Ask Richard: Call-Out: Pastor Seeks Challenging Questions For His Discussion Group

Note: The letter writer’s name has been changed, and his location has been made more general to protect his privacy.

Hi Richard,

I am a Small Groups Pastor at a Christian Church in a mid-sized city in the Midwest. I wanted to say I really appreciate the tone of your website, it is quite refreshing. Our church is doing a series on why you believe what you believe, and I was wondering if you could provide me with the most challenging questions for Christians about their faith. I feel that too often Christians have taken the stance of isolation and even get angry when we are confronted by those who do not believe what we believe. Honestly, I believe God wants all of us to ask these questions and seek the answers. I believe that for Christians and atheists alike, the problem is that when we become comfortable with our stance, we stop asking questions and seeking answers. Any question or questions that you could provide will be quite helpful.

Thanks,
Wayne

Dear Wayne,

Thank you for your gracious attitude. I admire your courage to both present such questions to yourself and your congregants, as well as to come to a group of atheists to ask for those questions. I agree with you that we should all avoid intellectual complacency, and should practice constant genuine self-questioning. The anger that believers and non-believers often hold for each other I think is rooted in fear and hurt. So we should also keep questioning our assumptions and prejudices about each other.

Many of the readers on this blog are very astute in these matters. Some were formerly devout Christians, and they might offer questions that challenged them. So I will leave it to them to provide the challenging questions. I also refer you to a post published on this site a few years ago where you might find some interesting questions.

My questions to you will be about how deeply will you and your group apply those challenging questions to your faith and to your religion.

No question can be framed that can shake or destroy someone’s religious faith if they are not willing to let that question fully into their minds and to consider it sincerely, earnestly, and honestly. Many times I have seen Christians entertain questions that were supposed to challenge them, but it became apparent that it was a charade, a pointless game because they only responded with platitudes, clichés, copied-and-pasted scripture, pre-packaged talking points from Christian websites, or fallacious arguments that were debunked centuries ago. These responses would not satisfy a fifth-grader who was willing to be intellectually honest. They only sound good to someone who isn’t really thinking deeply about it. A series of five posts on this blog in which Lee Strobel responded to our questions was a disappointing example.

Sadly, many people are so ardent in their pursuit of what they call “Divine Truth” that they have lost touch with simple honesty. They approach “challenging questions” with a pre-decided answer, and succeed in avoiding anything implied by those questions that undermine that answer. They come away thinking that the best challenge that atheists could throw at them bounced off their faith, when actually it merely bounced off their well-defended minds. If the exercise was supposed to strengthen their faith, it did not. It only strengthened their assumption that their faith is strong; it only strengthened their faith in their faith.

To be clear, I’m not saying that people of faith must have skirted or glossed over such a question if they emerge with their faith still in tact. Of course it could be possible that they have carefully and honestly pondered it; I’ve just never witnessed that. I’m saying that letting the questions really soak deeply into your mind is by far the bigger challenge than the questions themselves.

So here are my questions about handling such questions:

    When considering questions about your religion, do you have lower standards for evidence and sound argument than the standards you use when buying a used car, or sitting on a jury, or considering a religion different from yours? If such standards don’t apply to questions about your religion, why not?

    Are you completely unconditional about the answers to which these questions may lead you, or are certain answers off-limits, and you’ll abort the questioning if that is where it seems to be leading?

    Are you willing to be never fully satisfied with any answers, never rest on the laurels of an answer that soothes your doubt, but might still be false?

    The worst atrocities in history have been committed by people who rendered themselves incapable of doubt. Absolute certainty was their addiction, and “absolute truth” was their drug. Can you see that doubt is not an enemy, and become comfortable with it as a good and constant friend who keeps you honest, humble and human?

Wayne, I wish you well in your effort to help your group become more thoughtful, mindful, truthful and yes, doubtful in not just the practice of their faith, but also their daily lives.

Now to our readers: I thank you beforehand for your help. Please offer your challenging questions in the spirit of respectful treatment, just as you would want questions to be asked of you by Christians.

Richard

A clarification: the link directly below in the little white box is for sending Richard questions for advice. To offer your challenging questions to Wayne, click on the post’s title or the word “comments,” and go to the bottom of the post’s separate page, where you’ll find a box for submitting comments. Thank you for your very insightful questions!

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Kahomono

    You know, I got through the appeal from the pastor and what question immediately formed in my mind was, “Do you have the same standard of evidence and proof for religion as you have for financial matters?”

    I think they need to answer that one fully before *any* others are even useful.

  • Adam

    Everytime I think of difficult questions for theists, the first thing that comes to mind is the problem of Evil.

  • Maike

    Several questions that played a big part in my own deconversion from catholicism:

    - How can you know that your particular religion is the “right” one when most of us just happen to be born into it?

    - What, in your opinion, happens to all the people who do not share your particular religion? Can they also get into your heaven? On what conditions? I was told that as long as you behave morally in the sense of the bible you can still get in even if you happened to be, for example, a buddist. So why should it be worse being an atheist?

    - How do you decide which parts of the bible can be taken literally? How can you say that Genesis is a metaphor while basing so many teachings on a few words Jesus is supposed to have said years before they were even written down?

  • Gordon

    I’ve asked this question before and I think it is a good, and tough, one:

    How could you be happy in heaven if there was even a single person you cared for in hell?

    I think, examined seriously, that is a really challenging question. My mother is a Christian and, if that religion turns out to be true, I believe my being in hell would ruin heaven for her.

    The “comfort” faith is often said to offer is in being reunited with our loved ones after death. What happens when that faith instead separates loved ones?

  • venus

    the paradox of free-will in a universe that is created and “owned” by an omniscient being.

  • Chris

    What of the problem of children? As atheists many of us instruct our children in the ways of the world which include many others’ world views (including religious ones) and we say to our children- this is their *right way to go through life*.. it doesn’t make it correct for everyone- but for these people it is what seems to work for them.
    As children of atheists- my children run into dogmatic children at school- you MUST BELIEVE IN GOD is what they are told. No other option has been presented to these children. To me- that is an unhealthy way to teach your children about the world and will only lead to more us vs them mentality.
    What can you do to fix this? Are you willing to try? Why is it so scary to teach your children that you may not be right? Are you afraid that you aren’t? Or are my children doomed to religious bullying by their peers the same way I was?… It took me until my 30s to even try and allow christians into my life nominally- after being mistreated by them over and over.. I am very wary.. my children are receiving the same mistreatment and are also becoming quite wary. Not a nice place to be.

  • annette

    There are any number of capital crimes (deserving of the death penalty) in the Old Testament, including consensual homosexual sex, and consensual heterosexual sex prior to marriage.

    Do you agree that these were good laws because a “Good God” commanded them?

    There were many civil laws that, if broken, deserved death, and–as far as I understood when I was a Christian–there is no reason why religious Christians should assume these were “fulfilled” in Christ (as it is claimed the ceremonial laws were).

    So, is there any Bible based argument against continuing in these capital punishments for these crimes?

    Now, perhaps our government doesn’t believe that these things deserve the death penalty. But does God? He seemed to in the Old Testament. If not, when did that change? Are these no longer good laws? If not, when did that change?

    Or, do you claim that the civil laws of the Old Testament are null and void because of Christ’s death?

  • http://www.unequally-yoked.com Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    If you’re interested, letter writer, I wrote a sum up of three major questions I had when I spoke to people from Campus Crusade for Christ, none of which were answered to my satisfaction. The questions are a little long to summarize in the combox, especially since I indulged myself in some math analogies, but I’ll list and link them.

    1. Converts to various, mutually exclusive religions offer the same kind of evidence. It can’t have been true for all of them!

    2. Historical arguments seem too speculative. Especially when contrasted with similar arguments in different fields.

    3. Explanations that seem to fit available data often succeed because they were designed to explain what we know, not because the theory is good. A counter to the argument that Christianity has better explanations of moral law than atheism.

    Hope you come back and tell us how the discussion went!

  • Howard

    I would respectfully ask the Pastor to carefully research the lack of contemporary historical validation of the life and ministry of Jesus as is recorded in the gnostic gospels. The complete lack of mention by credible historians who were alive at the time of Christ was the main instrument whereby I eventually abandoned Christianity. If Jesus did live – no one even noticed.

  • narpas

    I like the question of falsifiability.

    What if your religion were wrong? If, for instance, Hindu mythology were correct, how would you know? Imagine if you lived your life normally, as a Christian, raised by Christians in a Christian church in a largely Christian town. How would you know that Shiva and Vishnu and the whole Pantheon of Hindi Gods existed and not God the Father? Most Atheists ask, ‘What would convince me that there is something supernatural?’ and we have a variety of responses. So the big question I propose you ask yourself is, ‘What would convince me that there is nothing supernatural?’

  • Tyro

    Richard,

    Those are good questions and I think that the only serious questions I have for Christians are methodological as well. Something like:

    * How do you know what you know?

    * How is it that other people follow the same methodology yet reach different conclusions? If they are mistaken, could you be as well?

    * Imagine that you were an outsider and had not already converted to your faith. What sort of questions would you ask (and what sort of answers would you expect) before converting?

  • logical abe

    When the size of our world is seen compared to the size of the universe we are insignificantly small. What makes you think the creator of this universe (assuming it was even created in the first place) is a god that looks like us and that his son (jesus) came to save us from some sin that was written down in some old book that we don’t know who wrote in the first place? (Jeez could hardly finish the question)

  • Carlie

    1. Have you studied the truth claims of other religions? Not just a two-sentence summary, but the history of how that religion arose, where their holy book comes from, what their basic tenets are? What exactly do you then conclude it is that makes yours different from theirs? You think yours has the truth, but based on what? What is the special thing that makes yours different?

    2. How do you reconcile believing in the truth of the Bible with the absolutely incontrovertible errors that are in the Bible? These include problems based on archaeological research and inconsistencies within the text itself. If you don’t know of any, you can’t really claim to know anything about the Bible.

    3. Is there anything that could convince you that everything you think you know about God is wrong? Can you think of any piece of evidence, any type of argument, anything at all that could (if it existed) make you change your mind? If not, then you will never be able to challenge your faith. You have made up your mind, and will always fall back onto the mysterious ways of God when questioned. This will not be persuasive to anyone else.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Adam Lee (Ebonmuse) of “Daylight Atheism” has 10 well put questions here

  • Dan

    Gordon asked:

    How could you be happy in heaven if there was even a single person you cared for in hell?

    I think this is a great question, and one that I also thought about a lot in my own deconversion. Put another way, assuming everyone in heaven is perfectly happy and content, it seems that they either don’t know or don’t care about their loved ones that are in hell.

    So which is it? The answer I’ve been given is the latter — that the joy of heaven is so all-encompassing that all previous cares are insignificant. Does this make heaven functionally equivalent to a prolonged morphine high?

  • allpapajohn

    Try this one out I just really thought it out this morning. This is for those that think the OT doesn’t apply today.
    Jesus is god. The god of the OT is the same god of the NT. So according to the infallibility and omniscience of god he is the same. So if you do not agree with god of OT you therefore cannot follow jesus. Because he and the father are one and the same.Since you believe they are different, you have actually at this point broken the first commandment. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
    At what point does the god who destroyed cities become the bringer of peace? What would bring about this “change” to an unchangeable being?

  • Jessica

    Wow, I’m impressed with the intelligence and thoughtfulness that has gone into the above questions, and reading the above comments/questions by my fellow atheists make me proud to be counted among them.

    I sang in the church choir and as I grew older I found myself “bleeping out” the words with which I didn’t agree (believing God’d know I was a hypocrite if I did so).

    My question, then: When you are in church, do you speak or sing words (ex. the Apostle’s Creed, “Onward, Christian Soldiers”) that you do not truly believe? If so, how do you reconcile that with your belief that God is present in church and can witness your falsehood?

  • Tyro

    One specific question: Is there anything which could happen which would make you say that God was not loving?

    Do you apply similar standards when you observe human couples?

  • ACN

    Classic:
    1) The problem of evil/ the riddle of epicurus.
    2) What is piety? – particularly as laid out in the dialogue “Euthyphro”. Excellent discussion on god and the nature of morality.

    On the Nature of Evidence:
    In evangelical christianity, the themes of being “born again” or “made a new creation” abound. In particular, these come up as personal experiences/responses to the saving power of Christ. These personal experiences are often presented as evidence/examples of the power of god and the correctness of christianity, but christians do not treat the stories of similar personal experiences from other religions/religious groups (indeed, sometimes even of other christian sects!) as the evidence of the right-ness of their claims. Why are similar pieces of evidence treated with very different weights here?

    On Heaven/Hell:
    1) Given that what we presently know about cognitive neuroscience, how is the doctrine of an immortal soul that is somehow located in the body reconciled with the fact that there is no evidence of a mind-body dualism?

    2) A common theme in religions is the idea of an afterlife where there is reward or punishment although the various descriptions of said afterlife are certainly mutually incompatible. Why are we asked to take christianity’s afterlife so seriously but not the afterlife of the Norse or Egyptian pantheon? Is this common thread simply indicative of our innate fear of death? Alternatively, is it a more sinister device, an invention of priestly castes designed to keep the powerless from questioning authority figures in this life by promising them eternal reward for good behavior in the present? It would certainly explain the observation (often attributed to Lucretius) that:

    All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, ridiculous to the philosopher and All religions are equally sublime to the ignorant, useful to the politician, useful to the politician.

    On human history (depending on what your church/congregation believe about science)
    (paraphrased from Hitchens)
    It is a fact that modern humans arose between about 100k-400k years ago. To believe christianity, we must believe that for at least 100k years, god sat and watched disinterestedly as we lived and died in extraordinary (compared to the modern day) hardship and pain, and while at at least one point, we stood on the edge of extinction. After standing aside disinterestedly for so long, we are then told that god chose to intervene in our civilization in the middle of some of the most primitive places in the middle east. An intervention so grand and well planned that, 2k years later, there are still people in the world who have not received the message. Moreover, despite all of these strange decisions, we are told that every human will be judged FOR ETERNITY on whether or not they have accepted this message in the short time they are alive. What kind of divine plan for salvation is this? If god were serious about salvation, why didn’t he fix humanity 100k or so years ago, why the wait? What possible purpose does it serve?

  • Scott Carlson

    The book “Atheism: The case against God” is full of the usual arguments for God and their refutations. The book also has jacket endorsements from Christians. In the same vein as the Wayne’s request. If your faith can’t stand up to this book, then your faith has a problem (not necessarily that you shouldn’t have faith).

  • http://www.leftchristianity.wordpress.com Brenda

    These questions come from someone who is an atheist now but was a fundamentalist Christian for 20 years:

    Why is the shedding of blood required for the forgiveness of sins? God made his own rule about this and then we are supposed to be thankful that he met the requirement – which shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.

    Is there free will in heaven but no sin? Then God should have created that type of world in the first place. http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/pearlygates.html

    Even if the Judeo/Christian God exists – is it moral to follow him?

  • Aaron

    A really interesting question that always starts a lot of discussion in Christian circles: do you believe that Christians and Muslims worship the same god? Why or why not? I’ve found that this question is always deeply polarizing and ends up revealing a lot about a persons beliefs.

  • http://sacredriver.org Ash Bowie

    Imagine you could teleport back 2000 years, knowing everything you know now, and understanding that your words would eventually be considered divine truth by billions of people. What kinds of things would you have said? For example, would you require followers to wash their hands regularly, knowing that countless deaths would be prevented from germs? Would you have spoken out against slavery? Perhaps you could have mentioned a few scientific truths, like giving an accurate cosmological model? Despite Jesus being all-knowing and perfectly compassionate, he didn’t say any of these things. Doesn’t this indicate that, assuming there was actually a person called Jesus, he was simply a man with no more knowledge than anyone else at the time?

  • valerette

    My epiphanic question as a Christian was: Why is belief/disbelief in God the one “unforgivable” sin? I tried to puzzle it out from a Christian perspective and it didn’t make any sense to me. I would honestly be interested in what Christians think who have struggled with this.

    Of course, from a non-Christian perspective it makes a lot of sense.

  • ACN

    Ash,

    That is an exceedingly useful thought experiment.

  • DocShinobi

    Why would god create the entire universe as it is, only to ignore it and watch what one species on some tiny, out of the way planet is doing all the time?

    Why must god be intangible? Why doesn’t he show himself? Why does it seem that the largest miracle he can seem to pull off is to put Jesus’s face on a grilled cheese sandwich?

    Why does god need his followers to fight his battles for him?

    Why pray for god’s help, when there are impoverished people all over this earth who could use it so much more?

    Why does Christianity vilify the teachings of science? If Christianity is the truth, then science should support it.

    Why does god vilify harmless things like homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22), while condoning horrible things like slavery? (Ephesians 6:5)

    Why do Christians disregard the old testament so readily when it does not coincide with contemporary moral values?

    Why would god give me the sense to disagree with Christianity when it is wrong, then punish me for doing so?

  • pirmas407

    My interest is in how people are “doing God’s work” seemingly cleaning up after God (after natural disasters and during plagues and the such.” Basically, if God sent the plague, how is it God’s work to reverse it; or why was it there to begin with?

  • idahogie

    I would ask the pastor how he protects himself from bias. In pondering the deeper questions of faith, one set of answers will soothe him, and one set will throw his life into turmoil. How does he prevent the potential outcome from influencing how he evaluates those answers?

  • Rich Wilson

    Like many others have said, the general line of “how do you know your religion is the right one?” But in particular, we have more historical evidence for the Koran and Book of Mormon. The “Liar, Lunatic or Lord(/Prophet)” applies to both of them. I have trouble understanding how any rational religious person could accept the NT, but reject the Koran and BoM, especially without investigating them fully.

    That and, “what about all the people who lived before Jesus, or in other parts of the world at the same time? Why would God’s message to all his children be reserved for so few?”

  • narpas

    It’s a pretty typical story in atheism.reddit.com for someone to have read a book such as “The God Delusion” in a class like this and report that it caused them to discard their faith. Take that for what you will, but if you’d really like to challenge and question your faith, read some new Atheist literature by Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris and the like. They’ll probe and attack faith from every angle, and if you want to be sure that you’ve tried your faith against secular thought, “Letters to a Christian Nation”, “The God Delusion” and “God is Not Great” each summarize the Atheist world view nicely. “Good without God” is also a good resource if a person believes that Atheists are not trustworthy.

    I don’t know what your experience with Atheists is, but http://www.reddit.com/help/faqs/atheism#Whatisatheism is a good primer.

  • Darin

    Maike asked:

    Several questions that played a big part in my own deconversion from catholicism:

    - How can you know that your particular religion is the “right” one when most of us just happen to be born into it?

    - What, in your opinion, happens to all the people who do not share your particular religion? Can they also get into your heaven? On what conditions? I was told that as long as you behave morally in the sense of the bible you can still get in even if you happened to be, for example, a buddist. So why should it be worse being an atheist?

    These questions were the genesis of my atheism as well.

    -Were you lucky to have been borh into your religion?
    -Are those outside your religion expected to convert? If so, why were they given such a difficult lot in life?

    Pascals wager makes the case for placing your bet, but when it comes to deciding which religion to bet on, how can you choose?

    Eventually I decided that the god I was willing would respect my decision to be an atheist.

  • http://denkeensechtna.blogspot.com Deen

    Where do you think all the other religions came from? Both the ones that are very similar to yours, and those that are completely different? The ones that still exist, and the ones that are now gone, save for their monuments? Why doesn’t that explanation, whatever it is, apply to your religion as well?

  • Bargain

    Here’s a question I am dealing with as a Christian:

    How do we reconcile God and science? Do we allow science to speak to our interpretation of the Bible, or do we come to a conclusion from the Bible alone and then decide what science has to say? Should we read the Bible through a scientific lens, or should we read science through a Biblical lens?

  • Lana

    These are the questions that brought me to atheism:

    1. How is it “Heaven” when so many of our loved ones end up elsewhere? Isn’t heaven supposed to be eternity with those we love? Do you want to be in a heaven where you will accept and be happy that your loved ones are suffering?

    2. How do we know which religion has the truth? The holy books are a biased reference, and we would never credit a biased reference in scholarly, legal, financial, or any other real-world debate.

    3. How can mortal, finite beings claim to know the will of an immortal, infinite, omniscient being? In this light, is not all religious teaching fallacious and presumptive?

    4. What is eternity, really? Can our finite minds truly comprehend eternity? What would you do with eternal spiritual life? Imagine to the end: You’ve read all the books, watched all the programs allowed in heaven, played all the games, learned all the instruments, listened to all the music, examined all the art . . . and there’s still an eternity left to go. Can you ever truly be happy without mental stimulation and labor? But mental stimulation and labor lead to questions, and questions lead to strife, ergo, to be happy you must have strife. How does this work in heaven, which is supposed to be without strife or sorrow?

  • Dr. Cuddles

    The bible states that we are sinnners, that we cann’t be anything but sinners, thats why we need the redemptive blood of Christ. It also states, in the book of revelation among other places, that god punishes us for our sin and blames us for sinning. This makes god look like a father who punishes his handicapped child for not being able to walk. How is punishing someone for something beyond their control loving, just, or merciful?

  • http://intimacycartography.wordpress.com Semiel

    As a former Evangelical, this was one of the main questions that led to my deconversion:

    It seems to me that Molinism creates an inescapable problem of evil, since it implies that God chose a universe where a large percentage of his creatures would go to hell. Therefore, you must either deny Molinism (which is hard to reconcile with a God that could be called “omniscient”), or claim that choosing to send people to hell is consistent with God’s character (which is hard to reconcile with a benevolent God). What is your response to this dilemma?

  • Ashok Bhaskar

    I think the most applicable quote here is “Once you understand why you don’t believe in other gods, you will see why I don’t believe in yours.” Why don’t you believe in the veracity of other religions? They usually make radically different claims about the nature of the world, yet have millions of followers just as confident in their belief as you are in yours. Why are you not Hindu, or Muslim, or Zoroastrian, or Catholic instead of Protestant? Why are you so confident that your religion is the correct one and all others are wrong? Can you understand why individuals of other faiths believe the same thing about their religions?

  • Rich Wilson

    I’ve heard the “Liar, Lunatic, Lord” argument applied to Joseph Smith. And I’m sure it’s been made of Mohammed. This is along the lines of what others have said about picking the ‘correct’ religion, but in particular for Christians, how do you reject Islam and Mormonism, since they have more recent historical evidence. Surely if the NT supersedes the OT, then the BoM should supersede the NT?

    It strikes me that none of this will be new, just as none of the arguments to atheists are new. People make them as if they know we’ll be stunned by the ‘fact’ that an eye can’t just appear by accident as a mutation, therefore God did it, and fall on our knees.

    I’m sure everyone in that group has been asked “What about the people on other parts of the earth who died never having heard of Jesus? What of them?”

    When one has so much invested in faith, they can hide mountains of evidence under the rug.

  • Richard P.

    “Do you have the same standard of evidence and proof for religion as you have for financial matters?”

    With a huge majority of Americans unable to calculate out the impact of a variable mortgage rate on their income, it would appear that the answer to that statement is probably yes.

    Which is probably part of the problem.

  • Claudia

    I apologize in advance if these are repeats:

    1. Do you believe that people of other religions have as much faith in their beliefs being true as you? If so, why do you think that is? Do you think you believe in your religion for reasons that are qualitatively different from those of a Hindu, or a Muslim? What reasons are those? If you find that your faith has much the same origins as the faith of any religious person, how can you know you’re right and they are wrong?

    2. Do you believe that punishment should be proportional to the crime committed? Do you believe in Hell? How do you reconcile a belief in proportional punishment (if you do believe that) with the existence of infinite punishment for finite beings?

    3. Do you believe that babies are born pure or impure? How do you justify the pain and death of a baby who dies of cancer with a loving god? Would it be ok for me to kidnap and kill a child of yours so it could teach you resilience and your loved ones compassion? Is it OK if god does it? Why or why not?

  • Mike G.

    Can it be pointed out that answers cannot be attributed to ‘the mystery of god’ or ‘we cannot possibly know the mind of the creator’ etc. Because as amazing as this proposal sounds, how honest do you think they will be in answering the questions?

    Many an open-minded pastor has tried this before, and I think that the ‘answers’ have been heavily biased.Just my two cents.

  • I Go Pogo

    C.S. Lewis said the strongest un-answered objection to Christianity was the failure of Jesus’ prediction of the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ return within the generation of the disciples.

  • Sheridan

    I agree with Lana here. But I will go even further.

    Once you have died and gone to heaven, and said hello to your friends and family, what do you do for an eternity? There will be no more weddings, no births, no birthday parties, and no wedding anniversaries to celebrate. Also, no jobs to keep you busy, no fine-dining restaurants, no jogging, no football games, no baseball, no internet, no iPad. No eating, no sleeping, If you are an author, there is nothing to write. If you are an artist, there is nothing to paint, If you are a musician, there is no instrument to play.

    I could go on and on, but I think the point has been made. Forever is more than a billion, trillion years! What do you do forever?

    To me, it doesn’t sound very appealing.

  • Blacksheep

    Can you see that doubt is not an enemy, and become comfortable with it as a good and constant friend who keeps you honest, humble and human?

    If only more people posting here had that attitude!

    My biggest surprise in conversing on this site has been the (almost) universal certainty in the atheist position, to the point that any type of faith invites insult, frustration, and anger.

  • aerie

    @Gordon:

    According to my xian mother, in heaven, god takes the memory and grief for the condemned loved one (whom he chunked into a lake of eternal fire) and any memory or knowledge of family still on earth, unto himself so that you may live in sorrow no more but in joy everlasting. You know…Men In Black style? How merciful of him, no? I guess whether you get to see the remaining family when they die will depend on where they end up…What a piece of work this god is.

    It seems like that would raise the question of meaning. What does it mean if god is just going to erase it in the end?

  • zachofalltrades

    Why, if we’re God’s favored creation, is the universe so unimaginably large? It seems excessively wasteful to just drop your creation at some random point in something so vast that most of it is forever out of reach.

    I’d love it if we hear something about the outcome of this expirement. I’m baffled not so much at the question of why people believe, but at the how. I don’t think I could force myself to believe in any religion because they just don’t make sense to me.

  • SWare

    Not sure if this qualifies as friendly but here goes…

    Why does god insist on people providing money to the church? Doesn’t god provide? If you pray and “help yourself”, should it not all work out according to gods will? I ask because I used to attend a small town Lutheran church and recall being particularly annoyed after a Sunday service where the pastor basically chewed out the congregation for not tithing sufficiently and that the church required funds in order to continue to operate. It’s just one of many examples of the church making me, as an adult, feel like a belittled child. Not to mention I was particularly broke at the time and had to live with other family members in order to financially get on my feet so I was pretty cautious with how I spent what little I had.

    If a human male were to impregnate an unmarried virgin and sacrifice that child later in life to “absolve people of their sins” it would be called murder no matter how noble that man believes his intentions to be. The average person would frankly be horrified by this man telling them that he sacrificed his only child for them. Why is this acceptable behavior of a god? The 10 commandments include murder among them…god is exempt from his own laws? If we were created in god’s image then why do the rules not apply to both?

  • Douglas Kirk

    One of my favorites has always been: Why didn’t Jesus tell people they should wash their hands?

  • Ibis

    I don’t think any Christian with a bit of reason and an honest intent to question their religious beliefs, could come to the conclusion that Christianity was factually true.

    So my question is: Have you ever started with a self-imposed blank slate and investigated the history of your religion? We now know of antecedents and parallels for all the basic elements of both the OT and NT. Men argued for hundreds of years about what texts to include in the bible, what the nature of your god is, whether Jesus was just a man etc. etc. (mostly trying to reconcile the Jewish concept of Yahweh with the Hellenistic concept of god as perfect and good). Then, once they had some political power, Christians forced conversion to Christianity. It’s so obviously man-made once you take even a half-hearted look at it.

    Oh, and here’s a follow up set of questions (not) just for the ladies: Why would you choose to follow a religion that supports the inherent superiority of men? Why is God “the Father”? Why is Eve blamed for death and sin coming into the world? Why are women treated as chattel of, or at best, servants to men in both the OT and NT? And prevarication about historical context just isn’t good enough. If there were truly a moral god out there to hand down morality, surely complete gender equality would be item number one on the list.

    Now I’ve started I can’t stop. Here’s a final one. Read The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why can human beings put something so idealistic, compassionate, and moral together, but your god can only come up with “if you rape a woman, make sure you marry her and pay her father some compensation”, “don’t have sex with another guy”, “don’t eat cheeseburgers” and “don’t forget to worship ME”?

  • Parse

    My preferred question is, “What evidence, if anything, would convince you that X is false?” In this, X can be anything – creationism, the rapture/tribulation, salvation by faith or works, the resurrection, anything. It’s not supposed to challenge a person’s faith, but instead help reveal their cognitive biases.

  • Wim

    My general question would be:
    How do you define “supernatural” and “miraculous”(and contrast it to “natural” and “statistically unlikely” respectively)?

    A more specific question regarding how a being that is eternally omnipresent seems to be in contradiction with the traditional image of a “creator” making a “creation”:
    If your god is omnipresent in all phases of existence (both spatially and temporally), then in which sense could this being ever have created anything? If a god is present at all points of existence, then it has also eternally been present at the end result of whatever its “plan” is. But if the end result has eternally existed alongside this being, then in which sense can it be the “creation” of this being?

    A third question regarding free will:
    Do you believe people have free will in heaven (or hell) and if so, could things ever go wrong in heaven (or right in hell). If not, why was that incorruptable system not implemented on this level of existence?

    Thank you for considering my questions.
    - Wim

  • http://atheos-godless.blogspot.com Barry

    I would ask these two questions:

    1. why do you believe in God when there is absolutely no evidence that he is real?

    2. If God is real, how come the universe looks exactly as we would expect it to if there were no God?

  • SWare

    Can’t believe I nearly forgot this one…a personal favorite.

    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/god5.htm

  • aerie

    Blacksheep, I don’t know many atheists who close the door completely on that. None of us knows for certainty. I’m honest, humble and human enough to admit it when I’m wrong and make changes as necessary. Which is something that many christians can’t summon the integrity to do.

    Your god, belief, faith are not noble pursuits deserving of special treatment. They are not off-limits to criticism or mockery. Adults who believe in childish nonsense, virgin births & talking snakes should be mocked and ridiculed in the public square.

    Imo you’ve all been given a ride for too long. If you get a bit of negative feedback then you only have yourselves to blame, so stop with the insulting, frustrated, and angry atheist bullshit.

    When a christian tells me that the reason I don’t believe in god is only because I want freedom to continue in my sinful ways and live my sinful life without having to worry about the consequences or face judgement…that, my friend, is an insult of the highest degree and deserves every ounce of my frustration and anger.

  • http://www.atheistnexus.org/profile/Bryan77 Strangel

    I Go Pogo – That’s where I was going as well, however I did not know that C.S. stated that. Good to know! If you will permit me, I was going to put it like this:

    Simon Peter (although he was dead before this was written) “writes” that scripture is not up to interpretation (2Peter 1:15-21 [for context])and then proceeds to interpret what Jesus meant (2Peter 3:1-8) when he said that there are some standing before him that will not die before the Son of Man comes to Earth. Note that he never refers to himself as the Son of Man! The gospels of Mark and Matthew (the eye-witnesses) contain these verses (Mat 10:22, 16:27-28, 24:29-34, Mark 13:23-30).

    If the Bible is not up to interpretation, and the words of Jesus are related to us through eye-witnesses (2Peter 1:16) who could not have been wrong if the Holy Ghost itself moved them (or not) after hearing these words from God incarnate (Jesus), then one possibility is that there are 2000 year old Jews on Earth still waiting for the Son of Man.

    It’s physically more likely that the Son of Man just isn’t coming. There is another option as well; Simon Peter lied and the Bible should be interpreted. If so then why are the words of Simon Peter included in the Holy Bible?

  • gg

    Assuming faithful brains are less tolerant of ambiguity, hampered by confirmation bias and less likely to take risks, most questions listed might not resonate.

    Much of the philosophical “punch” from these question ring the logical/reasonable/shades-of-grey bell of inquiring minds, but will glance off the faithful mind.

    You can’t reason someone out of a conclusion that was not born from reason in the first place.

    The problem of the audience is the first challenge with these questions. The epistemic/methodological track is a good start, though. I’d like to see more questions take into consideration the cognitive limitations of the faithful mind.

    All that said… my favorite question is:

    If you think prayers are answered, does that mean we can actually ensorcell God to do our bidding? And if so, does that mean God’s perfection isn’t perfect? (i.e., it required you to come along and make a judgment about something, and use your God controlling prayer-magic to make things right).

    I think this highlights the absurdity of prayer and the futility of desire in a world where a perfect, all powerful, all knowing entity had tsunamis and baby rape as part of his “perfect plan” and praying for it to stop is actually telling god he got it wrong.

  • ATL-Apostate

    Here are some questions that usually stump most Evangelicals, Fundies and some liberals:

    1. Do you believe that God is moral?
    2. If God commands you to do something, is it therefore, moral?
    3. If God commanded you to kill your own son, would that be moral?
    4. What if he commanded you to kill someone else?

    They can’t honestly weasel out of this one. God commanded people to kill all the time in the OT. #3 and 4 have specific verses that go along with them to support.

    Usually, they try to change the subject after #3. If not, then they start adding all kinds of ridiculous hypotheticals like, “well, god wouldn’t do that…” etc.

  • Dan Moody

    OK, my question.

    Is faith more or less reliable in finding truth than evidence?

    If faith, why do you think scientific theories which are based on evidence tend to agree across racial, geographical and cultural boundaries where as religious beliefs based on faith tend to vary across these boundaries?

  • Scientific Method

    A lot of the responses you are getting are about the immorality of your god as presented in the Bible or by Christians. I think these points are important. What I find most appalling about your God as presented in your holy book is that he does not forbid slavery, but condones it in Exodus by making laws that allow slaves to be severely beaten so long as they are not permanently physically injured, such as losing an eye. Here is the relevant passage from Exodus 21:20-21 (NIV):

    “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies
    as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if
    the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.”

    These points are important, but what I think is missing is an emphasis on the scientific method. If you are truly willing to ask questions, I don’t need to tell you that the god of your holy book is deeply immoral, your congregation knows it on some level and will tell you so if you ask them in an objective manner. How do you do this? You run an experiment. You give all of your congregation the above quote from Exodus on a piece of paper, but then you randomly assign each person a second piece of information: half of your congregation receives a piece of paper that tells them that a politician said this and the other half receives the biblical citation and is reminded that god supposedly said it. You then ask everyone the same question: Is this view morally abhorrent? And if you actually pursue said knowledge, you will almost certainly find what has been found in similar experiments before: your congregation is perfectly willing to call the politician morally abhorrent, but will make excuses for their God. This should tell you that your congregation (and you) find the god of the bible morally abhorrent, but are too blinded by faith to say so directly, even though they can clearly recognize said behavior as deeply immoral in any other being.

    Note that in the above experiment I have an hypothesis, “your congregation finds the laws of the biblical God morally abhorrent, but will not say so because they are blinded by faith” that is in principle falsifiable. That is, if there were no difference in opinions about the quote between the group that was told about a politician and told about God, but your congregation found both individuals to be equally moral, than my hypothesis would be falsified.

    Thinking about the ability to falsify an hypothesis is extremely important for understanding what is intellectually dishonest about faith. Is faith an intellectually legitimate reason for believing in something given that faith is belief without evidence? If it is, then you are forced to accept the faith of the Muslim terrorists who flew planes into the twin towers in the name of their faith as equally valid as your faith in your god, because neither faith is based in any evidence and as such cannot be logically differentiated from one another. If faith is intellectually legitimate, faith in anything is equally legitimate.

    What this gets at is that if the standard of evidence requires no evidence, then no hypothesis can be falsified and all hypotheses are equally valid. If on the other hand you are going to claim that there is evidence for your particular god then you must come up with an objective standard by which the evidence for other gods is rejected, but the evidence you present for your god is not. This would not demonstrate definitively that your god does exist, but it is a basic first test which I don’t think your god can pass. So if you are interested in this inquiry compile evidence for other gods as well, put it to the test, and see if there is any objective standard by which your evidence is not equally discarded. If you cannot come up with standard, you obviously cannot show your beliefs to be true. Finally, understand that you have the burden of proof, otherwise it would be perfectly legitimate to base one’s life around a celestial teapot.

  • Mr Z

    I have one question and it fits in with the original post but is slightly different.

    Why do you believe that your interpretation of the Christian holy texts is better than all the other interpretations of the same texts, including mine?

  • Annie

    One aspect of religion that I could never understand is the idea of prayer. Why is begging for preferential treatment not only considered OK, but encouraged?

    So my question would be: How can you pray for things like safe travels for a loved one, a new job, or even regained health for a stranger, when there is obviously so much more serious pain and suffering in the world? Does prayer for self gain, in your eyes, contradict the concept of being a good Christian?

  • Happycynic

    1) Responsibility. Is there anything an all-powerful, all-knowing creator god is not responsible for?

    I’m sure he’s already got problem of evil, but look at it from a stance of responsibility. God can change anything, even rules like “sin causes pain” or “justice requires punishment” or “good requires evil to exist too”. And even if he can’t change it once made, he created the universe that way, with full knowledge of the consequences.

    2) God Knows Best. How does one verify that God Knows Best?

    It’s often said that “God’s ways are higher than ours” or “It’s all part of God’s plan”. But you could apply those arguments to, say, Stalin in the USSR just as validly. Is there any difference we can see? If God’s plan/morality is incomprehensible to mere mortals, and only APPEARS to be inconsistent or immoral, how can we tell that from one that actually IS inconsistent or immoral?

    3) Source of Morality. How and why is God moral?

    Are God’s actions moral because he’s the one doing them, or because they follow an external right and wrong he didn’t create? If the first, then God is simply doing whatever he feels like, anything he does is moral simply because he wants to do it; the ultimate “might makes right” example. If there’s an outside code that he didn’t create, then that kinda shoots the whole creator thing out of the water.

  • sparrow

    The comments already posted appear to cover every question I could think of. Except one that, if it is already posted, I passed it.

    How can your god be *both* omnipotent and omniscience? An interesting quote I came across awhile back, that is rather funny in nature, but still well-worth pondering IMO:

    “Can omniscient God, who knows the future, find the omnipotence to change His future mind?”

    The most common argument to “refute” this question is to the effect of: “Well, it *is* possible as attributed to God. You’re trying to fit God into your logical ‘box’, but he’s beyond that. He’s so (insert a word such as magnificent) _____ that we couldn’t begin to comprehend his power.”…etc.

    A response akin to the aforementioned shows lack of thought, critical thinking skills, and an inability to analyze, interpret, understand, and seriously answer a valid question. I think this question *is* a valid and important one (as are most of the other ones posted here) as applied to your (and all) religious dogma.

  • Greg

    First off, inspired by a recent posting on this site, I just want to stress that my use of a lower case ‘g’ for god is meant in no way to be disrespectful. I merely use it because all I say applies to all gods that have been proposed rather than just your god. Similarly with my use of the neutral pronoun ‘it’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ which could otherwise be considered sexist.

    I find it hard to choose just one question, with me there wasn’t one big thing that changed my mind, but an amalgamation of things (including seeing problems in the very first ‘proof of a god’ I came across and also a lot of niggly things that appealed to my love of mathematics, and interest in concepts like infinity.)

    One question (or rather related groups of questions) that gave me pause for thought (quite a lot of thought at that) was the (in)compatibility of religion and an all loving god. In essence the question is the following:

    How can an all loving god have favourites?

    I’ll try to explain what I mean by that below – I fear it will be quite long, simply because I was questioning myself, and one question led to the next. This is the sort of way I framed it to myself when I was agonising over it:

    I believe that not only is my religion true, but my god wants me to know that this religion is true. The reason for this holy book was so that its readers could avail themselves of the benefit of all the wisdom it contained. I also believe that my god is all loving, and all good, therefore the idea that it could have favourites is impossible.

    Why then do religions all stem from one place, and get propagated by humans? If the truth of my holy book is so important, then why has my god chosen just one group of people to receive its message? If my god is all powerful, then it can tell multiple people in multiple places what it wants humankind to know, so should not all these separate religions have the same basic tenets? In order to provide us with just this one holy book in the first place, it must be willing to interact with us humans, so it can’t be that it wants to stay aloof from our affairs.

    Should not the one true religion have been born in many separate places across the world independently of each other? If Christianity is true, for example, then surely everyone should know that Yahweh’s son Jesus died for their sins, and they should have equal evidence for this also. Someone whom Jesus appeared to after his resurrection has a far greater weight of evidence to persuade them than someone living a couple of thousand years later, with nothing but accounts of what transpired – no matter if the writers claimed to be eyewitnesses or not. What about people who due to distance, or the time in which they lived, never had a chance to hear the one true god’s words? Even if the fact they didn’t believe in god isn’t enough to doom them to hell (assuming you believe in a form of hell, as I did), they’ve still had their entire life missing out on the wisdom by the most knowledgeable, most powerful, and most benevolent being imaginable. Is that not unfair and therefore not compatible with my notion of god?

    Also, if my religion is true, then all other religions are necessarily false. Children are raised in these religions, and they are likewise taught that my religion – the true religion – is false. In some of these religions they are virtually brainwashed from a very young age. How can my god allow these false religions to exist, which make it virtually impossible for some people to know the real truth? Does my god care more about the children raised in my – correct – religion than the children raised in their false ones? Nothing either child has done is something which deserves preferential treatment, so I can I possibly reconcile this with a god that is all loving?

    To me, therefore, religion is demonstrative of favouritism and, perhaps paradoxically, as a result religion seems incompatible with an all loving, all powerful, all good, god.

  • Cris

    The question that turned me into an atheist is a subset of the problem of evil.

    Why do non-human animals suffer?

    They do not get the promise of an afterlife, they cannot sin, they cannot choose to do good or evil. The amount of gratuitous animal suffering in this world is vast- consider that the majority of species alive today are parasites- which seems to point to a god that either does not care or is powerless to intervene. An omnipotent god surely could have created a world where such suffering was not required.

  • JulietEcho

    To what extent to you accept your pastor’s words as truth without contemplation? In my experience, many pastors only cover a relatively small portion of the Bible, and churchgoers aren’t made aware of which beliefs come directly from the Bible (Jesus’s words on forgiveness, for instance) and which are the product of interpretation by theologians (the Trinity, for instance).

    How do you decide which theologians’ interpretations are correct when many are contradictory? It seems that modern denominations are happy to believe what their most famous theologians have said in the past about God and Christianity instead of questioning whether those explanations make sense.

    To what extent do you challenge your own pastor/church if you believe that they are incorrect about God or Christianity? If your pastor preached that anti-depressants were simply a way of dulling the pain that comes from not being close enough to God and discouraged their use, would you speak out in any way? If your pastor denounced homosexuality as sinful and perverted, would you speak out in any way?

    If your pastor preaches teachings that you think are wrong or harmful, why do you think you disagree with them? Do you think your internal source of morality (your conscience, your reasoning, your common sense) is more trustworthy than that of traditional Christian teachings?

  • ORAXX

    Here’s a question for you: How can an all powerful god ‘want’ anything? It seems to me that as soon as god want’s something, he is no longer all powerful. By the same token, if I can anger god, haven’t I exercised power over god?

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    1. When attempting to “let go and let Jesus drive” or quieting your mind and listening to the holy spirit, how can you tell the difference between real divine inspiration and your own thoughts? Also, how can you tell the true divine stuff from the man-made up stuff in the bible and the subsequent Christian theologies?

    2. Why did God not do a better job of communicating what He wants from us? Why remain so hidden with all supposed communications from over 2000 years ago? Why doesn’t He just rearrange the stars to literally spell out what he wants from us?

    3. How is infinite reward or punishment for someone adopting a certain set of beliefs in some finite time period supposed to be moral? If there is some kind of divine intelligence in the world, might this entity prefer the skeptics over the credulous? Perhaps to get “in good” with God, you need to become an atheist. :)

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I haven’t seen these mentioned yet:

    1. Without pointing to your holy book, what evidence can you provide that there is anything supernatural occurring in the universe?

    2. Many evangelicals seem to dismiss polytheism out of hand, treating the notion as absurd and not worthy of serious discussion. But if monotheism is in fact the most logical and rational position, why did it take so long for humanity to begin to assert a single deity?

    3. I have seen evangelicals mention unique features of Christianity as a reason to believe that the faith is true. For example, many evangelicals state that Christianity is the only religion in which one can achieve a “personal relationship” with a god. Or that Christianity is the only religion in which a savior has died for the sins of humanity. Assuming that these are in fact unique features, how does that have any bearing on the truth of your religion? It’s easy to point out unique teachings in many world faiths, but Christians do not treat uniqueness as a reason to accept those other religions as true.

  • aerie

    ORAXX ftw.

  • http://www.obfuscatedreality.com/ demetriusofpharos

    I may have missed it, but my favorite question is simple: Where’s God’s god?

    In other words, assuming for the moment we were created and the universe was created for us (the usual argument being that something can’t come from nothing), then who or what created God? No fair using the “he exists out of time” argument, because the same could be applied to the Universe. (Not really, but by their logic, it can.)

    Bonus question: without using “suffering” or “test of faith” as the explanation, why was the Universe created to be billions upon billions of lightyears across, billions of stars and very probably billions of planets, but life is only on one planet (that we know about)? On a smaller scale, why, if the Earth was truly created for human beings, is so much of the Earth uninhabitable for human beings? I realize technology can compensate somewhat for things like extreme cold and extreme hot, and there are submarines for the water, but the overall point is that well over 80% of the planet is, let’s say, not friendly to a native tribe of humans.

    Edited – yeah, ORAXX kind of wins with that one.

  • ORAXX

    Aerie, my appologies, but I’m afraid I don’t know what ftw means. I only deal with questions concerning the nature of the universe and the like. lol

  • Edmond

    Not sure how to phrase this, but it comes from the “Science answers HOW, religion answers WHY” arena.

    DOES religion really answer “why”?

    WHY did god create us? Why create the entire universe? Was he lonely? Did he exist for all infinity, and then suddenly decided to create us? If he created us out of love for us, did he love us BEFORE he created us (because that doesn’t quite make sense)? Why did he create Hell AND people to put there? Wouldn’t it have been kinder (and more loving) to simply have created neither? Is our purpose in life nothing more than worshipping him? If he CHOSE to create us for the purpose of glorifying himself, do we really have an OBLIGATION to do so? Is it NECESSARY to punish us if we don’t?

    Theists like to dis on science for only addressing the “how” of the universe, and not the “why”, but I don’t see religion answering that question either, with anything better than “all for god”. If you’re the sort of person who considers the possibility that he may not exist, then “all for god” is not a very satisfying answer.

  • Rich Wilson

    @ORAXX

    For The Win

    And, yes, excellent Q. Reminds me of the horrible Star Trek V, in which Kirk asks “What need has God of a starship?”

  • BKsea

    A few thought-provoking questions:

    1. Can you simply choose to believe something you don’t currently believe?

    2. Does religious tolerance make any sense given the threat of eternal damnation for your friends and children who stray from the fold?

    3. Why did God create Man?

  • EJ94

    How can you rely on something that is not universal–human language–to convey truths that are supposed to be universal?

    Knowing that the meaning of words can change greatly over time, and that a perfect translation from one language to another is not really possible, how can you maintain that the Bible is capable of conveying universal truths?

    Knowing that even two people who speak the same language can read the same passage and come away with different interpretations, how can you say there is one correct interpretation of the Bible or be sure that your interpretation is the correct one?

    I mean, if a word a simple as “boot” can convey different meanings to someone born in the US and someone born in England, even though they are speaking basically the same language, how can you be sure you have a correct interpretation of words written in another language 2000+ years ago? And if you can’t be sure, how can you consider the Bible to be any more true than any other written work?

  • Ash

    My biggest surprise in conversing on this site has been the (almost) universal certainty in the atheist position, to the point that any type of faith invites insult, frustration, and anger.

    Blacksheep, an openness to doubt is not the same thing as either credulity (i.e. the willingness to believe anything) or wishy-washiness (i.e. the inability to commit to a position). Skepticism entails accepting an assertion only after it has been well-supported, and even then that commitment is provisional. Atheists simply have concluded that the theistic hypothesis has failed to meet the burden of plausibility, but most of us are perfectly willing to change our minds if genuinely compelling evidence comes to light. The same cannot be said of most Christians, I’m afraid.

    Generally speaking, what evokes anger and frustration on this site is malicious or ignorant behavior that is justified by and inspired by religious faith. While we might roll our eyes at the profession of belief that God will cure an illness, we seethe when we hear about a child who dies because that parent refused to take her to the doctor. The same goes for attempts to bring Creationism into the science classroom or Christian morals into America’s bedrooms by force of law.

    As for insults…well, adults believing in iron-age fairy tales is something that deserves a round mocking. Religious faith is a vice, not a virtue, and it’s time to start pointing that out.

  • Boz

    I fear that this pastor will discuss these ‘hard questions’ in a christian-only environment. Which will lead to an unbalanced treatment of the question. A hypothetical example:

    Pastor: “I asked some friendly atheists for some hard questions, and today we will discuss some of these. The first is ‘how do we know the bible was written by Yahweh’. This is quite easy. The answer is that the bible says that it was written by Yahweh. Problem solved.”

    -

    The Pastor should bring in someone to advocate on behalf of the difficult questions. e.g. to Provide rebutals to the answers. This will lead to a more balanced (but not fully perfectly unbiased) treatment of the issue.

  • Jonathan

    Many people have already asked whether theists have the same standard of evidence for religious questions as they do for any other kind of questions. But I think before you answer that, you have to be clear about the method you use for answering any question.

    Most atheist that come to this site use the scientific method to answer questions because clearly reasoned arguments grounded in fact generally provides the most consistent and most correct answer. So, what’s your method and why?

    When I was a Christian, I never thought about *how* I would answer questions. I never thought about how to evaluate facts or the logic holding those facts together. For instance, a piece of evidence given for Jesus’ resurrection is that the gospels provide eye witness accounts of that fact. Now, without debating the veracity of the eye witness claim, the real question there is, are the gospel accounts really enough evidence for such a radical claim? If this story was in the Koran and not the Bible, would you find it equally convincing? So yeah… seems to me thinking about how to answer questions is the first step.

  • adm54321

    I’ve seen this discussed on Christian websites as a problem within their theology:

    Conceivably, if he repented at the right time, Hitler could be in Heaven. Anne Frank, however, is in Hell. Can you reconcile this possibility with your belief that religion teaches us morality?

  • ATL-Apostate

    The other point I would make is this: I reject the pastor’s premise. He assumes that we have beliefs about his god, when in fact, the main thing we have in common is our LACK of belief in his god. Doesn’t something have to exist before you can have a belief about it?

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    I have no more beliefs in or about god than I do magic garden fairies or honest politicians.

  • ff42

    Would you what to know if your religion/thoughts/belief are wrong?

    Are you willing to change your religion/thoughts/belief under any circumstances?

    Christ gave us the story of the Good Samaritan who could only do his good deeds because he had means (oil, rags, coins for the innkeeper) and opportunity (he observed the victim). God has infinite means and opportunity, so why doesn’t he practice what he preaches?

    Why should I follow any advice from an entity that murdered nearly all of his children? That ordered some of his children to kill others, that gambled with Satan over Job, that hasn’t given us one useful piece of medical information?

  • Troglodyke

    I don’t think any Christian with a bit of reason and an honest intent to question their religious beliefs, could come to the conclusion that Christianity was factually true

    I have said this for years. My personal belief is that the educated, intelligent Xtians don’t truly believe the dogma. They just go along to get along. They like the “touchy-feely” aspects, or the “fitting in” aspects, or they think they need to go to church for the kids or for peer pressure, or parent pressure, or whatever. Also, it’s a habit, and “millions of other people are doing it.”

    Being a Xtian in America takes no real courage at all. It’s easy, feels good (except when the pastor gives those occasionally uncomfortable sermons about damnation and such, but progressive Xtian church pastors rarely do), and most of your friends and neighbors are doing it, so, why not? If it’s all you’ve ever known, and questioning your beliefs would rock your nicely-ordered world too much, why not go along to get along?

    I get tired of being told that atheists are taking the easy way out because we want to be sinful. Asking important questions and abandoning traditions you grew up with–and sometimes being cut off from your loved ones because of it–takes a lot of courage.

    Staying Xtian even though you disagree with the dogma and have doubts but won’t voice them is the ultimate “easy way out.”

  • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

    Look up the context of the passages in Jewish scripture that the book of Matthew references in Jesus’ infancy narrative. Did Matthew quote these texts in a way that deals honestly with their original meaning?

    Follow-up question: How many other claims of scripture fulfillment might be of the same kind, only less obvious because the original passages are themselves less clear?

    These considerations were what completely removed any confidence I had that the Bible was self-authenticating.

  • Max

    Here is something that I’ve wondered: Why is Satan doing god’s work? Satan and his followers were cast into hell for rebelling against god. Humans who sin, don’t accept Jesus, etc. are cast into hell for eternal punishment. Why is Satan punishing people for disobeying god? You’d think Satan would embrace people who disobey god and reward them. Instead, Satan is god’s disciplinarian.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    Personally, I think what made me doubt religion (even before actually reading about atheism) were two things:

    1. There are so many different religions.

    2. There are religions in literature that resemble religions that people actually believe in.

    So, my question/suggestion is this:

    When comparing your own religious faith with other religions (or even with other denominations of your own religion) what is it that makes you think that your religion is true while others are false? When reading books in which the author has invented a religion (e.g. religious satire or science fiction with religions from other planets) does the fact that an author can invent an entire religion make you consider the possibility that your religion could also have been created by humans?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Well, first of all, I have to applaud the pastor who’s willing to seek out tough questions from people of different beliefs. Bravo, sir! It’s a rare and praiseworthy character trait for anyone to display such a level of open-mindedness and intellectual honesty.

    That said, I’ve written a post on this exact topic that I’d like to cite: Ten Questions to Ask Your Pastor. I realize Wayne is going to be flooded with responses, but I hope he’ll take it under consideration. :)

  • http://www.newbspeak.com Newbs

    The question that knocked around inside my brain for a few years was: “If my parents had been Muslim, wouldn’t I be Muslim too… and wouldn’t I believe that Christianity was wrong?”

    Another good one was the question my philosophy professor asked on the first day of class (at a Christian school): “Is there anything that could make you stop being a Christian?” A room full of Youth Ministry majors shook their heads no (including me), but one guy spoke up quietly and said “Well, I suppose if I became convinced that it wasn’t true.”

    Thinking really hard about those two questions was all it took for me to realize I’d been deceiving myself for most of my life. And then it only took another 5 years for me to admit it.

  • http://SingAlongWithMichael.com MIchael

    +1 Troglodyke. That pretty much sums up every person I know here in the suburbs. Very sad. These are very educated people- most with college degrees. Very few of these people have the guts to admit deep down inside they KNOW what they “believe” is bunk, but they don’t want to rock the boat with their friends and family. It’s SO easy to be a Christian. You don’t have to take a test. You don’t have to investigate or study. You just have to go along with the crowd and make an appearance at a church every few Sundays (while thinking about sex and football for the entire hour).

  • Tom

    Is there anything that God could do that would not be holy or morally perfect? If yes, what? If no, then what does it mean to be holy if there is no possible behaviour that is not holy? (I can say that something is red, but that has no meaning if I can’t show you anything that isn’t red).

  • Simon

    There are some excellent questions there. I liked the insightful ones about prayer. Often when theists ask me to pray for them or with them about a particular thing, like a sick relative, I ask them “Surely your god planned this illness and has a greater scheme in mind. This happening inevitably involved a lot of forethought and planning, and was not the product of forgetfullness on god’s behalf. So why do you think he/she/it is going to chinge their mind just becuase you ask them.

    But my big question comes from the fact that all evidence that theists produce comes from their holy books, where as our evidence comes from observation of the natural world. So:
    “If you could suppose for a moment that the Bible did not exist – where would your religion come from?”
    Hope that isn’t too abstract.

  • Dan

    Here are a few questions that played a big part in my deconversion from evangelical Christianity (please note that these are more problems for traditional Christian doctrine, if the Church is incredibly liberal these questions might not apply):

    1) Since one of the main arguments for Christianity is that without God we cannot establish objective morality, how can a Christian say they worship a God who is Holy and yet says life-long lineage based slavery for non-Jews was OK (Leviticus 25), that if a person beats his slave to death he shouldn’t be punished as long as the slave survives the beating for a few days (Exodus 21), or that infanticide and genocide were OK in the Old Testament? Since God commanded slavery, genocide, and infanticide in some circumstances then how can a Christian claim to believe in objective morality unless they either call God evil or say that at least sometimes slavery and infanticide are OK (thereby denying objective morality)?

    2) If God is so loving then why will all the priests who molested children be in heaven if they really repented of their sin, yet billions of other much more moral people who never heard of Jesus and would probably have converted if given the chance will still be tortured for all eternity? How is that just or loving?

    3) Why do people only use Pascal’s wager to try to establish Christianity? It could be equally used to convert people to any religion that teaches the punishment of non-believers. In fact, if there is a god and he or she turn out to be different than the Christian one than wouldn’t you be better off not believing? Wouldn’t a god probably prefer us not to worship any god than the wrong one? If so than it would be better to not worship at all, since there have been claims of tens of thousands of gods and even if we believed in a god we wouldn’t know for sure which one to worship.

  • Other Chris

    One of the biggest questions that lead to my deconversion was “Why does God, and infinite and omnipotent being, need me, a skinny third grader (at the time) NEED me to believe in him? Of course the answer I always got was “he doesn’t need you to believe in him, you get to!” but just look at his first commandment, what he did to the unbelievers in the flood and Sodom and Gomorrah, all the prophets he’s sent to instruct people in his ways (not necessarily moral ways in the way modern society sees morality), all the mixed messages he’s sent over the years, closing off heaven to all but those who believe in him, etc. etc. and it seems to be a pretty powerful need.

    To quote a zen proverb and an old TV show, The universe mocks us all. Maybe it’s insecure.

  • http://whywontgodhealamputees.com Grimm

    Apparently I sent these to the wrong place. SO!

    Why do you reject Islam? Do you know why followers of Islam reject you? Why do their arguments have no basis?

    What do you think is the likelihood that you would be Muslim today, had you been born into a sharia-following family in Pakistan in the year of your birth?

    Why is the revelation of Joseph Smith invalid, but the revelation of Paul considered canon?

  • John Small Berries

    If you actually read the Bible, you discover that God does a number of things which are difficult to reconcile with the teaching that God is just and benevolent.

    A few examples:

    1. God is displeased with what humans have done with the free will they were given,* so he murders every living creature on the planet (including infants and children) except eight humans and a single boatful of animals.

    2. God sends bears to maul a group of children who made fun of a thin-skinned prophet’s bald head.**

    3. God allows Satan to murder a man’s entire family just to prove that the man was not a fair-weather worshiper.***

    4. God destroys two cities because their inhabitants were wicked (even the infants and young children?), but permits the escape of a man who offered his two virgin daughters up to be gang-raped by an angry mob.***

    5. God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land”, robbing Pharaoh of his free will and forcing him to choose a particular course of action – then punishes him for that “choice” by murdering every firstborn child in Egypt.*****

    Are the tales of God’s savage cruelty in the Old Testament an accurate reflection of his nature?

    If so, how can a deity which performs such monstrously evil acts possibly deserve worship as a just and benevolent god?

    And if not – if those tales are inaccurate (or God’s declaration of his own unchanging nature in Malachi 3:6 is inaccurate) – then how can anything in the Bible be relied upon to be accurate?

    ___
    * Though as an omniscient deity, he should have been well aware what humans would do with their free will, before he even decided to create them. Perhaps he should have changed the recipe so that they would only choose to do the things he found acceptable.

    ** Instead of, say, giving his prophet hair, or at least a thicker skin.

    *** God could at least have brought Job’s wife and children back to life after he’d won the bet with Satan, no?

    **** In order to protect the angels sent to destroy the city, who probably could have defended themselves quite capably. But I guess telling an angry mob “Hey, take my virgin daughters and do anything you want with them, just leave my guests alone” is what passes for righteousness in God’s eyes.

    ***** And although God personally directed the the murder of the Egyptian firstborn children (and cattle), he needed the Israelites to mark their doors with blood so that he would know which houses to pass over (Exodus 12:23), which seems to contradict the claim that God is “perfect in knowledge”.

  • walkamungus

    I don’t have a question for the pastor, but I do have a suggestion about preparation for this session. It might help create a frame of reference.

    There’s a very good essay called “Shakespeare In the Bush” by an anthropologist whose name I can never remember. In it, he decides to test what WE (Western Europeans) claim are “universal themes” in Hamlet by telling the story to members of the tribe he’s studying. Of course, the tribesmen have a totally different take on the ghost of Hamlet’s father, the marriage of Hamlet’s mother to his uncle, and so on — the motive forces behind the action of the play. I’d suggest that the pastor get a copy of this essay (he can contact his local public library and they’ll find one) and have the members of the group read it *before* they discuss any of the questions here.

    I don’t think you have to have seen or read Hamlet to understand or enjoy the essay, which is basically about how “truths” we think are universal can be cultural constructs. Then, perhaps, the group will have a model for approaching the questions more in the spirit of anthropological inquiry than a challenge to their faith.

  • dave

    @boz:

    The Pastor should bring in someone to advocate on behalf of the difficult questions. e.g. to Provide rebutals to the answers. This will lead to a more balanced (but not fully perfectly unbiased) treatment of the issue.

    Good point! I have some JWs come by my house every other week or so. I’ve spoken at length with them a couple times. I’m waiting for an invitation to their church for an “Ask The Atheist” kind of thing. But I’m not holding my breath. :)

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I have some questions:

    What makes you think that you have a soul? What is a soul? How does a soul interact with the material brain? Please provide evidence for souls?

    Can you provide a working definition for “god”? If a person were to honestly explore the idea of “gods” then a basic working definition where they would begin. The hypothesis might be something like “gods exist” but before proceeding the terms need to be defined.

    While we’re at it how does “god” exist? Is it a physical existence like you or I or Yahweh as he spoke to Abraham outside of the city of Sodom in the Old Testament or when he wrestled with Jacob. Is it a “spiritual” existence? If the latter then what does “spiritual” mean? How does something of “spirit” interact with the reality of matter and energy? Is “spirit” a form of energy and if so can it be detected? If so how and on what wavelength? If people can detect “spirits” then how are they able to do so when our finest sensors cannot?

    Why do you think we live on after death? Does an eternal existence appeal to you? Think about it? Does eternity appeal to you?

    Others have mentioned the concept of hell and separation from loved ones. Does the inventor of a literal hell sound like the sort of being that you’d want to worship? Does hell sound like a good idea? Can you think of a better alternative for the wicked or those who simply do not share your beliefs?

    Assuming a deity exists can you think of a reason why it would even notice humanity? Can you think of a reason why it would love humanity?

    Is your faith’s attitude to science and evidence healthy? If evidence were provided that proved that your god wasn’t real would you accept it? If the evidence of some biblical event were demonstrably false (like the literal flood of Genesis) then how would your beliefs change to accommodate this evidence?

    Finally, what would it take to change your view of your god so that you lost belief in it? I have a list of things that could convince me that gods exist. Do you have a list that could convince you that god doesn’t exist?

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Blacksheep

    My biggest surprise in conversing on this site has been the (almost) universal certainty in the atheist position, to the point that any type of faith invites insult, frustration, and anger.

    Considering that there is a lack of evidence for gods and that the arguments for gods are weak I would think that confidence in the atheistic position is warranted.

    Perhaps you detect anger and frustration at some of the cruelties that theists come up with in the name of their gods or churches? I would think that anger is the appropriate response to someone who allows their child to die while praying over them rather than seek medical aid. Or really any number of other horrible and misguided acts.

    Perhaps the frustration you detect stems from having to explain (again and again) that, of course, atheists can be moral people and that your religion does not give you an automatic moral pass. Perhaps the frustration comes from having the same tired formulas trotted out as “proof” of your god. Things like Pascal’s Wager grow old very quickly.

    Perhaps the insult that you detect is simply a reflection of the way that we atheists are treated by the faithful.

    Next time you see such a response why not ask?

  • Thegoodman

    If the authors of the bible (and it’s translators) were in fact a conduit of the one and only God, how do you explain the inaccuracies of the Bible?

    Historical, geographical, biological, and meteorological inaccuracies are prevalent amongst the text of the new and old testament and cast doubt into the mind of any analytical thinker; why wouldn’t God have foreseen these issues and corrected them as/before they happened?

    How is humanity supposed to embrace and relish in the sanctity of Jesus Christ when we are surrounded by death, destruction, and evil?
    Is God powerless?
    Does he simply not care?
    Is a powerless god worthy of worship?
    Is an indifferent god worthy of worship?

    “My biggest surprise in conversing on this site has been the (almost) universal certainty in the atheist position, to the point that any type of faith invites insult, frustration, and anger.”

    I disagree with this. I have a feeling there are a great number of deists in the atheist blog readership. It is impossible to deny the absurdity of organized religion, but none of us know for a fact if there is or not a creator; we just don’t have any evidence.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    @Blacksheep,

    I think your statement is just an example of confirmation bias on your part. You just tend to selectively remember the comments supporting a bias that you have that atheists are damn sure of their position and belittle theists. You tend not to remember all the other comments because they don’t support your bias.

    To help you remember this comment, your God concept is very very stupid! ;)

  • Mike G.

    Hoverfrog, those are some very excellent questions, might I humbly request that I use (paraphrasing of course) some of them in the future? As in when discussing with people on forums/ social media (not for profit in print or anything). A couple of those really struck home for me, and you articulated, what I sadly cannot. Thanks for the consideration :)

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Mike G. Go right ahead, you flatterer.

  • dc

    Why did God create a world that produces earthquakes?

    If you believe that earthquakes are a result of damage to the earth caused by a global flood, why did God cause that? Why didn’t he just do a mass painless euthanization for example? Or perhaps prevent any pregnancies from occurring so that the current generation was the final generation?

    If you had children who had never met you that would be damned if they didn’t believe you existed, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to establish the truth of your existence to them – not only through phone, e mail, videos, etc. but through personal visits?

    If you find the liar/lunatic/Lord argument convincing, have you ever considered the “legend” option? Why or why not?

    Are there any gods that you don’t believe in? Atheists just acknowledge that they believe in one less god then you. Do you consider them to be arrogant for this?

  • dc

    What if you were raised to believe that fairy tales were absolutely true stories that literally happened and that bible stories were just made up tales to teach you good morals?

    How important is truth to you?

    If your belief system was false, would you want to know?

    If you were to learn that your belief system was false, how would your life be affected? (Even if you don’t believe that you would live your life any differently as far as moral principles are concerned, would your time and financial resources be affected?)

    Does this life only have meaning if there’s ANOTHER one after it?

  • dc

    If you would prefer not to know if your belief system is false (ignorance is bliss), do you apply that same standard to all areas of your life? If only some areas, which ones, and why?

  • http://hoverFrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I have a few others:

    What does it mean to you to be a Christian? How does Christianity make you different from a Muslim, Buddhist, Jew, Hindu or atheist in your actions? I ask because I’ve recently been looking at Christian Aid, Islamic Relief and Red Cross and their work and I cannot see a significant difference in what they do, indeed they all work together when the circumstances call for it. One is Christian, another Muslim and the last secular and their actions are largely secular with the exception of prayer. So what is the difference in what a Christian does and what someone else in similar circumstances does?

    There is an old teaching method that is supposed to encourage pupils to be thorough, yet concise, in their writing style that you may be familiar with. Explain your actions as if you were explaining them to a Martian. In other words explain what you do to someone who is utterly ignorant of the social rules and the assumptions that we have learnt. Please explain prayer in these terms. Remember to assume that we know absolutely nothing about prayer, what it is, what it is intended for or what it does?

    Various studies into the efficacy of prayer indicate that prayer does nothing for others. i.e. praying for a person undergoing a heart transplant does not improve their survival or recovery rate. I understand that prayer may also be a form of meditation, relaxation and a way to order one’s thoughts for believers. It may also be a way for like minded people to pull together in a community. What purpose does prayer serve for you? Do you think that God hears your prayers? What does he do with them?

  • walkamungus

    A couple more — apologies for any duplication:

    If your faith teaches that parts of the Bible are literally true, and other parts are to be read metaphorically, how do you identify which is which? Is it noted in the text itself? If it’s not, does someone tell you? How do you know that they’re right? If you were to show both a literal verse and a metaphorical verse to a nonbeliever, how would you explain to them why verse A is read as literally true but verse B is read as a metaphor?

    Jesus repeatedly preached love, tolerance, and forgiveness, so why are many Christians so full of hate? (for people of other religions or no religion, nationalities, races, sexual orientations, whatever?) Why can’t many Christians just leave other people alone?

  • adm54321

    @walkamungus

    I think reading “Shakespeare in the Bush” is a great idea. Here’s a link to the story online: http://law.ubalt.edu/downloads/law_downloads/IRC_Shakespeare_in_the_Bush.pdf

  • Terry Groff

    My questions are:
    How Can anyone reconcile the concept of a “loving” god yet still accept the brutality of this same god. For example the supposed destruction of Sodom because Lot was ultimately unable to find 10 righteous men. His failure resulted in god destroying every man, women and CHILD in the city.
    What were the sins of the children?
    Why was Lot considered righteous when he offered his “virgin” daughters to a mob to protect the angels supposedly sent by god.
    Why were Lot’s daughters spared when they were anything but righteous having ultimately slept with, and were impregnated by, their father (supposedly while he slept)

    Do you believe a loving god would want Jephthah to sacrifice his own daughter, even if he promised too?

    As Jimmy Durante used to say “I got a million of ‘em”. :-)

    Thank you

    Terry Groff
    Honest Atheist

  • ingles60

    My questions are: Why do you have faith? There is no other part of life which you take on faith, without evidence of any sort; and even if you have faith, for some unfathomable reason, why should I have faith? Yet you want me to believe.

  • KC

    My questions are “Why do we need god?”
    and
    “Is it really better to believe in an afterlife?”

    I see a lot of questions directly questioning god as described in the bible. However most of my family that is Christian does not take the bible literally and has a much more, I guess, laid back approach to religion and god. My father and I frequently argue about faith. He feels it is arrogant to not believe in a higher power, and religion forces you to make sacrifices for a power greater than yourself. However that is not what I usually see – normally I see people giving up something small for lent that really does not make much difference for others – then they feel like they have done their part and they are complacent. And I think wouldn’t the world be a better place generally if we honestly discussed what would make a better society now, rather than acting on behalf of some obscure hope for an afterlife? I make moral decisions because that is the world I want to live in – the world I want for my child. Whether or not someone believes in god, I think we could make very rational arguements for the behavior that is generally promoted by religion. I don’t think I am arrogant for being realistic about there probably not being a god. And rather than place a vested interest in an invisible being and their opinion of me, I want to invest in my fellow human beings. Sometimes religion gives people motivation to be better people or comfort in hard times, but it can also allow people to compartmentalize their altruism and justify their laziness in not questionning their behavior. For example, I see lots of people who don’t question where their food or clothing comes from, but they consider themselves to be more moral than the average person because they go to church every Sunday. Religion can also lead to that subtle or not so subtle feeling of moral superiority to any other way of life.
    All that being said, I wouldn’t want someone to lose their faith for the wrong reasons either, which I know may cause me some flack from my fellow atheists.

  • CharlesInSoCal

    Barry Says: 2. If God is real, how come the universe looks exactly as we would expect it to if there were no God?

    Richard Carrier has an interesting essay that asks the same question.

  • Yowie9644

    What enables you to distinguish your experience of God from a group delusion?

    What stopped you believing in the Tooth Fairy / Santa / the Easter Bunny. Why is that different to what keeps you believing in God?

    If I could prove to you that God was nothing more than a delusion, would you choose to continue to believe? Why?

    Why does a good, loving and all powerful God still allow innocents to suffer at the hands of others? And at the hands of ‘nature’?

  • Mikey_303t

    A lie that draws a smile
      
    or

    A truth that draws a tear

    i choose the Truth and im better for it


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