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My Take: God no longer in the whirlwind
Seeing the wrath of God in natural disasters was once commonplace.
August 28th, 2011
04:56 PM ET

My Take: God no longer in the whirlwind

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

As I am riding out Hurricane Irene on Cape Cod, I cannot help thinking about how differently New Englanders in colonial times interpreted these natural disasters. While we speak of the eye of the hurricane, they were ever mindful of the eye of a God who was watching over them, and sending storms their way as punishment for their collective sins.

A fierce debate among academics about secularization theory–the view that societies will become less religious as they modernize–seems to have been won by the skeptics.

Yes, secularization of a sort is happening, but only in certain places (western Europe, most notably). And it seems to be reversible (see the United States today vs. the United States in the 1970s). So simple versions of secularization theory seem just plain wrong.

However, one place where American society, at least, plainly seems to be growing less religious is in the realm of natural disasters.

When the Great Colonial Hurricane raced up the east coast and lashed New England in August 1635, its 130 mph winds and 21-foot storm surge were almost universally viewed in supernatural rather than natural terms—as a judgment of God on the unfaithful.

We still have Puritans among us today, of course.

Pat Robertson is notorious for turning natural disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and Hurricane Katrina into supernatural communications—God’s curse on Haiti or New Orleans for bad religion or widespread abortions.

And on the radio a couple days ago I heard a talk show host suggest that the one-two punch of the recent earthquake and hurricane were two thumbs down from God on the leadership of Barack Obama.

Still, American society as a whole no longer interprets natural disasters as signs of some coming apocalypse or evidence of some past misdeeds. And those that do (Robertson, for example) we generally regard as cranks and outliers—relics of a bygone age.

Some say science and religion are engaged in a battle for the soul of America. I don’t buy that.

I know there are bitter divisions over evolution and creationism, for example. But there are all sorts of spiritual arenas where science is mum, and vice versa. Science and religion run on parallel tracks far more often than those tracks intersect.

Hurricanes and earthquakes are one arena, however, where the language of science has almost entirely routed the language of theology.

Psalms 107:25-33 reads: “For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. . . . He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground."

Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans—including the overwhelming majority of American Christians—believe that when God has something to say He speaks in less dramatic ways, including the still small voices in our hearts and the slightly louder voices of the preachers in our pulpits.

When it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, however, our authorities are geologists and meteorologists. Most of us interpret these events not through the rumblings of the biblical prophet Jeremiah or the poetry of the Book of Revelation but through the scientific truths of air pressure and tectonic plates.

As a result of this sort of secularization, we are much better at predicting the course of hurricanes. The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 arrived as a surprise and took many lives with it, including, according to the report of the Massachusetts governor John Winthrop, those of eight Native Americans taken by the storm surge while “flying from their wigwams.”

So we are better prepared, thank science. Our stories are far less dramatic, however. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in God. But their God no longer acts out his fury as in Bible days.  Our storms have not yet been tamed. But our God has.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Belief • Faith • Science

soundoff (2,530 Responses)
  1. Maryam Nihart

    My husband and I are over $50k upside down in our mortgage. We owe about $240, and the most our house will probably bring $185k tops. It is beginning harder and harder to maintain payments along with every day expenses. We want to be proactive and do something before we become delinquent. We consulted a realtor, and she told us our only option is a short sale. I have been reading a lot about short sales and all the different options we may have. I read all your stories and wanted to inquire about an FHA lender in the state of Virginia that may consider lending us mortgage funds once we have downsized and gotten back on our feet. We don't plan on becoming deliquent on our payments, we just want to get out and start over before that happens. Please let me know what you think about this.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:10 am |
  2. Great job on this article. I haven't read anything this thought-provoking in a long, long time. I agree with much of what you have stated. This is well laid out and written in my opinion.

    Let's look at the bigger financial picture for just the last two weeks.

    December 2, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
  3. John690

    Very nice site!

    November 19, 2011 at 1:34 am |
  4. Huw

    The author of this article is unconverted and this is what I would expect him to say. He is proof of the wrath of Elohim because he has been judicially blinded. His Theology has not saved him which again is proof of the veracity of scripture. There are so many scriptures being fulfilled in this mans life that by reading his article my trust has increased.

    "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools".amen.

    September 26, 2011 at 5:30 am |
  5. Jen

    I work for a law firm. Once we needed a minor child to testify in court. The first thing we had to do is take the parent aside and say, "Does he/she still believe in Santa Claus? Yes? Then you have to tell him/her, right now, that there's no such thing." Why? Because we knew the first thing opposing counsel would do is ask the kid, "Did Santa bring you a lot of presents this year?" And after the kid enthusiastically described whatever Santa brought him, the opposing counsel would then tell the judge, "This witness is not competent to testify. He/she can't tell reality from fantasy." And just like that, our case would be over. There's nothing quite like teaching a seven-year-old to roll his/her eyes and say, "There's no such thing as Santa Claus, mister." File this under Things They Don't Tell You In Paralegal School.

    September 13, 2011 at 8:03 am |
  6. fred

    Free,
    >” If you're just talking about theory of mind, then mine is functioning normally”
    Actually, belief in a “higher power” is normal. You are on the far outside of any normal bell curve. Forget about if believers are logical or not , it does not matter as you are outside of the norm. You seem nice enough so I will assume you do not suffer from antisocial personality disorder which 2% or 6 million Americans suffer from. This is considered abnormal behavior. Atheists and agnostics number about the same (1.6-2%) so that translates to your having an abnormal behavior or mind (since you believe you are controlled by your mind). I know that we do not use the words abnormal because it offends people but, you must admit your mind is not functioning “normally”.
    You and Jesus would have been stoned 2,000 years ago. Yet, the life of Jesus was resurrected whereas I am not aware of any atheist having power after death. Why is it normal to resurrect and follow the life of Jesus today? Over the past men also followed different gods this was normal behavior. Only, an abnormal minority would follow a godless, dark cult, satin etc. The Bible says the Devil will come in sheep’s clothing and we see in the beginning deceit was the tool to trick man. Clearly men prefer to follow truth unless deceived. The thought that there is no God does not work and is not normal thus deceit must be used. Science can throw up a nice smoke screen yet at the end of the day scientists are empty handed to explain life after death.
    Look at the natural world. Evolutionists say we have some old stuff in our DNA to aid in survival. If there was a lion on the hill and a bunch of people running in one direction except 2% of the herd that ran the other way who gets the focus? ……food for thought

    As to Paul his conversion was unique as it brought us what we have today (whether you or others believe the account or not).

    September 6, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Free

      fred
      Have you ever heard of a "God Helmet"? It basically triggers the effect of feeling a divine presence by subjecting the brain to weak magnetic pulses, but some drugs and other conditions have done the same. In short, the brain is a very complex thing, but it can be easily fooled. Take optic illusions as another example.

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6uc72-jKBU&w=640&h=360]

      Most people think they see the dots at the intersections but, by now, are well aware that this is a trick being played by our minds. Think of the feeling that people have of spiritual presences as a similar illusion, except that very few people are actually aware that it is one. We atheists may still feel these things, but we have experiences or education that leads us away from jumping to the supernatural assumption.

      "The thought that there is no God does not work and is not normal thus deceit must be used."
      Sure it works and is normal. Children believe in invisible monsters under their beds, are convinced of it no matter how reassuring you as a parent are, but we know they aren't actually real, right? Kids grow out of this over time with no deceit necessary. It's a shame that adults don't all grow out of their God belief in the same way.

      "As to Paul his conversion was unique as it brought us what we have today"
      But, would the world not have been a better place without Paul's triggering 2000 years of antisemitism and hom.ophobia?

      September 7, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • fred

      Free,
      > It's a shame that adults don't all grow out of their God belief in the same way
      I would have a problem there only because other kids would tell me of the Easter Bunny and Santa but neither ever showed up at my place. One time when I was 4 there was something in all white outside the window around Christmas time that left a toy car for me. I was not allowed to keep the toy but I still remember the figure outside and that car. Did you actually think you saw a bunny or Santa? I know the stories but only as stories in kids books or shows.
      As to Jesus or angels I have never seen images only brightness and emotions. As to evil, I have seen images and darkness surrounded in dread. Not sure how you grow out of something you have seen and felt.

      I think the Jews were getting beat up long before Paul. Hom-ophobia was more of a culture thing that I assumed came out of the puritans who may have relied on Pauls writtings (not sure about that).

      September 7, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • Free

      fred
      Santa and the Easter Bunny didn't 'show up' at you place likely because you parents didn't teach you that they were real, so they didn't leave gifts for you under their name, right? Same goes for most Jewish kids. Their parents don't value their believing in these characters so they don't enable their kids by playing into the leaving cookies out and hiding eggs traditions. Had you grown up in a culture that did not value a belief in God then you wouldn't have been taught that God was real, and your parents wouldn't have enabled that belief by teaching their kids about sin, an ever watchful God, and that their emotional responses represent God's presence. In short, kids (and some adults, it seems) are indoctrinated into believing in God just as they are indoctrinated into believing in Santa, the Easter Bunny, as well as Allah, Vishnu, the Tooth Fairy, and any number of other characters.

      Jesus' image is probably more widespread than Santa's and the Easter Bunny's combined, so is it any wonder that people 'see' him in their minds? Something very telling in this is that Catholics will imagine Jesus with classical stigmata in the palms of his hands while most protestants are likely to imagine them in the wrists owing to their abandoning of Catholic imagery.

      So, what you have experienced is purely of an emotional nature, right? Can you articulate how these experiences are different than the kind of intense emotional experiences people have at things like weddings, sports playoffs, experiencing nature, athletics, concerts, and the like? Then you have to ask yourself whether it's just the religious music, imagery, church atmosphere, or fellowship with other worshippers that is triggering this emotion and not something 'outside' of this?

      Jews were getting 'beat up' by stronger powers in the region, like other peoples, but not because of their religious beliefs or specifically targeted as an ethnic group until Christianity came to identify them as the killers of their savior.

      September 7, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • Free

      fred
      Thinking a bit more about the Santa belief and I found out that it's not unusual for adults in families with small kids to still 'get' presents from Santa. Of course, this is all done under the pretense of not alerting the children that something is afoot, but I can't help but wonder if the adults in a society still thought it was a good thing for people to believe in Santa, how much further into their lives would people carry that belief? Imagine if Santa didn't leave actual, physical gifts, but was credited for the feelings of goodwill and generosity that people feel during the holidays, and what if he wasn't supposed to be living in a 'real' place like the North Pole, but was just an invisible spirit, like some other characters we know? Take away the anchors that supposedly place him in the physical world and you'd probably have plenty of adults believing in him, and who could argue that they were wrong? See where I'm getting with this?

      September 7, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Magic

      fred,

      Excuse me for butting into the conversation with Free, but your story of the toy car at Christmastime made my blood boil. How harsh and mean-spirited of your parents to take away a small child's gift toy, which was given in kindness and good will by someone who hoped to bring joy and fun to a child. It's not like you were given a toy devil or a toy ceremonial kirpan (dagger), or a voodoo doll or something.

      I was a believer, fred, for over 40 years. I, too, thought I was communicating with the Divine, complete with feelings of awe, a thrill in the solar plexus, a quickened heartbeat, and general feelings of sweet ecstasy. I discovered that these feelings were physical responses to the workings of the brain when imagining awesome things... not a supernatural being. There is no-one there, fred, you are talking to yourself.

      September 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • fred

      Magic
      It Gets worse, when we came to this country I was not allowed in public school so a Catholic Church took me in Kindergarden. At christmas there was a story of how good kids received candy from St Nicholas and bad kids had coal put in their shoes. Well, we all put our shoes out in the hall and took a nap. When we woke up everyone ran out into the hall. Well someone thought it cute or a lesson to put coals in my shoes while everyone else got candy. Well after much teasing from the good kids I scribbled in coal all over the church unti the coal ran out. Looking back I may have been the first tagger in history.
      The next year was spent mostly in the corner on my knees on a concrete floor. Fortunatly in 2nd grade I was kicked out for breaking all their stain glass windows. It was not on purpose as I was simply throwing rocks at pigeons and missed often.
      You might imagine I did not care for church, God and especially Priests. I rejected God and Christians until I experienced a miracle conversion (or as Free likes to say I experienced a low probability event followed by illusion). I am still caught up in the God illusion because I cannot shake the transformation I personally witnessed in my own life. When my faith starts to falter I back track over what real and actual things God has done for me and others that I personally was a part of.
      It must have taken something big after 40 years to cover the light in your life. 40 is a very biblical number. The first that comes to mind is the rainbow that came out after 40 days and 40 nights and Noah was back on solid ground. So, get ready for sunshine and ranbows you have served your time.

      September 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Magic

      fred,

      Nah, it was several years past the magic 40-year date... and it wasn't a flash of recognition, but a slow process of examination of those delusions, with much reading, listening, discussing and discerning realism.

      I sometimes sort of feel like an ogre, beating the drum of realism, but I try to be as gentle as I can. I remember when I was told that there is no Santa Claus. It was in anger and hostility when my mother was having a tantrum about something totally unrelated. I literally rocked back on my heels, and felt like I had been struck by lightning! I don't wish to do that to you or to anyone, but as attractive and seductive as fantasies may be, they are not real.

      September 7, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • fred

      Free,
      Hard to articulate the presence of God because it has many facets. It is easier to state the difference in me following conversion. I had a lot of false pride and zero ability to show normal proper timely emotion. After conversion I went to a superman movie where at the beginning a baby falls out of a building. The music, the falling baby, the crying mom and dundadunn Superman swoops down and catches the baby before it hits pavement. Yieks, a tear down my check and a euphoric feeling overcame my senses. That was embarras-sing but, fortunately I was able to cover it up and no one noticed. That amazed me for some time and I was certain I was losing grip on reality. That is what strikes me sometimes during worship. A sense of thankfulness an overwhelming thankfulness for the smallest of things. True immediate conviction when I try and fib or best yet I completely lost the ability to cheat on my taxes. I see a Holy God that is not just words but Holy to the point I cannot look upon God. I connect with the pain in people’s lives and actually get sad not just superficial. When you had your first crush on someone or a kiss that totally consumed so that you lost all sense of space and time that is my awe today.
      Now, the flip side is you expect that feeling all the time which simply does not happen. Then there is the emotion of emptiness, loss and uncaring att-itude. At those times I prefer my pre conversion self where emotions were kept in their respective box.

      You are onto something as far as Santa anchors go because I can see there is no Santa but, I cannot see that there is no God. We have no proof that God does not exist should be reason enough to be agnostic at best. Most scientists acknowledge some force or cause behind the effects we see and measure. Even today the hunt for the "god particle" is on. You see limits to the existence outside our physical. That does not matter because you admit there is something about our self-awareness / consciousness that transcends the Natural

      September 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • fred

      Magic
      I was going to post the song do you believe in magic but, don’t know how to do that. Besides I my accidently post a butterfly. Anyway the lyrics go do you believe in magic like the magic in a young girls heart. Remember it is not fantasy when you go back and relive the good that was. Who said you need to get rid of that young girls heart. Don’t ever do that. Practice now to identify thoughts and emotions you do not want to get stuck with. The second one creeps into your world kick it out do not let it rest for a moment.
      Real or not real matters not when it comes to the att-itude to your mind. An att-itude of the mind that seeks what is, true, right, praiseworthy, admirable, pure and lovely always finds that peace which transcends all understanding. Whether Christ is real or the fantasy of 70 apostles only changes your position in Christ not this att-itude of mind. Since this att-itude is consistent with the teaching of Christ it fits right in so no change is necessary. If you are atheist or agnostic I hope that is already the att-itude of your mind.

      September 7, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Debra

      “I connect with the pain in people’s lives and actually get sad not just superficial”

      I connect deeply with other people’s pain but I don’t need a God to do it.

      “That does not matter because you admit there is something about our self-awareness / consciousness that transcends the Natural”

      You see consciousness in nature, it’s why no animals died during the tsunami in Thailand, they just knew to get the hell out of there. Human beings have lost that because we educated ourselves; define ourselves that we lost our connection to the energy and forces of Mother Nature. If you allow yourself to strip away many of things in your life you can reach back to your natural way of being an animal. It can be a very freeing experience but to many people have become dependent on technology and the comforts of life. What you are feeling is your animal natural self, the way you are suppose to be without all the constraints you impose on yourself.

      September 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • fred

      Debra
      Glad you have that compassion ! My heart is very different now so I am just someone that needs another (the Holy Spirit) constant guide to keep me focused.
      Not sure about the animal thing as humans are the only animal that cries from emotion. The image of God was put into man and that allows for unlimited creation ability, that consciousness where new ideas are formed, the ability to ponder / worship/ be in awe of God. This is different than an instinct reaction combined with greater ability to hear, smell, feel vibrations.

      September 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
    • Free

      fred
      Sorry you had such a rough childhood. Take no offence in this but I find it interesting that so many Christians seem to have a really good prodigal son story to tell leading to their conversion. I, however, doubt that I'd make a good born again; I've led a very tame life. No troublesome childhood, no addictions, no life of crime and misdeeds, no binge of self-centered wastefulness. Still, Jesus did bless the meek but, for the life of me, I really don't see them represented in most evangelical congregations. Not many of the beat.itude virtues valued amongst that crowd, I think. Funny how that turns out, eh?

      What you describe with the Superman movie is just ordinary human emotion. Something about it just triggered a swell within you. It happens to all of us. Sorry, but no additional outside stimulus is necessary for this. Some people cry at classical music, or when a football player makes an incredible play, or when a baby smiles at them, or when the national anthem is sung, or when they see the sun rise, or smell cookies baking. Triggered memories, perhaps.

      That you now have a moral inclination not to behave as badly as you once did doesn't indicate an outside agent at work either. Some people were always so inclined not to hurt people, but others do require of themselves to change, but that change always comes from within as far as we can tell. Any book from the self-help isle could have worked for you as well, as they do for millions of others, as sports or volunteerism does for yet others. Triggers and motivations, but still the change comes from within.

      “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Buddha

      However, you appear to be far from content within your feeling towards this change, your faith if you prefer. Perhaps Jesus would have agreed also with this from the Buddha

      “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

      How exactly can you see that there is no Santa? Have you looked everywhere? There was a real St. Nicholas historically more than there was a real Jesus. Reindeer have been proven to exist, which is more than can be said of angels. At most, you have to be agnostic as to Santa's existence, but you choose to live your life as though he does not exist.

      Does this sound ridiculous? No more than the same arguments believers use to defend God's not being disprovable. We atheists can no more absolutely rule out Christ either, but the odds are deemed so remote (and growing ever more so each day) that we choose to live our lives as though he isn't real, as most Christians choose to live as though the Hindu and other gods aren't real, and that Allah is not a real manifestation of their God. You simply choose not to be skeptical of God because you prefer him above all other gods and mythical beings. You are in love with God, or rather, the idea of him being real and part of your life.

      Finally, elephants actually do cry and show grief. Plenty of animals show emotion. We really aren't that different from them, you know?

      September 8, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • fred

      Free
      God used Cyrus to fulfill His plans for the chosen ones and He may just be useing you. The gate is narrow and few enter through it. You make a good gate keeper if the intent is to keep those without strong faith from getting in.
      Paul had a skill set that was needed to carry out Gods plan for the church. You have a skill set that would bring many to Christ as well as turn them away. I suggest you stay of the road to Damascus if you wish to keep your faith.

      September 8, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • Free

      fred
      ""This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:" Isaiah 45:1

      So, God made Cyrus his anointed, or messiah, like a lot of others in the Bible, right? I'm not sure I make a good Christ. I understand that Christianity will be around for quite some time to come, so my main wish is not to convert people to atheism so much as to enlighten some of them to the harm they cause others, quite possibly for no good reason. They simply imagine themselves ent.itled to be God's earthly enforcers, but only of laws they cherry pick from the Bible. They've let the power of it corrupt the spirit of any religion; to help people live happy lives together.

      September 8, 2011 at 8:12 am |
    • fred

      Free
      True, and this applies to more than religion. Darwin not that long ago put the Ne-gro in bad light. Less than 60 years ago most in America had no problem with as-signing the front or back of the bus based on what appeared to be right thought. Jesus seems to have gotten it right in 30 AD then the message was hijacked. You mention Paul as behind some anti Jew hostility and I am not sure that is the case. These Jews were not the kind of people I would have a glas-s of wine with so I think they brought it upon themselves, or if you believe the bible God let em’ have it.
      So, what happened to the truth of Jesus? You would do well to enlighten us on how such an important message (Gospel) was twisted into a weapon for evil. Jesus said this would happen up to the end where so few would believe in Him that the end times would need to be ushered in.
      Sometime after 100 AD we see the Catholics got a hold of the Bible and rewrote themselves back in as priests becoming corrupted with power. Luther nailed his thoughts to the door then the printing press got the message of the bible out. Today we had a chance with the internet to get the truth out but instead end with thousands of different denominations and points of view.
      Jesus said the tares sown by the evil one grow up with the good seed. The difference is that tares neither have a god nor need one. The good seed needs tending and care…..even fenced off in order to produce good fruit. You would make a very good farmer because I suspect you have observed Christians need help. You were given the tools and knowledge to care for the good seed. I don’t think atheists need your help.

      September 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Free

      fred
      Darwin didn't put black people in any worse light than had been the norm for hundreds of years up to his generation, and continued on to the civil rights movement. Helen Keller, while a great advocate for people of disabilities, still held some att.itudes that would be considered racist today. In much the same way, many of the att.itudes found in the Bible, while acceptable back when it was written, are hopelessly beyond the times today. That's one of the reasons it fails as a moral compass.

      The only 'Jews' that Jesus seemed to have a problem with were the Pharisees and some of the priests. Other Jews, like his disciples and the vast majority who followed him, becoming the first Christians, he certainly had no problems with. Sure, they probably wouldn't have had a glass of wine with you either due to ritual cleanliness issues, but Jesus clearly handed out the beat.itude blessings on such common folk, excluding only those he saw as being hypocrites. The anti-Jew sentiments in the gospels reflect the hostility between the gentile and Jewish communities afterwards.

      How did it get twisted? Apostles catering to the specific needs of their communities, who argued with one another over doctrine. Paul caters to Greek educated gentiles who have far more literal ideas of what a 'son of a god' means. Some of the books of the Bible were probably still being written about 100 AD, but a few hundred years later the bishops met to set canon, which meant ruling the various books based on accepted theology at the time. So, instead of Christians getting a collection of books that sets acceptable theology, the theology was responsible for setting the Bible that agreed with it, and set about ruling out all other books. Some were destroyed, and others simply not copied anymore. This is all clearly recorded in the works of the Church Fathers, and it just amazes me how many evangelicals have never bothered to read this history.

      Amongst all the different theologies you think you know the 'truth' eh, and that your views will be accepted by all other denominations? Have you ever considered that your ego is at play here? Do you think that the folks in any of those sects are thinking that they are any less correct in their interpretation of the Bible? Just by looking at the size of the field involved I honestly can't say that I like your odds of being of the school that happened to stumble upon Jesus' actual intent.

      September 8, 2011 at 6:59 pm |
    • fred

      Free,
      >”the Bible, while acceptable back when it was written, are hopelessly beyond the times today. That's one of the reasons it fails as a moral compass”
      God was revealed to a people at a point in time and we look at that point with today’s eyes. God said don’t eat certain foods (some for religious purpose others for no reason) and thousands of years later we have the intelligence to see the bacteria hidden within. The chosen people were to remain separate for God. These early peoples were very susceptible to outside influence. Rampant $exual pleasures turned the heads and hearts of those that just hit the promised land. Moses had them all slaughtered. I do not know the mindset 3500 years of ago but they certainly lost all control in short order when exposed to this outside influence. Back then it was a physical separation because nothing else would work. A pure people could not live alongside this culture without loss of purity so one or the other had to go. Consider our mindset about the Ne-gro less than 60 years ago with separate drinking fountains and bus positions. Physical separation 3500 years ago required the sword because we did not have the government, culture or intelligence to stick with our side of the bus. Moral compass: stay clear of that which is not good it will turn you head from the truth. 1500 years later we were ready for Jesus and a new way of dealing with contamination. Our moral compass has moved from looking at what side of the tree moss grows to a GPS. That is the quantum leap between Old Testament and New. Once we had to rely on external physical signs and tools where now we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer. We can live in the midst of that luring lifestyle yet keep our position in Christ. The Bible has had no problem keeping up with the progression of man

      September 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • fred

      Free
      >”can't say that I like your odds of being of the school that happened to stumble upon Jesus' actual intent.”
      It goes back to is there or is there not God. If God is behind all existence then He is big enough in all respects (some of which we cannot imagine) to bring the focus of His creation to its purpose. In that regard either you or I or both of us my serve some purpose regardless of what we believe. If there is no God, there is no purpose in creation, you and I are little more than cosmic dust.
      Can we agree that Jesus actual intent was to focus our lives on the purpose of creation. Can we agree that the purpose was that God can demonstrate His love for us.

      September 9, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  7. Samsword

    Well personally, I don't believe there was a beginning. I believe the term "In the Beginning..." within the Bible is a reference point written from Moses' perspective (since he is considered the author of the first five books of the Bible) and not actually literal to God's timing, since God is deemed eternal in many references. I know it's a hard concept to truly swallow. "No beginning." But before there was a Big Bang, I believe something always existed. I simply see God as an instigator of many of the creative forces of the Universe. But to answer your question more directly... I believe God always existed... and so did the energy and matter of the universe. I don't believe in Creation Ex-Nihilio. I believe that God, matter/energy, spiritual matter (meaning yours and my "souls") all such things are eternal. No beginning, no end. Can they be shifted or transformed? Absolutely. But ultimately, I believe in conservation of energy and all that...

    There are two ways to interpret "Omnipotent." 1) The Greek Gnostic way (which, I admit, many Christians believe in actually) which is, that God has no limits. This, however, is proven to be a logical fallacy: "Can God create a stone he can't lift?" I, however, personally adhere to:
    2) Omnipotent, "All powerful," as in God has power over all things that are. All things that positively exist. I'm more inclined to believe this second idea. When a builder constructs a house, he doesn't make it out of nothing; he builds from existing materials. Those materials have always existed, but not perhaps always in the same form. I believe God works the same. We were ultimately created through existant matter. Whether that process was through evolution or whatever, doesn't ultimately diminish from my faith in God himself. I simply see Him as the ultimate Intelligence behind all creation; and to me, our Universe certainly exhibits intelligent design. (Though I do acknowledge that as a personal view, based on my personal experience...)

    September 5, 2011 at 12:24 am |
    • Samsword

      I apologize, that was meant as a reply to an earlier comment... =/

      September 5, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • fred

      I agree with you as to the second position. I like the C.S. Lewis statement that asking if God could build a stone he could not lift is as illogical as can God draw a round square.. Further to your building example it seems that the progress throughout the Bible is a steady building progress using the materials and people on the scene at the time.

      September 6, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  8. Muneef

    To know GOD ought to choose your friends carefully;
    In an authentic Hadith, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said: "Man is influenced by the faith of his friends. Therefore, be careful of whom you associate with."

    Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) who has the most noble character and dealings with fellow humans gave us a very clear and simple message and advice in regard to friendship.

    How should we choose our friends? We should choose the friend that believes and abide by our religion (Islam) and gives great respect to what Allah (SWT) and Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) has ordered us. And we should stay away from that who is not well mannered and gives no attention to what Islam is about or what pleases or displeases Allah (SWT), for he will surely affect us negatively. There is no good in the companion drowns us in sins and displeasing Allah (SWT).

    In another Hadith, Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) said: "The example of a good companion and a bad companion is like that of the seller of musk, and the one who blows the blacksmith's bellows. So as for the seller of musk then either he will grant you some, or you buy some from him, or at least you enjoy a pleasant smell from him. As for the one who blows the blacksmith's bellows then either he will burn your clothes or you will get an offensive smell from him."

    When choosing our friends we should ask ourselves first: Are they going to help us achieve the purpose for which we were brought to life? Or will they take us away from it? Will they desire for us Allah (SWT)'s pleasure or is that completely irrelevant to them and not their concern at all? Are they leading us to Paradise or to the Hell?

    Islamic Sayings on FriendshipProphet Mohammad (pbuh) stated, "The believer is like a mirror to other believers (in truthfulness)." Like a mirror, your friend gives you an honest image. He forgives your mistakes, but does not hide or exaggerate your strengths and weaknesses.

    Once the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was asked, "What person can be the best friend?" "He who helps you remember Allah (SWT), and reminds you when you forget Him," the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), counseled.

    Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was further asked, "Who is the best among people?" Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) replied, "He who, when you look at him, you remember Allah (SWT)". Such a friend reflects qualities of love, mercy, honesty, service, patience, optimism, professionalism, and the entire lifestyle taught by Islam.

     

    'Abdullah ibn 'Umar related that Rasulullah (SAW) said:

    Obey your parents and treat them kindly, for if you do so then your own children will be obedient and kind to you.
    (Tabari)

    September 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
  9. Muneef

    The second big flood after "Noah's "saw" flood...;

    PEOPLE OF SABA AND THE ARIM FLOOD
    There was, for Saba, aforetime, a Sign in their home-land – two Gardens to the right and to the left. "Eat of the Sustenance (provided) by your Lord, and be grateful to Him: a territory fair and happy, and a Lord Oft-Forgiving!" But they turned away (from Allah), and We sent against them the Flood (released) from the dams, and We converted their two garden (rows) into "gardens" producing bitter fruit, and tamarisks, and some few (stunted) Lote-trees. (Surah Saba: 15-16)

    http://www.perishednations.com/peoplesaba.html
    --–

    Many centuries ago, the community of Saba was one of the four biggest civilisations which lived in South Arabia.

    Historical sources relating to Saba usually say that this was a culture akin to that of the Phoenicians. It was particularly involved in commercial activities. The Sabaeans are recognised by historians as a civilised and cultured people. In the inscriptions of the rulers of Saba, words such as "restore," "dedicate" and "construct" are frequently used. The Ma'rib Dam, which is one of the most important monuments of this people, is an important indication of the technological level this people had reached.
    http://www.quransource.com/miracles/en/hy/content.asp?f=historical_09
    ----

    SOUTH ARABIA
    The earliest kingdom we know about is that of Saba (Sheba) with its capital city called Marib. This city was built on the edge of the desert in the dry delta of Wadi Adana. In this area, there is little rainfall, but twice a year, the wadi fills with water from the biannual rains that occur higher up in the mountains. The water in the wadi was then used to irrigate the rainless, arid area around the wadi making cultivation possible. Examination of the sediments found around Marib has shown that irrigation in this region goes back to the third millennium B.C.

    Pliny the Elder recorded the distance between Timna (the capital of Qataban) and Gaza, the northern end of the frankincense route, as 2,437,500 steps, or 62 days by camel. He was particularly impressed by the prices of South Arabian goods and complained bitterly about Greece's trade deficit (100 million sesterces). Consequently, the Romans looked upon the riches of southern Arabia with envy. (Pliney XII, CHAP. XIIII and Pliney XII.84)
    http://nabataea.net/sarabia.html

    ---
    Now they have another story to expand their lands as "Lands towards Peace"...??? The way it goes is that the Whole World or The Whole Earth is Jewish owned through their ancestors immigrations...!? 
    Quote;
    Moses’ land of milk and honey was not arid Palestine.  He led his few thousand followers across the torrid moonscape of the Sinai Peninsula and on along the northern Red Sea shore of Arabia toward Hijaz, then a fertile garden about half way along the Red Sea coast.  If there was ever a Jewish kingdom, it was here and the Yemeni Jews were remnants of it who survived the region’s later climatic deterioration.  Salibi demonstrated that many biblical place names fit the Hijaz region of Arabia, but not Palestine, as other archeologists have confirmed.

    What happened to Moses?  The Bible admits that Moses never entered the Promised Land of Canaan.  Yemeni and Indian Jews believe that the tomb of Moses is  on the Indus River of modern Pakistan and disputed Kashmir.  Danish archeologists working on the island of Bahrain in “the (Persian) Gulf” have now discovered there was lively trade across the Indian Ocean, using the Monsoons,  from Yemen and Oman to the Indus cultures.  Ships had been sailing this route from at least 3000 BC.  So, Moses as an aged and revered leader of a Jewish population in or near Yemen may have decided to visit India in old age and might well have died there.

    Salibi’s ideas, supported by archeology, may explain why Moses never entered Palestine.  Yemeni Jews, like Ethiopian ones, were very nearly forcibly “repatriated” to modern Israel where their traditions were safely submerged beneath orthodoxy, but 50,000 Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri Jews still exist and revere their “Tomb of Moses.”

    Any Jewish enclave on the northern Red Sea coast must have been a small one, and it would have been a neighbour of Saba.  It may even have been ruled by the Queen of Sheba.  Women of Sheba certainly played a prominent role in Jewish folklore because  David also had an affair with Bathsheba (“girl of Saba”), the traditional mother of Solomon.  Were some Jewish “kings” mere consorts of Sabaean queens?  If the major Jewish population was on the northern Red Sea coast, what about Israel in Palestine?

    http://www.michaelbradley.info/articles/sheba.html

    September 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Muneef

      Waw.. Just how many of those are in America ;
      (but 50,000 Indian, Pakistani and Kashmiri Jews still exist and revere their “Tomb of Moses.”).... No wonder Islam in those areas was being fingered into conflicts and unending bloodsheds in that area if we include Afganistan...!?! No wonder Muslims are being fingered into conflicts at the western countries...!?!
      Just hope we do not misjudge and hope they will extend hands with Muslims, Christians and others towards improving life on their mainlands their ancestors were rooted from...!! Love the Land and the People of that land they are your brothers and sisters even if they were on different beliefs,after all they are all spiritual paths, but chose those that contain more in it's goodness towards life on earth...!!

      September 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  10. E=MC2

    Very lively discussion. What amazes me, is the intensity that those opposed to "God" display. Why are they so eager to dispel ones belief? True, there have been minions who have abused religion for their own self serving purposes. Yet, man has misused the very "things' nature has given us for our good. That does not make nature bad. It is the selfishness and evil of man that has hijacked religion. Mankind will ALWAYS find reasons to protest something. Protest the very things that have advanced society- the internal combustion engine, computers and the internet, nuclear energy etc etc.. They all have faults, yet it is mainly due to man's misuse of them vs. the advantages they serve. Christianity brought about amazing changes in Western Society, values we often take for granted today. Yet, many prefer to look at the effects on mankind that people who have hijacked Christianity have done. If you read, AND understand the bible in it's context of the entire message given, you will see that it is about love. I love my children with all my heart, yet I do have to desipline them from time to time. I do have to let them fail or suffer in order to learn. It is not evil, but love. When you truly love someone, you will let go and let them fly knowing they will fall to the ground from time to time. It really is no different with God. People too often focus on the "punishment" spoken of in the bible, rather than the purpose of showing mankind our faults, the consequences for them and God's redemption. Yet, like most people, we dont want to hear about accountability. Just look at society today; we want government or some other "nanny" to ultimately provide for us without thinking of the long term consequences of becoming dependent on it. Then, when the means to provide are no longer sustainable we protest and complain because our needs are not met and we expect "them" to meet OUR needs. Let's face it, we live in a "me, me , me" society. What happened to individual responsibility and accountability? When we look at the bible, all of this is explained and the consequences explained. We reap what we sow. We are a society that wants it's cake AND eat it too.

    September 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  11. Muneef

    Waw a very interesting link to read although am not sure how would you judge it since already you called the "Heavenly Holy Books" as Fantasies and so on..what if your read this one here in link...is it Science Fantasies or what?!?
    In here it is not "Noah's Ark"...but rather "Space Ship" ?! 
    Our "Pollution&Corruption Acts" returns back on us;
    Quote;
    7.2.5      Magnetic Poles change 
    Earth's magnetic field disturbed by atomic explosions         35.P887-896
                Earth’s magnetism has been disturbed by atomic explosions.  These explosions produce a weak repulsion of the Earth, which influences the rotation by nearly immeasurable value.  In addition, the Earth has been forced a little out of normal orbit and slowly searches for a new orbital course.  Because of these explosions, Earth’s scientists have committed a crime against the planet and all of mankind.  The changes caused by these explosions will have a far-reaching effect of great importance, which can produce catastrophic results.  The magnetic poles are already being increasingly displaced.  Today, the Northern magnetic pole has already been displaced into the Canadian Ice Sea while the South Pole moves in the direction of South America.  In about 1,000 years, the migration of the poles will have progressed so far that the South Pole will be in South America and the North Pole will be in Saudi Arabia.  The calculated location of the North Pole in the year 3,000 will be between Jeddah, on the Red Sea, and Mecca.
    Unquote:
     http://www.freewebs.com/mauriceosborn/ES07.htm

    September 2, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Muneef

      Waw a very interesting link to read although am not sure how would you judge it since already you called the "Heavenly Holy Books" as Fantasies and so on..what if your read this one here in link...is it Science Fantasies or what?!?
      In here it is not "Noah's Ark"...but rather "Space Ship" ?! 
      Our "Pollution&Corruption Acts" returns back on us;
      Quote;
      7.2.5      Magnetic Poles change 
      Earth's magnetic field disturbed by atomic explosions         35.P887-896
                  Earth’s magnetism has been disturbed by atomic explosions.  These explosions produce a weak repulsion of the Earth, which influences the rotation by nearly immeasurable value.  In addition, the Earth has been forced a little out of normal orbit and slowly searches for a new orbital course.  Because of these explosions, Earth’s scientists have committed a crime against the planet and all of mankind.  The changes caused by these explosions will have a far-reaching effect of great importance, which can produce catastrophic results.  The magnetic poles are already being increasingly displaced.  Today, the Northern magnetic pole has already been displaced into the Canadian Ice Sea while the South Pole moves in the direction of South America.  In about 1,000 years, the migration of the poles will have progressed so far that the South Pole will be in South America and the North Pole will be in Saudi Arabia.  The calculated location of the North Pole in the year 3,000 will be between Jeddah, on the Red Sea, and Mecca.
      Unquote:
       http://www.freewebs.com/mauriceosborn/ES07.htm
      ---–

      The Arabian Peninsula 
      2005-06-09 00:00:00
      http://www.islamonline.net/i3/ContentServer?pagename=IslamOnline/i3Layout&c=OldArticle&cid=1158658490851

      Professor Alfred Kroner is one of the world's most famous geologists.a Professor of Geology and the Chairman of the Department of Geology at the Inst-i-tute of Geosciences, Johannes Gutenburg University, Mainz, Germany.

      We asked him to describe the geological conditions of Arabia. “Was Arabia once a green land with water and rivers in it?” He replied in affirmative, saying that this happened during the Ice Age. And it is further known that the North Polar icebergs are slowly moving southwards. When those polar icebergs become relatively close to the Arabian Peninsula, the weather will change and Arabia will become one of the greenest and wettest parts of the world. We asked him, “Will Arabia become fertile once more and have rivers in it?” He said, “Yes, it is a scientific fact.”

      http://www.thisistruth.org/truth.php?f=OriginOfEarth
      ----

       

      September 2, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  12. Humble little grass

    Like Gold are purified from silver and other minerals, The humanity are purified to know which one obey God and which one not obey.

    September 1, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Muneef

      We have a saying that goes "Humans in Life are Minerals, some of them never catch Rust Stains while others catch all the Rust Stains".!!

      September 2, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  13. I believe in Heaven and Hell

    "FYI people, the Christian heaven is not a reward for virtue, and the Christian hell is not a punishment for vice."

    What they (Heaven and Hell) are for (you) then? Would you mind informing "people" here further?

    Sharing your thougths of their (Heaven and Hell) purpose would surely help rather than "scratching your head" out of your unbelief of what I thought about them.

    September 1, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  14. Muneef

    "GOD does not Help those do not Help them Selves".... Pollution & Corruptions are our Main Core of all Problems that our Nations & Communities face...!?!

    Bo=====
    at least now we know what they been feeding the cattle's...! If that was the true case and cause for the up normality of few within the communities...! Guess then they had no free will or choice in hand to avoid that...?!?

    Study: Mercury pollution causes birds to act gay;

    CAPTION By University of Florida
    Mercury pollution causes a surprising tendency of male white ibis birds to mate with other males, finds a new University of Florida study.

    "We knew that mercury can disrupt hormones – what is most disturbing about this study is the low levels of mercury at which we saw effects on hormones and mating behavior," said Peter Frederick, a UF wildlife ecology professor who led the five-year study, in a university press release. "This suggests that wildlife may be commonly affected."
    http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2010/12/mercury-pollution-causes-gay-birds/1

    ----
    Shouldn't that be a cause of concern for us to fight against starting at some point ? If you agree then got to participate starting from here;

    Australia plans to impose carbon tax on worst polluters;

    Right now, a major climate fight is blowing up in Australia – the government is about to pass a law that would cut carbon emissions and get polluters to pay.
    We are all under threat from climate change – including the droughts and storms that cause forest fires, floods and failed harvests. Australia’s proposal would start to shift its economy to halt it. The measure would make polluting companies pay, encouraging them to become more efficient while funding technologies of the future and increasing support to the most needy.
    Let’s send Australians our support today: 
    http://www.avaaz.org/en/australian_carbon_price/?vl 
    --

    September 1, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Muneef

      "Pollution & Corruption" is behind all Human Sufferings;
       
      Space junk at tipping point, says report

      Space debris: Time to clean up the sky
      Orbital 'housekeeper' proposed
      Near miss for space station
      Scientists in the US have warned Nasa that the amount of so-called space junk orbiting Earth is at tipping point.

      A report by the National Research Council says the debris could cause fatal leaks in spaceships or destroy valuable satellites.
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14757926

      ---–
      Ocean Pollution;

      Pollution in the ocean is a major problem that is affecting the ocean and the rest of the Earth, too. Pollution in the ocean directly affects ocean organisms and indirectly affects human health and resources. Oil spills, toxic wastes, and dumping of other harmful materials are all major sources of pollution in the ocean. People should learn more about these because if people know more about pollution in the ocean, then they will know more about how to stop pollution.
      http://library.thinkquest.org/CR0215471/ocean_pollution.htm

      --–
      Groundwater Pollution;

      Human groundwater contamination can be related to waste disposal (private sewage disposal systems, land disposal of solid waste, municipal wastewater, wastewater impoundments, land spreading of sludge, brine disposal from the petroleum industry, mine wastes, deep-well disposal of liquid wastes, animal feedlot wastes, radioactive wastes) or not directly related to waste disposal (accidents, certain agricultural activities, mining, highway deicing, acid rain, improper well construction and maintenance, road salt).
      http://www.lenntech.com/groundwater/pollution-sources.htm

      --–
      Air Pollution;

      Historically, the main air pollution problem in both developed and rapidly industrialising countries has typically been high levels of smoke and sulphur dioxide emitted following the combustion of sulphur-containing fossil fuels such as coal, used for domestic and industrial puposes. These days, the major threat to clean air is now posed by traffic emissions. 
      http://uk-air.defra.gov.uk/air-pollution/causes
      ---–

      A Greater Pollution is "The Human Moral Pollution";

          Just as the filth around us pollutes our environment, the evil found within and around us also stains our environment. Eyes may not see it, yet it cannot be concealed from the mind’s vision: 

      … Things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and these make a man ‘unclean’. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, $exual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’. (Matt, 15:17-19)

          If environmental pollution is detrimental for man’s physical being, moral pollution is detrimental for his spiritual being. A body which is morally polluted is perhaps dirtier than a place which is environmentally polluted. It is only a question of recognizing this reality. Man tends to forget it and the Gracious GOD "Allah" constantly reminds him of it.  
          Purification of the soul, consequently, has remained the objective of divine religions, for it is their verdict that only purified souls will enter the everlasting abode of Paradise. So, we must all vie to root out moral pollution if we are to enter this blissful life. 

      http://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?q=human+moral+pollution&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart

      September 2, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Muneef

      Human Dignity;

      human dignity.4 Even if this abstract term 'dignity' can not be defined with ...... environment, as well as to combat pollution, corruption and other man- made ..... governance on issues that concern a person's individual, social and physical ...

      September 2, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  15. Muneef

    GOD is there for who believe in him and call upon him....GOD will not come to those who are not calling or coming up to him... Mercy will come and protect those with mercy for their fellowmen..free of hate and envy...full of charitable gestures for the will being to their family,relatives,neighbors,the poor,needy and travelers....!

    September 1, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  16. The Lambly Winged Lion of The Gods Does Roar

    According to what has come to revelation within my traversings of the i-net, Gaia is the "spiritual" essence of this world we call our earth. This world is of a feminine gender but the elemental gods such as hydrogen oxygen, etc are of a hermaphrodiatic gendership. The top of the pyramid-like graphic equation is of 1stly GOD then Gods and the gods. The 1st GOD, in the Greco-Romanian periods was so named to be 'Chaos' or the yawning of nothingness wherewhich was created by Chaos,these elemental gods of the absolute miniscule or as we know of being the Atoms. Enough for now?

    August 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Congrats, Lamely! You actually put several coherent sentences together!

      August 31, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      More than enough! You may now go to sleep for 40 years.

      August 31, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  17. Free

    fred
    You wrote

    "The dead I referred to are not Like the movie I see dead people. One good friend dying of aids thought God cruel until the last few days. Another waited for a miracle right up to the last few hours that never came. One young atheist finally grasped the Bible with but weeks to live, began to read and accepted Christ. He believed God would give him a new liver. I said anything was possible with God even though I knew he was not a candidate for transplant. I do not know how those two thoughts could coexist in my mind at the same time but they do to this day. I knew objectively without doubt there would be no liver yet I know anything is possible with God. Yieks.
    Yes, it would be as you say love is blind. However, there are times when you know the honeymoon is over and it seems she doesn’t love you anymore………….Humm maybe she never did. Then you go back to the days when the love was strong and relive the moments then all the feelings come flooding in again. In the Old Testament we see a tradition where the Jews would repeat at certain times or festivals all that God had done for them. Seems like I need to do that so as not to loose faith."

    A fine story, but the skeptic in me realizes that someone could have written a fictional story that was even more inspirational. Sorry!

    August 31, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • fred

      Agreed, there are much better inspirational stories out there. Bottom line is you (Free) cannot see God or miracles either by genetics or choice. If you are interested in seeing either you need to work at it or like Saul of Tarsus get a blast of light not of your choosing.

      Here is a non inspirational story. I took a hike with a physicist and was surprised at his total lack of response to a budding clump of succulents few people rarely see. Solving problems through differing scientific methods gets his juices flowing not rare colorful flowers. I was always amazed at how he ever discovered Jesus because everything about him was cold and calculated. He gets very frustrated with my illogical train of thought, voices his opposition to it then sets me straight. He set out to disprove Christianity only to be drawn into the depths of it becoming a well versed theologian. From a genetic standpoint I thought he was to smart and stiff to ever buy into any of it. Contrast this with the bleeding heart lost soul looking for anything or anybody to fill an emptiness. This is the spectrum of predispositions / genetics which impact how one finds God.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • ad nauseum

      You use the big G for god so I assume you mean the christian god. What then I have no real choice do I if I was made this way.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
    • fred

      Ad nauseum,
      No, actually this was a continuation from a prior post regarding why some see an event as a miracle and others as a mathematical probability. In short, we all see things differently based on lots of factors. When confronted with a life changing miracle was it God or something else. I tend to see Gods hand actively involved in all things. If you do not know God then it is doubtful you could see a miracle or event as attributable to God.
      It is a choice to seek God or not to seek God. It just seemed easier for some people to seek out God than others. Then there is the wild card as my case where a bunch of highly unlikely events came together that put me in a position where I could find God.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Free

      fred
      I don't see God or miracles by choice only in the sense that when I look at a burnt slice of toast all I see is a burnt slice of toast.

      Saul of Tarsus' blast of light could have been his brain tumor or epilepsy acted up, or just a story made up by the writer of Acts. Paul never mentions the particulars of his conversion, does he? It was he who basically invented Christianity, not Jesus.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • fred

      Paul does not mention the particulars of that day when the light broke through the darkness. Luke the historian records the event when Saul was transformed into the chosen instrument to carry Christ’s name to the Gentiles. The power behind the apostles and Saul was clearly the fulfillment of what Jesus said as to the helper / Holy Spirit that would come. It is this Holy Spirit that guides true believers through to the end times. From a personal basis I had a similar experience to Paul (no tumor or seizure ) where my thoughts were transformed from agnostic to one who loved Christ. I have also personally witnessed this type of conversion in others. In all cases there was a marked change in life direction and focus where the gospel pushed all other priorities aside. There is that experience of power and confidence / willingness to step out for the Lord / church that is common in all those conversions I personally witnessed. Thus, I have no cause to doubt what was written as to the impact of the Holy Spirit upon entering one’s life.
      Perhaps there is a semantic difference but I find that to be empirical evidence that the Holy Spirit is and does exactly what Christ said it would. Since such conversions continue to happen to this day I do not know how it can be disputed. It is the conversion as described by Christ so you cannot say the same would happen from any other book or experience and cast it asside.

      September 1, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>”….but you just write this off as some rare happened and chide me for holding that this was a miracle and a blessing? I would think that you just strengthened my Faith by tons.”

      Free, you mentioned the “rare” parts. What I believe moved it into miracle status are the details listed by the article you, yourself linked to. As I posted, the additional details almost scream miracle.

      >>>>“Obviously, this event was a disaster from the British perspective, and since the British were equally as likely to read God's hand in the storm the question remains: How can this be seen as a miracle, an actual divine intervention, for our side if it isn't also understood that by working this miracle God chose to aid one group of Christians by sabotaging another?”

      Free, maybe you have to think of it as being a parent with two kids. You love both and both love you …. but sometimes that fight over the xBox or that last Chip Ahoy cookie has one child pounding on the other. As a parent there will come a time when you might have to “drag” one child off of another. When King Phillip attacked England and some will point to that storm say that his forces were “pulled” of England by God. Turn around many years later and the same thing but in reverse, this time it was England beating up the new sibling... Some will look at the accounts and say that they were dragged off of our new country.

      Many of us call him, “Our Father who art in Heaven”. The parental aspect for this event I see as God choosing a side to maybe stop the fighting between too of his children. Just look at the basics of who on both examples that we used, which side the storms went against. The invading army.

      l'Chaim

      September 1, 2011 at 4:51 am |
    • Free

      fred
      So, you happened to be taking a hike with a physicist one day, and you were looking at 'succulents', and he went on to becoming a theologian? I'm not accusing you of anything here, but the skeptic in me is saying that I've read so many stories like this throughout the years that I feel I've actually read that one before. I remember a Christian fiction author on TV criticizing people for passing off her stories as non-fiction. I understand the compulsion to tell Jesus-like parables, but did people in his audiences really think he was telling first-hand accounts?

      September 1, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • Free

      Mark
      A parent 'dragging' one child off of another would be more analogous to a tornado simply separating the two armies. By decimating the British forces with a tornado your God basically acted like a parent who, upon seeing two of his children fighting, decided to drop kick one in order to stop the brawl. Try explaining that in family court!

      September 1, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Free

      fred
      "Since such conversions continue to happen to this day I do not know how it can be disputed."
      Sure it can be disputed. People convert between lots of things. Buddhists become Christians, Christians become Buddhists, Christians become Jews, Jews become Muslims, Muslims become Taoists, Taoists become Jainists, Sikhs become Hindus, Hindus become atheists, ... Celebrities become Scientologists, geeks become Jedi ;-)... There are hundreds of combinations, and some people have lived under many different philosophies and religions. People change in their beliefs. There's nothing mystical or supernatural in this. As far as can be told, it all comes from within.

      September 1, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Bruce

      @Free, your conversation with Fred here is enlightening. Fred is telling you how some people come to believe, and you are countering with the claim that his explanations need not involve the "mystical" or the "supernatural" and that nothing he has said has proven the existence of God or established the truth of the Christian stories.

      But realize that his stories are not meant to convince atheists like you that what he believes is true, but rather to show you how–in his experience–people (including an apparently sophisticated and intelligent physicist who was once an atheist) come to such a belief. That intelligent people get converted from time to time is certainly not a proof that what they now believe is true, and I don't get the sense that he's using the intelligence of these people as rhetorical weight to support an argument about the truth of what he believes to be true.

      In fact, such an argument would be an ad hominem fallacy that goes something like, "this person is intelligent, this person converted, therefore what this person believes is true." I don't see Fred making such an error. He only gives a story that proves that intelligence is not necessarily an insurmountable stumbling block to a Christian faith, but proves nothing more.

      Also, your use of the term, "supernatural," is circular reasoning, or at-best a non sequitur. Just because these conversion stories can be explained in non-"supernatural" ways does not disprove anything about the belief itself, since the belief in God is not of necessity a belief in the "supernatural." In fact, most competent theologians recognize God and God's interactions with the natural world as fully natural even while understanding God to be transcendent to nature as well. Your use of the term is sloppy, theologically-speaking, and incorrect.

      September 1, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>”By decimating the British forces with a tornado your God basically acted like a parent who, upon seeing two of his children fighting, decided to drop kick one in order to stop the brawl”

      My friend, that would be what happened to the Pharaohs army chasing the escaping Jews into the parted Red Sea.

      September 1, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Bruce

      Mark: "My friend, that would be what happened to the Pharaohs army chasing the escaping Jews into the parted Red Sea"

      Actually, if we are to believe what we read in Romans, it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart, causing Pharaoh to pick that particular fight and causing him also to send his army into a parted Red Sea to their deaths.

      But, of course you probably don't actually believe the scriptures and instead you think that Pharaoh and Pharaoh's army are actually God's children...

      September 1, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Free

      Mark
      But Pharaoh's army were not Hebrews. By the time of Exodus in the Bible narrative God was clearly considering the Hebrews his chosen people, but was not above sacrificing other nations to them, or using other nations to teach them a lesson. Other nations were not his 'children' like Israel was. The War of 1812 example is one of two equally Christian nations. Two nations of believers who could equally claim to be God's children. I do not see this as really analogous with Israel and the Egyptians. Sorry!

      September 1, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • fred

      Bruce,
      Thanks, now I need go and look up sequitur…...…..oh there it is right next to Peru.

      September 1, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Free

      Bruce
      I would agree that intelligence is not really a factor when it comes to people converting to anything. Many very intelligent people find something compelling in Christianity and the basic arguments for atheism are easily understandable to most people. I hope that you are right about fred, that he was not intentionally trying to use an intelligent scientist archetype in a propagandistic way, but if you've spent any time at all reading some of the postings made by professing Christians here you would, of course, realize that some of them are not above using such tactics. It seems like one of them attempts to make the same, tired, old claim that Einstein himself had converted. Because this is so very easily refutable one can regard such attempts as nothing more than pure propaganda aimed at a believing audience use to accepting things at face value. Again, I hope this was this not fred's intent.

      If God is transcendent to nature then I really don't see how I'm misusing the term 'supernatural' to describe him. If God actually IS nature, is just another anthropomorphism like 'Mother Nature', then God is not really a god, but merely a poetic device and not supernatural. Some Christians see God like this, and do not conceive God as being much apart from nature. Some others see God as purely conceptual and describe him as 'Love', for example, which is as symbolic as saying that Santa is the Spirit of Giving. Still others really do view him as being in another plane, hidden from view, able to affect nature, but not actually part of it. I say that because these Christians insist that not only is God indeed a real being, but that he can forever escape the detection of science, thus making him impossible to disprove. Would I be incorrect in saying that such a being would not be openly dwelling within nature? That's how I use the term 'supernatural.'

      September 1, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • fred

      Free,
      There is a significant difference between Saul’s conversion experience and say Tom Cruise to Scientology or Madonna to Kabbalah. Saul was willing and died for his love of Christ. I suspect you will argue he was an overachiever because he always had to win the race which I will agree with. By the way do you find that was a miracle (if the account of a flash of light combined with his vision of Ananias coming to heal him are true)

      September 1, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Free

      fred
      Well, Tom Cruise and Madonna aren't dead yet, are they? And, if we've learned anything from Jonestown, being willing to die for a religious belief isn't always heroic, or noble.

      Tell me, when you read Romans 16:11, where Paul says "Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord." do you think it's possible that Paul was actually related to Herod? It sure would explain a lot, wouldn't it? Interesting how his guiding the faith away from the Jews kinda headed off a popular Jewish messianic movement that might have given the Herod family a lot of trouble, eh?

      September 1, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • fred

      Free
      Hard to say could be a favorite of Nero or secretary to Claudius Caesar or Nero Claudius Caesar. As conspiracies go I think it would be easier to figure out who was in the grassy knoll

      September 2, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • fred

      Free,
      As to fred’s intent Bruce got it right.

      Now, you brought up Einstein and on this thread we were discussing miracles. Guess who believes in miracles? Yep, his belief system recognized a "miraculous order which manifests itself in all of nature as well as in the world of ideas"

      September 2, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • Free

      fred
      I think you're reading too much into the word 'miraculous'. We tend to use the label 'miracle' interchangeably in everyday language with concepts such as wondrous, amazing, and simply good luck. Einstein's use of the word doesn't mean that he bought into any supernatural power behind nature any more than the ti.tle of Dawkins' latest book, The Magic of Reality, means that he now believes in magic.

      September 2, 2011 at 10:16 am |
    • Free

      fred
      Josephus also mentions a certain 'Saulus' who was kin to Agrippa, and who led violent attacks and robbed fellow Jews who held an opposing religious stand. Doesn't this sound like pre-conversion Paul?

      September 2, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • fred

      Free,
      No, Saul of Tarsus was Paul. He was a jew from the tribe of Benjaman, high morals thought he was doing Gods bidding.

      You gotta feel for the guy as his roman name Paul meant little. At 4’6” he had quite an att-itude to go along with a good education. He was on a mission from the Sanhedrin to stamp out the Christians. Saul known for threatening and persecuting Christians did it with zeal. Mark the River would like this as here we have Saul bearing down on the last holdout of Christian leaders in hiding. What….. a miracle stops Saul in his tracks turning the tide and Christianity spreads across the globe. Saul was commissioned to arrest or kill the remaining apostles. Common Free call it a miracle for “Christ’s” sake.

      September 2, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Free

      fred

      Herod could have easily had kin in Tarsus, and there is nothing to preclude Pharisees, even tent-making ones, from being members of that family either. That Paul had Roman citizenship speaks to the likelihood that somebody in his family was very well connected indeed. Well-educated and with a superior att.itude to boot. Sounds like a relative of a petty despot to me.

      That Paul was a violent persecutor of early Christians, and came into theological conflict with Peter and James at Antioch over the larger question of allowing Gentiles to be believers without following Mosaic Law is unquestioned. Of the three, only he was not a student of Jesus and had never met the man while he lived. Acts tells that he heard a voice, but only saw a light where all other witnesses actually saw Jesus in person. I think Peter and James would have been very justified in not trusting the man's sincerity and motives.

      September 2, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • fred

      Free,
      They may have been justified but only in the absence of the Holy Spirit. The old law or custom required 2 witness and we have Ananias + Paul getting the same vision. That vision was in two different places and times. Note also it was Barnabas that brought him to the apostle so I guess God also figured as you did they would need some assurance. This initial part is about the miraculous, God saving the apostles, God pealing the scales off Saul’s eyes.
      So how is it you refuse to see miracles or cannot? Check out the scientologist website. They would use that fancy meter of L Ron Hubbard and through hypnosis help you find the blockage. Most likely a traumatic childhood event is the route their auditors would take you down. I hear that is an expensive process to bring about change. Another alternative is to simply wait. I hear some believe that if God really wants you He is very capable of finding you. Oh, wait a minute that is why you are here. You are searching in your own way. So here is a hint; what you are seeking is behind the door you refuse to open. Not hard to miss as it keeps coming around you presenting itself over and over again. It is crouching behind your skepticism and keeps you from being Free.

      September 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • fred

      Free,
      Clearly if what is written of Paul’s conversion and the divine intervention to launch the church of Christ is true you would agree that we have a miracle.
      In my personal experience I have not witnessed such a conversion where a strong educated man as Paul was completely turned when he wanted nothing to do with it. I have personally seen many a broken person finally reach a point where change had to come (hitting bottom types) or those with emotional / physical loss /emptiness reaching out. I help in various recovery groups which is why I see a lot of desperate people. A few (3) well adjusted people found Jesus simply by searching out the Bible to see what makes us tick. The latter retained their old behavior and character just adding a new level of spirituality to their lives. The former experienced profound change in basic behavior and spirituality.
      Now, Scientology uses hypnosis with regression therapy to brainwash past the beginning levels. I use what worked for me. I give the bible, my personal testimony and some simple steps that will change anyone’s life that wants to change. Yet, Paul seems different he was not broken. I do not read of a family intervention group saying Paul your lust for killing Christians must stop. Now, afterwards Paul does repent for his sin and recognize what a brute he was. Perhaps the Bible left out what came before the conversion but, I believe everything in the Bible is intentional. Thus I think it was divine.

      September 3, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Free

      fred
      "I help in various recovery groups which is why I see a lot of desperate people."

      "A drowning man will clutch at a straw."
      -English Proverb.

      "I believe everything in the Bible is intentional."

      Well, the Bible was intentionally selected to fit the popular theology at the time. Had Paul been put in his place at Antioch, and Gentiles been required to accept the Law in order to be Christian, then the Church Fathers would have selected different books, ones supporting that view, when they canonized the Bible hundreds of years later, and you would very likely be arguing the other side now, right?

      September 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Free

      fred.
      "The old law or custom required 2 witness"
      Do you have a source for this custom?

      "So how is it you refuse to see miracles or cannot?"
      I just don't see why they have to be miracles when they can be otherwise explained. I

      "Oh, wait a minute that is why you are here. You are searching in your own way."
      This, my friend, is a blog intended for the 'discussion' of belief, not the tribute to belief, as many Christian sites are. We atheists are interested in the subject of belief, which is why a very sizable number of posters here are atheists. Perhaps you should question yourself as to why you come to a site so well populated with people who hold the other opinion, and are willing to explain that belief? Are you 'searching' for something?

      September 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • fred

      Free
      >"A drowning man will clutch at a straw”
      True but Paul was not drowning which makes this conversion unique.
      > Had Paul been put in his place at Antioch………. you would very likely be arguing the other side
      You are now writing your own story. Paul was not the type to be put in his place. Paul was a bigot for the Jews against the Christians and then a bigot for the Christians against the Jews. This blind fire in his belly sustained the Church. Peters bunch ran for the hills after Stephen was stoned just like they did when Jesus was crucified. I think we would have been setting out milk for the rats if one like Paul could be put in his place.
      >source for 2 witness
      Deuteronomy 17:6
      On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.
      Deuteronomy 19:15
      A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
      > I just don't see why they have to be miracles when they can be otherwise explained
      There is no other explanation in the case of Paul’s conversion and 2 visions except to change the story which you cannot do or discount the entire story. You discount the story so I can be anything. Perhaps unlike Einstein you do no find existence miraculous. Existence cannot otherwise be explained so by your own statement it is a miracle.
      > Are you 'searching' for something
      When Moses asked who shall I say sent me God replied “tell them I AM’” sent you. Take note of the strong past, present, future, infinite ….eternal nature of that simply reply. I trust that because I have no other answer as to who made God. For some reason I think something always comes about by another force working upon it that changes what is. In the case of nothingness something had to enter the picture to bring about nothing or something (our universe for example). I would be an atheist if not for a gut feeling that something is.
      I would be an atheist if not for the fact that self awareness allows me to view a time and space outside my physical presence. I have no reason to think that is the only level of existence when observing self. There appear to be no limits on how vast something can be or how small something can be in our physical universe. There is no beginning or end that constrains self awareness i.e. I know my body has limits yet I have never experienced limits to awareness when searching for limits.

      September 4, 2011 at 2:45 am |
    • Free

      fred
      "True but Paul was not drowning which makes this conversion unique."
      I don't know. His story sounds a whole lot like all the "I was once an atheist fighting against God's truth, but then I saw the light" stories circulating around Christian circles. Are you saying that these kinds of conversions don't really happen in real life?

      "Paul was a bigot for the Jews against the Christians and then a bigot for the Christians against the Jews."
      Are you sure you want to use the word 'bigot' to describe the founder of Christianity?

      Paul was a Roman citizen. It would have been a bit more difficult to just hang him from a cross like any ordinary Jew, like Peter or Jesus, for example.

      "Deuteronomy 19:15"
      These deal with accusations of murder, yes? Do you have a source indicating that people followed this rule for sightings of dead people?

      "There is no other explanation in the case of Paul’s conversion."
      Sure there are. Like I said before, the 'light' could have been an epileptic fit, a tumor, or some other medical emergency. Remember that the man did complain of having a troublesome condition. He could have been lying about it, and used the idea of just seeing a 'light' so that nobody could question his not being able to describe Jesus. Acts could have been written to support that claim. If you believe in that kind of thing, it's even possible that it wasn't Jesus who spoke to him, but the Devil wishing to sabotage Jesus' mission. If it was, he was certainly successful.

      "I would be an atheist if not for a gut feeling that something is."
      Hasn't experience with life taught you yet that our gut isn't the best organ to consult when it comes to reality? You have a much better-suited one about two feet north of that.

      "I know my body has limits yet I have never experienced limits to awareness when searching for limits."
      Which should indicate to you that your 'gut' feeling could be way off base, right? The rest of your post, detailing the vast wonder that is the universe, best suits Einstein's marveling at nature's mystery, and is very, very far away from the average Christian's view of a personal God. Keep searching, my friend, you're almost there.

      September 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • fred

      Free,
      > Are you saying that these kinds of conversions don't really happen in real life?
      Not at all, conversions are as individual as individuals are.

      > it's even possible that it wasn't Jesus who spoke to him, but the Devil wishing to sabotage Jesus' mission. If it was, he was certainly successful
      I agree with you Jesus mission was very successful. Remember it all ties back to Genesis where the Devil already knows he will not win, then at the cross the work was finished.

      Self awareness limits……………..Are you saying you sense limits during self awareness? In other words when you are outside yourself are you suggesting you sense boundaries ?

      September 6, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • Free

      fred
      Thought you dropped out of the conversation there for a while. Glad to see you back. I'll try to answer more of your questions. 😉

      "Not at all, conversions are as individual as individuals are."
      So, you're saying that Paul's conversion wasn't all that unique after all then?

      "I agree with you Jesus mission was very successful. Remember it all ties back to Genesis where the Devil already knows he will not win, then at the cross the work was finished."
      I was talking about the Devil's mission, and Paul's part in possibly fulfilling it. When Jesus appeared to other people after he died it was bodily. The kind of light that Paul describes usually accompanies angels in the Bible, right? Since no good angel would ever impersonate Jesus then that leaves the bad ones, demons. I'm not the first to see little in common between the Paul and Christ found in Paul's letters and the Paul and Jesus depicted in the gospels and Acts.

      "Self awareness limits……………..Are you saying you sense limits during self awareness? In other words when you are outside yourself are you suggesting you sense boundaries ?"
      Ah, are you saying that you experience leaps into the spirit world like a shaman does? No, I've never experienced that. If you're just talking about theory of mind, then mine is functioning normally.

      September 6, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • fred

      Free,
      >” If you're just talking about theory of mind, then mine is functioning normally”
      Actually, belief in a “higher power” is normal. You are on the far outside of any normal bell curve. Forget about if believers are logical or not , it does not matter as you are outside of the norm. You seem nice enough so I will assume you do not suffer from antisocial personality disorder which 2% or 6 million Americans suffer from. This is considered abnormal behavior. Atheists and agnostics number about the same (1.6-2%) so that translates to your having an abnormal behavior or mind (since you believe you are controlled by your mind). I know that we do not use the words abnormal because it offends people but, you must admit your mind is not functioning “normally”.
      You and Jesus would have been stoned 2,000 years ago. Yet, the life of Jesus was resurrected whereas I am not aware of any atheist having power after death. Why is it normal to resurrect and follow the life of Jesus today? Over the past men also followed different gods this was normal behavior. Only, an abnormal minority would follow a godless, dark cult, satin etc. The Bible says the Devil will come in sheep’s clothing and we see in the beginning deceit was the tool to trick man. Clearly men prefer to follow truth unless deceived. The thought that there is no God does not work and is not normal thus deceit must be used. Science can throw up a nice smoke screen yet at the end of the day scientists are empty handed to explain life after death.
      Look at the natural world. Evolutionists say we have some old stuff in our DNA to aid in survival. If there was a lion on the hill and a bunch of people running in one direction except 2% of the herd that ran the other way who gets the focus? ……food for thought
      > Paul was not unique
      Actually, I argued the opposite. Since today we have what Paul helped put in motion I would say that was a unique conversion.

      September 6, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  18. Andy

    I wrote about this two days ago. I agree with much of what you're saying. http://andybraner.typepad.com/the_journey/2011/08/gods-judgement-or-just-the-way-the-world-spins.html

    August 31, 2011 at 10:00 am |
  19. I believe in Heaven and Hell

    I would rather live my life believing there is Heaven and Hell to find out upon death that there isn't one, than to live my life not believing there is a Heaven and Hell discovering that there is but had wasted any chances to dwell in Glory eternal in the former, instead of gnashing of teeth eternally in the latter.

    August 31, 2011 at 3:58 am |
    • What if

      Pascal's Wager - roundly refuted. Look it up.

      What if the real "God" is Allah?... or Zeus, or Ra, or Quetzalcoatl, or any one of the tens of thousands of gods which have been alleged to be 'true'. Some of them are quite vengeful toward people who didn't worship them, and will do all sorts of wicked things to you.

      August 31, 2011 at 4:09 am |
    • I believe in Heaven and Hell

      It's better to have a slim chance of believing the right One than having 0 chance because of utter unbelief.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:26 am |
    • Free

      I believe in Heaven and Hell
      Unfortunately, some people think that in order to 'really' be a believer in Heaven and Hell you have to judge your fellow man as to where you think they are destined to go. If, for example, there is no God then the people who discriminate against gays really are causing a lot of unnecessary suffering, but if there is a God then they're still causing these people suffering and for what? A better chance for you to get into Heaven? Sounds like the same mentality as all the Germans who opted to turn in hiding Jews instead of taking the risk of helping them. If you believe in Heaven, fine, but ask yourself what you are willing to do and who you are willing to step on in order to better your chances in getting there because there is a chance that you're wrong, according to Pascal.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • jimtanker

      Are you saying that gays will go to hell? Are you a gay hater?

      August 31, 2011 at 8:46 am |
    • I believe in Heaven and Hell

      All I need to do is to believe and have faith and all good things and deeds surely follow.

      August 31, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Laughing

      @I believe in Heaven and Hell

      You're actually wrong on the whole "I have a better chance of believing in something rather than nothing", you actually have the same amount of chance at being right as I do, plus riddle me this, if your god values good deeds and good actions, then do I not have an equal opportunity of getting into heaven. I mean, is the prerequisite to getting into heaven just "I believe in your specifically christian god from the bible"? because if so, there are some pretty terrible people getting a free pass into heaven and some pretty amazing people taking the long march to hel.l. What happens when we both die and you see me up there with you even though I've been an unbeliever for the majority of my life? These are just some questions you should ponder instead of just as.suming you have all the answers.

      August 31, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Bruce

      FYI people, the Christian heaven is not a reward for virtue, and the Christian hell is not a punishment for vice.

      I scratch my head at any Christian that thinks that (1) they can, through sheer force of will, choose to believe in the existence of heaven and hell, and (2) that this task will be rewarded with heaven, and neglect of this task or refusal to take up this task will be punished with hell. Could there be anything more wrong, theologically-speaking, than this pair of ideas?

      That said, Pascal's actual wager was much more nuanced than how it is depicted by many atheists. People should actually read the Penses rather than a Wikipedia article about Pascal's Wager, and try to read it with an open mind. Also, people should realize that Pascal's intent was most-definitely NOT to convince the unbeliever to believe, but rather to encourage the believer to persist in the face of doubt. These intentions are very very different. The difference should not be underestimated or minimized by your rhetoric.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Bruce

      It's also very important to note that a wager is NOT a belief. The very nature of a wager is an admission that you do not know, that you might be wrong, that you might lose the wager.

      So, why should we believe that heaven/hell exists, or that God (as described in Christian theology) exists? Well, one ought to believe only if they have good epistemic reasons to believe. Barring that, one's epistemic duty is to suspend critical judgment. However, the suspension of critical judgment (i.e. skepticism) does not prohibit you from wagering one way or another.

      One of the crucial assumptions Pascal makes, one that is not really defended so much as pounded out with a rhetorical hammer, is that we all must wager, and that the stakes are set ahead of time. It is not optional. This, I think, is where Pascal's argument ultimately breaks down, or at the very least this is where Pascal neglected his obligation to support his argument.

      But again, there are important and not-insignificant differences between a wager and a belief. We need to understand Pascal's wager at least in that sense.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • John Richardson

      No, Bruce, the premises of the wager are absurd from the get go. You can't nuance a fallacy out of being a fallacy.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Bruce

      @John: On what planet is that considered engaging in any sort of discussion?

      Why don't you try again, this time try to call upon some substance to support whatever argument you want to put forward.

      You might as well have said, "Pascal smells of elderberries, and I f@rt in his general direction."

      August 31, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • Free

      Bruce
      "the Christian heaven is not a reward for virtue, and the Christian hell is not a punishment for vice."
      In what sense, then, is Christianity concerned with people's morality?

      "we all must wager"
      Ah, but it's not just choosing between Heaven and no Heaven; it's also choosing between reincarnation and no reincarnation, as well as every other proposed afterlife. In actuality, then, we all must make a series of wagers regarding the risk of ending up in a non-preferable place after death. Pascal probably never considered all of these additional possibilities, did he? Yet, while most Christians don't give the afterlife beliefs of other religions a second thought, some of them simply cannot accept that other people disregard their beliefs the same way. Isn't this rather hypocritical?

      August 31, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Bruce

      @Free

      "In what sense, then, is Christianity concerned with people's morality?"

      This is a good question. Check out the other discussion I'm having on moral freedom for some context, but what I see as the concern with morality, at least the outward signs of a person's morality (e.g. are they having se.x with someone other than their spouse?) is that these outward signs are indicative of a lack of faith in the Spirit (see Paul's letter to the Galatians), the Spirit that is informing the believer's moral intuitions and moral imagination.

      "Pascal probably never considered all of these additional possibilities, did he?"

      Before we get too critical of Pascal's limited scope, we should remember his intent. His intent was not to get unbelievers to believe, but rather to give Christians a way to deal with doubt. In this context, all those other possibilities become basically irrelevant. A good question to ask is "how does one go about wagering that the Christian God exists?" This becomes a practical matter rather than one of epistemology. It involves, not belief in the sense of personal opinions, but rather a set of actions (saying certain things, going to services, doing good works, etc.) that can be done in the absence of belief–indeed the nature of a wager makes it such that you fully admit you don't know, which is actually an agnostic atti.tude toward the idea of God's existence.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • John Richardson

      @Bruce Your response is absolutely childish. Elderberries and flatulence? My gawd.

      You are, btw, correct that a wager is not a belief. That is one of the problems. On the already questionable premise that any highest power that might exists cares that you believe in him (I'm just playing along with the masculine pronoun), wagering that he exists isn't the same as really believing it anyway. So you need an additional premise that god will smile only one those who truly believe AND those that pretend that they do for the sake of winning a wager for this thing to get off the ground in the first place. This has been pointed out repeatedly by several people here over the months.

      But there are many, many more problems that have been discussed in detail by various posters the many times this matter has come up. How about reading some of those responses before presuming to talk down to people.

      I would have to examine the matter further, but I strongly suspect that any difference you hope to make out of the call to come to believe versus the call to continue to believe will land you somewhere in the realm of the sunk cost fallacy. Perhaps a discussion for another day.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • John Richardson

      Just look at what has been legal or illegal over the years. Slavery was once legal. Speaking Welsh in the UK was once illegal. I tend to be antiprohibitionist pretty much across the board, but you don't have to be to see that there's something insane about a system in which drinking and selling alcohol is legal and smoking and selling marijuana is not. What is legal or not presumably has SOME connection with societal notions of right and wrong, but it also has a lot to do with what vested interests hold what sort of power within that society.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Bruce

      @John: "the already questionable premise that any highest power that might exists cares that you believe in him"

      This isn't one of the premises of Pascal's argument.

      "How about reading some of those responses before presuming to talk down to people."

      How about you reading Pensees before presuming to talk about Pascal's wager, before presuming to talk down to Pascal?

      August 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Bruce

      Here is an excerpt from the Pensees:

      "Yes, but I have my hands tied and my mouth closed; I am forced to wager, and am not free. I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?"

      True. But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour then to convince yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness.

      "But this is what I am afraid of."

      And why? What have you to lose?

      But to show you that this leads you there, it is this which will lessen the passions, which are your stumbling-blocks.

      Do you see the prescription Pascal gives for the unbeliever? He doesn't say "will yourself to believe." Not at all. The wager in this sense is what one does in the absence of belief, a set of practical steps one can do by force of will alone, which do not require one to believe in order to perform.

      So people should stop equating this nonsense of "believing that God exists" or "believing in heaven and hell" with Pascal's wager. Belief is not required. In fact, a wager suggests the opposite–a lack of belief once you recognize the nature of a wager to begin with. A wager is, in fact, an agnostic proposition. This said, agnosticism is fully compatible with both theism and atheism. One can fully grasp and understand that their belief or disbelief in God is not epistemically justified, and thus even if the belief is true it does not consti.tute knowledge.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Bruce Who is "talking down" to Pascal? Whether or not the statements made by supposed believers on this blog and elsewhere are accurately characterized as Pascal's Wager is of secondary importance at best. People come onto this blog and make statements like the one that "I Believe" made. These are the wagers people are actually making and are the assumptions behind them are the ones the non-believers in these parts are rebutting. It would come as no surprise if people are coming up with a version a lot clunkier than Pascal did. But again, what we are interested in rebutting is what the people are actually claiming. But I'll have something to say about what you quoted from Pascal below anyway.

      August 31, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Bruce

      @John, if you care to read, you will find I gave a critical response both to "I believe in Heaven and Hell" as well as "What if". It was my response to the latter that involved Pascal, not my response to the former, because it was "What if" that invoked Pascal's name, not "I believe in Heaven and Hell."

      August 31, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • John Richardson

      On second thought, I'll read the Pensees in the entirety before commenting. Seems we're starting in the middle. But I don't see how any of this stuff discredits what non-believers have had to say about this whole line of reasoning. The premise that what one believes re god makes all the difference for all eternity is still there and as ludicrous as ever. The notion that it is all in or none in re the Christian god and no others is still there in all its idiotic glory. It's no surprise that Pascals treatment is more involved than the average CNN blog religious nitwit's is, but I've read more than enough medieval and early modern literature and philosophy to know that essentially all of it was steeped in ludicrous premises, if for no other reason than authors would have been literally killed if they, for instance, openly allowed that Islam may be right all Christians therefore destined for damnation and you therefore have to consider that possibility before placing any bets.

      August 31, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Bruce

      "The premise that what one believes re god makes all the difference for all eternity is still there and as ludicrous as ever."

      No it's not. It's not in Pensees. It was in the first comment, yes, but that is why I criticized "What if" for invoking Pascal's wager as even relevant to the original comment.

      In fact, you've already admitted that a wager is not a belief. There is a reason for this. Pascal's wager is NOT a proof for the existence of God. It is NOT put forward even as a good epistemic reason to believe. It is put forward as a possible prudential reason to believe, however prudential reasons are not sufficient for epistemic justification, and Pascal admits this multiple times in the Pensees.

      The wager is never put forward as a "choose to believe that God exists" proposition, nor does it stake eternal heaven against belief. You can "wager for God's existence" and still NOT believe God exists. What do you not understand about this?

      August 31, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • Free

      Bruce
      "the Spirit that is informing the believer's moral intuitions and moral imagination."
      Which ends up being subjective in practice, as any number of Christians will draw upon their own combination of biblical, traditional and intuitional ideas, with vastly differing results, but all equally believing that these ideas came directly from the Spirit and represent the only 'true' morality of God.

      "His intent was not to get unbelievers to believe, but rather to give Christians a way to deal with doubt. In this context, all those other possibilities become basically irrelevant."
      Not really. It's like the reflection a Christian must give to the question "Is God real?" Without considering the many thousands of other gods that have been ruled false throughout the ages, the reasons why these gods were determined to be merely human inventions, and applying those criteria to their own deity Christians aren't fairly judging God's existence, are they?

      Likewise, the knowledge that many potential afterlives have been proposed takes away the intended simplicity of Pascal's yes-no wager. If Pascal intentionally limited the scope of the wager, then he was oversimplifying the issue intentionally to give far more weight to Heaven's possible existence than it justifiably deserves. It makes the wager as much a trick question as asking "Do all purple invisible unicorns have wings?"

      August 31, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Bruce

      @Free:

      "Which ends up being subjective in practice, as any number of Christians will draw upon their own combination of biblical, traditional and intuitional ideas, with vastly differing results, but all equally believing that these ideas came directly from the Spirit and represent the only 'true' morality of God."

      Perhaps, but doubts as to the "mere subjectivity" of practicing morality based upon your moral intuitions and your moral imagination is precisely a lack of trust (aka faith) in the Spirit. That is, if you cannot trust your Spirit-led moral intuitions, you aren't morally free and must instead rely on something like the Law (e.g. 10 commandments). Most Christians seem to distrust the Spirit so much that they equate trusting in their moral intuitions with "moral relativity" and cry for laws and codes, and that leads them to do silly things like erect monuments of the 10 commandments in the public square.

      "Without considering the many thousands of other gods that have been ruled false throughout the ages, the reasons why these gods were determined to be merely human inventions, and applying those criteria to their own deity Christians aren't fairly judging God's existence, are they?"

      I don't think they even have to doubt the existence of other gods. Jesus refers to Mammon by name, and the power of money and greed today is more compelling than it has ever been. Once you understand something like Mammon as an existent (small-g) god, knowing full-well what money is and what money represents and what money does today, then the understanding of what a (big-G) God might be can be a lesson in contrast.

      "If Pascal intentionally limited the scope of the wager, then he was oversimplifying the issue intentionally to give far more weight to Heaven's possible existence than it justifiably deserves."

      But I don't think his intended audience was wondering whether they should believe in god A, god B, god C, heaven D, heaven E, hell F, or hell G. He specifically limited his scope to belief in God, meaning the God depicted in Christianity, and what to do when you find yourself either racked with doubt about the existence of this specific God or even with disbelief with respect to God's existence.

      Also, we need to note that Pascal never comes up with an epistemic reason, a rational reason, to believe in God. Instead he comes up with a prudential reason to wager for God. A wager for God is NOT a belief in God. So saying he failed to prove God's existence is pretty meaningless, because he admits as much in the Pensees.

      August 31, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Bruce Once again, IF you are correct, you are correct on a minor philological point. We are not concerned about how close to Pascal these posters are with their argument. We are concerned with this argument and its ubiquity. It is this argument that we mean to refute.

      Also, for the record, the OP's handle notwithstanding, when people make modern versions of this argument, they don't cite belief vs disbelief in heaven and hell per se, but belief and disbelief in god as the critical matter, heaven and hell being the pay offs. Also, I have never ever heard anyone say that this argument is an argument for the existence of god. It plainly is no such thing. On the contrary, it is an argument for believing in the face of a paucity of evidence, and is thoroughly fallacious all the same.

      I will need to read Pensees to evaluate your claims about Pascal. I don't see the point of Pascal's entire discussion if there is no pay off for believing, or at least pretending to.

      August 31, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Bruce

      @John:

      "We are not concerned about how close to Pascal these posters are with their argument. We are concerned with this argument and its ubiquity. It is this argument that we mean to refute."

      If that's your concern, then simply refute the argument and stop using Pascal's name as short-hand for what you are trying to accomplish.

      "it is an argument for believing in the face of a paucity of evidence"

      Not Pascal's argument. Pascal's argument is a reason to wager for God, not a reason to believe in God. You know the difference.

      I'm fine with refuting these arguments, just don't characterize them as Pascal's wager. There are certainly problems with Pascal's wager that deserve criticism, however the things you have been talking about are not among those problems.

      August 31, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Again, Bruce, the issue is not Pascal and his intended audience, though I still fail to see how Pascal can be said to have given any good grounds for wagering on the Christian god in light of modern discussion. The issue is the modern believer and the arguments for belief that they give themselves and share with others. The big issue is indeed that when one is brought up in an environment that encourages the belief that there is one one horse in the race, ie the Christian god or at least the Judeo-Christian god, people can WRONGLY assume that the choice is between a narrow range of theist options and atheism. In fact, the choices are vastly broader and the more different theistic choices there are, the less compelling any ONE will seem.

      August 31, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • John Richardson

      "I'm fine with refuting these arguments, just don't characterize them as Pascal's wager" That's what you should have simply said at the outset. That said, however, there is a fairly long tradition of placing all these sorts of arguments under the rubric of "Pascal's wager" that I'm pretty sure isn't going to go away overnight at your say so.

      August 31, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Bruce

      "The big issue is indeed that when one is brought up in an environment that encourages the belief that there is one one horse in the race, ie the Christian god or at least the Judeo-Christian god, people can WRONGLY assume that the choice is between a narrow range of theist options and atheism."

      I disagree, John. The big issue as I see it, the one I identified in my first comment, is the pair of notions that (1) we can choose to believe or choose to disbelieve in certain religious ideas and that (2) this choice is a moral triumph or a moral failure that is rewarded with heaven or punished with hell depending on how we choose.

      These ideas are much more problematic than the issues you are describing.

      August 31, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Bruce Well, yes, I should have said "one big issue". These are ALL big issues. Indeed, there are even more beyond these.

      Here's something a bit better than Wikipedia on Pascal's Wager: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pascal-wager/

      Actually, to be perfectly truthful, some of the critiques of what it means to wager on god and why one should doubt that you can actually do that seen on this board seem more thorough and well thought out than the Stanford discussion. But I do recommend this piece.

      On a personal note, I would like to say that Pascal's Triangle is one of my all time favorites among intellectual discoveries and IF there is a heaven, Pascal's ticket there SHOULD have been punched the moment he came up with this bit of brilliance! Google it! It's actually fairly simple, but has all sorts of neat properties and applications galore.

      August 31, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Bruce

      John, I think the best argument against Pascal's wager is the fact that he underestimates (in the passage I quoted, actually) the cost of wagering for God if it is the case that God doesn't exist. "What have you to lose?" A lot, actually. In fact, there is a strong moral argument that convincingly (to me, at least) describes why it is immoral to "deaden your acuteness" to the intuitions that are becoming emotional stumbling blocks to belief, that these emotions are there for a reason, and they should not be deadened–especially if God doesn't exist. In essence, the rhetorical weight of his argument seems to assume God's existence in the first place, which makes the argument fundamentally circular in nature.

      Another issue that never seems to be addressed is whether or not the "abatement of your passions" actually leads to belief in God, or does it just silence the objections and encourage an intellectual laziness in this area of your intellectual life?

      But yes, Pascal was a great mathematician and geometer. 🙂

      August 31, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • John Richardson

      Well, to be perfectly honest, I find it easier to at least entertain the possibility that the universe is ruled by some sort of on balance benign divinity mid-orgasm than while squirming in a pew. So I'm not sure what this whole 'abatement of passions' thing is about, though I do note that quite a few religions seem to think it's important.

      August 31, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Free

      Bruce
      You say it's a matter of 'trusting' the Spirit, but wouldn't the hypothetical assortment of Christians I mentioned earlier all likely be 'trusting' the Spirit too? Even Fred Phelps claims to be 'trusting' the Spirit to guide him. So, what you end up with is as much a "do what feels right" att.itude as we atheists are criticized for having, except that believers are removing their own accountability by claiming that a greater authority is guiding them, while we atheists fully accept that we alone are responsible for our judgments.

      If Pascal's original audience was not aware of the actual scope of the question then they could be sympathized with, but educated people today really ought to know that it's not as simple as it's still being presented, right?

      August 31, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Bruce

      @Free:

      "So, what you end up with is as much a 'do what feels right' att.itude as we atheists are criticized for having, except that believers are removing their own accountability by claiming that a greater authority is guiding them, while we atheists fully accept that we alone are responsible for our judgments."

      Right–Christians will have the same troubles as atheists have in trusting their moral intuitions if they don't really believe they actually have access to Spirit-led moral intuitions or they look at the people who claim to be led by the Spirit who obviously are not acting morally and take that as a warning to not trust those intuitions. Most atheists tend to not have a hypocrisy problem because very few of them profess a belief in moral facts and moral absolutes (I'm a rare breed of atheist who believes that moral absolutes and moral facts are both existent as well as accessible, and that they are not mere personal opinion) and look upon all of it as mere opinion. Christians find some way of either ignoring or recasting Galatians to fit their views such that they can go and embrace laws and codes, because they simply do not believe in what Paul's talking about there.

      It actually has to do with how we view humanity–do we see it as a bunch of individuals, or do we see a connection between all humans and understand things in a more-collective sense, a collective "personality" if you will (c.f. Jung's Collective Unconscious)? The worship of the individual over the collective is a fairly modern movement in Christianity, even though Christian history is firmly orthodox and sees the "death to self" as an embrace of the collective (aka the Church, aka the Body of Christ).

      "If Pascal's original audience was not aware of the actual scope of the question then they could be sympathized with, but educated people today really ought to know that it's not as simple as it's still being presented, right?"

      The problems with arguments like this today is that they bear little resemblance to Pascal's wager as we can find it in Pensees. The wager has turned into a belief and the will acts upon belief (aka opinion) rather than upon something it actually has control over, such as action. Belief has turned from something that happens to you into something that you can choose, and this choice of belief or disbelief has taken on a moral dimension, to be punished with hell or rewarded with heaven.

      Even the way you are phrasing this implies that Christians who refuse to consider all the options of all the other gods available to them and all the other heaven/hell pictures available to them paints this refusal as a moral failure, which it very well might be in a limited sense, if we are to regard intellectual laziness as a moral failure. But what moral intuition are you using to judge these people with? Is it merely your personal opinion, or are you expecting everyone to recognize this kind of intellectual laziness as morally wrong? It seems to be a pot calling the kettle black at the end of the day...

      August 31, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Free

      Bruce
      "they look at the people who claim to be led by the Spirit who obviously are not acting morally"
      What's so 'obvious' about some other guy's lack of morality if he's also claiming to be acting according to the Spirit, but clearly doing something you find wrong? From his perspective you are just as much a pretender as you imagine him to be. Who's actually right? Subjectively, you believe you are, but so does he.

      I cannot say for certain that any act will not come to be accepted as 'moral' by a chunk of humanity. Considering some of the truly sadistic things that we have done in the name of gods and the state nothing seems exempt. We even entertained the morality that it was better to destroy our entire species than allow one superpower to 'win' an all-out nuclear war, and I can't think of a worse crime than that.

      The actual problem with Pascal, if I can mirror your discussion with John for a moment, is that people are applying the basic quote out of context of Pensees to modern society. A modern re-propositioning of the Wager would have to account for the greater scope of the question. That some Christian's are still attempting to use it as a valid argument either speaks to their still not being aware of things outside of their limited view, or to their willingness to misrepresent the situation in their favor.

      August 31, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Bruce

      "What's so 'obvious' about some other guy's lack of morality if he's also claiming to be acting according to the Spirit, but clearly doing something you find wrong? From his perspective you are just as much a pretender as you imagine him to be. Who's actually right? Subjectively, you believe you are, but so does he. "

      Right. I understand that if you start with the assumption that morals are merely opinions, then you end with the conclusion that morals are merely opinions. That is clear and uncontroversial. It is also a reason that Christians can't trust their moral intuitions and moral imaginations, even though they are (allegedly) informed by the Spirit, because they–at the end of the day–believe the same thing and agree with you that you can't really tell the difference and if you were in Phelps' shoes that you would feel the Spirit told you to do what he's doing.

      For the same reasons you believe morals are merely opinions, many/most Christians do not have faith in the Spirit, and basically ignore or outright reject the teaching on moral freedom found in Paul's letter to the Galatians (among other places in the NT, but it is most-clearly written out there), though they don't know they are rejecting it and somehow think they are in agreement with it (if they've read the letter at all).

      On the other hand, the clearness of the wrongdoing of people like Phelps should be a sign to you (since it is clear to you, as you say) that what he's doing is wrong, and the wrongness transcends your mere opinion of it being wrong and it doesn't matter if people agree with you.

      September 1, 2011 at 7:34 am |
    • Bruce

      "That some Christian's are still attempting to use it as a valid argument either speaks to their still not being aware of things outside of their limited view, or to their willingness to misrepresent the situation in their favor."

      Thinking about this some more, perhaps this phenomenon speaks to their intellectual laziness, their distrust of reason, and an anti-intellectual strain that parades itself almost proudly in the Pensees. Note that Pascal is quite up-front with his admission that reason simply cannot get you there, which is why you need to do something non-rational (though not necessarily irrational) and practical rather than rational and epistemic/intellectual.

      He wants the nonbeliever to seek the "abatement of your passions," and these are not passions in general, but specifically those passions relating to your intellectual/epistemic objections to the belief that God exists. This is a decidedly anti-intellectual move, and perhaps the adoption of this anti-intellectualism by modern users of the argument isn't as at-odds with Pascal as I have previously stated...

      September 1, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Free

      Bruce
      I did not say that most Christians did not have faith in the Spirit. What I meant was that the Spirit appears to be merely an aspect of people's own consciences because it fails to yield any standard result. To us, and most Christians, Phelps is dead wrong because he is hurting innocent people, but many Christians would picket a gay pride march, and many others would picket a family planning clinic. Why? Because they judge those that they picket as not being innocent, or they judge their demonstration as being more important than the harm they do. They may see the hurt they cause, but their conscience informs them that they are fighting for a greater good. The principle is really the same. People who share similar moral viewpoints ban together, but nothing is ever set in stone as being truly beyond the pale.

      September 1, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • Free

      Bruce
      If you want to appreciate art reason won't get you there either, but the emotional surrender to music, or an oil canvas, or even a great novel does not make the fictional subjects of these things actually real. They remain the artistic representation of something from the artist's imagination, yet I have heard some Christians state boldly that if you have ever found beauty in art then you have, in fact, experienced God. That, in my opinion, is the theological equivalent of saying that being moved by Francis Pharcellus Church's editorial "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" in fact confirms that Santa is actually real. The emotional cord being struck works whether God (or Santa) is real, or just a symbolic idea, yes?

      September 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • I believe in Heaven and Hell

      Honestly, I was not invoking Pascal's Wager.

      It was just a matter of using common-sense after contemplating what are the advantages and disadvatages in life as well as afterlife of not believing but it's true, otherwise believing but it's not true and vice versa.

      September 5, 2011 at 3:51 am |
  20. I = rubber, U = glue

    @ Bruce

    One issue with moral freedom can be seen in the Jeff's trial. A man believes he has every right to perform certain acts, even if it is against the law.

    I see no issues with people using faith and religion as their own personal set of morals, but the law of the land trumps any moral freedom. Which makes me wonder if true moral freedom is really possible?

    I was not familiar with the Grand Inquisitor. Thanks for the interesting discussion.

    August 30, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Bruce

      Moral freedom does not entail the state allowing people to break the law. In fact, moral freedom is a way to break the bond between the law and our sense of morality. It's similar to a separation between church and state.

      The law does not support moral freedom. In fact, it likely encourages the opposite of moral freedom. They are not completely incompatible, however. Moral freedom can coexist with the law, it's just that we no longer regard "unlawful" as identical to "immoral."

      A morally free individual does what is right because it is good to be good and goodness/virtue is its own reward and evil/vice is its own punishment. A morally unfree individual does what is right because they are afraid of what the law might do to them if they get caught doing something wrong.

      August 30, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • I = rubber, U = glue

      @ Bruce

      That is assuming that a morally free individual enganging in evil/vice will suffer some form of punishment. Possibly guilt or eternal damnation.

      I am having a hard time seeing how moral freedom can coexist with the law. Since moral freedom is subjective, my version of evil does not match everyones. The law is needed to set a standard and keep the peace.

      I suppose i agree that man can not be trusted with his own moral freedom, since it has been shown that certain individuals tend to perform "evils" while claiming to be righteous.

      August 30, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Bruce

      "That is assuming that a morally free individual enganging in evil/vice will suffer some form of punishment. Possibly guilt or eternal damnation. "

      Nope. It is assuming that the morally free individual recognizes that evil is its own punishment, whether or not guilt or damnation or some other punishment, internal or external, ensues.

      The punishment is existential. When you murder someone, you are a murderer. This being-a-murderer is a state of being, an existential punishment in and of itself, even if you, personally, get away with it in terms of the law and manage to feel no guilt (or even feel pleasure in it) or even if you somehow wind up in heaven for eternity.

      "Since moral freedom is subjective"

      Nope. It is not subjective. It is not mere opinion. There are moral facts, moral absolutes. If there are not, then moral freedom is, indeed, impossible in principle.

      August 30, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • I = rubber, U = glue

      @Bruce

      We may just have to agree to disagree on this. I don't see how "Being a murderer" is a punishment unless the murderer feels internal punishment or someone inflicts external punishment on them.

      I do not believe there are moral facts and absolutes. Majority of people will look to their religious texts/teachings for these moral absolutes, but there are so many to choose from.

      Where do you find your moral absolutes?

      August 30, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bruce

      "I don't see how 'Being a murderer' is a punishment unless the murderer feels internal punishment or someone inflicts external punishment on them."

      This doesn't surprise me, actually. Most people can't see this. They are not morally free, and do not at all desire this kind of freedom. Truth be told, I don't much like it myself, though I think I understand it. I'm not morally free, either–I think it takes someone much stronger and more-disciplined than I to attain such a thing, however I've managed to cull up a few ideas that make moral freedom at least understandable.

      Pick up a copy of Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, and if you do nothing else, read the chapter "The Grand Inquisitor." It is a short-story within the very-long novel. It's one of the most-powerful chapters in Western literature, imo.

      "Where do you find your moral absolutes?"

      Well, they are not "mine" because they are not purely subjective. They are "ours," and the term is intersubjective, which is different from "objective" in important ways. Where I "find" them is in the imagery and the cultural archetypes that hold our collective imagination. For example, the story of Jesus' death and resurrection is a trope for a moral absolute that says something like "giving up your life for the good of your friends and fellow man is a good thing and the mark of a hero." This image, and this story, exists in many stories throughout our (cultural) history, and it is persistent. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer dies and comes back from the dead not once but twice, and this heroine's story touches upon the same trope and informs the same moral intuitions and moral imagination in us.

      When you see something like this you will see that we obviously cannot legislate this sort of morality, because while we might need to (as a practical matter) try to limit the amount of evil people do, we cannot in good conscience try to force them into being heroes.

      I'm not sure if you might see "being-a-hero" as an existential reward, even if you, personally, derived no pleasure from it or were never rewarded with money or fame or something-like-heaven? (Buffy was rewarded with heaven and then ripped out of that same heaven in this story... Joss Whedon is friggin' brilliant.)

      August 30, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • I = rubber, U = glue

      @Bruce

      I appreciate the reference to Brothers Karamazov, i did a quick search on the Grand Inquisitor and it got me thinking.

      I also still disagree that moral freedom is black and white. If i were to murder a man who was killing innocent people, i would be both a "Murderer" and a "Hero." Do these cancel each other out? How do you measure an existential reward/punishment?

      This discussion is making me picture everyone having their own morality gauge that looks just like the fuel gauge in my car. The morality gauge ranging from evil – good, everyone starts out in the middle.

      August 30, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Bruce

      "If i were to murder a man who was killing innocent people, i would be both a "Murderer" and a "Hero." Do these cancel each other out?"

      No, they wouldn't cancel each other out. Both states of being can coexist, they are not mutually exclusive. You are simultaneously punished and rewarded. If you are of the "lucky" sort where these existential rewards and punishments coincide with emotional states, you might simultaneously feel guilty and proud, though it's important to note that these emotions are not necessary for you to recognize the existential reward and punishment for what they are.

      "How do you measure an existential reward/punishment?"

      I don't think this idea lends itself to intuitions of quantification and measurability.

      August 30, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Bruce

      That is, if we think of a "necessary evil," it is important to note that the necessity involved doesn't make the evil any less evil. It's still evil, even though it is also necessary.

      August 30, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • I = rubber, U = glue

      @Bruce

      You have an interesting way of looking at morality. How did you come by your way of thinking? Are there certain books that you have read that teach of existential morality?

      This is really the first time I have ever heard of existential reward/punishment. I still don't agree with you but I don't want to immediately discredit either. I guess being a chemical engineer makes me try to quantify and measure things, although I know not everything can work out this way.

      August 30, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Bruce

      I would say the greatest influence on my sense of ethics is Aristotle's virtue ethics. A good place to start would be Nicomachean Ethics.

      August 31, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • John Richardson

      Anyone who equates unlawful with illegal is a nitwit from the start.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • I = rubber, U = glue

      @ John

      I don't think this conversation had anything to do with unlawful vs illegal. Unless you consider unlawful to be in relation to morality.

      I am really just trying to understand how you can claim the existence of moral absolutes. So if you have anything to add, that would be super.

      Lucky for me I = rubber, U = glue so now you are the nitwit sir. Bwhaha.

      August 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • John Richardson

      @Rubber I don't believe in moral absolutes. Why did you suppose that I did? And my comment about (im)moral vs (un)lawful was just a follow up on your own original post and Bruce's first reply.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
    • *frank*

      It ain't a party 'til Senor Richardson's here.

      August 31, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.