Do you also happen to lack the belief that God does not exist?
I want to consider another response to the we only lack the belief in God’s existence strategy of many atheists. Last week we considered the atheist’s allegation that they are merely lacking a belief in God’s existence, rather than believing God does not exist. We responded by saying that they are not actually answering the question of whether God exists or not – they are merely telling us about a psychological condition they possess. This time I want to ask the atheist a question.
The atheist asserts that he is merely lacking the belief that God exists and therefore has no burden of proof. I want to ask him the following question: Do you also happen to lack the belief that God does not exist?
If his answer is “Yes,” then it means that he both lacks the belief that God does exist and lacks the belief that God does not exist. But this is equivalent to having no opinion whatsoever on the subject of God’s existence! Clearly this is not what atheists think!
If his answer is “No,” then it means that he lacks the belief that God exists and does not lack the belief that God does not exist. But the latter is equivalent to holding the belief that God does not exist!! There is no middle ground between lacking and holding a belief. Therefore, the atheist is making the claim that God does not exist and consequently needs to provide reasons or proof for that claim.
So either the atheist lacks the belief that God does not exist or he does not lack the belief that God does not exist. If it is the former, his position amounts to agnosticism not atheism. If it is the latter, his position amounts to a strong positive atheist claim that God does not exist, and he must shoulder a burden of proof for that claim.
Moreover, atheism and agnosticism are not identical positions. Clearly, to lack only the belief that there is a God is not equivalent to lacking both the belief that there is a God and the belief that there is no God. The former is what the atheist says his position is and often calls it weak atheism or agnosticism. But agnosticism is obviously the latter option, that is, the lacking of both the beliefs that God does and does not exist, or in other words, withholding judgment altogether on the question of God’s existence. Therefore, to lack only the belief that there is a God is not agnosticism or weak atheism. It is strong atheism because it means one does not lack the belief there is no God, which means they do hold the belief that there is no God, and again, must shoulder a burden of proof for that positive claim.
There is no doubt that this entire way of thinking and communicating in terms of lack of belief is convoluted! I have spent much time trying to sort out this issue. But remember it is the atheist who introduced this convoluted way of thinking into the discussion and insisted that atheism only meant the lack of the belief in God’s existence.
People do not normally talk this way and if they do say things like I do not believe there is an X, they normally don’t mean they merely lack a belief there is an X, they mean they believe there is no X. That is, when someone says I do not believe that there is a God, they normally mean I believe there is no God, not merely that they lack the belief there is a God.
I call again for atheists to Man Up and accept their share of the burden of proof on this issue of God’s existence. Calling atheism merely the lack of belief only confuses the issue. It is not helpful for people who are genuinely trying to sort out the truth of this important question.
As always I would like to hear what you think.If you think I am missing something in this analysis, help me out and let me know your thoughts.
21 Responses to “Do you also happen to lack the belief that God does not exist?”
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Thanks Hugh, I do appreciate your concern for me. I can tell that you have really thought through your decision to be an atheist. There are probably a lot of things that have contributed to your choice. I am sure that choice has come with a cost as well. I would imagine that your parents have struggled with your decision to go down that path. I have a friend whose son is questioning the truth of the Bible right now. I have been impressed with how willing my friend has been to let his son struggle with these questions. I know I would be tempted to try and force compliance. But like you say, faith is something that each one of us must come to on your own and not just fall into because of the family you were born into or because that is the place where all your peers are going. I pray that if my kids get to that place that I can allow them the freedom to discover Jesus for themselves.
Oh yeah! When you get tired of NickleBack send ’em our way. I actually like some of their music!
It was really fun and enjoyable arguing with you.
I had several similar discussions with catholics (I did not checked the applicable dogma and obedience on this website) and muslims actually.
You should all gather and well, I don’t know, chill out! Your ideals and beliefs are so close. And you all share the same tunnel vision ;-)
Maybe a giant barbecue?
But we are going nowhere. You could never turn me into a christian and I could never turn you into atheists either (doomed to hell, which certainly means listening to NickelBack for eternity, how rude).
However I would be so pleased if every believer accepted the agnostic process.
Why do you need to know if god exists?
And then comes faith. And it’s something GREAT. As long as it’s personal.
The fact is I was born and raised as a christian.
I know what it’s like! And I chose to be an atheist. Am I evil?
I can’t stand believing in the god I was given. I think it’s wicked.
(Well to be 100% honest I can’t stand the idea of a supernatural entity above me too. No way. I’m too proud. Pride… Damn, I will definitely burn in hell)
I really (really!) hope you chose and pondered your faith. Because it’s not worth believing in something that will rule your entire life just because of either education or tradition. Or because some charismatic dude made it sound cool.
Where you’re in heaven, wave at me! It’s always cool to see compassion when your toes are being roasted.
I am a little bit confused by your comment. You wrap up by quoting Epicurus’ riddle about God abolishing evil yet the beginning of your comment seems to be chastising God for dealing with the problem of evil. The often missed reality of Epicurus’ riddle is that if God were to abolish evil He would have to destroy me and you. I have no doubt that you are wonderful person Hugh. I like to think that I also have a lot of endearing qualities. But I also know that in my heart lies a selfishness and pride that hurts others in order to satisfy me. I know that selfishness is not good so therefore it must be evil. Most of the time I keep it in check but often it rears its ugly head and says something or does something or thinks something that is utterly reprehensible. So if God was to remove all evil He would have to remove me. I don’t think there is anybody who being really honest with themselves can say that there is not some evil within their own heart.
Who taught the baby to cry in anger? Who showed the toddler how to steal a toy that someone else was playing with? Who helped the young child learn to lie? There is no need for those lessons because we do those things instinctively. It is part of our nature.
But God in His great love for us has been working throughout our history to help us deal with that darkness in our hearts. In His great love He has held off issuing our sentence for the evil in our hearts and given us the opportunity to find freedom from that darkness in Him. Right from the very first sin of Adam and Eve God has been telling how He would have victory over our propensity for evil through His Son, Jesus Christ. All of the covenants that He established held images and hints that would help us realize that He was our only hope and that we must trust in His sacrifice to be released from the clutches of the monster within us.
You refer to the story in the Bible of a man named Job: one of the great lessons that his story teaches us is that there is a lot more going on than what we are aware of. In the opening act of this story we, the readers, are given a unique insight in the activities of the spiritual realm that most times we are completely unaware of. Here we see God boasting about His servant Job, a man whose character is above reproach and whose commitment to following God is exemplary. Enter Satan (whose name literally means “Adversary”) who makes the accusation that Job is such a devoted man only because he is protected by God from any calamity or suffering. “But take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!” is his presumption. But God knows better and to prove Job’s mettle, He allows Satan to attack Job’s wealth, his family and eventually his health. Even Job’s wife pleads with Job, “”Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.” But through it all Job’s commitment to following God remains resolute because he has an unshakable trust in the goodness and love of God. Ultimately, Job never learns what we know. He is never given the reason for his pain and suffering. But what he is given is a face to face encounter with God and as far as Job is concerned, that more than compensates for all of the sorrow he has experienced. His final words in the story are, “Before my ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You!” And he falls down in worship and praise of a perfect loving God.
Epicurus assumes that he knows what God should do. He thinks that the greatest good would be for God to abolish evil once and for all. What he does not realize is that God is dealing with evil and sin. He is not only dealing with the evil in the world but He is also saving people from the evil within their own hearts. As Peter wrote in his letter, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.” (1Peter 3:9) God has not destroyed all evil because God loves you and wants to give you every opportunity to discover His great love.
But you are right Hugh; there have been times when God has exercised His right to call people to accounts for the evil in their hearts. And as Epicurus identifies, God has that responsibility. I cannot explain to you exactly why God carries out that judgement on some and not on others. I do know that no matter who you are, that judgement will come and you will have to give an account for the evil in your own heart before the Great Judge. Your only hope is to trust that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for that evil in your life and to allow Him to lead and direct the course of life. No amount of meditation or enlightenment is sufficient to remove the evil in your life. No amount of good deeds will erase the darkness in your heart. No amount of money will pay for the penalty of the ways that you have hurt others. The only thing you can do is believe that Jesus was indeed God-in-the-flesh, and that as such His death is sufficient to satisfy your penalty.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. There is no judgment awaiting those who trust Him. But those who do not trust Him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God. Their judgment is based on this fact: The Light from Heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the Light, for their actions were evil. They hate the Light because they want to sin in the darkness. They stay away from the Light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will be punished. But those who do what is right come to the Light gladly, so everyone can see that they are doing what God wants.” (John 3:16-21)
“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?”
Let me get this right, you value free will which is one of the things that set us apart from animals. We then create continous conflicts amongst ourselves that erupt in retribution that lasts for centuries but somehow, you don’t want to recognize the common denominator in these conflicts being “MANKIND”?
Free will means some will use their WILL correctly more than others. It’s like money. It’s not money’s fault if you’re bad with it!
Evil has been weakend for ages, it’s MAN’s rebellion that guarantees we’ll always keep the legacy of evil alive for a while. That’s not God’s mess up.
I’m sorry about such a pun, but you’re in bad faith. Old testament is about covenants :
Between god and Noah – god kills everyone else.
Between god and Abraham – god asks him to kill his son! Party time!
Between god and Moses – god enjoys killing egyptians. Hey it’s kinda fun to kill!
About Moses : the book of deuteronomy is just a bunch violence, hate and archaic laws against everyone who happens to have – too bad for you guys! – different beliefs. (“You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a fellow Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.” 23:20)
Have you read the book of Job? I mean if this “story” is based on actual events this is torture. Who’s sinful in this story? Both Satan and god.
The book of Daniel? Believe in god and the lions won’t eat you. I swear. Else, well… too bad for you guys.
The messiah comes. Dies for OUR sins. My sins? What do you know about my sins dear lord?
And now there is a new covenant between god and the whoooole world. The whole world that shall now be converted.
But god does not want to interfere anymore. Nope. He’s bored. Killing? I’m done with that.
So “old testament”. Old-fashioned. God v2.0.
He’ll be back for the apocalypse. And he will judge us. Yes! He will even judge people that never heard of him!
god used to be a killing machine, an avenger, he’s now a lazy hippie.
Do you know Epicurus? I’m quite sure you could write a wonderful essay about his well known riddle. An essay about god, belief and free will.
Blah blah. I’m sorry, there is nothing related to free will in the old testament – and hardly in the new testament.
And I’ve never been aware of any FORMAL argument that can overcome this :
“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?”
I don’t agree that there is an inconsistency in the message of the Bible. Even though it was written over a span of around 1500 years by more than 40 different authors and in two main languages–three if you include the small amounts written in Aramaic–there is an amazing consistency in the message. The Old Testament presents the pre-eminence of God, His desire for relationship with the ones He has created to reflect His image to the rest of Creation, the rebellion of humanity against God, God’s promise of redeeming humanity from the penalty of their rebellion, and God’s intervention in the history of humanity to rescue those who choose to follow Him. The covenants that God established with individuals and nations all pointed to His climatic salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. The Mosaic Laws, the Temple Worship, the establishment of the Throne of David, the prophetic Word of God all helped people understand that humanity’s only hope was in the culmination of God’s plan to send a Messiah to once and for all save us from our sin.
The Gospels in the New Testament describe how Jesus is that Messiah and reveal the greatest gift of all that God Himself is that Messiah. He came so that we could know Him personally and see what it means to live every moment under the direction of His Spirit. He authenticated His deity time and again with miraculous acts that only God could perform. He then allowed Himself to be sacrificed to fulfill all the promises of the Old Testament Covenants and to establish a new covenant with all of humanity that whoever would believe in Him would be saved.
The rest of the New Testament then points back to the life of Jesus and His sacrifice on our behalf helping us to know how we can receive the free gift of God’s grace that Jesus paid for with His life and how we now live under the control of the Holy Spirit, following the example left us by Jesus. Those documents also point to the glorious hope of all of Jesus’ followers that one day Paradise will be restored and we will no longer be plagued by a broken nature that rejects God. Instead we will be made new and live with Jesus for all of eternity in Heaven serving Him and standing as witness to all of the goodness, power and love of God.
There is no inconsistency at all.
And in that consistent proclamation is an invitation: “Come to me all of you who are weary and weighed down; I will give you rest.” Jesus put it so well and gives the greatest experiment that any could imagine to discover if He exists or not. Allow Him to take control of your life, to remove the weight of guilt over your rebellion against God, and to fill your life with peace that goes beyond anything that we can explain or even understand. Untold thousands have done that experiment and have found that it is indeed true and received the abundant life that Jesus promised.
I understand the struggle that you have Hugh: how can we–being bound to the natural world–understand, explain or prove Him who is beyond the natural world. There is much evidence of God’s existence, His involvement in the working of the world, and His love for humanity. But there is no way that the natural world can properly prove the existence of God. But just because there is no way to conclusively prove in the natural world that the Supernatural exists does not mean that the Supernatural does not exist.
The only way for a natural explanation for the existence of God is for God to enter into our natural world. And that is what Jesus did. The surprising thing is that even though Jesus did come, and did marvelous miraculous works, and showed Himself primarily to the nation who had been His chosen people–the ones to whom He had revealed so clearly His plan–still the rebellion of the human nature refused to acknowledge Him and eventually thought they could destroy Him by nailing Him to a cross. If it was so hard for those people to understand and believe, how much more so is it for us who are separated from those events by another 2000 years? That’s why we all need God to help us discover His reality ourselves. If you indeed desire to know the truth ask Him to help you know it for yourself. Don’t depend on any church tradition or just on the word of somebody else; ask God for your own personal encounter with Him and see what you discover. I know that if you are truly willing to know the truth, He will show Himself to you in a way that even though you can’t prove, you will not be able to deny.
Eventually, is the Bible accurate or not?
There is a HUGE difference between the ‘message’ from the old testament and the one from the new testament.
Anyway, go ahead, pull parts of the theory of evolution and make it sound as irrelevant as “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.”. Ezechiel 23:20 (ok that’s an easy one ;-) )
My point is : faith is a personnal concern. Believe in God! This is faith.
However god is not a refutable theory : we can’t even imagine any experiment to check its existence/non-existence!
Then intelligent design is not a scientific theory. And neither is god.
This is proselytism with deceitful arguments.
Just because there is no need to introduce the God hypothesis does not imply that it also rules out the possibility that God created. If a person rules out the possibility that God created then you no longer have an objective perspective and that will ultimately skew your findings.
In the same way, to suggest that the Bible is irrelevant closes off the mind to the possibility that there is truth in what the Bible says. To truly be a seeker of truth you must be open to all the possibilities. You pull put some specific parts of the Bible out of the context of the whole in order to be able to write off the message of the whole Bible. That is not good scholarship. If you want to discount the message of the Bible look at the message of the whole, judge it for its accuracy and value and the look more closely at the details and judge how they fit in within the message of the whole.
It would be just as easy to pull parts of Darwin’s theory out and use them to discount the whole message of the Theory of Evolution. But that is not good scholarship nor is it helpful to the discussion.
The argument ‘The Bible reveals’ is irrelevant : The bible reveals you can buy and sell slaves, you must kill anybody that works on saturday and you can’t wear clothes made of 2 different kinds of thread.
Evolution theory does not postulate you can create life from non-life. We don’t know yet. Can life emerge from some organic compound? Can intelligent design answer the question of how god created life?
Intelligent design is a trap. Ain’t no scientific approach in “There must be a spiritual reason why Planck’s constant is that number”.
If some constants were slightly different, we would not be there.
There could be nothing. There could be something completely different.
It’s true that life ‘seems’ (from our anthropic outlook) to require a fine-tuning of some constants. But there is no need, in a scientific approach, to introduce the god hypothesis.
While it may be true that there has never been a “universal religion” the Bible does reveal that at the beginning of Creation the first humans did have a perfect relationship with God. It was their rejection of that relationship and a desire to be independent of God that has been passed down from generation to generation and accounts for all the human attempts to create our own paths to wholeness.
The Bible also states that all of humanity has been shown sufficient evidence to know all we need to know about God because He has revealed it to us in the things that He has made. But we have all rejected that evidence so that we do not have to acknowledge the authority that God has for us. It is our desire to live independent of God that has given such weight to the theory of evolution and its presupposition that all things have developed by random chance. If we ignore the evidence of God as Creator we no longer have to submit to His authority in our lives. So ‘random’ has taken on much more significance that just a scientific term; in many ways it is a faith statement about how our world has come into being. It goes against the proven scientific principle that life comes only from life and suggest that life can spring from non-life. With all of our technological advances, scientific exploration and our ability to design, never have we been able to create life from non-life—something that the theory of evolution states was able to happen by accident.
As we look around at the universe we live in there is just too much that points to an Intelligent Designer to ignore. The anthropic principle suggests that even though the Universe exists in the finely tuned balance needed to sustain life, it would have to in order for life to be able to observe its fine-tuned nature; therefore we should not be surprised that it exists as such. This principle takes the staggering statistical improbability of life and sweeps it under the rug with a shrug and “It is what it is.” Yet even if just one of the constants of the universe were slightly different life would not be able to exist as it does. If Gravity deviated by 1:1040 stars would be either too hot, burn too rapidly and too unevenly to support life, or they would not be hot enough to ignite nuclear fusion and thus some of the elements needed for life would fail to be generated. That is a staggeringly fine balance that humans have never been able to achieve and yet we accept that our universe hit that balance by accident? And that is just one of many other constants that have to be perfectly balanced.
The evidence of God is all around us and compels us to decide if we will accept Him or choose to ignore His authority in our life. He has created us to be in relationship with Him, to enjoy all the blessings of that relationship. If we choose not to engage in that relationship we subject ourselves to separation from Him and all the pain and suffering that choice entails. You call that ‘unfair’ but it is just an example of God allowing people choose and not forcing that choice.
Jamie, very quickly :
– There has never been anything like an “universal religion”. Christianism comes from judaism. Which brings us back 4000 years ago. There was some other human beings back then. Yahwe did not enlighten every single person on Earth, I guess. Whether god is a creation or not, most people were unaware of its existence (they must be burning in hell).
– I think you don’t really understand the meaning of ‘random’. Randomness is a scentific term. It is not an alternative to god/religion or faith. God is an hypothesis. I believe there is no god. That’s my faith. No hypothesis. The logical process requires you to prove me that god exists. Why? Because the god hypothesis is not refutable (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability).
– You write about intelligent design and evidences. Have you heard about the anthropic principle?
– Do you mean that if I don’t accept ‘Him’ (why not ‘Her’?), no regard to any of my other life choices, I’m doomed? I think that’s pretty unfair isn’t it?
Hi Hugh, thanks for joining the conversation. I appreciate the fact that you have read the Bible and have been involved in a Christian School so your perspectives come from an informed decision. On what evidence have you come to the conclusion that the idea of God was created by a few people?
You see, I don’t agree that your belief that there is no God is exempt from the need of a hypothesis. Your very existence and the existence of this universe begs the question, “Where did it all come from?” Some hypothesize that it was random chance. Others cannot ignore the evidence of Intelligent Design. But both require a hypothesis and then proof that matches the hypothesis to the evidence. And the value of any hypothesis is in its ability to show how it answers the question better than other hypotheses.
As I wrote to Cameron, the implications of the claims of God (i.e. that He is the Creator and has created each of us with a purpose and that to reject Him and His purposes will lead to a path of eternal destruction) should create within each of us the desire to investigate the veracity of those claims. It is like a student hearing from a fellow-student that a certain professor requires all papers to follow a specific format and if that format is not followed the paper automatically is failed. A wise student will investigate the truth of that claim before handing in any papers to that prof. To ignore the warning is taking a risk of failure.
Of course God is not that arbitrary and His plans and purposes for us are for our good. You see His purpose for creating us is to be in relationship with Him. He is the source of everything that is good and so when we are in relationship we experience all those good things. But if we choose not to be in relationship with Him we remove ourselves from all that is good. The ultimate end of that is a never-ending separation from all that is good. That is Hell. God does not want that for anyone but neither does He force anyone to accept Him.
So we are all given the choice. Many have chosen to reject God’s offer of relationship and so they have developed this theory that there is no God. That way they don’t have to face the reality of the choice they have made. But no matter how much they try to ignore the reality of God He will continue to reveal Himself to them and give them opportunities to make that choice of following Him. He has even gone to such lengths as to become one of us so that we could see, hear, and know Him. He then sacrificed Himself so that the penalty of our rebellion against Him would be eternally paid for. It shows the deep love that God has for us and His desire to see that no one is lost.
Jamie, yeah, atheists are ballsy. I mean, they don’t need a god to escape the fear of death.
That being said, I feel like your answer to Cameron gives a twisted outlook. It’s not like the word of god has universally been spread and accepted. A few people created god and wanted – and they do all that can be done! – their belief to be everyone’s. Don’t you feel like this is eventually a very un-christian approach?
As an agnostic I don’t need to know whether god(s) exist(s) or not.
As an atheist I believe there is no god whatsoever.
It’s up to you to convince me otherwise.
Because my belief requires no hypothesis.
Yours requires hypotheses that lie in a book.
And I read that book, I attended christian school. I’d be delighted to dwell on the contents of the bible.
Cameron, there is a uniqueness to this question on the existence of God because of the claims that God has made about Himself: He has claimed to be the Creator of all things and that as the Creator He has the responsibility of establishing the purpose of all things including us as humans. If He is indeed the Creator and has established the purpose for our existence then we have a responsibility to live out that purpose for which He has created us.
That is the position that is presented to humanity through the so-called “Word of God”–the Bible—and it is a pretty intense claim. If it is true, to ignore it would be foolish. So when a person is presented with this claim they must make the decision to either accept it as truth or reject it. I suppose a person could decide to reject it without considering the implications of their decision but again, I would submit that is foolish because of the significance of the claim of God. Wisdom would advise that a person consider the claims and decide based on the merits of the claim.
So have you examined the claims of God? If you have, then there has been some proof that has convinced you that God does not exist (at least in the form presented in the Bible). If you haven’t then you are making a decision with eternal consequences without even weighing the evidence. That is pretty ballsy!
It seems to me that the implications of rejecting His claims if they are indeed true are significant enough to warrant close investigation. But that’s me.
So an atheist must provide proof that God does not exist, in fact he is required and expected to? Yet what is your proof that God does exist?
Let’s be reasonable. I will refuse to take “Look around you,” “The Bible says so,” “The fact that we are here,” as proof. It isn’t proof.
Further more, the entirety of the discussion is arrogant by it’s very right. When someone says they do or do not believe in something, what makes them obligated to provide proof. A belief is often paraded as fact, clearly outside the realms of it’s definition. I do not believe in God, therefore, yes I can claim that I lack both the belief of his existence and the belief of his non-existence, because it is nary a thought in my mind. Why would I bring to question the existence of something which I personally do not believe? Why would I search for proof to validate or even to null the idea of the existence of something I do not believe? I wouldn’t. So the argument is voided.
Of course, if someone would provide me a high resolution photo of God waking people from beneath their grave markers, then perhaps you can prove me wrong. However a belief is just that, so why [expletive removed] with it? Does a personal belief threaten you so much that you have nothing better to do than critique it for what it is?
Pat I would like to adjust what you said slightly. I know you don’t like people putting words into your mouth but I think you statement could be refined slightly. You said there is no proof of God. Perhaps you mean that there is no proof that has convinced you. I would suggest there is a lot of proof of the existence of God but you are not convinced by that proof.
Actually there is a lot of evidence that there is a God but you choose to interpret that evidence differently. I look at the existence of the universe with all of its nuanced complexity and see the Design of God, whereas you reject the idea of Design and choose instead to believe it happened by chance. I look at the uniqueness of the human race amongst all the forms of life here on Earth and see the desire of God to create a people to have relationship with, whereas you see millions of years of evolutionary development. I read the Bible and marvel at the unity of the message despite it having been written over the period of 1500+ years by more than 35 different authors in three different languages and see the revelation of God to humanity, whereas you see perhaps some interesting literature that you can glean some information and wisdom from. I view the life of Jesus Christ and see the ultimate expression of God’s love for people in sacrificing Himself to pay the penalty for humanity’s rebellion against Him, whereas you see a good man or a myth of a good man who has some useful moral teaching.
You see there is proof of God’s existence, the question is will you accept it as that or try to find another explanation for it. I choose to accept it as proof of God not because I am naive or brain-washed or intellectually limited but because it makes sense to me and because I have experienced the reality of God’s presence in my life. I have felt His leading, I have heard His voice and I have been changed by His love. And I am absolutely confident that if you were to open yourself up to the possibility of God and ask Him to show Himself, you will also discover the incredible joy of knowing Him personally.
You are right Jan; belief that does not translate into ethics and behaviour is pretty empty. James, the brother of Jesus, addressed that issue when he wrote “Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well’– but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good deeds is no faith at all– it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ I say, ‘I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.'” (James 2:14-18) It would appear that the Christian church has had right from the very beginning with people who claimed to be followers of Jesus but whose actions and attitudes did not show evidence of that.
You see, the criteria for being a Christ-follower is faith or belief; specifically the belief that Jesus, the Son of God, became the Son of Man so that He could take the penalty for humanity’s rebellion (or sin) against God. A follower of Christ recognizes that any efforts made to live “a good life” fall short of paying the penalty for their rebelliousness against God. So it is not a person’s actions that make them a follower of Jesus but it is trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the payment for their rebelliousness that does.
But it doesn’t end there because if someone has received the free gift of forgiveness through faith in Jesus their life will be transformed. “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did.” (2Corinthians 5:17-18) So accepting the gift of forgiveness through Jesus results in a radical change of behaviour and attitude. That’s why James wrote “I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” It is not the good deeds that make us right with God but they are evidence that we have been made right with God. So you are right that there is a disconnect for someone to say they are a Christian but live a life that does not reflect that radical change.
There is a further complexity to this though because followers of Jesus do not follow Jesus perfectly. The fact that the Bible addresses moral issues is proof of that. If the transformation of a Christian was perfect there would be no need to address moral issues because they would just naturally do what was right. But every Christian knows the struggle there is between what God tells us to do and our sinfulness that pushes us into the opposite direction. Paul addressed this when he wrote to Christians in the province of Galatia, “The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just opposite from what God’s Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict.” (Galatians 5:17) That is why Christians are called to live life with a constant attention towards the Spirit of God so that they can be led by Him rather than by their sinfulness. Many times I get that right but more than I care to admit I lose that focus and do things my own way. That’s when people can look at me and say, “And that’s why I don’t want to be a Christian!”
But just because I mess up does not mean that God turns His back on me. The beautiful part of being a follower of Christ is that the forgiveness that was purchased by Jesus dying on the cross covers the sins that I have committed in the past AND the future. It is complete and total! So God comes and picks me up again, brushes me off and we go on from there. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” (1John 1:9) Those who have been truly transformed by Jesus don’t look at this and say, “Cool! I can do whatever I want and God still has to forgive me.” The response of a true believer is, “I am so amazed at the completeness of God’s forgiveness for me. I never want to do anything that would hurt Him who has loved me so perfectly.”
That is why I believe Jesus when He said, “I am THE Way, THE Truth and THE Life. NO ONE comes to God the Father EXCEPT THROUGH ME” (John 14:6) There is no other religion or worldview that is like this. All others demand that people DO something: some have rituals to follow, others have moral conduct demanded, others point to intellectual enlightenment and others encourage you to do what feels right. Only in Jesus do we see God sacrificing Himself for people. Don’t you think that gives credence to the exclusiveness of His claim?
I confess I find some of the posts on Power to Change “interesting”. Upon reflection, I do not understand how discussions regarding the existence of God, whether Jesus was the “Son of God” or the “Son of Man”, or Michael’s comment that “we need to remember that we should not judge the teachings or the truth of a religion or philosophy by the conduct or behaviour of those who are not following those teachings” will help improve the “human condition”. Is Michael suggesting a separation between the “Church” and the “Philosophy”? That actually works for me.
The Christian Church has evolved over time, but I have no recollection of the Bible suggesting “burning at the stake” as suitable punishment for those deemed guilty of heresy. If Michael believes that “we should not judge the teachings or the truth of a religion or philosophy by the conduct or behaviour of those who are not following those teachings”, then Marx should not be judged by how Communism developed in Russia long after his death.
Jamie said, “belief in Jesus being the Son of God is a key component of having a relationship with God”. If John said “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God”, why are there so many people, especially in the US right-wing evangelical movement and Republican party whose conduct is far from “Christian”? Does God live in those opposed to universal health care?
This link has some interesting comments: http://wizbangblog.com/content/2010/06/05/is-christianity-about-christian-behavior-or-is-it-about-christ.php
Jamie is entitled to his “opinion” as to whether Jesus was the “Son of God” or the “Son of Man”. Does his belief make him a “Christian” if his actions do not support his belief?
Christianity is a “way”, not the “only way”. Those who take the position that it is the “only way” are either misguided, arrogant or lacking in education.
My perspective is that actions speak louder than words, and those actions are a reflection of our beliefs, i.e., our behaviour is driven by our beliefs. Therefore, an individual’s beliefs, values or guiding principles are much more important to me than their stating they believe Jesus was the Son of God,
It is ironic that Scandinavia has close to the lowest levels of church attendance, but enjoy arguably the best social programs in the developed world, whereas the USA has one of the highest levels of church attendance, but either the lowest, or close to it, spending on social programs in the developed world.
Ethics can be defined as “a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behaviour helps or harms sentient creatures”.
If behaviour that does harm is unethical, then someone who wraps himself or herself in Christ but engages in unethical behaviour is not truly a Christian, regardless of what they may believe.
Late to the party, I know. But I came to explain rather than have my words put in my mouth for me.
First of all, I do not believe there is a god. There is no “lack of belief in the existence of god”. Rather, because there is no proof that god exists, I simply do not believe god exists. Why would I? Because there is a book written about god? Well there are many books written about many gods, and I don’t think they exist either.
Barring proof, you won’t be able to convince me that there is a god. You have no proof, but you are willing to forego proof and accept it on faith that he exists.
This is the hallmark of the con game. “You don’t need proof, only faith.”
Sorry, but I need *proof*.
Hi Jan, I really appreciate your emphasis on acts of Altruism that characterized the life of Jesus and therefore should also characterize the lives of His followers. I have known many who claim to be Christian but their lives do not reflect the One they claim to follow. There must be a disconnect there somewhere because Jesus said, “The truth is, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works” (John 14:12)
Now it is interesting that Jesus said, “anyone who believes in me…” You seem to be emphasizing that belief is not as important as the works that people do but Jesus seeems to be saying that those works come out of belief. Just prior to that Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to God the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) The disciple who recorded this for us also wrote “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” (1John 4:15) So belief in Jesus being the Son of God is a key component of having a relationship with God.
How do you interpret statements like that?
A Wikipedia search for Atheism leads to an article sixteen pages long with an additional seventeen pages of notes and references. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism
A Wikipedia search for Agnosticism leads to an article nine pages long with an additional four pages of notes and references. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnosticism
It therefore follows that using the terms atheist or agnostic in an essay is too simplistic. There are multiple forms of Atheism and Agnosticism, just as there are many forms or denominations of Christianity.
It is not clear to me why the existence of God is such a critical issue.
However, it appears that it is a major impediment to any intellectual or philosophical discussion regarding Christianity.
My interpretation of the Bible is that what we do is much more important than what we profess or believe.
Who are the “better Christians”? Is it the individuals who publicly profess their belief in God, and that Jesus was the “Son of God”, but whose actions, both in public and in private, are less than “Christian”?
For example, there are many Christians who are devoid of any compassion or understanding for the less advantaged, especially in the USA.
There are also individuals that have clearly demonstrated by their actions that they embrace the teachings of Jesus. The existence of God or whether Jesus was the Son of God is not important; they have exercised their “free will” to try to live a “Christian” life because it is one way to live a good life.
I believe that an individual who attempts to live a Christian life, but who believes that Jesus was the “Son of Man” rather than the “Son of God”, is “more Christian” than those who profess their faith, but do not practice it in their daily lives.
I also believe that anyone who does not consider Altruism to be at the core of Christianity has yet to understand the message, regardless of what they profess.
A Wikipedia search for Altruism leads to an article twelve pages long with an additional four pages of notes and references. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altruism
A discussion regarding the apparent shortage or lack of Altruism in modern Christian teachings is long overdue. The challenge is that an intelligent discussion requires informed participants.
And if anyone follows the Wikipedia links, it should become clear that what we believe, or what we believe to know, does not include much of the information available at those links.