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Rationalizing Away the “Canaanite Problem” (2 of 2)

This is the conclusion of a critique of Greg Koukl’s justification of the Canaanite problem, God’s genocide of the people living in the Promised Land. Read part 1 here.

Jesus and the Canaanite womanGod and Racism

Koukl moves on to defend God against charges of racism.

God cared nothing about skin color or national origin.

Yes, you can make the sock puppet say that God cares nothing about race. But the very concept of a Chosen People means that the Bible has plenty of other verses that say the opposite:

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation. (Deut. 23:3)

And why should that be a surprise? After all, the founders of those two tribes are said to have come from incestuous relations between Lot and his two daughters (Gen. 19:36–8). Yuck!

Just after the genocide passages in Deuteronomy, God forbids intermarriage with these foreign tribes (Deut. 7:3). The prohibition against intermarriage is also given in Ezra (9:2, 10:10) and Nehemiah (chapter 13). King Solomon was chastised for his foreign wives (1 Kings 11).

Slavery is an excellent way to see the us/them distinction. It was limited to six years for fellow Jews, but it is for life for slaves from other tribes (Lev. 25:44–6). Let’s not imagine that God was colorblind.

The apologist might respond that the prohibitions against intermarriage were meant to avoid temptations to worship other gods. Okay, but they’re still anti-miscegeny laws. Are they wrong today? If so, why excuse them back then?

Even some stories of Jesus show him focused only on his own tribe. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” and he denies a Canaanite woman’s pleas for help with, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:22–8). He forbids his disciples to waste time on the Gentiles or Samaritans (Matt. 10:5–6).

Back to Koukl:

The book of Judges—a record of the “Canaanization” of Israel—ends on this sinister note: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25).

Sinister? Where else does “right” come from but from ourselves (both individually and as a society)? Koukl imagines an objective morality grounded outside humanity, and I impatiently await evidence that such a morality exists and is accessible.

Tamp Down Those Feelings of Pity

Koukl wraps up his justification.

Without question, the Canaanite adults got their just deserts. Regarding the children, I personally take comfort in the fact that, on my view, those who die before the age of accountability are ushered immediately into Heaven.

Well, I still have questions. How can genocide be acceptable justice when it’s universally rejected today? And how can you be so comfortable with, say, a five-year-old Canaanite girl dying in agony from her wounds but then get freaked out at the abortion of a single fertilized human egg cell? What about Andrea Yates—did she really save her five children from hell by drowning them, like she hoped? And how does killing children square with, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16)?

This nonsense reminds me of William Lane Craig’s response to the genocide of the Canaanites (my critique here). His conclusion:

Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

(Yeah, that’s also who I was most concerned about.)

This bizarre and embarrassing thinking is what happens when smart people are determined to shoehorn this Iron Age book into modern reality regardless of how poorly it fits. And many Christians wonder what about Christianity could possibly bother atheists …

Back to Koukl’s defense of God:

But was God right? I’ve already shown that if God needed morally sufficient reasons for killing the Canaanites, he had them in abundance.

After World War II, 24 Nazi leaders were tried in Nuremburg. Did the Allies have morally sufficient reasons for killing them all? Apparently not, because they weren’t all put to death. Seven received prison terms, and three were acquitted.

No, God did not have morally sufficient reasons for genocide. He may have had his own reasons that we’re unable to understand, but “morally sufficient” as those words are defined in the dictionary? Nope. And that also goes for “good,” “just,” and other imagined attributes of God.

Tamp Down Feelings of Reason as Well

Koukl encourages us to find biblical justification for his view that we should just let go and let God.

When Job lost everything dear to him, he did not rail against God, but worshipped Him

God made clear to Job that might makes right (Job 40)—not an especially good reason to justify one’s actions and compel worship.

Reflecting on the sovereignty of God, the Apostle Paul asked, “Does not the potter have a right over the clay?” (Rom. 9:21)

Clay has no dreams that can be frustrated, and it can’t lose a loved one. It doesn’t feel pain when you cut it or hold it under water.

How does this irrelevant analogy help us justify God’s genocide of people who, unlike clay, are alive and do feel pain?

God is God and we are not. He is not to be measured by our standards. Rather, we are to be measured by His.

Don’t we share a moral sense with God? When Abraham haggled with God on the minimum number of good people in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18), Abraham said, “Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. … Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham had no problem conversing with God using a shared moral sense.

The Bible itself rejects this idea that God’s moral sense is out of reach.

Atheists read the account of Canaan’s conquest and sniff with moral indignation at the suggestion a holy God could be within His rights to destroy the Canaanite people along with their culture.

Not quite. For me, this contradiction between the good, righteous, and just god that the Christians imagine and his actions summarized in their own book is compelling evidence that what they imagine doesn’t exist.

Koukl imagines that he’s patched the holes his worldview, but it’s as leaky as ever.

I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality,
and of the most lovely benevolence:
and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity,
so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture,
as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions
should have proceeded from the same being.
— Thomas Jefferson

Photo credit: WikiPaintings

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Richard S. Russell

    Man, Bob, I gotta give you credit for a strong stomach in being willing to keep reading that crap — rationalizing genocide, crocodile tears for the poor hurt feelings of the mass murderers — long after I would’ve hurled the book across the room in disgust.

    Still, I note with some bemusement that we supposed moderns react with intellectual indignation to anti-miscegenation policies but still have visceral distaste for incest, so I think it’ll be awhile before we can claim that we’ve fully extricated our moral sensibilities from our gut reactions. The Israelites obviously didn’t even try, and would have been surprised at the mere suggestion that it was even worth the effort.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      And yet these guys have loads of followers and lots of respect. Incredible.

  • Bob Jase

    Can we be certain Koulk isn’t a poe trying to prove Hitchens right?

    Seriously.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      A happy thought. Maybe he’ll do the opposite of Insane Clown Posse’s surprise profession of faith.

  • arkenaten

    One can understand why Marcion rejected Yahweh and wanted to rid himself of the ‘Jewish’ god.
    After reading these past two posts I cannot fathom how anyone would want to claim themselves religious and Christian or Jewish in particular.
    I have no tolerance for the likes of Craig. He is an arsehole of the first order and every post of his I have read or debate I have listened to leaves me seething with frustration.
    I have been rereading your posts about those that convert from atheism to Christianity.
    After due consideration, especially Leah Libreco’s case, I am convinced these folk were never really atheists.
    There is no rational reason whatsoever to become religious and if one is prepared to fully appraise oneself of the evidence(or lack thereof) it is almost inexcusable to remain so.
    The same rationale applies to the bible. How anyone in their right mind can justify such barbarism is beyond human ken. And equally stupefying is that many believe these ridiculous stories.
    Great post.

    • http://carm.org Thomas

      Did Jesus say “Love your enemies”? Matt 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-28, 32-36

      • arkenaten

        @ Thomas
        “Did Jesus say “Love your enemies”?
        Not that I am aware of. Someone who wrote Matthew claims he said it.
        Although I fail to see the relevance of your question?

    • Bob Seidensticker

      arkenaten:

      One can understand why Marcion rejected Yahweh and wanted to rid himself of the ‘Jewish’ god.

      It’s amazing how much better some of the other early Christianity variants did with the problem of evil. Marcion said that Jesus came from an unknown god who was simply offering a better deal than Yahweh. That god was kind of a tough customer, but if you wanted that, that’s fine—Jesus just gave you an easier path.

      And the Gnostics said that the Demiurge who built this world wasn’t all-good—maybe inept, maybe evil.

      After due consideration, especially Leah Libreco’s case, I am convinced these folk were never really atheists.

      Or at least not a thoroughly-informed atheist. Though I got lots of pushback from it, this was my point in ”I used to be an atheist, just like you.” The argument still holds.

      The same rationale applies to the bible. How anyone in their right mind can justify such barbarism is beyond human ken. And equally stupefying is that many believe these ridiculous stories.

      The stuff these guys say is so empty that it puzzles me why their flock doesn’t have the reaction that I do. I guess they’re just determined to remain unchanged, and if an eloquent “scholar” can pat them on the head and praise their faith, they’ll take it.

      Great post.

      :)

      • arkenaten

        I would love it if you did a post on Moses and Jesus. I think your take would be fascinating.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Bob Price has discussed some fascinating parallels on The Bible Geek. Problem is that the Christian would respond that, yes, the Jesus story could just be a midrash (variation on a theme) of the Moses story (and others), but then again, it could all have happened just like that.

        • arkenaten

          I think the angle I was looking at was more that the consensus of serious scholars consider Moses a fictional character and this being so how come Jesus references Moses?
          Wouldn’t a ‘God’ know who he was talking about?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Yeah–good point. I’ll add this one to the list!

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  • http://carm.org Thomas

    Read Matt 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30

    Jesus said her, “You are a woman with great faith! What you went will done for you.”

    Q: Was her daughter healed?

    This was a Canaanite woman.

    • Bender

      So Jesus insulted her, and only when she humiliated herself he “cured” her daughter. What an asshole.

      • http://carm.org Thomas

        Give your life to Jesis or go to hell!

        • http://carm.org Thomas

          Jesus didn’t insulted her. You are father lies! Satan!

        • Bender

          He called all Canaanites dogs. He forced her to admit it before helping her. He’s an asshole.

        • OverlappingMagisteria

          —He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”— (Matt 15:24-26)

          Looks to me that Jesus called her a dog because she was not a Jew. Not only is that an insult, but it is also racist.

          Try out this story for comparison:
          A Middle Eastern man living in the USA goes into a store to buy some milk. The store owner replies, “I don’t serve foreigners. This an American store. It is not right for a foreigner to take goods meant for Americans. Dogs should not eat off the table.” The Middle Eastern man replies, “But please! It’s just this one carton of milk, and it’s about to reach it’s Sell-by date! No one else will buy it.” The store owner decides to to sell the milk to him.

          Would you say the store owner is a racist jerk?

        • Bob Jase

          “Thomas says:
          January 10, 2013 at 7:56 am
          Did Jesus say “Love your enemies”? Matt 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-28, 32-36″

          Apparently “do as I say not as I do” is also part of Jesus’ advice.

        • http://carm.org Thomas

          Where Did Jesus said “do as I say not as I do” Where that in the Bible?

  • smrnda

    When Craig talks about his sympathies for the women and child murdering soldiers, he shows his true colors as nothing but an authoritarian, a person who really believes might makes right. I mean, you have to train people to kill, and that’s not easy, but it’s always a whole lot easier once you convince people that a god wants them to kill; then, brutality isn’t a necessary evil, but an unqualified good.

    I’ve always found that Christians seem to have no real innate horror of brutality; instead, their god wants to throw a hissy fit over somebody say, being gay but it’s godly and just to kill kids. I mean, if the whole ‘age of accountability’ stuff is what they believe, they’ve got no argument against abortion. If they argue that you’re killing without god’s imprimatur, well, be like the charismatics and pentacostals and say god really did tell you to kill the kids.

    • http://carm.org Thomas

      Do you worship false god? Satan or true God in the Bible.

      • smrnda

        Not sure what to say to such a fragmentary response, and I don’t even see how it’s particularly relevant to anything I wrote. Could you be nice enough to clarify?

        If my interpretation of your question is correct, I would just say that I consider all gods to be false gods, and I worship none of them, which included the god of the Bible, who no 2 groups of Christians can seem to agree on anyway.

        • http://carm.org Thomas

          God in the Bible. True personal God. Other gods are false!

        • Phil

          Well, if you say so…

        • Greg G.

          God in the Bible. True personal God. Other gods are false

          You are one moment of lucidity away from agreeing with us.

          Which god of the Bible… Yahweh, Elohim, Jehovah, I am?

          There are several versions in the Old Testament that have become interwoven and redacted. The Yahweh story has a lot about Isaac but one of the Elohim stories has Elohim tell Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. They go up the mountain but a redaction has Yahweh show up with a ram to be sacrificed instead. However, Abraham comes down the mountain alone and Isaac is never heard from in the Elohim story again.

          Ancient Jerusalem was a temple-state so the priestly sects were like political parties. Much of the Old Testament literature is political spin that was left over when their political system was smashed by the Babylonians. David killing Goliath is equivalent to George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. When the clear prophecies that David’s seed would always be on the throne, they started taking verses out of context to create the Messiah myth.

          Or do you believe in the New Testament god who is so impotent he can’t forgive people without killing someone?

        • Bob Jase

          Johnny: “Me, John, big tree! ”

          Is that you Johnny?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Greg:

          Which god of the Bible… Yahweh, Elohim, Jehovah, I am?

          This reveals Judaism’s polytheistic roots. Remember “Let us make man in our image” from Gen. 1.

          Of course, the Christian will spin that as the Trinity, but even the most careless Christian must admit that the Trinity isn’t what the original authors had in mind.

      • Richard S. Russell

        The very concept of worship is beneath the dignity and self-respect of a free person.

        I do not worship anything!

        In a related matter, this sig line, among my favorites in no small part because of its pith:

        Q: Is nothing sacred?
        A: Bingo!

      • arkenaten

        @ Thomas.
        Tell me, is CARM really a euphemism for Christians Are Raving Maniacs?
        A brief visit to your site certainly conveys this impression.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          A little over a year ago, I slapped Matt Slick of CARM here. This was in response to a thoughtless article about homosexuality.

          Thomas, perhaps you can point me to another CARM article that needs a response?

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Thomas:

        You’re getting a wee bit of pushback from some of the more thoughtful commenters. Here’s the problem: your short drive-bys with provocative bits of Christian “wisdom” are seen as you avoiding the issues. You’d find a more interesting and productive conversation if you’d actually engage the issues.

        Is there a tough issue for your position? Admit it rather than cover it up.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      smrnda:

      And I can’t figure out how they can freak out at the death of a single cell (Plan B) but are happy to stand by while God orders genocide. Presumably, they’ll say that God can demand such things but we can’t–what an insane “morality” they must imagine this guy operates by.

      • smrnda

        If god wants to kill Canaanite kids so they go to heaven, maybe god wants all the zygotes to get flushed down the toilet so they can skip this world (which Christians make out to be such a horrible place. Hey, I’ve enjoyed being alive, and I meet people who had a lower standard of living than me and they liked being alive too) and avoid ever sinning. So why can’t abortion be another way god makes sure a child isn’t born into a godless society?

  • Bender

    Wow. I wasn’t aware Jesus was a racist asshole.

    • Bob Jase

      Well Jesus wasn’t a “real” Christian you see.

    • http://carm.org Thomas

      Jesus isn’t a racist! Give your life to Jesus or go to hell!

      • arkenaten

        @Thomas
        You keep using the present tense, ‘is’, He is dead. In case you forgot?

      • Bender

        Jesus isn’t a racist! Give your life to Jesus or go to hell!

        Dude, if heaven is full of people like you, I choose hell.

        • http://carm.org Thomas

          And worship Satan!

        • Bob Jase

          Now why would anyone worship the lesser evil of Satan?

          BTW, in the OT he’s just one of Yahweh’s loyal assistants – not an evil monster, not the ruler of Hades (the Hebrews didn’t have a hell, Christians stole the idea from the Greeks) and not a snappy dresser.

      • Bob Jase

        How ’bout that unconditional love you supposedly preached, eh Jesus?

        • http://carm.org Thomas

          You will confess Jesus is Lord! Phil 2:10-11

          We all will bow & confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

        • Bob Jase

          Or?

          Loving Jesus will torture me forever?

          That isn’t love, its psychosis.

  • anatman

    “God is God and we are not. He is not to be measured by our standards. Rather, we are to be measured by His.”
    likewise, i am me and my dog is not. should is my dog evil because he licks his balls and i wouldn’t do so if i could?
    why does anyone take clowns like koukl and plantinga and craig even seriously enough to argue with them? anyone not handicapped by the bogus ‘serious philosopher’ meme sees that the correct response to this deeply fraudulent sort of ‘reasoning’ is to point and laugh.

  • Richard S. Russell

    Hey, Bob, do you have to pay this “Thomas” guy to provide the comic relief, or does he do it for free?

    Man, the guy is the living, breathing incarnation of The Dunning-Kruger Effect, with a healthy admixture of Poe’s Law for garnish.

  • ildi

    Well, another justification I’ve heard from some evangelicals (don’t ask me to ‘splain because it doesn’t make sense to me) is, for one, the Old Testament doesn’t count anymore because of God’s new covenant, and for two, because of the new covenant, God would never ask anyone to commit genocide again, and for three, the Hebrew God and the Christian God are not the same god, and the bad stuff done in the OT is in the name of the Hebrew God.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      the Old Testament doesn’t count anymore because of God’s new covenant

      … except the good bits! It’s harder to hate fags if you drop the entire OT.

      because of the new covenant, God would never ask anyone to commit genocide again

      Which hardly explains why a benevolent God would order it in the first place.

    • SparklingMoon

      The Hebrew God and the Christian God are not the same god, and the bad stuff done in the OT is in the name of the Hebrew God.
      —————————————————————————————
      Jesus was a Messiah for the people of Israel as they had been waiting for him according to the prophecies of Old Testament. Jesus had always told :””I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (Matthew 1:11). Jesus commanded his twelve deciples: ”Do not go among the Gentiles, and do not enter into any city of the Samaritans. Rather, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

      Actually, there are two kind of Prophets who are sent by God; Law bearing Prophets (who receive laws for human guidance as Prophet Moses or Mohammed or Krishna etc.) and Reformer Prophets [who are sent to reform the existing law that is after a while either is forgotten or changed or misrepresented by the followers (as Buddha was sent as a Reformer for the Law of Krishna, Jesus for the Law of Moses, Mirza Ghulam Ahmed for the Law of Mohammed etc.)]A Reformer Prophet makes the Law pure from all human entries and make it again practicable for people . Jesus was a Reformer Prophet who was sent to reform and maintain Mosaic Law again in its original form among the followers of Moses. ”Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I did not come to destroy,but to fulfil.(Matt. 5:17) Jesus had brought nothing new in his teachings and had entered nothing new in Mosaic Law but only had cleaned it from the interference of human hand and had maintained it in its original form as it had been revealed by God to Prophet Moses.

      Mosaic law in its original form had no brutal or unnatural teachings but during the long time of fourteen hundred years from Moses to Jesus it suffered many times and had been written by memory by people in their own words. This written mosaic Law was possession of very few people and other followers had to hear it and to understand it by these few people and their explanations and their orders had to accept all other people. It is Jesus, who after having revelation, had presented and maintained it in its original form by his sayings and practices. When a reader compares the moral teachings of Old Testament and the morals presented by Jesus, he finds a big difference between both of them and considers that Jesus had brought a new moral values to practice.

  • SparklingMoon

    Even some stories of Jesus show him focused only on his own tribe. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” and he denies a Canaanite woman’s pleas for help with, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:22–8).
    ———————————————————————————
    A Prophet is always the most kind person of his time among the people who is selected by God for the guidance of his people. Jesus had promoted love in his teachings but here the attitude of Jesus is very hard towards this Canaanite lady. Why? The very simple and honest answer is that a Prophet always works obediently according to the commands of God. It was not Jesus who himself had decided to confine his ministry to the people of Israel but it was God Almighty who had decided it and it was informed her mother before his birth: ”Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus’.He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David’ and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever.”(Luke 1: 32- 33)

    Second, he was sent by God to maintain only the Mosaic Law:”Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I did not come to destroy,but to fulfil.(Matt. 5:17) and it is reality that the message of Mosaic Law is not a universal message for the whole world (as you will never see a Jew, preaching for his religion because they are fully aware that Mosaic Law is revealed only for the people of the Children of Israel .

    Jesus was aware that the teachings of Mosaic Law ware revealed (about fourteen hundred years before his time )to fulfill the moral and spiritual needs of Children of Israel only. As the very first to last verse addresses only Children of Israel: ”And the voice of the Lord came to Moses out of the Tent of meeting, saying, Give these orders to the children of Israel.” (Leviticus 1:1)”These are the orders which the Lord gave to Moses for the children of Israel in Mount Sinai.”(Leviticus 27:34)

    Jesus knew that after him there would be a Prophet with a universal message and complete teaching which would stay forever with mankind as he had informed his followers :” I have yet many things to say unto you,but ye cannot bear them now. How be it when he,the Spirit of truth is come,he will guide you into all truth:for he shall not speak of himself but whatsoever he shall hear,that shall he speak.. and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.”(John16:7-14)According to this Prophecy, Prophet of Islam was sent by God with a universal message for the whole world

    • Richard S. Russell

      Assuming I cared, why should I believe one word of this steaming pile of intellectual pablum? Because you said so? You apparently don’t even have any idea what the subject is, so why should I pay you the least attention whatsoever?

      Prophecy is a hoke, a smoke, and a joke.
      Prophets are con artists.
      You are a blatherer, the very sort of person I left churches forever to get away from.

  • IB Bill

    The Canaanite problem is indeed a serious problem. I think serious-minded Christians acknowledge it as such, which leads to further implications and conclusions, most of which are unpleasant.

    I think for many atheists, this issue (as well as seeing hell as an eternal fiery torment) is possibly the biggest trigger of deep-seated hostility to believers. It keeps atheists from the faith. And virtually any apologetics for it tends to reinforce, in the atheists’ mind, that hostility.

    For me, this issue (as well as hell as a fiery furnace) was a massive stumbling block. There were no answers that I would accept, and I felt, when talking to those who apologized for it, that I was talking to truly insane people. How could anyone cozy up to a God who would demand this (genocide) or threaten that (burning people forever without ceasing in a furnace)?

    These answers remained a stumbling block and I only resolved them when I decided to leave the Episcopal Church and began to read Eastern Orthodox teaching. Although I am now Catholic, I accept the EO teaching the hell issue — hell is ultimately about your ability to respond to divine love. Hell is pretty darned hellish if it’s about one’s inability to love and to respond to love, that you’ve locked yourself up inside, forever. At least when I examine my conscience, I see that it is possible that I could isolate myself and be so fearful that I could no longer respond to love. It hasn’t happened. I pray it never does.

    As far as Canaanites and genocide, I simply can’t answer it. I do not believe that God ordered genocide and do not see myself as justifying it or rationalizing it away. I recognize the difficult implications for taking that position. I prefer those implications to the implications that He did. However, I believe that I am in no position to judge God. As a Catholic Christian, I believe God is not just great but good, that He is the eternal logos, aka, cosmic reason and love.

    As I said, I simply don’t know an adequate answer. I understand why atheists would be unable to proceed further until an adequate answer is offered; however, no adequate answer will be forthcoming … except possibly that the Israelites were simply mistaken. As I said (and has been pointed out here), that raises other uncomfortable questions.

    All I can say is that I got past this issue through faith, and experienced and continue to experience God’s love in a transforming way. That’s testimony, not argument. I hope you all experience that love, too.

    • smrnda

      Perhaps you could explain something to me then about the whole ‘god is love’ business. In my lifetime I know that I’ve loved a number of different people for all kinds of reasons. As far as people go, most people I know would consider me a kind and loving person. At the same time, I would say that I didn’t love my grandparents when I was growing up even though I knew them and they tried to be nice, but just since there was too big of a generational gap – my life and ideas just didn’t make any sense to them. I can tell that, to the extent possible, they tried to love me but I still think there was a big barrier there for both sides owing to a lack of understanding. The best I could do was to be polite, chew with my mouth shut, and show them my report cards, my response was to figure out ‘what makes the grandparents happy?’ and I went with that.

      The problem with divine love, to me, is I’m being asked to feel something about a being whose existence I can’t verify. I tend to be a very concrete person, so words like ‘cosmic love’ (or cosmic anything) or ‘logos’ or ‘Being’ just strike me as words to vague to have any real meaning; the expression ‘god is love’ makes no sense to me, since ‘love’ is an experience which, in the end, is defined by very concrete and immediate words and actions. I love my partner (a feeling) but the indication of this is me doing things like cooking breakfast in the morning or doing her laundry or paying the bills. I could make a list like that for anybody that I know and I could make a list of ‘why I love so and so” for anybody I really love.

      So to me, ‘god’s love’ is a phantom experience with no reality; analogous to a celebrity crush. (Perhaps a crush on an actor/actress would be best since to me, god seems mediated through institutions which interpret god, where a person who develops a crush an a performer may be infatuated with a performance and not the real person.) That’s what it looks like for people I know who say they experience the love or god, or else it’s more a by-proxy affair – by loving god, they gain access to a community.

      I can’t exactly how god can hold it against anyone for not responding to god’s particular love – it would be as if someone said ‘your great aunt Esther who has never seen you except in baby pictures loves you.’ Does she? I can respond to love that’s actually experienced, but god’s love doesn’t seem to deliver in the same way as say, my brother calling me late at night because he wants to talk where I can say ‘well, I can tell we’ve got a connection, not just because he calls, but because I actually answer.’ How would you explain this experience to someone like me?

      • IB Bill

        Hi.

        My own experience is that there are internal good feelings, and then there is something that nourishes your soul, restores strength, and places peace in the depths of your being, in a way that occurs no other way, and appears to me to be coming from an external source, in an analogous way to your being able to tell the difference between a voice that is your own thinking and hearing a voice from the outside. And it transforms you — by fruits you know it, as they say. Not everyone experiences this, but I do. I did today. And I keep thinking I can find it another way, and I never do, although I experience love in the world, as you’ve described, in lots of other ways. This love has a personal essence, and that’s why I call it God.

        I think this love is of the same essence as the love you describe in your life with your wife, family and friends. Any time we seek the good of another, whether we feel anything or not, we are loving. Any time we allow others to seek the good for us, we are accepting love. You probably see it as different, but I see it as the same, a sharing in the experience of the divine love for all. If we wish to know God, we love others and allow them to love us. You end up there and to some extent, you are already there.

        Since I see authentic spirituality as playing out in the details of life, as I think Jesus taught, not on a mountaintop or in any kind of dualistic arrangement, it’s difficult to explain to those who simply live their lives sans spirituality and love others. They say, “What’s the difference between selfless craftsmanship with God and selfless craftsmanship without God?” And it’s impossible to be convincing — except that with God it’s easy and without God it’s difficult, at least for me.

        I don’t know if I were helpful, but I hope you find the answer to your question.

        • smrnda

          I guess to me then, I feel this way because of real world things and people, as I feel pretty good already. I’ve never found life to be very difficult; I was raised to be socially responsible so I’ve always done volunteer work and other such things. It’s a normal part of life, like taking a shower in the morning or doing the laundry.

          As far as personal love goes, my partner is *another* woman (I guess my name isn’t very gender-revealing :-) , and my life has been massively better since I met her (not that it was bad before), and it’s tough for me to see anything wrong with this whereas most religions think this is somehow bad. When I’m confronted by a contrary opinion, I’m not changing my mind unless I’m really convinced – I know some people who tell me this is arrogant, but I just think it’s reckless to let other people think through moral issues for you, and I believe it’s dangerous to just buy into any ideology wholesale. I’m a fan of George Orwell, but I have found things he wrote that I disagreed with. Beyond that, despite being together I’m totally sexually inactive, and I feel like religious people turn marriage into some kind of pissing contest, and I couldn’t *not* want to be in this relationship without a level of self-deception that I’m too honest to be capable of, and I can’t *want* the things that most believers tell me I’m supposed to want. The same way that I can’t choose to be any sort of believer – it’s the same reason I don’t believe in ghosts and don’t believe in astrology – just no evidence. I mean, you can *speculate* about god or gods, but it’s like speculating about hypothetical alien encounters.

          I can understand that to some people, the spiritual experience seems both real and necessary, but to me it’s like someone saying they can’t imagine life without football; I can’t imagine life without theater, but I also know that it’s just not the scene for some people. In many ways, the god professed by most monotheists seems like an irrational nutcase to me (Canaanite genocides and all that stuff) and the ‘love’ seems a bit different than I understand love, since I think authority and love are incompatible, or at least seem so to me. I mean, I didn’t get along with my parents till I was an independent adult, and I was the type of child where if it came to a contest of wills, I was determined to win, and almost always did. My parents weren’t bad, just we had conflicting priorities at times; they didn’t know *better* they just knew *different.* So to me, most visions of god seems like someone out to micromanage your life, though I find more distant visions of god to be more rational – my grandparents were somewhat observant Jews and tried to pass on some tradition to me, and I thought that a god who you can reach through a few rituals made more sense than the more emotion view espoused by most Christians.

          Either way, thanks for the response.

        • IB Bill

          Smrnda: Thanks for sharing your story. I was surprised you were a woman; all the Smrnda’s I know are men :) Best to you in your life’s journey. — Bill

        • smrnda

          I think it’s also the default of when someone says ‘she’ for my partner well into the 90% you’d be right that the person is male. I’m also the odd girl out in that I’m a programmer (or perhaps more accurately a ‘knowledge engineer’ ) but that I’m also obsessed with vintage fashion and buy lots of gaudy jewelry.

          Could some of your spiritual feelings be something that you were raised with, even if it wasn’t exactly the same religion you’re a part of now? I once decided to attend a pagan ceremony to see what it was like, and I felt rude since I almost busted out laughing at the idea of people being totally serious about gods I learned about in mythology, though I can still get the warm fuzzies over Jewish traditions but it’s since I was exposed to them while young. Rationally, I don’t think they are any truer (and in some ways, the universe might be better explained through polytheism) but I can definitely tell just a minimal amount of exposure had an impact on me.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          smrnda:

          You follow Greta Christina, I assume? She makes razor-sharp atheist arguments and posts occasionally about fashion (and cats, too).

          I can still get the warm fuzzies over Jewish traditions but it’s since I was exposed to them while young.

          To me, that sounds both weird (because I don’t have any equivalent ethnic or religious traditions–unless Christmas counts) and sensible (because I realize that ritual and tradition are important to lots of people).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Bill:

          … appears to me to be coming from an external source

          Like what? What kind of external (supernatural, I’m guessing?) source would this be like? If there’s nothing like it, maybe this is yet one more trick that our fallible, bias-prone, imperfect brains are playing on us.

          Imagine that you dropped the God explanation. What would be more poorly explained? You don’t need God to explain lightning anymore, of course. Do you need him to explain love or compassion or pangs of conscience? Since “God did it!” is such a poor explanation, I can’t see why that is better than assuming that these features of human personality, like our less laudable ones like fury or cunning, have natural causes.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Bill:

      And consider the problem of believers and hell. They are in heaven for trillions of years, probably with a far more profound sense of compassion that we have. How are they going to enjoy heaven knowing of the billions of people like me roasting continually?

      As far as Canaanites and genocide, I simply can’t answer it. I do not believe that God ordered genocide and do not see myself as justifying it or rationalizing it away.

      Then what are you doing about it? Just assuming that God will help you understand once you get to heaven?

      But this is lawyer thinking again–presupposing the rightness of your position with no interest at finding the objectively correct position. Should your answer to a religious puzzle be to question whether you have it figured out rather than to simply not ask that question anymore?

      I believe that I am in no position to judge God.

      Sounds that, by that logic, you’re in no position to judge Shiva or Quetzalcoatl or Xenu either. Perhaps you’re taking a fideist position?

      As a Catholic Christian, I believe God is not just great but good, that He is the eternal logos, aka, cosmic reason and love.

      Is evidence relevant here? Would contrary evidence ever convince you otherwise, or are you stuck there?

      • SparklingMoon

        They are in heaven for trillions of years, probably with a far more profound sense of compassion that we have. How are they going to enjoy heaven knowing of the billions of people like me roasting continually?
        ———————————————————————————————-
        The life in the hereafter would not be a material one but of a spiritual one. Heaven is not a physical place but the name of a spiritual hight and for human beings heaven is in simple words a nearness to the spirit of God . A person prepares and achieves the first part of this heaven or spiritual height through the practice of good morals in the love of God (that are actually the attributes of God Almighty codded in human nature for example kindness ,truth ,love ,mercy etc. ) in this world and a continual practice brings a person near to God and draws the love of God . God in the beginning sometimes exposes His favor to this person by true dreams and some times through revelation.

        If a person does not develop the attributes of God exists in his nature and his practices are against the morals or attributes of God ,for example he practised cruelty instead of kindness or dishonesty instead of honesty etc. then his practices bring him far from God. These practices deprive his spirit to have a resemblance or a spiritual colour of the Spirit of God and this absence of His attributes in human spirit create a distance between his spirit and the Spirit of God. This distance or the absence of developed moral attributes in human nature brings internally a dissatisfaction and this dissatisfaction will be felt openly and very prominently in the next world and will be a source of torture . This condition of pain is called the fire of hell in religious books and is explained through different similes and metaphors to make it understand. Actually a person himself prepares his Hell by his own bad actions and is not in any way forced by God. For instance, when a person shuts all the windows of his room and leaves none of them open, doubtless his room will become dark.The shutting of the windows is his action and making the room dark is God’s action according to the law of nature. In the same way, when a person commits a sin God Almighty thereafter manifests His action which becomes the punishment of the sin.

        God Almighty is the Creator of human beings and He has decided the purpose of Human life and according to Him the goal of human spirit is to make a journey towards Him. The first part of this journey, a person must has to complete in this world, through the practice of morals in the love of God and this procedure will bring his human nature to such a high spiritual level that it will sudden turn into a live one. A live spirit can only continue its journey towards God in the next world. The Spirits who will enter morally or spiritually in an incomplete conditions in the next world,they have to improve their condition in the next world to turn into a live one.In religious books this process of improvement in the next world will be painful for human spirits therefore it is called hell. This process of improvement of Human spirits will not continue for ever. This procedure of improvement will be different for different spirits according to their condition and improved spirits will enter into that higher realm of spirituality or heaven after their improvement.

        Bob: I am really surprise that you have written ”people like me roasting continually” How did you come to know that you would be not in Heaven. It may be that you are more near to God than others. A practice of good morals and a struggle to find Truth and Certainty is also a journey towards God and I think this journey with good intentions, always brings its good fruits.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Bob: I am really surprise that you have written ”people like me roasting continually”

          I have no god belief. Isn’t that a condition of entering heaven?

        • SparklingMoon

          I have no god belief. Isn’t that a condition of entering heaven?
          ———————————————————————————-
          If a person have no God belief but he continuely practices good morals,he will entered in Heaven in this very life that will bring a live belief in God . If a person has a verbal God belief and has no practice of good morals will neither enter in Heaven during this life nor in the hereafter. Actually, Heaven is not a name of a place where people who have belief in God will be entered after their physical death. Heaven is the name of a certain spiritual height (for humans have been created) and it can be achieved through the practice of the Attributes of God. God has different attributes and some of them He had coded in human nature also.These attribute can be called different doors or paths to reach God and each of them is a source to make a contact Him.

          Heaven is actually the name of that inner spiritual condition that comes into existence when any coded attribute of God in human nature gets the very colour of God. For example God is generous and a person tries his best in his daily life to practice this bestowed attribute of generosity on its proper occasion and proper place with the help of reason. This day by day practice brings gradually a change in his human nature and it gets a resemblance to God. This spiritual resemblance or nearness in religious words is called Holy Spirit. God bows down to this person with love and begins to speak and show Himself to this person through this Law of Holy spirit.

          This personal appearance of God to a man and a personal experience of a man of God through Holy spirit turns the verbal belief in God of a person into a live one otherwise a verbal belief or an inherited belief has no value and brings no benefit to a person.

        • Bob Jase

          “for human beings heaven is in simple words a nearness to the spirit of God”

          But since god is supposedly omnipresent then god is in Hell too and there is no such thing as physical distance if its a spiritual existence. You haven’t thought this through have you?

        • Richard S. Russell

          Amusing thot of the day: “SparklingMooon” and “thought” in the same sentence.

        • SparklingMoon

          “for human beings heaven is in simple words a nearness to the spirit of God”
          But since god is supposedly omnipresent then god is in Hell too and there is no such thing as physical distance if its a spiritual existence. You haven’t thought this through have you?
          —————————————————————————————
          Hell is not the name of a physical place but the name of a distance that will be, in the next world, between human spirit and Spiritual God. No doubt God is omnipresent but this distance between God and human spirit will not be of a physical one but of a spirituality kind.

          There are many things in this world that have spiritual nature and all have different levels. For example light is very ethereal but can not cross the barrier of a Wall but a Radio wave that is more ethereal can cross the barrier of a wall. there are many things that are more ethereal or spiritual than Radio wave . It can be understood through this example the meanings of distance of spirituality between God and human spirit.God is very Transcendental and beyond the beyond in Spirituality therefore physical or less spiritual can not penetrate into that realm of His spirituality .

          A less or incomplete human spirit in the next world will be in a restless condition because of not having the ability to reach to Him and this distance will be painful. This incomplete spirit has to pass through a procedure of improvement to turn into a complete spiritual one.

  • arkenaten

    @Bill.
    ‘”As a Catholic Christian, I believe God is not just great but good, that He is the eternal logos, aka, cosmic reason and love.

    The solution to your emotional dilemma is fairly strait forward. Become a deist, reject your religion, and especially reject the bible, which is a steaming heap of horse-jobbings in any case.
    This way you can have the god of your dreams/imagination and also your pseudo theological cake to munch on to your little heart’s content. “Non-Jesus wants me for a sunbeam…”

    This advice is free, however if you feel the need to donate, please forward any contribution to the “William Lane Craig Enema Fund’.
    Thank you
    The Ark.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Reminds me of Hitchens’ comment on the death of Jerry Falwell: “If they gave him an enema, they could bury him in a matchbox.”

  • smrnda

    Bob –

    Yeah, I read Greta’s blog as well though I can only find time to comment on far fewer than I read.

    The warm fuzzy feelings I can only attribute to a kind of nostalgia, but attending the pagan ceremony made me realize how even though my level of conscious disbelief in both were the same, there was still a kind of ‘this feels more ridiculous though intellectually, it shouldn’t.’ I guess the American atheist at Xmas might be similar, though Xmas is pretty much a totally secular holiday, but in many ways I consider Jewish holidays to be more a cultural tradition than a religious ceremony.


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