Better Revelation & Salvation Lite

Lite_S1If Only:

People were gathering in the streets, staring into the sky.  “I am God” was written clearly in the sky — and it was written in every sky all over the planet.  The same message was on every TV set in the world and people could hear a voice gently repeating the same thing.  After one hour the short message began- a message of love and guaranteed eternal life for everyone.

With this came messages for cures for cancer, cheap energy and abundant food for everyone.  No longer did humanity have to struggle in their religions:  no more daily prayers, no dressing up for church, no dietary laws, no more stories to believe in — we had been granted Salvation Lite.


We all sometime wanted to be rescued from something– saved from poverty, illness, violence, depression, anxiety and loneliness. With luck, friends, technology, wit and preparation we can indeed sometimes be saved.  For the other times, we have beer!

Lite_BeersOne of the selling points of religion is “salvation”. There are several versions, but painting it broadly, there is salvation in this life and salvation after death.

In the Jewish Bible, Yahweh offers political salvation– saving Israel and obedient tribe members from their enemies. Most Christian sects emphasize after-death side of salvation:  salvation from damnation.

But it matters not which kind of salvation, the divine requirements are often complicated. Jews have all sorts of laws they must obey, Christians have got to believe a story with a complicated trinity ontology. And the story is usually told only to some small tribe. Arabs hear it from Mohammed and must spread it. Jews hear it from Jesus and must spread it.

Lite_2Come on. If there is a god who is all-powerful and totally loving, why not a “Salvation Lite”? Why not a clear message in the sky to everybody all at once — an unquestionable miracle with simple universal rules.

The “Salvation Lite” question or “Why don’t we have better Revelation” is a common one I hear from atheists, in different forms. It seems a reasonable question to me. Well, it would be reasonable if it made sense at all to expect such a deity — and that does not make sense, so for me, the salvation questions don’t even come up. Expecting anything different after death than meets a roadkill squirrel seems anthropocentrically bizarre to me. See my post: Roadkill Theology.

Undoubtedly some Christians will say that their main concern is service, discipleship, praxis and not their individual salvation — but I am addressing those Christians to whom personal salvation is important.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

77 responses to “Better Revelation & Salvation Lite

  1. It is a good question. My basic type of answer is taken from Gregory of Nyssa, who I think you’d like if you haven’t encountered him before.

    (1) God, by definition, is an infinite being
    (2) We are finite beings
    (3) A process of learning about God must therefore be experienced as an infinite process of learning.
    (4) This can’t be made simple. The process of learning about God must always be a process of learning more, and encountering difficult questions.

    In a secularized form, this kind of embrace of learning, as a good in itself, lies at the heart of the scientific endeavor. As a result, these kinds of objections can be (but aren’t always) transposed into a skepticism about all realms of human inquiry, including science. (I’m not saying you are doing that, but it is a concerning tendency of this attitude, in general). This general attitude that “This should be easy. It doesn’t make sense that it isn’t,” is not intellectually virtuous. Science proceeds from a good faith in the comprehensibility of the world, even if most of our attempts to understand it have failed, falling into a morass of motivated reasoning, predictable irrationality and tribal infighting. Science also envisions something like an infinite process of learning about a world that, despite all odds, actually seems to be tractable using the unlikely toolkit of logic, mathematical modeling and careful, replicable empirical analysis. (Note, I am not saying that Christianity is just like science. Instead, I am saying that they share common presuppositions, which imply general intellectual virtues.)

  2. One other note: if the events you describe were to happen, I wouldn’t take them as evidence that God was doing it. Alien invasion, perhaps.

  3. Knowing God is Tough: a rebuttal of Gregory
    The obvious reply to Gregory (335-395 AD) would be something like my intro scenario. For there is no reason learning about God can’t be made much more simple. Sure, learning *everything* about a supposed infinite being would be, by definition, tough, but learning *something* about her, and especially the obvious things like her certain existence, doesn’t have to be hard at all. Indeed, a loving god (spirit-thing) could have easily made evidence of her existence obvious, clear and universally available all at once — she wouldn’t be limited in this. Since all is possible to her, the “This can’t be made simple” premise would be mistaken and Gregory would be wrong.

    Heck, computer science is tough and to us limited humans [an oxymoron, not a brilliant theological insight], we have to take it slow in learning. But it don’t mean the important lessons have to be hidden, confusing, contradictory or otherwise tough. Well, unless the god professor is horrible.

    What makes it a “good question” is that it can’t be simply dismissed.

  4. A Good Start: on running-to-skepticism
    Another common dismissal of the request for clear, unambiguous, universally available evidence of a god from that very same an all-powerful, all-loving god is that “even if he gave it, we could doubt that too.” Yeah, of course we could doubt that, but it would be a much better start! The argument seems to be concluding, “Hell, since we doubt everything, it makes sense that my god would present us only with incomplete, hidden evidence for her existence.”

    This running-to-skepticism-when-convenient is an obviously defective counter.

    A very common, often-heard, variant of this counter is: “God is testing our faith by giving us scant, hidden, difficult evidence. He doesn’t want easy believers.” Yeah, right!

  5. Then again, most people don’t seem to think the basic elements of Christianity are that tough. Be like Jesus. Love people like he did. This message has been communicated effectively across languages and cultural barriers, to people groups in every part of the world. It is not the understanding that is really the hard part. It is the doing.

    And I think your intro scenario really would not be a simple way to communicate this. Seriously: if this happened, would you take it as evidence that God was doing it? Or would you take it as evidence that either some group of people who managed to acquire some advanced technology, or some alien civilization with astonishing technology, was doing this, or that the servers in which we find ourselves have been hacked? I know that I wouldn’t think this looked like God’s activity, and I suspect a lot of other people would skeptical, with good reason, as well.

  6. One other thought, before work: I believe that what we actually do have, which has always pointed all people groups toward salvation, is the witness of our conscience. We have moral perception. The real trouble is that we tend to ignore it, and that our faculties of moral perception are pretty weak, like the arms of a premature infant.

  7. Better than Yahweh
    Spreading the message via political machinations over hundreds of years and still yet not reaching billions of people is rather pathetic for an all-powerful, loving deity — hell, way less efficient than my simple example.

    Sure, aliens could have made the broadcast — but my running-to-skepticism criticism still hold. And further: Gee, if those aliens (as my quick & sloppy example states) had also freely given us the cure for cancer, cheap energy, and abundant food for everyone, they’d have easily beaten all that Yahweh, Amida, Allah and all the other gods had offered to us.

    Seriously, I see no good answers to the good question yet. I only see some distractions and some weak replies.

  8. So…conscience?

    And to the original point, let me try to make it a bit clearer: within any process of infinite learning, you could arbitrarily point to any point in the process and say, “Why haven’t we learned more by that point? Why isn’t it clearer at this point?” So if the premises hold, the conclusions follow rather easily. (There are other implicit steps that we could map out. There always are. But if the topic is just too boring for you, there is, of course, no way to have a conversation.)

    One note on a general technique that I see you using: you seem to think that by classifying a claim, you can dismiss the claim. For example, once you have classified my claim as “running-to-skepticism,” you seem to think that this means that you have fully answered it. I can also classify what you are doing. Let’s call this “the fallacy of classification.” It is an informal fallacy, in which a person points to a pre-existing classification without demonstrating that the item being classified is a member of the class, and then uses the mere notion that something is a member of a class to dismiss it. It is similar to the “I’ve heard that before” informal fallacy, which is a classic example of a non sequiter. Both informal fallacies have their effect because they create a sense of mastery. Now, I don’t think this kind of response is fair. What I am doing is essentially the opposite of a tu quoque fallacy. Instead of saying that I am doing something legitimate, because you are doing it, I am saying that your general mode of argument is not legitimate. And, if you are looking at it fairly, you will see the problem if I mirror a similar procedure back to you.

    If you want to engage in a real conversation, you are welcome to challenge any part of the argument. However, as it stands, I think your last comment shows that you have not understood the argument. Because if the argument holds, it means your statements do not lead to your desired inference.

  9. The Moral Perception Ploy
    Ah, yes, another common reply. Which sounds like this, “Our intuitions tell us that God exists. And if you claim yours doesn’t, that is because you ignore it.”
    and then you say,
    “The reason god is hard to see is because he gave us baby-weak faculties.”
    So, the conclusion is that the only evidence god gives us is pathetic — well, except for his chosen.

    Really? This is great, you are giving me a list of common arguments.

  10. That might have been unclear. That really wasn’t what I was saying at all, when I mentioned conscience. This is a standard feature of someone using the classification fallacy. They will shoehorn arguments into their pre-existing classification system, without warrant, so that they can characterize something as a common reply. The two common weak points in the classification fallacy are these: (1) it often involves misclassification, and (2) the mere existence of a classification does not mean that something has been adequately addressed. It is a non sequiter. However, it is a useful rhetorical technique, because it reinforces a sense of familiarity, mastery and authority.

    Look, I think I’ve read you ungenerously at a couple of points. I’m sorry for that. Can we agree to try to read each other generously, or is that something you are not open to?

  11. @ Dan Heck:

    You are new on this blog. Commentors come and go here. I have lost many commentors who start out very fiery and verbose then just disappeared after several emotional debates on various posts. I have lost some Christians, some Astrologers, some Atheists, some Science advocates and some political folks. Can’t keep everyone happy, eh? And I am very fine with not trying to make people happy. Building relationships with commentors is an interesting, challenging phenomena. We all have to decide what type of folks we like sitting in our living rooms.

    Part of my challenge to have you visiting my house is to figure out how I want to interact with you — if at all. You are already seeing that I will ignore all attempts at manipulation: emotional or intellectual. I will also ignore all leading — for this is my blog, not your courtroom. Complaints of fallacies, meta-fallacies, hypocrisy and all that stuff may very well be ignored and I won’t explain why I am ignoring because (1) I may think it will feed the beast and/or (2) I find it a colossal, dull waste of time. I may be deceiving myself, but that is your challenge. I probably have house aesthetics that will be natural barriers to your desires.

    I may, at any time, be wrong in my judgement, but when I ignore comments or parts of comments, that is the judgement I am making. Demanding or even requesting I do otherwise with meta-manipulation will *also* be ignored. Stacking up such objections will be ignored again and again.

    I am under no obligation to answer anything you ask, follow any line of thinking you desire or reply to any of your accusations. If you will note, I am ignoring many parts of your comments intentionally. I will not feed what I perceive as unproductive, distracting or manipulative. And this goes for some of the content in this last comment of yours too.

    My perceptions may be wrong, but so it goes.

    I guess if you want dialogue that you enjoy here, you have to figure me out, no matter how disagreeable my methods or assumptions or style may be to you. You’ll have to figure out how to entice me to talk with you — or not. Guilt, accusations, manipulations, threats and the like will not work. Again, my perceptions may be wrong, but it is your job to change those perceptions when you visit my house. And you can’t change them by doing the same old, same old.

    If I am wrong, you have to be clever and get around my stupidity. Best wishes on that!

  12. @Dan, the reason it “should be easy” is if a god says to do such-and-such or believe such-and-such or else you’ll spend an eternity in torment, then said god should make it as clear and as available to everyone at all times (as in Sabio’s example) exactly how one is to obtain salvation. If he appears in a manner as clear as that, it doesn’t preclude me still spending a lifetime getting to know him. Or here’s a better idea: create a world where salvation isn’t necessary and people never suffer or die.

    Can we stop beating around the bush here with arguments, premises, et al, and just cut to the chase? Why is it important that I or anyone believe in a personal god, namely the Christian one? Please tell me. I wasted 30+ years on that belief and have yet to find one single, solitary reason to go back but I’m always willing to listen on the chance that in all that time I just missed something. So far I haven’t found it.

  13. alanwheeler

    I was an atheist for over thirty years. The worst thing about being an atheist is you have no hope for an after life. I developed my own religious beliefs based mainly on science but filling in the gaps in current scientific knowledge with what I would call religion (non deity). I would appreciate it if you would take a look at my blog and tell me what you think. I would appreciate any criticism of the logic of the arguments I put forward. The blog is :
    [deleted by blog owner for violation of common sense]

  14. @ Dan Heck:
    I love taxonomies: see my post here. I am a pathetic sap for classification schemes and diagrams.

    Taxonomies, classifications, typifications and all those things invite poor strawman arguments. You are right, they can be very problematic. But I still feel my classification of your attempted rebuttals were accurate enough. But just for argument’s sake, let’s say I misunderstood or misclassified your rebuttals, nonetheless, the three defenses I classified here are ones that are commonly found among those that feel their god’s revelations are suffice — even if that is not what you are saying. But so far you have not enticed me into seeing that you are saying otherwise — I see not finer, more convincingly nuanced arguments even though I may be mistaken. And again, I won’t follow all roads demanded of me.

  15. @ Sabio

    Those are certainly your rights. One simple question, though, because I also have to decide if a productive conversation is possible. Are you familiar with the concept of reading generously? Is it something you reject? No one is going to force you to answer, obviously. It is a simple question.

  16. @ alanwheeler,
    Yep, we got no hope for an after life — just like my dogs, squirrels, dolphins, elephants and bacteria. I guess it is a hopeless world in that regard. No fits of fiction will change that. Heck, some folks are out right happy that their lives will not go on indefinitely!

    I doubt that you are following this thread and instead just shamelessly advertising on my blog which is against my comment guidelines and thus I have deleted your link.

    Next violation and you will be spammed. Hell, I should do it now, but countering your point was too great of a joy for me. 🙂

    @ MichaelB:
    Nothing worse than an ex-smoker! 😉
    I use to chew, smoke, praise Jesus and carry Mao’s little redbook with me everywhere, which makes me the least tolerant of hypocrits! 🙂

  17. @ MichaelB

    Totally agree with you. I think it is morally monstrous to believe it is just to torture anyone, let alone torture them forever. I also think it is morally monstrous to think that people are damned for failing to think anything in particular. When I see that you are coming from that perspective, I think we probably agree completely on the morality of this. “Accept what I am saying about Jesus, or go to hell,” is one of the most evil and manipulative things I can imagine a person saying. We have shared, moral outrage toward that kind of manipulation. To that moral outrage, I would add that I also consider this blasphemy. And a kind of blasphemy that is, sadly, very common.

  18. (just in that second sentence, meaning “justified”)

  19. @ Dan Heck:
    It is not my “right”, it is my choice.
    Are your familiar with the concept of “rhetorical questions”?
    It is a simple question. (wow, you just keep going!)

    See my post: “Generous Translations

  20. @Dan

    Ok. That’s a good starting point. We have some common ground, although I can’t tell from your answer whether or not you believe hell exists. And I didn’t say people were damned simply for thinking a certain way. I also included doing certain things in my example. And I’d still like to know why personal salvation is important. Thanks.

  21. Thanks for answering it 🙂 I think that is good, and I particularly appreciate your caveat about generosity being potentially being insulting, as well…but still, a useful approach a lot of the time. I will also try to read you generously, which you may find insulting on occasion. My goal is not to insult you, any more than your goal is to insult, but it is worth noting that it can happen.

    So, when I try to generously read your objections, this is what I see: I think you are right to suggest that I have not provided evidence that my logical model (that we are engaged in a process of infinite learning) corresponds to reality. That is a perfectly fair objection. However, in providing a logical model, I think I am providing an appropriate, logical response to your question, which I read as a question about the logic of the matter. I read your question as being something like, “Why wouldn’t a loving and all-powerful God already have communicated everything that needs to be communicated?” So when I say that I think the response is good, I mean that it is logically adequate response, given the priors. And, given the way the question is formed, that is actually what the question is asking. It is a simple question, and I think it deserves an answer 🙂

    Now, if I were to read your response ungenerously, I might say, “You are engaging in question begging. First you ask me to reconcile a set of priors, but when I do that, you attack the priors instead.” And actually, I think that would be true, if all of my ungenerous readings of you were true. (I have no idea if they are, though, so I’ll read generously instead.) Continuing to read generously, I think you are raising a distinct empirical question. And that is a fair and simple question as well! But it is a different question, and one that I don’t think we can coherently discuss until we have clarified the logic of what we are saying. It is futile to ask, “Does reality conform to this model?” until we know what ‘this model’ is.

    [Insert insulting passive aggressive dig here 😉 Oh, wait, I’m going to try to stop doing that.]

  22. @ MichaelB

    Great 🙂 It is always hard to find common ground and rapport, especially online. I’m happy we’ve found a bit.

    So when I talk about salvation, I just mean “being saved from bad things” in general. That can include addiction, or tribal warfare, or self-destructive tendencies, or the violence of others, like being killed, or an oppressive Government. And it can include really bad things, like being a horrible human being who does destructive things. If you look at what standard Christians mean by salvation, a lot of the time, they mean just this sort of thing. “There was this bad thing going on, and I was saved from it. I’ve been saved!” Most reasonable people want to be saved from bad things happening, for the reason that bad things are bad 🙂 So why would you want to be saved? Because there are bad things that you want to be saved from.

    On hell: I think it is real. I think it is present whenever bad things happen, but that its reality is not constrained to any particular set of bad things. In part, I think this because the concept of hell has expressive capacities that go beyond merely saying “bad things.” IE: I don’t think it is reducible to ‘bad things’, even if that is a good first approximation.Again, if you look at common language among Christians and non-Christians, you’ll see hell used in this way regularly. “I’ve been to hell and back.” “They put me through hell.” “Summer camp was pure hell.” I think some real, essential, communicative force would be lost if we were only allowed to say, “I’ve been through a bad situation and back.” “They put me through a bad situation.” Or “Summer camp was bad.” Aside from the expressive intensity, I think ‘hell’ is a generative concept that is doing a lot of work, and that interfaces with other concepts. That means there is some complexity to deal with, but I’d suggest that if you genuinely want to understand any person’s worldview, or your own, you just have to respond to complexity with patience and curiosity. No one can force you to be patient and curious, but I would highly recommend it. Still, pointing to this practical, grounded, non-abstract meaning of hell is a great way to ground the conversation in our shared experience of reality, and a great first approximation 🙂

  23. @ Dan Heck:
    The question is not and has not been:

    “Why wouldn’t a loving and all-powerful God already have communicated everything that needs to be communicated?”

    So the rest of what you said is unimportant to me.

    So if you want, I will let you take another stab at what the real question.

    Heads up: I already see myself speed reading or skipping over any of your sentences with the word “priors” (4). “Fallacy/fallacies” did the same to me in the your other comments. And I can see how I will now probably do the same with the word “generous” (6) now that you think you can use that.

    I hope that helps you figure me out. I am seeing patterns and they are not inviting. So if you really want me to engage you will have to find more effective methods — for those won’t work.

  24. Thanks for showing me where it all stands. So to provide a more direct, ungenerous reading:

    “Come on. If there is a god who is all-powerful and totally loving, why not a “Salvation Lite”? Why not a clear message in the sky to everybody all at once — an unquestionable miracle with simple universal rules.”

    1) I don’t think your scenario is an example of an unquestionable miracle with simple universal rules. And I’m not sure that such a thing is conceivable. At any rate, your efforts to conceive of one do not look like an example of an unquestionable miracle, to me, and I’d welcome anyone to come up with one. If such a scenario is inconceivable, then it isn’t compatible with a logically coherent universe that is comprehensible to creatures with minds like ours.

    2) Also, I’m not so sure that ‘unquestionability’ is a moral good. I actually am quite fond of questioning, so I’d challenge the notion that a good God would want things to be unquestionable. Actually, if something is posited as unquestionable, I would generally say that this is evidence, on the face at least, that something is not from a good God.

  25. @Dan

    By your definitions of hell and salvation, my *rejection* of religion and a belief in a god is what has “saved” me. And just about every religion on earth offers a similar sort of salvation, so I’m still not seeing where the Christian god comes into play. In other words, why was Jesus’ death and resurrection necessary? To save us from “bad things”? Seems sort of extreme. And what Bible verses are you basing this belief on?

    By the way, I *am* patient and curious. Are you implying that I’m not? If so, then I’m done because that is condescending. If not, then please rephrase so I can understand what you are indeed saying.

  26. @ MichaelB

    Rejection of false religion and false gods is a central theme in the Bible. So I have no problem with the notion that your rejection of these kinds of falsehoods is part of a process that is saving you.

    I would say that God’s self-sacrifice, in the person of Jesus, is important for tons of reasons. We could argue about ‘necessity’ (ie, is this the only way I think God could have done this?) But I think it is important and absolutely central because it creates a simple, central image, embedded in actual historical processes, of who God is. It is God’s revelation of Godself. And I think it is remarkably more interesting and fruitful than the ‘salvation lite’ scenario.

    I’m happy that you are patient and curious! I’m sorry if I seemed to be implying that you weren’t. That was not my intent. My intent was to exhort all of us to be patient and curious, and to establish that this is something that I also value. They seem to be core values of this community, so I was trying to identify myself with those values as well.

  27. Biblically, for this discussion, I’d take Collossians 1 as the central touchstone. I’m trying to not get all Bibley, since I’m already having trouble keeping Sabio awake 😉

  28. @Dan

    Let me take a different tack here…

    I don’t see necessity for a god, much less the Christian one. I’m trying to understand why it’s important that *I* believe in this god. Me. MichaelB. You’re giving me broad, theological generalities based on your belief and understanding of what God is like. In other words, you’re telling me why it is important for *you* and perhaps others who believe similarly.

    If salvation through Jesus – however you define it – is somehow critical to greater happiness now or in eternity, I would sincerely like to know why. I’m not being flippant or purposely obtuse. It’s just that in all my searching I haven’t found someone who can answer that honestly and it’s frustrating.

  29. @ Dan,

    “I’d challenge the notion that a good God would want things to be unquestionable.”

    Is your response to my statement of:

    “Why not a clear message in the sky to everybody all at once — an unquestionable miracle with simple universal rules.”

    Which is a request for ONE unquestionable sign.

    So I imply:
    “I want your supposed God to give ONE (or even a few) unquestionable signs.”

    but you respond with the equivalent of:
    “Why should my God make ALL things unquestionable?” or maybe you meant something like “Why should my God make ANYTHING unquestionable?”

    Really? Not a question — just continued surprise. We are not communicating.

    But here are some Questions:
    (1) Are there other blogs where the blog author continues to dialogue with you?
    (2) Why don’t you set up your own blog? Do you think you’d be good at getting folks to come an chat? If not, why not?

  30. @ MIchaelB

    That’s cool, and the clarification helps me understand what you are asking. I would say because it will help be even more loving, have more joy in your life, and because I think it happens to be true. Insofar as you want to hold true beliefs, I think it is in your interest to hold it. It might also help you be reconciled to people you know, and help you become someone who helps reconcile them to God. Corporately (at the group level, which is also relevant to you, because you are a part of groups), I think there are lots of effects. The one that you might find interesting is this: I think it is worth contending for Christian orthodoxy because a lot of nasty stuff is done in the name of Christianity. Whatever you can do to help marginalize that stuff and defeat it would be a great thing, and would probably feel personally rewarding as well. IE: if you actually did hold my position, you could genuinely say that on top of being morally reprehensible, you also consider the whole “think what I think or burn in hell forever” schtick is blasphemous and heretical. And who wouldn’t want to be able to sincerely say that? 😉 Sabio seems to want Christians to be more humane, and I do as well. However, I think where we may disagree is in how that might happen. I don’t see it happening unless Christians are also able to make a case to other Christians, in Christian terms, that help them see their error and repent.

  31. Wow, Dan confesses: Without know MichaelB at all, Dan feels his religion (his practices) will bring more joy to MichaelB. Amazing! Did you really say that Dan?

    Apparently, returning to Christianity will also bring sad Michael the added benefit of helping him ‘reconcile’ to former Christians though it may piss of Muslims and some atheists. But hell, those unhappy souls don’t matter as much– is that the consequence of your logic? I guess I am just confused.

    So, “Why become a Christian?” Because it is good for you and for other Christians.

  32. @ Sabio

    I was saying the latter: Why should God make anything at all unquestionable? Why would that be good? I would not say that my own positions are unquestionable. I would certainly not say that the revelation offered in Jesus is unquestionable. It certainly is! And I think that is a feature, and not a flaw. On the spectrum of weird, counter-intuitive, questionable beliefs, I’d put it right at the top. It seems that we are communicating fairly well, to me. You intuited a range of possible readings of my statement, one of which was my intent!

    (1) Yes
    (2) I haven’t gotten around to it. I have no idea if I would be good at it. I suspect a major weakness of my writing, in this format, is the length, and most people do not want to engage material of this length. So I just live with the drawbacks of the length, while trying to avoid being terribly repetitive or dilatory.

  33. @ Sabio

    And I’d add that I think it would help him reconcile with all kinds of people, religions and non-religious alike. I was asked to try to speak specifically, so that’s what I tried to do.

  34. @ Dan Heck:
    Ah, so it is avoidance by degree.
    What we have now is no or almost no evidence — depending on who you talk to. So I don’t need perfect “unquestionable” but a hell of a lot better would make tons of sense. If you keep quibbling, I will probably assume you have no intention to understand the point.

    As for MichaelB — so it is interesting that you feel you know MichaelB well enough to decide what would be good for him. Or, that you assume your medicine works on everyone the same. While my experience shows this is absolutely not true. But I imagine any evidence I point to, you could always say — “Well, that is because their understand Christianity is not as perfect good as mine.”

  35. @Dan

    Um, I hate to burst your bubble, but I have become more loving, had more joy in my life and am more engaged with life now than I ever was when I believed in a god. If your religious belief has done that for you, I’m happy, but projecting that onto someone you don’t even know – hell, projecting in general – is merely engaging in the exact sort of infrahumanization of which you are accusing Sabio. I don’t have to be a Christian to descry despicable acts of Christians. And, ironically, as an atheist, Sabio is doing exactly what you say you want to do: contending for a healthier Christianity for those who choose to name themselves as such.

    These days I believe things because evidence compels me, not because it will make me feel good. That means I may have to accept truths that are painful or uncomfortable, but I’d rather live with what is, consequences and all, than what I wish would be. I’m always open to evidence that shows wrong thinking. It makes for a richer life and healthier relationships, moreso than believing in a god ever did.

    And what does “reconcile them to God” mean?

  36. In all fairness, MichaelB, I think he means HIS Christianity. You’ve got to believe/follow/do or whatever Dan’s Christianity for it to work. I’d wager he’d say that the only reason you got more joy after leaving Christianity is because you were in the wrong one.
    You see that coming, don’t you?

    And now you invite his testimony of true Christianity.
    And heck, he may be right. You may be amazed and say, “Damn, if only I had tied my theological knot that way.” Oooops, that was cynicism — but I only gave that up for Lent.

  37. @Sabio

    I’m still naive in that I hope maybe this time the No True Scotsman argument won’t be employed. Maybe this time the evidence won’t be, “It works for me and it will work for you too if you only ____.” What’s funny is that I’m fine with functional beliefs most of the time, it’s just that people can’t ever seem to admit that’s why they believe.

  38. @ Sabio

    I think there is a meaningful distinction between “questionable” “weird” and “warranted.” I’d be happy to discuss that with anyone who is interested. But to be clear: I am certainly not saying that my faith is unwarranted. Questionable? Yes. Weird? Definitely. Unwarranted? Nope. I would extend the same grace to you: I think your beliefs are probably also questionable, weird and warranted. If you consider this quibbling, then I guess that means that you consider it quibbling.


    Sabio, feel free to skip. I’m going to talk about fallacies.

    See, I’m making space so you can easily skip this part.

    No really. I’m talking about fallacies. This isn’t worth you reading 😉

    Okay, regarding the whole “No True Scotsman” business, statements are very frequently misclassified as a version of that fallacy. But don’t take my word for it. Here is a nice summary of how this happens, by an atheist: For this to apply here, I think you would first need to know what my definition of “Christian” was, then you would have to find me re-defining the term when it is pointed out that it is false. So this is a good example of the “classification fallacy” failing at the first point of weakness.

    But to be human about your own experience for a moment: I am glad you got away from whatever it was that you left. I have very close friends who were caught up in destructive forms of Christianity, and who became atheists, and I consider this progress. You may not respect this, but I have seen them become more genuinely like Jesus through this experience. The Bible is full of surprising reversals of just this sort, and I am not surprised or troubled by it. I’m glad for you. I also respect that you want to discuss things in terms of warrant, and want to have warranted true beliefs. I think there are lots of reasons to follow Jesus, and functional reasons are included among those. Where we may disagree is in this: I don’t think it is reducible to these functional reasons. If I thought it were, I would say so.

  39. @ Dan Heck
    It seems you are still not addressing the point of the post.

    But to address your diversion:
    Unless we define “warranted”, I can’t tell if it is meaningful to decide if they apply to anyone’s beliefs. I think in a common use of the phrase, when a person says “That belief is unwarranted” amounts to them saying, “There is not enough evidence for that belief to rationally believe it.” But then we have the problem of “not enough”, “evidence” and “rational”. Way too much for this post and since “warranted” is not a phrase I use, and I have written on the fuzziness of those other terms elsewhere, I will stop here.

  40. Ok. I see no need to reiterate my specific response to the post. The one where I quoted the question, then responded to it.

    Anyway, I wrote you and MichaelB a story 🙂

    A man is digging holes with his hands.
    A woman with a shovel comes along and says, “This shovel will help you dig holes! It is designed to help everyone dig holes! I have a spare, so you can have this one.” She has a crazy gleam in her eye, so excited is she by shovels.

    The man takes the shovel and starts smacking the ground with the back of it, compacting the ground. He does this for a year before giving up.

    A con-man comes along with a broken shovel, and says, “No, you’re using it wrong. And that shovel is no good. Here, I’ll take yours, and you can have mine.” He then uses the man’s shovel, and shows him how to dig with it, then quickly walks away.

    The man uses the shovel to dig, but it quickly becomes clear that it had been shoddily taped together and it falls apart. The man concludes that shovels just don’t work for him, but hey, it is fine if they work for other people. Then he returns to digging with his hands, cursing the shovel for compacting the earth and making it harder to dig. Obviously, shovels are bad business, and it is best to be wary of people with shovels, and their absurd expectations that shovels will help anyone dig!

    One day, a shovel apologist shows up and says. “Yeah, shovels help people dig. You seem to be able-bodied. A shovel would help you dig, too.”

    The man erupts in anger. “I’ve had my share of shovels. Shovels should come with warning labels! Really, you mean that a good shovel, properly used by someone equipped to use it, might help that person dig, but I see no reason to believe that. Well I’ve tried it and shovels just don’t work for me. Your whole ‘you did it wrong’ claim just doesn’t cut it. This is a no true Scotsman fallacy!”

    “Well, I’ve used shovels and seen lots of people use them, and it is a lot harder to dig without them. Really, I’d be happy to lend you my shovel if you want it. I also have some research that shows that people who use shovels do a lot better at digging overall, and that doesn’t even control for people who use them wrong.”

    “That is so insulting. You have no idea. I’ve used shovels before. I tried using one for a year, and it only compacted the soil. Then I tried another one, supposedly using the right approach, but it broke. No sir. I’ve seen my share of shovels. Fool me twice, don’t fool me again.”

    “Ah, okay. Sorry to have bothered you. Have a good day!”

  41. @Dan

    So, you would say that Christians such as those Sabio classified in the OP are true Christians? If so then I retract my No True Scotsman claim. But it does cause me to wonder how my rejection of Christianity was a rejection of a “false” religion or god if you aren’t concurrently claiming there is a true one I’ve somehow missed. And why confuse the issue by using a term that means “right belief”: orthodoxy?

    Your implication that I left my “form of Christianity” (whatever that means) because it was “destructive” is projecting once again. Were there destructive parts of it? Sure. But that’s not why I ultimately quit believing in a god.

    I asked why I should believe and you gave functional reasons followed by your personal belief that it’s true. Now you say it’s not reducible to functional reasons. This is what I want to know: functional reasons aside, why is it important that I be a Christian? Or better yet, does it ultimately matter what I or your atheist friends believe about your god? If they are “more like Jesus” as atheists, why “follow Jesus” at all?

  42. @ Dan Heck:
    Do us a favor. Build yourself a WordPress blog — they are free.
    Write posts about stuff that you tell people over and over again.
    Then, instead of clogging up comment threads with that stuff,
    you can simply offer a link — that way people don’t have to scroll to ignore you, but if they like what you say, they can visit the link.
    WordPress then shows how many people visit a link
    and you get real feedback on who how many people actually listen to you,
    or find you interesting.

    Give it a try !

  43. @ MichaelB
    I was going to disagree with you, but Dan beat me to it. Let’s look at the exchange:

    (1) MichaelB asks: “[Please tell me if you belief] If salvation through Jesus – however you define it – if somehow critical to greater happiness now or in eternity…”

    (2) Dan answered: “I would say because it[Salvation through Jesus] will help be even more loving, have more joy in your life…”

    The No True Scotsman move — I’m not sure it is a fallacy would go like this:
    (1) Dan says, “Christianity always makes people happier than they would be without it.”
    (2) MichaelB says, “But I know Ex-Christians, who are happier, without their Christianity.
    (3) Dan replies, “Then their Christianity wasn’t real”

    You saved Dan that definition hoping by saying “however you define it.”

  44. @ Sabio

    Fair enough. I came here to talk to you because you asked me to, when you posted on Richard Beck’s blog. I have continued to interact primarily because you have been asking me questions, or making claims about my statements that I felt obligated to correct. If you ask me to leave, I am happy to oblige.


    I’m not sure that I am welcome to address your question. I am happy to do so, with permission. Or feel free to email me:

    Take care 🙂

  45. @Dan

    All atheists are angry shovel-haters who just can’t seem to figure out the right way to use them and you’d like to educate them. Got it. Ever consider that we have maybe found a nice backhoe instead or, I don’t know, one day realized that digging holes for no apparent reason is a pointless endeavor? Yeah, I’m done.

  46. Take care. And that is certainly not what that story says, but it is an interesting reading.

  47. @ Dan,
    Yeah, you may leave if you like, but I was only referring to your parable, when I talked about starting your own blog — not the other stuff. And I was serious. For since you have a particular kind of Christianity, you could do several posts on your own blog which each addressing key items in your credo and how your credo points separate you from all the other wrong Christianities. You could use my “Christian, Share Thyself” post as a guide (if you need a guide).

  48. @ Sabio

    Thanks for the advice. That is great, and I have been meaning to for a while. The reasons that you mention are all great reasons. I’m happy to have your encouragement 🙂

  49. @Dan

    Then please correct my incorrect reading and tell me who is the “shovel apologist” and who is the man angry at shovels?

  50. @Dan

    Please address my question. I’d really like to know your reasons for belief beyond mere functionality.

  51. @Michael B

    The person mis-using the shovel certainly doesn’t represent all atheists. I would say he represents anyone who has tried something and made mistakes or been fooled, and grown frustrated. For example, he could represent a chemistry student who does his labs poorly, and becomes skeptical of chemistry. That student then goes and studies alchemy with a charismatic alchemy teacher, but eventually sees through it. From these experiences, he draws the invalid inference that efforts to understand matter at a small scale are all a fraud. The chemistry apologist, in that reading, might be another student who has had a different experience in chemistry. That’s the nice thing about stories. They have general application. At any rate, i would strongly object to any reading that read the individuals in this story as being mapped onto classes of people. Insofar as it is an allegory, it is an allegory about individuals, not groups.

  52. @MichaelB

    I think this is likely to get boring to you, but I’m game, as long as I have time.

    (Note: dense philosophy stuff. Feel free to skip, if you just want to get tot he religious stuff )Maybe the simplest way to put it is this: I actually buy into the classical notion of truth being about the good, the beautiful and the true. Under the influence of philosophical pragmatism (which I view as methodologically useful, but ontologically naive), this sometimes become ‘the good, the beautiful and the useful,” and then just ‘the useful.’ If you are interested in philosophy, my views are substantially influenced by a reading of Juergen Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School. Most of the first generation of the Frankfurt School were basically atheists, and Habermas considers himself “post-metaphysical.” So this philosophy should be kosher 😉

    Given that bit of background, my critique of functionalism is broad. I think it is part of a general tendency to reduce all thought to matters of pragmatic usefulness. As such, it is part of a coercive process that has systematically colonized discourse through the steering media of money and power. That is some social theory jargon from Habermas. So to translate: when we want to suggest that peoples’ efforts to discuss the truth should only really be about discussing what is useful, we are lopping off huge parts of what discourse actually involves. We are only leaving the parts that happen to serve institutions that want to get money and power, and who use that money and power to systematically corrupt (steer) discourse. At one of the most fundamental levels, this happens by de-legitimating any kind of discourse that doesn’t help them make money or exercise power. My critique of functionalism in the religious context is, in part, a specific application of this general critique.

    (Dense philosophy stuff done).

    Or, to more directly address the matter at hand: I think religion does useful things. But I also think it expresses other truths, like actual, descriptive truths about the world. I happen to be convinced that the best available reading of the historical evidence is that Jesus died and rose from the dead. If that is true (like, actually true, meaning it really happened), it is kind of significant. I’m open to questioning this. If I became convinced that there is no warrant for believing this, I would probably become some kind of liberal Christian. However, the careful scholarly work of N.T. Wright on this topic has convinced me that this strange belief is warranted; before reading it, I had the standard view that there was no historical case to be made for the resurrection. Scholarship on the historical Jesus has actually advanced a lot in the last century, and has been greatly aided by discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls. That isn’t to say that it can be conclusively proven, or is beyond question, just that I am convinced that it is the view with the strongest warrant. Either way, the question, “Did it really happen?” is distinct from “Is it useful?” I think the answers to both questions are important.

  53. @Dan

    I’m mostly with you on the philosophy stuff. On a surface reading I can’t say I would disagree with it.

    As for religion, I also think it has done and can do useful things. I also think it expresses truths, but I don’t think it has a monopoly on those truths. If that’s all religion was, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. Where I obviously part ways is on the historicity (or plausibility) of the resurrection. I’m not a scholar but there are enough holes in the story that I’m comfortable not believing it. If I’m brief on that it’s because I don’t want to get into a long discussion about it here. I don’t think supernatural explanations are good ones, and I obviously don’t believe in a god so I’d have to see evidence for that first as well.

    Beyond all that, you’ve still only told me what and why you believe, not why it’s important that I believe. Am I missing that somewhere?

  54. @Dan

    Yes, but why use it here and direct it at Sabio and me if you didn’t mean to paint us as the shovel users, as if we just haven’t found the right one? I’m sorry, but after thirty years of investigating shovel usage ad nauseum and using many different ones, I’m well versed in how they work. I found that some work well enough and others don’t, but then one day realized I’d been duped by ol’ Tom Sawyer with useless gifts for the “joy” of digging holes and promptly walked away. I am still fascinated as to why others insist that hole digging is such a worthwhile endeavor, however, which is why I still engage in these discussions and visit sites like this. I suspect it’s because they don’t want to admit they’ve been duped as well, but who knows? Maybe I missed something in all those decades. Anything’s possible.

  55. @ MichaelB

    On the historicity of the resurrection: I think skepticism is warranted. It is certainly a strange thing. And I really think it would be monstrous if God were to torture people for failing to answer this question correctly. Some people seem to think that Matthew 25 ends with a scene of judgment in which Jesus quizzes people on theological questions.

    I find the term ‘supernatural’ worse than useless, and it is not a Biblical term. I especially dislike the argument, sometimes made by Christians, that supernatural => incomprehensible => from God. Personally, I think that the fact that the universe is comprehensible at all is much more of a sign and a wonder (and those are Biblical terms), than any particular thing that is supernatural/fundamentally incomprehensible could be.

    But I totally understand if you don’t want to debate the historicity of the resurrection. I just want to be up front that I am convinced of its historicity, based on the work of N.T. Wright.

  56. @ MichaelB

    On the story. Fair enough. I was probably being a bit cute there, but I am trying to avoid the implication that I meant this story to be about you. You have, quite rightly, pointed out enough times that I don’t know you very well, and I shouldn’t be presumptuous about what I know about your story. So, in the immediate context, you might read the story as a model and a theory about what might be going on, with no strong claim to its immediate relevance. It could also be taken as a general example of a situation in which the ‘no true scotsman’ argument would be badly mis-applied; in that sense, it was part of my response to the raising of that fallacy. In that sense, the point wasn’t “hey, I know you are this shovel guy.” It was instead, “here is one example of a situation in which that would be a poor application of that argument.” Sometimes, I think a simple story can make a philosophical or logical point better than a bunch of philosophical argument.

    Finally, (and I know this has all been ridiculously long), I did give quite a few reasons somewhere up there. In that initial post, one of the first reasons I offered was that I think it is true, and if you want to have true beliefs, that would be a good reason to believe in something. Once it became clear that you are largely concerned with having warranted beliefs, I emphasized that. If you do become convinced of it, I would hope the primary reason is the evidence, and well-formed historical argumentation.

  57. @Dan

    Maybe it’s unintentional, but you seem to be dancing around my main question that I have posed several different times, in different ways: what difference does it ultimately make whether or not I become a Christian? You mentioned functional reasons then later critiqued functionalism, so now I’m confused. So far I can’t pin down your soteriology because you have views on salvation and hell that, if accurate, simply don’t warrant someone being brutally murdered on a cross, in my opinion. Help me out here.

  58. @Dan

    I have done extensive reading and resarch and I really just don’t see any reason to believe it is true or warranted, other than perhaps as a functional belief, and haven’t found anyone who can show me otherwise. That’s why I was posing the question. It’s something I like to ask Christians I see as intelligent and educated. I figure perhaps I can learn something new.

  59. MichaelB:
    I confirm, you have asked it several times. You have asked a very clear straight-forward question.
    I also don’t even think he has offered a good explanation of why his god has not offered half-way respectable evidence of both his existence. He side stepped it with saying “unquestionable” is impossible but never even came close to answering what was meant by the question but only quibbled word choice. Maybe he is busy setting up his own blog now, which would be great.

  60. @ Sabio and MichaelB

    Cool. Have you read any of NT Wright’s work on it? I think it is the best that is out there…and most of it is, frankly, really crummy. If I hadn’t encountered his work, my general opinion of the field would be that it is either locked up in inaccessible scholarly tomes, or that it is crap.

    On functionalism, I think this is simple. It might seem complicated if you are construing it as an either/or. IE: am I a functionalist, or an ontologist? To that, I would say both. I would critique exclusive functionalism. IE: I critique the notion that it is ONLY about function. I have no problem with the notion that it is ALSO about function. There is no contradiction here.

    Let’s make a simple analogy: Someone asks me: is this ball red, or is it blue? I say: It is both. That means that I think that people who say “It is red” are right. And I think people who say “it is blue” are right. But people who say “it is only red/blue” are wrong. And people who say “It is red and blue” are the most right. Does that clear it up? Is religion functional or ontological? Both.

    Regarding God offering acceptable evidence of existence: first, we have to define, conceptually, what that might even be. Then we can discuss whether it exists. I think the example you gave in the OP would not constitute acceptable evidence of existence. It seemed that one of your criteria for something being “acceptable” was that it was “unquestionable.” However, I don’t see why that should be a criterion. If questioning is good, then having something be unquestionable is not what a good God would do. So this turns into a question for you: Do you think that questioning is good, or bad? This goes directly to your definition of what constitutes “acceptable evidence.” Do you honestly think this kind of attempt to clarify the core terms of your argument is a ‘trick’?

  61. *instead of ‘trick’ I should have said ‘quibble’.

  62. @MichaelB

    On the “what difference does it make” question…I don’t know what else I can tell you. I think it is true, and thinking things that are true have all kinds of consequences. Most of them good, some of them hard. I think that if you understand it, and are faithful to it, that you receive glory. For example, if you take all that you have and give it to the poor, as Jesus invited the rich young noble to do, I believe you will receive spiritual riches. Personally, I gave away everything I had once and became homeless as a result, and I think that decision was one of the best that I’ve ever made in my life. At the same time, I wasn’t as loving as I could have been, and I couldn’t handle the homelessness very graciously, so I don’t think I got everything I could have from that experience. I still try to live as frugally as I can, on the understanding that my possessions are not my own, and this type of obedience has also given me enormous joy. One question I would like to ask, if it doesn’t offend you, is: in your 30 years as a Christian, how often did you consider giving it all away? How much time did you spend with the poor, loving them in concrete, practical ways, while respecting their agency and dignity as human beings? How many homeless people did you invite into your family, either to live or at least share a meal? Because that is what faithfulness to Jesus looks like.

  63. I have read NT Wright. Here is my review of his book: Tokens of Trust

    I found Rowan ramblingly unintelligible — I can imagine that you liked him. Said a lot but said nothing. But then, I may be blind, lots of folks like him. But then, lots of folks like Astrology too. So much for numbers.

    Concerning the point of this post. I am giving up dialoguing with you on this issue. You and MichaelB may carry on.

  64. Concerning giving everything away: I wrote about that wrong teaching of Jesus on Where Jesus was Wrong.

    It is easy to give things away when others end up taking care of you — the ones who don’t give things away.

  65. @Dan

    You use the word “true” an awful lot and seem to pour some meaning into it that I just don’t understand, especially when you equate it to receiving glory. What sort of sacrifice is it if you expect some sort of reward later on? I also don’t understand your use of the word “obedience” in that paragraph. Obedience to Jesus? God? It just seems so foreign to me. I mean, I get what you likely mean and I understand the words, but obedience to an invisible, imaginary being just does not compute. Could I be more loving? Care for the downtrodden more? Of course. But because it’s the human thing to do, not because I expect spiritual riches. Simply put, I can’t comprehend why a divine being would require obedience, sacrifice and an acknowledgement that our possessions are not our own. Seems a bit insecure.

  66. @ Sabio

    I’ve tried reading Tokens of Trust, and while I appreciate what Rowan Williams is doing, I just can’t get through it. I prefer hard questions and direct answers. Have you read Jesus and the Victory of God? It is long and dense, and I doubt that it would hold your interest. However, if you want to understand where my theology comes from, in the round, that is where I would recommend you start. My points about faith, history, what Jesus was actually teaching, the historicity of the resurrection, etc, etc, etc, are primarily influenced by his work. This is also why I consider my positions conservative and Orthodox.

    I read that post of yours, and thought it was another example of atheists being horrible readers. There are some atheists who are wonderful, intelligent readers, and I respect that. But, to be as frank about your post as I am about Rowan Williams, I thought your post was another example of that tragic genre. In this way, lots of atheists really are just like fundamentalists. They think that they can pick up translations of ancient texts and definitively read them directly into their context, without putting the texts in historical or grammatical context. NT Wright’s “Jesus and the Victory of God” is a good example of how reading in historical context makes things read significantly differently…and make a great deal more sense.

    MichaelB: you might find this outrageous. You probably will. But if, in the 30 years that you were a nominal Christian, you never understood what ‘obeying Jesus’ means, then I don’t think you have encountered anything vaguely resembling authentic Christianity. I’m really sorry if you find this so outrageous that you never want to talk to me again.

    There are some minor nuances here that I’d be happy to go into. In shorthand, pragmatically, it is best to pursue virtue as an end in itself, but ontically I believe that virtue is actually rewarded in the fullness of time. No logical contradiction between these, but achieving the state that this points to is really valuable. If you do art, for example, you really should focus on just making great art, because you want the art to be great. That is the proper goal. But people who really focus on making great art are also rewarded; sometimes financially, more often with the experience of having made great art, or at least with a sense of aesthetic integrity and aesthetic truth-seeking. Doctors who really focus on having a great medical practice, instead of maximizing their profits, will tend to be better doctors. (My dad is a doctor, and I’ve heard stories…) However, in the long run, doctors who focus on having great medical practices are rewarded. (Not necessarily monetarily. Although I do genuinely think that narrow profit-seeking, in the long run, is even selected out by market processes. In the long run.)

    Regarding why God desires obedience: I, and all of the followers of Jesus who I know, certainly don’t think this is out of insecurity or anything of the sort. But why answer this if you think anything I say about God is necessarily incoherent? I’m happy to answer more questions, if you or Sabio will donate $100 to Oxfam International and e-mail me the receipt 😉

  67. @ Dan Heck,

    Hmmm, you called me a “horrible” reader. Your shovel user analogy was an obvious attacked also — no chatter about analogies got you out of that one — we all saw what you mean.

    I only had mild interest in knowing *some* of your theology and only with the purpose of untying your knots so as to understand your points used while addressing my post. But with your communication skills, I have no desire to understand any further either your or Rowan’s theology. I have seen several videos of Rowans talks, and he seems confused and full of double-talk. And I certainly shan’t be emailing you.

    Please get your blog up soon so you can link to your talking-points. People could go to the post on a topic and help you refine it — since you supposedly are all about learning — although it is clear you are here to preach and not listen. You could advertise for OxFam and your Theology talents there.

    Dismissing MichaelB as a former “nominal Christian” and thus not ever a real Christian — not a true “follower of Jesus” — was classic. But I guess ya gotta call a spade a spade. It was preciously generic.

    Good luck in your continued compromised ‘obedience’ to Jesus’ teachings (“following Jesus”), including giving-up just enough money to feel holy (and boasting of it to others), and restraining from killing children when you hear them cursing their parents.

  68. One note on this challenge. If the past is any guide, this is may well be interpreted as a trick, or an excuse to stop answering questions, or some other type of manipulation. I don’t know my own motives fully, so there may be a bit of that. But my reasons for doing this that I consider valid are:

    (1) I have seen almost everything I have said be badly misread. I have seen the familiar pattern (and one I know from myself as well), of wanting to find contradiction and incoherence everywhere, even where things are coherent and quite simple. The only reason I am clogging poor Sabio’s page, in a rather ridiculous way, is because I am interested in engaging you two as human beings. But I don’t think you are capable of really hearing what I am saying unless you think it has value and is probably coherent. Giving a donation to a secular charity may help you decide if you really care about what I’m saying enough to try to actually read.

    (2) I think it is morally hazardous to talk about moral truth without uniting it with moral practice. It can create a sense of self-righteousness that is completely unwarranted. Here is a good, reasonably thoughtful post on the fact that religious people are more generous than non-religious people. As someone who thinks functionalism is fine, as long as it isn’t absolute, my main critique of the post would be that he falls into the pattern that so many atheists fall into, of asserting that “functional accounts are valuable, so functional accounts are everything.” Aside from that, I think the post admirably explains what I am doing. I am trying to give you an opportunity to give, since being asked is an important factor in deciding if people actually do give. Knowing this, putting yourself into situations where you will be regularly asked to give is an important meta-decision that will play a big role in determining how generous you actually become.

  69. Ya know, Dan, I won’t even begin to waste my time showing the problems in your last comment. I’ll let you have the last word. MichaelB may engage, but I am bowing out with you in this thread.

  70. @Dan

    Again with the projections, presumptions and poorly veiled insults. And if you can’t see how you were doing any of those three in that last comment or throughout several other comments, I really can’t help you. This entire time I have been trying to understand you whereas you have been trying to classify, correct and educate me. That’s not dialogue. If it helps you sleep at night to believe only “nominal Christians” or those who just didn’t find “true” Christianity could possibly ever become atheists, then fine.

    It’s obvious we are coming from completely different paradigms: your faith in your god shapes your worldview; I see a god or gods as completely unnecessary because…hold onto your hat…I tried enough shovels to realize it wasn’t the shovel that was the problem: it’s that I was being told I was digging for gold when in fact it was mostly bullshit, and what small nuggets of gold I did find could easily be obtained elsewhere. The good part is that now I can spot bullshit a mile away and usually avoid it.

    I’m done as well. Drop a link when you get your blog up and running.

  71. Well said, MichaelB. ooops, forgot, bowing out 🙂

  72. What a fascinating discussion!

    I always thought people’s notions of this hypothetical “god” with a capital G are misguided. Granted I am non-religious. But let’s say ther is some god out there. Why do people assume “he” is a loving god, and that his job is to save humans?

    Maybe this god has a more worthwhile mission. To teach people to live better, to acquire wisdom through suffering. Or to generally do something more enlightened than sit around and be mollycoddled.

    That’s the type of God I’d design, anyway. If I were in charge.

    By the way i noticed a comment you made Sabio – something about commenters disappearing after emotional discussions? I know you probably wewen’t referring to me….but just FYI, don’t take my absence personally. I just got busy with work. 🙂

  73. @ amelie
    Actually, amelie, I am cursed/blessed with a rather mystical nature. But my mystical intuitions are never personal and never intuit anything that gives a shit about me or anything else (as a person should), it is just raw awe — no security, peace, love or stuff like that, just awe — which is cool in its own right.

    Sorry you weren’t at the design board with gods were being made!
    You’d have done much better than Yahwehists did!

    Oh, I wasn’t talking about you — but you are missed! Hug!

  74. That’s a pretty sweet compliment, Sabio. Thanks – maybe I should start up a God laboratory. LOL!

  75. @ sabio This is [another] interesting post. I simply could;t get through all the comments, so not sure if this came up later, but what would an unquestionable miracle do to free will?

  76. @ clapham,
    If pull my kid by the arm before he steps in front of a car, I am may not be interfering with his will, unless his will (his intent) was to become roadkill.
    So I must assume you don’t mean that simple issue.

    Now, if my friend pulls a trigger to kill himself but an all-powerful spirit keeps jamming the gun and the suicide fails because the spirit has a different mission for that person, then that interferes with that person’s will at that time. But the spirit could let the person decide the rest of the stuff. So the person’s will would be LARGELY free.

    As for my view of Free Will — I feel we hugely deceive ourselves about how much of what we do is the result of our own intention (Free Will).

    Hope that answers your question. What are your thoughts in light of that — and of the fact that explaining the world of interfere spiritual entities is not my experience — though I use to think that happened.

Please share your opinions!

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