An Imperfect God

An excellent New York Times opinion piece is making its dutiful trudge around the Internet, proclaiming (if I may do the author, Yoram Hazony, the injustice of wedging his piece into a nutshell) that God should not be considered perfect, for such a philosophical view is directly contradicted by the God of the Old Testament. Hazony says:

The God of Hebrew Scripture is not depicted as immutable, but repeatedly changes his mind about things (for example, he regrets having made man). He is not all-knowing, since he’s repeatedly surprised by things (like the Israelites abandoning him for a statue of a cow). He is not perfectly powerful either, in that he famously cannot control Israel and get its people to do what he wants.

His request?

Today, with theism rapidly losing ground across Europe and among Americans as well, we could stand to reconsider this point. Surely a more plausible conception of God couldn’t hurt.

Hazony is in error.

The Ancient Jews declared God perfect in all his ways: “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30).

The Psalmist knew God’s “surprise”, his “mind-changes”, and all the rest — yet he declares God perfect.

Christians, looking at the New Testament, hear Christ’s terrifying demand to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and thus echo the Psalmist: God is perfect.

Now this is the fascinating part. The only time in which both the modern Christian and the ancient Psalmist would doubt the perfection of God is not when they look upon God in their relative present moment, but when they look upon each other.

This is first of all obvious in the modern believer: When we cast our eyes backward through history, the image of God seems imperfect.

But it is common sense to assume that, were the Ancient Jews presented with the image of God proclaimed by Christ some thousands of years in advance, they too would view Him as imperfect.

The Jews were a tribe forever at war, surrounded by civilizations that wanted to beat their heads against rocks and enslave their children. Would a God who demands we “love our enemies” and “do good to those who hate us” fit their image of perfection? No. We were barely ready to hear a God who told us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and to destroy the temple and watch him raise it up in three days. Indeed, many were not. Our modern conception of God – which, for any one living in the post-Christ world is inseparable from the New Testament – would seem imperfect to them, just as their ancient conception of God seems, at a first glance, imperfect to us.

Perhaps it is not God who is imperfect, but we who have been changed. Allow me an imperfect allegory:

If a father were to tell us how he treats his child without mentioning that his child is 5, not 35, we would certainly condemn his parenting as imperfect. Imagine the conversation:

“To explain photosynthesis, I purposefully tell my son that leaves eat sunlight. When he’s bad, I lock him in his room, or smack him. When he makes me a drawing I pretend to be surprised by how good it is, and when he misbehaves at the table I pretend to be surprised how bad he is. I often rescind punishments just so he knows that I love him. I often raise my voice just so he knows the effects of his action. I often behave just like him, imitating his tone, his mannerisms, and his giggles.”

Now obviously, there is a vast difference between God and a human father, but it isn’t entirely difficult to see that the change in the child defines whether the actions of the father are imperfect — not the apparent change in the father. We would be horrified at the behavior of this father, if his son really were 35. But his son is 5. Hazony, looking at the Old Testament, assumes that God is interacting with people just like us, when in reality, he is interacting with spiritual 5 year olds, human beings rescued from boring idolatry into the idea that there is, in fact, but one God.

The imperfections that Hazony faults God with — His apparent mind-changes, His surprise at our evil, His decision not to force the Israelites into every right action (which, for the record, does not imply an imperfectly powerful God, merely a God who grants us freedom. An army is powerful even if not in battle, and a God may be all-powerful even if he does not exert that power at the expense of our free will) — these are not imperfections, but the perfect method of relating to his people at the time his people lived. The ancients would have not freely followed a God who forcefully directed all actions, could not be approached and prayed to as one who could be reasoned with, and expressed only the words “I already knew you would” at their every misdeed. Sure, God could have forced them to follow him, revealing himself totally and in one fell swoop — but what is the value of forced love?

So, while God’s interaction with the Ancient Jews may be evidence that the Western philosophical tradition is wrong, and God is not perfect, it could equally be considered as evidence that we are not Ancient Jews. For both times have viewed God as perfect, despite relatively different interaction, as both the 5-year-old and the 35-year-old view their Father as good, though they would cease to do so if treated as the other. God reveals himself over time. He prepares us to receive his him in fullness. He did not give his prophets knowledge of the Resurrection and of eternal life right away, but in time, once we’d learned to obey him for the simple fact that we are his people, and he is our God. Even now we have more to comprehend of Him.

Hazony is right in pointing out that the perfection of God cannot be the merely maximized sum of all his maximized parts, as both the parts and the maximization of those parts are human conceptions that fall short of the precise nature of God. But our inability to fully understand the whole of God does not assure us that God is imperfect — only that we are.

(Hazony brings up philosophical arguments against the idea of a perfect God, such as the “this-world-sucks” argument and the “could-God-make-a-burrito-so-hot-he-couldn’t-eat-it” argument (no, “it is not possible for an agent to bring about an impossible state of affairs (e.g., that there is a shapeless cube), since if it were, it would be possible for an impossible state of affairs to obtain, which is a contradiction.”) These questions are excellent and largely answered by Aquinas, so I’ll take my leave of them, with the hope that any readers inspired to tackle them will do so with gusto.)

Hazony’s alternative to a perfect God is as follows:

As Donald Harman Akenson writes, the God of Hebrew Scripture is meant to be an “embodiment of what is, of reality” as we experience it. God’s abrupt shifts from action to seeming indifference and back, his changing demands from the human beings standing before him, his at-times devastating responses to mankind’s deeds and misdeeds — all these reflect the hardship so often present in the lives of most human beings.

Here we part ways. If God is the embodiment of reality, then to hell with Him. He is utterly unnecessary, a representation of experience, a secondhand conglomerate that mystically “embodies” a reality no one’s satisfied with in the first place. But if God is perfection in the only sense that human beings can conceive of perfection, that is, as perfection to us, then I pant for Him. He is the fulfillment of each and every soul struggling through the vale of tears. He is our peace and our joy. He is the perfect goodness we want when we strive for but a little piece of good, the perfect beauty we desire when we are awoken by the smallest glimmer of beauty, and the perfect truth that we want when we look at the universe and our lives within it and demand that it somehow make sense.

  • http://twitter.com/EdmundMitchell Edmund Mitchell

    Please submit this article to the NYT as a response….your voice has GOT to get in there.
    http://www.nytimes.com/content/help/site/editorial/op-ed/op-ed.html

  • Really Dumb Ox

    I have a Jesuit friend who talks about God in the Old Testament as “a drawing of Uncle Phil I made when I was five.” It’s got the basics: a nose, two eyes, etc., but it’s not a realistic rendering because his five-year-old self was imperfect and didn’t understand shading, perspective, etc. As much as I enjoy that analogy, yours is even better. Keep it up, sir!

  • Obliged_Cornball

    You did a great job of addressing his central point about the Israelites’ attitude toward God, and the developmental psychologist in me loves how you related the revelation of truth to the maturation of a person. Yet how is it that a perfect being could express regret over a course of action? This is a point you don’t adequately answer, though perhaps it is best suited for another article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/marcjohnpaul Marc Barnes

      That’s a great question. I don’t think I could answer it, but it seems Sophia’s Favorite did in an above comment. He says:

      “Jews had, at least by the Second Temple period, already hashed out all the ways that Biblical language about God was figurative; his “regret” at making man is an anthropomorphic description of his abhorrence of human evil. Some variation on “it were better such an evildoer’s mother had not borne him” is used fairly often in Scripture, despite failing to pass on the Law to another generation being seen as a great sin in Jewish thought—same deal.”

      Seems to work, but it might require some source-hunting. Thanks for reading!

  • Fizz

    I heard a similar argument a few years back. Since then, I discovered Fr. Barron’s podcast, and I accidentally all of them. Your post just helped everything snap together. The golden rule, Jeremiah 31:31, and all the other cross-references between the Old Testament and the New Testament. That was an awesome religious experience.

    I’m off to pray the rosary. Thanks Marc.

  • Sophias_Favorite

    His conception of the Israelites’ view of God is laughable. One of the names Judaism gives to God is “Emet” (pronounced “Emes” by German Jews); it means “truth” but its etymology is “undying” or “that which does not pass away”. It’s the word a Baal Shem Tov writes on a golem to animate it, and erasing the E at the beginning of the word turns it into Met, “dead”, and kills the golem.

    And seriously, Jews had, at least by the Second Temple period, already hashed out all the ways that Biblical language about God was figurative; his “regret” at making man is an anthropomorphic description of his abhorrence of human evil. Some variation on “it were better such an evildoer’s mother had not borne him” is used fairly often in Scripture, despite failing to pass on the Law to another generation being seen as a great sin in Jewish thought—same deal.

    Finally, even if the ancient Jews did think their God was not perfect, well, why should we abandon an achievement of our philosophical theology because a bunch of Bronze Age subsistence farmers didn’t have it? They also thought the sky was a transparent dome keeping out an infinite watery void.

    • Vision_From_Afar

      To address your final point:

      If they did, why would Christianity, the house built on early Judaism, continue to stand on such a shifted foundation?

      • Cal-J

        Christianity is a house built on *Christ*, not Judaism.

        Judaism was a practice derived from a law. Its philosophy was not so neatly tied into its practice as Christianity is.

        Christianity theology is not founded on Jewish theology, but reinterprets it.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          “Christianity theology is not founded on Jewish theology, but reinterprets it.”

          I’m going to put that on business cards for the next time someone tries to quote anything Old Testament at me using literal interpretation.

          • Cal-J

            I deserve it, for not spell-checking. Make sure you credit me for the line, nobody wants to assume that particular word-play was yours.

            But the point stands — Judaism holds to a specific law, only part of which is belief in God. Beyond the realm of those laws and the practices they’ve given birth to, we have a range of internally-valid Jewish theology ranging from pantheism to monism (this last extrapolating, perhaps overmuch, from the Jewish conception of God’s absolute unity). (Apologies to Sophia’s Favorite, who has elsewhere made this point in more and better detail).

  • http://www.facebook.com/jack.picknell.1 Jack Picknell

    God is perfect. Being that we each and all exist in time and space as reflections of Him; any imperfection any of us perceives must be an imperfection in us. Everything He has and is, is reflected by each of us. He has life, freedom and will and so we have life, freedom and will. He is perfection, so if we do not see perfection, it must be us muddying His image and likeness passed through us.

    We use our wills poorly, so now our participation in reality interferes with the flow of perfection that would otherwise be visible to us. When we look out at the reality of a perfect God, whom we merely reflect, it is unquestionably the dirt we choose to bathe in that mars the view.

  • http://www.facebook.com/curtjester Jeff Miller

    “If God is the embodiment of reality, then to hell with Him.” echoes of Flannery O’Connor and a good response when an explanation is to explain away.

  • Montague

    And then there is the ontological argument ; )

    Good Post, good post. And you hear this one every few years… like no one can imagine a perfect person (THE Perfect Person. ο ων (?) ) All the atheists can’t, no one would imagine it on their own, don’t want to. That’s one reason it’s easy to see it’s true.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000909947326 Nick Corrado

    Somehow I doubt we’re spiritual 35-year-olds. Probably still teenagers–it would explain all the angst.

  • Young Catholic

    I just want to say, I love your writing! I was planning on going to Franciscan next year and really hoped to meet you there, but God often changes the path for my life so looks like I’ll just have to stick with reading your blog. Anyway, I just want to say “God Bless You!” The world needs more young Catholics who are enthusiastic and informed about the faith. And random question…have you ever considered the priesthood?!

  • CB

    A parasitic Jewpsy Yid from IsraHell
    excreted on the pages of Jew York
    Times a pile of his mercenary atheist
    opinion about his putative ‘god’ –
    and all of you guys go on to agonize
    about it!
    Is it any wonder these Talmudic
    blood-suckers are robbing you of
    trillions of dollars and murdering
    you at will?
    And in case you are still puzzled
    by the dubious ‘mysteries’ of the
    Jews’ favourite heavenly fairy,
    here is what the Jew Karl Marx
    had to say about it:
    “What is the object of the Jew’s worship?
    The bill of exchange! Money is the one
    jealous god of the Jews before whom
    no other god may stand.”

  • The Other Weirdo

    There are 2 errors that I see in this. First, you erroneously assume that the “Psalmist” knew what he was talking about. Your second mistake is to assume that we are 35 year olds in the eyes of this god.

    Your god treats us like we’re 5(or younger), with unquestioning demands for immediate obedience backed with threats of dreadful punishment for the most innocuous of crimes. In human terms, we would call such a parent abusive. Your god refuses to let us grow up, to learn and adapt, and wants to forever be his babies, to have no thoughts of our own, to only ever believe in the 1 thing he’s potentially told our predecessors more than 2000 years ago. I’ve seen people like that, and the results are not pretty.

    He gave us intelligence, and demands that we only use it in one way, and one way only. He calls us wicked and sinners and evil beyond all redemption, and doesn’t hurl us all into the fiery pits of hell because he’s so loving. But this is psychological abuse, and no way to raise one’s children.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-J-Patrick/1525803730 Andrew J. Patrick

      Preposterous. To have freedom of action means the freedom to suffer consequences. Otherwise actions have no purpose. God gives us a free will, and tells the way that will make us eternally happy, and that all other ways will not. He tells us that He made us, and that we need Him, so turning away from Him will only make us miserable in the end.

      Intelligence is not a license to run and jump through the universe doing as we will – that’s a childish understanding. Intelligence is meant to separate truth from falsehood, and to take action based upon this distinction.

      I strongly suggest that you break away from the vision of Christianity you were taught when you were too young to understand anything else, and learn what adult Christianity understands itself to be. That way, if you choose to reject it (which I pray you will not), you will at least understand what you are rejecting. Right now you’re rejecting a dull cliche.

      • The Other Weirdo

        In your very first paragraph, you make my point for me. We’re only ever expected to use our intelligence in one way only. Then why give us multifaceted intelligence in the first place? BTW, actions have no purpose other than whatever purpose we give them. Just thought I’d point that out.

        I never said intelligence is a license to romp through the universe carefree; that view of reality you must’ve learnt when you were very young. We suffer consequences of our choices all the time. Often we suffer the consequences of choices made by other people, and often of choices made decades or even centuries in the past.

        Unfortuantely for us as a species, our ability to make fully informed choices is limited by the fact that we never possess all the requisite information, nor can we fully see the effects of our choices cascading down the years. That’s not carte blanche to just throw up our hands and say, “Give it all up to Christ,” or whichever particular god, but it is reason to learn and consider how to improve our decisions for the betterment of humanity.

        I’m not Christian, by the way, never have been. Jewish, actually, and an atheist. And if I am, as you say, rejecting a dull cliche, then it is one I see being lived by millions upon millions of Christians who surround me.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-J-Patrick/1525803730 Andrew J. Patrick

          Not quite sure what “Actions have no purpose except what we give them,” is intended to point out to me. You were jazzing on a common Problem of Evil riff, the question, “Why does God give us free will, and then insist that it conform to His will?”

          Well, to be precise, He doesn’t insist on it. He permits us the total exercise of our will. He permits us to do with that will whatever we want. But to each choice there is a consequence. Without such consequence, our choices would not matter, and then free will would have no meaning.

          God gives us the choice: Follow Him or Reject Him. He does not prevent us from exercising either choice, and He does not shield us from the consequence.

          You keep saying “We’re only ever expected to use our intelligence one way.” Then you say “We suffer the consequences of our choices all the time.”

          Right. So intelligence is supposed to determine what is true from what is false. Because the consequences of falsehood matter.

          Then you say, “our ability to make fully informed choices is limited by the fact that we never possess all the requisite information.” Indeed. Which is why the theist believes that God has revealed some very key facts for us.

          And then you make the common atheist mistake of saying that believers “just throw up their hands and say ‘give it all up to Christ.’” As though religion in general and Christianity in particular demanded no thought. Children in Sunday School are taught simple mantras, just as they are taught multiplication tables. But a serious devotion to any religion requires a philosophical and theological calculus which are an order of magnitude more complex than “Give it all up to Christ.”

          I have been Catholic my entire life, and Catholicism constantly challenges me to question myself, my actions and my place in the Universe. It also challenges me to think about what I consider God to be, what I consider the Church to be, and a host of other matters, including improving my decisions for the betterment of myself, and the rest of humanity. Because I believe that these decisions do matter, and reverberate through eternity.

          Apologies for assuming a Christian upbringing. I had no right to that. And you are correct to point out that many people go under the name of Christian without ever learning much about the faith beyond the child’s mantras. It was this, indeed, that I was railing against when I made that assumption.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1125166276 John C. Wright

          The idea that actions have no purpose except what we give them is a self contradictory statement, since the act of making the statement itself is an action.

          By its own logic, that statement then is true if and only if we (by arbitrarily granting it the meaning of being true) decree it to be true. But any truth which is true by fiat is not true, is subjective rather than objective, that is, it is true only insofar as you or I want it to be true.

          If the statement “actions have no purpose except what we give them” were true, a Nazi could grant, by an act of will, the act “kill a Jew” the meaning of improving the race by eugenics, and the act would not have the “meaning” of murder in the first degree.

          Likewise, I (or anyone) could grant the act “Believe actions have no purpose except what we give them” the meaning, “this is what cowards and fools say when they try to escape from a logical argument” and neither you nor anyone who honestly believed that actions have no purpose except what we give them could argue otherwise without contradicting himself.

          Or will you now tell me that the act of believing in radical subjectivism is an objectively virtuous act, based on an objective truth?

    • http://www.facebook.com/colin.gormley.94 Colin Gormley

      This comment makes me think that Marc was too generous in describing us as 35 year olds.

      >First, you erroneously assume that the “Psalmist” knew what he was talking about.

      No one knows completely. And Marc goes out of his way to point this out.

      >Your god treats us like we’re 5(or younger), with unquestioning demands for immediate obedience backed with threats of dreadful punishment for the most innocuous of crimes.

      The response of a five year olds understanding of how Hell works. Hell is something you choose for yourself through actions. The very nature of sin severs our connection with God.

      God doesn’t punish sin. The reward of sin is suffering.

      • The Other Weirdo

        If no one knows, then why put so much stock in what the Psalms say? Why use them as a basis for theology? Call it poetry from someone’s imagination, as all poetry is, and be done with it.

        You don’t know how Hell works. No matter what you think you know about it, you don’t. No amount of theology can possibly tell you how it works, because it is all written by people who, like you, have no idea how it works. There are no tests you can perform; in the end, you’re guessing based on your own desire for it to exist and to work the way you think it should.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Andrew-J-Patrick/1525803730 Andrew J. Patrick

          This depends on the meaning of “know” doesn’t it?

          If you mean “have tested empirically” then no, it doesn’t apply.

          If you mean “have received the information from an authoritative source,” however…

    • Luka Alexandrovich Nevsyev

      I think that the Psalmist shows a good deal more sanity than most people I meet, but maybe I’m just a college student.

      Let’s do a little critical thinking here. You think that the things are innocuous. We all thought that playing in the street was innocuous when we were young, and thought it grossly unfair that we could not play in the street. Perhaps what you think are innocuous actions are actually extremely dangerous, but you do not understand this. God has quite obviously allowed all of us to grow up and learn and adapt. We are not God’s babies. We were never his babies. We are His children, and there is a difference. We are called to have thoughts of our own. Do you think that Christianity is merely some ideology? Banish the thought! Christianity is a holistic description of all of reality. Doubt, fear, etc. are not pretty.

      We are not told to only use our intelligence in one way. We are told to go out and name the animals, and by extension to study creation. We make poetry and art using intelligence. We discuss affairs of earthly life, and we also use intelligence to discuss God, although nowadays we have far too much intellect and far too little noetic discernment in this area. That is hardly “only using our intelligence in only one way.” If the objection you are actually making is that there is a purpose for intelligence, I will respond that you necessarily think that too. Or do you think the development of biological and chemical weapons to be a fit use of our human intellect? How about non-consensual human medical testing, as the Nazi doctors did in the Holocaust camps. How about attempts to make a baby glow in the dark by injecting zebra fish DNA into the human genome? Dr. Frankenstein is a good-purposed use of the human intellect?

      God does not call us wicked and sinners and evil beyond all redemption. We call each other these terrible things. We say that the evil man will go to hell; God says, “My son, your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.” God has already forgiven everyone everywhere everything all the time. Sin isn’t a problem for God. Sin is a problem for us. This is manifestly true. Adultery destroys marital happiness. Murder destroys life. To worship idols is to hunger after the world rather than God. To not rest on the Sabbath is to wear yourself too thin and lead you to an early grave. To not honor your parents is to reject your parents’ wisdom, and a fool does not live so long as a wise man. Sin is a problem for you, and it will destroy you and kill you if you do not resist it. The story of Christianity is that God became man, and resisted all temptation to sin, and yet we in sin killed him. The cross proves once and for all that God’s mercy is greater than all our sinfulness and evil. Moreover, even that last and horrible separation of death God defeated, by dying, and going to Adam in death, and saying to him, “I, your God, have become your Son. Return with me to life.” Because God’s love is stronger than death, Christ returns from the dead, and ascends as a man to heaven in full communion with God. So will it be for us, if we will but consent to it, for are we not also men?

  • Kyle S.

    If God tailors his interactions to suit his audience, then why are atheists wrong to ask for definitive evidence of his existence? Thomas got it. Why can’t I?

    • msmischief

      Because He does.

      And not, as you seem to think is identical, to the desires of his audience.

      “Thomas got it. Why can’t I?”

      This is an unfortunate phrasing, since it sounds exactly like a five-year-old. And an unfortunate question, since Thomas got evidence of the Resurrection, after he had already believed.

      • Kyle S.

        I really don’t care what it sounds like. I’m not interested in trading snark or scoring badass points on the internet. I’d just like an answer. Yours doesn’t make much sense to me, but I appreciate the effort.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1125166276 John C. Wright

          Here is the answer: First, you are asking the wrong question, and second, the answer is right in front of you.

          First, you ask for a proof of God’s existence, but even the devils in hell know He exists. Merely knowing He exists is not what He wants, and, ultimately, not what you want either. God is love and want to share that love, and wants your love in return. Now, your current ignorance of His existence protects you from the realization that an omnipotent omniscience stalker is surrounding you at all times and also forms the basis of your being. If you were aware of God and were not in love with Him, you would go mad or go to hell in the vain attempt to escape Him. Rather than confront you with this painful choice, God leaves the question of your belief in Him in your hands. If you love Him, then you will see abundant evidence He exists, an embarrassment of evidence. But not before.

          Second point, suppose you were God and you wanted to make your existence clear to people. What would you do? Write the Ten Commandments in the sky in letters as bright as the sun? Men would call it a natural phenomenon. Appear in the flesh? Men would call it a mass hallucination, and say that the witnesses were lying or deceived or dreaming. Perform miracles, grant prayers, heal the sick? God and His saints have done all these things and continue to do them, and men ignore it, or write it off as crackpottery. So what could God do to prove His existence in a fashion so certain and so clear that it could not possibly be denied?

          He could bypass the entire complex apparatus of belief and disbelief and create mankind with an innate longing for God, a longing so obvious and so prevalent that no culture lacking religion appears his history. He would then place a Holy Spirit in the heart of any believer and simply grant the believer belief. It is a certainty that is prior to any sense impression and does not depend on sense impressions. For me to doubt God would be akin to doubting my own existence: I can imagine it as an entertaining philosophical word-game, but it is not a question that has any real meaning.

          The certainty of which I speak, God would then simply make available for the asking. He would grant the gift of innate, intuitive, unquestionable knowledge of His existence to anyone who asks, and this grant is available to anyone, smart or foolish, mad or sane, virtuous or vicious, young or old. Anyone.

          Just ask. You will be answered. Knock. The door will be opened.

          Ah, but you might object at this point that this method of intuitive certainty is not open to scientific verification. It is not certain enough. Such an objection is frivolous on two grounds: first, scientific reasoning is less certain, not more certain, than intuitive certainty. Look at the history of science, and look at the question of solipsism. You know that solipsism is nonsense, but it cannot be proved by science; you know that self-deception is morally wrong, but it cannot be proved by science. You do not know the origin of the universe, as the scientific debate over the question has changed several times since Newton’s day to this.

          Second, to say that an omnipotent and supernatural being is defective because he does not abide by the arbitrary regulations the scientific endeavor imposes on itself for reasons of procedural clarity is risible.

          God, if He does exist, does not do things as we will, but as He wills. A god that could only be discovered, like the moons of Jupiter, by peering through a spyglass, is not worth worshiping.

          • Kyle S.

            I’m not a well-educated guy, so my objections would certainly not be scientific. My problem is that I did ask. Every night for months. I never heard anything, never saw any signs. My eyes and ears and mind were open, but I never received any indication that anyone was answering or even listening. I’ve been trying very earnestly to change the way I see the world and it just isn’t happening. Almost no one ever changes in my experience, though, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. All the same, thank you for the substantive reply. I can see how it all works together within the Christian framework, but speaking from the outside I think you make it all sound a little too easy.

          • Kyle S.

            Please don’t take my last sentence as implying that living out Christianity is easy for the believer–that’s certainly not how it seems to me. I just mean that though what you say makes sense, I haven’t been able to apply it to the real world as I’ve experienced it.

          • Luka Alexandrovich Nevskyev

            Perhaps belief is not what you need. Belief comes from faith, and by faith, I don’t mean what other people talk about when they say faith. I don’t mean go and convince yourself that Christianity is true. Rather, go and act as you would if Christ were God. Give to the poor, more than you think you can afford to. Love your neighbor as yourself. Eat only what you need to eat, and enjoy eating it, but give the rest to those who need it. Enjoy your drink but do not become drunk. When you see the homeless man outside of Wal-Mart, stop and give him all of the groceries you just bought. Refuse Christmas presents, and preserve the day as a celebration to enjoy with those you love, especially children. Stop and play with children, and learn to see the world as they do: full of wonder and beauty and light. Do nothing to transgress against that vision of life. Do not do these things to love “humanity”, or to have “belief”, but in an attempt to treat each person as a self, as you treat yourself. Love each individual person you meet, and contemplate that they too experience life and everything as you do. Do this, and belief will come easily, for you have already acted in faith.

          • Not so young Catholic

            It isn’t easy. To ask repeatedly in the face of seeming impossiblility is much harder than just giving up and accepting what is. Keep asking Kyle – I’ll add my prayers to yours. Just remember that God’s answers are sometimes hidden and often unexpected. Like gifts, they are worth the effort. I have to wrangle an exuberant yet cranky toddler….

    • not so young catholic

      Who says they are wrong to ask? Ask away! Thomas received proof because of his faith – because he was ready to accept the proof. Let’s say that I want to have a conversation with my teen. She doesn’t want to talk and isn’t interested in what I have to say – everyting I do say, she twists in her mind and turns it into an accusation despite my own efforts. I can continue to talk at her, yet is that effective? My best bet is to be there ready to listen when she initiates the conversation. In the meantime, I give her space and continue to love her. Unfortunately, proving that love is really impossible – kind of like trying to plant grass in the desert ;-) Perhaps one day you’ll look back and recognize all those times the Holy Spirit did act in your life.

      • Z

        Its not fair of you to compare someone you haven’t met to a surly “teen.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1125166276 John C. Wright

      I asked God to prove His existence to me, and the result not only worked, it was immediate and terrifying. I lost my lifelong atheism on that day. Be careful what you wish for!

  • David Wayne Layman

    This argument commits a fundamental fallacy: equivocation. Hazony says that the God of the Bible is not immutable (unchangable). This poster proceeds to show by proof texts that God is “perfect”. Take that! However, “perfect” does not necessarily mean “immutable.” To say, “God’s way is perfect” is to say that he does not make a mistake. He is MORALLY perfect. he is absolute rectitude. God’s actions and responses to humanity are always as they should be. Thus, Jesus’ words, “be perfect as God is perfect”.

    To reply, “but a being who does not make a moral mistake is immutable” is non-responsive. It begs the question (another fallacy): IS a perfect being also immutable? Put another way, it confuses moral perfection with ontological perfection.

    • Brian Crowley

      You (and Hazony) would be right except that God exists outside of time. As such, he is simultaneously unchangeable yet still capable of change. Marc makes the point that God is perfect regardless of time and place, despite there existing very different notions of perfection associated with the two variables. This reinforces (does not prove, per say) the central concept of omnipresence.
      To address your last point: when it comes to God, moral perfection and ontological perfection are one in the same. The two “forms” of perfection are simply different reflections of the same thing. Let us, for a moment, analyze beauty in relation to what one might find attractive in a mate. If, for example, we are presented with a woman who is extremely physically attractive, but has a terrible personality, is an overall b*tch, and makes a rather bothersome high-pitched squeak when pronouncing words in which the letter “e” is immediately succeeded by “a”; One would be hard pressed to consider her “beautiful”. When presented with a second woman who is kind of hard on the eyes, but is extremely kind and has a great personality, the same would likely apply. However, to assume that a perfectly beautiful woman (in whom both outer beauty and inner beauty exist simultaneously) simply does not exist based on the evidence at hand would be fallacious.
      Similarly, a being that is ontologically perfect, but not morally perfect cannot be said to be perfect. The same can be said of a morally perfect being that is not ontologically perfect. God is perfect by both definitions, thus making Him God.

  • Andrew K

    Well Marc, I think you missed retorting on a key strength of the opinion, namely the translation of “ehi’eh asher ehi’eh” as “I will be what I will be”. Understandable considering likely neither of us is well versed in Biblical Hebrew. I couldn’t find the answer with a google search, but I posted on facebook and a friend who majored in Religious Studies responded that it can actually mean both. Although he also said his PhD professor agreed with the ill-fated opinion writer; not surprising for the U of M considering they also bought in to the whole eugenics B.S. during the Nazi era. But anyway, it supposedly can be taken either way. Though applying it to any god that could create time it obviously means both.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    This reminds me of my initial impression of “Called to Protect”, the Archdiocese of Portland’s response to the sex abuse scandals.

    The information in those tightly controlled and copyrighted videos is something I believe should be released into the public domain- and be required viewing of every 13 year old in the nation.

    My initial response was “Why didn’t we have this information back in the 1970s when I was growing up?”

    The answer was “We as a culture were not ready to hear it- the sexual revolution was caused primarily by parents who were utterly unable to speak to their children about such things, it wasn’t until the crisis came in the 1990s that we even began to look at it.”

    Progress happens. But sometimes it’s regress to what we *should* have known all along.

  • J P

    I wouldn’t read this article if there was cash and a promise the time spent reading it would be returned 100 fold.

    • Luka Alexandrovich Nevskyev

      …but it was worth your time to leave a comment about how valuable you consider your time, that you will not even deign to read the article?

      • J P

        The content of what I read tells me what I think of the value of the gift of life, time is the stuff life is made of, no? Ty, Luka!

  • Robert Sykes

    The principal problem that Christian and Jewish theologians face is the numerous contradictions in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. Genesis is especially problematic, and it contradicts the Psalmist on many points: two different and incompatible stories of creation, two different and incompatible stories of the flood, a YHWH who orders the pre-existing chaos, who is ignorant of nearly everything happening on earth, who repeatedly changes his mind, who is localized in space and time, who is forgiving but not benevolent (especially to non Jews), who is surrounded by other gods, ad nauseam. In Job, Satan is El’s drinking buddy, in Torah we learn that the Pascal lamb must be both roasted and boiled. And YHWH is not even the High God; he is assigned by the HIgh God to rule Earth. And what is with all those different god-names? Are they all synonyms for YWWH?

    Then, there are also the black hole-like gravitational attractions of classical Greek culture and philosophy. In this regard, one has to remember that the Holy Land was under Greek political, economic and cultural domination for almost 300 years by the time Jesus walked in Galilee. Greek was one of the languages on Jesus’ titulus, and Sepphora, five miles from Nazareth, was a classical Greek city, complete with agora, gymnasia and theater.

    Ezra and his followers were not 5 year olds. They were sophisticated collectors and redactors of even then ancient texts who wanted to create a national story to unite the returning Jews and to dismiss the Jews had who remained in Israel and Judea. Apparently, the National project was more important than consistency, and they left us a mess.

    It is transparently obvious that Christian and Jewish theologians have attempted to force YHWH (and the other Gods of the Old Testament) into the neat, logic of the Greeks. In doing so, they must ignore Scripture. This article is merely another in a long line of such attempts. It is falsified by the very texts it wants to keep.

  • Shannon

    marc barnes ! impressed with another article.
    seriously well done. your articles are hysterical, articulate, and so relevant. they convey a good education too. i imagine a lot of people dislike them more than i like them, but that’s what you’re saying.
    you don’t need me to tell you but – keep them coming ! (and thanks)

  • Kristina D

    What a beautifully articulated post! I think the beauty of it is that we have to be reminded that god is NOT a perfect being– look at the imperfections that exist in his creation. If he WERE perfect, he wouldn’t make mistakes.

    It reminds me of this video I recently came across– it’s a
    cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.

    Anyways, here it is: http://youtu.be/a6akkb_afqs

  • Ken S.

    This is one of the best articles ever!

  • RepententSinner

    First, so I’m not only a critical jerk: this blog is great, and I love most of the posts I’ve read, especially the posts combating the secular attitude.

    I do have three issues with your conclusion:

    “If God is the embodiment of reality, then to hell with Him. He is
    utterly unnecessary, a representation of experience, a secondhand
    conglomerate that mystically “embodies” a reality no one’s satisfied
    with in the first place.”

    A) Our experiences aren’t reality. Our experiences are shaped by our subjective opinion. Our consciousness is distanced from reality via our neurological system; we experience reality after it is compressed into electrical and chemical reactions and then expanded in our mind.

    B) Our satisfaction with reality is due to our subjective ego self-interest, not objective reality.

    “But if God is perfection in the only sense that human beings can conceive of perfection, that is, as perfection to us, then I pant for Him.”

    C) I don’t think I understand I you, but to me this sentence implies either human imagination can at least conceive of God or at most believe God to exist to our specifications or design.

    God is YHWH; God is “to be.”

  • Vyacheslav Rusko Krv

    The irony with concluding another mans fallacy about God and his interaction with thus, is this. You speak in a firm tone that condenses everything into what I would call, confirmed belief. Though, it is all theory. religion is not to be proven, nor a God is to be seen. Religions is used for those lost, and find a way to rise up and change the world, then become fanatics. This is wrong, it should never becomes about converting others. Religions is meant and I think should be meant as a way to share the mysteries of the world, worshipping God. God is an unknown God and is mistakingly put out as a Christian God, a muslim God, a Jewish God. God is God, he is neither he nor she. I do not know the mind of God, thus would never conclude to a theory that evidence has found no proof for. God could possibly be a higher Being, of all the beings on Earth. One who has understood through countless error and mistakes, and from his long life of experience understands humans in this way. I simply do not know. Your theory is, compelling and too much regard, I say bravo. Why? I enjoy the difference in opinions, and I find yours interesting and thought out and well written. Humans can never be right. However, once it is known it will not longer be known. For what is known changes and evolves as more questions arise within what is discovered. Whatever is known, becomes true. However, once it is known, it changes because of these questions, and falls into a state of flux and constant evolution amongst its own meaning of what becomes known. Because what has become known is no longer known, nor true. Man will never know what is true because whenever man discovers something knew and now known, it changes. Man will never know what is true, not yet, not ever. Possibly, one time, one day, when time and reality cease to coexist with the human mind. Thank you for reading. I enjoyed your article.

  • Vyacheslav Rusko Krv

    We all have opinions and are entitled by them, Of which i enjoy and love hearing. My truth is never right, it is only an opinion I manifest through my psyche, as an arche of thought, however never of originality

  • Vyacheslav Rusko Krv

    Thus God is perfect in all things. For God can never be comprehended nor truly known and with this he does not change. He has never been proved, nor seen. Evidence has no word in the matter. God, is God and not knowing God makes him God as humans on Earth.
    I Think this, and say this, I do not know however it is another plausable theory on the table to be shared amongst others. I try not to prove someone wrong. We all have ideas that can be refuted, no matter how right we think we are. Of course I think this. I do not assume you know, but only share what you think and this I find fascinating because no many do this. Thank you for the article it expanded by mind and thinking. I to may have words that can be refuted, I do not assume my words are of perfect harmony with the chorus of all words.

  • Vyacheslav Rusko Krv

    My is…is supposed to be an are. As well as the plurality of some of the words are meant to be singular. Forgive me on spelling.

  • Vyacheslav Rusko Krv

    I agree, with your concluding statement. If God is truly of our reality he is of imperfection and no different. Yet with your last thought, I say yes. I believe God is this deity, we believe in in order to strive a better life and become the best we can and to God that best is becoming of use to the world, in a way that in a micro way helps the order of things run the course of life. A smile to the one walking across from you, may save the life of him or her. Do we know that no, we are examples not her to change each but become examples of hope and beacon of that hope. To simply be of a religion and convert for that fact and believe you will change the world in a grand way is ludicrous. However, to be an example, to become a micro use to the world you never thought of, by smiling at he or she, may save the life of that person. Actions speak louder than words, while words reinforce the actions taken.


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