CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth




Anne Kim is our Guest contributor this week. Anne is one of the very first members of the CARE.. She may well be the first person I told about the idea when I  first had it. She was the first to join, back when the group was about arguing with atheists on CARM that one site. She runs her own blog, , Heart, Mind. Soul, Strength.(where she is "weekend fisher") She has a strong readership. She is Lutheran and is one of the best at personal evangelism I've seem., She loves God and is a good friend.

Anne Kim:
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I've been introduced to an atheist blog where the poster, an ex-Christian, was recently considering whether it's possible to know God. After he mulls over some time-and-eternity questions in creation, he puts forward this argument:
Besides, wouldn’t it be better for someone like God to have fellowship with an equal? Only another Creator could truly understand a Creator, right? Yes, only a deity could fully know and appreciate another deity. Created beings, which by definition are lesser beings, could never really know a deity anyway.
He considers his views to be self-evident to anyone with the most basic thinking skills ("This is Logic 101"). (Most people consider their views to be obvious and beyond rational dispute. Considering how many different starting points and premises we all have, really, very few things are beyond rational dispute.)

The reason I quote this fellow's argument is that he speaks for a lot of people, including some groups of Christians, when he says that. I think that deserves a look. 

"Wouldn't it be better for someone like God to have fellowship with an equal?" Let's say yes, and see where it goes. A problem comes up pretty quickly, though, if we go with the view of any monotheistic religion: God has no equal. But what if he could make someone who was as close as possible to equal? Sure, too late and the ship already sailed on whether the other person(s) would be eternal. And creating someone exactly like God is self-contradictory: God wasn't created, therefore any created being is already not exactly like him. But if we bracket the parts that are literally impossible or self-contradictory like that, is it possible to make a creature that is enough like God to have meaningful fellowship with God? 
So God made man in his image, like God did God make man: male and female he created them. (Genesis)
Keep in mind that I'm not arguing that an atheist should take the Bible's word that it happened; I'm interested in whether it shows God as trying to make someone like himself.

But are people capable of understanding God? The aspects of God that we can understand are in some way like us. We understand God in roles such as father, king, bridegroom, husband ... all human relationships, all understandable parts of the system in which we live. On the view that God has some role in describing himself in the Bible, God is seen as someone we can relate to. On the view that he created the world, he may also have filled it with analogies to himself that we can come to understand.

What exactly goes into the "image of God"? It's not spelled out for us. But we know at that point that God is a creator, and that he sets things in order so that the world flourishes. He also makes a garden -- and instructs the people to fill the world and rule over it. (I expect that his instructions to fill the earth and rule it, originally, would have resulted in the whole earth being made into various kinds of gardens and orchards and parks, based on Eden which is the pattern of "ruling" that people had seen.)

If God is Creator, then someone made in his image would also be a creator. Mankind is the most creative mind that we see at work on the planet. We have created works of music, painting, architecture, stained glass, literature, and drama. We have minds that are capable of imagination and fantasy. We have developed musical instruments and engineering techniques. Not many of our gardens are compared to Eden ... apparently the hanging gardens of Babylon once were worthy of notice, a masterpiece in that kind of living art.

Along the same lines: If God is in possession of all knowledge, then someone made in his image would also seek knowledge. If God is love, then someone made in his image would also be capable of love. If God is self-determining ... how far is it possible for a created being to be self-determining? And if God transcended the isolation of being the only Being like himself ... Is mankind hardwired to try to transcend our own limits?

We're lesser beings; we don't really understand all there is to know of God.
We know in part ... now we see through a glass, darkly (Paul, I Corinthians 13:9, 12)
 But there are promises that our capacity to understand will grow.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known. (Paul, I Corinthians 13:12)

30 comments:

Thank you for the kind words, Joe ... Though with praise that strong, I don't know if I can live up to my own reputation. :)

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

[...]is it possible to make a creature that is enough like God to have meaningful fellowship with God?

Welcome Anne!

That's a great question, and I like your answers. It does seem that God has gone to quite some lengths to make himself "relatable" to us as our Father, Friend, King, Advocate, etc.. And we do appear to bear the marks, however faint, of the divine glory: intelligence, creativity, love, freedom, and yes, even transcendence.

Nice piece Anne. Great to see you on the blog, too long.

The lesser being is the one who demands my "freely given" love upon the threat of eternal punishment. But we know him well.

Good one, IMS. You are too funny. That's right out of the fundy atheist playbook.

The lesser being is the one who demands my "freely given" love upon the threat of eternal punishment.

Clearly you despise the very thought of God making such an unreasonable demand. So why should I think that your unbelief is all about science and rationality rather than bias and emotion?

I'm thinking maybe Christians are the ones willing to face up to stark reality, and atheists who won't.

Anne, your post is excellent but misses one important point. The writer asks, "Wouldn't it be better for someone like God to have fellowship with an equal?" The answer is that God is already in such a fellowship. God is a Trinity, and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are already in perfect fellowship with each other. What is amazing about grace is that God has seen fit to create lesser beings (like ourselves) to join in that fellowship and enjoy the perfect love, goodness and intimacy flowing from a perfect God.

This isn't about science. It's just a question of what makes sense. A creator who wants to have a mutually shared loving relationship with us wouldn't force it upon us.

IMS, I have to agree with JBsptfn at this point. You need to give this up. Whereas I initially thought that you might be that rarest of all Internet atheists -- one who would actually consider both sides of this issue (not just give one side lip-service) -- this type of comment reduces you to the level of an Internet troll lip-syncing the trite sayings of other Internet atheists. There is absolutely no truth behind your statement that God "demands my 'freely given' love upon the threat of eternal punishment." Of course you may think that because you have been told it and it helps you feel better about your anemic understanding of the love of God. But let me spell it out for you a little bit more so there is no misunderstanding. God -- the perfectly good, wise, holy, just and loving God -- does not demand your freely given love. Rather, God is calling you. He asks for you to enter into a relationship with Him. He is inviting you, despite your obvious flaws (BTW, all of us have flaws, so I am not singling you out) to join in his perfect love and fellowship. You know this. However, God cannot force another person to enter into fellowship with Him. It is impossible for anyone to enter into a relationship with someone who they believe to be either non-existent or a moral monster (to borrow another trite Internet misdirection about God). There is plenty of evidence that God exists and that He is not a moral monster, and you would see this to be true if you would stop being obstinate for the sake of protecting your beliefs. You can deny it, but that is the truth.

So, it is time to start being a big boy and recognize that God is calling you right now. He is asking you to stop playing word games and to seriously consider His call. If you say no, there are consequences to that decision in the same way that there are consequences when you say no to any relationship. In this case, a choice to live your life separate and apart from Him has eternal consequences. You are choosing to live your life away from the source of all that is good, wise, holy, just and loving. Living in the place where there exists no goodness, wisdom, holiness, justness and love is what we call hell. Is God throwing you there? No, you are going around the Internet seeking a booking in a room there. It is your choice. It is entirely your choice. God is inviting you to spend eternity with Him in perfect relationship, and it is your choice to say yes or no. It really is that simple. Don't blame God for your bad choices.

BTW, I am only interested in further dialog with you if you start taking this seriously. As far as I am concerned, I am done with you if you continue to mouth empty atheist propaganda. If you want to seriously dialog -- I mean being serious and truly considering the claims of Christianity -- I would be happy to talk more. But the sort of silliness that you said in your comment is not serious, word-twisting. Your choice, again.

BK,

I'm disappointed by your response. You say that I see things only from my own perspective. You say this is "empty atheist propaganda". In fact, I don't hear other atheists raising this issue. In my opinion, the question I raise is legitimate, and deserves a legitimate answer. As I see it, you see things only from your perspective. Why shouldn't this be a topic for serious discussion?

Maybe it's just the way I say it. I don't know. But I do note that theists are typically very sure of themselves, as you appear to be. That's something that I find annoying, too. But I can overlook it for the sake of discussion.

No, you can have your conversations with others on this page if you want and they want. As for me, I don't see any evidence that you are being honest in your approach. What you say has been said over and over again. As I said, your decision.

At the risk of belaboring the issue beyond my welcome, let me address your statement:

If you say no, there are consequences to that decision in the same way that there are consequences when you say no to any relationship. In this case, a choice to live your life separate and apart from Him has eternal consequences. You are choosing to live your life away from the source of all that is good, wise, holy, just and loving. Living in the place where there exists no goodness, wisdom, holiness, justness and love is what we call hell. Is God throwing you there? No, you are going around the Internet seeking a booking in a room there. It is your choice. It is entirely your choice. God is inviting you to spend eternity with Him in perfect relationship, and it is your choice to say yes or no. It really is that simple. Don't blame God for your bad choices.

The modern apologetic approach is to make it sound as if God if offering me a gift, and I can accept it, or I can go merrily along on my own way. But I can't go merrily along. I find myself in a position where I there is no reasonable choice at all. I cede to God, or I suffer for eternity. The bible speaks of a lake of fire. It speaks of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Even if the biblical hell is just a metaphor, it is a metaphor for something that is at the very least extremely unpleasant. This is not a case of God telling me "Go and live in peace".

So I find it exceedingly dishonest for you to tell me that this is all of my own making - that I place myself in this predicament, and I bear the whole responsibility for the outcome. I didn't ask for any of this. If God made me, he gave me a brain that is capable of reasoning. It is my nature to ask "Why?" And if the answers I hear don't satisfy, it is my nature to disbelieve. That's just the way my creator (if there is one) made me.

Hey skep

Thanks for the response. You were saying: 'The lesser being is the one who demands my "freely given" love upon the threat of eternal punishment.'

I know that there are religious types who frame it that way, but frankly I think they're full of ... er, I've been trying to cut back on cussing. Anyway, how 'bout 'bovine excrement', for what they're full of. And here's why I say that: if, in theory, they get 100% of their theology from the Bible ... I've read the thing, I study the thing, and ... I'm not sure we're reading the same book, me and whoever comes up with something like that.

Seriously, have you ever noticed the disconnect between what some religious types say and what Jesus said? Here's a 'just curious' question, this is not a setup in any way whatsoever, I'm just interested in your take on it since you bring up eternal judgment etc. If (for the sake of argument) the "sheep and goats" bit from Matthew 25 is exactly what the Last Day is like, would you have a problem with the justice/mercy aspects of it? (Not "would theologians have a problem with it", I'll let the peanut gallery handle that ... I'm asking you, would you have a problem with it?)

Take care & God bless
Anne/WF

... the justice/mercy aspects of it

Matthew 25 has always struck me as strange.

First, the parable of the ten virgins - five of them wise, and five unwise, because they didn't bring oil for their lamps. The wise ones refused to help the foolish ones, and they were admitted to the house of their lord. The others came late with oil, and were refused for what seems to me a paltry reason. If I were that lord, I'd be asking myself Would I refuse the ones who came late, and do I really want to marry the ones who refused to help out the others? Is this justice? Is it mercy?

And the servant who made no profit for his master - he was given only one talent due to his poor ability. But at least he was honest, and he preserved it for his master. And for that he gets cast out into the darkness. Is this justice? Is it mercy?

The story of the sheep and the goats makes more sense at first, but likening the righteous to sheep and the wicked to goats only illustrates the point that I made earlier. Can a goat help it if he was born a goat? If he's selfish or he refuses to make a sacrifice, wouldn't it be better to teach him the right way? And if he can't be taught because he's a goat, is that his fault? He didn't choose to be born a goat. Is that reason to subject him to everlasting punishment? Is this justice? Is it mercy?

The more I think about it, the more I think this isn't right. Nobody deserves to be punished forever. Teach them a lesson perhaps - do everything you can to turn them around, even if it takes a million lifetimes - even if it takes forever. But to make them less than perfect, then give them one shot and then cast them into the fire if they fail? It's not just, and it's not merciful.


atthew 25 has always struck me as strange.

First, the parable of the ten virgins - five of them wise, and five unwise, because they didn't bring oil for their lamps. The wise ones refused to help the foolish ones, and they were admitted to the house of their lord. The others came late with oil, and were refused for what seems to me a paltry reason. If I were that lord, I'd be asking myself Would I refuse the ones who came late, and do I really want to marry the ones who refused to help out the others? Is this justice? Is it mercy?

It's not just a story about sharing and helping It's symbolic of relationship with God someone else can't have your relationship with God for you, The oil is the Holy Spirit. someone can't give you part of their portion of the Holy Spirit.

And the servant who made no profit for his master - he was given only one talent due to his poor ability. But at least he was honest, and he preserved it for his master. And for that he gets cast out into the darkness. Is this justice? Is it mercy?

the is he had no faith it;s all about having faith the issues of the money is a vehicle to illustrate the point.


The story of the sheep and the goats makes more sense at first, but likening the righteous to sheep and the wicked to goats only illustrates the point that I made earlier.

that's just being petty it was meaningful symbolism i it;'s day


Can a goat help it if he was born a goat? If he's selfish or he refuses to make a sacrifice, wouldn't it be better to teach him the right way? And if he can't be taught because he's a goat, is that his fault? He didn't choose to be born a goat. Is that reason to subject him to everlasting punishment? Is this justice? Is it mercy?

come on now you're being petty and legalistic. the nature vf the animals used has nothing to do with it. he could have used raccoons and Chihuahuas it's not the point.



The more I think about it, the more I think this isn't right. Nobody deserves to be punished forever. Teach them a lesson perhaps - do everything you can to turn them around, even if it takes a million lifetimes - even if it takes forever. But to make them less than perfect, then give them one shot and then cast them into the fire if they fail? It's not just, and it's not merciful.

Anne and I are oth in the camp that says hell is not literal torment. It[s not eternal conscious torment i agree with you and I don't the Bible teaches that.




6/16/2016 10:37:00 PM Delete

It's symbolic of relationship with God someone else can't have your relationship with God for you, The oil is the Holy Spirit.
- That's one way of interpreting it. But wasn't that relationship supposed to be shared? Are you saying that there isn't enough holy spirit to go around? I still think it was mean-spirited.

the is he had no faith it;s all about having faith the issues of the money is a vehicle to illustrate the point.
- But he was allotted less due to his lack of ability. Nevertheless, he was honest and faithful to the extent that he could manage.

that's just being petty it was meaningful symbolism i it;'s day
- Symbolism for what? What it says to me is that if you're born bad, you will be sent to hell.

come on now you're being petty and legalistic. the nature vf the animals used has nothing to do with it. he could have used raccoons and Chihuahuas it's not the point.
- What's petty is glossing over the wickedness of a God who punished sinners rather than helping them.

Anne and I are oth in the camp that says hell is not literal torment. It[s not eternal conscious torment i agree with you and I don't the Bible teaches that.
- Nevertheless, the bible refers to it as a lake of fire. It sounds a bit more unpleasant than a rainy day.


Hey skep

I have to ask you a follow-up question that I'm concerned will sound stupid. However, I'd rather sound stupid for a moment than misunderstand when it's the very first time I've met you, which makes the odds of misunderstanding you fairly high. (I should mention that I wasn't raised in a Christian home, and so there may be things that other Christians -- or even ex-Christians -- take for granted that are still semi-mysteries to me.)

How do you get from the parable of the sheep and the goats to "But to make them less than perfect, then give them one shot and then cast them into the fire if they fail?"

Re: this question: Yes, I'm serious. No, it's not a setup. I've never met you & am not sure how you get from Point A to Point B there. Would truly appreciate you connecting the dots for me, so that I can respond after listening to what you actually think, instead of making some random guess about how to get there from here.

Take care & God bless
Anne/WF

It is my nature to ask "Why?" And if the answers I hear don't satisfy, it is my nature to disbelieve. That's just the way my creator (if there is one) made me.

As a Christian I would have to admit that this is dangerously close to the truth. It is indeed human nature to sin, and unbelief is indeed one of countless manifestations of sin.

Now my own Arminian-leaning belief is that this nature, this strong tendency or bias toward sin and selfishness, is an unfortunate by-product of the first (“original”) sin, which in turn is an outcome of moral freedom. I would concede that our freedom has been curtailed by the effects of the fall. With the coming of Jesus, however, comes the announcement of the kingdom of God and the open invitation to enter that kingdom and join in his eternal wedding feast. The open invitation implies a restoration of freedom to choose life in the kingdom. This is the operation of grace.

So, whereas our freedom is still somewhat restricted, it has been restored in part and grows or contracts with our growth in the faith or our ongoing unbelief. With faith, as Anne suggested, “our capacity to understand will grow.” This is why these seemingly trivial conversations can carry eternal import. Faith begets faith, but unbelief begets unbelief.

How do you get from the parable of the sheep and the goats to "But to make them less than perfect, then give them one shot and then cast them into the fire if they fail?"

Some of us are sheep, and some are goats. That's just who we are. It is our nature to be sinful. We didn't make ourselves that way, and we certainly didn't freely choose to be "fallen" beings. If God doesn't like the way we behave, he casts us into the fire. We only get one chance to live our lives on earth. That's it. God could tell us "Sorry, you failed at it. You'll have to try harder next time." But rather than giving us another shot at it (or God forbid, giving us better guidance along the way), he judges us to be unworthy, and discards us. Condemned to suffer for eternity.

If God is loving and merciful, he should treat us better than that. The only conclusion I can draw from this is that this loving and merciful God is a fantasy.

So, whereas our freedom is still somewhat restricted, it has been restored in part and grows or contracts with our growth in the faith or our ongoing unbelief. With faith, as Anne suggested, “our capacity to understand will grow.” This is why these seemingly trivial conversations can carry eternal import. Faith begets faith, but unbelief begets unbelief.

I was once a believer. But I reasoned to unbelief. This wasn't a sinful act. it was a sincere desire to understand. The more I tried to understand, the less it made sense. Now I could lay aside my inquisitiveness, and just accept it, but can't seem to find that capacity within me. I have a brain, and I feel need to use it.

Hey skep

Thanks for the reply.

You were saying, 'Some of us are sheep, and some are goats. That's just who we are. It is our nature to be sinful. We didn't make ourselves that way, and we certainly didn't freely choose to be "fallen" beings.'

So I'm still on the quest to understand here, but I think we're making progress (towards me getting your point). Let me know if I'm translating right:

'Some of us are sheep, and some are goats.' Does that translate to 'some of us have it in our nature to be good, and some of us have it in our nature to be sinful'?

'we certainly didn't freely choose to be "fallen" beings': Well, speaking for myself, I didn't choose to become a being but I'm glad that I am. (Wow, not the clearest sentence I've ever written. But hoping you follow my drift.) Since then ... er. Let's just say I've done some things when nobody had a gun to my head. I'll pick an example because I hope it's relatable and a thing people wouldn't mind owning in public: There are times when I was trying to be funny, and chose to be clever instead of thoughtful, and people got hurt. (re: the 'nobody had a gun to my head' part ... I believe that the mind functions naturally, in case that comes into the conversation.)

And ... your reference to 'fallen' -- would you take the 'Adam & Eve' thing as a reference point? Two trees & all that? (I'm not asking whether you think/thought it was historical or symbolic, just whether it informs your view of theology there.)

Keep in mind that the point of the Adam & Eve question is trying to grasp where you're coming from; if Adam & Eve are off-topic for that purpose, feel free to re-route the conversation.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

So, the reply to Anne's article, is that her article would only make sense if universal salvation is true?

Well, a few of us Cadrists are trinitarian Christian universalists. We just don't talk about it much in the main articles (concentrating on Nicene apologetics instead).

Though I will add that trinitarian theism answers the point about God fellowshipping with God, too. There's a subtle technical issue involving consciousness which would put the matter more precisely. God doesn't have to create rational creatures in order to have a personal fellowship which would otherwise be lacking, and in fact we'd always come short of that as the goal.

Anyway, for various technical reasons not all of us regard the Matt 25 material (and its related material elsewhere in the Gospels, NT, and OT) to be testifying to some finally hopeless punishment or fate (whether annihilation or some variety of eternal conscious torment) for some doers of injustice.

JRP

I should also add that I don't disagree with Bill about the inconvenient aspects of Matt 25 et al, nor with him about moral responsibility. We're going to disagree somewhat over who exactly is being warned by Jesus in Matt 25 and why, but I certainly agree the warnings apply more broadly in principle where applicable. We may be disagreeing over how much active authority and responsibility God has in the punitive result, but anyway I fully insist God is the one doing the punishing and that it's punitive -- the people involved aren't just going off and doing their own things (not even the foolish maidens).

JRP

'Some of us are sheep, and some are goats.' Does that translate to 'some of us have it in our nature to be good, and some of us have it in our nature to be sinful'?
- That's a good question. The Christian narrative is that we are all fallen beings. (And this the result of original sin that we acquired due to our ancestors Adam and Eve being deceived into eating the forbidden fruit. They were actually innocent, but that's another story.) Apparently, in Matthew 25, the sheep are likened to those of us who manage to overcome our sinful nature, and goats are likened to those who succumb to that nature.

But this is where I get confused. Free will is the means by which we supposedly choose good or bad. But free will is really just the capacity to choose what our own nature dictates. Lack of free will is a constraint that prevents us from choosing what we prefer. So if our nature is to be sinful, it means that we prefer to be sinful, and free will lets us make that choice without constraint. It doesn't make sense to say that I am sinful by nature and I have free will, so I choose not to be sinful. If someone freely chooses to be good, it is because there is something in their nature that is more powerful than the sinful aspect of their nature.

So getting back to the sheep and goats, it seems that those of us who are goats have a nature that is, on balance, more sinful than good. The sheep have a nature that is, on balance, more good than sinful. In either case, we freely choose to act in a way that is consistent with our nature, but people have different natural inclinations. Some of us were made better than others. Since God is the designer and creator, God made us to be what we are. So to all the goats, God is saying "I made you to be sinful by nature, and I gave you free will to act in accordance with that nature, but because you are sinful, I will consign you to eternal punishment. Hey, don't look at me. I'm not in any way responsible for you being what you are. That original sin thing - that's your own fault."

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Let's just say I've done some things when nobody had a gun to my head.
- This is another of my issues with the concept of free will. You would agree, I assume, that any decision you make under such a constraint is hardly an example of free will. You may prefer to do A, but the person holding the gun says "You will do B, or else you will suffer the consequences." In this situation you choose B, not because you are so inclined by your own nature, but because your hand is being forced. I think you know where this is going. When God tell us "If you do A you will suffer the most severe consequences, but if you do B you will receive the most sublime of rewards", isn't that rather like holding a gun to your head? How can anyone possibly claim that their choice to do b under these circumstances is a matter of free will?

Hey, skep, I really have to thank you for your patience. I'm short on time so let me just hit the most recent thing first & we can keep the conversation rolling. I do want to come back to earlier stuff now that I get where you're coming from but that's my fault for being short on time; I'll find a chance to ask later.

So here's the part that's not making sense to me about the "gun to the head" bit. If (in theory) God has a gun to our heads, why aren't we all doing what he said? Is it that we're all so horrified about the prospect of welcoming a stranger that we'd rather get chucked into the lava? It's not like he's asking us to do anything weird or subservient or anything besides basic human decency, in the sheep-n-goats thing. I mean, to me, the fact that we'll be jerks to a total stranger anyway, even though God has a hypothetical gun to our heads to tell us to act decently ... I mean, we have to have some sort of capacity to resist him.

I did want to mention that the 2 trees thing (Adam & Eve), I read it differently than you, so we might end up going back there. Ties in with "fallen" etc.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anne,

By the way, that's my sister's name.

So here's the part that's not making sense to me about the "gun to the head" bit. If (in theory) God has a gun to our heads, why aren't we all doing what he said? Is it that we're all so horrified about the prospect of welcoming a stranger that we'd rather get chucked into the lava? It's not like he's asking us to do anything weird or subservient or anything besides basic human decency, in the sheep-n-goats thing. I mean, to me, the fact that we'll be jerks to a total stranger anyway, even though God has a hypothetical gun to our heads to tell us to act decently ... I mean, we have to have some sort of capacity to resist him.

It is curious, I agree. First, it is worth considering whether it is the case that we have a gun to our heads. Obviously, that depends in part on whether you believe in God. I don't, so I feel no compulsion to do his bidding. But if you do believe it, and you believe that the reward and the punishment are real, then I think you should feel that your good behavior is compulsory.

Then, the question becomes whether you would have behaved the same in the absence of any compulsion. For anyone whose behavior is influenced by God's reward and punishment, it's fair to say that they have a gun to their head. We used to refer to good people as God-fearing. That means literally that they are afraid of the consequences if they're not good.

Now let's say that you are good by nature so that your behavior is the same regardless of the "gun". You may not feel like you have a gun to your head, but consider this: if you fail to be good, you will still suffer the consequences. So that gun is still there.

Then we come to the question of those who believe but ignore the consequences and behave badly anyway. Are they just exercising free will? One thing you can say is that their intellect must not be fully engaged, or is impaired, because their choice is not in their own best interest, according to their beliefs. They believe they are going to suffer, but they act badly anyway. What this suggests to me is that their natural propensity to behave badly is dominant. They simply can't help themselves. If they had the mental capacity to overcome this bad nature, then they would, because it's irrational to do otherwise. So I have to question once again whether eternal punishment is just.

Hey skep

Cool that you have a sister named Anne ... small world.

Lol. Granted, an atheist doesn't have to answer as if you believe in God, but for the sake of the thought-experiment it helps.

If the shoe were on the other foot, just to play fair here: I've asked myself at times (queue up the old song, "Imagine there's no heaven ...") if I would follow Jesus' example anyway, if he were just-a-guy. I've shopped around the different religions. (I'm fond of the Tao, and Confucius, and some strains of Buddhism.) That "sheep & goats" thing to me is sheer beauty. To see that what God really asks of us is the world's simplest, most common, most attainable acts of mercy: he asks us to treat each other with kindness. (And then the seamless unity of it: if we complain that God is unfair to treat us the same way we have treated others ... well, what did we just say about the way we treated others?)

And the idea that the highest goal of human behavior towards each other is to love each other: that's something worthy of devoting my life to, something I can pursue wholeheartedly, and no apologies. Now, keep in mind, I take Jesus at his word (which there's plenty of room to discuss what that was, but one conversation at a time). So I think there will be an After. But if it turns out that somehow Christianity was the biggest hoax in history ... as far as teaching me to love people better: I'd have had no regrets on that count.

Honestly, the people I have the hardest time understanding on the 'net are not the trollish atheists (you don't seem to resemble that remark, I'm not talking about you; I'm sure you've met them), but the trollish Christians. Because (back to the gun-to-our-heads): I think that people don't see it. I say this based on watching what people do, it's like they have this gigantic blind spot. If you look at what people do, people who want to please God, "God-fearers" ... they try all kinds of strategies from not playing cards to not dancing to never criticizing another human being (excepting other Christians, who get thrown under the bus with amazing regularity). What percentage of people look at the beggar with the cardboard sign on the street corner and say: There's God ("whatever you did for the least of my brothers ..."). Nope, it's nearly 100%, "Hey, when did we ever see you hungry?" Amazing.

But I'm rambling. Good to meet you, & hope to see you around.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

One final thought.

You say that "he asks us to treat each other with kindness." I don't know about that, but it is something common to humans, regardless of our religious beliefs, to have a sense of empathy and to respect the golden rule. I said, "I feel no compulsion to do his bidding", and that's true, but it doesn't mean that I lack a moral sense. That's just part of our human nature.

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