Archive for January 26, 2010

I Can Has Response? Part II: alon, Mike B., anhelo, Frank Stein, DeistBrawler, fifteenkeys

MAN, you guys gave me a lot to think about. I actually needed to take a pretty hefty break after writing my last post on this topic because it took every iota of my mental capacity to write it out.

Many thanks to all for their kind comments and gracious civility in discussing what could potentially be a sensitive issue. I really appreciate that those who disagree with me do so respectfully and I hope that I have responded in kind (pun unintended. I detest puns).

And big ups to alon for prodding me to finally finish this post — it’s been sitting as a draft on my dashboard for ages. My bad, and thanks for the poke.

And with that said: on to the responses!


alon: It is fascinating to me how this review was introduced; in this sort of disarming, slightly deprecating fashion. I’m not sure it isn’t a bit disingenuous. At the same time I’m absolutely sure it is a bit manipulative. By this, I mean that it has the intended effect of shielding the reviewer from criticism of her beliefs by shifting our focus onto her as our subject, before she presents her subject, the book.

alon: You know, now that you mention it, I did come out of the gate with my defenses up. I guess I just expected the majority of the Pajiba readership to judge me for my views on marriage and women’s roles. My expectations showed that I was really kinda judging Pajibans — presuming that they would dismiss me wholesale as a commenter because of my views in this one area — and I humbly admit that I was totally wrong on that count. Most people were wonderfully thoughtful, even (and perhaps especially) those who didn’t necessarily agree.

See, the scathingness is just a cover. You’re all softies, you. 😉

That said, I really do welcome your views and appreciate your willingness to dialog about this stuff.

But moving on: For me, it isn’t that she chooses to believe one thing or another, my god, I’m a Marxist, 90% of Pajibans would think I’m nuts as well. My issue comes from the belief itself, the thrust of which is contained in the reviewer’s words: And I happen to believe that mankind was created to love God. Not only does this stance pose a tremendous epistemological challenge, (i.e. How do you know this? The Bible tells me so. How do you know the Bible is a valid source for this truth? The Bible tells me it is. Etc.) but it presents a set of deeply troubling ethical issues as well.

Let me take a minute to address the excellent point that alon brings up: the problem of circular reasoning.

I believe that the Bible is true. Why? Because I believe that God created it and inspired it, using people throughout biblical history to write it down. How do I know that God created it? Because the Bible tells me so. But how do I know it’s true? Because God said so. Etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum.

I understand that it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people to believe in the Bible’s inerrancy and base that on its own authority. It’s like a thread troll saying: “You guys are all idiots and I’m smarter than you. I know this because I’m smarter than you.” We all know that the troll’s stating this doesn’t make it true. In fact, his trollish behavior shows that the opposite is probably true.

However, I don’t think it proves that his statement isn’t true. He might still be smart — he’s probably a jerk, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s an idiot. He might be a really smart, but also extremely arrogant and unpleasant.

Some might say that the very fact that the thread troll uses circular reasoning to prove his point shows his idiocy. Nothing can be proven by circular reasoning. But to me, this raises this question: then how can we know that anything is true?

Some argue that we can only know the truth based on empirical evidence. And they say that there is lots of evidence showing that the Bible isn’t true.

Now, I don’t have the time or space here to drill down into every single statement in Scripture that anyone thinks is false. But I guess it really ultimately comes down to whether or not God exists. If He exists and He is the perfect and holy God that Scripture describes, then He has the power to make everything in the Bible true (sorry, I know I’m totally overgeneralizing, but I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, here).

And is it possible to prove to all mankind that God exists beyond the shadow of a human doubt? I don’t think so. If there were, then we wouldn’t be having this discussion, now, would we?

Some wonder why God, if He exists, doesn’t just show Himself and prove His existence once and for all. I don’t know why He doesn’t, but the Bible says that God’s ways are as high above ours as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:9). The Bible also says that faith is valued by God (Hebrews 11:6). If we just saw Him, we wouldn’t have to have faith. So, in a way, He doesn’t reveal Himself so that it’s possible for us to have faith.

I think it’s important, too, to remember that the Bible says that God doesn’t exist for us. He doesn’t have to prove or explain Himself to us (Isaiah 45:9).

But I digress. So I don’t think God has ordained for us to know Him through tangible proof. But I also think it’s impossible to prove that He doesn’t exist.

Remember that example of circular reasoning I used above? I think that goes for the atheist, too.

How do you know that there isn’t a God? Because I haven’t seen any evidence of His existence. How do you know that there isn’t any evidence of His existence? Because I haven’t seen it. How do you know that there isn’t evidence out there somewhere that proves His existence? Because I haven’t seen it.

I don’t know if that makes any sense at all, but I guess what I’m trying to say in the most convoluted possible way (sorry ’bout that, btw) is that, when it comes to ascertaining truth, we’re all pretty much on equal footing, aren’t we?

But I’m getting sleepy, so I’d better plug on before I stop making any sense at all (not that I’m necessarily making much now).

If we accept that the Christian God presents the blueprint for a Godly life, one that glorifies and expresses love and devotion to him, in this book called the Bible, then we must be absolutely clear that what the Bible presents is in some way universally ethical.

For what it’s worth, that’s exactly what I believe.

What I do not believe is that it’s the believer’s right to enforce everyone else to behave accordingly. I believe that the Bible is true and I want to live according to it. Others disagree and they live according to their own moral standard. It’s not for me to force them to live according to my moral standard. I believe that we will all face the consequences of our decisions when we die (Hebrews 9:27). I also believe that my consequences have already been faced by Jesus Christ.

I love my friends and family (and even all of you Pajibans, in a very general and anonymous, internetty kind of way) and I don’t want them to bear eternal consequences for any bad decisions they’ve made. This is why I take part in these conversations — because I believe that God uses these sorts of conversations to change hearts.

Aside: I hope it comes across clearly that I say these things not to justify myself but because I love you guys.

And that segues rather nicely into this next bit:

And even if the context argument is made (and I agree ALL religious texts MUST be read in context.) there are at the very least massive contradictions running throughout the Bible, the least of which is the staggering psychological change between Hashem – יהוה in the Torah and God in the New Testament. So how can one be absolutely sure of the ethical imperative of this religious text? Taking this point further, if we are all created to love God, are we sure that God is worthy of our love? The reviewer seems sure. I think before I take a book like Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God seriously, I’d have to be convinced.

I can see why you see such a huge change between the God of the Torah and the God of the NT. I think it was Snuggie who said that she literally thought that He was two different Gods because the OT God seemed so fire and brimstone and the NT God seemed so peace ‘n’ love.

But I think He is the same God. His level of holiness is the same throughout. He still demands perfection. But the difference is that in the NT, that perfection is fulfilled in Christ.

His level of love is the same throughout, too. Sure, there were times when people got swallowed up by the ground or wiped out by a worldwide flood. But some were saved — and they were saved through faith.

That’s the same as in the OT. Jesus’ incarnation just gave people a clearer picture of how faith saves — God justifies us. We don’t (and can’t) justify ourselves.

And to answer the question of knowing whether or not God is worth serving — He’s worthy of our worship by virtue of His being God. The Bible says that God is perfect, and that He doesn’t have to prove Himself to us.

But the Bible also says that He is kind and loving. If He’s perfect, then He’s also perfectly kind and perfectly loving. Just something to think about.

Christians evangelize from a universal position (that they have the universal truth (i.e. we were born to love god, etc.)), but exclude the non-believer from their universal love, acceptance, humanity, etc.

Some so-called “Christians” do exclude the non-believer from universal love, acceptance, humanity, etc. They exclude non-believers from Christian love by hating them. They exclude non-believers from Christian acceptance by ostracizing them. They exclude non-believers from Christian humanity by seeing them as second-class citizens.

If Jesus treated me and thought of me the way that those so-called “Christians” treat non-believers, then He would never have bothered dying in my place.

The Bible tells Christians to love their enemies and pray for those who curse them. The Bible tells Christians to be gentle and kind and to love one another — doing this will show the world that they belong to Him. The Bible doesn’t tell us to cast out non-believers. It tells us to cast out people who claim to be believers, but are not living in obedience to the Word of God — and even then, it’s only as the very last resort, and it’s still for the sake of eventual reconciliation, not for the purpose of shunning and lording it over them.

Nothing makes me sadder and angrier than to think of all the atrocities committed in the name of Jesus Christ: lynchings, homosexuals being beaten to death, abortion clinics being bombed, the Crusades — these things all fly in the face of Jesus’ teachings.

God never commanded the Christian to cleanse the world of all sin. No, that’s Jesus’ job. He only told them to go forth and make disciples of all nations, and one can’t do that by simply changing behaviors. In fact, we can’t do that at all. We go forth (whether abroad or simply to work or even just Pajiba, apparently) and preach the gospel and God changes hearts.

I hope I haven’t completely bungled this; my thoughts are kind of all over the place and I’m certain that I’m going to read over this later and wish that I’d said this or not said that or said this and that differently. But please bear with me; I’m doing my best, and even that might take a few tries.

Thanks again, though, alon, for your thoughtful comments. You raised a lot of great points; I wish I could have done a better job of addressing them.

Mike B. “And I happen to believe that mankind was created to love God. We are happiest when we love Him and trust in Him. And, as a woman, I was created to love my home and the people in it. I will be happiest when I love it and them and find satisfaction in making it a place that reflects my love for God and for my family.” There’s a lot wrong with this thesis: (1) “And I happen to believe that mankind was created to love God.” Much like couples who have a baby to save their marriage, creating a human to fix an emptiness is selfish. It’s also akin to starting one’s own fanclub.”

Actually, I never said that God created us to fill an emptiness in Himself. God doesn’t need us. The Bible doesn’t tell us why God created us beyond saying that it pleased Him to do so.

Did He create us to praise Him? The Bible tells us that He did. This may seem selfish at first, but is it really selfish if He really deserves all the praise?

That, and, if He’s perfect as the Bible says, then He can want us to praise Him without any wrong motivation. When God does it, it’s right because He’s God.

I know I keep apologizing about not explaining things well enough, but my brain is just too small to grasp a God who is bigger than I. That said, I hope my explanation makes some sense to you or at least shows you why I believe God didn’t create us out of selfish reasons.

(2) “We are happiest when we love Him and trust in Him.” I quibble with “we.” I’m as happy as I can be most of the time, and I do not love God. In my younger years, when I believed in — and maybe even loved — God, many a miserable night was spent trying to talk to Him. I was certainly not at my happiest. He certainly didn’t prove trustworthy. My atheism, though, didn’t grow out of an “I’m mad at you!” stance towards God. My atheism made the world make more sense than my belief ever did.

This is going to be sticky… there’s no way to say this without stepping on toes… but I guess it has to come out, so here goes: You may be happy, Mike, maybe even REALLY happy, but I still believe that you could be happier. And I’m not saying that the answer to this is to simply pick up a Bible and start reading. It’s not that simple because you can’t just make yourself start believing something.

What makes you happy? Comfortable circumstances? People? Simple pleasures, like reading one of Prisco’s reviews on Pajiba? Those are all wonderful things, and definitely things that make me happy, but those are all temporary. Those who find joy in God find a permanent joy that will never fade.

But you tried the God thing and it made you miserable. Now, I say this with much respect: have you ever considered that you weren’t praying to the God of the Bible? Lots of people believe in God; few believe in the God of the Bible, and even fewer believe in Him to redeem them.

I’m not saying that you weren’t genuine or sincere in your pursuit of God. I just know that there are a lot of churches out there that don’t teach the Bible — they teach philosophy and moralism and psychology with a little Scripture thrown in to give it a semblance of authority.

I don’t know the circumstances of your previous experience with God and the church, so I can’t really say more than that about your personal experience. But I believe the Bible to be true, and those I know who have put their faith in Jesus Christ are proving this principle of joy out through their lives in a variety of circumstances, trials, and difficulties.

Oh, and about my usage of “we”: my bad. The flood of non-Christians to my blog is a relatively new phenomenon and I’m still used to writing for a mostly Christian audience — “we”. I’ll try to keep that in mind in my future writings.

That said, I meant the “we” in the sentence you quoted. I believe that this applies to all mankind. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t bother having this conversation.

(3) “And, as a woman, I was created to love my home and the people in it.” And men do not love their homes, and the people in it? Or men weren’t created for that? If anything, as a human you were created to love the world. Plus, the sentiment smacks of, “As a lady, I find math difficult. Fortunately, you should see my floors!”

Hahaha, that last bit made me laugh because my floors are absolutely filthy right now.

Sorry about that sentence; I think it was confusing. In Christian jargon, to “love” one’s home is to love being there and taking care of it — including the floors you mentioned. To love the people in it is to care for their most basic needs.

Men love the home, sure. Some even enjoy doing the dishes or vacuuming. But their primary role is to support their family and to be the breadwinner. If a man quits his job so that he can stay home and help his wife with the floors, then he’s not fulfilling the role for which he was created.

And taking care of a home is so much more than floors. It’s creating a welcoming and comforting atmosphere. It’s setting the mood in the home so that it’s a refuge for one’s family.

Maybe that smacks a little of “I’m too stupid to do anything but clean.” I assure you that this is not the case. The best stay-at-home moms I know are the smartest ones. They have the killer instinct and the quick wit. That’s how they’re able to juggle so much at once. Working in the home is NO PICNIC and it’s certainly neither easy nor glamorous. It’s a thankless job, for the most part. But the women I know who do it, love it.

(4) “I will be happiest when I love it and them and find satisfaction in making it a place that reflects my love for God and for my family.” Woe, then, to the woman who has no family, who has no home. Who has no family because she doesn’t want one, or because she can’t create one. Where is her happiness if she never achieves familyhood? Has she failed God? Has she failed us?

I laughed at this part, too, because I’m totally still single and living at home. I have no family of my own, but I have parents and a sister under the same roof. This home isn’t mine; it’s my parents’. But I can still apply the principles of loving the home and the family.

My parents love that I don’t mind living at home and helping them with stuff. It’s not just stuff around the house, either — I help them manage some properties they own and I explain all of the official letters they get from the IRS and other government agencies because their English isn’t great, and I even cook for them on occasion. They love me for this. And I love them, so it makes me happy to make them happy in this way.

Now if I had the opportunity to move out and they were okay with it, I totally would. I think they want me to get out there and be on my own eventually, but right now they kind of still need me.

What about the girl who has no immediate family or whose family wants nothing to do with her?

Well, the Bible likens Christians to family. They’re a spiritual family. You don’t have to live with them (especially if they don’t ask you to move in) in order to show them love. There are dozens of practical ways to love other people, even if you’re not under the same roof.

That’s why I wrote what I did. I felt that her thesis wasn’t at all inclusive, because, paradoxically it seems, she made it too inclusive. I am very happy with my life. Not always, certainly, and it’s a process, of course. But I am happy with my life that lacks God. So the “we” that Jelinas introduces in her thesis leaves me out. In fact, it would almost seem to suggest that Jelinas doesn’t believe I could have any level of happiness. And that’s just not the case.

Once again, I never meant that no one can ever experience any measure of happiness without God. If this were true, then every church would be bursting at the seams. The concept of common grace is what we’re looking at, here: blessings that God gives to all of mankind, things that are common to every life. Happiness is part of the human experience, just the same as suffering and sadness are.

But the Bible tells us that ultimate joy comes of doing God’s will.

Of all of the comments, Mike, I thought yours was the most raw and personal. I’ve gotta give it up to you for baring your soul like that. I really appreciated your willingness to put not only your beliefs, but really yourself out on the line, here.

And, for what it’s worth, I’m glad that your life isn’t miserable. 😉

anhelo: I think the best thing to do would be to go to the source, and in this case that would be the bible and most likely your spiritual leader.

I couldn’t agree more, dude, and the former before the latter for sure. Makes me want to grab my Bible, a good friend, and head out for some Korean food and a rousing discussion about what I’ve been learning about the Bible lately.

Frank Stein: But does the book address body thetans and their removal?

That made me snort Diet Coke. AHAHAHA!!!!

Brenton: What’s a legalist?

Excellent, excellent question, Brenton. A legalist is someone who tries to earn God’s favor by their works: good deeds, obedience to the Bible, spiritual “merit badges”, if you will. The quintessential legalists were Pharisees, and Jesus had some pretty harsh words for that lot. He accused them of being whitewashed tombs: all pristine on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones on the inside. They worked really hard on doing the right thing and living good lives — all the while patting themselves on the back and priding themselves in being better than everyone else.

The Bible is clear: we aren’t saved or redeemed by our own merits. We are saved and redeemed by the merits of faith in Jesus Christ.

Legalism is pretty insidious, though. It creeps in where you didn’t think it existed. It often manifests itself in being judgmental. If someone doesn’t read the Bible the way you do, then they’re wrong. If someone drinks alcohol and you don’t, then they’re sinning. If someone doesn’t drink alcohol and you do, then they’re immature.

Ultimately, though, I’ve seen it most often in my life in thoughts like this: “I’m such a faithful Christian. I read my Bible every day this week.” As though reading the Bible makes me a good enough person to get to heaven on my own merit! This kind of thinking implies that I don’t need Jesus; that I can save myself. This is a LIE. I’m no better than anyone else around me, including thread trolls. I need Jesus to save me.

And once a person realizes that she’s only getting to heaven because Jesus paid her way, she realizes that she has no right to scoff at others’ mistakes when she’s made so many herself.

Conversely, legalism can also manifest in self-flagellation. When we don’t live up to our own expectations for ourselves, we get all depressed and we feel worthless. We deride ourselves and moan. But the person who truly believes that their passage to heaven has been paid by Christ knows that God doesn’t love us any more on the days when we’re doing well than on the days that we’re not. He loves us the same every day.

So the last thing I want to do is give myself a list of tasks to complete like the authors of Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God kind of did. If I completed that list, it would be very difficult for me to give credit to God instead of to myself. And if I didn’t complete it, then I would feel like a worthless failure — because I didn’t finish some stupid list! And I’m not worthless — the God of the universe loved me enough to die for me! How’s that for worth?

Aside: Sorry about that, Mike B.; that was a pretty blatant go-back on my promise to be more conscientious in my usage of “we”. I got carried away.

DeistBrawler: Wanted to get my two cents in and actually say that yes, for once, the Brawler has decided not to brawl.

Thanks, DB. I think I can understand you. I, for the most part, try not to deliberately stir up arguments about faith. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When I come to Pajiba, I’m coming as a guest. You don’t walk into your host’s home and start sneering at the way he’s decorated the place; that’s just rude. Actually, sneering is just rude in general.

Since the landscape of Pajiba is largely liberal, I keep my conservative trap shut out of respect for the host. Now, when Pajiba chooses to ask me point-blank what I think (say, by posting on the site a review that was clearly marked as a Regular Read — btw, Rowles, remind me to thank you again for doing that. You have no idea how much sleep I’ve lost since the day it was posted), then I feel free to talk about it.

And I can appreciate that, when someone like me has the floor, you let me have it.

Not to say that anyone who disagreed with me was being rude; on the contrary, I was so glad that it stirred up such a great discussion. But I think I can get DB‘s thinking behind his decision not to throw his hat in the ring, and I can respect that just as much as I respect those who dove right in.

If I’m off the mark there, DeistBrawler, do feel free to correct me. Or not. This is America. You can do or not do what you want. 😉

fifteenkeys: Listen, I’m all glad that you believe whatever things you do, but that shouldn’t shield you from the criticism that this site demands to be cast upon you. Unfortunately, I think it has.

I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think some people agree with some of the things I said. Some disagreed and they said so plainly — and their comments were just as welcome as my review. While Pajiba is ostensibly a scathing place, I think there’s a definite undercurrent of respect and camaraderie here. If people are “shielding” me, I don’t think it’s because of what I believe. I think it’s because of a mutual respect that Pajibans have for one another.

Those who know me from the threads know that I’m not a complete fool. I have decent taste in movies and books and TV. Not everyone believes in God like I do. Not everyone loved (500) Days of Summer like I did. But they believe that I have a right to have an opinion about it and I believe that they have that same right, and we all believe that talking about it can be fruitful and very, very, very entertaining.

And so, in the words of the Man Himself: “It is finished.”

Is that sacrilegious? Or sacrilicious? I’m sleepy.

Thanks to those of you who stuck around to read my responses (at this point, probably only Andrew and alon). I’m sorry it took me so long and that even when I did it, it was kinda slapped together. But I really appreciated the conversation and the unexpected friendships that have kind of grown out of this.

Oh, and speaking of which: my conversation with Andrew is ongoing. We’re still discussing this, and I’ll be posting a blog relating to this thread under a new category I’ve created on the blog: “A Civil Conversation”. I figure I’ll post a blog and Andrew can either respond in the comments or post to his own blog (do you have one, Andrew? I haven’t seen a link) and post the link in the comments.

And we can go back and forth forever on this! YAY! *kisses sleep goodbye*

If you’d like to participate in that, too, then please comment away! I’m sure Andrew wouldn’t mind!

Thanks again, everybody, for your thoughts and opinions on this matter. Obviously, it’s a subject that’s very important to a lot of people, and I’m glad that I got the chance to discuss it with you guys. 🙂