Cruel and Unusual – Hell and Punishment

Does the punishment fit the crime?

This is a key concept in modern society.  In the name of justice, fairness, reasonableness, compassion, and many other related motivators, western society is adamant that no criminal suffer unreasonably for the wrong they committed.  Even a state willing to execute criminals finds itself concerned about limiting the suffering of the condemned.

According to Evangelical Theology, the biblical god created Hell to punish the unrighteous.  Hell is the eternal aftermath of judgment.  Since god created Hell, as his perfect punishment, one would expect that punishment to reflect his nature.  Theologically, Hell is the execution of god’s perfect Justice.  But if god is omnibenevolent, perfectly good, loving, merciful, and forgiving, as well as just, we would not be remiss to expect his final punishment to also embody those aspects too.  After all, god is who he is, and nothing he does can ever fall outside his nature.

So, how does one get to Hell?

I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet you asking random people on the street would result in answers like, “Doing very evil things, murder, rape, molesting children, torturing people,” and so on.  However, that’s not what Evangelical Theology teaches.

J.I. Packer says:  “(…and if they encountered the gospel) rejecting Jesus rather than coming to him.”  He offers several references to back this up.  (John 3:18-21, Romans 1:18-2:8, and  IIThes 2:9-11)

We won’t go into General Revelation (those who haven’t heard the gospel, but who can be aware of the existence of god through nature) right now.  In truth it’s an even more unacceptable dogma.  In showing the illogical nature of the doctrine regarding the Revelation of the Gospel, the doctrine of punishment under General Revelation hasn’t a leg to stand on.

For those who have heard the Gospel, neither the sins or the good deeds of the past have any bearing on their eternal destiny.  Either they accept Jesus as Lord, or they don’t.

So here are a couple scenarios:

1 – Joe Smith is a bad man.  As a child he tortured animals and started fires.  As an adult he built up a rap sheet with his anger and his fists.  He date raped a girl in high school and got away with it because you just didn’t talk about such things in those days.  He abused both of his wives and his three kids.  He drank hard and lived hard.  He cheated on his taxes and made his money under the table.  He cheated on his wife and slept around all the time, giving his first wife 3 venereal diseases and his second the two she didn’t already have.  He got into fights with people whenever he could for whatever he could.  He committed some small crimes when times were hard, severely beating a shopkeeper who tried to stop him once.  He served 15 months for that one.  His other stint in jail was for nearly 7 years, when during a drunken brawl at a pool hall he accidentally killed a man with a broken whisky bottle.

At the age of 56, with a liver as hard as a rock and the rest of his body worn out from decades of abuse, he lays on his deathbed.  He is overloaded with regret.  His girlfriend is there for him, along with two of his three kids.  His oldest won’t have anything to do with him.  He knows how wrong he was, and he wishes he could have a second chance.  He wishes he’d listened in catechism.  Well, kid #3 is a born-again believer.  She is worried for her dad’s soul, so she asks her pastor to come visit.  Pastor Ed comes by early in the evening and shares the Good News of Jesus Christ to Joe.  “Joe, everyone’s a sinner.  No matter what you’ve done, what sins you’ve committed, Jesus died for those sins.  He died so that people like you and me don’t have to suffer eternity in hell.  If you believe that Jesus died for your sins, and you ask him to come into your heart and by his blood wash away all those awful sins, he will forgive you.  You will be white as snow, and even if you were to die this very night, you would awaken on the other side to find yourself in eternal paradise with him.  ‘I tell you the truth, today you shall be with me in paradise!'”  Well, this is too much for Joe.  He can’t change his life, but he can change his eternity.  His heart overwhelmed by all his regrets, he prays with the minister for Jesus to forgive his sins and live in his heart.  He is at peace.  That very night, he dies…

Where does Joe end up?

2 – John Doe is, temporally speaking, a really good guy.  As a child he was thoughtful, giving and sensitive.  He was bullied at times, but bore it with scant annoyance, making as many of them as he could his friends so they wouldn’t treat him so.  He was a disciplined kid, a decent student, and a responsible collegian.  He never went through the rebellious stage in life, rather spent his teenage years trying different activities and getting involved in public service groups to try and find out what he really wanted to do.  He studied psychology and sociology in college and became a family counselor.  He married at 25, had 3 kids, and was kind and loving to all of them.  His kids turned out pretty well, and when one of them struggled with delinquency, he was patient and understanding and helped them grow through it.  He is generous almost to a fault with his money and time.  He gives to charity and volunteers to help the less fortunate.  He and his wife (and the kids when they were at home) haven’t spent a Thanksgiving at home for years.  Instead they’ve spent the day serving dinner to the homeless and impoverished.  All of his peer have a tremendous amount of trust in him and look to him as one of the nicest, most giving guys they know.

He is an agnostic.  He doesn’t know if anything’s out there or not.  But he does his best to live the golden rule, to treat others with love and kindness.  When he is approached by anyone religious, he is always gentle and kind, but he says he’s not really religious, but he’s glad it works for them.  He does these things because it just seems the right thing to do.  After all, we’re all just people on this little planet.

Now he’s 77 years old and some health problems have caught up to him.  He’s philosophical about the nearness of the end, and is satisfied he lived as well as he could.  He says goodbye to his loving wife of 52 years and his children, who all surround him as he fades away.

Where does John end up?

Before we answer those two questions, let’s throw one more bit of Evangelical theology into the mix.  According to Christian theology, Christ died for the sins of the whole world.  There is some dispute as to what that means.  J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology teaches that Christ only died for the elect, those that actually choose to come to Christ, but that he didn’t die for anyone else’s sins.  He even says that said doctrine isn’t inconsistent, but of course it is.  The reason for that is that if all have free will, then the free gift of forgiveness through the blood of Christ is available to any and all that call on the Name of the Lord.  Since every person in the world is said to have that freedom of choice, then Christ’s death was sufficient to cover every sin of every person ever to live.  The doctrine I was taught at the two churches I served at throughout my Christian life (SCBC and KCBC) indicated that Christ died for all sins, and that it was up to the individual to either accept this forgiveness that was already secured, or to reject it out of hand, condemning him or herself solely by their own choice.

Do you see it yet?

According to Evangelical Christian theology, Joe is enjoying the fruits of paradise in the presence of almighty God, his soul bought with a price, fully forgiven and free from shame and regret.

On the other hand, John is roasting on a spit in hell.  John will suffer in flames and isolation forever, without respite.  There will be no end.  After 10 million years, it will be like day one, with 10 billion years still to come.  Forever is a very, very long time.

What was John’s crime?  Apparently John didn’t realize that all his good works and helping of others didn’t mean jack in God’s economy.  John didn’t recognize his need of Jesus and instead depended on his limited abilities to do good to others.  In the Christian worldview, good works should ONLY be an outgrowth of one’s gratitude for salvation in Christ.  By themselves they are empty.

And what about Joe?  Aren’t there any consequences for him?  Well, not really.  He might be saved as one escaping the flames, but he’s in paradise, saved, in the presence of God, perfect in every way, and never has to worry again.  Despite his horrible life and many sins, he accepted Jesus, so he gets all the goodies forever.

John tried to do right and there is NO recompense for his good-hearted effort.  In fact, when Christians tell this story, they’ll say “John tried to do right” with a condescending sadness, the tragedy of trying to do right rather than recognizing he’s a dirtbag who can never really do anything good outside of the urging of Christ and his Holy Spirit.

Now, I suppose this would all be well and good, if that’s all there was to scripture.  If it said, “Look, God’s pretty unfair.  It’s not about the good or bad you do.  It’s all about Jesus.  Just accept him and we’ll be buds.  Otherwise, I’ll burn you up.”

But the scriptures Christians follow say that god is Just with a capital J.  They say his forgiveness and mercy know no bounds.  They say that he is loving – scratch that, that he IS love.

What kind of love takes sincere effort to do good and hands out eternal torture?  What kind of justice let’s bad Joe Smith into heaven and sends decent John Doe to hellfire and brimstone?

And what about forever?  Let’s say John Doe, good as he is, makes a few mistakes.  We all do.  He yells at his kids now and then, says “goddammit,” looks at pretty girls a little too long, and occasionally gossips about an annoying workmate.

In what economy do ANY or ALL of those sins deserve ETERNAL damnation?  In what way is there justice in torturing forever and ever someone whose mistakes were so minor and relatively benign compared to Joe Smith’s?

And see, we haven’t even begun to touch on those whom have never heard the gospel, and are still sent to damnation.  That’s even worse.  It doesn’t need explaining at all, because the above example, where at least the person heard of Jesus, is already reprehensible.

In actuality, it is horribly unjust, and a remnant of Ancient Near East tribal religions, in which god was vengeful, wrathful, and demanded appeasement, with the petulance of a child at times.  Christians will answer that God’s standard is absolute perfection, and that only the propitiation of Christ’s blood can provide that perfection in the face of original sin.

Then I would ask – why then would God accept such a sacrifice?  The act of a god-man bleeding out on a tree isn’t truly equal to all the evils ever committed in the world.  Christians point to the crucified Christ and expound on his astounding sacrifice, the pain he endured on the cross, and equate it with the weight of all the evil done in the world, as though taking all of that on was an almost impossible task, one that takes the god-man to perform.  He loved us enough to die, they say – I said.

But you know what?  It really isn’t *that* impressive either.  After all, according to the New Testament scriptures, he KNEW he was going to rise again in three days.  If someone with full authority said to me, with the same assurance that Christ had, as he had the mind of god, “Hey, Anthony, listen: the world is in big trouble.  It’s going to die, and everyone on it.  But here’s the thing.  You can save your wife and kids and, well, everybody else.  It will be tough, but it will only last three days – actually, just about 2 days, the way we count them.  We’ll kill you, pretty brutally.  It will take you a good 3-6 hours to die, and it’ll hurt like a son-of-gun.  You’ll be in hell for about a day and a half, but then you’ll rise again, and you’ll be perfect, and your wife and kids will be safe forever – as will the whole world,” what would I do?  I’ll tell you what I’d do.  I’d go for it, in a hot minute.  Less than three days of suffering and I can guarantee that my wife and kids will live in bliss FOREVER?  I never have to worry about them again?  You bet your last dollar I’d do it, and so would you.

It would be a whole other issue if he didn’t know he was coming back.  But he did know, according to the scriptures.  What sort of sacrifice is that?  They’ll say, “But it was worse than that – he was separated from the father for the first time in all of eternity.”  So WHAT?  He’s god, for crying out loud.  Is that supposed to make it seem harder to do, for a man who is fully god?  I think not.

Truly the entire theology breaks down.  It is terribly inconsistent with the concept of a just god, a forgiving god, a righteous god, and especially a loving god.

What it boils down to is that in Christian theology God has drawn an arbitrary line around Jesus Christ.  He has, by his own choice, said, “This very temporary sacrifice is enough for me.”  Furthermore, even though it’s demonstrable that Jesus’s sacrifice paid for all of the sins of the world, whether they accept Jesus or not, that even though God has the power to forgive all sins (as anyone who accepts Jesus can of their own volition have their sins forgiven, without having to pass any other test) He has instead set up an arbitrary line to take some to heaven and torture the rest for eternity for not choosing a savior on little to no evidence, with their already paid-for sin as an excuse.

There is nothing righteous, nothing just, nothing loving in that at all.

PS: For a similar and interesting view, see Burn in Hell at the Respectful Atheist blog.

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93 thoughts on “Cruel and Unusual – Hell and Punishment

  1. Don’t expect anything like consistent or even comprehensible morality from a religion that appears to have been (and probably was) created by a promoter with the ethics of a traveling snake oil salesman. There’s the influence of Paul of Tarsus and the Greeks to whom he was trying to sell his new god man. Oh Glycon, where are you?

  2. Traditional evangelical theology is misrepresenting the Bible when it comes to the afterlife. I used to be an evangelical pastor, but came to see through studying the Bible that the heaven-or-hell scenario is not biblical.

    What then does the Bible teach about afterlife? That everyone is going to heaven. I explain this biblical doctrine at length in a book which I provide free online at my blog.

    I hasten to add that I’m not looking for followers or collecting a mailing list or seeking anything other than to make known the good news that has made me so happy.

    This does not mean that it’s unimportant how we live. How we live matters very much. Having a clean mind and laying down our lives in love for those around us is very important. And it will have consequences in heaven. But the Bible teaches that no one is going to spend an eternity in hellish torment. Jesus Christ has a much better answer than that.

    If the only Jesus people know is the one presented to them through evangelical theology, then He is not being seen as wonderful as He truly is.

    • “Having a clean mind and laying down our lives in love for those around us is very important.”

      “A dirty mind is a terrible thing to waste” — Jules Carlysle.

      “Twins, Basil, twins!” — Austin Powers.

  3. I wonder if we could sue the Christians for conspiracy to commit a terrorist act by trying to frighten us all with hellfire? First the tobacco companies, next the churches with a major class action.

  4. Toon — You’ve built a pretty solid wall of argument there, but what is the foundation? What you believe, your faith, is the underpinning of what you say. You know where I am coming from, and it isn’t my job to change anyone’s mind but I would like to answer your question from my point of view (based on my faith, of course). I know that many of the folks who read your blog may disagree, but that is their privilege. Again, this is from my faith. Not a mental-only process that can be checked on an adding machine, but a heart felt belief.

    In a discussion of the fitness of hell as a punishment, it would help to have a clear picture of hell. We don’t, other than some scripture that calls it a place of burning torment. Because of that, one of the common views involves fire. I’m not so sure about that, but I do remember reading a description by a Christian writer that resonated with me. It may have been C.S. Lewis, but I can’t say for sure. What did stick was that the torment of hell is twofold:
    one – eternity with the knowledge of having missed out on being in the presence of Almighty God, understanding how easy it would have been to be there.
    two – eternity alone with oneself
    Sounds like torment to me, and to answer your question…yes, it fits the crime. You reject God and He rejects you.

    In your example, Joe accepted God’s offer so God accepted him. John Doe made the decision to reject God’s offer and in so doing reject God [“When he is approached by anyone religious, he is always gentle and kind, but he says he’s not really religious, but he’s glad it works for them”]. Here’s the deal – by rejecting God’s offer, John has set himself up as someone who knows more than God. In effect he has made himself his own god, and that is worthy of eternal punishment based on God’s justice. Sounds just to me, based on what I believe.

    We are now at the central point of the issue: one’s belief system determines the answer to your question, and as you know from your study of Christianity, it also determines your eternal location. Your choice determines your outcome.
    {I know, sounds very Arminian and not very Calvinist, but I happen to think …believe 🙂 …that the reality of an infinite God allows both Arminian and Calvinist options to work at the same time, but that is not germane to this discussion}

    So…the question re-phrased is not “does the punishment fit the crime?” it is “what do you believe, and are you willing to stake all eternity on that belief?”

    And remember, I love you either way and will keep praying for you.

    • pooskapop,

      It appears you mean well and that you have the best interest of others at heart. However, you are misrepresenting the Bible when you reduce its message to engaging in a single transaction that radically determines the outcome of eternity. The Bible has to do with how we live every minute of every day of this life.

      Everyone is going to heaven. There’s no question about that. The question has to do with the degree of love and faith that guides our daily living. The question has to do with our sorrow over our sins (that is, our moral shortcomings) and our repentance to become better people.

      The whole Calvinist-Arminian debate is a side-show and a distraction to the purposes of God. God wants us to be His representatives in the earth, expressions of His righteousness. This means simple things like husbands loving their wives, parents caring for their children, neighbors looking out for each other, and everyone helping the poor and disadvantaged.

      Your comment was intended to be constructive but I tell you that the ship of Christianity has become encumbered with so many barnacles that no one can see the ship anymore. The ship is Jesus Christ as God. The barnacles are church, pastors, and all the attitudes that go with them. Those of us who revere Christ should not separate ourselves from others and call ourselves special. We should live in the midst of our fellow human beings and call ourselves no different from them.

      I appeal to you: Return to your first love: Jesus Christ our Lord. Obey Him from the depth of your heart. Seek His approval and no one else’s. Live for the glory of His name and not for the glory of anything or anyone else.

      Your reward is to know that those who walk closest to Jesus on earth will walk closest to Him in heaven. Walking close to Him is not easy; it will cost us our pleasures. But if we truly live by love, it is the highest quality of life known to man.

      • Mike — If you are someone who believes that the bible is the word of God, I would suggest you read the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew 25, verses 32 through 46. In those verses Jesus Himself clearly refutes your contention that everyone is going to heaven.

        BTW, your phrase “appears you mean well” is what my grandmother used to call a “back-handed compliment”, which is to say it’s not complimentary at all even though it sort of sounds like it is. Subtle digs like that wouldn’t come from someone who “truly lives by love”.

      • pooskapop,

        I assure you that my opening sentence was a genuine expression of respect for your intentions. Because I was disagreeing with you about the extent of God’s mercy, I wanted to be sure that I did so in a respectful and constructive way. I meant well and had the best interest of others in mind when I wrote my comment and I wanted you to know from the beginning that I was crediting you with the same spirit.

        We can’t both be right about the point at issue, but we can both be kind…and we can both represent the Savior in a spirit that is worthy of Him.

        Mike

      • *There’s more to him than you realize.*

        Really? What more, Mike? I’ve read all 27 books that make up the sum total of accepted knowledge of Jesus Christ as acknowledged by nearly all Christian denominations, save Catholicism and perhaps a couple others. For 26 years I lived the “spirit-filled” Christian life based on these 27 books. If you have an unimpeachable source that will show Tim and I and the world what *more* there is than we realize from reading the same material you do (material found sorely wanting, by the way, but more on that in a future post) then please reference it here. Contrary to popular Christain belief, there is hardly an atheist or agnostic in the world who would eschew hard evidence, even if it led to Jesus Christ.

      • ToonForever,

        There are people all over the world going to those churches you mentioned, reading (to varying degrees) the Scriptures, and yet don’t know these things about Jesus:

        – Everyone is going to heaven
        – The Second Coming of Christ has already occurred and Jesus is here
        – Churches and churchgoing are not God’s desire

        These are the days of the kingdom of God and God wants us to have purified hearts before Him. That’s why we should be seeking Christ and not church.

        As for your claim that, “there is hardly an atheist or agnostic in the world who would eschew hard evidence, even if it led to Jesus Christ,” I wish it were so. I do know for a fact that some are open-minded, because I was just such an agnostic. We shall see whether you are.

      • The trouble, Mike, is that none of those three thoughts are unique, and everyone in all those other churches have as much reason to believe what they do as you. You’re missing my point that we’re all reading the same words. You emphasize what you do. They emphasize what they do.

        All miss the obvious zinger that if Christians truly had the Holy Spirit to guide and enlighten everyone on the proper interpretation of scripture, these disagreements shouldn’t exist. Pentacostals can demonstrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives and in their worship. They’ll say you’re wrong, and they’ll use scripture to do it, as valid as anything you do.

        Why would *you* say this is, Mike?

      • ToonForever,

        It sounds as if you’re saying that because there is disagreement about what the Scriptures say, then the Scriptures can’t be true or can’t be understood or that the Holy Spirit can’t be real. If so, that’s not solid reasoning. These are non sequiturs. But maybe I’ve misunderstood you. If so, please correct me.

      • Not exactly. What I’m saying is that the disagreement is a symptom of a lack of expected guidance from a perfect spiritual entity. It is evidence that the Christian religion does not in fact define the person and actions of a solitary perfect god. It is very solid reasoning, as the attributes Christians claim for their god are not in evidence in the operation of their faith and the understanding of their “god-breathed” word.

      • ToonForever, please consider an alternative diagnosis: that the disagreement is a sign of a world in which human beings have complete moral freedom, and through it choose which truths they will embrace or emphasize. As for “the Christian religion,” I agree that it misrepresents God in many ways – but that only discredits those who do so, and doesn’t discredit God Himself. Even though every Christian be proved a liar, yet Jesus and the Bible are true. By forsaking our own sins and forgiving others of theirs, we can come closer to the pure truth of Jesus Christ – God of heaven and earth.

      • The problem is, Mike, that the bible itself can be shown to be full of contradiction, inconsistency, and paints a picture of God that is terribly inconsistent with the attributes with which he is credited. Your version of Christianity is no more biblically consistent than Rick’s, or many others’ – it’s all in which verses to emphasize and which to gloss over. Many references to the afterlife clearly connote a place of punishment. Many references in the Old Testament indicate a complete lack of a conscious afterlife. Which are you going to believe – nevermind, I already know. The bottom line is that the inconsistency in theology is a symptom *both* of the untrustworthy nature of the bible and of the human tendency to shape their theology based on their own priorities and prejudices.

      • ToonForever,

        When you say, “…the bible itself can be shown to be…” you are, of course, expressing an interpretation of the Bible – and it is a common-held interpretation. Like other interpretations, it “emphasizes some verses [i.e. those that appear to be contradictory] and glosses over others [i.e. those that appear to be consistent.].” Therefore, don’t imagine that you’ve found a place that is “above it all.” The only people who don’t interpret the Bible are people who have never been exposed to it.

        If you are satisfied with your interpretation of the Bible, so be it. I just thought I would offer hope for finding a baby worth saving in the bathwater of Christianity that deserves to be thrown out. Since your disinterest has become clear and emphatic, I’ll sign off for now. I have to say, however, that I’ve found dogmatism as prevalent a strain among former evangelicals as among evangelicals.

        Though our views of Christ differ at this point in time, I do sincerely wish you the very best.

        Mike

      • *When you say, “…the bible itself can be shown to be…” you are, of course, expressing an interpretation of the Bible*

        I’m sorry, Mike, but that is perfectly false. Interpreting the bible (or any literary work) is the process of understanding the meaning of the work, including the author’s intent, it’s context, etc.

        Illustrating the many contradictions, geographical and historical inconsistencies in the text, the many interpolations and textual errors, and so on, is not a matter of interpretation. It’s a matter of analysis, and the conclusions can be explained and shown to others – therefore it’s falsifiable – either the assertions are true from the text or not.

        *and it is a common-held interpretation. Like other interpretations, it “emphasizes some verses [i.e. those that appear to be contradictory] and glosses over others [i.e. those that appear to be consistent.].” Therefore, don’t imagine that you’ve found a place that is “above it all.” The only people who don’t interpret the Bible are people who have never been exposed to it.

        Not to beat a dead horse, but you are talking right past the point. It’s not about choosing certain verses over others – it’s about analyzing verses as you find them, in the context of their time and the rest of the bible, and being honest about what you find. The issues are clear and well delineated. I intend to go over a good number of them in the coming weeks, but suffice to say there is no *interpretation* involved in the analysis.

        *If you are satisfied with your interpretation of the Bible, so be it. I just thought I would offer hope for finding a baby worth saving in the bathwater of Christianity that deserves to be thrown out. Since your disinterest has become clear and emphatic, I’ll sign off for now. I have to say, however, that I’ve found dogmatism as prevalent a strain among former evangelicals as among evangelicals.

        In truth, I did save the baby – The gospel illustrations of Jesus’s compassion for the poor, call for unconditional love, for forgiveness, for patience, for understanding, and so on, are worth knowing and taking to heart. It’s the turning of Jesus into a God Man that obscures the human wisdom (not unique, granted, but meaningful nonetheless) found within.

        Though our views of Christ differ at this point in time, I do sincerely wish you the very best.

        Likewise, Mike – cheers 🙂

        Mike

      • ToonForever,

        Given your reluctance to have your view of the Bible described as an interpretation, just mentally substitute “view” wherever you see “interpretation” in my comment. Thus there are differing views of the Bible, and certainly your view currently is at variance with my view. But, as I said, differing views don’t require that all views be wrong.

        I am very glad you are clinging to the morality Jesus taught, but as you do, don’t forget that He also said things like “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and “You must love me more than you love the members of your own family,” – not the sort of things mere humans say, even when they’re good teachers. Maybe especially when they’re good teachers.

      • Mike, I’ll help you one more time. You are completely misusing the word “interpret.”

        From Dictionary.com

        “in·ter·pret
           [in-tur-prit] Show IPA
        verb (used with object)
        1.
        to give or provide the meaning of; explain; explicate; elucidate: to interpret the hidden meaning of a parable.
        2.
        to construe or understand in a particular way: to interpret a reply as favorable.
        3.
        to bring out the meaning of (a dramatic work, music, etc.) by performance or execution.
        4.
        to perform or render (a song, role in a play, etc.) according to one’s own understanding or sensitivity: The actor interpreted Lear as a weak, pitiful old man.
        5.
        to translate orally.”

        Analyzing the factual claims of a particular verse against the factual claims of a contradictory verse has nothing to do with “bringing out the meaning” of a verse. It’s not about the meaning. It’s the content. One doesn’t care what the meaning might be of Jesus riding on a donkey. One does care that one verse records him riding on a donkey only, and another on a donkey and a (horse) colt at the same time. The contradiction is clear without any need for interpretation or drawing out of meaning (nevermind the implication that the writer of Matthew pretty obviously misunderstood the prophecy in Zechariah.)

        I’m sort of running out of steam on this particular thread. Any honest reader will understand the distinction I’m making. That you don’t is, I think, a deliberate ploy to maintain your position in the face of contrary facts. That’s your choice, Mike, but it doesn’t make for good dialogue.

        Cheers.

      • ToonForever,

        It’s your website so it’s only right that you should have the last word. Therefore, i won’t respond after this. Whatever your response, I’ll bite my tongue. Maybe we can interact on other posts, other topics, and other sites.

        You protest that you’re not interpreting the Bible while simultaneously maintaining that you know better how to interpret Zechariah than Matthew did. Yet that irony seems lost on you.

        When you claim that the Bible contradicts itself you are also giving your interpretation of it. Are you ‘drawing out the meaning of a verse?” On the contrary, you’re suggesting that drawing out meaning is futile because one could draw out contradictory meaning. You are interpreting that the Bible is incapable of communicating a clear and consistent message. That may be a severely limiting interpretation – but it is an interpretation or view in any case.

        I know you disagree with this, and I respect your position. But I can’t buy your justification.

        I understand the emotion you have tied up in your departure from whatever faith you departed from. And I have not intended to provoke you to frustration. Neither am I engaged in “a ploy to maintain my position in the face of contrary facts.” I regret that my comments seem to have antagonized you. You’ll have to trust that this is the very opposite effect I have hoped to have.

        We may be misunderstanding each other on a number of levels – misunderstandings that might evaporate quickly were we face to face instead of having to depend solely on printed words in a medium notable for the ease with which misunderstanding can occur.

        I would only appeal to you to consider that I may not actually fit into the place where you are trying to pigeonhole me. I, too, am content to let readers come to their own conclusions. Please don’t prejudice the discussion by implying that I am operating with any less good will toward you than you are toward me.

        God knows our hearts and He will judge. I don’t mind your being against me, but I do hope you’ll separate Christ from Christians and look once again to Him…and Him alone. Until then, and well after then, I bear you nothing but good will.

        Mike

      • Mike… Okay, let me lay it out for you:

        From Matthew 21 –

        *1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

        4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

        5 “Say to Daughter Zion,
        ‘See, your king comes to you,
        gentle and riding on a donkey,
        and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”[a]

        6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.*

        A donkey AND a colt. Remember that.

        From Mark 11 –

        *1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

        4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it.*

        ONLY a colt – no donkey.

        From Luke 19 –

        * 28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

        32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”

        34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”

        35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it.*

        Oops, again ONLY a colt.

        From John 12 –

        * 14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

        15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
        see, your king is coming,
        seated on a donkey’s colt.”

        Specifically a donkey’s colt – not just a colt as in Mark and Luke, but Jesus found this one himself.

        You see, Mike, this inerrant, god-breathed bible of has some issues. These are not issues of interpretation. These are textual issues where the basic facts about a unique event are not in agreement at all. Why they don’t agree isn’t even the issue (although it is an interesting line of inquiry.) The issue is that at least one of these passages is in error. Period. You don’t need to know the meaning. You need to be able to count. One animal or two? Forget the type of animal, or who went and got it. It doesn’t matter.

        Some Christians will trot out the whole elephant and the blind men, but that clearly doesn’t hold water in this example. If one is honest, there’s no way around this. One of these books is mistaken.

        Which one do you think it is, Mike?

      • I’ve been looking for Joe, so I ask my friends to let me know if they see him. A friend of mine phones me and says that he just saw Joe driving down Main Street. Another friend phones seconds later and says that he just saw Joe driving down Main Street with his mother. One of these friends is mistaken. Which one is it?

        The answer to my question is the answer to your question.

      • Nah, Mike – you’ve chosen the path of obfuscation again. That makes me sad. There are substantive differences in the two passages that you can’t just brush off as reporting from different perspective. Jesus is quoted in three of those passages. The quotes in Mark and Luke agree, the quote in Matthew does not. It is not a matter of one of them not mentioning mom, it is a matter of one of them misquoting Jesus, then not mentioning that he was riding on two animals instead of one.

        I wonder how my friend Rick would weigh in on this one. I’ll have to ping him and see.

        If your faith is more important than being challenged with the questions, I understand. I stood where you stand. I could no longer. I appreciate you being in the dialogue anyhow.

      • Well, toon…I think you missed one of the definitions for “interpret” in your reply to Mike:

        to construe or understand in a particular way

        Your comments on the accuracy of scripture are based on YOUR understanding of the passages being discussed, and how YOU construe things. I will fall back on my contention that your beliefs (which you objected to my labeling a “belief system”) have colored, and will color, your understanding of what the bible says. From what I have read, you start at a point of disbelief and doubt regarding the accuracy and continuity of the bible, so your comments and opinions are standing on that foundation. If you start with that, then you will end up where you have ended up. You said this me in a post:

        “I only hope you are okay with it that last moment before the lights go out, when you realize you aren’t coming out the other side”

        My answer is: yes, I am ok…in fact, more than ok, I feel joy in my life now and anticipate more joy when I meet Jesus face to face. Your doubts and disbelief won’t change that.

        Once we have that foundation established for me, I will say that I have several explanations for what you see as contradictions, but I don’t think they would change your mind or your foundational beliefs, so I will hold off on sharing. Again though, I will say that God loves you and is calling you (even if you say you don’t hear Him or believe, He is there and still calling). I am sure that you know the verse that says the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. If all this seems foolish to you, I am very sorry for you, but I will continue to pray for you and keep the lines of communication open.
        Love ya, man.

      • *Well, toon…I think you missed one of the definitions for “interpret” in your reply to Mike:

        to construe or understand in a particular way

        Ah, Rick – sheesh – don’t fall into Mike’s trap. Let’s look at the meaning of “construe”:

        1.to give the meaning or intention of; explain; interpret.
        2.to deduce by inference or interpretation; infer: He construed her intentions from her gestures.

        It’s exactly what I said – to infer meaning from the sentence. I’m not even remotely talking about meaning. I’m talking about a *quantitative* analysis.

        Here are the two questions. Which gospel accurately communicates what *really* happened? Matthew and his two animals and his particular quote attributed to Jesus? Mark and Luke, and their one animal, and their particular quote? Or John, one animal, no quote, Jesus found it himself.

        Heck, I’ll give you John’s. You tell me which was which. No dodging.

        *Your comments on the accuracy of scripture are based on YOUR understanding of the passages being discussed, and how YOU construe things. I will fall back on my contention that your beliefs (which you objected to my labeling a “belief system”) have colored, and will color, your understanding of what the bible says. From what I have read, you start at a point of disbelief and doubt regarding the accuracy and continuity of the bible, so your comments and opinions are standing on that foundation. If you start with that, then you will end up where you have ended up.*

        Your mistake, my man, is using the word “construe.” There is no interpretation involved. One animal or two?

        Frankly, I could make the same assertion about your viewpoint (and I think I would be more accurate) in that your commitment to belief is coloring your analysis, to the point where it has dashed your objectivity. You have a dog in this fight. You have a personal vested interest in the correctness of your views, so you are motivated to wedge the facts into your beliefs. I have no such vested interest. I don’t *need* to be right or wrong. It is simply an example.

        You say you have an explanation, but you won’t tell me because I won’t accept it? Sorry, Rick, that’s a cop out. If it makes sense, I’ll accept it. There are a thousand other reasons for my stance – I don’t need this to be right or wrong. You give me a good reason that isn’t simple hand-waving and I’ve got no problem dropping that objection. I honestly don’t see how you explain that away. This was a unique event. It happened once. It is touted as the fulfillment of prophecy (though it clearly could have been manufactured, since Jesus would have had quite a bit of control over how he got himself into the city) so much so that every author includes an account. Yet the accounts differ quantitatively. These God-breathed accounts do not agree on a critical fact at the front end of the Passion Week. Somebody gets the number of animals wrong, and somebody misquotes Jesus. And that’s allowing that someone got it right rather than it being simple legend that grew up around the early Christ cult.

        Once we’ve settled the question I’ll actually offer an interpretation of what I think happened. I will construe from the available texts how this particular rendering in Matthew came to be. Until then, let’s just deal with the factual contradiction. Come on, Rick, my bud, you haven’t shied away from a discussion yet. Don’t start now 🙂

        And thanks for your prayers and well-wishes. I know they come from your good heart.

      • ToonForever, you said this to pooskapop: “You have a personal vested interest in the correctness of your views, so you are motivated to wedge the facts into your beliefs. I have no such vested interest.”

        That you could write such words without any apparent sense of their irony is proof of pooskapop’s original point to you. Every one of us in the world is acting on faith – it’s just a question of where we place it.

      • Toon — A “cop out”, eh? You knew I couldn’t resist that challenge, no matter how I feel about shouting into a hurricane. Nicely done, sir. Sorry for the delay in responding, but you know how it goes when you get home from travelling…other things take priority.
        Onward –

        well, ok…I guess it says “ONLY a colt” in those gospels that speak of a colt but not the mother donkey. No? You mean it just says “a colt”? By the way, “colt” can also refer to a young donkey, not only to a young horse. So, maybe you mis-understood about how many animals were being described. Or, maybe you interpreted it as just one, or maybe mis-construed the non-mention of the mother donkey as non-existence of a second animal. [Sorry for the snarky comments about “interpret” and “construe” but really, you ARE interpreting these passages and construing meanings, and it was too much fun watching the interchange between you and Mike] 🙂 It is entirely possible that some gospel writers felt that the detail of the mother donkey following her young colt would be un-necessary to mention as obvious, since that is what mother animals would do. Mike’s reply, which you called “obfuscation”, was actually a pretty good example of the differences in description of events by eyewitnesses. Yeah, I know you don’t think that these were written by an eyewitness (Matthew & John) or by a man who got the story from eyewitnesses (Mark & Luke), but see my comments below for my opinion on how your beliefs can affect your interpretation. And the gospel that says “Jesus found the colt” (oops – young donkey)? Could it be the equivalent of saying “the pharaohs built the pyramids”? Nah, that would mean that one would have to allow for the possibility that this really IS God’s word. [They didn’t build the pyramids, you know…they just got the credit for the actions of their subordinates because they were the leaders. Kind of like calling it “Obama’s health care plan” when he didn’t actually write it.] Maybe it’s not that “somebody gets the number of animals wrong”…maybe it’s just that you are not willing to see the differences in literary expression as stylistic rather than specific as regards to animal counts.

        My point is that you do not want to see possible explanations as valid because your belief system does not agree with them (you have a dog in this fight too, ya know) and I do want to see them as valid because my belief system sees the bible as God’s complete and accurate word. What I have been saying all along is that one’s interpretation of words and phrases in any written work is subjective, and is filtered through one’s beliefs. You want to sound like you have it all down pat, and your analysis of the verses in question is not affected by your decision to disbelieve God, right? I admit I have a strong belief in the accuracy of the bible and that is the foundation of my comments. Are you willing to drop the pretense of neutrality and admit that your comments come from the core belief that God does not exist?

        I already know that the example cited from the gospels is not the only disagreement you have with the bible. I just don’t think it is straightforward for you to sound as if your disagreement with the bible is the cause, rather than the effect. Your disagreement with the bible is caused by your lack of belief in God…rather than your disbelief in God being a result of disagreement with the bible.

      • *ToonForever, you said this to pooskapop: “You have a personal vested interest in the correctness of your views, so you are motivated to wedge the facts into your beliefs. I have no such vested interest.”

        That you could write such words without any apparent sense of their irony is proof of pooskapop’s original point to you. Every one of us in the world is acting on faith – it’s just a question of where we place it.

        It is proof of nothing of the sort. You both mistakenly equate belief in the unevinced with conclusion from reasoned observation. The two are not alike.

        More telling is your apparent inability to tell the difference between the numbers 1 and 2. Until you (or pooska, for that matter) can reasonably answer the question raised (and serially dodged by you) your pontifications are empty and meaningless.

      • ToonForever,

        I’ve already answered your question – you just didn’t like the answer. Of course, the reason that you didn’t like the answer is the conclusion to which it might take you.

        You don’t want to obey Jesus Christ – I get that. However, whenever you change your mind you will find Him willing to forgive you and show you all the overflowing kindness that He is noted for showing to prodigal sons.

      • *I’ve already answered your question – you just didn’t like the answer. Of course, the reason that you didn’t like the answer is the conclusion to which it might take you.

        Mike, you’re usually polite, but that’s pretty arrogant. Not to mention completely incorrect. I didn’t like your answer because it wasn’t an answer. It wasn’t based on reason, and it didn’t address the content in detail. It was a blatant dodge, which you seem to resort to on a regular basis.

        *You don’t want to obey Jesus Christ – I get that.*

        Apparently you don’t, because that could not be further from the truth. It is, however a common fallacy proffered by the believing on those who no longer do. You can’t imagine having experienced Jesus and then walking away, so you assume an ulterior motive.

        I have never had an issue with obeying Jesus Christ. However, once I realized he wasn’t real, at least not as expressed in the bible, I don’t see the point of obeying him per se. Interestingly, most of the morality that his teachings contain I still consider worth following – not because he said so, but because doing so is a positive, compassionate way to relate to others.

        *However, whenever you change your mind you will find Him willing to forgive you and show you all the overflowing kindness that He is noted for showing to prodigal sons.

        I suppose some passages would indicate that, but others would indicate petulance, vindictiveness, vengeful, and all sorts of things inconsistent with perfect love. I’m sure you mean well, but unless you can reasonably address clear issues like the above in your inerrant authority, such encouragements are found lacking.

      • ToonForever,

        I gave you a simple and straightforward way to reconcile the passages which you deemed to be in conflict, but even if you don’t accept it I am still amazed that you would reject the New Testament as a reliable account of Jesus Christ because of the number of asses in that narrative segment.

      • *I gave you a simple and straightforward way to reconcile the passages which you deemed to be in conflict, but even if you don’t accept it*

        No, you most assuredly did not. Your illustration had no means to actually reconcile the clear contradictions in the passage. It was rather a way to dodge addressing the troubling content for which you actually have no substantive answer. It’s not honest, Mike, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be impolite, just accurate.

        *I am still amazed that you would reject the New Testament as a reliable account of Jesus Christ because of the number of asses in that narrative segment.*

        Where on Earth do you get the idea that *this* passage is the sole reason for my distrust of the biblical record? If you think that, you’re just not paying attention. Have you read the entire blog? Mike, I think you have a tendency to hyper-focus on the discussion at hand and ignore everything else that has gone on before and around you.

        This passage is simply a prime example of the man-made (man-breathed?) nature of the bible. Your unwillingness to actually address the content in a substantive nature is evidence of your bias toward your belief system in the face of fact and reason.

      • ToonForever,

        If you do not believe that the New Testament documents are a reliable source for information about Jesus Christ, what source accounts for your view of Him?

      • *If you do not believe that the New Testament documents are a reliable source for information about Jesus Christ, what source accounts for your view of Him?*

        *Sigh* – Obfuscating again? Dodging the question again? Come on, Mike, who got it right? Matthew or Mark? Matthew or Luke? Matthew or John?

        And your question *again* makes a terrible mistake of thinking that because the New Testament documents are unreliable that somehow we can glean no information from them.

        You purport that they transmit absolute truth about a God-Man Jesus Christ who came to Earth via a virgin birth, lived a sinless life, died on a cross for the world’s sins, rose again from the dead, ascended to heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand and intercede for believers forever.

        What I will tell you is that they *do* transmit an understanding of Jesus Christ, but not in the form of absolute truth, rather the religious ideas that were built up about him by others over time after his death (assuming he existed at all.) They are a collection of what other people have asserted about this Jesus and his cult. It is perhaps a fine line, but certain not invisible. They are a collection of hearsay and legend building, extremely common in that day.

        They are unreliable as a source of inerrant truth about god. They are a good source of understanding the early doctrines of a Semitic cult.

      • ToonForever,

        I think you misunderstood my question. I wasn’t being rhetorical or argumentative. I wasn’t implying what you were inferring. I was genuinely curious.

        Nonetheless, you partially answered it in that you think that some parts of the New Testament are reliable. So, I’ll adjust my question accordingly and ask,

        1) How do you determine which parts of the New Testament are reliable? That is, when you are reading how do you determine whether a given verse, chapter, paragraph, etc. should be accepted, rejected, or modified – and, if modified, how do you modify it?

        2) Are there any sources outside the New Testament documents that you use, in part or whole, as reliable sources for your view of Christ?

      • *Sigh* Mike, do you deliberately misunderstand me? Or is there a genuine disconnect? I can’t figure it out.

        I didn’t say that parts of it are reliable, nor that I can pick and choose which parts I declare reliable and which I don’t. What I said is that it is reliably an account of what several authors were asserting about a religious cult that had built up around either the person or the idea of a Jewish Rabbi cum Messiah.

        That does not mean that I, or anyone, can pick or choose which parts are accurate history and which parts are legendary constructs. It only means that it’s clear a religion built up around this figure, as *many* religions developed in that day and age, a very superstitious time.

        And no, there are no extra-biblical resources verifying the life or works of Jesus Christ. And if you begin your counter claim with the name “Josephus” then you cannot be taken seriously in that count either.

        By the way, the question is still hanging in the air, Mike:

        One Animal or Two?

      • ToonForever,

        I’ve already answered you, but I’ll repeat it here:

        I’ve been looking for Joe, so I ask my friends to let me know if they see him. A friend of mine phones me and says that he just saw Joe driving down Main Street. Another friend phones seconds later and says that he just saw Joe driving down Main Street with his mother. One of these friends is mistaken. Which one is it?

        The answer to my question is the answer to your question.

        The answer to my question is obvious.  Therefore, my answer to your question should be obvious.  Are you saying that the answer to my question is not obvious to you?

      • The answer to my question is obvious. Therefore, my answer to your question should be obvious. Are you saying that the answer to my question is not obvious to you?

        No, your answer to my question is an obvious non-answer. The differences are clearly and demonstrably far more substantive than two people relating different, non-conflicting details of the same event. I challenge you to answer the question using the content of the verse and not your hand-waving illustrations.

      • Mike – that’s the answer to your particular, over-simplified illustration. That is not, however, the answer to the issues in the gospel accounts of the Triumphal Entry.

        Again, deal with those directly instead of dancing about the edges with inapplicable illustrations.

      • ToonForever,

        It answers the issues in the gospel accounts of the Triumphal Entry to my satisfaction. Why should I work on answering it to your satisfaction when you’ve already made it clear that your rejection of the New Testament as reliable is based on much more than not being reconcile these particular accounts?

      • *It answers the issues in the gospel accounts of the Triumphal Entry to my satisfaction. Why should I work on answering it to your satisfaction when you’ve already made it clear that your rejection of the New Testament as reliable is based on much more than not being reconcile these particular accounts?*

        Because *your satisfaction* is not the general, verifiable standard that can be demonstrated and repeated to anyone to verify your viewpoint. I would refer you to my latest post, where I delve into this in much more detail. While I don’t doubt you’ll still find a way to get around it to your own “satisfaction,” it will hopefully make clear why it’s not a matter of two competing belief systems.

        And to your question – well, you’re still missing the point. I don’t know how else to explain to you that the example at hand is that, an example of the sorts of inconsistencies that make up the overall untrustworthy nature of the bible. I don’t proffer this because I don’t believe – I explain that examining these sorts of issues are what led to disbelief. A preponderance of issues like this led to a conclusion that your (or Rick’s) belief system is not a reliable filter through which to view facts.

    • *You’ve built a pretty solid wall of argument there, but what is the foundation? What you believe, your faith, is the underpinning of what you say.*

      My faith, my belief, is that whatever I believe should be able to stand up to intellectual scrutiny. When it doesn’t, I have to pursue truth where it can be discovered, no matter where it leads.

      *In a discussion of the fitness of hell as a punishment, it would help to have a clear picture of hell. We don’t, other than some scripture that calls it a place of burning torment.*

      We don’t even have that, Rick. F’rinstance – To the OT Jews there wasn’t any hell, any place of torment. To hear Solomon tell it, there was only this life, and the good and the bad ended up the same, dead to dust. The bible doesn’t have any sort of consistent message on this topic – indicative of the man-generated nature of the concepts as they tried to figure out the meaning of life. OTOH, to hear the words attributed to Jesus sure point to a place of torment and burning.

      *one – eternity with the knowledge of having missed out on being in the presence of Almighty God, understanding how easy it would have been to be there.
      two – eternity alone with oneself*

      All of which is modern conjecture, of course – extrapolation a step removed from direct interpretation.

      *Sounds like torment to me, and to answer your question…yes, it fits the crime. You reject God and He rejects you.*

      Here’s your first logic stop – This sounds good on the surface (for Christians anyway) – but here’s where it breaks down.

      First, allow me to point out that my position isn’t that God *is* there, but he’s unfair, so I’m rejecting him because of the points I make in this post and in my answer below. My position is that God as revealed in the Christian bible doesn’t exist, and that the ambiguities and logical issues in the related texts are evidence of the human-generated nature of the ideas, as a perfect god would communicate perfectly regardless of the instrument of his communication – that said, item one:

      If God is god, he’s rejecting us with full, perfect knowledge of who we are, who he is, what the future holds, etc. There’s no guesswork. He’s not left with an ancient book full of puzzling sayings that can be interpreted so many different ways as to inspire hundreds and thousands of different denominations all in disagreement about the right way to follow Christ, yet all supposedly guided by one Holy Spirit who never changes. We have no such advantage. We are given scant information to go on, and we’re required to deny the intellect he supposedly gave us to figure stuff out in order to accept what is painfully obscured and what is actually unavailable to the majority of the world’s population still. Furthermore, if he can’t be wrong about us, and there are no consequences to him for us rejecting him. All the risk, all the pain, all the consequence is on us alone, and yet *we’re* the ones who are left to wade through a hazy mire to figure it out.

      That is not an equal trade by ANY stretch of the imagination.

      *Here’s the deal – by rejecting God’s offer, John has set himself up as someone who knows more than God. In effect he has made himself his own god, and that is worthy of eternal punishment based on God’s justice. Sounds just to me, based on what I believe.*

      The problem is you’re terribly oversimplifying it – in fact defining it only within your particular interpretation of what you know. John Doe has rejected Mormons, JW’s, Evangelicals, Hare Krishnas at the airport – all of the above. It was confusing. His intellect wouldn’t allow him to hang up his mind to accept one of these at random. Most Christians suffer from a particular conceit of thinking that the way they see the whole picture is the most accurate way to see it. Where they disagree is where the others have it wrong, where they agree is where the others have come around. With so many variations of the story, the odds of you having the right version of it are slim.

      Left out of the conversation is an important point of doctrine. The doctrine you and I were taught was that acceptance of the gift of Jesus Christ was *not* the sin/not sin item deserving of punishment. It was the dividing line between having ones sins paid for and having to pay for them oneself. If one rejects Jesus and goes to hell, they’re not burning *for* the sin of rejection. They may be burning *because* they rejected, but because they rejected, they are in hell paying for their own sins, finite acts in a short, finite life, which are being paid back with eternal torment. These are acts for which Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient. So their is blood to go around, and it’s only God’s petulance (again, as expressed scripturally) that forces the finite man to pay for all those little sins with eternal punishment.

      I’ll edit and add a little more later – cheers 🙂

      • Anthony — From my point of view, your reply illustrates my position. What you believe is the foundation of what you say.

        I choose to believe that God is omnipotent, created all things, and directs events toward His purpose. Seen through that lens, He is God and I am not; and everything He does is right.

        Toon / Anthony has chosen to believe that God does not exist, and that the God of the bible is a man-made construct. Seen through that lens, the concept of hell and the perceived fairness of an eternity spent there is open to question.

        One either chooses to believe or chooses to not believe, and that belief or non-belief becomes the basis of what one says. That was my original contention, and I still stand by it.

      • *From my point of view, your reply illustrates my position. What you believe is the foundation of what you say*

        Rick – there is one monumental difference between what I believe and what you believe. My *belief* I have gained through empirical observation and critical exploration of the underpinnings of my former faith. My *belief system* as I’m sure you’d term it, is not one that requires me to extrapolate the existence of something for which there is no evidence. What I *believe* I can demonstrate in a manner that others who view the evidence at hand with an honest and open mind can see exactly what I see without the need to take my or anyone else’s word for it.

        Your belief system, my former belief system, was a product of tradition, basically. There is no empirical evidence you can point to to support the claims made by Evangelical Christianity. The story has been told and retold, from a day when evidence was mostly unnecessary and the belief in the supernatural was basic to everyone, because they didn’t know better. Furthermore, it is a construct of a particular interpretation of the scriptures and that tradition. Considering the amount of variation, and the even greater diversity in belief worldwide, the chances of you being correct are astronomically low.

        *I choose to believe that God is omnipotent, created all things, and directs events toward His purpose. Seen through that lens, He is God and I am not; and everything He does is right.*

        You choose to believe what is not anywhere in evidence. You have that right, certainly, but when you add “everything he does is right” you give up your ability to scrutinize the source of your belief to ascertain whether it is a true, or even realistic, representation of the God you believe it reveals. We have a responsibility to ourselves to think critically about what we know and what we believe, and the source material for any belief system should be put to the test. When we find that a particular source claims God to be perfectly loving, full of mercy, full of forgiveness, perfectly just, compassionate, faithful, etc., then recounts actions of that god that do not support those claims, one would be remiss not to question the source material – to wonder whether it actually reveals something true, or rather reveals the thoughts of certain men about something they assumed to be true, but for which they had no actual evidence.

        *Anthony has chosen to believe that God does not exist, and that the God of the bible is a man-made construct. Seen through that lens, the concept of hell and the perceived fairness of an eternity spent there is open to question.*

        And he has done so because he has evidence to indicate that is true, not because a man in a suit stood up in front of me and told me so. And you are right – through that lens the concept is open to question.

        *One either chooses to believe or chooses to not believe, and that belief or non-belief becomes the basis of what one says. That was my original contention, and I still stand by it.*

        One chooses to believe what one can observe in this present reality, or one chooses to eschew that reality in favor of ancient traditions the contradict themselves and said reality. Your belief and my unbelief do not stand on the same platform.

        That has been my contention throughout, and I will stand by it too 🙂

      • Anthony — First, let me say that I am not an articulate wordsmith and if I say anything that offends or is unclear, charge it to my account and not to God’s. I don’t presume to speak for Him and am only sharing my thoughts and feelings.

        You & I agree that our views are filtered through our belief system. You think yours is correct, I think mine is correct. That is an impasse that cannot be breached with words, only through change of a belief system. From what you say, your views are a result of empirical observation and logical interpretation of what you have experienced. Your reply does have one mis-statement, which I would consider a glaring error. You said:

        “You choose to believe what is not anywhere in evidence”

        Ah, but I do have evidence – my life. As I look back at my now 60+ years on this planet, my life shows again and again the hand of God intervening and loving me. Empirical observation? Not strictly speaking, but love is not something that is empirically observable. For example, you know your wife loves you, but can you see “love”? Not strictly speaking…what you can see are the actions that evidence that love, or you can hear the words that she uses to tell you of her love. So love is not empirically observable. Hm? What about the love of God? I know it exists by the same methods…His actions in my life and His words.

        I know you don’t believe the bible is His word, but because you don’t believe it does not make it untrue. If you lived in the early 19th century, logic and observation would have told you that Nineveh was a fictional construct and the prophecies from Jonah and Nahum were flights of imagination. However, in the 1830’s archaeology made discoveries that confirmed the existence of that city. Ok, what about king David? Recent excavations in Israel have found evidence that he existed. Well, what about the army of Pharaoh drowning in the sea? Recent explorations have found Egyptian chariots and human bones on the sea bed under hundreds of feet of water. So you see, what one “knew” to be untrue in the bible has been proved to be true as time goes on.

        It seems that your world is very small…confined by empiricism and logic. There is more to life than that. You are rejecting the spiritual component and you do so to your detriment. Yes you are now in charge, captain of your ship but you are missing out on so much, and I feel for you because I once was just like that. I called myself an agnostic, I only believed in what could be proved by observation or logical deduction. But now I can say that I know beyond a shadow of doubt that God exists and that he loves me and cares about all the details of my life. I am happy to give Him control because I know He can do a better job than I can. My world includes the whole universe because I am an heir of the God who made it.

        I can’t guess what started you down the path you are on, but know this: God loves you even when you choose to rebel against His authority, even when you deny Him, and even when you reject His love. He is calling out to you right now as you read this.

      • *Anthony — First, let me say that I am not an articulate wordsmith and if I say anything that offends or is unclear, charge it to my account and not to God’s. I don’t presume to speak for Him and am only sharing my thoughts and feelings.*

        No worries, Rick. If we’re going to go deep into these subjects, we have to be able to address these issues, challenge each other’s beliefs and conclusions, and explore the motivations behind acceptance of those conclusions. That can sometimes be direct and hard to take, but I’d like to think you and I are big enough kids to handle it 🙂

        *You & I agree that our views are filtered through our belief system. You think yours is correct, I think mine is correct. That is an impasse that cannot be breached with words, only through change of a belief system…*

        There’s still one glaring difference that you’re glossing over. My *belief system* isn’t a *belief system*. It’s a looking clearly, in as unfiltered a way as possible, at what *is* in reality. That isn’t a belief system. It is a mode of observation, exploration, consideration, and conclusion where one can reasonably be drawn. A belief system is a construct, a preconception imposed over reality, which influences the conclusions drawn from observation. Creationism begins with a preconception – A personal, all powerful, creator-god exists and made everything – and then interprets observed facts through the filter of that preconception, rather than observing facts for what they are, and doing one’s best to draw a reasonable conclusion from those facts. Well, there’s more to that, but I think we’ll touch on it further down.

        *Your reply does have one mis-statement, which I would consider a glaring error. You said:

        “You choose to believe what is not anywhere in evidence”

        Ah, but I do have evidence – my life…*

        Personal experience is not falsifiable evidence that any outsider can observe for themselves and consider. It’s hearsay. You have your powerful spiritual experiences How do you explain the ecstatic spiritual experiences of other faiths? How do you take your experience of God’s presence as confirmation, yet dismiss the spiritual experience of Mormons who experience the “Burning in the Bosom?” What about the miracle claims of other faiths?

        Love is a personal, experiential thing. Neither you nor I have any means to prove love to anyone. We’re not talking about proving love anyhow. We’re talking about drawing a reasonable conclusion about biblical claims through empirical processes; scientific observation, literary criticism, historical observation, etc. You touch on that – so…

        *I know you don’t believe the bible is His word, but because you don’t believe it does not make it untrue.*

        Now, Rick, you’ve put the cart right before the horse. It is not my unbelief that makes me claim it is not true. It is finding it untrustworthy as a source of truth through empirical observation – through critical thinking, that leads me to think it’s untrue. Because I conclude that it isn’t a true representation of whatever god may be out there, I therefore no longer believe. It is a fine line, but it is a critical distinction. I actually run into this mistake a lot in my discussions with believers on various forums. The bias toward belief assumes that unbelief inspires the denial of biblical truth, rather than the recognition that the unbeliever may have become convinced of the unreliability of the bible and out of honesty abandoned their belief.

        *If you lived in the early 19th century, logic and observation would have told you that Nineveh was a fictional construct and the prophecies from Jonah and Nahum were flights of imagination. However, in the 1830′s archaeology made discoveries that confirmed the existence of that city. Ok, what about king David? Recent excavations in Israel have found evidence that he existed. Well, what about the army of Pharaoh drowning in the sea? Recent explorations have found Egyptian chariots and human bones on the sea bed under hundreds of feet of water. So you see, what one “knew” to be untrue in the bible has been proved to be true as time goes on.

        This is why you have to check your sources. Haven’t looked into Ninevah – I’ll just give you that one for sake of argument. The King David evidence is still very much in doubt, depending on who you ask. You get pretty myopic viewpoints from Christian sites expounding the archaeological discoveries for what they might mean, while a recent BBC doc brought into question the David evidence of the last few years.

        The Chariot evidence is much worse for several reasons. One – it was one wheel and an axle fragment. That wheel is nowhere to be found. The wheel in the picture had eight spokes, while extant samples of 18 dynasty chariots had four spoked wheels. The “chariot wheel” was found by a guy known for making overblown claims. Finally, if there human bones down there, they were not 4000 years old. The Red Sea is a body of saltwater, which will dissolve bone matter over time. It won’t take anywhere near 4000 years either.

        But I’ll tell you what. Let’s allow that a chariot was found at the bottom of the Red Sea, that King David lived when the bible said he did, etc. That doesn’t confirm any sort of supernatural occurrence. Getting some geographical or historical facts correct is nowhere near confirming the supernatural claims made throughout the bible. The scribes who recorded the oral traditions sometime in the 6th century BC were writing down what they had passed on to them. Legends grew very easy in those days. The Koran has the same sort of history. Would you be willing to grant the supernatural claims of Islam? If not, ask yourself why not, then apply the same open criticism to the Bible and Christianity.

        It seems that your world is very small…confined by empiricism and logic.

        Not in the least. My world is as large as the universe and everything in it. I don’t have blinders on that have me focusing on everything here on earth as the only show in the universe, the only thing to care about in order to reach heaven with a sackful of rewards. What exists simply is, and every moment is a revelation.

        There is more to life than that. You are rejecting the spiritual component and you do so to your detriment.

        Again you’re interpreting to your bias, as though it was Pascal’s wager we were debating, rather than a much broader range of thought. In no way do I reject the spiritual component of life. I simply do not believe that the unevinced mythology of the bible gives a true and accurate representation of the spiritual side of being human. I practice a spirituality that doesn’t force me to turn off my mind and ignore basic scientific facts to pursue it.

        But now I can say that I know beyond a shadow of doubt that God exists and that he loves me and cares about all the details of my life. I am happy to give Him control because I know He can do a better job than I can. My world includes the whole universe because I am an heir of the God who made it.

        Your universe is disproportionately centered on what happens on this tiny marble in our distant corner. The universe if much bigger than that.

        And Rick, you know that you can’t *know.* You have, like many do, and like I have in the past, convinced yourself that your version is true. True as in you’ve got the foundation nailed down and you don’t need to question anything but the fringe. But with so many different faiths made up of people who are no less convinced than you, who have spiritual experiences similar to yours, but far outside the boundaries of Christianity, you must realize that the odds of you being absolutely correct on all the key issues is severely low.

        *I can’t guess what started you down the path you are on, but know this: God loves you even when you choose to rebel against His authority, even when you deny Him, and even when you reject His love. He is calling out to you right now as you read this.*

        I finally found the courage to examine my faith, to face my doubts, and I found the bible and Christianity wanting, You say what you say out of self-generated confidence. I only hope you are okay with it that last moment before the lights go out, when you realize you aren’t coming out the other side. I do not deny what is not there. I acknowledge that if there is a god out there, he/she/it is unknowable, and that nobody is or will be calling me anywhere.

  5. In the interest in keeping the convo in one place, I’m pasting a conversation from my Facebook post of this article:

    L.P.: If we agree that God is just, we do not have the right to question his justice regardless of form. He is God and we are not. I think it’s no more complicated than that. Unless…..we decide that it is up to us to determine and judge the attributes of God. I that case we could say anything about God we choose. I have heard some pretty stunning accusations against God from those who choose this course. Hope you find this constructive.
    Sunday at 9:04am

    ToonForever: Truly the point isn’t whether we agree that God is just, it’s rather whether the biblical picture of God presents an empirical truth or bears the hallmark of being a man-made construct, with theology built on the culture and prejudice of the day rather than an eternal perfection communicating from outside of time. Sometimes in my posts I don’t draw the line all the way back to that most basic point, but that’s the root of it.
    – The biblical doctrine of hell, and its terrible inconsistency with the description of God in other areas of scripture would indicate not that God can’t get his story straight, but that the bible is a cobbling together of man-generated thoughts about God and whatever attributes were important to the writer at the time. The inconsistencies and the terrible logic, such as eternal torture for finite sins, would rather indicate that the bible doesn’t tell the truth about whatever god might be out there, not that we accuse this particular god of anything other than not being what Christian theologians say he is.
    – I’ll put it this way – if I would not punish someone for eternity for a crime, does that make me more compassionate than god? If I would specifically meter punishment to match the sin committed, and in fact would seek the *punishment* to be a rehabilitative process, am I more compassionate than god? Can anyone be more compassionate than god? Yet it’s clear that if I would give a criminal another chance, and god would not, despite the eternal nature of his mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, then somehow my compassion toward a particular person is greater than his. How can that be?
    – It’s not that I’m *actually* more compassionate than god, or YHWH – it’s that when the scriptures were written, especially the Old Testament, the tribal culture demanded swift punishment and retribution, and gods were seen as beings to be appeased and influenced, swayed by devotion, in order to secure prosperity for one’s tribe. It reflects not any actual god, but the prejudices and culture of the writer at the time.
    – I did, and I hope you do too 🙂 Cheers.
    Sunday at 9:35am

    D.R.: ‎”the bible is a cobbling together of man-generated thoughts about God” I think the best route for believers is to claim that the Bible is inspired by God but men do not necessarily understand his message. It’s curious that people are willing to accept that he does things they don’t understand, has a system of justice that is beyond our ken, yet whoever wrote the Bible understood him perfectly.
    Sunday at 1:37pm

    L.H.: It is all over my head. All I know is I was lost and now am found. I would not be alive today if it were not for the grace of God let alone the after life. I try to focus on the here and now one day at a time and that seems to be enough for me. Thank you for sharing with us Anthony and for asking others for their opinion it is very refreshing to be able to dialog with people about their beliefs.

  6. Outstanding essay, Anthony. As much as I enjoyed reading and was intrigued by Lewis’ premise in “The Great Divorce,” ultimately logic prevailed (your two scenarios pretty much nail it) for me to realize the myth of heaven and hell. Wish I could stay and comment longer, but I’m sure this one will be going for a while.

  7. Pingback: Dialogue with Various at “Why I No Longer Believe” About Everyone Going to Heaven and the Truth of Jesus | Current Events in Light of the Kingdom of God

  8. Pingback: All Systems Go | Why I No Longer Believe

  9. *Toon — A “cop out”, eh? You knew I couldn’t resist that challenge, no matter how I feel about shouting into a hurricane. Nicely done, sir. Sorry for the delay in responding, but you know how it goes when you get home from travelling…other things take priority*

    Yes, I figured you couldn’t. I utterly confess to goading you purposely 🙂

    And yes, I do know how it goes!

    I’m going to excise part of your paragraph below to address separately, so please forgive the chrono-changeup 🙂

    *Onward –

    *well, ok…I guess it says “ONLY a colt” in those gospels that speak of a colt but not the mother donkey. No? You mean it just says “a colt”? By the way, “colt” can also refer to a young donkey, not only to a young horse. So, maybe you mis-understood about how many animals were being described. Or, maybe you interpreted it as just one, or maybe mis-construed the non-mention of the mother donkey as non-existence of a second animal.—-[snip]—- It is entirely possible that some gospel writers felt that the detail of the mother donkey following her young colt would be un-necessary to mention as obvious, since that is what mother animals would do.*

    For more detail on these assertions (which are completely unsupported by the text) please see my latest post above (All Systems Go.) The short version is I can demonstrate these assertions to be so much hand-waving. You’re imposing meaning on the verses that isn’t there because of the imposition of your belief system. My analysis deals with the text as it stands. Anyhow…

    Mike’s reply, which you called “obfuscation”, was actually a pretty good example of the differences in description of events by eyewitnesses.

    Mike’s reply was a good illustration of how witnesses of the same event *can* differ, but again, it’s insufficient to reconcile the differences in these particular passages. I’ve somewhat explained why in my conversation with him, but I did so in much more detail in the aforementioned post.

    Yeah, I know you don’t think that these were written by an eyewitness (Matthew & John) or by a man who got the story from eyewitnesses (Mark & Luke), but see my comments below for my opinion on how your beliefs can affect your interpretation.

    You’re right, I don’t, but there’s an important distinction that you and Mike have both repeatedly missed. I don’t think these were written by eyewitnesses or the recorded testimony of eyewitnesses because of issues like this. I didn’t bring that belief to this passage. It was during my exploration, trying to convince myself I could still believe, that I investigated these issues and found theological constructs rather than eyewitness testimonies.

    *And the gospel that says “Jesus found the colt” (oops – young donkey)? Could it be the equivalent of saying “the pharaohs built the pyramids”? Nah, that would mean that one would have to allow for the possibility that this really IS God’s word. [They didn’t build the pyramids, you know…they just got the credit for the actions of their subordinates because they were the leaders. Kind of like calling it “Obama’s health care plan” when he didn’t actually write it.]*

    Again see the post above – I actually give you this point. It’s part of the analysis to find reasonable explanations for the word choice, no matter which “version” they support. That’s how rational observation works.

    *Maybe it’s not that “somebody gets the number of animals wrong”…maybe it’s just that you are not willing to see the differences in literary expression as stylistic rather than specific as regards to animal counts.*

    Yeah, not so much. Again, see above 🙂 When I first saw the differences, I *wanted* to believe as you do, but the rational part of my mind couldn’t twist that far around 🙂

    *(snip)[Sorry for the snarky comments about “interpret” and “construe” but really, you ARE interpreting these passages and construing meanings, and it was too much fun watching the interchange between you and Mike] :-)(/snip)

    No, I’m not, and at the risk of beating a dead horse, if you’ll see my analysis above, you’ll see when we start interpreting and construing. It’s not until long after the differences have been established.

    *My point is that you do not want to see possible explanations as valid because your belief system does not agree with them (you have a dog in this fight too, ya know)*

    Again, that’s incorrect. You keep putting the cart before the horse. It is because approaching the texts with reason and leaving open all possibilities (that it may be in error as well as correct) means you can analyze the texts as they stand and deduce the most likely explanation, whether it conflicts with one’s previously held beliefs or not. Doing so, and finding them wanting, led me to the conclusion that they are not God-breathed eyewitness accounts. Again, see above.

    *and I do want to see them as valid because my belief system sees the bible as God’s complete and accurate word. What I have been saying all along is that one’s interpretation of words and phrases in any written work is subjective, and is filtered through one’s beliefs.

    The imposition of a filter is an act of will. It may be a habit that has developed, being a reaction developed over years of that same act of will, but it is nonetheless. Removing or preventing filters from obscuring the facts and the most reasonable explanations is also an act of will. They do not both constitute a belief system.

    *You want to sound like you have it all down pat, and your analysis of the verses in question is not affected by your decision to disbelieve God, right?*

    Cart before horse alert #4 (5?)

    *I admit I have a strong belief in the accuracy of the bible and that is the foundation of my comments. Are you willing to drop the pretense of neutrality and admit that your comments come from the core belief that God does not exist?*

    No, because it was willfully adopting a stance of neutrality, approaching the bible as an outsider who would have no preconception of the veracity of the bible that helped me to be open-minded about the texts and to draw conclusions based solely on what was there rather than what I wanted or needed it to be. That makes Cart Before Horse Alert #5.

    And by the way, it is *not* my belief that god does not exist. The conclusion I draw from what I see and have experienced and what I read in the bible is that God as revealed in the bible does not exist, and if there is a god, he/she/it is not knowable as a personal entity in the manner of the Abrahamic faiths.

    *I already know that the example cited from the gospels is not the only disagreement you have with the bible. I just don’t think it is straightforward for you to sound as if your disagreement with the bible is the cause, rather than the effect. Your disagreement with the bible is caused by your lack of belief in God…rather than your disbelief in God being a result of disagreement with the bible.*

    Cart before horse alert #6 🙂

    Cheers, my man…

    • Cart before the horse, eh? You have illustrated my point…and YOU have gotten the cart & horse bass-ackwards. Belief comes before understanding, not the other way around. Your lack of belief in God influences your interpretation of bible verses. That lack of belief prevents you from seeing truth where it exists.

      For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified Romans 10:10
      (from a commentary: “For with the heart” – Not with the understanding merely, but with such a faith as shall be sincere, and shall influence the life. There can be no other genuine faith than what influences the whole mind.)

      Anthony, you can use all sorts of “logical” arguments to build a wall that prevents access to your heart, but God is still knocking.
      Remember these verses too:
      For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18
      Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” Psalm 53:1
      The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

      • Rick – man, that is completely incorrect. You are confusing “belief” with “knowledge.”

        be·lief
           [bih-leef]
        noun
        1.
        something believed; an opinion or conviction: -a belief that the earth is flat.
        2.
        confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof: -a statement unworthy of belief.
        3.
        confidence; faith; trust: -a child’s belief in his parents.
        4.
        a religious tenet or tenets; religious creed or faith: -the Christian belief.

        knowl·edge
           [nol-ij]
        noun
        1.
        acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition: -knowledge of many things.
        2.
        familiarity or conversance, as with a particular subject or branch of learning: -A knowledge of accounting was necessary for the job.
        3.
        acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report: -a knowledge of human nature.
        4.
        the fact or state of knowing; the perception of fact or truth; clear and certain mental apprehension.
        5.
        awareness, as of a fact or circumstance: -He had knowledge of her good fortune.

        Based on the above, it is *knowledge* that comes from investigation. Knowledge can be gained by observing facts and seeking explanations consistent with the facts observed. Such knowledge is made up of conclusions from said observation that can then be verified by another person, or even better, can be falsified by further investigation and either changed or refined. That is not a belief system. That is a verifiable method for determining truth.

        When you impose your particular belief system into the process of observation, you remove the ability for the facts to speak for themselves and for the conclusion to arise solely from said observation.

        And how disingenuous is it to make a claim such as “belief comes before understanding” then substantiating it from the bible? That statement is not at all reasonable when observing reality and drawing conclusions.

        It *is*, however, true when it comes to indoctrination in a particular faith. You have to have “belief” first, then you gain understanding as you read the scriptures – understanding that makes sense in the context of belief, and this understanding of the unverifiable tents of your faith allows you to draw conclusions about reality that are in conflict with the conclusions drawn from rational observation alone.

        Your admonishments are understandable, but… well, you know 🙂

      • I have enjoyed lurking through this debate, but just have to chime in after seeing pooskarick’s comment, “belief comes before understanding.”

        I spent a lot of time being deceived through that method, and give a hearty Amen to Toon’s assessment of it being the modus operandi to indoctrination (but even more than just in a particular faith, I think it’s a religious standard). Evangelicals seem very big on avoiding “letting your head get in the way of your heart.” But as Toon has stated previously, there’s a reason why man was given (developed) such a powerful intellect, and it was not so that it should be held in lesser regard to the emotional/spiritual aspects of his being.

      • Tim,

        I cannot speak for pooskapop but I can say that I think he’s absolutely right if he’s suggesting that ToonForever approaches the Scriptures with a belief system. To be sure, it’s a different belief system than the one pooskapop holds, but that it is a belief system is clear.

        When I first began reading the Bible in my late 20’s I approached it with a similar belief system to ToonForever’s. That is, I considered it the words of a variety of men from long ago – not very reliable and certainly not the word of God. The more I read it, however, the more my view was challenged by what I read until, eventually, I adopted a view similar to pooskapop’s. That is, I saw common threads running through it, with God as the source of those common threads.

        As I understand it, ToonForever’s experience was the reverse of mine. That is, he started reading the Bible with pooskapop’s presuppositions and ended up with secular ones.

        I have noticed that ToonForever is quite emotional about denying that he is reading the Bible through any sort of lens – but we’re human beings and everything we see comes through that human lens. There is no truly objective human being. We all see things from our limited point of view. Moreover, all of us are trusting someone. We’re either trusting ourselves, other people, or God.

        The most insidious form of indoctrination is the one where you don’t even realize you’re being indoctrinated.

        My last word is about intellect. I support your embrace of it. It was my intellect that led me to faith. And it has been my intellect that has kept me there. I do not see a conflict between faith and intellect. They work together and each has its proper role. Emotions have their proper role, too, but faith is not an emotion. Faith is when you ask your wife what she did today without wondering even for a second whether or not she will tell you the truth.

      • Mike – I have surmised from your presence here that you may be one of the few, the proud, the level-headed (if somewhat argumentative) Xians of above-average intellect and desire to know a more complete truth outside the constraints of typical dogmatic evangelicalism. I see directly from your blog intro (and infer from your reference to a messiah already on earth – I’m curious who you might say fulfilled Elijah’s role or when he appeared) that you are similar to how I once was – a fervent believer who saw error in the ways of the denominations and sought truth based wholly on divine guidance through scripture. Well, I delved into several non-canonical writings from antiquity as well.

        I was very proud of my renegade stance and extra-mainstream knowledge, and whether or not I now still believe in the concept of divinely inspired writing I can attribute the wisdom of Proverbs 16:18 to my stance and subsequent humbling leading to freedom. I now have a more Ecclesiastes 12:12 outlook “And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh,” which is why I’ll let Toon do most of the talking here (that, along with it being his blog and him having much more zeal and competence for it at this point).

        You really are splitting hairs on the whole “belief system” thing here. Technically (not “clearly”) you may be correct, but it is obvious to me that Toon’s method is to step outside the madness. That is something that insincere, ignorant, or otherwise haughty Xians are unable to accomplish or unwilling to do because it does tend to lead toward a crisis of faith and a sucking of comfort from one’s comfort zone. You put up a good fight, but the horse carcass is a bloody pulp at this point.

      • Tim,

        As for your question about Elijah, I thought Jesus had settled that question (Matt 11:14).

        As for the rest, since you see a dead horse I’ll leave it to you except to say that madness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder – yet another sign of our individual subjectivity.

      • alrighty — let’s use your definition for knowledge:

        1. acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation
        2. familiarity or conversance
        3. acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report

        Based on those words, supplied by you, I have knowledge that God is real.
        1. I have studied & investigated and the results of those studies / investigations have allowed me to see the truth of God’s word (the bible) [as an aside, note that the bible says that belief in God is a prerequisite to understanding its truth, so if you don’t believe, you can’t see the truth] and I have observed factual changes in lives that are only a result of God’s actions.
        2. I am familiar with God and conversant with Him…I talk with Him regularly and He talks to me.
        3. I am familiar with God, and my experiences can be used to verify His existence. If my experience is not sufficient, other’s report can be used.

        Words are indeed exact, and I am not confusing belief with knowledge. On the contrary, what I am saying is that belief and knowledge are intertwined when it comes to God. I remember when I was in college and read Kant’s commentaries on knowledge. Although the discussion of a priori knowledge is somewhat tangental to our current discussion of belief / knowledge, what he said is enlightening:

        “although all our knowledge begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from experience”

        So you see, my knowledge of God may have begun with my experiences, but that knowledge actually arises from my belief – they are inextricably tied together.

        I will also stand by my philosophical contention that belief comes before understanding, and not just in regard to God and the bible. If one does not believe in X, then one cannot understand X. Lack of belief in something prevents understanding that something, whether it is a physical object or a concept. If I do not believe something exists I cannot understand it. Again, note that the words are exact: understand is used here, not knowledge.

      • Yeah, I was going to write another long dissertation – cause I do love doing that. (No, I mean I do – I am thorough – overly so. My nickname at work is “Mr. Long-Voice-Mail-Guy.”) I think Tim said it best. The horse is probably unrecognizable by now…

        But I’ve clearly delineated:

        1 – The problem with the passages at hand.
        2 – The difference between knowledge and belief.
        3 – The method through which I came to disbelieve.
        4 – Several reasons the bible is man-made and not god-breathed

        Among other things. Mike, it’s one thing to have discourse and in each stage of the conversation add information, fill out the picture. That’s not what’s happening here. You’ve repeated yourself and your assertions ad nauseum. You’ve ignored the detailed explanations and points throughout, offering simplistic illustrations and platitudes in return. You make blanket assertions from the very book we’re busy eviscerating as though it has some sort of authority for those who don’t trust it. I hit a dead end with you many posts ago, I think, but I’m a spectacular optimist. I always think clarity is just right around the corner – but for some that’s not the case. I’m glad you are happy where you are. Let’s not pretend it’s a rationally informed choice. You live your life according to your particular reading of a confusing book with staunch conviction that you’ve somehow cracked the code, out of all the billions of people who have worshiped Christ over the centuries, and you don’t seem to have any idea how absurd that very idea is…

        Well, that got long after all. Anyway, Mike, I wish you well. I think you’re wrong about a lot of things you’re sure of. I *know* you’re wrong about how I came to my unbelief. I hope you continue to visit and comment, but I’m going to have to see something new, or get a little bit more application to the detail of the argument. Cheers.

      • ToonForever,

        There are two ways I can know what time it is. I can directly observe the clock or, if the clock’s not in my line of sight, I can ask my wife who is closer to it (assuming I trust her, of course). Both direct observation and faith are legitimate ways of gaining knowledge.

        You can pretend that my choice to trust Jesus Christ is not rationally informed if you want, but I can’t join you in that conceit because the facts won’t allow me.

        I actually do have a very good idea of how absurd it sounds for me to proclaim things from the Scripture that institutional Christianity has not. However, God has spoken through an ass before (not the one He rode on, by the way), so who am I to deny Him?

        You say I’m wrong about how you came to your unbelief, but I don’t know how you came to your unbelief. I only know that you did…and I know that because I trusted you when you told me.

        Happy Holidays!

      • There are two ways I can know what time it is. I can directly observe the clock or, if the clock’s not in my line of sight, I can ask my wife who is closer to it (assuming I trust her, of course). Both direct observation and faith are legitimate ways of gaining knowledge.

        This is exactly what I’m talking about, Mike. This is a trite illustration that sounds clever on the surface, but underneath, it is a perfect illustration of what I’ve been trying to tell you.

        You know how to tell time. Not only that, you can probably tell from empirical experience when a clock is not telling the correct time – any aspect of which is verifiable.

        Now, when you cannot see the clock, you ask your wife what time it is. She tells you, “It’s 3:30 pm.”

        What goes into your acceptance of her assertion?

        1 – You know how to tell time. You were taught a verifiable method to measure the passage of time in consistent increments throughout each day. Furthermore, you learned the variance of the seasons, so you know when to expect sun at 8pm and when to expect nightfall at 5pm. You probably learned how to tell time via a dial with hands as well as digitally. You probably also know how to verify the time in case of a malfunctioning timepiece. All of these things you learned via verifiable scientific methods. For none of it do you have to take anyone’s word for it.

        2 – I’ll makes some assumptions about your wife, based on the fact that you’ve used her presence (or the idea of it) in a couple of illustrations. You’ve probably been married to her for a good while. You apparently trust her. You trust her to communicate to you both accurately and truthfully. You’ve probably learned some nuance as well as accepting only the basic information.

        So, knowing all that, when you ask her the question, there is no application of *faith* at all. You are asking her a question that is verifiable. Experience with passing through time has given you a good idea of what part of the day you’re in. You know about what time you got up, you know if it’s morning or afternoon or night, you know if you’ve had lunch already, etc. You can apply that to the answer you receive and know whether she’s giving you good info or not. You also know that if you think she’s wrong, or that she’s passing on bad info (i.e.: broken clock) that you can independently verify the time on your own, so the application of faith is unnecessary.

        Your trust in her is also verifiable, because she’s shown herself over time to be trustworthy. You are operating under the evidence that you observed that every time you ask her something, she’s truthful. It may even be a finer point than that. You might know that when you ask her the time, she’s usually truthful. If she gives you a number, then you can trust it. But if she answers “It’s jerk-thirty” you know that whatever the clock says, it’s time to go buy some flowers.

        To take it a step further – you don’t trust your wife with the timekeeping and accept her word because somebody wrote 2000 years ago in a book that women who give the time are always right, even when your clock says otherwise.

        By your own holy book’s definition, faith is “…confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” If you can turn around and check the clock yourself, you aren’t applying faith.

        You can pretend that my choice to trust Jesus Christ is not rationally informed if you want, but I can’t join you in that conceit because the facts won’t allow me.

        I don’t have to pretend. You have no verifiable evidence that your choice to trust Jesus Christ is anything but a personal, emotional decision based on unverifiable beliefs about reality.

        I actually do have a very good idea of how absurd it sounds for me to proclaim things from the Scripture that institutional Christianity has not. However, God has spoken through an ass before (not the one He rode on, by the way), so who am I to deny Him?

        That should give you FAR more pause than it does.

        You say I’m wrong about how you came to your unbelief, but I don’t know how you came to your unbelief. I only know that you did…and I know that because I trusted you when you told me.

        I’m pretty sure I’ve been clear that investigating many of the troubling claims of the bible led me to abandon it as an authority because it’s claims didn’t stand up to rational investigation. You and Rick consistently deny that and insist that I first believed it wasn’t true, then set out to reinforce that “belief.” That is quite incorrect. I tried for years to hang onto my belief in the face of mounting evidence against it. Finally it was too much. Now I’ve told you. Again.

      • Imagine two thousand years from now, with several nuclear holocausts having occurred between now and then, there survived copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and some of the Federalist Papers – 66 documents in all. Imagine further that someone named George becomes aware of these documents without access to any corroborating documents from the period. Could George read these 66 documents and draw conclusions from them without using his intellect?

        And if he did read these documents and draw conclusions, would his conclusions – whatever they were – necessarily be wrong?

      • Rather than leave my typical long-winded novelic reply, I’ll just say this:

        You are deliberately dodging the distinction. A belief gained by observation of verifiable reality is knowledge – it can be shared and proven to be true. A belief gained by taking the word of long dead men who say some impossible things happened is *not* knowledge. The difference is whether it’s empirically verifiable and will produce the same results and conclusions no matter who views the evidence. When we discuss 2+2=4, it can be duplicated and verified, and every time you add 2+2, you will always get 4. No matter what else the person believes, no matter where in the world they were born or how they were indoctrinated, 2 of something plus 2 more of something will always be 4 of something.

        However, when you discuss your beliefs, at one time my beliefs, that is very much not the case. It’s emotional, unverifiable, and means something different to someone born in Dallas as opposed to someone born in Dubai, Beijing, Kyoto, Calcutta, Stockholm, or wherever. If they were indoctrinated as Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Pagans, Wiccans, etc., they will not view your scriptures the same way and you cannot just put 4 apples on the table and explain it.

        Anyway – the distinction is clear – so clear I don’t get how you can’t see it.

        Well, that got long anyway. Cheers.

      • Indeed, how effective can worldwide evangelism leading to salvation in Christ be if one must believe prior to understanding the Bible?

      • Tim — excellent question —
        you said “indeed, how effective can worldwide evangelism leading to salvation in Christ be if one must believe prior to understanding the Bible?”

        answer: worldwide evangelism leading to salvation in Christ does not require understanding the bible to be saved…only belief. That’s it – all you have to do to be saved is believe. Understanding the bible is just icing on the cake.

        Merry Christmas!

      • so would you disagree with Kant when he says that not all knowledge derives from experience?
        Pretty short reply from me, eh 🙂

  10. “As for your question about Elijah, I thought Jesus had settled that question (Matt 11:14).”

    I was thinking more of Malachi’s prophecy about the great and terrible day of the Lord and of the two witnesses in Revelation (whereby you could perhaps toss in the transfiguration on Mt. Sion as well). No matter, I was asking out of a now non-believer’s curiosity from reading many who say the two witnesses must appear before the Lord reveals himself in the end of days, and my study of prophecy is certainly rusty.

    • Tim, I believe all Bible prophecy has been fulfilled (http://wp.me/pKqSA-Z). Malachi’s “great and terrible day of the Lord” was the same as Joel’s “day of the Lord,” Paul’s “day of Christ Jesus,” and so on. That is, it is the eternal day of the kingdom of God in which find ourselves living, which was inaugurated at the Second Coming of Christ (http://wp.me/pKqSA-u). If you ask how we could have missed all this, I suppose it’s the same way that so many people missed that John the Baptist fulfilled Malachi’s Elijah prophecy.

      I know you said you studied non-canonical sources. For me, Scripture is about all I can handle…and even then, explaining every single verse of it is above my pay grade.

  11. An-Toon-y — What I am saying is similar to what you just said when you compared the reactions to the gospel of folks from various ethnic / religious backgrounds. All that we think, feel, and communicate is filtered through our life experiences. I have been shorthanding that concept by using the term “belief system”. Unfortunately, that shorthand phrase has led to misunderstanding on your blog site due to the connotation some readers have that a “belief system” is an external construct, rather than an internally created view of reality. Hope that clarifies my word choice.

    I do get the distinction you are making between knowledge and belief, really I do. However to quote me, [ that was fun to say 🙂 ] “I am not confusing belief with knowledge. On the contrary, what I am saying is that belief and knowledge are intertwined when it comes to God.”
    The key point in that comment was buried at the end…”when it comes to God”.
    In the arena of God, what we “know” is completely interdependent with what we believe. By the way, right now I am frustrated with the inexact nature of some words in the English language. In New Testament Greek, there are many words used which have both been translated into English as “know”. I am sure you are familiar with the two best known [ ick! 😦 it’s the only word that works there ] epignosko – to know fully, as completely identify on a one-to-one congruity ~~ and epistamai – to be acquainted with by power of reason, intellect, and training.
    I have been speaking of the “epignosko” knowledge…to know fully, as used in 1 Cor. 13:12 ~~ *Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known*
    I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but as I read what you say it seems to me that when you say “know” or “knowledge”, you would be referring to the “epistamai” knowledge…also translated as “understands” as used in 1 Tim 6:4
    *he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words*

    Whew! Now I am the one guilty of the long-winded post. Sorry for the trip around the lexicon, but the bottom line is that you and I mean different things when we use the word “knowledge” or “know”, but the knowledge of God I am talking about is completely inseparable from faith. As one gains deeper knowledge of God, one’s faith also grows deeper. That is my goal in life: to have a deeper “epignosko” knowledge of God. I will continue to pray that you will be moved that direction as well.
    Signing off for a while to celebrate Christmas in Monterey with my gathered children, sons-in-law, and grandchildren. I love to hear from you, and enjoy the mental discipline into which you force me. Thanks!

  12. LOL. I checked this “little” thread out after seeing your frustrated post on Debunking Christianity, Toon. Mike seems really delusional. His analogies are childish at best and only prove how ignorant he really is. Good luck, Toon. I hope you make it out of this thread without ripping your hair out.

  13. I’m really starting to think that X-tians are hardwired differently than rational folk. Or, after years of indoctrination, the parts of the brain dedicated to critical thinking begin to rot from disuse.

    So, Mike, after reading the Bible and reaching these truths, how do you explain the different truths that other people, from other faiths, have concluded about their god/s and worldviews? Only one can be true, right? I’m sure a Muslim or Mormon will defend their faith in exactly the same manner as you are in this thread. So who’s right if there’s only room for one, omnipotent being?

  14. Pingback: Clear Reason | Why I No Longer Believe

  15. So if suffering unendurable pain for several days and being separated from the father is all it takes to deliver all of us from “evil”, did my mom taking six months to die of cancer buy me a spot in the afterlife?

  16. The point about the suffering being not that “impressive” is true, but neglects an even more basic problem for the doctrine of redemption. Believers constantly say that Jesus “paid the price” for our sin. At the same time they say the unbeliever is doomed to eternal torment in Hell. But if that’s the price, then clearly Jesus did not pay it, since his time on the cross and (depending on your interpretation of NT verses) and in Hell was at most a couple days. Also, almost everyone suffers more than that before dying, so why does that not pay their price, if the price is a couple days of suffering? Another question: If believers ignore the above problems and still insist that Jesus paid the price for sin, then why isn’t everyone going to heaven with their price paid? Apologists will say it’s because you have to repent and accept the payment. But that’s like saying, if someone pays off your mortgage, unless you acknolwedge the payment, you still owe the money and the bank will come after you.That makes no sense. So anyway you slice it, the theology falls apart in several ways, even aside from the obvious injustice in sending people to eternal torment for temporal “sins.”

  17. When I said almost everyone suffers more than that, I did not mean on a cross. What I meant was that while Jesus suffered a couple days, many if not most people suffer for weeks, months, even decades before they die (either near the end or at different points in their lives). Some people with cancer or other horrible diseases suffer for decades, and yet it doesn’t pay their penalty for sinning.
    Why not? Plus, one must presume that if Jesus did not die on the cross, he would have died some other way (being “fully human” despite his devine nature) and like many humans, possibly far longer and even more painfully. So why is the criicifixion hailed as such a uniquely horrible death? And again, even if he had suffered far more than the average person, how does it pay the price for sin, if the price is eternal torment in hell? Ironically, the ressurection would have prevented him from paying that penalty. The bottom line is, the theology does not add up.

  18. Not to beat a dead horse, but there are even more inconsistencies in the doctrines of the redemption, hell, etc. The Bible says that mercy will triumph over justice, but if most people end up in hell, apparently not (aside from the problem of viewing eternal torment as “justice”). Today many pastors and apologists suggest Hell is merely “separation from God” but this seems to be a modern rationalization to deal with the instinctive repulsion and objection even many believers have to the traditional picture of hell. But the “separation” idea seems to conflict with the doctrine of God being omnipresent. Even saying the separation is “spiritual” does not solve the problem. Supposedly non-believers are already spiritually separated from God, and yet often doing just fine, thank you. Many say God has to send people to hell who are in perpetual rebellion, but why would they not be able to choose to believe even after death, unless God takes their free will away? But that contradicts the idea that God values free will (which is often used to explain suffering on earth). And of course even if God refused to forgive everyone (even tho Jesus supposedly paid the price for everyone’s sin), he could choose to just annihilate unbelievers, instead of tormenting them forever. For a supposedly all loving and all merciful God, which is more loving or merciful? The eternal rebellion idea also seems to contradict the Biblical passages saying “every knee shall bow.” Are we to suppose that people will actually worship God while he is tormenting them forever? If God forces everyone to worship him, that makes as much sense as trying to force someone to love you. For years I like the many others tried to find answers for all these problems and conflicts, to no avail. Eventually realized it could not be done without throwing both my brains out the window. I can accept that some things are mysterious and hard to understand, such as E=mC2. But when a religion’s core doctrines repeatedly require me to believe that 2+2 5, it’s too much.

    • Greg – thank you so much for reading and commenting. You sort of illustrate a problem I have when writing articles – there are so many what-if trails and cans of worms opened up when you apply reason and logic to religious doctrine and magical thinking. You can almost drive yourself crazy.

      Anyway, well said, and I hope you stick around.

      Thanks again.

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