REPLY #49a TO
are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.
prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.
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and are prefaced by my initials (MB)
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It is significant for this major reason -- how is one to believe in the deity or doctrine of any religion when their believers can't even agree on what they are? Since none of those beliefs have anything to support them, how is one to choose between them? If God exists, then the question becomes one of ultimate importance.
(R) I agree, once we answer the question of God's existence, the issue of how to worship Him is very important. But it has no bearing on whether or not He exists. Differences in religious beliefs are irrelevant to the question of His existence.
(MB) The fact that the beliefs exist at all implies that the believers have already answered that question for themselves in the affirmative. If they have answered the question, it is relevant to ask about what it is that convinced them to arrive at their answer. Since the numerous mutually-exclusive beliefs out there can't all be correct, and since no single belief is shared by a majority of the world's population, if God exists, most of the population of believers are wrong about their beliefs. If any reasonable case is to be made in favor of any particular version of God, we *must* answer the question of whose beliefs are right and why. Therefore, the differences in religious beliefs are anything but irrelevant. Or, if you prefer, if the differences are irrelevant, then the object of the beliefs -- that God exists -- must also be considered to be irrelevant.
Are you trying to tell me that you've never heard anybody (other Christians included) cut down members of those sects or criticize what they believe? If not, you really need to get out more.
(R) Yes, I hear people get "cut down" all the time, but that's not systematic discrimination.
(MB) Who said it had to be "systematic"? According to you, Christians are a loving and tolerant lot. If so, they wouldn't be cutting anybody down at all.
(R) There are many cruel and insensitive people, who criticize others because of their race, religion or sex, for being physically unattractive or bald or overweight, for being slow of intelligence, or for any other of a multitude of reasons. However, I seldom see committed Christians do this sort of thing.
(MB) This sounds like the famous "I'm a *real* Christian and they're not" rhetoric. Where can one find the litmus test that clearly shows the difference between a real Christian and everybody else? Just what is your definition of a "committed Christian" and why is such a person unlikely to be cruel, insensitive, biased, or critical? Also, is it not possible for someone who is not a "committed Christian" to eschew those negative qualities?
(R) I have indeed heard Christians discuss the beliefs of other religions and give reasons why they don't agree with them, but this doesn't meet the criteria of "cut downs."
(MB) I thought Christians didn't consider anybody else's religion or beliefs to be "wrong". If so, how can they give specific reasons for disagreement with them? How do you rationalize calling somebody else's beliefs to be wrong as not "cutting them down"?
(R) That's the domain of the non-religious.
(MB) One only needs to listen to the average televangelist or office "born again" Christian to know that you are dead wrong.
(R) Here's something I've actually seen: at a luncheon, "Pete" (a Morman) says a brief, silent blessing before commencing his meal; a few days later, someone in the office (who is definitely non-religious) refers to him as a "religious nut" because he prays before he eats. I've never seen a Christian make this type judgment.
(MB) That's a rather silly example. After all, why would a Christian call another Christian a "religious nut" for praying before eating? As a more real-life example, I guess you haven't seen Christians making fun of some of the ceremonies that Muslims perform, have you?
In the previous paragraph, you said that you were unaware of any discrimination against Mormons. Now, in this paragraph, you give a specific eye-witness example. Which one of your claims am I to believe?
(R) I said I was unaware of systematic discrimination, which is not the same thing as random cruelty. Both claims are correct.
(MB) Sure, change the words again to rescue a boo-boo. OK...
(R) I've *never* been in a church where a pastor got up and preached a sermon against Mormans, or Catholics, or for that matter, Zorastorians.
(MB) Sermons never refer to another group by name. There are more generic words for them, such as "heathens", "unbelievers", "blasphemers", "infidels", "the Godless ones", etc.
On the other hand, have you ever been in a church where the pastor got up and told the congregation that it doesn't matter which God (if any) that they believe in or that any and all other religions and beliefs are just as good as what is being practiced in that church?
(R) If this ever happens, I'll guarantee I won't be a member of that church very much longer.
(MB) Why not? After all, Jesus didn't accept non-believers, either. Who are you to dispute that?
(R) But such an experience won't make me conclude that anyone who is religious is intolerant and that God doesn't exist. I'm too rational to use such an isolated incident to draw conclusions like that.
(MB) Yeah, you'd just keep your unsupported beliefs and roam the landscape looking for a church that is compatible with them.
As I said before (and if I can assume that you're telling me the truth), it strikes me that you need to get out more. To claim that Christians are more likely to be tolerant is the ultimate in naivety.
(R) Bah. *People* are intolerant, period.
(MB) Of course! It's a part of basic human nature. Religion is just another strong belief about which to foster intolerance. In fact, it's worse because it is a belief supported by faith alone and faith can't be shaken by reality.
(R) If you say some Christians are intolerant, you are correct, because Christians are people. But if you try to claim Christians are especially inclined to intolerance, you are wrong, and in fact, the reverse is more likely to be true.
(MB) You have yet to demonstrate why that belief is true. As I just said, Christians share an extra, strong, and unsupportable belief about which to be intolerant.
(R) I'm going to make a generalization here, which is something I don't like to do, but here goes: I have noticed that the Southern Baptist Convention occasionally engages in activities which might be considered less than tolerant, such as periodically publishing an estimate of the percentage of people in each state who would be saved if the Rapture occurred. (This seems a tad judgmental, wouldn't you agree?) Now, let me ask you, do you think these folks are intolerant because they are religious? Or do you think their religion is intolerant because they are?
(MB) I think that those Baptists are just another group of Christians who happen to be especially vocal and vociferous about their beliefs. Certainly, they wouldn't engage in their activities if they didn't have their religious beliefs, eh? Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that their religious beliefs lead to their activities.
Incidentally, why don't you believe in what Baptists say about the saving power of the Rapture?
If the Bible is the inspired word of God, how could this be true?
(R) Different people interpret the Bible differently because they have a different perspective on it. There *is* one true interpretation, but it is very difficult to know exactly what it is.
(MB) Why? The wording is not all that complicated. Where do all of these perspectives come from if not from those who are rolling their own version of Yahvism?
(R) A simple example of how different passages in the Bible get interpreted can be illustrated by a comparison of two of the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not kill" and "Thou shalt not commit adultery." It would be incorrect to interpret the first as an injunction to not kill anything, because this is obviously impossible. The commandment is probably meant only to forbid murder, the unjustified taking of another human life. But interpretations vary This commandment is interpreted loosely.
(MB) Oh? How can "murder" be loosely interpreted? The Hebrew text of the sixth commandment uses the word "rasah" which means "to put to death unlawfully, to murder". There are other Hebrew words used to describe other forms of killing (such as in war). So, where's the problem? Why should there be any confusion or misinterpretation?
(R) On the other hand, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" depends on the definition of adultery, which is "sexual intercourse between a married person and someone who is not their spouse." This commandment precludes a specific, narrowly defined behavior, and should be interpreted strictly. It is not an injunction against all sexual activity, but only a specific behavior. These two commandments are interpreted in varying waysthe first loosely and in different ways, and the second strictly.
(MB) Seems as though the commandment is not a hard and fast rule according to some Bible stories. For example, David committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 SAM 11:4) and was not killed for it. Even Jesus refused to condemn an adulterous woman (John 8:6-11). In this case, I'd have to agree with him.
(R) Even the second depends on the definition of marriage. If serious abuse exists in a marriage, the marriage contract has been broken and a strict definition of adultery is really not applicable.
(MB) How do you figure that?
(R) There's nothing wrong with these differences in interpretation. It is entirely possible for something which is "true" to be interpreted differently by different people, just as something which is "false" can be.
(MB) Only when there are ambiguities present. I'm afraid that I don't see any in the examples you gave.
(R) If you continue to insist the Bible has a single interpretation, even though you think it wrong, you are no different than the narrow-minded religious person who also insists on a single interpretation, but claims it is right.
(MB) Am I? To prove that, you'll need to show where a true example of basic doctrinal ambiguity exists in the Bible and explain why it is justifiable to interpret it in various ways. There ought to be a great many if they are a major reason for the thousands of various sects of Christianity. It would also be helpful if you could offer an example of which sect(s) have made the correct (or even "best") interpretations and why they have done so while others have failed.
Given that basic issues are disagreed upon between Catholics and Protestants, your statement is incorrect.
(R) Both agree there is a single transcendent God, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-present, who is infinitely good and created the universe, and who loves every single human being equally.
(MB) This is not correct. There are Protestant sects which believe that God is somewhat less powerful than the picture you paint of him.
(R) Both believe Jesus Christ is His Son, God Incarnate, who paid the price of sin on Calvary.
(MB) This is incorrect. There are Protestant sects that do not believe in the divinity of Jesus or which do not believe that God and Jesus are co-equal.
(R) Both believe the Holy Bible is the Word of God, even though they at times interpret it differently.
(MB) That's too general. The New Testament (to Christians) is much more important than is the Old Testament since it is the story of Jesus and the philosophy of Christianity. To Jews, of course, the Bible ends before the first verse of Matthew begins. Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is also the Word of God, but other Christians don't buy it. Muslims believe that the Qu'ran is the Word of God -- the same God that Jews and Christians worship.
(R) The similarities of belief go on and on.
(MB) Those "similarities" are far too general to account for the myriad of different Christian sects and their mutually-exclusive beliefs. If everything was as simple as you seem to think, we might see a few sects, but not the cacaphony that's actually out there.
(R) The differences can be summed up in two simple principles, first advanced by Martin Luther: the primacy of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers.
(MB) Those are "differences"? How do these "differences" account for the massive fracturing of Christianity?
(R) I repeat my assertion there is wide agreement on basic issues by the vast majority of Christians.
(MB) Only if you reduce the religion to its most trivial roots. Even there, we don't find the absolute agreement that we should expect if it has any basis in reality.
Nobody goes to war over disputes about history.
(R) Couldn't be more wrong. Our most recent war was caused by a dispute about the historical ownership of Kuwait--Iraq claimed it was historically an Iraqi province (a claim not totally without merit.)
(MB) That was hardly the case of the invasion of Kuwait. Oh, it might have been a BS story of Saddam Hussein, but nobody could seriously believe it. Consider that Kuwait was a British protectorate until gaining independence in 1961 -- only three years after the current Iraqi ruling party overthrew their previous King. Not much "history" there, eh?
Nobody is threatened with eternal damnation for refusing to believe in a particular account of a historical event.
(R) You're right about this.
(MB) So, why equate historical controversies with religious controversies? Out of curiosity, why should religion have to threaten eternal damnation for non-believers? If God was so all-powerful and self-evident, why should there be any non-believers?
There aren't thousands of different and incompatible versions of any historical event with people who will claim that they are all equal.
(R) There aren't thousands, but there are dozens and these differ in thousands of detailsexactly the same as in the case of religion.
(MB) Nonsense. Give us a few examples of some historical events for which there are dozens of different, incompatible versions which differ in thousands of details.
(R) There aren't "thousands of different and incompatible versions" of religion, there are about a dozen which encompass the overwhelming majority of religious believers...
(MB) There are thousands of different versions of Yahvism alone and most are incompatible in at least some of their details. That's why they all exist in the first place. That should be simple enough to understand.
(R) ...and even among those which are most different, there are striking similarities.
(MB) Like "they all worship a deity"? Sorry, but even here your argument breaks down, since the different major religions all worship different numbers and types of deities with varying natures and all have different basic doctrines of belief concerning their respective deities. The only true similarity is that they all substitute a belief in the supernatural for the effort required to understand reality.
(R) No one claims all historical (or religious) interpretations are equal. But it is obvious that if there is no conclusive evidence to support one particular interpretation over the others, all must be considered potentially valid. And therefore, all must be tolerated.
(MB) Nothing can be considered valid for which there is no supporting evidence. When you multiply this problem times the fact that the varying versions of religion are mutually-exclusive, we have even less reason to give any credence to any of them. Finally, when we have abundant evidence to show that none of those religious beliefs is even necessary to provide us with explanations for Life, the Universe, and Everything, we end up with no reason whatsoever to give any of them the time of day.
This rampant confusion among believers is supposed to demonstrate that *I* don't understand the concept? Which one of those incompatible views do you hold? Why? What is there to support it or any of the others?
(R) As I said, most modern Christians agree with the first definition, which is the opposite of what you said about the Trinity. It's obvious you don't understand it.
(MB) How is that "obvious"? The concept of the Trinity began as an attempt to merge the polytheism of Babylonian beliefs with the beginnings of Jewish monotheism. The question has been argued back and forth over the eons and has produced several different answers ranging from "one God", to "one God in different forms", to "one God, but three essences", to "three different deific entities".
Where does the truth lie as concerns Christianity? It's instructive to note that Jesus often prayed to God. If Jesus *was* God, why would he need to pray? Also, what is the point of the temptation of Jesus is Jesus is God?
(R) As far as any rampart confusion goes, the different views represent an evolution of beliefs over a period of several centuries which eventually came to the current viewpoint. Christianity is considered monotheistic, but there is room for debate on this pointjust ask any Jew or Muslim. Hinduism is technically monotheistic, too.
(MB) Why should one ask a Jew or Muslim? They don't believe that Christians have the story right! Also, Hinduism is anything but monotheistic unless you are going to try to claim that any religion which worship many gods, but which recognizes one as "first", "supreme", or "elder" to the others, is actually a "monotheistic" religion. Such a claim essentially trivializes the term and makes it a practical impossibility to have a polytheistic religion.
(R) As far as the support goes, this concept was developed by Bible scholars over many centuries, including men like St. Agustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, which is why it is so widely accepted.
(MB) What about the conflicting versions developed by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople, Irenaeus of Lyons, Marcellus of Ancyra, Tertullian, Sabellius, the Cappadocian Fathers, Roscellinus, and Augustine of Hippo? They can't all be right and all are still believed in varying sects of Christianity.
You are forgetting John 1:18, which reads "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared [him]". This is a clear statement that God and Jesus are not one and the same.
(R) My interpretation of this passage is that it explains how, when God was incarnate on Earth as Jesus Christ, He described His other manifestation as God the Father.
(MB) How do you arrive at that interpretation from "No man hath seen God at any time"? If Jesus and God are the same, and if at least one man saw Jesus, then that same man also saw God, did he not?
(R) Furthermore, the passage says nothing about whether or not Jesus was present at Creation.
(MB) I didn't say that it did. If Jesus was around at the Creation, why did the Jews have nothing to say about it? After all, it *is* their story!
It also says nothing about whether or not I was there, but it is safe to assume that I wasn't. Seriously, though, neither the concept of Jesus nor of the Messiah existed when Genesis was written.
(R) Yes, but you aren't considered part of the Holy Trinityat least I haven't heard of it yet.
(MB) Looks like we have another interpretation, eh?
(R) Jesus *is* God, and was obviously present at the creation.
(MB) Not according to the Jews -- to whom was (supposedly) revealed the story of the Creation by God. There is also no mention of any "Father, Son, and Holy Ghost" Trinity at any point in the Old Testament.
(R) As usual on these matters, you are wrong about the concept of the Messiah not existing when Genesis was written. See Genesis 3:15 After the temptation of Man and Woman in the Garden of Eden, God says to the serpent: "...And I will put enmity between you and the women and between your offspring and hers, He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel."
This passage is widely recognized as the first mention of the Messiah in the Bible.
(MB) Biblical scholars the world over must be incoherent with laughter at this point. "Widely recognized" by who? The concept of the Messiah didn't even exist in Judaism until the time of David and that Messiah was nowhere referred to as the Son of God or as any type of deity.
All the verse is saying is that God has made snakes and Man eternal enemies as a punishment for the temptation of Eve. That's what the word "enmity" means. The last part of the verse reinforces the eternal battle that will take place between succeeding generations of snakes and men. It takes a real stretch of the imagination to turn this into a Messianic reference when the true meaning is considerably more straightforward and unambiguous.
The beginning and the end of what? None of the four usages of this phrase in Revelation says.
(R) Generally considered by Bible scholars to mean the beginning and end of *everything.*
(MB) Generally considered by Biblical scholars to mean the "beginning and the end", period. The expression is drawn from the fact that Alpha and Omega are the first and last (or "beginning and ending", if you will) letters in the Greek alphabet. Revelation was, of course, written in Greek. The expression itself is based upon a much older and similarly-derived rabbinical expression in Hebrew drawn from the list of blessings "from aleph to tau" (the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet) that are given in Leviticus 26.
You would be accurate only if you said that "in certain versions of Christianity, Jesus is God". In some other versions, Jesus is a member of the Trinity, but is not the same as God. In still other versions, Jesus is not a divine entity at all.
(R) This summation of the different concepts of Jesus in Christianity is correct, how ever your words "in certain versions" should be replaced by "in the bulk."
(MB) Of course -- scope vs. substance yet again, right? I'm trying to get to the root of why there should be any doctrinal differences at all and you are more concerned with whether or not one of them is the majority view -- as if that makes any of the views valid.
If Jesus and God are the same, why differentiate between them in prayers and/or doctrine?
(R) As I've said several times, the Trinity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are generally considered to be three names for the same substance. Which specific name is used depends mostly on the circumstances of use. As I've said, it is a difficult concept.
(MB) Not really. If they are all the same, what's the point in differentiating any circumstances? Doesn't that just confuse the issue even more?
(R) The majority of Christians, even if they are very devout, probably haven't thought deeply on this subject,...
(MB) ...now *THAT* I can agree with without reservation. They just mindlessly repeat the standard prayers that have been indoctrinated into them since early childhood without the slightest thought or question about what they are really saying.
(R) ...but if you go to the "experts," i.e. ministers, theologians, and seminary students, and ask the question, you will get an answer very close to the one I've given.
(MB) Which, apparently, is that "everybody has their own interpretation". Which, of course, means exactly nothing except that it supports another statement I've previously made and that you have disputed -- Christianity is a "roll-your-own" religion.
(R) Two other things should be mentioned here. First, a Muslim would recognize Jesus as a prophet, but nothing more. A Jew would probably not even recognize Him as that. (Note: I'm just pointing out the differences here, nothing more.)
(MB) Of course, I've already said that.
(R) And secondly, earlier in this discussion I said I was going to leave the question of whether or not Christians, Muslims, and Jews worship exactly the same God to later where it was covered in more depth. You responded with an assurance the facts wouldn't change. We have reached that point and indeed, the facts have not changed.
(MB) Yep, and my point has been even more securely made. God/Yahweh/Allah is still God/Yahweh/Allah, isn't he? It's the other points of doctrine that produce the differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Sure it does. It's a point of doctrine that is used to support a belief in Christianity. Unfortunately, it seems to be just as fraught with confusion as any other point.
(MB) 'Nuff said, I guess...
If you have so many good sources of solid information on the subject, why can't you present any of it yourself? I've already done my homework.
(R) Then you get an "F."
(MB) Yep, for a "Failure" to find anything that will give any credence to Christianity. BTW, I notice that you didn't take up the challenge to present the solid information from all the good sources you claim to have. I've already looked for it. It ain't out there.
My statement was not one of jealousy nor is it one that can be applied to me. It was meant to be a reaction to the absurd notion that one can gain any measure of satisfaction by believing in abstract nonsense only because "it can't be proven wrong". That is completely opposite from the intellectual view which says that beliefs must have evidential support before they can become valid and before we can gain satisfaction from them.
(R) Absurd nonsense?
(MB) No, I said "abstract nonsense". As in, "general, as opposed to particular" and "ideal, as opposed to practical". You have a general claim that supports and ideal belief. It is a claim that is uncomfortable with specifics and which eschews practical reality in favor of blind faith and personal preference.
(R) No more so than your own.
(MB) Your beliefs are the direct opposite of mine. Mine are supported by specific evidence and by practical principles of logic and philosophy.
(R) Let me state again what we're arguing about, just to fix it in our minds: "There is no proof that God exists, neither is there any proof that He does not. Both beliefs are accepted without evidence, by faith, and it is equally logical and rational to believe either." This is the rationalist viewpoint.
(MB) This is your viewpoint and is not shared by any acknowledged name in logic or philosophy. In fact, I have quoted many examples in contradiction of what you are arguing in previous replies while you have yet to advance a single example in support of your conclusion. Technically, your view is "rationalist" since it relies on reasoning alone -- even though the reasoning itself is faulty.
(R) The empiricist view point is summed up by your statement, "
beliefs must have evidential support before they can become valid
." This sounds wonderfully logical until you discover, as Hume did, that *all* of our most fundamental beliefs are without empirical support of any kind. Not just beliefs about religion, but any other subject as well. Even the belief that beliefs can be supported is insupportable.
(MB) If you dig deep enough, you'll find philosophy that states that there is no unquestionable evidence that our existence is a fact. While this is technically correct, it is not very illuminating (which is the point Hume was trying to make). Previously, I quoted one of Hume's most famous arguments concerning the proper method of choosing the better of contradictory possibilities.
If we are to formulate any system of logic that can be trusted to guide us to proper decisions, we must establish procedures for induction and deduction that are most likely to be correct. The scientific method uses the principle that valid claims can be independently tested and verified, that they will best explain available data and observations, and that they will make useful and accurate predictions about future observations. We gain confidence in the methodology when it consistently provides trustworthy results.
Applying this method to the God theory, we find that it fails on all counts. Like any theory (and like Hume implies), this result is a measure of probability more than a statement of absolutes, but a theory where the level of probability in its validity tends to zero is not one that should be given any credence -- and certainly not in competition with alternative explanations that carry much higher levels of probabilistic validity.
Thanks for, once again, not answering (or even understanding) the question. When we understand the "how", we will also understand the "why". When the "how" is shown to be completely natural and explainable by science, there will be no question of "why" that has any meaning. Are you ready for that?
(R) You are postulating that we will at some point know everything. Knowledge, i.e. the set of all things it is possible to know, is infinite. (See Isaac Asimov's essay, "The Secret of the Universe.") It is ridiculous to postulate we will ever know everything, and any argument based on such an assumption is equally ridiculous. There will never come a time when questions of "why" will be meaningless.
(MB) I'm not saying that we will eventually know everything. Clearly, that is not possible for finite beings in a finite amount of time. What I'm saying is that we will eventually know enough to be able to produce a near-perfect explanation of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The closer we get to that eventual answer to the "how" question, the less room or need there is for any question of "why". Eventually, "why" will be squeezed out entirely and shown to be irrelevant or meaningless. Once again, I ask you -- are you ready for that?
Even if there was truly no evidence on either side, the two premises are not equal. There are attendant consequences to any premise that something exists. There are no such consequences if something does not exist.
(R) To restate, you say there are consequences if something exists and no consequences if it doesn't. That's silly. Either has consequences.
(MB) Oh, really? I think we can safely assume that invisible, fire-breathing pink unicorns with three legs and curly tails don't exist on the Earth. What are the meaningful consequences that result directly from their non-existence? Certainly there would be meaningful consequences if such creatures did exist, right?
When you claim that something exists, you must also be ready to accept and support the consequences.
(MB) So, why can't you accept the consequences of your claims about the existence of God?