March 29, 2013

What Did Jesus Save Us From?

Posted in bible, mythology, theodicy at 8:22 am by Jerry

Demonology and the End Times are subjects that I’ve experienced very little education about in the churches or bible schools I’ve attended. I didn’t know if it was because the jury was still out on the biblical interpretations of these subjects or the cringe factor of these subjects alone. I still don’t know. But every now and then I hear Christians refer to Satan and his demons, or the End Times, when trying to articulate a past or future consequence.

This video I just watched draws attention to the need to separate the causation of evil from God…

…and it reminded me of my own struggle over the passage in Isaiah 45:7 that says,

I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the Lord, do all these things.

This verse isn’t just saying that God can be a trouble-maker, but that he creates “calamities” or “discords”, which sounded (and still sounds) similar to the behaviours of the greek gods I’ve read about. (See also Amos 3:6; and Lamentations 3:38.) And though it’s obvious to some like myself that God (or the gods) is portrayed as a cosmic bully, I’ve heard many attempt to justify this behaviour as divine corporal punishment for the immoral acts of humanity. In other words, God responds to our actions he disapproves of with violence.

This is just another example of how I end up in a place that challenges the view of God being perfectly good. But when I express this result, I’m consistently approached by Christians saying that no one is qualified to challenge God’s moral behaviour. We can’t fault God… we have to blame it on ourselves if it’s a moral calamity and on Satan and his demons if it’s a natural calamity… Or.. I mean.. natural calamities are a result of humanity’s moral calamities… The science? …Well, I guess we just don’t know why natural calamities happen.. or why God chooses to let them happen.

This weekend is Easter weekend. What use to be a time to celebrate the heart of what my religious culture brought me up on. “Jesus Saves!” But saves me from what, exactly?

From death? How is that naturally possible or even good for the natural world?

From sin or imperfection? How is this accomplished with free minds?

From Hell? Really? He’ll keep me from anything good just because I don’t like the guy?

From Satan and his demons? Who’s going to admit to this… out loud… in public?

If God/Jesus exists, I wish he would save us from the disasters/calamities he supposedly said he creates himself. You know? If the so-called “Saviour” could start saving us from his own crap first, that’d be cool.

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January 2, 2010

Pop Theodicy Part 2: Self-Imposed Prisons

Posted in art, atheism, church, culture, politics, scripture, theodicy at 10:02 am by Jerry

Self-Limiting Freewill

“You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’  But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” – says Jesus in Matthew 5:38-41

According to this verse, we are NOT free to put limits on another’s behaviour. And from what I grew up hearing in the church, even God’s expressed will is now touted as merely invitation, seeking permission to intervene. I suppose that’s why it’s also often said by Christians, “I agree with C.S.Lewis when he said in his book, The Problem of Pain, ‘Hell is locked from the inside'”.

Interesting. And yet, I’ve never heard any Christian state they believe it’s quite possible that some of those who will be (or are) in the never-ending hell will manage to make their way out. Of all the various spiritual journeys hell-bound people are on, will none of them find “salvation”? Or is it, in the grand scale of things, these people are destined to stay in hell? Sounds deterministic to me.

Also, if C.S.Lewis says it, is it necessarily biblical? In one of his stories about heaven and hell, Jesus says,

“And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.” (Luke 16:26).

It looks like God has only made freewill available to us during the years we spend on earth, and the afterlife exists without the highly praised freewill we’ve been talkin’ about.

Christianity For the Abolishment of State Prisons

So what does this earthly-bound freewill look like? Our societies of voting citizens, judges, politicians, lawyers and officers deem it NECESSARY and JUST to limit a citizen’s freewill for the purpose of protecting our societies from greater dangers than restricting the limits of our freewill. For example, though consistent with their theology, is it reasonable for the christian church to expect our society to hand over the keys to dangerous criminals in state prisons, freeing them to be the only ones to lock themselves in jail, if they so choose to?

Obviously, not. It’s absurd. And so is the freewill argument.

Pop Theodicy Part 1: Parenting

Posted in atheism, culture, family, fatherhood, politics, scripture, theodicy at 10:00 am by Jerry

Freewill Among the Naive

Genesis 2:9 – And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… 16And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

What kind of father or mother would plant a poisonous tree (literal or metaphorical) in their children’s playground and think a warning makes it okay?

Freewill For The Criminally Insane

Genesis 3:1 – Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Revelation 12:9– And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. [underlining mine]

What kind of Supreme Judge and parent, with knowledge beyond a shadow of a doubt that an individual will cause the most harm to humanity in the near future, leaves this criminally insane individual free to roam into his or her children’s playground?

Conclusion: God isn’t fit to be any type of parent and should have his children taken away from him for Contributory Negligence.

November 30, 2007

Everything is Permitted

Posted in atheism, church, philosophy of religion, psychology of religion, theodicy, theology at 10:39 am by Jerry

I just finished reading Philosophers Without Gods (subtitled – Meditations On Atheism and the Secular Life) edited by Louise M. Antony. It was a good read. Funny thing, though, while I read it I couldn’t help but think about another book I read years ago (which I may have to visit again for old times sake). And speaking of re-reading, there may be a few chapters from the former book that I might have to give a second read as well.

One common subject discussed (and apparently written about in a novel I never seem to get back to), is the assumed non-existence of morality if God were not to exist. I was getting tired of hearing about this subject (especially from Christians) until I read the last line in the last chapter, written by Jonathon E. Adler. Adler turns the tired adage “If God is Dead, Everything is Permitted” on its head by writing: “If God is Alive, Everything is Permitted.” These words stood out to me more than anything else he wrote in the chapter.

Saying that everything would be permitted if God didn’t exist means that not only would you be able to do whatever you wanted, but everyone else would be able to do whatever they wanted to you. Really? Would anyone let anyone one else do anything to them? Come on, let’s be realistic here.

But on the other hand, does Adler have a valid point? If God exists, is God permitted to do everything? Now let me clarify. I didn’t ask – if God exists, doesn’t he permit himself to do anything? I’m talking about the human perspective, a perspective we can all acknowledge exists.

God is free to do anything without question from his followers. According to his followers, God is accountable to no one. Why would he be if he is believed to be omni-benevolent? His holy and perfect righteousness affords complete trust, doesn’t it? What could be considered by non-God-followers as evil committed by God will always be considered by his followers as a righteous act perceived as evil by non-God-followers, who need reminding of their human ignorance and fallibility.

For example, I have yet to find an adequate ethical justification for the genocide acts condoned by the God of the Old Testament. Why is it wrong to commit genocidal acts in the twentieth century, and yet permissible (and justified “for that time”) millenniums ago? Or, why is torture considered wrong by most of the world, and yet is accepted as a valid form of ethical reckoning in the afterlife for anyone who is not a follower of a certain religious creed?

I don’t see how the same evil behavior committed by human beings becomes “good” when it is committed by God. Calling inhumane acts “Divine Justice” doesn’t make them just. But no true follower of God would ever say they don’t permit God to do certain things.

And so, for God, from the perspectives of his followers, everything is permitted.

November 12, 2007

Immaculate Memories

Posted in art, atheism, history, philosophy of religion, politics, psychology of religion, scripture, theodicy at 2:24 pm by Jerry

Yesterday, while others were on they’re way home from church, Becky and I had our version of church moments as we listened to a CBC radio program honoring all those who have fought for our country. While driving on the highway with a Tim Hortons coffee in hand, we heard spoken word and song expressed in what we thought to be a deeply spiritual form.

I love the principle behind Remembrance Day – don’t forget the heroes who fought another’s desire to silence your voice, some of them dying while fighting to maintain our democratic freedoms. And don’t forget what went wrong to require such an unfortunate sacrifice. To me, Remembrance Day teaches us an example of what to do and what not to do. To me, remembrance is about learning who we are and who we want to be.

But sometimes, there is this crazy notion that we should want to forget the problems of the past. Even when forgiveness has been found, and reconciliation is on its way, it still isn’t enough – we should want to forget any trouble that ever existed. We should want to make attempts to turn back the clock before everything went wrong in order to achieve a child-like innocence of bad choices and unfortunate mistakes – while maintaining/seeking wisdom. You’ll find this contradictory notion taught from the Christian Bible in churches:

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. Matthew 10:16 (NASB)

Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature. 1Corinthians 14:20 (NASB)

For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. Romans 16:19 (NASB)

These verses are more examples to me of irrational thinking. How can you be wise and ignorant of evil at the same time? It’s not possible. And no matter how hard we pursue nostalgic ignorance, our world is not such that we can reverse experiences of it. Not until we die will we lose, along with our life, memories (attainable or not) of the evil that resides with the good. But, of course, Christians believe in the afterlife which adds an incommensurable dimension to reality.

I don’t struggle so much over whether the afterlife exists than what Christians are hoping to gain from it…

[A Virgin, a Child, and a Lamb – along with the Dove, these ultimate symbols of innocence are most predominantly found in Christianity.]

Lately I’ve been describing to others what I, as an atheist, imagined to be a most ethical heaven. Interestingly enough, my responses from those people so far are that they consider my Heaven to be their Hell. This is because I said I’d like to think of heaven as the best learning environment for everyone to develop a healthy, mature, moral mind of their own (with God’s help if they wanted).

This moral mind of our own would mean that heavenly justice would involve more truthful rememberings, and therefore, a more truthful self-awareness of what are the wrongs we’re responsible for committing (intentionally and unintentionally). It would mean finding the feeling of shame in our expression of the word “my” when it precedes the feeling of guilt in our expression of the words “own hurtful actions”.

We can make people/criminals feel guilty for doing wrong in-the-eyes-of-another, but we can’t make people/criminals feel shame. Shame starts from within us. And it’s a means of personal change initiated by oneself. And the change can only be for the better when it’s understood (through increased skills to empathize with our victims) that disappearing will not benefit those we’ve hurt. Nothing can erase the damage done. But the best compensation for our victims is gaining healthier relationships. And the best way for victims to receive justice is to help the wrong-doer find their own true shame.

For some reason, those I’ve talked to would rather have the traditional Hell described in their scriptures than the heaven I’ve described above. Their kind of Hell inflicts “justice” on those who don’t love Jesus more than their own family.

He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. – Matthew 10:37-39 (NASB)

Yes, these people should definitely be banished into some kind place for torturous punishment, adding to whatever hurt they (like all of us) have already done to themselves (feel the sarcasm here). How does this make any sense? And Christians have told me they are able to live with this idea because in heaven…

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 (NASB)

In essence, their conscience will be exchanged for a life of purity, while next door…

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. Revelation 21:8 (NASB)

To me, the pursuit of immaculate memories is a denial of significant markers in our lives that help define who we are and how we’ve come to be who we are. To me, identity is more than just the existential present us, it is also the essential us that has remained throughout our journey. I will not give up my memories of the trials we’ve overcome, nor the memories of our sacrifices to overcome them. Our personal histories are not renewable, they cannot be redeemed. Its unrealistic to make amends for the memory of past sins, nor atone for them.

Falsifying our personal history by censuring it is a crime. History should reveal the world of the adult along with the world of the child, memories of the good, and bad, in all.

September 13, 2007

Placebo Paradise

Posted in church, culture, mythology, philosophy, psychology of religion, theodicy at 8:51 am by Jerry

More dialogue with fellow blogger that makes me want to record some of the responses. Although, due to either technical difficulties or censoring, this response has yet to be published on Ryan’s blog… [Edit: It was in fact a technical difficulty. And I assumed censoring my comments was an option Ryan might consider (lumping him with others who have indeed blocked my comments). My apologies to Ryan.]

Ryan,

You said, “Affirming a strong connection between goodness and truth doesn’t change the fact that the world is not yet as it ought to be, nor is this affirmation invalidated, from my perspective, by specific instances where good results come through less than ideal means or sources.”

I think it has been a consistent characteristic within the history of humanity to want to know that the trouble in our lives will be resolved in the end and everybody (at least, everybody that ultimately matters) will live happily ever after.

And when an individual/community cannot find strength and hope in the present goodness of life, false hope (like a placebo of “illusion or the projection of human fantasies”) is a life saver, providing badly needed comfort and security.

These fantasies of salvation may require a lot of mythical/philosophical abstractions – which can be a great exercise for the mind – as Freud pointed out. Although, ideally, I think people should outgrow the need for a placebo. But until then, trying to reveal the placebo may be detrimental to their overall health. Perhaps, Freud knew this as well.

A pleasure as always,
Jerry

February 14, 2007

Is Truth Your Valentine?

Posted in culture, philosophy, psychology, scripture, theodicy at 10:34 am by Jerry

Is it just me or are there others who have assumed we should love ALL truth? Truth is considered to be good and healthy. Why shouldn’t we love it?

In the bible it says, “The truth will make you free,” – John 8:32; and “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth,” – 1 John 5:6. I suppose, truth is omniscient, whether there is a personal Keeper of it or not. But does that mean all truth is worthy of our love? What about the dark side of truth?

It may be convenient at times to live a lie, but deep down, I think we all want to be true to ourselves, and to others. Yet, this conviction requires us to also look at the truths of evil all around us (and in us). It challenges us to remove the wrong in our lives – which will always be impossible in part. No one is capable of ridding themselves of all wrongs.

So what do we do about the truth of the evil that won’t go away? If we can’t solve the problem of evil, should we just ignore the truth of it? Repress it? Stick our head in the sand when it finds us? Because, if we accept the reality that evil has existed for a long time and will continue to do so, and we claim this to be true, how can we love this truth?

Somehow, I had it in my head that it would be wrong of me to hate any truths. That hating something I call “good and healthy” would be an evil act — as if it were blasphemy! What’s so wrong with just looking directly into the truth of evil’s persistence and not only hating the evil but also hating the truth that evil never completely goes away? We either love it, hate it, or become indifferent to it.

I can tell you where I stand — I HATE IT!

The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it. – Flannery O’Connor

October 5, 2006

What Would Forgiveness Do?

Posted in culture, philosophy, psychology, theodicy, theology at 11:57 am by Jerry

Would forgiveness get to the root of the problem or would it merely scratch the surface?

Is forgiving someone an attempt to feel better about ourselves by recognizing the plight of others? Can forgiveness condone wrong behaviour? Does forgiveness excuse evil? Is forgiveness an act of repressing or covering hurt feelings? Is there a “Humpty Dumpty” version of forgiveness?

Personal Conclusions on What-Forgiveness-Would-Do-For-Me:

I want my forgiveness for those who hurt me, and what they did, earned. But I admit, I’m afraid of putting myself in the position of earning another’s forgiveness. Even if my potential forgivers do not act as if they own me, or ask me to do immoral tasks, I’m afraid they will require more from me than I think is necessary, knowing it ultimately isn’t up to me to set the standard for earning their forgiveness.

But I feel there is no better option. To me, forgiveness as a gift leaves the one person who wants forgiveness given or received, stranded. If the one I wronged refuses to forgive, then there’s simply nothing I can do to achieve forgiveness. Or if I am the one to create this gift of forgiveness without the wrongdoers, I’ll have no peace about the lack of peace in those who are aware they’ve wronged me. Whatever “peace” I’d feel in that position is not forgiveness, that’s revenge.

And for those completely unaware of how they hurt me, I want them aware of it. If I want justice, I deserve justice. But like I said in the first installment of this three-part series,

We’re not able to take a good look at the bad qualities of ourselves and others, all at once, in their entirety. (I haven’t met anyone who says they can.) We need small bites we can chew, and eventually, swallow.

Authentic forgiveness may require alot of time and effort to develop mutual empathy (perceived by both parties), but at least the forgiveness would be authentic. Those involved would be doing what any two people in a relationship should be doing — communicating.

August 5, 2006

God Charged with the Sin of Omission

Posted in scripture, theodicy at 11:20 am by Jerry

Step right up to Make-Your-Very-Own-Theodicy right here…

The all-knowing, all-powerful, wholly good Being known as God is charged with the Sin of Omission:

Omission

(Latin omittere, to lay aside, to pass away).

“Omission” is here taken to be the failure to do something one can and ought to do. If this happens advertently and freely a sin is committed. Moralists took pains formerly to show that the inaction implied in an omission was quite compatible with a breach of the moral law, for it is not merely because a person here and now does nothing that he offends, but because he neglects to act under circumstances in which he can and ought to act.

The degree of guilt incurred by an omission is measured like that attaching to sins of commission, by the dignity of the virtue and the magnitude of the precept to which the omission is opposed as well as the amount of deliberation. In general, according to St. Thomas, the sin of omission consisting as it does in a leaving out of good is less grievous than a sin of commission which involves a positive taking up with evil.

There are, of course, cases in which on account of the special subject matter and circumstances it may happen that an omission is more heinous. It may be asked at what time one incurs the guilt of a sin of omission in case he fails to do something which he is unable to do, by reason of a cause for which he is entirely responsible.

For instance, if a person fails to perform a duty in the morning as a result of becoming inebriated the previous night. The guilt is not incurred at the time the duty should be performed because while intoxicated he is incapable of moral guilt. The answer seems to be that he becomes responsible for the omission when having sufficiently foreseen that his neglect will follow upon his intoxication he does nevertheless surrender himself to his craving for liquor.

via

The Charge:

41″Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;

42for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink;

43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’

44″Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’

45″Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

46″These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25 (NASB)

STATEMENT: The all-knowing, all-powerful, wholly good Being, at least, is indirectly responsible for human suffering because this Being is aware of all human suffering and has not used any power to extinguish it. If this statement is true, it begs this question — How does a wholly good Being justify the existence of human suffering and the inaction to extinguish it?

If you believe every human being should obey all commands from this all-knowing, all-powerful, wholly good Being, then you must do your part in providing them with a clear conscience to do so…

In Make-Your-Very-Own-Theodicy we can help you answer this question. Just describe in the space following “The Lesser Evil =” what you consider to be the worst human suffering ever experienced.

The Lesser Evil =

Then, describe a greater evil the all-knowing, all-powerful, wholly good Being is stopping from existing yet results in the existence of the lesser evil you’ve described above.

[DISCLAIMER: Theodicys do not rid participants of both greater evils and lesser evils. They merely justify the lesser evils.]

March 20, 2006

Should I feel better?

Posted in psychology, theodicy at 4:08 pm by Jerry

Should I feel better about my troubles because others are suffering so much more than I do?

There are people in this world that are poorer than me, have less friends, less education. They lose family members to war, crime, differences in beliefs. Their relationships are so much more dysfunctional than mine. They have less experiences of people being gracious, giving, loving, caring, enlightening.

Should I use their greater plight to soften the blow of my own bad experiences?

And what should those, who don’t have worse comparisons, use to make themselves feel better?

When times are hard, and comfort is scarce, should we tap into our competitive nature to avoid being the Ultimate Loser? Should this make us feel better?

I’ve never said anything to people who use this method to make themselves feel better because it’s not exactly context friendly at that moment. Besides, I can’t recall, but I’ve probably used this method myself. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to rant about this pet-peeve of mine.

Some might say, “Are you offering any alternatives, wise guy?”

No. I’m not offering alternatives. We all have to work hard at creating proper theodicies (see Theodicy definition in my post Theodicy – Part I) to meet the complexities of our individual lives. Maybe when we’ve done some work on our own, we can come together and share our responses to the bad things that happen in our lives and question what is proper.

In my last theodicy post on reviewing the book Evil in Modern Thought (Theodicy – Part IIIb) I gave some general thoughts about how I should consider responding to evil. It talks about the challenge of being empathetic. I suppose a sign for me that I’ve failed to truly empathize with others’ suffering is if I objectify their suffering by making their suffering a means to make me feel better about my own suffering.

I’m not saying we can’t make ourselves aware of greater sufferings and learn from the wise methods others use to respond to their sufferings. I’m just challenging the motives/intentions behind our desires to “gain some perspective”.

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