On being free

chains

Commenter Rebecca responded at length recently to my post ‘Why God Could Not Possibly Have Created The Universe (pts 4 & 5)’. There was so much in her response, that I thought it best to reply to her in a full length post rather than with a brief comment:

Hi Rebecca,

I won’t be able to respond to all of your points as there are so many, but will attempt a few.

I’m glad you find your faith beneficial. You’ve obviously thought about the whole incarnation/sacrifice/reconciliation issue, but I wonder whether you’ve ever asked yourself what it is you need saving from and reconciled with? What is it that means you personally need to avail yourself of the sacrifice Jesus supposedly made (however you interpret that)? I guess evangelicals, of which you seem to say you are not one, would claim it’s because of sin; the alienation from God that our very existence seems to cause.

Is that really the case though? Isn’t it rather that ancient superstitious peoples needed some explanation for why life was so difficult, short and brutish? They reasoned that surely it couldn’t be the fault of the creator God, so his tendency to treat them badly must be entirely their fault. Consequently, they had to do something to appease this god, to make him smile upon them again as they felt he must once have done. They thought the way to do this was, variously, through sacrifice and/or righteous living, by murdering those they felt offended him the most, and through praise and supplication.

There is no getting away from the fact, however, that the primary way they sought to reconcile themselves with their deity was through blood sacrifice. The New Testament’s interpretation of the death of Jesus is expressed in just such terms:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1.7).

This is not just an evangelical perspective; it is the major theme of much of the New Testament.

I’d like to ask you, Rebecca: are you really so steeped in sin that you need to avail yourself of a bloody human sacrifice in order to be reconciled with God? I have to say it seems extremely unlikely.

I didn’t leave faith behind because of how repugnant this idea is, however. I experienced an epiphany while walking one day, after many years of thinking about such things, and realised with conviction that there was no god: no god to appease, be reconciled with or commune with. He simply didn’t and doesn’t exist (see here for why I think this is the case). Of course, there being no god means there’s no son of god either.

I then started living my life on the basis of the fact there is no god, and I have to tell you it became a whole lot better. I didn’t have the constant feeling I had to come up to some impossible standard; I didn’t feel guilt for the most trivial of ‘sins’; I no longer worried that not getting my beliefs quite right would result in the loss of my eternal life; I stopped worrying about eternal life because it was obvious there was no such thing; I stopped thinking hell and heaven were real; I started living in the here and now; I stopped thinking I had to respond to others’ needs by telling them about Jesus (and started relating to them as people); I no longer had to subjugate whatever intellect I have to force myself to believe things that were clearly nonsense; the self-loathing I felt about my sexuality began to slip away. I could be me, and what a massive relief that was. I think I became a better person as a result. I certainly became a happier one.

You say the bible contains many deep truths – perhaps – but it also includes much that is cruel spiteful, damaging and just plain wrong. I lost interest in sifting the wheat from the chaff because there was just too much chaff (a free biblical analogy for you there.)

The secrets of life, whatever they may be, Rebecca, are not in the bible, nor in any convoluted explanation of what Jesus stood for (he was just another failed apocalyptic preacher). They do not lie in Christianity or in any religion. Life is more than any of these ultimately dead things.

Thank you for writing. It can only be a good thing that you’re thinking about these issues. You will I’m sure find your way out into the light. I hope what I post here can help you with that.

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8 thoughts on “On being free

  1. I think our view and experience of Christian faith are very different.

    I believe that God wants us to live in the here and now, also. For me, the kingdom of God is not simply fire insurance or pie in the sky after you die. I agree that we should certainly not walk around mired in guilt about the most trivial sins or feel perpetually guilty, filled with self loathing.

    As an aside, I don’t think the Scripture even addresses sexual orientation as we understand it today or the matter of gay and lesbian people in loving and committed relationships. The simple truth is some people are made to be gay or lesbian. This is a gift from God.

    I don’t think I’m subjugating my intellect either. We should not check our minds at the church door, that’s for sure. However, I do think there are deep truths which cannot always be apprehended by human reason alone.

    Probably in one matter that we do disagree is this. I absolutely affirm that humans are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God, a blessing. However, even the best of us falls very short of the perfect love of Christ. There is a paradox here.

    I know that I certainly don’t consistently love my neighbor as myself, let alone my enemies… I’m not stressing over this. God is working in all of our lives …However, I think in this world there is plenty of alienation, and a need to be reconciled. There is no use blinding ourselves to this. Sometimes we can hurt the people we care most about without even trying..

    I’m part of a community bridge group that attempts to support and connect with Muslim refugees coming into our country from the MIddle East and from Africa. Just to hear the stories these dear people share of what they’ve been through even in the countries that they thought would help and support them breaks my heart.

    Anyone who doubts there is real sin and evil in the world, or the need for reconciliation both toward God, and among humankind as a whole needs only to hang out with refugees from the third world…

    Appreciate your sharing, Neil, but I guess we will have to agree to disagree here.

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    • Just a few of points and some questions, Rebecca.

      1) It’s terrific what you and your church are doing for Muslim refugees. That’s Christianity in action (more on this later).

      2) I’m interested in how we ‘apprehend’ truth if not with reason alone. Do we ‘apprehend’ them with our imaginations? Our emotions? On the basis of what others tell us? If it is these, and not reason alone, then how can you know that it isn’t just your emotions or your imagination at play? How can you know it isn’t simply the indoctrination of your church that Ubi spoke to you about? Is ‘if it feels good it must be true’ good enough? I’d say not; we cannot test truth claims by whether they ‘feel’ right.

      3) You seem happy choosing which bits of the bible you feel are acceptable and equally happy to discard those you feel are not. How do you decide which is which? You say, for example, the bible doesn’t pass judgement on same-sex relationships as we know them today. Yet same-sex relationships did exist in ancient times, when the Old Testament was being written, and also in the first century concurrent with the New. Yet the OT says such relationships are an abomination and wants those involved put to death (Lev 18.20), while the NT says they can have no place in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6.9). Personally, I don’t care what the bible says (except when Christians use it to oppress gay people) but on what basis do you as a Christian disregard it? Because it doesn’t feel right? You’d be correct in thinking so, but then what about other bits that don’t feel right either – the slavery, the executions, the genocide (all sanctioned by God according to the bible) – do you reject those too? Where do you stop? How about the mythical elements; the virgin birth, the resurrection, heaven and hell? You yourself seem to want to be rid of the blood sacrifice that is central to Salvation. What about Jesus’ less palatable pronouncements such as ‘hate your parents’ or ‘sell all you have’? Can these be abandoned too? Why not simply junk the whole lot, the entire bible, instead of straining to determine – on the basis of feelings presumably, as you say reason isn’t much involved – what’s right and what’s not?

      4) If God is reconciling the world to himself, what’s taking him so long? If he began back when Jesus was here (Jesus said it would happen within the lifetime of his original followers), then why are things as bad as ever, 2000 years down the line?

      5) Have you noticed how it’s always human beings who show ‘Christ’s love’, never Christ himself? Why hasn’t he helped the people you’re helping before now in ‘all they’ve been through’ (your words)? What you and your church are demonstrating is not the love of an imaginary deity, but human compassion. That’s a great thing; take credit for it.

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  2. Hi, Neil, I think we can use reason to apprehend some truths of the Christian faith.

    It seems to me that the very complexity of the creation, and the apparent fine tuning of the universe toward life acts as a kind of signpost pointing toward a creator.( Intellectually, atheism just does not make sense to me..)

    . On the other hand, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a miraculous kind of event that could only be know by some kind of special revelation..Also, there are personal experiences that I’ve had that I cannot explain by reason alone. For me, reason and faith work together.

    I want to share up front that I’m not a Bible scholar or theologian. I don’t think anyone has all the truth and we could all be in some measure mistaken. The Scripture, itself, teaches, “For now we see through a glass darkly.”

    But, I think the center of Christian faith does not lie in a fundamentalist view of the Bible, but in the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord.” People were following and worshipping Jesus as the Christ long before any book of the NT was ever written. Christians believe that Jesus is “God with us…” He shows us what God is like.

    Jesus taught us to “love our enemies.” When He hung on the cross he prayed for forgiveness for those who had put Him to death.. So, when I read something in the Scripture that does not at all square with this, such as the genocide of the ancient Canaanites, human reason as well as spiritual discernment, tells me that this presents a problem.

    .It makes sense to me that the ancient Israelites while grasping the concept of the exclusive nature of the Lordship of God went on to wrongly interpret this to imply a command to destroy all the followers of the false gods.

    The reality and depth of God’s love in the incarnation is the lens that I use to view and to interpret the Bible. Many Christian believers as well as theologians of the church think in the same way. Might we get a wrong sometimes.( There are “hard sayings” even attributed to Jesus). Of course, but, I would rather err on the side of love and mercy. Ultimately, we can trust God to do His work in our lives.

    I have intensely studied this matter of what the Bible says concerning same sex attraction. A person could have a “high view” of Scripture and come to understand that the Scripture does not address sexual orientation as we know this to day. It would be impossible to cover this all in a blog response, so I want to recommend the website of “Evangelicals Concerned” for you to take a look. Go to the tab “clobber passages” to evaluate this. There should also be a listing of other works by Christian theologians to study the matter in greater depth.

    But, frankly, people can figure this out who have been acquainted with gay and lesbian people who are committed Christians and who love Jesus Christ. Consider Romans 1. The Scripture is clearly talking about people who were given to idolotry, and who did not want to retain any knowledge of God. It then states these people became full of wickedness which even extended to murder.

    This certainly does not describe any gay person that I’ve ever known. It is speaking of something else.

    Anyway, check out the “Evangelicals Concerned” webside and let me know what you think. Also, another good Christian website long this line is “Inclusive Orthodoxy.” I”m sure you would fine both of them interesting.

    Appreciate sharing, and hearing your thoughts. I will give you the last word.

    Sincerely,
    Rebecca.

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    • Hi Rebecca,

      Okay, final word!

      I wouldn’t dispute that life on earth has a creator, but it’s not an intelligent being (for complex reasons, some of which I consider in part 3 of ‘Why God Couldn’t Have Created the Universe’). Rather, it’s nature – ‘the blind watchmaker’ as Richard Dawkins calls it. The universe too is the result of tremendous but inanimate chemical and physical processes. They don’t require a creator to explain them either, and ‘fine-tuning’, I’m afraid, is an illusion; the vast bulk of the universe does not support life. Indeed, most of our own solar system doesn’t. Living beings are an aberration, if you like; an incredible one, to be sure, but the exception rather than the rule (by a very long way.)

      I’ll certainly check out ā€œEvangelicals Concernedā€ though I should say that I don’t reject Christianity because of my sexuality, but for a multitude of other reasons. It just isn’t intellectually sustainable.

      Thanks for stopping by and for commenting. I hope you’ll call again.

      Neil

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