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Unintended Consequences of the Prodigal Son Story

Why can't God follow the example of the prodigal son parable?Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11–32. We’re all familiar with it—a son demands his share of his inheritance and then runs off to some foreign land and wastes it. Destitute, he finally sees the error of his ways and decides to return. He throws himself on his father’s mercy, but the father forgives him in an instant and celebrates his return.

I’m against much of what the Bible stands for, but here’s a story that has real value. It has become a universally understood metaphor in Western civilization, but the Bible is an odd place to find it. Perhaps God might do well by reading it and resetting his own moral compass by its wisdom.

By contrast, the Old Testament has many one-strike-and-you’re-out stories about God. For example, Uzzah touched the Ark of the Covenant to steady it when the oxen stumbled, but God zapped him dead. There’s Onan, who “spilled his seed.” Don’t forget that poor schlub who picked up sticks on the Sabbath. And, of course, Adam and Eve when they ate the forbidden fruit.

This isn’t the “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” God that other parts of the Bible imagine (Ps. 103:8). God has a short fuse and isn’t at all forgiving, quite the opposite of the father in the parable.

If the moral of the parable is that we need to forgive, even after we’ve been grossly wronged, why can’t God set the example? Is he drunk with power, a deity who can do whatever the heck he likes? That’s the message from Job.

Some apologists will argue that it’s ridiculous to try to understand God’s actions with our puny minds. So what if God’s approach makes no sense? God is inscrutable and we should just assume that whatever God does is good and right by definition. The first problem is that this presupposes God and interprets the facts to fit. The second is that Christians who opt for this route must avoid labels for God that pretend that they do understand his actions, like “just” or “good.”

Imagine a Christian responding to something bad happening by saying that we simple humans can’t understand God’s reasoning. But when something good happens, of course, that same Christian is certain that he understands God’s thought process. I got the new job; the Americans conquer Iraq; a single baby is found alive in a crashed airplane—God’s generosity is boundless and his purpose is clear!

Use the “God can’t be understood” defense if you want, but be consistent. If we can’t understand why God allowed the Holocaust, then we can’t understand why he allowed the survivor in the plane crash.

But to get back to the point, why does God not follow the example of the father in the Prodigal Son parable? If we’ve wronged God, why can’t he just forgive us with no strings attached? Why the song and dance about Jesus dying for our sins? Alternatively, given God’s headstrong nature, why is that parable in the Bible?

Incredibly, I’ve heard apologists try to hide God from this spotlight by saying that the moral of the story isn’t that generous forgiveness is a good thing. No, the point of the story is that you must ask for forgiveness.

They sacrifice a noble story to try to salvage the logic of their religion. Sad.

In this Easter season, why imagine that a human sacrifice must be given to appease a savage Old Testament deity? Let’s see the Prodigal Son story as a far more healthy response to being wronged.

An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church.
An atheist believes that deed must be done instead of prayer said.
An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death.
He wants disease conquered, poverty vanished, war eliminated.
— Madalyn Murray O’Hair

Photo credit: Hicks

About Bob Seidensticker
  • Richard S. Russell

    I always felt sorry for the other son, the diligent, productive one who stayed home and minded the farm. It seems to me that he had a legitimate beef about all the fawning over the family’s black sheep while people just took him for granted.

    (Oh, boy, beef, fawns, and sheep all in one metaphor. If this comment were food, it’d be goulash.)

    • SparklingMoon

      The point of the story is that you must ask for forgiveness.
      ——————————————————————————————————
      Bob.
      You are exactly right. The purpose of such descriptions in religious books is always to encourage people to begin a new start if they have made a mistake because of having a weak human nature as a loving God Almighty is always there to accept their repentance. Repentance is always a direct matter between God and His people.

      ”It is obvious that man is very weak by nature and has been charged with hundreds of Divine commandments. On account of his weakness, he falls short in carrying out some Divine commandments and sometimes he is overcome by the desires of the self that incite to evil. On account of his weak nature, he deserves that at the time of any slipping, if he should repent and seek forgiveness, God’s mercy should save him from being ruined. It is a certainty that if God had not been the Acceptor of repentance, man would not have been charged with these hundreds of commandments. This proves that God turns towards man with mercy and is Most Forgiving. Repentance means that a person should discard a vice with the resolve that thereafter, even if he is thrown into the fire, he would not commit that vice. When man turns towards God Almighty with sincerity and firm resolve, God, who is Benevolent and Merciful, forgives him the particular sin. It is one of the high Divine attributes that God accepts repentance and saves a sinner from ruin. If man had not the hope of his repentance being accepted, he would not be able to refrain from sinning. It is the Benevolence of God that He accepts the repentance of some and bestows by His grace such powers on others that they are safeguarded against sinning.( Ruhani Khazain vol. 23. p. 181).

      • SparklingMoon

        If the moral of the parable is that we need to forgive, even after we’ve been grossly wronged, why can’t God set the example?
        ——————————————————————————————–
        When a person sins and then sincerely turns to God for forgiveness, one will find God ready to accept his repentance and to forgive him. God says:
        ”Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their own souls, despair not of the mercy of God.”
        ” O son of Adam, if your sins were to reach the clouds of the sky and you would then seek My forgiveness, I would forgive you.”
        ”O people! Turn to Me in repentance and seek My Forgiveness, for surely I make repentance a hundred times every day.”

        Repentance is an act, which purifies the soul and brings the people closer to His Lord. It puts the heart at rest from guilt. It protects one from falling prey to his desires and lusts and increases his faith. God says:
        ”O My servants, do not despair of Me. I am Merciful and Benevolent and cover up sins and forgive them and am more Merciful towards you than anyone else. No one will have mercy on you as I have. Love me more than you love your fathers for I am greater in love than they are. If you come to me I shall forgive all your sins and if you repent, I shall accept your repentance. If you advance towards me slowly, I shall run to you. He who seeks Me shall find Me and He who turns to Me shall find My door open. I forgive the sins of a penitent even if they are more than the mountains. My mercy upon you is great and my wrath is little because you are My creatures. I have created you and therefore My mercy comprises all of you” ( Ruhani Khazain vol. 23., p. 48).

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Moon:

          When a person sins and then sincerely turns to God for forgiveness, one will find God ready to accept his repentance and to forgive him.

          Not an option, my friend. Try believing in leprechauns and you’ll see the difficulty most people in the world have with believing in your god. You don’t just believe by force of will but by evidence.

        • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

          I see as a point of this parable that humans continue to destroy each other and peace through jealousy.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Y: That’s something to watch out for, and I agree that that’s in there, too.

          However, I do object to someone dismissing an inconvenient conclusion for one that is useful only because it allows them to continue to hold their comfortable presupposition.

        • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

          I am not dismissing other conclusions, I am simply aware that there is more than one conclusion that we may reach about why this story was included in the Bible. If we look at all the stories from an aspect of human family/community dynamics, we may learn more than if we simply attempt to attribute all the morals of the stories to examples of the ways of “God the Father.”

      • Bob Seidensticker

        Moon:

        Wow–what heartless person would read this parable, dismiss the love shown by the father, and say that it’s the son’s asking that’s the whole point of the story?

        Perhaps you can see what crazy stuff religion will make someone do. Well … apparently you can’t, but yeah.

  • Rick

    There is a highly acclaimed book on this subject that you likely haven’t read. It is called Prodigal God, by Timothy Keller. Keller argues for exactly what you pined for above—God following the example of the father, or better yet being the perfect example for the father in the story. He characterizes God as a Prodigal God because God did exactly what would be unexpected for a Jewish man, namely showing mercy, patience, love and forgiveness.

    God did exactly that with the sending of His own Son to make the payment on our behalf so we would not have to. He didn’t have to send Jesus, whose resurrection was celebrated yesterday. But He did it anyway. Now that is radical. And it is God’s character in action. That is what this story is ultimately about.

    • Jason

      “He didn’t have to send Jesus, whose resurrection was celebrated yesterday. But He did it anyway.”

      Rick, I have heard this claim before, but I have to say the more I think about it, the more perplexing it seems to be. If God is really God, why did he kill his son when he didn’t have to?

      • Rick

        Jason,

        He allowed himself (Jesus said he and the Father were one) to be tortured and killed to pay the price we actually owe. It was an unparalleled act of sacrificial love on our behalf. That is how the Bible portrays it.

        Great question, by the way!

        Rick

        • John Evans

          But why was all that NECESSARY? Why all the song-and-dance and ‘sacrifice’ and torture? The debt was owed, if any debt was owed to anyone, to this ‘god’, right? Why not just unilaterally forgive the debt without the pantomime show?

        • MNb

          @JohnH: so your god loves me enough to offer me something I don’t want, don’t need and don’t have asked for (his forgiveness; I rather have the forgiveness of all people I have done wrong in my life; plus boring myself for eternity in his presence, which is somewhere I don’t want to be) but doesn’t love me enough to give myself what I actually want (an end to all wars now; all people treating each other as equals immediately; an end to climate change; an infite supply of energy without the nuisance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics – breaking that one would made it possible to end worldwide pollution). Note that christians like to describe divine forgiveness the greatest gift ever, so I am only asking peanuts.
          Weird god. Assuming that the statement “god loves me” makes any sense, which it doesn’t (Philipse). But that’s for another time.
          And still the story sucks. God can forgive Pinochet, a devout catholic, for killing thousands of people, but can’t forgive me, who never has killed anyone, for not worshipping him. Yeah.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          There is a highly acclaimed book on this subject that you likely haven’t read.

          I participated in a church small group discussion with the multi-part DVD version of the book in which this short parable was dissected over many evenings.

          God did exactly that with the sending of His own Son to make the payment on our behalf so we would not have to.

          Human sacrifice? I’m pretty sure the prodigal son story doesn’t contain this.

          Now that is radical. And it is God’s character in action.

          I agree. From our standpoint in the 21st century, God’s old-fashioned sense of justice that can only be satisfied with a human sacrifice does indeed seem to be very radical.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          He allowed himself (Jesus said he and the Father were one) to be tortured and killed to pay the price we actually owe. It was an unparalleled act of sacrificial love on our behalf.

          Taking this bizarre story and shoehorning it into modern ideas of morality/justice makes no sense. The idea of human sacrifice being good for anything doesn’t work. Tell us that this is God’s intention if you want, but don’t expect a non-Christian to admire this as laudable. Indeed, it’s insane.

        • Kodie

          We don’t actually owe anything. You are sort of saying, well as long as someone else paid my phone bill, I don’t have to dispute the error in charges listed.

          It’s kind of a stupid thing if you think about it. Jesus could have done a lot more with his life if he hadn’t died. Giving your life and dying are two different things. Christianity is where people made up a loophole to get themselves off the hook for something they were told is wrong with them. A guy died, so god’s our best friend now and we don’t have to do a thing.

          How do people today relate to a story that might have made a bigger impact at a time when people did try to appease gods with burnt animals. Hey, instead, I will just take the last bullet, ok? And god will be appeased forever, and all you have to do is love me to consider your debt paid, your spot in heaven secure, your soul completely saved. God completely gives up on people ever being good again, so you don’t even have to be good. No matter how bad you are of a person, god can just forgive you, but only if you love me. It’s totally a loophole, and people take it all so seriously, they will actually favor this guy up and down the block while being shitty to other human beings. I thought I read somewhere that you shouldn’t judge people, but this Jesus stunt really seems to give people the license.

      • JohnH

        Jason,
        Because He loves us and wants us to be able to return to His presence without that experience being worse than Hell to us.

        • MNb

          See above.

        • JohnH

          MNb,
          You should stick to Rick, you don’t appear to know enough about my beliefs in regards to God to have an intelligent conversation. I am LDS so don’t believe in Aristotle’s unmoved mover and everything devised for the Trinity to attempt to fit that or some variation of that idea of God, meaning I can say God love’s me and have it mean something.

          Also, you don’t appear to understand my religion’s beliefs about anything. Catholics don’t accept my churches baptisms as the underlying belief is not something that they recognize as being even a heresy of their beliefs, meaning that fundamental evangelicals and Catholics (officially) both agree that I am not a Christian, which seems funny to me. Boring eternity in His presence shows that you know absolutely nothing about the LDS view of exaltation.

          I am not in a position to judge Pinochet or you. If Pinochet or you repents of what they have done wrong then both are able to be saved, at least to some extent (in Pinochet’s case). Pinochet being a murderer could easily place him in a much worse situation then you, especially if, as Catholic, he had some knowledge of God. But assuming that he repents of his murders and turns to God then I will leave to God to determine how culpable he is of shedding innocent blood.

          Assuming that both you and Pinochet are accountable for you actions then both you were and are sufficiently aware of what is right and wrong to be able to make moral decisions, as you yourself has shown awareness of by saying you would much rather have forgiveness from others you have wronged. If Pinochet said he believed in God but did not follow the teachings of Jesus then his faith was dead being alone (James 2). If you, who does not believe in God, do the things that you know to be right and which are required of God then you show that God’s laws are written in your heart then you will be declared righteous and accepted of God (Romans 2).

          You say you want an end to all wars and everyone to treat each other as equals but what price are you willing to pay to get that? There are only to possible ways for God to accomplish that task, either we all voluntarily become new creatures in Christ and put off our old ways and sins or you are suggesting that God force all of us to act against our own wills making us slaves and worse then slaves. Are you willing to give up your ability to make choices? My scriptures teach that the ability to make choices defines existence, and is the greatest gift from God, so removing our ability to act for ourselves would be worse then any possible hell.

          Of course to make a choice their has to be two viable options. Making it undeniably obvious that there is a God to those that have not already had experiences that make it apparent that it is undeniably obvious that there is a God would mean that there wouldn’t be a real option but to believe in God and to act rightly. This life is the time to see if we well choose what we know to be right over what is wrong, despite how attractive the wrong may be.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          JohnH:

          There are only to possible ways for God to accomplish that task, either we all voluntarily become new creatures in Christ and put off our old ways and sins

          Oh, please. You’re saying that if everyone was a real good Christian that wars would end? I find that a stretch. I see no correlation between Christianity within a country and positive social metrics.

          … or you are suggesting that God force all of us to act against our own wills making us slaves and worse then slaves.

          How does it work in heaven? Is everyone a robot there? Are they all enlightened so that the idea of being bad seems ridiculous? Whatever works there, how about God do it for us here?

          Or is there something beneficial about a dysfunctional society that God wants to put us through?

          Making it undeniably obvious that there is a God to those that have not already had experiences that make it apparent that it is undeniably obvious that there is a God would mean that there wouldn’t be a real option but to believe in God and to act rightly.

          You’ve lost me. There is no problem with my knowing that everyone important in my life (mother, sister, wife, kids, dog, friends, and so on) actually exist. But you’re saying that there is a problem with knowing that God exists? Why is this? It ruins the surprise somehow?

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          Did you miss that the majority of Christians have some degree of issue over calling me a Christian? If everyone were to in their own lives do that which they know to be right regardless of belief then the world would be a much better place. If everyone, further then that, were to seek God and have the Holy Spirit change their nature then yes indeed the wars would end, but that involves more then just calling oneself a Christian or claiming belief in Christ without that changing how one acts towards ones fellowmen, faith without works is dead being alone.

          To be in heaven one must be purified of all ones sins and become perfected in Christ. To reach that point we must be tried and tested in all things to see what it is we will do for ourselves. You appear to be influenced by Platonic thought that being bad occurs because of lack of knowledge (or belief?), this is wrong as Lucifer was the morning star in the presence of God yet fell. Knowing more allows one more freedom of action, not less, but also allows one to fall further than one that knows less.

          It is the intention of God to make us heirs and joint-heirs with Christ, for us to receive everything that God has but to reach that point we must know for ourselves what it is that we are, what we will do when placed in a situation to act for ourselves without divine will directing our every actions. Knowledge before we are prepared to receive it only serves condemn us, while knowledge when we are ready to receive it allows us to progress further.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          Did you miss that the majority of Christians have some degree of issue over calling me a Christian?

          I’m aware of that. I could go either way–the LDS church worships the exact same Jesus Christ, which means that “Christian” is an appropriate label. But it is much more different from the New Testament church than the typical Protestant church, say.

          If everyone, further then that, were to seek God and have the Holy Spirit change their nature then yes indeed the wars would end

          Sounds like No True Scotsman. If I point out a Christian who’s not a nice person, you’ll say, “Oh–he’s not a true Christian.”

          To reach that point we must be tried and tested in all things to see what it is we will do for ourselves.

          Some people lead cushy lives. Some people die as children. Were they tested in all things?

          And this doesn’t answer my question about why there is no sin in heaven. Surely heaven can’t be populated by “really good” people. They wouldn’t be perfect.

        • JohnH

          Bob,
          To be Christian is to be a follower of Christ which Christ said is only those that do what He said, not just those that hear Him or profess to be His.

          “Were they tested in all things?”
          It is up to God to determine what is the testing in all things that He will do for each of us. Having a cushy life is very much a test because the testing is to see what we will do and by being in a comfortable place it is much easier to ignore the suffering of others and to feel as though one is better then others; having been given the ability to help more people and not doing so seems much more of a test of character then being placed in a situation where one struggles for survival day to day.

          “They wouldn’t be perfect.”
          Sorry, how does this:

          “To be in heaven one must be purified of all ones sins and become perfected in Christ”

          not answer your question about why there is no sin in heaven?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John:

          It is up to God to determine what is the testing in all things that He will do for each of us. Having a cushy life is very much a test because the testing is to see what we will do and by being in a comfortable place

          It’s like fighting Jell-O Man. I complain about suffering and you say that it’s a crucible to test people. I ask about people who don’t suffer, and you say that that’s a test as well. I’m sure that if I said that God could test all people more humanely by giving them all cushy lives, you’ll say that each person must be tested in his own way.

          Your hypothesis is unfalsifiable. Not a very good hypothesis.

          Sorry, how does this:

          “To be in heaven one must be purified of all ones sins and become perfected in Christ”

          not answer your question about why there is no sin in heaven?

          Find the most perfect man, the one who’s properly Christian. How will a heaven populated with this kind of person do forever? A lot better than a heaven populated by ordinary people, I imagine, but a trillion years is a long time for someone to remain good and reject temptation, ignore insults and hardships, etc.

        • JohnH

          “Your hypothesis is unfalsifiable. Not a very good hypothesis.”
          It isn’t a scientific hypothesis nor is it supposed to be. 1+1=2 is also unfalsifiable given the normal set of axioms.

          “How will a heaven populated with this kind of person do forever?”
          Our bodies right now are corruptible and subject to all manner of illness, temptation, fatigue, and imperfection. In the resurrection we are raised with incorruptible bodies which removes the majority of problems that you see right away. Also, in Heaven we will have been perfected in Christ, meaning that by our own choice we will have been changed into perfected versions of ourselves.

        • Bob Jase

          If he wants us in his presence why kick us out of it in the first place?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Look–if you’re just going to ask questions, you can’t be in the club!!

        • JohnH

          Bob Jase,

          God presented the plan that we would be sent away from Him in order to be tried and tested in all things and to gain a body so that we would become more like God and we shouted for joy at this plan. We chose to come to earth and agreed to this plan, where we were given a knowledge of good and evil and left free to choose the bitter or the sweet as we would; with the promise that even though we would make mistakes they could be corrected by way of the atonement of Christ and still return to the presence of God. Separation from God is a necessary part of the plan so that we could experience both bitter and sweet, that we could make choices and mistakes and still be able to correct them.

        • Bob Jase

          “God presented the plan that we would be sent away from Him in order to be tried and tested in all things and to gain a body so that we would become more like God and we shouted for joy at this plan.”

          Nobody asked me if I wanted to be born and I certainly did not shout for joy. Since when does god have a physical body btw? And since god supposedly created us and is omniscient wouldn’t any trial or test be unecessary – he already knows how it will turn out and is responsible for making the faulty humans who fail, as he knew they would.

        • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

          I believe so much of human angst is caused by the personification of the spirit that makes humans more complex that all other earthly animals. We can pretend all we want that there are some who know “the mind of a god,” but we are all simply bringing our concept of the special something that seems to be felt by all humans down to manageable terms for that day in history.

          With the advent of the concept that all matter is simply energy manifested in many forms, I have become very comfortable with the concept that whatever it is that energizes humans in a special way is sacred because we will never know all the mysteries of how this energy manifests. This is my favorite part of the whole bible coming up on Pentecost, where The Sacred Spirit is manifest in fire for all humanity. For me this takes away any need for human faces on “God.”

        • JohnH

          Bob Jase,
          Just because you do not currently remember such things does not mean they didn’t happen, or if so most of what you did say four weeks ago no longer happened.

          I am sorry you haven’t been paying attention to my other responses, I am LDS and so reject all of the influences of Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian thought which are pervasive in most of Christianity (and Islam and Judaism) and because of this most other Christians do not consider me to be Christian. One of the most extreme major differences that arise because of this and because of modern revelation is the differences in the conception of all the personages of the Godhead. However, it is easiest to defend these positions in the Bible as Greek philosophy was not a major influence until later.

          Here is my standard response to other Christians that ask the same question, which demonstrates that a true knowledge of God includes the knowledge of Him having a body:

          Many of the prophets both saw and talked with God face to face (Exodus 24:9-11, Exodus 33. Isaiah 6, Job 42:5, Ezekiel 1).

          Man is created in the image (Gen 1:27, Gen 9:6, 1 Corinthians 11:7) and likeness (Gen 5:1, James 3:9) of God. We, being Man, are the offspring of God (Acts 17:29) or in other-words His children (Rom 8:16, Deut 14:1, Ps 82:6, Hosea 1:10, Mal. 2:10, Eph. 4:6, Heb. 12:9) as He is the Father of our spirits. Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of the Father in the flesh. He is in the express image of His Father (Rom. 8:29, 2 Cor. 4:4, Col 1:15, Heb. 1:3) and in the same form (Philip. 2:6, Philip. 3:21) to the point that Jesus said: “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus Christ rose from the dead and retains a body (Luke 24:39, 1 Jn. 3:2, and others) which is like the body that we will receive in the Resurrection (1 Jn. 3:2, Philip. 3:21) and stands on the right hand of God (Acts 7:56 ). Further when Adam had eaten the fruit of knowledge of good and evil he was declared to be as god by God (Gen. 3:22), likewise as children of God if we keep the commandments and follow Jesus Christ then we will become joint-heirs with Christ( Rom. 8:17, Gal. 4:7) and become like Christ and God, become one with them, and participate in their glory (2 Cor 3:18, Eph 4:13, 1 Jn 3:2, Rev. 3:21, John 17:20-26).
          ———

          ” he already knows how it will turn out and is responsible for making the faulty humans who fail”

          God knows the end from the beginning and has all time before Him, but what that means in knowing our choices is not something that is clearly laid out in scriptures. What is clearly laid out is that we are independent to act for ourselves. Meaning that even if God knows how we will act that we do not, nor could we comprehend why or how we would make decisions before we got to the point where we made them. That is even if we were shown ourselves making decisions we would not recognize them as our decisions unless we have actually made those choices; imagine going back to when you were eight and even explaining a large portion of your choices from then to now and see what your eight year old self thinks of all of that. Then imagine trying to have eight year old own all the bad choices you have since made, to feel the guilt, shame, and regret that you now hold; that is neither just nor could the eight year old understand either most of the choices or the consequences of those choices as those experiences have not yet happened for the eight year old.

          You are also running up against another difference between my faith and most of the rest of Christianity. We are co-eternal with God and essential parts of us were not and can not be created or destroyed. God is not responsible for our decisions as they are our own and God has placed us in positions to act for ourselves but those actions and choices are completely and utterly our own.

        • Bob Jase

          “Just because you do not currently remember such things does not mean they didn’t happen,”

          And just because you believe in a religion created by a liar and based on fraudulent history (the whole Israel in America bullshit) does not mean that the did happen. Show me the evidence.

        • JohnH

          Bob Jase,
          Have you ever heard of a Red herring? I hear they are pretty good, though they apparently have a strong smell.

    • ScottInOH

      Rick, there was no payment in the story of the prodigal son. Nor, to refute the apologists Bob mentions near the end, did the son ask for anything; the father got the party plans underway as soon as he saw his son in the distance. It’s unadulterated love.

      • Rick

        I agree in principle. I’m not sure “unadulterated” describes it as well as sacrificial and out of the expected behavior of typical Jewish fathers of the day. It was within the father’s authority to do what he did, but he was not forced to do it. He did it out of an overarching desire to restore the relationship.

        The father did not do it (as some have lampooned him for doing) to spite the older brother, who still eventually received what was left of the estate and still had his father’s loving relationship. The older brother had some lessons to learn about forgiveness as well.

    • Aram McLean

      Timothy Keller also states that slavery was ”different’ back then. Yeah, I don’t anyone should follow Keller’s lead. This video, though off topic from this post, does a good job of showing how ridiculous Keller’s ‘slavery was a barrel of laughs’ argument is. Hence, forget Keller. He’s apparently even more blind and deaf than the other one.
      http://www.youtube.com/user/NonStampCollector?feature=watch

      • Rick

        Aram,

        Thanks for the clarification of what Keller said about an off topic issue. The link you sent me was not about Keller directly, nor his view of slavery in the Bible, but it was an entertaining animated spoof nonetheless, if you like things taken way out of context.

        I hate to raise this, but I’m sure if I do it incorrectly, the ad hominem fallacy police will call me on it. I’m kind of surprised Bob didn’t already point it out as an example of ad hominem fallacy himself, but your post was a pretty good example in any case. I pointed out something Keller said that was relevant to the post concerning the prodigal son. You pointed out something Keller said on a different topic and said therefore you couldn’t address the substance of what he said on this topic.

        The issue of slavery is indeed problematic. This post was about something else. I stand by what I wrote concerning God’s character being revealed in the prodigal son story.

        • Aram McLean

          Yes, I said it was off topic. Just thought you might appreciate knowing that the man you’re basing an argument on is a loon. I believe he discusses the ‘beauty’ of slavery in this sermon:
          http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/literalism-isnt-bible-historically-unreliable-and-regressive
          And speaking of things taken out of context, you’ll likely enjoy this video by the same fellow as did the other one. I think you might see yourself in it:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PK7P7uZFf5o
          In any case, you can argue about ‘topics’ and use debate lingo all you want. As far as I’m concerned Christianity is the Topic, and it’s time to let the whole concept die out like the Bronze Age gods and goddesses it usurped (El, Asherah, etc).
          I will say this about the Prodigal Son though. It shows a father immediately forgiving his son – no strings attached. Your god does not do this, not by a country mile.
          Anyways, there’s a kid with down syndrome next door. He insists on smelling people’s earrings when he first meets them. I could debate with him about why this habit/tradition makes no sense. But I bet you’d agree with me that there wouldn’t be any point.

        • Rick

          Aram,

          Based on your logic, and given your statement…

          As far as I’m concerned Christianity is the Topic, and it’s time to let the whole concept die out like the Bronze Age gods and goddesses it usurped (El, Asherah, etc).

          …I take it you would advise me in the interest of consistency to ignore anything you say opposed to Christianity because of your inherent bias? Seems like the logical thing to do for me, but I look forward to your advice on how to proceed.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          it was an entertaining animated spoof nonetheless, if you like things taken way out of context.

          I watched it, too. It’s great that you liked it, but I’m not sure what it took out of context. You must’ve been embarrassed by Christian apologists who handwave away OT slavery by saying that it was nothing like slavery in the Americas, ignoring the pretty much identical kind of slavery for non-Jews.

          the ad hominem fallacy police will call me on it

          Our motto is “Always Vigilant” (translate that into Latin if it would sound cooler).

          I’m kind of surprised Bob didn’t already point it out as an example of ad hominem fallacy himself

          I’m the Ad Hominem Police, and I still don’t understand this frikkin’ fallacy? Dang!

          Aram points out that Keller made a mistake about slavery. (Of course, “mistake,” sounds like an understatement. “He knowingly lied” may be closer to the truth.) From this, I conclude that Keller isn’t that great a source. Who knows? If he has a record of twisting the facts to support a religious presupposition on so straightforward a topic as OT slavery, maybe he’s been playing games as well (instead of following the facts) with his work on the Prodigal Son story.

          I, for one, won’t dismiss him out of hand. However, it would be irresponsible to accept his research as unbiased scholarship, which I might do for other authors.

        • Aram McLean

          Yes Bob, that was the point I was trying to make. Though I have to admit you wrote it much more elegantly than me.
          This is a great site by the way. I only found it a couple weeks ago and have been greatly enjoying your perspective on things.
          Cheers,
          Aram

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Aram: Thanks for your readership and contributions. Welcome!

        • Rick

          Bob,

          Well, I guess the frikkin policy is all about who agrees with your position. If they do, then they can ignore the issue, argue something else the source said and get away with it. How nice for you.

          I still see it the same. This is a classic fallacy illustration, but much like your argument from silence that I called you on a while back, you restate and refine so that somehow, from your position, it’s all good! Shazam. Like magic! Gotta love it. It was still an argument from silence (I just let it drop—I never agreed with your defense.) And this one is still an ad hominem fallacy example.

          Wikipedia says ad hominem fallacy is “an argument made personally against an opponent instead of against their argument.” That is exactly what happened here. An argument was made against my source rather than what he had to say. And your defense,

          If he has a record of twisting the facts to support a religious presupposition on so straightforward a topic as OT slavery, maybe he’s been playing games as well (instead of following the facts) with his work on the Prodigal Son story. I, for one, won’t dismiss him out of hand. However, it would be irresponsible to accept his research as unbiased scholarship…

          doesn’t change that. It justifies the use of the fallacious reasoning when it suits your purpose. It even garnered an attaboy from you on this occasion. Way to be unbiased yourself!

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          Well, I guess the frikkin policy is all about who agrees with your position.

          Nope. “Ad hominem fallacy” is well defined. No ambiguity there.

          This is a classic fallacy illustration

          And yet again you’ve lost me. Show me how what I said is the ad hominem fallacy.

          argument from silence that I called you on a while back, you restate and refine so that somehow

          Aha! The piezoelectric fallacy compounded with the anti-dielectric fallacy! A pretty elementary error on your part.

          I’m kidding, of course. I use the commonly accepted definitions of the argument from silence and the ad hominem fallacy. No need to make up new stuff.

          Wikipedia says ad hominem fallacy is “an argument made personally against an opponent instead of against their argument.” That is exactly what happened here. An argument was made against my source rather than what he had to say.

          And now I can’t find your original charge to compare this definition against. Was it in a different post? Point me to it and I’ll respond to your definition.

          And while you’re at it, show us how Aram erred earlier, ’cause I missed it. He argued that Keller didn’t understand (or twisted) the very simple matter of slavery in the Old Testament. Sure looks to me like this means that Keller is less believable now than before we knew this information. If this is faulty reasoning, as you seem to argue, show me.

          It justifies the use of the fallacious reasoning when it suits your purpose.

          Show us how it’s done, then. Suppose Scholar X is new to you. He comments on Issue A. You’re going to evaluate him as an average contributor from his field–not perfect, but also not a lying scoundrel. But now, new information! Now you’ve found that Scholar X on a different but related issue (Issue B) has either lied or made an error that would get an F on a freshman paper. What do you do?

          (A) These two events are unrelated. Your view of Scholar X on Issue A is unchanged.

          (B) If he’s erred in one area of scholarship, he is likelier to do it in a related area, so Scholar X on Issue A is slightly lower in your estimation.

        • Aram McLean

          Easy Rick. Go sniff an earring.
          In the interest of full disclosure, as far as I’m concerned taking religious people’s views seriously is one of North America’s (especially the USA) biggest mistakes. Living in Europe is a breath of fresh air. Perhaps due to all the death and destruction religion has given this region over the centuries, they no longer give a crap what religious folk think about things. This is the sanest approach to a very old problem. My only interest in our dialogue was to show you that you were backing a man who condones slavery. But I guess you’d have to believe something similar, or ramble about it being ‘taken out of context’ (whatever that means since it’s pretty obvious that human beings were allowed to own other human beings in the Bible, with YHWH’s blessing?), but that’s your cross to bear. Not mine.
          You see, I don’t have a dog in this fight. The Prodigal Son is just a story to me. Same as Jesus and all the rest. The end result means nothing to me. (And please don’t waste your time threatening me with your imaginary hell.) My mind does not need to contort the facts to fit a world view I desperately don’t want to give up. I follow the evidence to a conclusion; not the other way around.
          So I apologize for getting your emotions up, because to me all of this is really just an interesting anthropology experience. Religious minds are fascinating, it’s true. But you can’t take them too seriously. Sorry.
          Still, I wish you all the best. I won’t be commenting very often, don’t you worry.
          I just noticed you mentioned Timothy Keller, and I thought you should know what a douche he appears to be.
          That is all.
          Ciao

        • Rick

          Aram,

          Thanks for your thoughts. Don’t worry—you didn’t rile me up. I just saw a contradiction in your comments and a fallacy in your logic which I pointed out. You haven’t addressed either one.

          I don’t fully understand all of the slavery issues, I will freely admit. But there is a lot more to Christianity and the OT than that one issue. And dismissing Christianity out of hand is not easy given all the rational evidence in its favor.

          I won’t be sniffing any earrings, and unless you explain why, I won’t be taking you seriously either. You have yet to give me a reason why I should take you seriously while you dismiss what Keller says concerning the Prodigal Son. You can disagree with a different position he holds and still evaluate what he says on topic. You have clear biases that I pointed out as well, so it is exactly the same. You say you have no dog in the fight, but you clearly have preferences that are not easily ignored, and they color your other comments.

          Best wishes,
          Rick

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          I don’t fully understand all of the slavery issues, I will freely admit.

          How is that possible? There are just a handful of verses in the OT that discuss this, and they aren’t even contradictory. They had indentured servitude for fellow Jews and slavery for life for non-Jews.

          Perhaps you meant that you haven’t figured out a rationalization? That you haven’t understood, for a guy like you who’s very familiar with the Bible, is inconceivable.

          dismissing Christianity out of hand is not easy given all the rational evidence in its favor.

          I don’t dismiss Christianity out of hand (sorry for butting into the conversation), but I’m familiar with the evidence. I doubt that there’s evidence that you’re familiar with and that I haven’t come across.

        • John Kesler

          Bob Seidensticker wrote:
          How is that possible? There are just a handful of verses in the OT that discuss this, and they aren’t even contradictory. They had indentured servitude for fellow Jews and slavery for life for non-Jews.

          I would note, though, that even the law regarding the treatment of fellow Israelites changed:

          Exodus 21:2,7
          2When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, but in the seventh he shall go out a free person, without debt. 7When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.
          Deuteronomy 15:12
          12If a member of your community, whether a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you and works for you six years, in the seventh year you shall set that person free.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          John: I hadn’t noticed that contradiction. Thanks for pointing it out.

        • Aram McLean

          Dear Rick,
          I could honestly care less about convincing you of anything. Nor does it matter to me if you think my arguments are ‘this’ ‘that’ and ‘the other’ – whatever debate lingo fits your prognosis.

          To conclude one of my thoughts, the main religious problem in Europe today is their ongoing multicultural blind-spot when it comes to Islam. But that’s an unrelated similar topic to your Jesus love. Or as the Thai’s would say, ‘Same same but different.’
          I shall leave you with one last video (from our favourite cartoon guys). This one concerns the Bronze Age book you obviously consider infallible and without contradiction.
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RB3g6mXLEKk
          All the best aye,
          Cheers,
          Aram

  • Jason

    So what would the Atheist Bible look like? If we tried something like Jefferson (who cut out all the supernatural parts), what would be left for the modern Atheist (either for instruction, inspiration, or just fun reading). Here’s my first stab at it:

    Sermon on the Mount (ethical teaching)
    Prodigal son (ethical teaching)
    Daniel and Revelation (as sci-fi)
    Passages of Genesis like like Noah’s ark and Garden of Eden (obvious myths)
    Job (dialogue on the tragedy of human suffering)
    Paul’s speech on love in his letter to the Corinthians (what else would people read when they get married?)
    Song of Songs (juicy love poetry)

    • ZenDruid

      Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the atheist bible. It has two commandments: (1) Know where your Towel is at all times; (2) Don’t Panic.
      For the early Coptic Gnostic Christians, the Apocryphon of John and the Gospel of Thomas.

    • Greg G,

      Don’t leave out Ezekiel 23 with the soft porn metaphors.

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

    Biblical stories are open to many interpretations, as are Aesop’s fables, and allegories, in general. I don’t care whether the New Testament is based on fact or fiction, I still like the way the man called Jesus treated others. I like many examples that his character sets, especially in the way he related to women and “the unclean.” Until a better “super-hero” comes along, I’ll look for signs of his (true or allegorical) ways in the way “Christians” treat others. There is, for me, an ever-changing experience of that eternal sacred energy. No one “face” could possibly reflect all energy. I don’t know what religion that would fit me into, so I think of myself as a seeker of The Sacred Spirit in all the universe. Does this, defacto, make me an A-theist?

    • John Evans

      No, it makes you a Deist.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Y: John may be right that your search for spirituality makes you a deist.

      As for Jesus being a great moral character, I agree, but only if you pick and choose in the typical fashion. There’s some nutty stuff in there as well–you must hate your family (put me before your family, I think is what he meant), I bring not peace but a sword, etc.

      • Physeter

        The “bring not peace but a sword” thing doesn’t bother me as much as some other things. I take that to mean that Jesus (or the people who made up Jesus) knew his teachings wouldn’t lead to happy, peaceful lives for all his followers; his followers were the ones in danger of the sword. When Martin Luther King Jr and the Civil Rights movement came to the south, it didn’t bring peace at first. It brought strife and anger. “Good Negros” who before had kept their anger quiet and not spoke up were now standing up and claiming their rights, and it looked to the white people like King was stirring up trouble. Those people who marched in the protests didn’t do it because they thought it would bring them peace–they knew they might be beaten or even killed. They did it because they knew it was right and that it would bring a better future in the long run.

        • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

          MLK and Gandhi were both heavily influenced by the Jesus story. They both knew that the sword would be used against them, but had the example of peaceful resistance eventually being more powerful than the sword. Many believe that the Jesus story is infused with much from Buddhism.

          As for the spiritual seeker equaling a theist, if eternal energy equals a god, that may be true. I experience a mysterious and marvelous energy in all the earth and in what I know of beyond our solar system.

      • MM

        Jesus had some nice things to say and I think the core of the story can be inspirational. The problem is that Christianity, particularly modern Evangelicalism, is essentially Paulism with Jesus only thrown in to lighten the mood on Christmas and Easter.

        • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

          This has been one of my arguments for years, Paulinism masquerading as Jesusism, neither of which is what I see as modern Christianity.

        • Bob Jase

          Which of the 20,000 + versions of Christianity today do you consider modern?

          As all claim to be the original version I’d appreciate some details.

        • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

          The “Christian” voices that have proclaimed themselves as “Conservative Christian” Americans are the ones with which I have the biggest beef. I’m tired of those who live lives of responsible compassion that I see as truly Christian (as in the path of those anointed to do the good work of being fully human, not only Jesus narrative believers) not shutting down these hypocritical voices with peaceful protest and boycotts of their churches, radio, and television broadcasts, and sponsors. In my opinion, humans are all called to be “Christian” as in anointed to take care of the sacred in all of creation.

        • Bob Jase

          “In my opinion, humans are all called to be “Christian” as in anointed to take care of the sacred in all of creation.”

          Well isn’t that nice, more than a little condensending and definately biased against non-Christians of all kinds though.

        • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

          It is not condescending when we realize the “The Christ” simply means “the anointed one.” I choose to believe that simply being human makes us anointed choose to do great things with our lives.

    • MNb

      “Until a better “super-hero” comes along”
      Here he is:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi

      In several respects a better man than Jesus of Nazareth (eg animal rights) and, if you need them, some miracle stories as well.

      http://suite101.com/article/miracles-attributed-to-st-francis-of-assisi-a91667

      Of course Francis of Assisi was a christian – but Jesus was a jew, so nothing prevents you from starting a new religion.

      • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

        Francis of Assisi was heavily influenced by the Jesus story.

    • Ood

      But how do you know how the man Jesus treated others? In order to do that, surely you have to take the gospel as real in some sense? Yet everything we know about Jesus is secondhand at best. We don’t really know how he treated others, we know how writers who likely never met him but believed him to be believed him to be devine say he treated others. Even then it’s a mixed bag; he runs off and leaves his mother to worry, then is rude to her about her worrying, he loses his temper in the temple, he claims he’s come to sow division between father and child and that he’s come not with peace but with a sword, he heals a Samaritan woman, but only after calling her an ethnic slur (dog), he runs away from the authorities because ‘it’s not his time yet’ and he prefers to have expensive oil on his feet than to have money given to the poor. He’s a contradictory figure, and not perfect.

      • Rick

        Ood,

        You’ve taken the most unfortunate possible interpretation of every event you listed. Let me give you two suggestions for a different interpretation and see how severely I get piled on by the hostile crowd. Or maybe even they can learn a new way to look at it. (Not likely, though.)

        1. Have you considered the possibility that the Gospel writers actually knew Jesus firsthand and wrote what they knew of him into their narratives? If so, then you get an entirely different spin on what they wrote than what most of the contributors here would offer.

        2. Just one of your examples above is very different when you look at the actual text. When Jesus uses the term “dog” in the conversation with the woman, in our language it is an ethnic slur. But in the original language, there were two words that could have been used. One was a stray dog, a cur if you will, a dangerous, snarling sort of beast. The other is a loved family pet, cuddled by all and fed food from the table of the owner’s family, always cared for. It is this second term Jesus uses, assuring the woman that she is loved and cared for, and he encourages the response she gives. I can visualize him doing it with a twinkle in his eye, smiling in a way that encourages her to give a response he can build on in the crowd setting. And he grants her request.

        All of the examples you gave have interpretations that are deeper and more favorable than the ones you offered. Those alternative understandings present Jesus in a much different light than you will typically see portrayed on this blog, where “clear thinking about Christianity” usually means “sling as much mud as possible.” It doesn’t have to be that way. There is little objective discussion here, but occasionally a few of us still try.

        I’m putting on my suit of armor now.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          1. Have you considered the possibility that the Gospel writers actually knew Jesus firsthand and wrote what they knew of him into their narratives?

          Sure, possible. How likely? As you’ve probably read before, the traditional assignment of names to the gospels is tenuous.

          If you’re saying that you can pick your way through the evidence so that your beliefs remain intact, I agree. That’s not how I do it, though–I follow the evidence where it leads, with no presupposition.

          The other is a loved family pet, cuddled by all and fed food from the table of the owner’s family, always cared for.

          The NET Bible agrees with your point. Nevertheless, Jesus’s distinction remains: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). Call her a pet dog if you prefer, but she still ain’t one of the “lost sheep of Israel,” and “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

          This is a pretty harsh us-vs.-them distinction.

          And he grants her request.

          Most of the time, the begging dog is kicked away but, yes, sometimes it does amuse us and get a scrap.

          “clear thinking about Christianity” usually means “sling as much mud as possible.” It doesn’t have to be that way.

          I lay out the facts as I find them. I’m not going to put a pro-Christian spin on the facts. Sorry.

        • Kodie

          So if not an ethnic slur, then a sexist slur? I could also be off here, but I don’t think they had the same cultural affection for dogs that we do in the US. Dogs as family pets is not universal nor timeless in effect. They are working animals. People even in different parts of the US have different levels of affection for a dog. In the North, they are practically children. At least my former boss from Georgia told me they (“the South”) had nowhere near such a regard for any animals when he grew up and he’s not much older than I am. I find it just difficult to believe this interpretation without a lot more background, since you make it sound like the whole world loved dogs as much as any other member of their family, 2000 years ago, in the Middle East, that it could possibly have been a term of affection. It just seems peculiar that one story in the bible mentions a person called a dog, and you’re not supposed to take it in a demeaning way.

          I would balance this with the realization that up to this day, most expressions in English, in the US (and elsewhere, I don’t know too much about), equating a human with a dog are negative. It could be that once upon a time, dogs were lovingly compared to humans and now they are blamed for all the most negative characteristics of a dog or being treated as if one were a dog, i.e. worked too hard. It’s really easy to think that was what was meant, as we’re familiar with these expressions, but that in one story in the bible was the only instance (or perhaps commonplace at the time) of anyone ever comparing a human to a dog to mean something favorable.

        • JohnH

          In Mesoamerica they ate dogs as a tasty source of protein.

        • Kodie

          It’s exactly just interpretations. I guess we could interpret Batman comics also. He was not simply a do-gooder, he had moods, he was complex. But he behaves in ways that aren’t completely perfect, in many ways simply egotistical. He gets away with it because you already suppose he is god? You give him leeway and defer to his greater (supposed) purpose than just saying he’s the worst because you wouldn’t tolerate him if he were anyone else.

          This is the apologetic thinking, I think Bob did a good job putting that in his blog post today. Jesus is a cat who always lands on his feet no matter what. If Jesus did it, and it’s hard for a puny human to understand, let’s just assume the best and interpret it from there. No actual context. It’s a story with a protagonist who seems to have flaws, but it’s all evened out after we know how it ends, and interpret that to have a particular meaning as well: of course, he died to pay the debt we owe once and for all, and that is supposed to move people. You don’t have alternate interpretations, just ones you like because if you think about it another way, your story falls completely apart and you believe in nothing and omg, a tragedy because then your soul can’t be saved if you don’t believe.

          It’s like living in a bubble and nobody’s supposed to pop it by introducing our alternate interpretations when you already know what’s what in there.

    • SparklingMoon

      I don’t know what religion that would fit me into, so I think of myself as a seeker of The Sacred Spirit in all the universe.
      —————————————————————————————————-
      Y,
      In order to recognize a true religion it is necessary to look at three matters. In the first place, one must see what is the teaching of a religion concerning God. That is to say, what does a religion state with regard to the Unity, power, knowledge, perfection, greatness, punishment, mercy and other attributes of the Divine…..
      Secondly, it is necessary that a seeker after truth should inquire what does a religion teach with regard to his own self and with regard to human conduct. Is there anything in its teaching which would disrupt human relationships, or would draw a person into courses which are inconsistent with modesty and honour, or would be contrary to the law of nature, or would be impossible to conform to or carry out, or make it dangerous to do so. It would also be necessary to see whether some important teaching needed to control disorderliness has been left out. It would also be necessary to discover whether a religion presents God as a Great Benefactor with Whom a relationship of personal love should be established and whether it lays down commandments which lead from darkness into light and from heedlessness to remembrance.

      Thirdly, it is necessary for a seeker after truth to satisfy himself that the god presented by a religion should not be one who is believed in on the basis of tales and stories and resembles a dead being. To believe in a god who resembles a dead being, belief in whom is not by virtue of his having manifested himself but is due to one’s own good faith, would be to put him under an obligation. It is
      useless to believe in a god whose powers are not felt and who does not himself make manifest the signs of his own existence and life. [Nasim-e-Da‘wat, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 19, pp. 373-374]

      • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

        Thank you for your recommendation. It led to my doing further study on Islam. It seems that early on Islam was a religion succeeding in unity and peace with other Abrahamic brothers and sisters. I am not aware of a modern practice of religion seeking peace on earth among all people. My “religion” is probably closer to the early beliefs of Islam than to any of the later beliefs in any given religion that has gotten sidetracked by seeking power o n earth through means other than those that are peaceful.

        It seems the “Age of Enlightenment” actually brought on more darkness. I hope we are experiencing a new “Pentecost” in the “new age” of religious inquiry. I believe EVERY age has prophets.

        • SparklingMoon

          I believe EVERY age has prophets.
          —————————————————————————–
          All religions, whatever their name or doctrines, wherever they be found and to whichever age they belong, have the right to claim the possession of some Divine truth. Also, one has to admit that, despite the differences in their doctrines and teachings, religions are most likely to have a common origin. The same Divine authority, which gave birth to any religion in one area of the world, must also have looked after the religious and spiritual needs of other human beings in other parts of the world and belonging to different ages.
          In every Divinely revealed religion, there is always found a central core of teaching, which is bonded to the human psyche and eternal truth. This core of religions remains unchangeable unless, of course, the followers of that religion corrupt that teaching at a later period of time.

          The Reformer of the time has presented a beautiful principle to the followers of different religions to live together in harmony and peace:
          ”It is an attractive principle that promotes peace and lays down the foundations of good accord and helps moral conditions that we should accept as true all the Prophets, whether they appeared in India or Persia or China or in any other country, and God established their honour and greatness in millions of hearts and made firm the roots of their religions and let them flourish for centuries. This is the principle that the Qur’an has taught us and according to this principle, we honour the founder of every religion, which has become well established, whether of the Hindus or of the Persians or of the Chinese or of the Jews or of the Christians.”
          He further says:
          “One of the principles which form the basis of my belief refers to the established religions of the world. These religions have met with wide acceptance in various regions of the earth. They have acquired a measure of age, and have reached a stage of maturity. God has informed me that none of these religions were false at their source and none of the prophets’ impostors.”(A Gift for the Queen(Tohfa-e-Qaisariyyah) by Mirza Ghulam Ahmed)

        • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

          I am happy to be having this interchange regarding the Qu’ran and other religious writings. It seems to me that all religions get into trouble when they take up arms to “convert” others. I am much encouraged reading that there was a time in history when all three major Abrahamic religions honored each other and lived in peace. If it was done once, it can be returned to.

  • trj

    The schizophrenic behavior of God is easily explained: different authors wanted to emphasize different ideas of God.

    Some wanted to impress with a powerful god that can strike you dead on the spot, some wanted to create a story of a genocidal warrior god who forged a nation and a people, some liked the idea of a loving, forgiving god.

    This of course left later theologians with the headache of resolving all of these different character traits into a consistent god. A problem they still face today, and one which for lack of a better explanation they reconcile with God being ineffable – a pitiful attempt which doesn’t address the problem.

    • ZenDruid

      Yeah, that’s what happens when you try to blend Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck into one character.

      • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com Ubi Dubium

        And now I’m trying to envision how that combined character would pronounce “ineffable”! I’m pretty sure that I can’t spell how the pronunciation would come out.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      trj:

      Here’s a thought: you’ve got a religion that is full of contradictions, like those the Bible. If you’re able to make it through your first century or two and become popular, the nutty contradictions become an asset. Now, as conditions change (slavery is out of vogue, same with polygamy, etc.), you can pick and choose different passages. Your unchanging book actually becomes flexible as it morphs (through the changing emphasis) over time.

    • MNb

      LOL, theology defined as the study of how to blend those three cartoon characters together into something consistent …

  • smrnda

    The lesson I get is that it’s tough to write a short story with a moral without accidentally saying something bad by accident. I mean, the prodigal son returns, and apparently, everybody starts the party without inviting the son who stayed. If this is such a huge deal that you kill the fatted calf, you think the father would have invited the whole family? It’s kind of how, on one level, Batman is about taking on injustice, but it kind of implies that people are lost without some wealthy and privileged benefactor to fight their battles for them.

    On god gods and forgiveness, if some authority figure wants to subject me to unreasonable rules I didn’t agree to follow, and then they pretend to be generous by providing me some kind of forgiveness, I think that sounds like a lousy deal. And if I accept, what, is the god of the Bible going to reprogram my brain so that now I agree with everything he says in his not so good book so I will happily enjoy his presence? That sounds somewhere between Chairman Mao and the ‘Happy Helmet’ episode of Ren and Stimpy.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      A scary confluence …

  • Rick

    Look–if you’re just going to ask questions, you can’t be in the club!!

    Asking questions is encouraged. Listening for actual answers is even better. That doesn’t happen much these days.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Listening for actual answers is even better.

      You’ll get no objection from me. A meaty reply is what bloggers live for.

    • smrnda

      I’m not sure what context you’re talking about, though I had some exposure to what might be considered mainstream Christianity. You ask questions, and get canned answers, and then everybody nods and smiles. If you say you don’t find the answers adequate, your told (with a smile of course) how we all need to humble ourselves and accept the conclusions of those who god obviously gave insights to.

      In any sort of closed ideological group there’s always the illusion that you can ask questions. There’s always accepted things you can debate, whether you’re in a room with Christians, or orthodox Marxists or rampant anarchists or free-market fundamentalists, all which give the nice illusion that dissent and questioning is tolerated, just insofar as you stay within the perimeter of accepted questions and stick to the usual endless and pointless discussion of topics which don’t threaten the Central Dogma.

      • Rick

        I’m sorry that was your experience. It hasn’t been mine since I left denominational churches and got into serious small group Bible studies and churches that actually encouraged them. I’m sure there are some independent Christian churches in your area that would help you find a more open and constructive avenue for legitimate questions. I’ve never shut down sincere questions in any setting where I’ve been involved.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick: Are you saying that your church/small groups welcome skeptics? I wouldn’t doubt it if you said that they did, just that this seems to be unusual. Of course, it’s unusual for skeptics to participate in church groups (a shame, IMO), but in my limited experience, Christians don’t much care for boat rockers.

          I’m in a Mars Hill small group (have you heard of Mark Driscoll?). They’re nice people, but I’m obviously the odd man out. My questions are tolerated, but I do try to minimize my disruption.

        • Rick

          Bob: That is exactly what I’m saying. We have one in our group and she and her boyfriend are very welcome. I’d like more, and am thinking of starting a “skeptics anonymous” discussion group. I’m glad you’re doing the Mars Hill discussion group. I’ll bet they welcome your participation more than you realize. Your desire to minimize disruption is admirable self control on your part.

        • smrnda

          I did some of those type studies a long time ago. The leader/moderator would say “That’s a really good question” to a tough question, and would be honest when they didn’t have an answer, which was most of the time. Some of them were nice enough to admit that, for some problems and objections out there, there are no good answers. It’s refreshing for me to run across a person who admits that you can’t exactly reconcile the god of the Old Testament and Job with a loving god, though it just made me wonder why they believed in any of it.

          I just feel that I’ve heard enough or even too much to make it worth my while. I’m a busy woman with an active social life, so the most discussion of religion I do happens online, when I can take it in convenient ten minute increments.

    • Kodie

      Listening for answers? Sorry, but where do these answers come from? Supposing there is a god, what actual answers can you give that weren’t made up to begin with? Maybe god is like this, maybe god wants that, maybe someone saw a pattern or doesn’t like something so their answer goes to how god made them in agreement with himself once they accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. There are no actual answers, even if there may be a god.

  • Patrick

    “But to get back to the point, why does God not follow the example of the father in the Prodigal Son parable? If we’ve wronged God, why can’t he just forgive us with no strings attached? Why the song and dance about Jesus dying for our sins?”

    If God just forgave people’s sins without dealing with them legally, He would not be perfectly just. Imagine a judge who told the defendant whose guilt had been proven: “I forgive you. You are a free man.”

    • Bob Jase

      Yet we are told that Jesus demanded that we forgive others even though there is no legal action involved. Jesus is a hypocrite.

    • Barael

      “Imagine a judge who told the defendant whose guilt had been proven: “I forgive you. You are a free man.””

      …as opposed to a judge who first brings out his son, tortures and crucifies him and THEN simply says that?

    • MNb

      Ah, so that’s divine justice – as an unbeliever I am punished with a relatively peaceful and luxury life and with the prospect of not going to a realm – Heaven – I don’t want to go to anyway. At the other hand christians in say North-Korea enjoy innumerable divined blessings. Yeah, makes sense. Divine justice is so different from human justice that I prefer to be spared of it.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Patrick:

      Imagine a judge who told the defendant whose guilt had been proven: “I forgive you. You are a free man.”

      You mean like the father in the story whose son wronged him? He said, “I forgive you.”

      And God can’t??

      • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

        It is my belief that the reason Jesus died is not to have his blood-thirsty god/ father forgive humanity’s sins. I believe that, in keeping with the age old understanding that gods wanted blood sacrifices, this is how the story has been interpreted and also why it was important to the people of the time that Jesus be willing to die. I believe Jesus submitted to the will of the people to prove his point that he really was that dedicated to the mission that he saw for his life.

        My belief is that the most important part of the Jesus narrative is the emphasis on moving away from the giving of one’s life in death, and the giving of one’s life in responsibly compassionate service to each other. In many instances, it’s easier to die a dramatic death than it is to continue making meaning out of our mostly mundane lives.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Y:

          this is how the story has been interpreted and also why it was important to the people of the time that Jesus be willing to die.

          Based on any evidence? Just a hunch or wishful thinking, it sounds like.

          And keep in mind that Jesus “died” in the same way that someone on the operating table whose heart stops (but which is then started again) “dies.” In other words, not really.

          giving of one’s life in responsibly compassionate service to each other.

          I gotta applaud that.

        • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

          Even eye witness “evidence” is unreliable, as each of us can only testify to our own perception of the moment. This is my perception of the story of humanity’s attempts to grow toward a more compassionate animal:
          The story of Cain and Abel is based on who made the most important sacrifice to the gods, blood or grain. The story of Abraham is about his god turning him away from human sacrifice. The story of Jesus seems to be another attempt to turn humans away from the spilling of human blood to appease an angry god, but perhaps humanity wasn’t ready for that degree of enlightenment yet.

          In my belief system is the belief that the energy that manifest itself for a short time in earthly forms is never “dead.” This energy lives on in the universe. That is why I believe it is so important to attempt to steer our energy toward the positive. As for the resurrection of the body in physical form, I don’t care to argue that point, as it makes no difference to the values in my belief system.

          I will say that there are often times that the memories (spirits?) of my loved ones, living and dead, are so clear that I can actually hear and see them as if they were standing in front of me, especially in my most meditative states.

    • John Evans

      Would you consider an aspect of justice that the punishment assigned be proportionate to the severity of the crime committed? If so, how do you justify infinite punishment for finite crimes?

    • smrnda

      If the crime is trivial, ridiculous and absurd or relatively minor, then dismissing the charges is more just. Systems of laws themselves can be unjust by being too draconian. Christians always tell me every sin must be punished. I don’t see why, since I tend to realize that any rule which is broken had to be made in the first place. You can create an arbitrarily restrictive legal code that makes it impossible for anyone not to be a criminal, but anybody who creates such a code is obviously setting up a regime like North Korea.

  • Greg G,

    JohnH says:
    In Mesoamerica they ate dogs as a tasty source of protein.

    They eat dog meat in Vietnam. I’m told that the Vietnamese Buddhists tend to not eat it but the Catholics and the Cambodian Buddhists do. My observations confirm this as when I see a food stand selling thit cho, I have seen a Catholic church nearby. When I see signs advertizing cai nuong, cai to, or other words with cai where the “a” in cai has a caret (^) and an apostrophe (‘) over it, it is in an area with a Cambodian presence, usually along the Mekong, so I assume they escaped the Khmer Rouge along that route. (It took me a while to work out that cai with only the caret over the “a” meant “leaf” and was used in restaurant signs in reference “green tea”.)

    Just a couple of months ago, we were walking down the street in Tra Vinh. Across the street from a Cambodian temple, a man was grilling dog meat for his restaurant next to the sidewalk. What really broke my heart was that it smelled so good.

    • JohnH

      I take it you haven’t tried the dog meat?

      At least they are open as to it being dog meat. In Brazil it was commonly assumed that street vendors were probably partially using dog meat but that they would never admit to doing so; The same apparently assumed for street vendors in many other countries. It would be interesting to analyze the meat from street vendors in developing countries to see how common the practice actually is or if the whole thing is just some rumor that is compelling and well spread.

      • Greg G.

        No, I haven’t tried it. Some of my best friends were dogs. Over there, I have eaten crickets, ostrich (guess what it tastes like).. pigeon (tastes more like duck but not as good as the crickets), sea anemone, several kinds of mussel, eel, thousand year eggs, small white pickled eggplant with mam tom (fermented shrimp paste), vu sua (a fruit and the name means “breast milk”), durian (a very sweet fruit that smells like a gas leak), and Ga Ran Kentucky.

        I have seen the farms where they raise dogs for food on Phu Quoc. I’ve seen have a half-dozen half-grown pups in a cage on the back of a motorbike in Bien Hoa. I have seen the carcasses on the grill and on food carts. They were too big for cats or rats. Anything else would likely be more expensive so if you want dog meat, you will most likely get it.

        While riding the bus from Ha Long Bay to Hanoi, I saw a yellow billboard with red letters with THIT CHO and THIT MEO. You can work out what the latter is.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Greg: I’ve not been to SE Asia, but I have eaten guinea pig in Peru. Not much of a walk on the wild side, I’ll admit. Thinking that I wouldn’t want that much, I ordered half of one. That was a mistake. It’s cut down the middle, like an anatomy dissection, teeth and skull and all.

        • Greg G.

          So getting half a guinea pig is like splitting hares?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          :-O

  • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

    The personification of the spiritual seems to be the problem in recognizing the sacred in all things, even in the meat that we kill for food, and in pretending that all dogs have spirits like humans. I’m okay with never knowing whether Jesus had a pet puppy or whether he was speaking ironically to the woman.

  • John Kesler

    How do I post in rich text to this blog, so that I can use bold, italics, hyperlinks, etc.? I don’t get that as an option.

    • Greg G.

      Hi John,

      You can use some simple HTML tags.

      <i> text in italics </i>

      So it’s i for italics, b for bold, u for underlined text, “blockquote” for the indented paragraphs.

      Links use an <a href=”URLgoesHere”>Page title or somethinglt;/a>

      It’s important to have the closing tag with the slash.

      • John Kesler

        [blockquote]Hi John,

        You can use some simple HTML tags.

        text in italics

        So it’s i for italics, b for bold, u for underlined text, “blockquote” for the indented paragraphs.

        Links use an Page title or somethinglt;/a>

        It’s important to have the closing tag with the slash.[/blockquote]

        I’m [b]testing[/b] to see if I did [i]this[/i] correctly.

        • Greg G.

          You are close. Just use less than signs and greater than signs instead of square brackets.

      • Greg G.

        Here’s an HTML failure.

        Links use an <a href=”URLgoesHere”>Page title or somethinglt;&#47a>

        It should have been:
        Links use an <a href=”URLgoesHere”>Page title or something<&#47a>

        To start a tag, use a less than sign, the code for the effect, and a greater than sign. Where you want to end the effect, use the less than sign, a forward slash, the same code for the effect, and the greater than sign. If you forget to close the effect, the rest of the post will have it.

        It is tricky to show a less than sign followed by a greater than sign as the the signs and the text between them may be interpreted by the browser as HTML and be invisible.

        You can use more than one effect but you should use the close tags in reverse order as simple browsers on handhelds may not be as robust as a regular computer. They also prefer lower case tags but most browsers are not case sensitive. These are best practices.

        There are other tags that might work but some blogs don’t allow the whole range.

        • Greg G.

          Now I’m just curious.

          <font size=+3></font>
          <font color=”green”></font>
          <font fontface=”Times New Roman”></font>
          <font size=+3 color=”green” fontface=”Times New Roman”></font>

        • Greg G.

          I checked the source code and the blog software deleted the “font” tags I used in the above..

          To display the less than and greater than signs, I used “&lt;” for < and “&gt;” for >. Here I used &amp; for the ampersand so it doesn’t look like code to the browser.

      • John Kesler

        Hi John,

        You can use some simple HTML tags.

        Thanks for this, Greg.

        • Greg G.

          You are quite welcome, John.

        • Greg G.

          The u for underline doesn’t work here.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Greg has already given you the details, but I wrote a post on this. There are a few more details there.

  • John Kesler

    Bob Seidensticker wrote:
    Greg has already given you the details, but I wrote a post on this. There are a few more details there.

    Perhaps that post could permanently appear at the top of your blog.

    • John Kesler

      I should have said a link to the post, not the post itself.

  • Greg G

    SMoon,

    Truth seekers should start with a system for acquiring knowledge with verification that serves to correct errors. Truth seekers should begin with an open mind. When one starts by searching for a religion, you have made a presumption that you may never recover from. If you seek truth honestly and it leads to religion, fine. If honestly seeking truth does not lead to God, then either there is no god or the god does not wish to be found.

    OTOH, simply listing things that your religion considers to be more important than the religion down the street do3s not establish that those are the things one should look for in a religion. The first thing one should consider is what they believe and why they believe it. The most important question is “why?”.

    Technology advanced slowly while people tried to include their various deities into their lives. Around the 18th or 19th century, technology matched what the Romans had. Either the god who does not wish to be found blessed humanity for not trying to include him as a hypothesis or it was simply a matter of forcing a nonexistent thing into reality was a detriment to advancement.

  • Rick

    How is that possible? There are just a handful of verses in the OT that discuss this, and they aren’t even contradictory. They had indentured servitude for fellow Jews and slavery for life for non-Jews.

    Perhaps you meant that you haven’t figured out a rationalization? That you haven’t understood, for a guy like you who’s very familiar with the Bible, is inconceivable.

    I have some answers I can live with, but they have been explained to you before and you haven’t bought into them. It is a hard issue. The fact that you don’t accept them doesn’t shock or surprise me. The answers have to do with showing evil to be what it is, pulling the Jewish people back from the boundaries of the rest of their society at large, etc. Putting any limits on slavery and eventually having Christianity lead the charge to end it was a long road.

    …dismissing Christianity out of hand is not easy given all the rational evidence in its favor.

    I don’t dismiss Christianity out of hand (sorry for butting into the conversation), but I’m familiar with the evidence. I doubt that there’s evidence that you’re familiar with and that I haven’t come across.

    That is why the comment was addressed to someone else who did discount it out of hand.

    But on both these issues, don’t get all misty eyed thinking you are about to be declared the victor in the battle of atheism over Christianity. On balance, you have far, far more evidence to explain away based on naturalism leading to what looks so much like design.

    I recently listened to a Dawkins hour-long talk on reclaiming intelligent design. He sounded like a spoiled child stomping his feet, over and over claiming that Darwinian evolution really is the explanation Really. It is. No kidding. Those stupid creationists who think appearance of complexity suggests design. How stupid.Why can’t they just bow down to my awesomeness and smarty-pantsedness. No, I’m serious. Really.

    Pretty convincing, I must say. NOT.

    You still have far more explaining to do than simply one issue of slavery, significant as that is.

    • http://OneFamilyManyFaiths.blogspot.com Y

      In my opinion, humanity is still evolving on a not-necessarily-physical plane., but on an awareness and freedom of choice plane.

      The closer we get to understanding that pre-conception influences do influence each generation, the closer we’ll become to stopping all the competition over first-born birthrights, and the more we’ll focus on the synergy of the separate gifts of community.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Rick:

      It is a hard issue.

      Is that the right word? Or do you mean that it’s an uncomfortable issue? You demand that the Bible be taken literally, not dismissing passages because you don’t like them in “cafeteria Christianity” style. I respect your principled stand on this. But then it seems to me that you must call a spade a spade. God clearly has no problem with slavery for life for non-Jews. He knew how to issue “thou shalt not” commandments.

      Doesn’t surprise me–other neighboring tribes did it. I don’t see anything hard about it.

      Putting any limits on slavery and eventually having Christianity lead the charge to end it was a long road.

      So the Jewish people are analogous to a child? You can’t teach a child complicated things when he’s only 5 years old–like that?

      But this makes no sense. If God wanted to have training wheels, OK, he hands out warning tickets for the first 5 years. In the case of the Ten Commandments, they took effect immediately. These were capital crimes, and there was no pretense of easing people into it over centuries.

      you have far, far more evidence to explain away based on naturalism leading to what looks so much like design.

      My post on dysteleology in DNA nails the door shut on the Design Hypothesis in my mind. If you disagree, feel free to point out any errors.

      Pretty convincing, I must say. NOT.

      I haven’t listened to that lecture, but a petulant Richard Dawkins is irrelevant, just like a baby-eating Charles Darwin is irrelevant. It’s the consensus of scientists it the relevant field that’s relevant, and that consensus is unchanged.

      • Rick

        Hard, uncomfortable, whatever. I’ve said what I said. As I already told you, I know you aren’t open to any hypothesis differing from your conclusions. I don’t see you as being open to even the concept of existence of God, so I don’t expect you to be open to some of the conclusions to which such an existence might lead.

        My post on dysteleology in DNA nails the door shut on the Design Hypothesis in my mind.

        I haven’t read that post, and you didn’t link to it. I don’t have time to sift through your posts looking for it today. But this quote says far more about the state of your mind than it does about the state of the design hypothesis.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Rick:

          Hard, uncomfortable, whatever.

          All I’m saying is that it’s not difficult at all to understand. The only difficult thing is your reconciling your image of a nice god with the slavery-loving god of the Old Testament. That’s why “uncomfortable” seemed to be a reasonable synonym.

          I know you aren’t open to any hypothesis differing from your conclusions.

          Nope. I like to back the correct horse. When I make a claim that fails because of new information from other commenters, you won’t see that argument from me again. If you do see an argument repeated, then obviously I wasn’t impressed with any pushback I got.

          I don’t see you as being open to even the concept of existence of God

          How open can someone be who’s seen every argument for God fail (spectacularly or moderately) but who concedes that God’s nonexistence hasn’t been proven? That’s how open I am.

          I haven’t read that post, and you didn’t link to it.

          Say no more–here it is.

    • Aram McLean

      I wasn’t planning on getting back into this with someone so obviously fully saturated in the Kool-Aid, but I couldn’t help notice your comment Rick, about, ‘someone…who did discount it out of hand.’ Now Rick, using your pseudo-intellectual debate lingo, should I call that ‘a conclusion made in ignorance’? Or should I just call it what it is? Ignorant.
      At what point do you know me enough to state as fact that I ‘discounted Christianity out of hand’? You don’t know anything about me. I likely know your religion better than you do. In fact, I probably do as I’m looking at it from outside the bubble I once was in. Naturally I therefore see both sides, whereas you only see one. Hence, I am better informed than you by default.
      But, whatever. I know this is a waste of time and I’m in the Highlands of Scotland right now, the sun is beaming for weeks now, and the Isle of Skye awaits me tomorrow. I shall tilt my whisky dram in your general direction.
      Just thought you should know that you make conclusions about people from a place of ignorance. Something, perhaps, to be aware of.
      All the best, Rick

      • Rick

        My comment was only in ignorance based on what you said (or didn’t). From what you said, I concluded you had discounted Christianity out of hand, which is a phrase meaning that you “refuse it completely without thinking about it or discussing it.” Since you didn’t back up your statement but simply stated your disdain for Christianity without a basis, that is not my ignorance. Perhaps it was your lack of clarity that caused me to commend as I did.

        Dram away, and thanks for doing it in my general direction, I think. But you, on the other hand, are enlightened to characterize me as

        obviously fully saturated in the Kool-Aid
        [one who uses] pseudo-intellectual debate lingo
        Ignorant.
        One who knows less about my religion than you do
        Less informed than you, by default
        One who makes conclusions about people from a place of ignorance.

        Thanks for fully demonstrating all these ideas with you fully documented thoughts proving these contentions. It is something about which I will certainly have to “… perhaps, to be aware of.

        I feel so enlightened. Thanks!
        Rick

        • Aram McLean

          I’m glad that you learned something.
          Cheers


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