to me
As I mentioned before, the god of the bible is not concerned with my temporal happiness. I am told time and again by evangelists that the gospel is not about my happiness, fulfillment, emotional support, self-esteem, health, or any other type of personal gratification. God is only interested in saving my soul.
This sounds absurd to me. Humans are beings of limited years with high sensitivity to joy, sadness, pleasure, and pain. Our happiness definitely matters. I might even argue that it is the only thing that matters.
Consider: You say that helping people is more important than happiness. But give it a moment and that idea stops making sense in a hurry. After all, what is it you are trying to help people accomplish? You are trying to bring people in a miserable state to a happier state. Why? Because happiness and human flourishing are the goals for all humans, even you.
You long for a life partner to make you happy. You want a good job that makes you happy, with decent pay that supports your happiness. Moreover, you want these things for everyone. Why? Because happiness matters.
Any god that doesn’t value my happiness as much as I do has little to say to me that I care about. The god of the bible seems obsessed with his own happiness. Humanity is merely a project for his own good purposes. That part of the project that does not make him happy will burn in his personal torture chamber, which presumably, will make him happy.
Biblical writers believed that the entirety of mankind was to fear this god and keep his commandments. We are to spend our lives on our knees giving him glory. He likes it when we are weak and submissive because in our weakness, he is strong. To hell with that god!
I will return to this argument at the end of the series when I talk about this god’s morality. But for now, granting that god is real and we have his words, his self-absorption, lack of concern for my autonomy or temporal happiness is enough for me to stop caring about what he has to say.
Next time, I will rescind the grant I have given and take a look at some of the features of the bible that are reasons to ignore it. We have not established that a god exists that could even author such a book. Everything about the book required the hands and minds of men. Nothing about it is perfect as one might expect if a god had anything to do with it.
I will mostly skip the issue of transmission which is covered in a study of textual criticism, and go straight to hermeneutics: the art of interpreting documents. Continue to assume that the words are reliably transmitted, we are no further along in establishing what they mean. And if you can’t establish what the words mean, you should not use them as a way of ordering your life.
And that’s the view from the skeptic.
Why Care about the Bible? (Part 1)- The Pursuit of Truth vs. Happiness (Christian View)
Originally, I had intended to write my own initiating blog on the Pursuit of Truth and whether the Atheist has any such epistemic duty in the first place given the truth of Atheism (in answer to an interesting request I received a few months back from one of our listeners- Richard Morgan). With the Skeptic’s case being made here that the truth of Christianity is not worth pursuing in the first place, I feel it is appropriate to construct my counter-reply in the light of some of the things I had intended to say in the blog I had in mind on the pursuit of truth.
Much has been made of my take on the epistemic duty of Atheists to be “real seekers” regarding Christianity, the notion has even come to be seen as somewhat offensive amoung some of our skeptical listeners. First, let me just say that on Atheism, I don’t think that anyone has any objectively necessary duties/responsibilities at all (whether those be epistemic, moral or otherwise)- one can truly do whatever one wants! So, if I’m 100% certain that Atheism is true and I want to lie to myself about the existence of God or whether Jesus rose from the dead, well then so be it.
The Pursuit of Truth- Our Epistemic Duty
In responding to the Skeptic’s case that Christianity in particular is not worth knowing the truth about, it is essential that we first establish what responsibility and/or motivation we have in general to pursue the truth about religious questions. “Religions” pertain to having knowledge/wisdom about the nature of ultimate reality and our own ultimate purpose within that ultimate reality (i.e. what our ultimate purpose is and how we can obtain it); Keith Ward has termed this notion as embodying what he calls the “iconic vision” which entails having an appropriate level of response to that vision (see his Concepts of God book, p.vii in the Preface). Thus, this understanding of what “religion” is would include sets of beliefs/doctrines in Christianity, Islam and Buddhism but exclude ones found in Marxism and Confucianism (though I’m aware some consider this a religion, I don’t under this definition).
The Skeptic has made much of the common notion that ultimately what matters to us is our “happiness” and this is the only motivator that would interest him in pursing any given religion- thus, any religion that does not deliver on this front is said to be not worthy of pursuit. Now, I actually agree with the Skeptic here, I do think there has to be something in it for us so to speak for us to feel motivated to attempt to discover/follow the true religious path. But what exactly do we mean by “happiness”?
A serial rapist is “happy” when he rapes an innocent woman or I’m sure it made Hitler “happy” to see all the Jews he had slaughtered; clearly mere “happiness” on an individual level is not the sole arbiter of whether a course of action is worthy or not. Instead, I think what the Skeptic means to say is that there is deep ingrained longing within us to achieve a deep well-being which provides a lasting (perhaps everlasting) and worthwhile happiness- some have called this notion “bliss” or others “beatitudo” (Richard Swinburne book Faith and Reason, p.184). Such a notion not only implies that we are happy in such a state, but that we attain a “true happiness”, one that stems from our activities having some kind of ultimate value or virtue and it is this aspect that should compel people to want to discover the truth about religion and strive to follow its precepts.
However, there are other reasons/goals for which one should try to discover and follow the true religion as well; philosopher Richard Swinburne, in his book Faith and Reason, outlines three main goals for following a religion (see Faith and Reason book, p.168-190). The first reason he gives is the one we have just outlined, which in a Christian context would refer to attaining one’s own salvation and/or state of “blissfulness” (the motivation for one’s own betterment). A second related motivation would be to help others attain salvation as well (motivation for the betterment of other humans). Its all fine and dandy if someone out of sheer selfishness doesn’t care to achieve their own ultimate purpose in creation, but then one needs to consider that perhaps they have the intelligence, resources or skill set necessary to help others in this regard and your participation in trying to discover the truth could be essential to helping them achieve their goals which would be unattainable otherwise; thus, one should at least ask the question do I care enough about helping others get what they want or do I only care about myself and what I want. The final reason is to render proper worship and gratefulness to any divine beings (like the Christian God) who may be entitled to such (again God is a person entitled to our consideration just as much as any human).
The “Virtue Ethics” Factor
The above discussion leads us into the “Virtue Ethics” factor. Virtue ethics (aka. Aretaic Ethics) works in conjunction with deontological ethics (i.e. “rule-based ethics”) to provide the teleological (or goal) aspect of traditional Christian ethical theory. This aspect focuses away from the “rules” that one has to follow and instead concentrates on the effects that result from following such rules in the first place.
Traditional virtue ethics (the type I and many other Christians subscribe to) relies on what is called “essentialism” which is the belief that humans (and other substances) have an essential nature (the list of essential properties that define someone as human). For Christians, it is God who has created and designed human beings and their nature and hence he provides certain rules for us to follow in accordance with what He knows will properly coincide with that nature and therefore contribute to our overall well-being and “eudaimonia” (i.e. happiness). This ranges from everything to normal mundane happiness in this life to the more fulfilling and worthwhile type of happiness called “bliss” in the afterlife (post Judgment Day).
There are two major components of this notion which enable us to understand why it is not only good for us to discover which religion is true, but to subsequently “follow the rules” as it were after that discovery. The first is related to “character” (the sum total of an individual’s habits)- to paraphrase Plato, “how does one come to have a brave character, well by doing brave things of course”. Likewise, one develops a “heaven-fit character” by doing “heaven or salvation-fit things” such as obeying the moral rules and spiritual disciplines of God as described in His inspired Word to the point where it becomes “habit” for us (i.e. a trait so ingrained within us that it becomes an inherent part of our inner character). Hence, we come to the second crucial component “virtue”; virtues refer to any “habits of excellence, beneficial tendencies or skilled dispositions that enable a person to realize…. proper human flourishing according to the ideal human nature” (see Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, p.455-456). These concepts are useful when assessing the “worthiness” of pursuing Christianity in particular.
Is the Christian God Worthy of Pursuit?
So here, the Skeptic concedes the truth of Christianity to me, including the Bible as His inerrant Word and guide on how to live a good life and achieve salvation. On the face of it, one might wonder what type of cleaning product the Skeptic has been guzzling down here- OF COURSE one should follow Christianity if it’s true, right?
Well, I will admit that the Skeptic is not necessarily as crazy as it might first appear, coming to a knowledge of the truth is not the end of the story and one still needs to decide whether one believes the truth is worthy of following. Certainly, I have no desire to achieve my ultimate purpose if Buddhism is true, annihilation of my individuality into a state of nirvana holds no appeal to me whatsoever and so I’m glad to ignore its precepts even if true- therefore I don’t have a duty to be a “real seeker” in terms of Buddhism’s truth (I’m happy to save that for my next life perhaps). Now, is the same true of Christianity- is the goal that Christianity offers, namely salvation, not even worthy of pursuit in the first place?
Obviously, this depends on one gaining a proper understanding of what “iconic vision” is being presented exactly, if I dismiss Buddhism based on a half-baked understanding of what enlightenment entails, then I could regret my decision to ignore my “real seeker” duties in its regard. The same applies to Christianity as well- and here I find the skeptic has mischaracterized what the offer of salvation is all about and hence, comes to a false conclusion about its worthiness to be pursued.
At face value, how could one possibly think a “heaven-like” state of salvation (a place of eternal bliss completely devoid of any pain, suffering or evil) is unworthy of pursuit, especially when the non-achievement of such a goal entails going to Hell (a place of unimaginable suffering and the weeping and gnashing of teeth)- the Skeptic clearly must have been into that Draino again I suppose lol 😛 Well, not so fast there, he does provide some reasons for his position and I think they are worthy of serious consideration, even if I ultimately think he is completely “off-the-mark” in his assessment.
The Skeptic’s Reasons for Thinking Christianity Is Unworthy of Pursuit
- Reason #1- Human Nature is Incompatible with Christian Salvation;
Here the Skeptic grants that Molonism is true and God is omnibenevolent and thus would issue commands that would be for our own good; salvation would obviously presumably be designed for our own good/well-being. Yet, the Skeptic assumes all salvation entails is sitting around singing all day and this would deny his fundamental human nature as it would prevent him from having fun and learning and growing about God’s creation- I assure you this is total nonsense!
The Bible gives us precious little on specifics as to what heaven/salvation will be like, it does mention some things that we will be doing but the text never says the limited descriptions of it are exhaustive on the whole salvation experience. The spiritual disciplines serve a purpose in this life, namely to develop our characters in ways that make us “fit for salvation”; thus an appreciation and zealousness for learning new things or discovering new aspects about God and His creation is very probably a part of what we can expect to be doing in the new creation- whoever said this stops after the day of Judgment? Indeed, the new heavens and the new earth implies that we will have many splendid things to discover based solely on the amazing nature of creation as it exists presently. The Islamic scholar Al-Ghazali compares paradise as having an eternity to remove veils from God’s presence and getting ever closer to His infinitude of splendor. We do know that there will be no more sin, evil or suffering in this world and that is great, humans are not designed for that; Sin is the cause of all our problems and imagine how much exploring, learning and growing one can do when one is no longer inhibited by a “sin disease” which is not conducive to human nature/well-being.
Regardless of what heaven/salvation entails specifically, the Bible is God’s Word and since the Skeptic grants God is all-good and all-knowing and wants what’s best for us; we can know that whatever salvation means, it is something we will enjoy and should want to pursue- this much should be undeniable.
- Reason #2- God doesn’t Care About Temporal Happiness;
Once again this is totally false! The Christian God is world-affirming, he created various temporal pleasures and delights for us to enjoy while here on Earth during our mortal lives. Now, its true that God expects us to avoid perversions of those temporal joys (food is great but consuming too much of it is bad for us) and keep them in their proper context, which may on occasion entail that we may need to prioritize and sacrifice on temporal pleasures in order to achieve a bigger and better joy.
Salvation is the top priority, this is us achieving our ultimate purpose in creation which entails a profound and worthwhile happiness that lasts forever not just for a season- we call this “bliss”; do I mind forfeiting a small amount of temporal happiness from time to time to achieve this end and/or allow others to achieve the same- no I do not and anyone that does is a fool.
Now, obviously David has in mind what I call the “perversions” of temporal joys such as pre-marital sex or lying or degenerate gambling or something along those lines- harmless fun that God arbitrarily prevents us from experiencing for no reason. However, the Christian God that David accepts as real in this blog, never makes arbitrary commands, his rules are always offered for our own good and are conducive to human nature (He is the designer after all) and so I think this attitude really results from the Skeptic’s own sinful desires rather than a knowledge that God is depriving him of experiences that are essential to developing his character into a well-developed or ideal human being. I trust that God knows better than we do as to what is best for us.
- Reason #3- God is Selfish;
Here the Skeptic basically says that God’s main goal in saving humanity is just to have a bunch of glorified “yes-men” to serve and worship him as mindless robots for an eternity. Firstly, such a charge is obviously false since God could have easily created us without freewill and have us programmed to say “I love you God” over and over again if He so wanted, why waste His time with the whole Fall, becoming human and being crucified and then letting some people choose to go to Hell rather than giving God what He always wanted which according to the Skeptic is to have every human be a mindless singing robot who glorify God for all eternity?
Well, perhaps the answer is that God prefers freewill creatures freely choosing to be mindless glorifying robots in contradistinction to what is good for their own designed natures (designed by this same God mind you). This would clearly make God and evil God and hence not worthy of worship.
Fortunately, this alleged Christian God is nothing of the sort but instead only a figment of the Skeptic’s overactive imagination. Quite obviously, the Bible does speak of God’s jealousy over humans worshipping other gods, he demands our fidelity in worshipping Him alone and speaks of God’s concern for His divine glory and the need for humans to exemplify and exalt His glory- this much cannot be denied biblically speaking.
However, the Skeptic misses the mark in not understanding that God’s reasons for this are not selfish but selfless; that’s right, it is for the benefit of the human that God demands this! The Bible is clear in saying that God has no need of us, He is entirely self-sufficient on His own without creation and thus there is no need on God’s part to have people tell him how great He is. Humans and created persons are designed to need a relationship to the glorious perfection of the Christian God, worship is a natural expression or response to such glory and is good for us. Unfortunately, we usually become what we worship and thus it is good for us to always have the absolute perfection that is God as the standard by which we worship. God doesn’t need our praise in anyway, but it is gain good for human nature to want to be grateful and praise those who have done something good for us; I see no issue with thanking someone who opens a door and waits for me to go through it (indeed I feel somewhat a miss if I just walk through it without any acknowledgement of the kindness they showed me), how much more would it be downright rude and arrogant not to thank God after all He has done for us- it instills in me a gratitude for the worthwhile things and keeps me from becoming unappreciative of good things; we NEED to worship, praise and glorify God else we will destroy ourselves, it is a part of our very nature to do these things.
In closing, I don’t think it is a one-way street, God does actually get something out of the arrangement, I’m not talking about vain selfish praise and acknowledgement, I mean He gets to experience the “bliss” of having worthwhile and meaningful relationships with us (His creatures). Again, I want to emphasize that we are in no way necessary for God, He was completely “blissful” without creation but there are some beneficial aspects that logically only come about once God has created, consider it a sort of lateral change in circumstance from God’s perspective and given He has chosen to create us, having as many humans as possible freely choose to be saved, now that is something that humans and God can both mutually benefit from.
And that’s the view of the Seeker/Christian,