Why Do We Worship God? Dialogue with an Atheist

Why Do We Worship God? Dialogue with an Atheist May 11, 2018

Bob Seidensticker is an atheist and webmaster of the popular Patheos blog, Cross Examined. His words will be in blue. The initial discussions took place in a combox for another paper. They are in a very different form there because here I edited (in my usual fashion) to make it have a back-and-forth “Platonic / Socratic dialogue” flow and to stay as much as possible on the topic of worship of God.

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I’m baffled by the worship thing. Why would any omniscient being even want worship? . . . I have no clue what worship is for?

1. We worship God first and foremost because He is the Creator of the Universe: because of Whom He inherently is: the Supreme Being.

When I ask the question, I’m simply pointing out that worship is what a priesthood might want to have (and therefore invent). But from the standpoint of the supreme being himself? I don’t get it. If you gradually got more social power until you were all powerful, would you insist on worship? Some basic respect, sure. An acknowledgement of who’s boss, fine. But actual down-on-your-knees “You’re so fabulous!” worship? Makes no sense to me.

I think it makes perfect sense, and is common sense. Those who create us immediately deserve at the very least our respect (even you accept that).

Right. Respect ≠ worship. Not even close.

Or am I confused about what you mean by “worship”?

I have offered partial analogies [below] that I think adequately help to conceptualize worship (natural respect toward parents and the usual substance of love letters). I can do no further. You say you don’t understand what worship means. I have done my best to explain to you by reasoned arguments and use of analogy.

And here’s my analogy. We do have people here on earth that desire worship, and we don’t like that. As one becomes more sage-like, their desire for (and acceptance of) worship drops. Assuming God is even more sage-like, I can’t imagine him putting up with worship.

Here’s how what praise sounds like to me. 

Chaplain: Oh Lord… 
Congregation: Oh Lord… 
Chaplain: Oooh you are so big… 
Congregation: Oooh you are so big… 
Chaplain: So absolutely huge. 
Congregation: So ab – solutely huge. 
Chaplain: Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here I can tell you. 
Congregation: Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here I can tell you. 
Chaplain: Forgive Us, O Lord, for this dreadful toadying. 
Congregation: And barefaced flattery. 
Chaplain: But you are so strong and, well, just so … super. 
Congregation: Fan – tastic. 
Congregation: Amen

Regretfully, I can’t say that I have any reply to that (if indeed there is any possible reply), as I regard it as utterly irrelevant to our discussion. But thanks for it, because it does provide insight into the level and mentality with which you approach the worship question. That is worth something.

Telling God something he already knows (“you’re really powerful”) may be beneficial to humans, but I don’t think a sage would put up with it. “Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here I can tell you” is indeed what it sounds like.

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If we’re talking about the supreme being of the universe, then the respect, leading up to worship and praise, is all that much more to be expected, and the natural state of things.

Maybe you need to be raised in it.

As I explained, God “needs” no worship whatever because in Christian theology, He needs nothing. He’s completely all-sufficient and self-sufficient. It’s for our sake that we “render unto God’s what is rightfully God’s.”

So what happens if we don’t worship God? Does he get annoyed, or do we feel some sort of deprivation?

The latter. We are deprived of a fundamental thing or impulse that is present within us, whether we recognize it or not. I think my friend, Deacon Steven D. Greydanus expressed it very well (originally on my Facebook page):

Catholic theology teaches that the infinite God enjoys perfect beatitude or happiness in the eternity of his being, knowing neither time nor change. (Time, as Augustine and Einstein agree, is a property of the created universe. Change, as Aquinas argued, implies potentiality, and thus lack of perfection or absolute fullness of being that is contrary to God’s nature.)

Consequently, nothing that happens, nothing we do, can diminish or increase God or his beatitude in any way. We say metaphorically that our sins anger or grieve God and that our virtues delight him, but this is analogical language. He cannot become any happier or sadder than the infinite beatitude he enjoys necessarily and absolutely.

A different analogy, that sidesteps the issue of change, may help us more here: We say that God loves us and wills our good. Thus, everything that he commands reflects this loving desire for our good. It is all for our sake, our good, not his.

Worship is not something we offer to God to make him happy. Rather, in worship we grow closer to God to our benefit. Worship, like virtue, knowledge of truth, and appreciation of beauty, is for our good.

I don’t have to celebrate the skill of a mathematician who crafts an elegant proof. But if I can’t celebrate the elegance of the proof, that diminishes me — not the mathematician or the proof.

The good Deacon added later:

The question we began with was “Why would any omniscient being even WANT worship?” It was an in-principle, philosophical question about the kind of deity proposed by Christian faith (omniscient and by implication infinite and eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, etc.). The question was not “What are the arguments for or against believing this is true?” but “How does this make sense? Is it intelligible and coherent on its own terms?”

I took the question in good faith and set out to offer an account I hoped would be intelligible and coherent on its own terms to a curious and empathic atheist. I think it’s useful to understand how other people’s worldviews work even if we don’t agree with them.

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You keep looking at it (which is very typical of atheist rhetoric; sorry!) as “why does He need it?!” That’s not what Christians are claiming, and currently you are asking us why we worship God (the Being you deny exists). Since you are within our paradigm, for the sole purpose of asking the question, you have to understand our premises, and you don’t seem to, by the nature of the questions you are asking.

Doesn’t the Bible say that he demands it? God rejected Cain’s offering. “Fear God and give him glory” (Revelation). “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High” (Psalm 50).

Not in the crass (and rather silly) terms in which you are expressing it. I searched “demand worship” in my online RSV Bible and it never appears. God does say in the Ten Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me. . . . you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Ex 20:3, 5). Your other quotations are apt. But it is the purpose and nature of such worship that you are not grasping. As I have explained, it’s for our good, not God’s. God requires nothing for Himself; He needs nothing. Why does God give His commands, which include monotheism and worship of Him alone?:

Deuteronomy 4:40 Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you this day, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the LORD your God gives you for ever.

Deuteronomy 5:33 You shall walk in all the way which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land which you shall possess.

Deuteronomy 6:18 And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the LORD, that it may go well with you, . . .

Deuteronomy 12:28 Be careful to heed all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you for ever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 28:1 And if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments which I command you this day, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. [all the blessings God will give them are then listed in 28:2-14; then 28:15 states, “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command you this day, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” This is followed by a list of calamities in 28:16-67.

It’s always the same, and this is the story of the Old Testament and the ancient Jews. God tells them to follow His laws and commands and everything will be wonderful for them. They will have manifold blessings. Then they decide not to and to rebel against God and it goes terribly, just as God said it would. And then these same men (and atheists today who think like them) blame God rather than their own stupidity and stubbornness. But if we sum up what God wants, as expressed in the Bible, here it is:

1 Timothy 2:3-4 . . . God our Savior, [4] who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Atheists are simply projecting human emotions onto God,

A consequence of using human words to describe God—good, just, merciful, wise, and so on.

as if He is some sort of high maintenance drama queen who needs constant attention.

That does bring to mind the sacrifices and other rituals demanded in the OT.

Ironically, this is what fundamentalists often do, too (hence they tend to reject anthropopathism and anthropomorphism, which entail non-literal concepts). They are both unsophisticated, improperly thought-through views (i.e., referring to this one topic of worship). And you want to make Him a despot and tyrant, which is not at all how the Bible presents Him.

No? Not ever? That’s what I get from the Flood story. And demanding genocide during the conquest of Canaan.

It’s only how a superficial, uninformed reading of the Bible falsely appears in a skeptic’s / nonbeliever’s mind.

Do they use the Bible to support their points? If so, I don’t see where the problem is.

They attempt that, but almost invariably, they are so out to sea, and obviously don;t have the slightest idea what they are talking about, that it becomes a farce.

What does it say that the God-inspired Bible is so easily misinterpreted that there are now thousands of Christian denominations? My vote: it’s not God-inspired but manmade.

This is one reason why I am a Catholic, because of the ridiculous denominationalism, which I agree: is man-made and not biblical at all.

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“Don’t try this at home” etc. If you say I can’t say that, I say that I certainly can, having engaged in scores of dialogues with atheists on the Bible, and having shown virtually every time that they were woefully ignorant and misinformed.

I don’t know why this has to be such a contest. My response to your comment is that if you have issues with fundamentalists, your say-so isn’t enough for me to conclude that your interpretation of the Bible is correct.

I agree. I am simply asserting my experience in many of these debates. The arguments reside in those papers, not in my assertions about what happened in those dialogues. An assertion is just that, and is not itself an argument, but if it can be backed-up with actual data and argumentation, then it is shown to be a true assertion. The problem I have encountered over and over, is that many atheists who claim to understand the Bible so well, in fact argue like uneducated, anti-intellectual fundamentalists who poorly understand the Bible at best. I was very surprised to see this, but it’s undeniable, and the proof is in my many dialogues with such folks (that of course you almost certainly won’t read).

Ironically, this is what fundamentalists often do, too

Yes! Very ironically indeed. I have observed (in my critiques of deconversion stories) that often, atheists were former fundamentalists who only dimly understood the Christianity that they forsook.  You yourself have now stated that you were (very much like myself and my initial Methodism up to age 10) quite ignorant as a Presbyterian (“It never had much of a hold on me . . . I never really thought about it”), and became an atheist because of talking to a fundamentalist / young earth relative about evolution (“I’m an atheist thanks to my fundamentalist relative”).

And you say of yourself at that point (my present italics): “once I started thinking, I couldn’t stop.” Therefore, it follows logically, that you were a non-thinking [nominal] Christian. Therefore, you rejected a “Christianity” that you didn’t have clue about in the first place.

But I do now.

That remains to be seen. Frankly, I don’t see (so far) that you are all that well-informed about it.

It all follows quite straightforwardly. Now I see you spewing fundamentalist notions about Scripture, such as that it supposedly requires a universal flood. It’s all very common. Same old same old.

My, but aren’t you Jack the Giant Killer? Perhaps you can keep your trash talk to yourself. If you have good arguments, we will all see that when you make them.

Fair enough. Go read what I have written about the flood (whether local or global).

But I commended you also because you also said you have read good Christian apologetics materials since your deconversion.

Fundamentalists insist on taking the Bible at face value. Atheists are happy to do so and point out the problems that result.

This is untrue. Both interpret it in a woodenly literalistic, genre- and context-ignoring fashion, which is contrary to all informed biblical exegesis, and how all literature whatever is intelligently, sensibly, and fairly read and interpreted.

At least, that’s what you say. Scholars in their camp will have a different story. And the fact that your two camps (out of the many, many camps of Christianity) can’t agree says a lot about the ambiguity of what you’re starting from.

As a future topic, you could tell me how you do it.

We have to learn our time tables before we get to trigonometry, and our ABC’s before we analyze Shakespeare or War and Peace, but in time, if you are interested enough . . .

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We have different premises than you do; so you have to understand them before you’ll be able to comprehend why we act consistently on the basis of them.

This is the prelude to your saying, “Look, I know it doesn’t make any sense, but it’s just what Christians do, OK?” But you’re not saying that. You’re saying that, given the supernatural presuppositions, worship simply makes sense.

More than that: I’m saying it makes perfect sense and is eminently plausible by the analogy of human parents and how we act towards those we are in love with.

And I’m saying that it clearly doesn’t when you look at the progression from dolt to sage—the desire for (and tolerance for) worship wanes.

It’s not something the skeptic can’t grasp because he’s not a believer. You can fully grasp it, in my opinion, while not accepting it as true, which is a whole ‘nother discussion.

Maybe we have to agree to disagree, but this makes no sense to me because that’s not at all how it works within human society.

As I have argued, I think it is how human society does work, and we know that the religious impulse is well-nigh universal and has to deliberately be unlearned. We don’t treat any other universal or near-universal in this way. We don’t say that there is no water or quenching of thirst because thirst is universal, or no sexual intercourse because sexual drives are almost universal.

The fear of death is also nearly universal. Could that be behind (that is, be another face for) the supernatural desire? Just because “I don’t want to die” is nearly universal, that doesn’t mean that there’s something to satisfy that desire.

Water, sex, food, sleep, etc. are required for survival. Not so supernatural belief. Supernatural belief is the odd man out in this list of desires. Further, no one doubts that water, sex, etc. exist; not so the supernatural.

Superstition and belief in magic is widespread (less so at the moment, but it was pretty universal a few centuries ago). Does that mean that magic is real?

It means that there is likely something to it, that many people are instinctively feeling. It doesn’t follow that they will always get all the particulars right when they pursue some religious impulses. That’s why we feel that revelation is necessary: to guide such a process and provide objectivity and final authority.

Anyway, religions worldwide can’t even agree on the number of gods or what their name(s) are, let alone what they want from us.

There is in fact quite a bit in common in all world religions, as C. S. Lewis showed in his Appendix regarding “the Tao” in his book, The Abolition of Man (word-search and scroll to “Illustrations of the Tao”).

We don’t say that there is no friendship to actually be obtained because almost all yearn for that, or no scientific discoveries to be found because we long to understand the physical world around us and the sky and stars above.

But when it comes to God and worship of God, all of a sudden you atheists radically switch gears and “argue” that (somehow) the near-universal impulse is merely mythical and fanciful; on the level of leprechauns and Santa Claus. That makes no sense. If the desire for God and religion is so widespread, there clearly is something to it.

If the desire for God is so widespread, why does it look like nothing more than a cultural phenomenon? People in India have one answer to “What is God?”, those in Uganda another, and those in the US another.

Yes; we would fully expect to find (and do in fact find) human and cultural differences; hence it is so remarkable how much is held in common (see C. S. Lewis above).

What that something is, may be many things, but in any event it can’t merely be foolishly and derisively dismissed with an eye roll and a smirk. If anyone has a fundamental deficiency (based on this sociological / anthropological observation), it’s the atheist, not the religious person. You guys are the “odd man out”: in all cultures at all times.

Uh huh. Get back to me when religions worldwide can agree what god(s) names are and have the evidence to back it up.

Here I was comparing “religious” and “non-religious”. The argument has no dependence on the particulars; only if someone is religious. Human beings always overwhelmingly have been religious. Atheism is a learned habit, and judging by the anthropological data, not at all instinctive or innate.

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You acknowledge that respect would be appropriate. God. I don’t think it’s inconceivably far from that to conceptualize worship, in proportion to how great a Being is.

There are people who would insist on worship if they became all powerful, but we usually look down on this attitude.

Indeed. But that’s not what is going on with God. He doesn’t insist. He simply says that it is good and a better choice to worship and serve Him than it is to serve ourselves and/or the devil, because He knows what is best for us. He’s saying, “if you serve Me things will go well with you because this is how I intended the whole thing to work. I love you and want only the best for you. It’s good for you to acknowledge the natural order of things: the way things simply are.”

2. We worship Him also because He has been so good and merciful to us: first of all, by granting us existence in the first place.

That’s not the guy I read about in the OT.

Then you haven’t read enough of the Old Testament or fully understood it’s message.

Ah well. That settles that, then. You’re surely correct.

I am speaking from 40 years of intense study of Scripture, and as a professional Catholic apologist these past sixteen years. I can say that you don’t fully understand something I know about, just as you could say that about me, as regards, for example, your field of computer technology and programming.

I only need to read one instance of his being a jerk from an otherwise stellar biography (and the rest is far from stellar) to find much more than a crack in the edifice. He’s a Bronze Age war or storm god, and he acts it. Support for slavery, genocide, global flood—he’s a man of his times and not a nice guy.

Another nice try to hit me with several major topics at once.

Correct as usual. Atheists, as you know, can’t fight fair against the onslaught of Christian arguments that are just so danged good. It’s always dirty tricks when talking with an atheist, amirite??

I never said any such thing. I was merely noting how you are once again introducing several major topics. As it is, I have dealt with them and could offer some links for inquisitive readers who desire to pursue any of those rabbit trails on their own.

I’ve written about all of them (see my Bible & Tradition and Jews and Judaism and Trinitarian web pages).  Like most atheists I have interacted with  (scores and scores of ’em), you are just seeing what you want to see in the Bible and not even understanding that.

Must be cool to be clairvoyant. I’m envious.

It requires no clairvoyance, but rather, true familiarity with the Bible and how to properly interpret it. There is a very wide consensus on that among Bible scholars of all kinds of Christian stripes.

For example, the Bible doesn’t require a global flood at all, and almost all non-fundamentalists believe in a local flood.

It would take you five minutes to cobble together an argument, using science and Genesis, to argue that it was global.

Yeah, that’s the problem, and what fundamentalists and atheists alike do, without understanding biblical literature, genre, and culture.

Nor does it require a young earth or a literal six-day creation (St. Augustine denied the latter back in the 5th century).

And Ken Ham disagrees today. Christianity is a big tent. I’m sure you have your arguments. The scholars on the other side (the ones with doctorates, not Ken Ham) disagree.

The Ken Ham YEC contingent is a tiny, tiny one, yet you act as if it has some earth-shaking significance in the Christian world. It’s laughable. There are still geocentrists out there today, too. No one takes them seriously.

I’ve also compiled many articles explaining the biblical and historic Christian view on slavery: if you really want to understand it; not just use it for your “gotcha!” lines.

And I’ve written my own response to the slavery issue. Biblical slavery was pretty much the same as American slavery. But you disagree. I’m sure you’re correct and that I’ve used yet more atheist dirty tricks to create my false narrative.

But again, it’s the rare atheist who truly seeks to understand the Bible on its own terms and not their own cynical, grossly (even ridiculously) uninformed take.

Why the slander? Just trying to increase the word count? Just bored? Is that what brings in the readers?

It’s not slander. It’s documented fact. I can’t undo my own repeated experience or pretend that it isn’t what it is. That wouldn’t be honest. I have many papers to prove it. Like old Dizzy Dean said, “it ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

Deacon Steven D. Greydanus offers another one of his patented excellent replies along these lines (replying to Bob in another part of the initial combox):

While it’s true that anthropomorphic language is commonly used of God — in passing, you ignore what I think is the most compelling and instructive case; i.e., Genesis depicting God wondering about the reported state of affairs in Sodom and Gomorrah and moseying on down to see if it’s as bad as he’s been told (Gen. 18:21–22) — not only in the Old Testament but throughout Christian history as well, you will have to squint pretty hard to find the Old Testament actually literarily treating God as “a superhero version of an ordinary man.”

Perhaps you didn’t mean that in a precise literary way. Actually reading the Bible as literature and comparing it to other ancient literature is not very common in Christian/atheist polemics. Scholars like Robert Alter and Leon Kass are helpful here.

The deities of classical Greco-Roman mythology are very much like “superhero versions of ordinary men.” The deity of the Old Testament, even at his most anthropomorphic, is very far from that. It’s also a mistake to assume that the imagery in Old Testament stories always literally represents the authors’ worldview. For instance, the author of Genesis 1 was probably sophisticated enough to know that the ancient cosmology depicted in this account, with a dome-like “firmament” separating the “waters above” from the “waters below,” was not literally true.

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It’s one of love and mercy. There is also judgment, because that’s required for justice, just as we need laws for society to properly function, and therefore we need a legal and penal system to enforce those laws and punish folks when they break them, for the good of society. Atheists tend to see only the judgment and falsely conclude that this makes God a tyrant, when it does no such thing. He’s a just judge.

His justice doesn’t match modern Western justice. His version compares poorly. That’s a problem.

I totally agree. God doesn’t match up with “enlightened” notions of ripping unborn babies limb from limb and slaughtering them without mercy. God is too naive to judge innocent human beings like that. He actually sticks to judging those who deserve it through actual rebellion and decadence.

Atheists look at modern Western society today (not perfect, but it’s pretty good, considering) and imagine our humans at our best. That justice is far more sane than many examples of God’s actions in the OT. And hell, of course, makes no sense from that standpoint.

All these things can and should be discussed at great length. Your comments in this dialogue were posted under a very extensive article on hell, in which I dialogued with a very thoughtful and skeptical philosophy grad student. You could have chosen to discuss that and my actual arguments about it, but you chose to pick out merely one or two sentences, to comment on.

Presumably this is a compliment, for the sake of brevity? You’re welcome.

Or are you pointing out the inevitable atheist deceit and trickery?

I haven’t said one word about “deceit” because I don’t believe it. I virtually never contend that anyone is deliberately lying. I can only remember two people I publicly characterized as inveterate liars (James White and James Swan), and they were both Protestant anti-Catholics: not atheists: ones with a long, sordid record of such lying about Catholics and Catholicism, that couldn’t possibly be denied (I had extremely extensive interactions with both).

Mine was a simple point (not rocket science), namely: you keep bringing up hell, which is off-topic. Yet you chose a lengthy dialogue of mine about hell to comment under. And when you did, you picked out one sentence of it only. Thus, my present point is: if you are so intent about debating hell, then do it! Don’t just engage in “hit and run” / “gotcha!” polemics: throwing out hell as often as you can (thinking it is some fatality to our position), without ever talking about it in depth. You had your chance to do that and chose not to. If you want to have a serious, in-depth discussion about it, by all means, what stops you?

I’m here, whenever you’re ready to engage in serious discussion on one topic at a time. The current topic is worship. And I will keep directing it back there, no matter how many diversionary tactics you introduce.

I’m getting whiplash. I respond to just one sentence to kick things off, and I’m not thorough. But now I’m unfocused by being too broad? I love the criticism, but it’s not making much sense.

***

People and cultures are judged in the Old Testament when they have gotten to the point of no return.

You imagine a pretty limited God. Why demand genocide against the Amalekites? Couldn’t God think of a more merciful ending? I sure can.

I’ve dealt with that topic and many related incidences of supposed “genocide” and God’s alleged unfairness and capricious, despotic nature (see the many links listed at the end of the paper linked at the beginning of this sentence).

As I recall, his dealing with the Amalekites was like his dealing with Pharaoh. He wanted to increase Pharaoh’s crime to enhance his own reputation. Pharaoh on his own wasn’t bad enough, so God hardened his heart.

God didn’t harden his heart. He hardened his own heart. If you understood biblical genre and idiom you would understand that. In this case, Calvinists don’t understand this biblical motif, either. You guys are both making the same error. But see how you are again diverting the topic and making me spend hours of my valuable time on your rabbit trails? Why can’t you stick to the topic of worship?

I’m lovin’ the criticism. What seems relevant to me may seem like a diversion to you. C’est la vie.

***

If, for example, some terrorists are tried in a human court, they will be found guilty and given life in prison. According to your reasoning, that makes the judge a “tyrant” and unloving. I say it proves no such thing. He’s enforcing justice.

Since I have no idea what you’re talking about, perhaps you misunderstand my reasoning.

It’s an analogy. I have no idea why you’re not following it, either. But I will explain.

?? I don’t need an explanation. I was simply suggesting that, since I don’t think this judge is a tyrant, your putting these words into my mouth is an error on your part.

I am comparing what you see God as like, with human judges, with regard to that one aspect of God: as a Judge. I’m saying that we don’t accuse human judges who sentence terrorists, of being tyrants and despots, crazy with their own power. Yet the atheist will do this to God, when He judges equally wicked and incorrigible cultures and peoples like the Amalekites.

Of course God judged His own chosen people, the Jews, many times, too. It isn’t as if He was playing favorites. The Jews arguably have suffered more through history than any other human group that has survived as long as they have.

It’s a loving act to retrain terrorists for the good of society. God is simply doing the same sort of thing on a cosmic level.

I marvel that God has such a small palette of options. Why not poof a bad tribe out of existence? Why not make their women sterile 50 years prior so that they’d just die out? Why is an atheist needed to give God ideas on how to be more moral?

I don’t know.

I guess I applaud your frank response, but I hope you keep track of any “I don’t knows” and use them to critique the Christian worldview. If an all-good god doesn’t look so good, maybe there’s something wrong with the foundational claims.

He doesn’t to you. He does to us. One day we’ll all find out, won’t we?: whether He exists and whether (if He does) He is good or not.

Why does God allow atheists to exist, who exhibit constant insufferable attributes of always thinking they are smarter than the God Whose existence they deny,

What God? Christians have a God hypothesis, and I’m happy to consider it and the evidence they give for it. But when the hypothesis fails for lack of evidence, incoherent story, or whatever, I’m obliged to reject the hypothesis. I can’t imagine that you disagree. No, I don’t think I’m smarter than God, because I haven’t concluded that God exists yet.

and infinitely smarter than Christians, whose beliefs they invariably distort and turn into straw men, which they then proceed to quixotically demolish. That’s as big of a mystery as anything in the universe.

Uh huh. Invariably. Yet more atheist dirty tricks, eh?

“Invariably” is a exaggeration. I rhetorically exaggerated because it is a very common occurrence. I wouldn’t say “dirty”; I would describe it as unworthy and silly tactics of debate; flat-out poor debating and a lack of factuality. Straw men are always that.

Since you’ve already proven their intellectual case wrong (to put it mildly) and you know that they always play games, my recommendation is to not waste your time on them.

I don’t waste time with unserious atheists. I love almost more than anything to debate serious ones, who don’t start with the false premise that all or most Christians are anti-scientific, anti-intellectual troglodytes. I don’t say that about atheists (most I”ve met are very sharp and love both science and reason). I’m simply saying that they don’t — en masse — understand the Bible or the tenets of Christianity very well at all. Now, you say you don’t do that? Okay. I agree with President Reagan: “trust but verify.” I’ll be looking over many of your articles and we’ll see if you make these sweeping condemnations or not. If you don’t, I’ll be the first to sing your praises as a non-insulting atheist. But if you do, I’ll expose it.

***

On the perfectly reasonable assumption that it is better to exist than not to, . . .

Propose that assumption to the people writhing in hell. I bet they’d disagree.

Hell is a completely separate issue. I’d be glad to talk about it in depth if you like, just as we are doing with this present question. You chose to respond to one or two sentences in the article of mine underneath which we are dialoguing. The question at hand is whether “it is better to exist than not to.” Perhaps you will provide us with a simple yes or no answer now, rather than divert the topic over to hell, which can’t be dealt with in sound bites. Nice try. :-)

“Nice try”? I can’t deal with you honestly, so I have to bring out the old Atheist Bag o’ Sneaky Tricks to ineptly deal with your powerful arguments? Hmm.

I don’t think you’re dishonest, but you certainly utilize the standard atheist playbook of polemics and rhetoric. And I continue to answer your questions (even if off-topic, as they frequently are) at far greater length than you answer mine.

As for whether it’s better to exist than not to, all I can answer is: sometimes. The example of hell screams out at me as being relevant, but for reasons that I can’t understand, it’s off limits and dirty pool. OK, let’s talk about sex slaves then. Let’s talk about boys pressed into service as soldiers in central Africa. For some of them, I’d imagine that their existence is not worth living. For me, it’s a different story.

So because lots of people suffer, you can;t give a straight yes or no answer to the question: “is it better to exist than not to?” We can;t even agree on that.

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. . . and that God made ours possible, it is entirely natural and to be expected that we would be thankful towards Him, and worship Him as well. Secondly, as believers in Jesus as Lord and God, we are grateful to Him for dying for us on the cross, in order to make it possible that we can spend heaven in eternal bliss, with God. Just as we normally respect and admire and revere other human beings who do sacrificial and/or loving acts towards us, so we do the same with God, all the more so.

3. Analogies to this are not at all difficult to come up with. Why is it, for example, that we naturally revere our parents? Most children (save for cases of gross parental misconduct or abuse) do so without thinking. And why? It’s because we owe our lives to them. If not for them we would not exist. Therefore, a respect and an honor is given to them as the default position (with the above exceptions). And when we become parents (I have been since 1991), we expect the same respect from our children.

Like you’re thankful to your parents? Sure. That’s quite different than worship.

It’s not all that different. It’s analogous in significant ways. Analogies to God (indeed, like virtually all analogies) are always partial, because we have no experience of human beings who are anything like God.

We understand the spectrum from bad person to sage. God seems to be just a continuation of that trend. My mental model of a sage would have them rejecting the idea of worship. Even more so, an all-wise god.

Yes, because you still fundamentally misunderstand why God says it is good to worship Him. If I thought He “demanded” worship for the silly reasons you propose, I wouldn’t believe it, either. But that’s not what any Christians with an IQ  higher than a doornail has ever believed. If I thought God was a petulant despot like you think, I would neither worship Him nor be a Christian nor even a theist. But I don’t believe that.

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4. We don’t worship God because He needs it (He needs nothing and is entirely self-sufficient), but because we need it, as a fundamental attribute of a human being, who came ultimately from God in creation and through parents in procreation. God made it that way because He knows that we are most happy and fulfilled living as He intended it to be: in as close of a union with Him as possible. Likewise, the parent knows that children will be happier if they accept both the love and correction of the parents. If they reject both, they will likely have problems in their lives.

I’m imagining an oshram or cult (in the best possible sense) where the guru/leader makes himself available to chat about enlightenment, how best to live in accord with nature, or things like this. That sounds fine. But again, that’s not worship.

Of course it isn’t, because the leader is another human being. The closest analogy I could think of was parent and child. I’ve gotten you to agree that respect is inherent and proper from the child to the parents.

It was like pulling teeth, but yeah, you finally got me to agree.

Thanks for that saving grace! LOL

***

That gives a dim picture of what we are doing when we worship. We’re saying that God is inherently infinitely greater than we are. He created the universe. He gave us life (as parents also do in a lesser sense). He loves us and blesses us in so many ways. So we praise Him and worship Him for Who He is.

Another partial analogy would be how we act towards those we are in love with. Look at any love poems and you find rapturous praise, lavish, over-the-top compliments, placing this loved one at the very center of our existence and the meaningfulness of our life and indeed our happiness and fulfillment. So we praise and compliment in the most extravagant ways.

Yet when it comes to God (even trying to imagine the Christian God for a second: that you reject or deny) you can’t comprehend that we praise and worship Him because of what we believe His loving, all-benevolent nature is; because He created us and fulfills us when we serve Him, and due to all the wonderful things He has done or made possible to do. What is so mysterious or difficult to understand about that, truly baffles me. I don’t have a clue.

But if you redefine what God is like (the ubiquitous arbitrary, capricious tyrant of the atheist imagination), then yes, I can see why you couldn’t comprehend worship of a Being like that. But that isn’t what we believe about Him (and remember, here you are asking us why we worship), and so, is not what we are worshiping: which in our belief is the greatest conceivable and most loving Being.

You skipped over much of my reply about worship (and I don’t think it is because you agreed with what you passed over). You’ll notice that I am replying to all of your comments point-by-point. Some other comments of yours elsewhere in the thread about discussion, etc., I basically agreed with, and so saw no need to reply.

If I have nothing interesting to say or anticipate a long diversion as I correct something, I’ll skip over that. You think I’m avoiding something because it’s too uncomfortable? Then say so.

I have no way of knowing that. But I do know that it is a common trait of atheists to avoid answering questions that have to do with difficulties (real or imagined) in their own positions.

You need to run your posts and comments through a snark filter. You’ve accused me of a bunch of things, forcing me into whatever stereotype of atheists you have, correctly or incorrectly, in your head. I enjoy discussing these topics, but your repeated finger wagging and editorializing and “I’ve thrashed atheists in I don’t now how many online debates” and “the atheists I’ve dealt with almost always have Bad Trait X” and “don’t get me started at how childish fundamentalists and atheists are when it comes to biblical exigesis” [sic] get real tiresome real fast. I’ve been accused of being too focused and being too broad. Ever find that situation where it seems like whatever you do you get scolded?

I’m about at my limit of that. If, in the near future, I drop out of the conversation, that will be the reason why.

You charge me with supposedly “forcing” you “into whatever stereotype of atheists you have.” The above was precisely the opposite of that. I said I didn’t know if you were avoiding or not. But that certainly could possibly be the case, because I also don’t have all knowledge, to know that it absolutely isn’t. But it’s not forcing you into stereotypes because I said I didn’t know! The dogmatic, truly obnoxious accuser asserts things outright (like I just went through with MR: telling me over and over that I didn’t answer his question, when I did, many times). I denied it, yet get accused of the very same thing.

You say I am too snarky. As Jesus said, we all have to examine our own eye and our own house. Atheist-Christian dialogue is tough any way we look at it, and both sides have to try their best to be charitable and to be thick-skinned. It’s not easy on either side with all the past baggage. I’m certainly scarred a bit from that, due to scores and scores of past interactions.

I have tried to do my best, and put a ton of time and work into our dialogues. I’m not perfect. I have complimented you on your amiability several times, and on the high level of your dialogue (which you reciprocated), only to get this back now. I am happy to apologize for any offense, which was not intended. I figured you were a big boy who could handle polemics and turning-the tables now and then, without taking it personally (since you send tons of the same our way in your numerous posts). But as I said, these dialogues are not easy.

I’m not referring to you every time I make some comment about broad atheist tendencies, just as I know that you were not referring to me when you mentioned your YEC fundamentalist relative, who has very little to do with me.

We have gotten too far into good dialogue to now be sidetracked by such complaints. But I can’t force you to keep dialoguing with me if it’s not to your taste. I can only hope that we can continue the meaty, substantive course that we have established, and assert my own desire to do so.

***

Atheists always want to question us. We mustn’t ever do the same thing back to them. That’s a naughty no-no. You have already expressed this more than once. I think it’s just so natural (like breathing): how atheist polemicists treat Christians, that they (I think most of the time) do it without thinking or deliberation. And so I have expressed mild frustration at some things which I see as part of that tendency.

But overall, I think it is good dialogue and far better than average, as I said. I think it would be improved all the more (both in and of itself and for readers) if we could stick to one topic and not relentlessly visit rabbit trails. I get led down them against my better judgment because I try to answer (as the apologist that I am) all questions to the best of my ability. But usually in retrospect I regret doing so, because then I realize that readers will have to endure all of that diversion and tedium, and that the resulting blog dialogue will be less constructive, educational, and readable for all concerned than it could have been.

If I edit stuff out, to avoid having an inferior final product, then I invariably get accused of arbitrary selectivity and cynical editing; so it’s a catch-22 with no way out. All I can do is protest, so that the next dialogue can (please God!) stick to the topic.

I continue to appreciate your effort, zeal, and amiability, and the opportunity offered to me to explain some important elements of Christianity.

***

Photo credit: Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (1836-1902) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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