The Hierophant, aka Patrick Mooney gives this questionnaire to any Christian who tries to proselytize him. I don't proselytize, because I just don't feel called to that mission. But I find Hierophant's questionnaire challenging. Besides, he's a former Christian, and I'm a former atheist. So here are my answers (copyright VCBC, 2010) to his questions (copyright Patrick Mooney, 1997). - Scooper
- If necessary, use this space to explain any unique or unusual beliefs your sect has about the nature of your god, heaven, hell, the Bible, the Holy Spirit/Ghost, Satan, or other theological matters.
I believe that God, for love of us, became an ordinary person — Jesus — to be with us as one of us. People just like us — which means that we are just like them — killed him because he did not conform to their beliefs about God. Belief is an act of embracing opinions, which becomes idolatry when our opinions about God become more important to us than our relationship with God (i.e., when we figuratively crucify Christ). Jesus arose from death — an act by which God not only forgives us for being like his murderers, but promises to bring us into a new relationship with God beyond our present lives. This promissory act is powerful enough to redeem the entire universe.
I believe the Bible is the record of Israel's attempt to be the People of God. It records their successes, their failures, their inspirations, and their misconceptions. It was revealed through people in a historical process that is legitimately subject to historical, archaeological, and literary analysis and criticism. Nor is the Bible a single book. It is a library of many different kinds of literature, including children's stories, love poetry, history (both accurate and whitewashed - see Chronicles vs Kings), prophecy and polemic. Nevertheless, the Bible is as God intended for us to have it, with all its contradictions and inconsistencies. These indicate that we are to worship God, not the text, and dissuade us from the vain attempt to form an image of God in our limited minds. In particular, the contradictions and inconsistencies tell us that while the Bible is a pointer to God, you can't know God by reading a book - you have to enter into a relationship with God, usually mediated through prayer.
I also believe that the Bible does not stand by itself, because we are not disembodied spirits having it read to us. We are here in the Universe with each other, our collective experiences, God, and the Bible. It is not only fair, it is required to bring everything God gives us to interpret the Bible, including our own personal histories and experiences, and the history, scientific, imaginative, and spiritual insights of all peoples of all religions or no religion.
I believe God makes himself present to Christians as the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to Jewish Kabbalists as the interaction between the ten Sefirot, to Muslims as an opaque unity, to Hindus as an infinity of avatars, to Buddhists as ultimate Reality, etc.
- Explain why your god's only son had to die so we can go to magic happy land when we croak.
Jesus lived and died in, and was resurrected out of an honor/shame culture. Being made powerless, being crucified, meant being put to shame. That God would allow himself or his Anointed One to be so shamed was unthinkable, so the earliest Christians rationalized it as being absolutely necessary for our salvation. I think the Christ's life, death and resurrection was an act of infinite generosity, and one that stands the values of honor/shame culture, indeed all cultural values, on their heads. It is of a piece with the answer to question 6 below. As I stated above, I believe the God's generosity is powerful enough to redeem the entire universe, but in that generosity, hell is provided for those who can't bear heaven.
Sorry, I feel compelled to amplify. The New Testament writers thought Jesus had satisfied God's need for justice. But note that God did not kill Jesus by fire from Heaven. We killed him by torturing him to death. I don't think God required Jesus to be sacrificed - we humans did. That is to say, we need Jesus to satisfy our idea of God's justice - we made Jesus die because of our own inability to accept ourselves for what we are before God. So God, in his infinite generosity, let us kill him. And then God undid our outrageous act and invited us to heaven.
- Did everyone who died before Jesus died go to Hell? Justify your answer.
No. The event of the Incarnation/Ministry/Crucifixion/Resurrection occurred at a particular time and place, but it is not bound either by time or place. To me, it is as if the entire Universe were made backwards and forwards from that event. And since the Bible refers to a new Heaven and a new Earth, maybe the entire Universe, for all time, will be redeemed by it.
- If a Catholic, justify the Inquisition and other persecutions of "heretics" throughout the centuries, concentrating on why the Pelagianists, the Priscillianists, and the Manichaeans were persecuted; if a Protestant, justify the witch trials and the way that Protestants constantly hunted down native Americans until there were so few that the government could simply take their land; if a member of an Eastern Orthodox church, justify the persecutions of the Old Believers after the reforms of the seventeenth century.
I can't. Those who did such things were killing what they feared and hated in themselves whenever they found it in another. If they had been forced to crucify their victims instead of burning them, they might have repented before doing such evil. In addition, good old tribalism and greed were often motivators. Christianity, or a particular variety of Christianity, was merely an identity badge of the in-group, which justified taking life, liberty, land and possessions from the out-group by asserting that Christians were superior to them. That is to say, in practice Christians after the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire have a history of acting like everybody else. This is therefore not an indictment of Christianity, but rather a description of the dark side of human nature (also known as Sin).
As to the particular heresies, I think that the more pagan and less 1st century Palestinian Jewish a doctrine is, the less likely that doctrine is to have originated with the historical Jesus. That probably covers them all except Arianism, which I reject because it's inconsistent with all my other beliefs about Jesus, see answers below.
- Explain why your sect (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox) pursued, tortured, and killed people who were not Christian.
Same explanation as question 3 above.
- Explain why your sect (whether Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox) pursued, tortured, and killed people who were not members of your particular sect.
Same explanation as question 3 above.
- Explain why I should believe that your god is all-good when the only real information we have about him is the Bible, which clearly describes him as both good and evil. (See Isaiah 30:32, Luke 14:26, Numbers 31:17-18, Matthew 10:34, Amos 3:6, Deuteronomy 18:8, Deuteronomy 20:16, Exodus 20:5, Exodus 32:27, Isaiah 45:7, Psalms 52:5, Luke 22:36, and Jeremiah 18:11 for a small sample of Biblical passages which describe Jehovah as having an evil morality at times).
God was trying to impress an honor/shame culture with his autonomy/power and authority to define good and evil. See the theophany in Job 40:8, "Will you condemn me that you may be justified?" Also note that in honor/shame cultures might makes right, and in traditional cultures the word for "evil" is often not separated from "natural evil" or misfortune. The notion that God is or should be "all good" is embraced only in cultures that have developed beyond the honor/shame duality.
- Explain why, when racism is clearly wrong, Jesus was clearly a racist (see Mark 7:25-29). NOTE: under no circumstances will I believe that racism is morally acceptable.
You are retrojecting 21st century values back to the 1st. Jesus was mocking the prejudice of his fellow Israelites, as his healing of the woman's daughter shows. As long as you are retrojecting, imagine you are in 1950's Alabama, and I inform you that our restaurant policy is not to admit people like you, but I nevertheless serve you a meal in defiance of that policy.
- Explain why, when discrimination against women is clearly wrong, the Bible clearly supports the oppression of women. Answering this question entails refuting 1 Cor 11 and 1 Tim 2:11-15. NOTE: under no circumstances will I believe that discrimination against women solely on the basis of sex is morally acceptable.
The books of the Bible were written largely in a patriarchal honor/shame culture in which women and children were the chattel property of male heads of households. Rather than being dismayed at the passages you fixate on, I am amazed at the powerful women who were benefactors of Jesus and the movement that formed after his Resurrection. True, they are given short shrift, but their presence could not be suppressed. It seems the only reason why some of the women around Jesus were not called disciples was that there was no Aramaic feminine form of the word. See Meier, A Marginal Jew, Vol. III: Companions and Competitors
- Explain why, when slavery is clearly wrong, the Bible clearly supports slavery. Answering this question entails refuting 1 Peter 2:18. NOTE: under no circumstances will I believe that slavery is an acceptable way to structure an economy.
The fledgling Christian movement adopted an accommodationist attitude toward its surrounding culture in order to survive. Then when it became powerful, it used that attitude to dominate. That is to say, religion has always been captured and tamed by culture so that it supports the prevailing culture values. This doesn't invalidate religion, it just proves that religious people are sinners, too. That said, you seem to be too prejudiced to notice that the Bible was used by the Abolitionists to justify their efforts to abolish slavery.
- Explain why children should submit to their parents' decisions even when those decisions are clearly evil. Answering this question entails refuting Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Proverbs 13:24, and Hebrews 12:7-8.
These are all correlates of "Honor thy father and thy mother," a good idea if culture is to survive to be passed to the next generation. It can be taken too far, however, especially by dysfunctional families.
As to specifics, Deut 21:18-21 was rationalized by the Rabbis who wrote the Talmud to make the requirements for the son's offense to merit the death penalty so much more stringent than the original text suggests, that they pretty much eliminated it. Proverbs 13:24 is the old "Spare the rod, spoil the child." Well, there are cases in which that one is true. Ask any schoolteacher about kids they've had in class who were disruptive simply because nobody, not the school system, not their parents ever disciplined them for it. Hebrews 12:7-8 picks up that theme in order to encourage the early church to endure (cheerfully!) the persecution under which it existed at the time.
In short, your examples don't support your charge that the Bible enjoins children to obey their parents even when their decisions are evil.
- Explain why, if your god loves us all, more than half of us are going to Hell after we die. Specifically, refute or explain the following words of Christ, as presented in the New Testament: "Many are called but few are chosen," and "Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto salvation, and few there be that find it." If your god loves all of us, couldn't he find a better way?
I didn't know the proportion was presented in the Bible. Must have missed it when I read it cover to cover. As to the sayings of Jesus, some are likely to be authentic, some not. See John P. Meier's A Marginal Jew. But, assuming these sayings are authentic, it is reasonable to suppose that Jesus was trying to impress on his fellow Jews that merely being a Jew did not guarantee getting to Heaven. One had to be righteous. He even imagined that the righteous Gentiles would share in the eschatological banquet in the end times.
- Explain what type of offense could possibly justify eternal, unbearable torture in Hell; if your sect does not believe in Hell, then refute every passage in the Old and New Testaments which describes Hell (such as 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 and Revelation 20:15). (Do not exceed 100 words.)
I must point out that Jesus spoke of Gehenna, which may have been an allusion to the burning trash heap in the valley of Hinnom, which may have indicated that the unrighteous would be discarded. That is to say, what may have been meant is that the fire might be everlasting, but not one's presence in it, because one is destroyed by the flames.
- Explain how your god can be both just and merciful, when these terms apparently contradict each other.
I think how you experience God depends on whether you are willing know the truth about yourself. If you are unwilling, you experience God's presence as justice/condemnation, but if you are willing, then you experience God's presence as forgiveness/love. It's like wave/particle duality in Quantum Mechanics - what you see is what you have prepared to see.
- Explain why possession by demons and/or other evil spirits was common during the time of Jesus, but hardly mentioned at all in the Old Testament, and apparently has been explained completely away today by things such as epilepsy and schizophrenia.
See M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Travelled. Yes, many forms of what we now call mental illness would have been labelled demon-posession back then. But there are still cases of genuine evil in people. For example, Peck describes the parents who gave their son as a Christmas present, the very same gun with which his older brother had committed suicide. And Peck, himself a psychiatrist, describes in detail a modern-day exorcism he attended.
- Explain why, if the personality resides in the soul, things like drugs and brain damage can affect someone's personality.
Does personality reside in the soul? I think not. Otherwise, how could Zen teachers give the koan, "Show me the face you had before your parents were born."
Your personality is a construct of your mind, conditioned by your temperament and your experiences. It starts as your interface to your parents, then becomes your interface to the world, and finally you begin to use your personality as your interface to yourself. This self-relationship, which consists of observing yourself acting as you, rather than just being you gives rise to the fantasy that you are your personality. It is only natural for things that alter your brain's functioning to alter your brain's creations.
A stronger question would be to ask if our consciousness resides in our souls, why our phenomenal consciousness (consciousness of the world around us and our place and orientation in it) is altered by brain injury. Here I can only say that we do not have souls. We are souls. We are not people who occasionally have spiritual experiences - we are souls who are embodied to have human experiences. While we are alive, all of our conscious experience is mediated by our brains. What happens after we are alive is something we will all find out someday. See also, Problems with Rich's Problems.
- If heaven is a place where everyone is perfectly happy, then explain how I could be happy in heaven if I had loved ones in Hell.
I'm with you on that one. But then, all our relationships will be changed when we are changed.
- What is Heaven like?
Heaven is the unmediated experience of God's Presence. It is full awareness of our participation in God and God's participation in us. Now we see as though through a cloudy window, but then we will see, as it were, face to face.
- What is Hell like?
Hell is fleeing the experience of God's Presence. Passages in the Bible use analogy and metaphor to indicate that it is unpleasant, or even that it may involve annihilation of those who go there.
- Explain why original sin exists. Why should I be eternally tortured for something that a pair of naked fruit-munching simpletons did in a garden over six thousand years ago? If you believe that children are born stained because they were conceived sexually, explain why I would be punished for something my parents did by your merciful and just god. If this does not apply to your sect, explain why.
The story of the Fall was given to spiritually immature people to explain how suffering and death entered the world. We now know that suffering and death were in the world long before humans were. Indeed, evolution is the response of populations of living things to suffering and death. Over many generations, it resulted in our physical selves. That is to say, God used suffering and death to make humans. You are asking me to treat an explanation given to Bronze-Age nomads as if it were adequate for a civilization that knows modern cosmology and biology.
In other words, Sin is not original. But it is intrinsic. It is part of our human nature. If you doubt it, you must be unfamiliar with either history or the news. Whether I believe you should be eternally tortured for your intrinsic sinfulness is not nearly as important as whether you do. Really, in your heart of hearts, in your pre-conscious mind. We humans have a big problem with self-acceptance, which we project onto God.
- Explain why getting dunked in or sprinkled with water will prevent me from being eternally tortured for the actions of the naked fruit-munching simpletons mentioned in #19.
John the Baptist introduced baptism as a variation on the mikveh, the Jewish ritual immersion performed by oneself to restore ritual purity. Jesus retained the practice in his own ministry after leaving John's circle of disciples. Baptism thus became the initiation rite into the Christian community. It is also like cattle branding, except that it is done with water rather than fire, and the mark is invisible to humans. It's also a ritual cleansing of past sins, and a new beginning. Now, if you persist in your old ways of sinning, it hasn't done much for you. But if you turn from your old ways of sinning, then it has done something for you. As for keeping you out of hell, maybe it does. Maybe like a cattle brand, it helps your true master round you up, no matter how far you stray from the true path.
- If your god did not want Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, why did he put the tree in the garden of Eden (and at the center, no less)? Was it for shade? If so, why use something so dangerous as a shade tree? If the purpose of the tree was to tempt Adam and Eve, explain why it's OK for your god to engage in a practice that our modern-day courts of law refer to as "entrapment."
Again you return to the myth. The Creation and Fall stories in Genesis contain spiritual truths rather than historical or scientific truths. They stand as explanations how we got here like the explanation of human procreation that you might give to your young child.
- Explain why sex, potentially one of the most wonderful, beautiful things in human nature, is considered "bad" by your particular sect. If your sect does not consider sex to be "bad," then refute Matthew 19:12, 1 Corinthians 7 (particularly verses 1 and 9), Galatians 5:17, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, James 1:14-15, Matthew 24:38, Luke 17:27, and Revelation 14:4.
The writer's of those passages are entitled to their opinions, just as you are entitled to misread them. Matt 19:12 comes after Jesus' near total prohibition of divorce, and is an explanation of it. Jesus is not condemning sex per se, but since he was probably celibate (as was Jeremiah before him, and probably also John the Baptist), he may have been giving some account of himself.
In Galatians, Paul follows v5:17 with v19-21 in which he lists a great variety of selfish desires which he attributes characteristically to "flesh," i.e., to being embodied. Later Rabbinic Judaism (an outgrowth of the Pharisees, of which Paul was a member) distinguished opposed desires, yezer ra, the selfish or evil (Paul would say "fleshly") impulse, and yezer tov, the altruistic, self-sacrificing impulse. The Torah was seen as a guide for keeping the two in proper balance.
In 1 Cor 7 Paul enjoins marriage and the enjoyment of sexual love on those who are not called to be celibate. OK, it's not the free love of the 1960's. But then that wasn't always love, and it wasn't always free. Unbridled fornication is bad for one's self esteem, and it creates an ecological niche for new pandemics. Admittedly, the biblical writers condemned any form of fornication at all. They were expressing an ideal that is seldom attained. So, what?
1 Thessalonians 4:3: Again what is condemned is fornication, i.e., sex outside of marriage. Societies have always had an interest in controlling the reproduction of their members. This is another expression of it, like 2 Cor 7.
James 1.14-15 merely enjoins the reader to resist being tempted by his or her own desires. Now gratifying one's desires is not necessarily unwholesome, but the worst kind of slavery is to be a slave to one's own desires. Just ask an addict in recovery.
Matthew 24:38 is a reference to the story of Noah and the Flood in Genesis. The author is saying that the sinners were going on about their business until the judgement of the Lord came upon them without warning. It has nothing to do specifically with sexual sins. The same comment goes for Luke 17:27.
Revelation 14:4 does not condemn sex, but rather extols virginity. I side with Luther in considering the Book of Revelation to be rather odd. It is apocalyptic literature, never intended by its author to be taken literally, because it was written in oblique, symbolic, metaphorical language bordering on code, so as not to incite unwanted responses from the Roman authorities against whom much of the polemic is directed.
This is getting boring. You must be referring to the King James translation, which is the one that sounds best when read aloud, but the one easiest to misunderstand, because the English language has changed since it was written. Try the New Revised Standard, particularly the New Oxford Annotated Bible with helpful scholarly footnotes.
- Explain why, if Jesus was perfect, he thought that the end of the world was coming soon, when it has clearly not come yet. (See Matthew 16:27-28.)
For Jesus to be truly God and truly human, he must have shared human imperfection. So, he was wrong about the end times during his earthly ministry. Indeed, there is some discontinuity between his message during his earthly ministry and that put forth by his church after his resurrection. But the resurrection was a big change. It changed him and it changed his followers and their idea of him.
- Explain why some people (James, Peter, Paul, Thomas, etc.) should get convincing physical proof of miracles, while the rest of us are supposed to take these happenings on faith.
For us to have free will, miracles must be a set of very small measure compared to all other events. So we didn't make it into that inner circle who were vouchsafed that blessed assurance. That's the price of freedom.
- Why are the stories of the crucifixion and resurrection inconsistent?
It is common for eyewitness accounts in courts of law to be inconsistent. It is even common for people to disagree about what is happening on a film that they watch over and over. The stories are inconsistent because the oral traditions from which they came were inconsistent. The oral traditions were inconsistent because different witnesses observed and remembered different things. What is more interesting is that the four Gospels represent five different oral traditions, which are remarkably consistent about some things, despite their diversity.
- If you are a Protestant or a member of an Eastern Orthodox church, explain why you are still using the Catholic Bible, which was formalized by a vote among (supposedly divinely inspired) cardinals and bishops in the fourth century CE, when you disagree with the idea that the Pope, who is higher in the Catholic hierarchy, is divinely inspired; if a Catholic, explain why your church accepts the canonical Bible while rejecting the Apocrypha. (Do not use the "divinely inspired" argument: Because I am not religious, I do not give it the credence that you do).
I think you've got this muddled. It's the Protestants who reject the Apocrypha as non-canonical. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches didn't formally diverge until the 1100s, and the Protestants didn't formally diverge from the Catholics until the 1500s. Now all three branches differ in just exactly which books they accept as canonical. So what? As I stated above, the Bible is as God intended for us to have it, including its having been edited and selected by various traditions. God permits the churches to disagree on some things of little importance.
- If your god is kind and gentle, why do some animals have to eat meat?
Let me point out that it is miraculous that the Universe exists, as opposed to nothing at all, and that it is doubly miraculous that it is comprehensible to us. I think God created it to be comprehensible so that we could be free to do as we please in it, subject only to the constraints of comprehensible, but uncompromising physical laws. In such a universe, with such laws, life will evolve to fill every possible niche. Some of those niches include predation. Of course, that means that God does not meet your standard for kindness and gentleness. But then a god that did meet your standard would not permit us free will, lest we hurt ourselves.
- If your god is kind and gentle, why did he create parasites?
See answer above. Some niches include parasitism. Sometimes parasitism evolves into symbiosis. Sometimes those symbionts evolve into composite beings, like you and the mitochondria that power each of your cells. Or the billions of "probiotic" bacteria without which you would quickly die. It isn't always a bad thing.
- If your god wants us to worship him through our own free will, why does he threaten us with Hell? (The most common claim that Christians make involving God's motivation for desiring worship is that he desires worship springing from the pure love of the worshipper. Doesn't his threat of Hell mean that a large number of worshippers worship him out of purely selfish motives?)
In the NT, the word Gehenna is translated as hell. As I noted earlier, some think this is a reference to the burning trash heap in the valley of Hinom. In the OT, the word is Sheol the place of the dead, a shadowy existence to which all the dead went, both righteous and unrighteous. It was more like the Greek Hades. The modern conception of Hell is largely a creation of poets like Dante and Milton. When you read the Bible, you read these modern ideas back into the text.
That said, I do not dispute the existence of hell. I think it is more like what C. S. Lewis described in The Great Divorce, a place for people who are unwilling to bear the presence of God.
Now the entire Universe seems set up for us to have both Free Will and to experience its consequences. Perhaps these characteristics are present in a different form in the next Universe, where we fly to God or flee to Hell depending on what we have made of ourselves and whether we can stand to know it.
That said, nearly all of us who worship God do so from at least partly selfish motives. Are humans capable of purely selfless love?
- Why would your god deliberately cause sinners to sin? (See Romans 9:15-23 and numerous parts of the book of Exodus where Jehovah says, "I will harden Pharaoh's heart.") Are these sinners still responsible for the sins which your god forces them, against their will, to commit? Justify your answer.
God forcing someone to sin against their will is your presupposition. Perhaps God merely amplifies the will they already had. In any case, "I will harden Pharoah's heart," is a pious turn of phrase that shouldn't be taken too literally.
- If Jesus did have to die, why did someone (specifically, Judas) have to be damned in order accomplish the death and resurrection of Jesus? (Jesus was at least a volunteer for the cross; I doubt that your god asked Judas if he was willing to go to Hell so that the resurrection could be accomplished.)
Again, the damnation of Judas is something you are reading into the Bible, rather than from it, although you are in very good company. I note that the Bible has Jesus forgive those who actually crucified him, so why not the guy who merely set him up for it?
- If Judas was willing to go to Hell for humanity (see #31), didn't he make more of a sacrifice than Jesus, who spent only three hours in pain? Shouldn't we then be worshipping Judas?
You underestimate the Passion, and trivialize Jesus' pain by equating it with physical pain only. Again I repeat that the evidence is that we humans wanted Jesus to die. Attributing this to God is what Freudians call projection. Finally, Judas did not knowingly volunteer to go to hell, if indeed that is what happened to him. The thing is, we are all a bit like Judas at one time or another in our lives.
- Why should we accept the words of the gospel writers as truth when they are known to be liars? (See Romans 3:7.)
You focus so narrowly down on one verse taken out of context that you miss its whole point. Paul is implying that God's truth will indeed come out, even when it passes through an imperfect vehicle such as himself, and by extension, ourselves.
- Do you believe that your god is anti-homosexual? If so, explain why he would create homosexuals in the first place. If not, refute or explain away Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:26-27.
No. See On Becoming a Christian. See also L. William Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and their Implications for Today, and James B. Nelson, Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology.
- Explain why prayer is OK, but spell casting is not, when both amount to the same thing: requesting that a superior supernatural force to intercede in a way that would be impossible according to the normally accepted laws of physics.
Spell casting is meant to be the act of engaging magical power by some action or virtue of one's own. Prayer is communication with God, and consists of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication (ACTS is the acronymn). Supplication, asking for God's help with life's burdens is only one of the functions of prayer, and does not always ask for overtly miraculous action. See Reviving a Dead Language.
- According to the Gospels, from the Christian standpoint, Jesus was the most important person to ever live. From the Roman standpoint, Jesus was a huge pain in the ass because of his political activities. Explain why nothing was written about his life for over thirty years after his death, and nothing except the Gospels was written until the third century CE.
You're retrojecting modern ideas into the past again. Jesus was an an obscure Galilean peasant woodworker who left his reasonably respectable occupation to proclaim and make real the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. The Romans hardly noticed him, except to crucify him like any other non-citizen who became inconvenient. Those Jews who were not his followers were anxious to establish their own sect of Judaism as dominant (there were approximately five major competitors during and after Jesus - only two of which survived, Pharisaism became modern Rabbinic Judaism, and the Jesus movement became Christianity). The competing sects could hardly be expected to preserve the memory of their competitor. Finally there is the Jesus movement itself. The earliest Christians (who by the way were not Trinitarians - that formulation apparently took a while to develop) were content to preserve Jesus' memory in oral traditions for at least a generation. This was for two reasons - being publicly identified with the Jesus movement could get you in trouble (Jesus did get crucified, after all) and the first Christians thought that the Risen Christ would return imminently. It was only when the Apostles themselves began to die off that their disciples realized that it might be a good idea to write down what their teachers had taught them. Before that all we have are bits and pieces preserved mostly in the letters of Paul (who did not know Jesus personally during his earthly ministry). And Paul wrote because he was a compulsive letter writer. That was how he kept in communication with the Christian communities he founded all over the Eastern Roman Empire.
- Explain why you believe a person whose life is so poorly documented (see #36) was even ever born.
You're completely out of line here. Jesus is the best documented 1st century Galilean peasant in the history of the world! He is documented in no less that five independent source traditions represented in the Gospels, as well a mentioned in the writings of Josephus, and if memory serves, Philo (both of whom wrote in the first century AD, contrary to your assumption in the previous question).
- Define the word "Christ," including references to the pagan origins and meaning of the word.
- Explain why Jesus, who was anti-Gentile (see Mark 7:25-29) and anti-sex (see Luke 14:26 and Matthew 19:12), would want to be anointed with oil in a pagan sexual rite after his death (see your definition for #38).
I suspect that anointing with oil occurred in many contexts, including Jewish ones, since the Messiah means the Anointed One, and anointing, when it was done physically, was done with oil in the OT. Anointing with oil was not exclusively or even primarily associated with pagan sexual rites. The burden of proving that point is on you. Neither was Jesus anti-Gentile. He felt called to begin the ingathering of the Twelve Tribes of Israel in preparation for the imminent coming of God's Kingly Rule (Kindgom of God). This necessarily de-emphasized Gentiles. Nevertheless, he spoke of some righteous Gentiles being present at the eschatological banquet (along with the ingathered Israel and the OT patriarchs) at the end time. (See Meier's discussion in A Marginal Jew, Volume II: Mentor Message and Miracles.) Nor was he anti-sex or even detectably anti-gay. He was just celibate (like John the Baptist and the prophet Jeremiah before him) as part of his message about the coming Kingdom of God, and his celibacy gave him the freedom to be itinerant and to risk offending the Roman authorities and their priestly Jewish collaborators in Jerusalem.
- In light of Matthew 10:34, explain why Jesus is called "the Prince of Peace."
The Prince of Peace designation is not from the NT. It is from the OT prophet Isaiah. However, the eschatological passages in Isaiah were so suggestive, that the early Church couldn't resist applying them to Jesus. Neither Jesus nor his companions applied such a title to him during his earthly ministry. As for Matt 10:34 specifically, the verse means that Jesus was aware that he was a controversial figure, and that there would be conflict about him. He himself was not a military leader.
- The name "Jesus" has been anglicized. What was the original (Hebrew) name of Jesus? Where did you get this information? This is a bonus question.
Meier renders it as Yehoshua in Hebrew (Joshua in English), which was probably shortened to Y'shua in Aramaic. In English it means something like "YHWH helps." The word "Jesus" itself is Anglicized (by way of Latin) from the Greek rendering "Iesus." Note that all the members of Jesus' family have names that hark back to the days of Israel's patriarchs. Meier takes this to indicate that Jesus' family of origin was inspired by the Jewish revivalist movements of the time. These movements generally aimed to restore Israel to its former glory and throw off the yoke of foreign domination.
- Why is it that the life of Jesus was so similar to the lives of pagan Christs, particularly Herakles, Dionysios, and Asklepios?
You forgot to mention the resurrection cults of Osiris (Egyptian) and Attis (Greek). But I presume you mean particularly the infancy narratives of these characters, as well as the nativity narratives about Jesus in Matthew and Luke. They are non-historical material that became associated with Jesus in oral tradition precisely because such narratives are the common stock the hero. See Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. As a stretch, one can also add the narrative of the death of Socrates, which the Romans would have used as a reference to understanding the significance of the Crucifixion.
What's distinctively different about Christ is his message (the Kingdom of God), his being God, his being killed by us because we were too attached to our opinions about God to accept God himself in the flesh, and his Resurrection to forgive us all and to lead us all through death to Eternal Life with him. No other hero/resurrection cults have anything like that formulation. It is indeed a one-off.
- If your god requires that people believe in him and follow his orders through their own free will, why do Christians push their views on public policy?
Everybody pushes their values on public policy. Why should Christians be excluded? But to the point, Christians generally do not try to make Christianity the established religion of the nation, state, county, whatever (anymore). Christian participation strives to make public policy moral, but based on reasoning that is accessible whether or not one is Christian or even religious. I refer you to the writings of Robert Peter George of Princeton University. For a short example see our Abortion Plank and the arguments for and against it, including his.
- Explain why being a good Christian requires you to push your beliefs on others. If you do not believe that you have to push your views on others (no matter how much this annoys them), explain why you do not believe this despite the fact that the New Testament seems to suggest that you must do this to get to Heaven (for instance, in Matthew 28:19-20).
I believe I am called to serve God with the abilities and gifts God has given me. An inclination to and a talent for proselytization is not one of them. But I can practice a more inclusive Christianity (something like the Christian advaita advocated by Bede Griffiths). I hope that I can help create a "spiritual safety net," for those abused by their particular sect of Christianity. Often they think that all of Christianity must be like their sect's version, and when they reject or are rejected by their sect, they reject Christianity itself, rather than just the variant with which they have had so unfortunate (or demonic) an experience.
- Explain why spreading the "truth of Christ" requires you to spread lies about other religions, such as the idea that Wiccans (so-called "white witches") worship the Christian devil. (Incidentally, they don't, and this rumor has been persistently spread by Christians since the second century CE).
It doesn't require me to spread lies at all. But it does require me to be skeptical of the claims all religions (including Wicca, including Satanism, and including Christianity, Judaism and Islam) make to be benign.
- At no point in the four Gospels did Jesus claim to be the son of your god. (He said "son of man" quite frequently, and at one point referred to himself as "a son of god," but that was a common Hebrew expression at the time. Someone who was "a son of god" was a Jew. This reflected the Israelites' belief that they were the chosen people of your god. See also Job 1:6). Why, then, do you believe that Jesus was divine? If you don't believe that Jesus was divine, then why do you call yourself a Christian?
"Son of God," is a metaphor. It was claimed of Jesus during his lifetime, of Honi the Circle-Drawer, and various other of Jesus' contemporaries. To me as a Christian, it implies that God was able to be born as the ordinary guy Jesus, and still be God, while Jesus could still be Jesus. If it bothers you to use the phrase "Son of God" to describe that, then use something else. There is no reason to allow language to be a stumbling block to you.
- Given the fact that Jesus did not say anything original (the Golden Rule and the "turn the other cheek" ideas were plagiarized from Buddhism; and the Beatitudes were common in the Jewish devotional literature at the time), why do you see Jesus as such a great thinker/philosopher/ethicist?
So many things are wrong with this question. First, I do not think Jesus was, as Bertrand Russell put it in his pamphlet, "Why I am Not a Christian," the best and wisest of men. I think that, as far as his human nature was concerned, he was an ordinary 1st century Galilean peasant, with a few extraordinary gifts or charisms (preaching, teaching, legal argument, healing, miscellaneous other astonishing deeds, etc.). I therefore do not think of him as a philosopher or an ethicist. The closest he came to these things was as a teacher of the Law of Moses, and many of these teachings are lost to us because they were of no interest to the early Church, which had become largely Gentile by the time the Gospels were written.
Indeed the Golden Rule did not originate with Jesus, and he probably did not teach it (the words were put in his mouth by the Gospel writers because it was a widely known maxim throughout the Eastern Roman Empire - it was not stolen from Buddhism), but rather that it was not good enough. Instead he taught the commandment to "Love your enemies," which appears to be original with him. He also taught the double love commandment (Love your God, and love your neighbor as yourself), whose specific formulation was also original and unique to Jesus. His prohibition of oaths, and of divorce were also original and unique. See Meier's A Marginal Jew, Volume IV: Law and Love for a detailed analysis. I must also mention that the Lord's Prayer appears to be original with Jesus. Meier's massive work quotes Fitzmeyer's reconstruction of the original wording.
In other words, your claim that Jesus was unoriginal is simply nonsense.
- When Jesus said, "Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also," why do you suppose that most Christians fight for their rights? To put it another way, why don't we, as a country whose population is 85% Christian, let the government abuse us?
To a growing extent we do let the government abuse us. The concept of individual liberty and the responsibility that goes with it are being cheapened every day. But to answer your question more directly: Just because most Americans claim to be Christians doesn't mean they are good Christians, or that their lives are examples to be emulated. I don't consider myself to be a particularly good Christian, and though I might be enamored of my own opinions regarding Christianity, they are not necessarily right. They're just the best I can do at the moment.
But, "turn the other cheek" at one time probably did refer to letting the government abuse one without (violent) protest - back when Christianity was a small group of sects persecuted by the Roman Empire. Just remember that Jesus was seditious toward Rome. His "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, render unto God that which is God's," would have been taken as an affront by the Romans, because it implied that there was a flow of divine authority that did not go through Caesar. In other words, the Gospels can be used to affirm either acquiescence or resistance as tactics in response to oppression.
- Why are so many Christian holidays on the same day as Pagan holidays? Couldn't the early Church fathers have converted pagans only by appealing to their reason and/or faith if Christianity really is the true religion?
The Church fathers had become good politicians by the time Christianity became established as the state religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine. They were well aware that people in large masses are not particularly reasonable or faithful. They engaged in power politics like anybody else, including the sometimes violent crushing of the Gnostics. Besides what really moved some people to convert to Christianity was the equanimity, even cheerfulness, with which many Christians seemed to endure persecution and death. Augustine, in his Confessions, mentions this as what first led him to consider converting to Christianity.
- Explain how your god can be "just and merciful" in light of Exodus 20:5.
You're objecting the idea of punishing those who reject God unto the fourth generation, a little hyperbole placed in the mouth of God. But consider family dysfunction. It can get passed on to and inflict suffering in generation after generation. Or consider bad political/economic systems, which punish whole peoples for centuries. Even without reference to God, bad choices can affect people for generations after those who initially made them. Think of burning large quantities of fossil fuels for example. So, God gets a me, too, on this one as far as I'm concerned.
- Do you believe that the Old Testament should be accepted as part of Christian theology? If so, explain how you can worship such a cruel, sadistic asshole (see Numbers 31:17-18, Deuteronomy 20:16, Proverbs 20:30, Amos 3:6, Deuteronomy 13:8, Psalms 3:7, Psalms 52:5, etc.); if not, explain how you can believe that Jesus is the promised savior sent by your god without the messianic prophecies and the ruling rights of the line of David, both of which are in the Old Testament in books such as Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel, Psalms, etc. (as opposed to, say, believing that Jesus was an irritating nut wandering around saying things that people didn't like much).
- Explain why your "just and merciful" god sent bears to kill forty-two children who called his prophet Elisha "baldhead." (See 2 Kings 2:23-24).
- If prostitution is wrong, why are there so many examples of it in Genesis? (For instance, Gen 19:8, where Lot offers his daughters to a mob so that his guests can avoid gang rape).
- What is the sin that people committed that is so incredibly bad that your god had to become flesh and die to correct?
- Are all members of other faiths bad? Are they all damned to Hell? Justify your answer with quotes from the Bible.
- Are all atheists/agnostics/humanists/heathens bad? Are they all damned to Hell? Justify your answer with quotes from the Bible.
- What was your motive in proselytizing to me?
I'm not proselyting. I am using your questionnaire to help me to work out my own thoughts about my faith. If you are so inclined, I look forward to getting a grilling from you about these answers.
- Where is Heaven?
That's an awfully three-dimensional question. I have no idea whether Heaven overlaps this universe and to what extent, but it seems to me that our doors into and out of this universe are in time, not space. We get in by being conceived, and we get out by dying.
- Where is Hell?
See above answer.
- Why don't animals go to heaven or hell when they die? What makes us so special?
I suspect that we have much more in common with animals than we care to admit. I wouldn't be surprised to find animals in heaven.
- Why does Satan try to get peoples' souls?
See C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. Frankly, I try to avoid thinking about Satan, which I regard as an opportunistic spiritual infection, rather than as a person. But the effect of this infection is to cause destruction and to separate its victim from participation in God.
- Once Satan has someone's soul, what does he do with it?
See the answer to the question above.
- Is your god perfect? Justify your answer.
God is beyond our poor capacity to judge perfection vs imperfection. Think of us as a measuring instrument. All measuring instruments have limited accuracy (repeatability), limited precision (fineness of detail they can register), and are limited in the kinds of phenomena they can detect at all. Since in trying to judge God, we ourselves are the measuring instrument, the task is meaningless.
- Where does our soul stay while we are alive?
Your are your soul. Currently you are your soul embodied as an indivisible unity with your body. In short your are your body-mind-soul.
- Explain how you can believe in Satan when your faith is directly descended from the Jewish faith, when the Jews did not even believe in Satan until they absorbed the Egyptian god Set while they were captives in Egypt.
- Why do evil people often prosper? Justify your answer.
Well, the selfish impulse, yezer ra, when not held in balance with the altruistic impulse, yezer tov, can express itself in unchecked dominance behavior. Such people then become dominant, because the rest of us let them. In most societies, dominance leads to the accrual of some form of wealth, along with other forms of social or political power. Another way of phrasing your question is why do so many mild psychopaths succeed in politics?
But you must mean, "Why does God not intervene?" Back to Free Will. We wouldn't have free will if God rushed in to fix the Universe every time it didn't run according to our wishes. We wouldn't even be free to know God as God, rather than as merely the grantor or withholder of our wishes.
Do we indeed have free will? Isaac Bashevis Singer once said, "We have to believe in free will. We have no choice." I'll leave it at that.
- Why do good people so often fail to prosper? Justify your answer.
What do you mean by good? Certainly someone whose yezer ra is too weak in comparison with his or her yezer tov won't have enough gumption to stand up for himself or herself, and the dominant types will run roughshod over them. The current cultural habit of assuming that victimhood confers innocence (or at least the moral superiority) tends to seduce people into this type of imbalance.
As to why God would permit this, see above. He has loaned us this universe for our lifetimes to do and to become what we will, subject only to the constraints of physical law. The rest, in particular, learning to yearn to become liberated from our own self-inflicted bondage to our own will, is the drama we each enact on this stage of our existence.
- When the end of the world comes, will your god raise our actual bodies, or just our souls? Explain.
Since we can't really imagine ourselves without our bodies, we will imagine ourselves with our bodies, and God will help us. I borrow this concept from Tibetan Buddhism, but for me it sheds light on the Biblical concept of bodily resurrection.
- Explain why your god lets airplanes with sinless infants on board crash.
It's that pesky thing about Free Will again. See the answers to questions 66 and 67. And infants aren't sinless. They are all yezer ra and no yezer tov, which they need to be loved to develop. Augustine argues something similar in his City of God.
- What is sin, exactly?
The original NT Greek was hamartia, or missing the mark, or tragic flaw (in Greek drama). I borrow from Buddhism in considering that Sin is really Estrangement. There are four basic types: Estrangement from ourselves, from each other, from the natural world, and from God. We need some level of these estrangements to live in the world, but when we go overboard we permit ourselves to do evil.
- If Jesus is perfect, justify the parable of the fig tree (Matthew 21:17-19, Mark 11:14-20).
Why should God as an ordinary Galilean peasant have been perfect in any way we would recognize (see answer to question 63)? His contemporaries didn't think he was. One of them turned him in to his enemies, and they had him killed.
- Explain why Christians have harassed Wiccans ("white witches") for almost two thousand years now, when the central rule of the Wiccan ethical system is "an it harm no one, do what thou wilt."
Beats me. There was a time when Christianity sought to be the only religion in the world, i.e., to wipe all the others out. This was probably an over-reaction to the period when Christianity was persecuted, and like an abused child, Christianity became an abuser when it came to power under Constantine. When it was deprived of political/military power through the Reformation and subsequent events it became better behaved. Now it is more sincere about trying to win people over by persuasion instead of force. But this is an old story. Even Dante criticized the unity of Church and State in the pre-Reformation 1500s.
- Explain why Christians (yes, that includes all branches of Christianity) have spread the lie that Jews put Jesus to death when, in actuality, it was the Romans who put Jesus to death. (For a good example of New Testament anti-Semitism, see 1 Thessalonians 2:15).
That's a long story. See Wikipedia's article on Christian anti-Judaism. Basically, anti-Judaism is a sin, of which the Christian churches have largely repented after their complicity in the Holocaust or Shoah. This sin or spiritual infection of anti-Judaism has since been swallowed by Islam.
But more to the point: The Gospel writers, especially John, referred to the Jews who were not members of the Jesus movement as "the Jews." They gave them the blame for the Crucifixion, and even have Pilate symbolically wash his hands of the matter. They couldn't blame the Romans because they were writing for a patriotic Roman audience who (a) didn't want to be forced to choose between loyalty to Jesus and loyalty to Rome, and (b) would have turned the Gospel writers and readers over to the Roman authorities if the Gospels had been openly anti-Roman.
- Explain why your god created humans as imperfect, then set his standards so high that no one could possibly live up to them, then punishes us for not living up to his standards. Doesn't this also constitute "entrapment"?
God created humans through the long process of natural/spiritual co-evolution. In accord with the natural part, compromises were made. Evolution is a tinkerer, not a designer, and the spiritual side got to influence, but not to abrogate the natural side. In point of fact, we are perfect. We are perfectly human, that is.
It is not our imperfection that keeps us from Heaven. It is our estrangement (Sin), and with it our propensity to act out of our Sin to do Evil, and to flee from God's presence, in which presence we are confronted with Truth, including the truth about ourselves.
- If we are created in your god's image and likeness (Gen 1:27), how can we also be imperfect?
I think the Incarnation of God as Jesus gives insight into what it means to bear the image of God. In mathematics, you can define an infinite set as one which can be mapped one-to-one onto a proper subset of itself. Maybe the Incarnation was God mapping his infinite self one-to-one onto a proper subset of himself, namely the ordinary man Jesus. If so, then there is some way in which we are, contrary to earthly appearances, infinite beings, such that God could choose to become one of us. To me that is what it means to be made in the image of God. That has nothing to do with our ideas of perfection or even goodness. It just is, like mathematics just is.
That said, if we are indeed in some way infinite, or if God values us infinitely, then we ought to value each other more than we do.
- Why was it OK for the ancient Israelites to sacrifice animals to their god, while it is wrong for modern religions to sacrifice animals to their gods? Justify your answer.
Like people and their cultures, religions grow and change. Sacrificing something valuable to one's god is a phase of development, now past for most religions. Charity has taken its place. Is that so bad?
- Why would your god confuse people? (See 1 Sam 7:10 and Gen 11:9). Isn't life confusing enough already?
In 1 Sam 7:10 Samuel asks the Lord to help the Israelites in battle against the Philistines, and the Lord throws the Philistines into confusion, i.e., a rout instead of an orderly retreat. Gen 11:9 is part of the myth about the Tower of Babel which attempts to explain the presence of so many languages on earth. We now know that as humans migrated in waves out of Africa where they evolved (God's creation involves evolution, apparently), various groups became isolated from each other for so long that they came to look and talk differently from one another. What's the problem here?
- Why would your god cause blindness, deafness, and dumbness? (See Ex 4:11)
In Ex 4:11 the Lord is using figures of speech to encourage Moses to trust the Lord to help him speak convincingly when he goes back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of bondage. So, what?
Incidentally, Freud thought that Moses was actually "Mose" which means "Son of" in Egyptian, like Ra-mose (aka Rameses). He thought Moses was actually a priest of Aton (recall that Pharoah Akenaten tried to abolish Egyptian polytheism in favor of a monotheistic worship of the sun-god, Aton). The attempt did not outlast his rule, and his successors re-established the old ways. Freud speculated that Moses opted to recruit the Habiru (Hebrews) to his cause, and then led them out of the country. It is an interesting speculation, but only that, and much of what Sigmund Freud wrote in Moses and Monotheism is obviously his attempt to work out his own psychological problems with the faith of his fathers.
- Why would your god want to damn people by making them believe false things? (See 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).
In this part of Paul's second surviving letter to the Church he founded in Thessalonica (then capital of the Roman province of Macedonia), Paul seems to me to be talking about a Roman Emperor putting his own statue in the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem. I think Caligula eventually tried to do just that. In any case, Paul's polemics against false prophets and teachers and against other Jewish sects (remember that Christianity was just another Jewish sect at this time) indicate to me that he was working hard to protect Christianity's "brand identity," not only against competing Jewish sects, but against those he considered to be spreading false teachings in the name of Christ. In the process he claims that those who refuse to love the Truth, will be given falsehood to love instead. Sort of like Chesterton's statement that people who won't believe in God, will believe in anything. Again, what's the problem?
- Should the book of Revelation be taken literally? If not, how should it be taken? Explain and justify your answer.
No. See the introductory notes to the book of Revelation in The New Oxford Annotated Study Bible, NRSV translation. You might also benefit from reading the essays on the history of Bible Interpretation in the back of that volume.
My take on Revelation is that it is apocalyptic literature intended to buck up, or encourage particular Christian communities who were being oppressed (sometimes violently) by the Roman Empire. They were written obliquely so as not to anger the Roman pagans should they discover copies of the text. Now taking Revelation literally seems preposterous because it wasn't written to be taken that way, even by the communities for whom it was intended. If the specific, temporal meaning of Revelation is not written to be taken literally, then how much less to be taken literally is Revelation's eternal, cross-cultural meaning for all Christians for all time.
- Would it be good for men to castrate themselves? Justify your answer, taking Matthew 19:12 into account.
Wouldn't that kinda hurt? Here Jesus is talking about his prohibition of divorce. His is probably speaking figuratively about being called to celibacy (being a eunuch spiritually), rather than literally about making oneself physically a eunuch.
- What exactly is faith?
Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich defined faith as an existential state of ultimate concern. The object of your ultimate concern functions for you as your god. If this object of ultimate concern is less than ultimate (i.e., is an idol and not God) then you have set yourself up to experience existential anxiety if your idol is threatened, and despair if it is destroyed. This formulation was opposed by Orthodox Jewish Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel on grounds that the OT is all about God's concern for humanity, and humanity's lack of concern for God. The ultimate concern of most people is their ego, not God. On the other hand, if your ultimate concern is your ego, then the prospect of death may fill you with existential anxiety and despair.
To me, faith is existential trust. Getting up in the morning and beginning one's day is an act of the most basic form of faith. The almost visceral faith that somehow, it is worth getting up and starting your day. Thus, faith is a part of the human condition. See, Reviving a Dead Language. Thus a lack of faith can be both a symptom and a cause of depression. But, as Tillich indicates, it is best to place one's faith in one who will not disappoint.
- All of the various Christian sects ignore parts of the Bible, usually because those parts of the Bible are inconvenient. Explain which parts of the Bible your sect ignores, and explain why it is OK to ignore those parts of the Bible.
Ultimately there is no justification for ignoring any part of the Bible if you say you are a believer. But there is Forgiveness. People deceive themselves into thinking that Forgiveness is an option, needed by someone else, but not by themselves.
But slavishly attempting to adhere to the Bible without understanding is equally perverse. The Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) of Protestantism is a theological error, and an impossibility to boot. That is the reason why the Church has a divinely ordained teaching authority. In addition to the Bible, Christianity is a living tradition passed from one believer to another in networks that go all the way (only 30 generations or so) back to Jesus. (Yes, here I break with my fellow Protestants and side with Orthodox and Catholics.)
- Why did your god allow Satan to do evil things to Job (Job 2:7 etc.)? Wouldn't your god better spend his time punishing unbelievers?
The Book of Job is a play. It was even successfully produced as such in recent times. Here Satan is just a prop to setup the play's plot for Job to argue against what we now call "blaming the victim," and for Elihu and God to argue against humanity's right to judge God.
More specifically, God declares his pleasure in Job's faithfulness, and Satan challenges God by asserting that if Job were subject to misfortune he would forsake his faith. Job never does, and God is justified.
The initial setup reminds me of the Nature vs Nurture controversy as tested in the movie "Trading Places," with Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd.
- If Jesus and his father are one (John 10:30), then why does Jesus have to pray (i.e. Matthew 26:39)?
Jesus was God being an ordinary guy. We have to pray to get in touch with God. So did he. What's the problem?
- Explain your belief in heaven in light of Job 7:9 and Ecclesiastes 9:5.
Job 7:9 is merely stating that the dead remain dead and do not return to the land of the living. Ecclesiastes 9:5 states essentially the same thing. But you are on to the division in Jewish thought concerning the Resurrection. The writer of Job was affirmative on this, the writer of Ecclesiastes was negative. This division persisted into NT times - the Pharisees were positive and the Sadducees negative (or have I got that backwards?) Indeed, there is division in Judaism to this day about life after death.
Jesus, however, taught that there was life after death, and spoke of it in the form of an eschatological banquet, at which the righteous would dine with God and the long dead OT patriarchs.
- Christ giving himself up on the cross was a great gesture, true, but wouldn't it have been more sensible for him to continue spreading his message until he died a less painful death? Answer this question in light of your answer to question #1.
Jesus was not just about words. He was about prophetic action. Action is a powerful thing that can stand for all time. That way, each time can supply the words it needs to understand it. There is some discussion of acts or deeds and the words needed to interpret them in Sharon's Intifada.
Thus, Jesus cannot be separated from his prophetic acts that led to his Crucifixion, and from his subsequent Resurrection. What was unique about his Resurrection was that he was nobody special (to all outward appearances) not a Greek demi-God, or an Egyptian God, but an ordinary guy. His Resurrection is the promise of Resurrection to us all, not just to the the special few.
And truly, Jesus and his teachings would have been forgotten if he had not been Resurrected. So no Crucifixion, no Resurrection, no memory of Jesus, and we wouldn't be having this conversation. Jesus' deeds were as much or more a part of his message than his words, and our reactions to them, including crucifying him, have become the essential and inseparable part of that message.
- What is your interpretation of the significance of the temptation of Christ by Satan in the desert (Matthew 4:5-8, Luke 4:5-9)?
Part of the hero business, a la The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The writer had to include it or something like it.
- In view of Matthew 6:5-6, shouldn't prayer in public schools be discouraged? Support your answer with scripture quotes.
I'm just uncomfortable with kids being led in prayer by a paid agent of the State. I want to keep public prayer out of public schools in order to keep the State from mucking about with religion. I think Matthew and Luke support my position, although they are discouraging public displays of piety to gain social status.
- Do you feel that the last words of Christ before his death were significant? If so, why do the four gospels attribute three different sentences to Christ as his last? (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34: "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?"; Luke 23:46: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit"; John 19:30: "It is finished").
They are all significant and are part of the different source traditions which make up the Gospels. For their spiritual significance, see Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon.
- Matthew and Mark say that the last words of Christ were, in Hebrew, El(o)i, El(o)i, lama sabachthani? This has traditionally been translated as, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" However, a more accurate translation would be, "My El, My El, why has thou forsaken me?" El is the name of a specific pagan god. Why would Jesus call out to a pagan god at the moment of his death?
El was indeed the name of a Canaanite god popular in the 2nd millennium BC, later supplanted by Baal (see Glossary to the Jewish Study Bible). As the Hebrew language evolved, "El" came to mean strength or power as a common noun, and, as a proper noun, was the short form of Elohim, which was and still is used to refer to the one God of Israel even though the noun is technically a plural. This shows up particularly in the E source for the Torah, if you subscribe to the Documentary Hypothesis for how the Torah came to be. The sources are called J for Jahwist (those writers who called God by the tetragrammaton YHWH), E for Elohist (those writers who called God by the name Elohim, which may have been taken over from El Shaddai, an earlier name for God, where El is the noun, and Shaddai modifies it), D for the writers of Deuteronomy, P for the Priestly tradition, and R for the final Redactor who brought it all together. See Richard Elliot Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?
By the time of Jesus, YHWH was no longer pronounced out of reverence for its sacredness, but the name Elohim, shortened to El(o)i was. In other words, Jesus did not call upon a pagan god. He called upon the God of Israel, by his common name, still observing the Law not to pronounce YHWH, and not using his more customary "Abba," (Father or more literally "Daddy,") as an expression of his feeling of abandonment. That it so say, God knows what it's like to feel abandoned by God.
- A commonly recited litany in many forms of Christianity is "The LORD is my shepherd." (Psalm 23:1). Given the fact that the only reasons that people raise sheep are to rob them of their clothes and to kill them for meat, and the fact that sheep will often follow the shepherd to their destruction, do you think that this is any appropriate image for your god? Justify your answer.
You're retrojecting your modern Western liberal sensibilities into the Bible again. The metaphor was supposed to extend only to the way shepherds guard their flocks from predators. But sheep are eventually harvested, as are we. Both to eternal life, I hope.
- Why is the theory of the big bang any more (or less) likely that the idea that your god created the universe? Justify your answer.
At the beginning of the 20th century, physicists thought the Universe was static and eternally self-existent (which replaced the idea of God). They were astounded when Penzias and Wilson discovered the radiation from the Big Bang, because it was as if the Universe were really created in a moment, as if God said, "Let there be Light."
It was only some time later that some members of the scientific community recovered their composure and began to rationalize the Big Bang to come from natural rather than supernatural events.
To me, the Big Bang is a much more compelling narrative than the account of Creation in Genesis, just like an adult appreciation of human procreation is more compelling to me than the idea that the stork brought me. But the account in Genesis and the story of the stork both carry the message that we are here because someone wanted us to be here. And that is a very reassuring thought.
The Big Bang (or if you believe the String Theorists, the Big Bounce) indicates to me that God is kind enough to provide intellectual entertainment for us physicists as well.
- It is commonly asserted that the Christian god is everywhere at the same time, i.e. omnipresent. If hell is the absence of (or separation from) your god, how is this possible?
I rather like the Kabbalists' idea that there was originally only God. He then made a void within himself in which to create the Universe. They then claim that the relative withdrawal of God from the Universe co-incidentally creates the possibility of Evil.
So maybe hell is the more complete absence of God, or at least of God's influence, than we experience in this Universe.
- In the Genesis story, your god tells Adam and Eve that the day they eat from the tree of knowledge they will surely die (Gen 2:17). The devil tells them that they will not die, but that their eyes would be opened and they would know the difference between good and evil (Gen 3:5). Wasn't Satan telling the truth here? Is your god a liar? Justify your answer in light of Jeremiah 20:7 and Ezekiel 14:9.
One can only have intimate knowledge of Good and Evil by falling into Time as we know it in this Universe. Only with one-dimensional, unidirectional Time can actions have consequences that cannot be undone, which is what makes morality as we know it possible. So Adam and Eve, on eating the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil fell into Time. They did not immediately die, but they became mortal, i.e., beings who die, embodied in descendants of apes living in this Universe. That is to say, when you spend some time with it, there is still plenty of meaning to be extracted from the Creation story in Genesis.
- If Lucifer is not as powerful as your god, then he cannot possibly be omnipresent. How could he possibly get as many followers as you seem to think he has?
Nice to know that you know my thoughts. I have no idea about followers of Satan. But there has been enough evil in history to lead me to posit the existence of Satan as an opportunistic spiritual infection, as I have said before.
- The Bible constantly describes your god as male. In view of the fact that your god supposedly created everything, and creation is very much a female function, isn't this at least a little bit absurd? Justify your answer.
Ethical monotheism first arose in a patriarchal culture. Looks like the effects of that have endured well beyond the fourth generation. The Rabbis, realizing the need for a feminine face of God, described the Spirit of God, the Shekinah, as feminine.
So, you are entirely justified in thinking of the Holy Spirit as feminine. The Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have satisfied this spiritual need by devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus.
- In light of the Trinity, angels, the Virgin Mary, etc., isn't Christianity polytheistic? If the Trinity is three who are one, why the three names? Justify your answer.
No, Christianity is monotheistic. I think of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three faces (Greek prosopon or mask, Latin personae, English persons) that the one God presents to those called to worship God as Christians. The Hindus would call them Avatars. The Mormon science-fiction writer Orson Scott Card has an description of how one being can animate more than one person in the fourth volume of his Ender quartet, Children of the Mind.
- Have you read the entire Bible? If not, how can you be devoted enough to try and convert me to a religion that you don't know that much about? Isn't knowing as much as possible about something necessary to understanding it? Isn't understanding something necessary to being completely devoted to it?
I've read the entire Bible. Also some of the Apocrypha, pseudigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, all of the Qur'an (in three translations in parallel) some of the Hadith, the Bhagavad Gita (again in three translations), some of the Upanishads and the Vedas in translation, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Te Tao Ching, the I Ching, some of the Buddhist Sutras, and some of the critical commentary on them. But it is not necessary to faith for one to be intellectual about it. Its just that if you are intellectual, then you are stuck with having to do a lot of reading. There are plenty of good, wholesome believers who can't read at all.
It is a mistake to equate intellectualism with understanding, just as it is a mistake to reject intellectualism as inimical to religion. Understanding comes through wholesome practice and an open heart and an open mind.
- Why is 2 Kings 19 exactly identical to Isaiah 37?
One writer ripped off another, or they both ripped off a common source.
- Is Jesus's three days in Hell really an ultimate sacrifice, when more than half of humanity going to spend eternity there? (See #11)
The NT claims Jesus was dead for three days before his Resurrection. Only later did the medieval Church invent the idea of the "harrowing of Hell" in which Jesus descends into Hell to redeem the righteous who had died before his earthly ministry. My knowledge of this tradition comes from reading Dante's Inferno. And I don't know where you get your statistics on the proportion of humanity in Hell.
- If your sect considers the King James Bible to be the official and/or authoritative translation, justify this in light of the fact that when King James commissioned his translation to be poetic rather than accurate. How can you possibly use an inaccurate translation as your reference for what is/is not the word of your god? If your sect does not use the King James Bible, what translation do they use? Justify the use of that particular translation.
All translations are subject to translator bias and other inaccuracies. It is best to use several translations. But the translation of God's message into human language of any kind is still a translation. Best to consult the source in prayer.
- Assume that I do not believe that Jesus died for my sins, or that if he did, that necessarily means I will go to your heaven. Name one thing that Jesus ever did for me.
See Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, by Thomas Cahill. Much of the transmission of Jewish thought into Western and then world culture occurred through Christianity. You think the way you think, you believe in individual liberty, in the possibility of progress, you live in a prosperous society (Protestant work ethic, you know) all because of the influence of this single Galilean peasant lay preacher and his followers. That's a lot, I think. Heck, even your implicit criticism of the Church for being un-Christian is basically Christian.
- Before Mary was knocked up by the Holy Spirit/Ghost, she was never asked for her consent. (She was warned; see Luke 1:31). Mary was also asleep when your god knocked her up; this strongly suggests that he didn't want her to protest. Does this mean that Mary was raped by your god? Do you think rape is wrong? Explain.
In the Magnificat, Mary gives her consent, even if after the fact. But as I stated earlier, the infancy stories are probably not historical. They are there for their other meanings, to which you wish to remain impervious.
- According to Luke, Mary knew that she was pregnant with the Messiah. Living in the times she lived in, she must have known the scripture; therefore, she must have known that he would have to suffer horribly during his life. Was it moral for Mary to carry her baby to term, or would it have been more humane for her to have an abortion? Explain.
If Mary had known that she was carrying God, she would have preserved his relics, even his diapers, giving a new meaning to the phrase "Holy Sh-t!" The application of the OT Scriptures to Jesus as proof texts that he was indeed the Davidic Messiah occurred after his ministry.
If God wants to be born as a human to whatever life, who are you or Mary to deny him based on our limited ideas of what he should want?
But again, you're way off the mark. Aborting Jesus just because he would be executed some thirty-odd years later is an outrageous proposition! We all die sooner or later and it isn't fun for any of us or those who love us when we do. You get into life for how it is, not for how it ends.
- If it was foretold that Jesus was to be crucified, and if he knew that this had been foretold and that it was necessary to the mechanism of the future redemption of sinners, and if he was the son of/identical with your god (and, therefore, presumably wanted sinners to be redeemed), why did he do everything he could to avoid being crucified? (See, for instance, Matthew 26:39).
I doubt any of these "foreknowledge" claims with respect to the historical Jesus. Only in the high Christology of John's Gospel does Jesus come across as the all-knowing, supremely in control Christ. I agree with Meier that the historical Jesus knew that Crucifixion was a possibility, but I doubt he thought he was going to die as a sacrifice for all of humanity's sin until after his Resurrection.
- If the Holy Spirit/Ghost is the father of Jesus (Luke 1:35), then why is the central figure of your trinity called "God the Father"?
I think the Holy Spirit is feminine. But you're hung up on the whole sonship/trinity metaphor again. Try something else.
- Mary and Jehovah were never joined in wedlock. Does it bother you that Jesus is technically a bastard? How do you feel, in general, about sexual activity outside of marriage?
You're going off the deep end with this. None of this virgin birth business concerns me at all. Nor did it concern those who wrote the Gospels of John or Mark, which don't include any nativity narratives. As for sex outside of marriage, well it's better inside of marriage.
- The original Hebrew word for the Holy Ghost/Spirit grammatically implies that the Holy Spirit/Ghost is female in gender. Isn't this rather silly when you consider the fact that the Holy Ghost/Spirit is actually the father of Jesus (Luke 1:35)?
Yawn. Still harping on a metaphor which doesn't work for you. The people who knew Jesus during and after his public ministry didn't think in terms of the Trinity or of Jesus being God's literal Son. Yet they were the original Christians. Therefore, I conclude that the concept of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and of Jesus being the (God's) Son person/member/aspect/avatar of that Trinity is a metaphor that I can make work for me, but if it doesn't work for you, you are free to try some other metaphor. Because all language is a metaphor for reality anyway.
- Matthew 28:11-15 contains an account of a conspiracy between the Jews and the Roman soldiers to spread the story that the disciples stole the body of Christ. How could Matthew have known about this, since no Jews or Romans would have admitted to it? If it was such a transparent conspiracy that an outsider could have seen it, why didn't the other three gospels mention it? Why didn't the Roman soldiers get into trouble?
First of all, "the Jews" means the Jews who were not Christians. There were almost no Gentile Christians at this point. Second, the Jewish sects competing for primacy could hardly be expected to accept the Resurrection of the discredited leader of the Jesus movement. So, it seems natural enough that they would want to promulgate rumors discrediting the Resurrection. In other words, there probably were rumors that the disciples stole the body of Jesus. The writer of Matthew then used a bit of literary license about how they got started.
- Most Jews seem to believe that people are basically good people and can work to overcome their sinful tendencies. Most Christian sects, following the teaching of Psalms 51:5, 1 Kings 8:46, Ezekiel 18:4, Isaiah 59:2, and Psalm 143:2, believe that people are completely debased and hopelessly lost in sin, and that only your god can lift us out of this state if he decides to bestow his gift of grace on us. Isn't this an incredibly negative view of people? Isn't Judaism a more mature faith just for this reason?
Indeed the Rabbis teach that if Sin is the malady, the Torah is the remedy. What is really true is that all normal people want to think of themselves as good. One can attribute this desire to evolution or to God, or to God acting through evolution. This desire can be used to get us to actually do good, but it can also be abused to get us to do evil and think it good. That is to say, we do evil, we know deep down that we do it, and we lie about it to ourselves. Can we, unaided, lift ourselves free of the web of our own self-deceptions? Do you really believe we can? To the extent we become free of it, I think God helps us. For Jews that help comes through Torah observance and study. For Christians it comes through the presence of the Risen Christ in our lives. It depends on how God calls you.
- How do you, as an individual, feel about Psalm 51:5 and similar passages?
I've already covered that in previous answers. Properly understood, they are spot on. We are not born innocent. We are born helpless. There is a difference.
- What does your sect teach about Psalm 51:5 (and 1 Kings 8:46, etc.), predestination, and similar matters?
Predestination is a medieval understanding of God being unlimited by time. It is a problematic doctrine as stated. I simply prefer to think that the Creator of space and time is not bound by space and time, and neither will we be in the life to come. Beyond that I don't worry about the details. I have enough to occupy me in my current relationship to this Universe.
- Don't you think that the idea that, no matter what we do, we can never be good and righteous without help from your god (Isaiah 64:6) fosters an unnatural and unhealthy dependency on him?
So now the Creator of Nature is unnatural? We can be very good and very righteous, but we are always subject to Estrangement, because we have to live in this Universe until we die out of it. It's just part of the human condition.
- Revelation 22:16 says that Jesus is the "offspring of David." Mary was not descended from David, but Joseph was. Doesn't this mean that Jesus wasn't the son of your god at all, but the (mortal and not divine) son of Joseph?
Back to your problems with a literal interpretation of the son metaphor. Actually all humans are supposed to descend from Adam who is described in one of the lineages of Jesus as himself being the son of God.
- What would the correct thing to do be if your god gave you a command that was harmful and/or destructive to you? (A common argument, which has its source in Paul's writings, states that because clay pots don't complain about what the potter does with them, people shouldn't complain about what their maker — supposedly, your god — does with them, but this completely ignores the vitally important argument that clay pots have no sense of self-awareness and cannot think or feel love, pain, anger, etc. If you want to make this argument, you have to deal with this difference.)
Always acting from my own self-interest has its limitations, and can be used to seduce me to do evil. But we humans are a social species, and actually crave to act for a group or cause larger than ourselves. That's how we can so readily form armies and fight wars. Sometimes there are higher values than oneself, which can only be realized through self-sacrifice, when one is called to do it. And it diminishes a person to shrink from that call. So, while I pray "Lead us not into the time of trial, but deliver us from evil," if I were to be so called, then, I might just go for it.
Purely selfish values are no values at all.
- What (or who) does your sect believe the number 666 represents? Justify your answer.
Most scholars think it was a code for the Roman Emperor Nero, the letters of whose name in Aramaic can be assigned the numerical value 666. See the Wikipedia article on that subject.
- If your god is "just and merciful," why would he take Solomon's kingdom away from Solomon's son while not punishing Solomon, when it was Solomon himself who committed the sin of idolatry? What did Solomon's son do to deserve punishment? (See 1 Kings 11:12).
Probably the thing about honor/shame culture and the importance of descendants.
- Why is Solomon commonly considered to be the paragon of wisdom by many Christians, when he constantly sinned against your god (1 Kings 11:4-10, etc.)? Personally, if I had a god talking to me, I'd do what he said.
Solomon is an example of a wise (or smart) man who was also a sinner. So is Bill Clinton. So what? Being smart (or stupid) doesn't necessarily make you good, any more than being weak (or strong) necessarily makes you good.
- Don't you think that an anti-sex position (see #22) is a rather silly position for your sect to take when the biblical book "Song of Solomon" is a piece of erotic poetry? (For instance, in Song of Solomon 8:2, the bride asks the bridegroom to "drink of spiced wine of the juice of the pomegranate." The pomegranate was a symbol of the female genitalia, and the "spiced wine" represented menstrual blood.)
I doubt that a pious Jewish man of the OT period, for whom even touching a menstruating woman would confer ritual uncleanness would clandestinely rhapsodize about drinking menstrual fluid. I think your specific interpretations are off base. However, your point stands. The Song of Solomon is erotic poetry. Besides, we are commanded to be fruitful and multiply. We can't do that without sex. A theological position that denigrates sex in order to elevate celibacy is simply out of joint.
- Does it bother you that the cross, supposedly a Christian symbol, was actually stolen from the Egyptians? Why or why not? (The Egyptian cross, the ankh, was a male-female symbol similar in concept to the yin-yang. When the Christians stole the ankh from the Egyptians, they removed the female symbol, or yoni, leaving only the masculine symbol — a subtle way of reinforcing the idea that women are lesser beings).
Wrong! Just because the cross and the ankh are superficially similar does not prove that the cross was stolen from the ankh. The cross was not used as a religious symbol by early Christians, because it was a device of torture and execution that was still in common use. It would have been like trying to use an electric chair as a religious symbol today. However, the Roman Emperor Constantine had a dream in which he saw the Cross, and a voice said to him, "By this sign conquer." So he had crosses emblazoned on his soldiers' shields, flags, and armor, and it scared the hell out of the opposing armies, because they interpreted it to mean that Constantine would have them crucified to the last man if they didn't run away or surrender. After Constantine's conversion to Christianity, he eventually got around to abolishing crucifixion as a means of execution, and he made the cross the symbol of his newly established Roman Catholic Church.
- How do you explain that Christians are twice as likely to have sadomasochistic tendencies as non-christians?
G. K. Chesterton once said, "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing. They believe in anything."
You may believe the statistics you present, but I doubt you have actually checked them out.
- What is the incredibly important doctrinal difference that requires the fighting between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland?
I believe there are no important doctrinal differences in Christianity. The conflict in Ireland is not about religion, it's about tribalism. It's just that one's particular brand of Christianity has become the badge of tribal identity in that conflict.
- Even if your god did create the universe, why does he want to be worshipped? Is your god an egomaniac?
I prefer the Orthodox Jewish explanation that God wants to love and be loved by us.
- What are your beliefs concerning Wicca? (Wicca is sometimes referred to as "white witchcraft.") How much do you know about Wicca?
I know very little about Wicca. I think it was some sort of European indigenous nature-worship that was displaced by Christianity. I think various groups are trying to revive it.
- What do you think the word "Satanist" means?
To me it connotes someone who attempts to worship the version of Satan described by say, John Milton in Paradise Lost. I understand that modern Satanists beg to differ, but I remain skeptical of the difference.
- How do you explain the fact that the word "blood" occurs about 400 times in the Bible, depending upon the translation? Isn't this a rather savage and barbaric way to write a book that is supposed to be at the center of an ethical system?
Only 400? The earliest parts of the Bible were revealed to, by, and through some pretty savage and barbaric people, namely the tribes of Israel. Those early parts may seem barbaric to us now, but they were probably a great leap forward for the people of that place and time.
- Throughout the Bible, your god commands his followers to wage merciless war on unbelievers (Luke 22:36, Deuteronomy 13:8, Exodus 20:23-25, Deuteronomy 20:16, Matthew 10:34, Numbers 31:17-18, etc). If you are one of his followers, why are you sitting at your desk writing instead of out waging merciless war on unbelievers?
No, not throughout. Rather in various passages. In others it enjoins us to "turn the other cheek." You can proof-text anything you want, if you don't mind basing that proof on the most superficial understanding.
But if I have to wage war, I'm waging the war of ideas. It's a lot more polite, and a lot safer than war waged with more tangible weapons.
- Numbers 23:21 says that your god "has not seen wickedness in Israel." If this is so, explain why your god burned Israelites for complaining (Num 11:1), why he sent a plague against them for eating the meat he had given them (Num 11:33), why he burned people for using incense (Num 16:35), why he sent a plague against the Israelites who accused Moses of wrongdoing (Num 16:44-49), and why he sent fiery snakes among the Israelites (Num 21:5). Is your god a liar, or was it just more convenient for him to lie at that particular place and time, or what?
Numbers 23:21 "He has not seen misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel." It's amazing how translations can differ. As to the various punishments, note that Num 23:21 is a prophecy of the future, not a comment on the past, and the final editor of Numbers put all the events to which you refer in the past of Num 23:21.
You gotta parse the text harder than that. Cherry picking verses out of context doesn't prove anything.
- What was it that was so bad about eating an apple that death had to result from that act?
We've been over this before. See answers to similar questions above.
- What was it about humanity's torturing and killing of your god's only son that made your god so happy that he again promised eternal life to everyone who believed in him?
Well, at least you agree that it was not God who killed Jesus, or the Jews, or even the Romans, but plain old ordinary people just like us, who just happened to be Romans. The crucifixion didn't make God happy. But God does forgive us for it, as shown by the Resurrection.
But there is another subtext lurking here. The Crucifixion didn't make God happy, but it did make humans happy. Admit it, life is hard. If it wasn't hard it wouldn't wear us down until we die. And who made the Universe such that life is hard? God. Maybe God let us have our nasty way with him as a way of atoning for the hardness of life. Maybe the stream of atonement flows both ways. In being Crucified, Jesus who was fully human and fully God, atones for our Sin against God, and for God making life hard on us. I admit this is heretical speculation, but isn't it part of Confession to admit our anger with God to whatever extent we are angry? Isn't it better to do that, than to project our anger onto our image (idol) of God, turning that idolatrous image into an abusive parent-figure?
- How do you explain the fact that Matthew and Luke give different genealogies for Jesus?
They're both made up. I think this because of the way Joseph mysteriously disappears from their narratives.
- Matthew says that the prophecy given in Matthew 27:9 was given by Jeremiah. How do you explain that this prophecy was not given by Jeremiah at all, but by Zechariah (in Zech 11:12)?
What? You've never made a mistake citing a reference?
- Matthew says (in Matt 2:21) that Jesus dealt in Nazareth so that he could fulfill a prophecy stating that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene. Where is this prophecy in the Old Testament?
I think there was an error in translation from Hebrew to Greek. The word should have been Nazirite, someone who did not cut their hair as part of a vow to God. Samson was a Nazirite, if memory serves me correctly. Then there is the question of whether that prophecy is in the written text, or in the oral tradition that was passed from generation to generation. The closest thing I can find is Judges 13:7.
- Matthew says that on the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was riding on an ass and a colt (Matt 21:7) How do you explain that the original prophecy (Zech 9:9) stated that Jesus would be riding on only one ass, and the other gospel writers place Jesus only on one ass (Mark 11:7, Luke 19:35, and John 12:15)?
Different oral traditions had different words and numbers regarding the ass and/or the foal of an ass. The final editors/writers of the Gospels did their best to reconcile them.
- In Matthew 1:23, Matthew has the angel say that Jesus would be born of a virgin. However, the prophecy that Matthew is referring to, Isaiah 7:14, uses the Hebrew word almah, which simply refers to a "young woman." It has nothing to do with sexual experience; the Hebrew word for "virgin" is bethulah. How do you explain this?
Translation problems for the writer of Matthew, who was probably better at Greek than Hebrew.
- Isaiah 7:16 seems to say that before Jesus had reached the age of maturity, both of the Jewish countries would be destroyed. Where is the fulfillment of this prophecy in the New Testament?
Isaiah (any of the three writers of Isaiah) probably had something else in mind entirely. The NT writers, however, seeing the parallels with Jesus after the fact, referred to Isaiah by way of apology (explanation) of Christianity to their fellow Jews. In any case, the Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been destroyed by the time Jesus was born, and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was no longer independent, but under domination by Rome.
- Matthew 1:23 says that Jesus would be called "Immanuel," which means "God with us." Why does no one (not even Mary and Joseph, who would be expected to be familiar with this prophecy/command) call him "Immanuel" at any point in the New Testament?
They didn't call him Emmanuel. But we do. Prophecy fulfilled, but apparently not in the time frame you expected.
- How many inconsistencies in the Bible, other than those mentioned in this paper, do you know of? Cite chapter and verse for as many as you have room for.
It would be easier to cite the consistencies. What's your point? That if the Bible has any inconsistencies it cannot have any value as a sacred text? There is a name in psychology for that kind of all-or-nothing mentality. It's called "splitting," and its a feature of various mental disorders.
The Bible is a gateway to a relationship with God, and a compass for guiding us toward God. It doesn't have to be perfect in any way that we might judge for it to serve its purpose.
Let me try another metaphor. Suppose you are driving from Intercourse, ME, to Paradise, KY. As you near your destination, you see a road sign that says "Turn right to Paradise." Are you going to ignore the sign because some of the locals have shot holes in it? To me, the Bible is like that sign.
- If even the contemplation of sinning is a sin (i.e. "sinning in your heart"; see, for example, Matthew 5:28) and if Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert (Matthew 4:5-8, Luke 4:5-9), how can you say that Jesus was without sin?
I don't say that. I say he was God being an ordinary guy, meaning that he participated fully in the human condition, which includes estrangement from God (which I consider to be one of the basic forms of Sin), which means that he had to pray like the rest of us in order to get in touch with his larger self (i.e., the Father aspect of God).
- Does your sect believe that the existence of your god can be established through a formal proof? Why or why not?
No. If formal logic could establish the existence of God, then you wouldn't be free to disbelieve or to believe. But while belief or disbelief is an intellectual option (apparently necessary so that we can mature in our relationship with God), faith is not. Faith, or basic existential trust (which goes much deeper than opinion), is a necessity. Our only choice is faith in what.
But if we put our faith in unaided reason, then we are in trouble, because unaided reason can prove that it has limits - e.g. Goedel's Theorem. See Science and Faith.
- Pick a famous argument for the existence of your god, then criticize that argument. (Assume I mean for you to use the academic definition of the word criticize).
At first I thought I would go to Aquinas, but then I realized that I don't want to take this bait. Arguments for or against the existence of God fail for two main reasons: (1) They put logical deduction prior to God. This is a form of idolatry. (2) Logic has already proved that logic has limits. In particular, Kurt Goedel proved in 1925 that for any finite system of non-trivial, non-self-contradictory axioms (or propositions) it is always possible to construct a statement that is undecidable (cannot be proven either true or false) starting from those axioms. Therefore, it is untenable to insist that limited logic prove or disprove the existence of the unlimited God. In other words, starting from either belief in God, or from belief in mathematical logic, it is pointless to attempt to prove or disprove the existence of God.
Nevertheless, it is surprising how close you can get.
- Pick an argument against the existence of your god. If it is not a famous argument, copy it down here. Criticize this argument. (Assume I mean for you to use the academic definition of the word criticize).
See answer immediately above.
- What does your sect think of the government? Read Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 13. Now what do you think of the government? If necessary, reconcile the two views.
Get any group of people together, and you will find that they organize themselves. Anarchy is unstable against the formation of government. In other words, government is unavoidable. The question is what kind of government will we have. So far, as Winston Churchill put it, "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried."
After reading Romans 13, I can say that the government of the audience of that letter was the Roman Imperial government. Democracy had disappeared from the face of the earth. The Epistle to the Romans advocates going along to get along, not making waves, to a Gentile Christian community composed of proud and patriotic Roman citizens. It would hardly do to try to incite them to revolution. Instead, after a couple of centuries, the Church took over Rome from the inside, and outlasted it.
The business of appealing to the Roman audiences is also why the Romans don't get blamed for executing Jesus in the Gospels.
- What is your definition of the word Christian?
As a noun, a Christian is someone who experiences God through the Risen Christ. As an adjective, a person might think themselves Christian if they follow what they think were Jesus' teachings.
- Why do you think it is that the ancient Greeks, who had a very liberal sexual morality, had many fewer sex crimes (compared to the population) than the United States, which is 85% Christian?
Mostly because much of what was acceptable to the pagans is considered a crime in our society, and in many other non-Christian societies in our world today.
- If someone accepts Jesus, and is "saved," but then turns away from Jesus, is that person still saved?
I'd like to think so. But then, I am obviously tempted by Universalism.
- Where did your god come from?
You know, I've never asked Him. Since space and time are categories of this Universe, which God created, I assume that God is beyond those categories, which renders the question meaningless.
- What are the requirements for being saved? Some sects says that faith alone is enough; others say that faith without works is dead. The Bible supports both of these viewpoints. What does your sect think?
I won't give you a rote prescription, because the Bible has several different answers to that question. Like, "And what does the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God." "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength (or resources), and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.""Work out your salvation in fear and trembling." And finally, "Whoever believeth on His (Jesus's) Name shall be saved."
However, I think of faith in Christ as a gift or charism from God, and works as a response, a form of thanksgiving, for that gift. If you are not given that gift, then either you don't want it, or you are called to express your faith some other way. For example, I believe Xtians serve God by calling the Church on its bullshit.
What bullshit? I must digress. Every human social organization, including the human aspect of God's Church, has a Jungian Shadow side, which resembles the Nazi Concentration camp. See Leviathan, Inc. Thus, for example, we find the Church reacting in a reptilian way to protect its interests by concealing clergy sexual abuse for so many years.
But to give a more distinctly Christian answer, I think that what is required for salvation reduces to the moment in which Jesus says, "Follow me." Well, what does that mean? In the case of the disciples, the reaction was spontaneous and physical — they got up and went where Jesus went. For me in this latter day, it is something that is taking me a lifetime to understand and practice. See also Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.
- If I decide I like the answers to the above questions, where can I get in touch with you? (Give name, address, phone and email if available).
Fill out and submit our contact form.
- What is the name of your sect?
I'm a physicist who was born ten years after the Holocaust, and was raised as an Episcopalian by my non-observant Jewish parents. I became an atheist/agnostic for 20 years, and then returned to Christianity as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). While I agree with many of Luther's theological insights, I also savor the irony of belonging to a church founded by such an anti-Semitic old fart, and that contributed so much (with notable exceptions like Bonhoeffer) to the Holocaust. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude."
My views are mainstream among academic Christian theologians (of which I am not one), but not necessarily among the clergy or the laity. Other than that I maintain this website, the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua. See our FAQ.
- How is your sect organized?
See the ELCA website.
- How can I get in touch with a priest (minister, etc.) of your sect?
See the ELCA website.
The New Testament was written in koine Greek, which was the language spoken in the eastern parts of the Roman Empire. Christos is how the NT writers rendered the Hebrew Meshiach (rendered Messiah in English), and both mean the Anointed One, or Chosen One (to lead Israel). Note that one can be the Messiah without being part of God. The association is not automatic, although it was made by the early Church.
The historical Jesus was, among other things, a teacher of the Law of Moses, and an eschatological prophet in the manner of Elijah. His understood himself, and his contemporaries (both his friends and his enemies) understood him in relation to the Torah of Moses. Separating Jesus and his message from the OT therefore makes no sense. The many writers of the OT projected their cultural prejudices and sometimes their own psychopathology onto their mental image of God,and they recorded their sin for posterity to contemplate, not to emulate. Making a mental image of God is idolatry, just as carving an idol out of stone is idolatry.
Did He now? I am not capable of doing the scholarly research to determine the historicity or lack thereof of the passage to which you refer, nor have I read any other scholarship to indicate whether it is historical. A better question might be, "What does it mean that God let this passage stand?" It seems that in the honor/shame culture of the OT, the writers insisted that God's prophets be treated with respect. As long as the honor/shame aspect of the culture continued, it seems that God was content to agree. Eventually, through the Crucifixion/Resurrection of Christ (for those Jews and Gentiles who became Christian) and through 2000 years of defeat and diaspora (for those Jews who remained faithful to the Torah of Moses) the whole notion of honor/shame culture was upended. Neither for Christians nor Jews does might anymore make right. Consequently God is now viewed as a God of Justice, rather than merely as a God of Power.
You're retrojecting 21st century values back 2500 years. Lot's offer of his daughters was not prostitution. They were his property to do with nearly as he wished, and he was trying to honor the overriding value of hospitality and protection to strangers who were within his compound. This same value of hospitality to strangers and even to enemies under one's roof shows up in the Iliad, and is still alive today in some of the honor/shame cultures in which Islam has taken root.
Prostitution is wrong in the same way that any use of a person, including oneself, as an object is wrong. However, the OT writers regarded prostitution as wrong specifically in the context of ritual prostitution, the use of sex in pagan temple rites. The NT writers, especially Paul, regarded it as wrong in this context as well.
The sin of preferring worship our own mental images of God to being in relationship with God. This is the sin which we committed by crucifying Christ. Note that we still commit this sin. It has not been corrected. Christ died and rose again to forgive us for it.
Sorry. I refuse to be held to some kind of standard of Biblical literalism. Literally, the firmament that separates the waters above from the waters below (i.e. the sky) (in Genesis) is a Hebrew word that connotes a piece of metal hammered into a thin sheet. Well, we've been to the sky. The only sheet metal around is the space junk we've left up there.
With that preface, no, members of other faiths are not bad. They are merely called to worship God in ways that are different from mine. The early Church, while it was being persecuted by Roman Empire, did consider members (and deities) of other faiths bad, for obvious reasons, as described by Elaine Pagels in The Origin of Satan.
See the previous question on proof-texting from one's preferred translation of the Bible. Even atheists are called by God to tell the church that they don't believe in what the church teaches. The church might be able to tune out God's "still, small voice," but the atheists are right there in the church's face.
I think you're misinformed. The Satan, or Adversary, appears in the Book of Job as a skeptic, not as a numinous evil spirit who contends against God. The identification of the Adversary with such numinous evil did not originate in Egypt, but during the Babylonian exile, when the Israelites were exposed to the dual gods Ahura Mazda (good, light) and Ahriman (bad, dark) of Zoroastrianism. This was much later than the sojourn in Egypt. I don't think Evil is personified, but I do think that numinous Evil exists as an opportunistic spiritual infection. See M. Scott Peck, MD (psychiatrist), People of the Lie.
Now, I have questions for you:
First, you use a lot of abusive language when referring to biblical personages, even to God. Perhaps you really are just imitating Nietzsche's iconoclastic style. But it seems to me there might be more to it than that, even when combined with anger at being pursued by Fundamentalist proselytizers. Were you abused by your Church or its representative(s) physically, mentally, or spiritually (other than by being proselytized)? Or are you just simultaneously relieved and yet existentially disappointed and therefore angry that the frightening, punitive god you once idolatrously imagined doesn't exist?
Second, why did the Marilyn Manson song The Hierophant inspire you to pick its title as a pseudonym? A hierophant was a person who led other people into the presence of the sacred. You seem to be doing no such thing, unless you are trying to deify your own anger.
Third, you seem to come out of a tradition of proof-texting, i.e. using verses of the Bible isolated from their social/cultural/historical (even Biblical) context and then injecting them with meaning from your own time and culture to prove some point that the verse or verses don't actually support. Were you at one time a Biblical Literalist (often, but not always part of being a Christian Fundamentalist)? If so, it isn't surprising that you lost your faith. It was a house built on sand.
Finally, a bit of praise. This is really a pretty sophisticated effort for an 18-year old. I'm glad you're considering revising it, however.