Christian Forgiveness: It’s a Bug, Not a Feature

Yesterday, I briefly highlighted three cases of ex-convicts who got jobs as Christian pastors. The trust of their flock was the only protective cloak they needed to rape and murder again; so rape and murder they did.

In the case of Michigan pastor John D. White, who killed a young woman and is believed to have had sex with her dead body, the congregation that hired him knew he had a rap sheet full of violence. But White had embraced Jesus. No more was needed. His conversion and ordainment quelled all suspicion, worry, or second thought. An actual minister would never do anything truly bad, would he?

Forgiveness is always available from God — damn the consequences.

Christians think of redemption as a feature of their faith. But what if it’s a bug?

To the Almighty, nothing is unforgivable. Let that sink in. Nothing. You can be a genocidal maniac who eats crushed-up infants on toast during snack time… and still go to heaven if you eventually repent.

Which is pretty much exactly the career path chosen by Joshua Milton Blahyi, a Liberian pyscho-warlord-turned-preacher who’s known as General Butt Naked (yeah, for real). Some people call him “the most evil man in the world.” He started his career at age 11 by sacrificing small children to his tribal God: With the help of his followers, he would unclothe them, ritually kill them, and share their flesh during a days-long feast.

In the early 1990s, he transformed himself into a fighter for the government of Roosevelt Johnson. Blahyi quickly built on his reputation as a ruthless killing machine, earning his peculiar nickname because he and his boy soldiers, hopped up on coke, would storm into battle without wearing anything except for combat boots and weapons; they believed their bare skin magically deflected enemy bullets.

General Butt Naked says he personally took about 20,000 lives, many by decapitation. He and his soldiers would often play soccer with the severed heads.

But none of the bloodshed and depravation matters. If any of the rapes, murders, mutilations, or acts of cannibalism ever weighed on the general’s conscience, they don’t anymore. Because today, Joshua Blahyi is a Christian. After bathing in blood for decades, and having “nightly conversations with the devil,” he had an epiphany. He saw Jesus. And the Lord Christ, having died on the cross for sins even as unimaginable as Blahyi’s, forgave him.

That’s God and his Son for you. They are literally in the forgiveness business, and the desired result is all but guaranteed almost as soon as you ask for it and declare your allegiance to the Darling Duo. Easy-peasy.

Now General Butt Naked is fully clothed and preaching the gospel, driving around town in a red Mercedes with an improvised vanity plate that says "Be Holy.”

Isn’t that miraculous?

This cavalier attitude toward guilt and consequences is everywhere in Christianity. For instance, did you know that con man and whoremonger Rev. Jimmy Swaggart has been making a comeback? After the extent of his shenanigans came to light in 1988, and when blubbering on TV didn’t help, the erstwhile televangelist seemed destined for the same trash heap of history where his equally corrupt rivals Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker ended up. Well, the Lord has blessed Swaggart (rhymes with Haggard) once again. The now-white-haired itinerant preacher draws crowds everywhere he goes.

[I]n August, he’s scheduled to make a rare crusade appearance in Niagara Falls as part of “Field of Miracles, the Return,” a three-day event in Sal Maglie Stadium sponsored by the Joshua Revolution and a host of area churches. Organizers of the event say they believe God is using Swaggart to spread a message of hope, forgiveness and restoration in a city with desperate needs. … [They] are hoping for at least 10,000 people to attend the event.

Culpability and shame are washed away with such startling effortlessness in Christianity, it makes me despair sometimes. Evildoers are habitually excused with lines like “He was possessed by Satan, so it’s not his fault.” The other, only slightly longer path to redemption is for the sinner (let’s say, Pastor Geronimo Aguilar) to claim to have a weakness; and because of his failure to pass the test from God — to which the proper response is a show of remorse, spiced with a dash of humility and a crocodile tear or two — he ends up coming out … a better Christian.

Just imagine if that’s how it worked in schools — that by flunking, for instance, a math test, you can automatically claim to have become better at math.

It appears to me that these teflon pastors are just like that — and just like the Atlanta street criminals from this study, who

… seemed to go out of their way to reconcile their belief in God with their serious predatory offending. They frequently employed elaborate and creative rationalizations in the process and actively exploit religious doctrine to justify their crimes.

(I wrote more about it here, fleshing out the possibility that a belief in a sin-absolving Jesus makes it easier for people to offend and re-offend.)

Atheists and agnostics have no confessor or savior to wash away their sins. If they mess up, it’s on them. If they possess even an ounce of conscience, their missteps will haunt them. Their guilt will gnaw at them. No shortcuts to (self-)forgiveness exist. They can’t go to church to pray and tell their chosen deity’s offspring how sorry they are, and then walk out secure in the knowledge that the Master of the Heavens has already forgiven them. They are responsible for what they did.

That’s a good thing, because it’s a very powerful preventative.

As unlikely as it may sound to the religious, not believing in an understanding, magnanimous god may be a big part of what keeps atheists on the straight and narrow.

And if you don’t believe that, I forgive you.

(cartoon by heathen_1 via

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Hat Stealer

    And at the opposite side of the spectrum, no matter what kind if life you lead, no matter how much good you’ve done in the world, if you don’t accept Jesus you’ll burn forever. No matter which way you look at it, Christianity is sick.

  • MargueriteF

    Even as a Christian, I found it hard to believe God forgives the most heinous crimes so readily, while letting good people fry in eternal flame because they don’t believe in Jesus. It just didn’t seem to add up to “merciful” to me. This is part of what eventually made me an atheist.

    But to me, the really big problem with Christian forgiveness is that you’re asking forgiveness from the wrong person. If I truly believe God has forgiven me my wrongs, simply because I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, then I won’t ever feel like I have to make amends to the actual people I wronged. And that’s… well, wrong.

  • Artor

    Exactly. I had a Xian girlfriend who tried and tried to get me to convert, but she never could explain how Jebus’ supposed sacrifice had anything to do with me. If I wronged someone, asking Jebus for forgiveness does exactly jack and shit. Likewise, if someone has done me wrong, blathering to Jebus does not a thing to make anything right, except to make the wrongdoer feel like all is well, when it definitely is not.

  • John Small Berries

    To the Almighty, nothing is unforgivable. Let that sink in. Nothing.

    Not quite true. According to Matthew 12:31, there is one unforgivable sin: “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost”.

    So if you rape and murder and jaywalk all through your life and repent at the last second, you’ll get into Heaven – but live a blameless life except for jokingly referring to the “Holy Goat” just once and you’re screwed for all eternity.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I didn’t even know that Swaggart was still alive. I guess it’s true what they say, only the good die young.

  • compl3x

    Moral accountability goes right out the window when you feel safe in the knowledge your saviour forgives and accepts you…even if your victim doesn’t…or can’t.

  • Greg G.

    I was going to mention that. Thanks for making me not have to look up the verse.

  • TBJ

    Time and time again, after nearly two-thousand years of bloodshed, we hear the same default excuse, “These people do not represent true christians.” But since it’s all “In the Name of Jesus.” I guess that gives them a way out of admitting the shame they probably feel for the monstrosities the have subjected upon humanity and the world. And they wonder why we take up cause against them.

  • moother

    Great news for christians… to be forgiven so easily…, still not possible for jews to be forgiven for “killing jesus” even if they were born thousands of years later…

  • The Other Weirdo

    I guess if they said that Jews were forgiven they’d have no stick to try and convert Jews by.

  • Gus Snarp

    Hitchens covered this very succinctly in God is Not Great. The basic gist of his argument is that it is fundamentally immoral for a third party to grant absolute forgiveness, as the offender no longer has to consider any harm he might have done to the victim or to society, his slate is wiped clean automatically by the unrelated third party and he need not feel the least remorse any more, whether the victim has forgiven him or not, and whether he has repaid the victim or society in any way or not.

    I actually think that forgiveness was a feature at the beginning, and still can be, if people are taught to be more forgiving. Certainly for the early iron age nomads, forgiveness was a new and useful notion. After all, before that it was an eye for an eye, which felt right to the shepherds, but is no way to build large, complex, peaceful societies. Peace requires forgiveness. But the example this was meant to provide, that we should be willing to forgive those who show real change and repentance, was all to easily seen as what many see it as now: a get out of jail free card for offenders due to absolution from an almighty God, one which “true” believers of the same faith feel bound to accept unquestionably.

    Heck, truth be told, setting aside the selling of indulgences, the Catholic Church as an institution managed forgiveness better: instead of trusting the Christian’s word when he says God has forgiven him, one had to be forgiven by a priest, which assured society that some real penance had been done. But of course, then the priest becomes the unquestioned authority and the corruption is inevitable. So a religion with forgiveness was a useful bit of progress for an iron age culture, and a religious authority who was accountable for penance was a further useful development, but the time for that has passed. We have a useful civil justice system (flawed thought it is), and people can make their own decisions about who to trust without that being subverted by religious forgiveness. We need only remember that there comes a time when we should forgive, not that we should do so unquestioningly or based on claims of religious salvation.

  • C Peterson

    A bug? That’s like saying the only bug with Russian Roulette is that somebody always ends up getting their brains blown out.

    When a system has a bug, it means you can fix the bug and largely retain the system. Forgiveness by proxy is completely fundamental to Christianity, one of very few tenets that exists in every single sect. You cannot eliminate it without leaving a system that bears no resemblance at all to Christianity anymore.

    This is not a bug, it is a fatal flaw.

  • Ahab

    It definitely said something about the Biblical God’s ego, doesn’t it? He’ll forgive unspeakable atrocities, but poke fun at him or blaspheme and he gets enraged. What a sociopathic deity.

  • Holytape

    Hate to go Godwin, but the irony is that Hitler, as a Christian, has a better shot at heaven that Anne Frank, a jew.

    Really there is only one sin in ‘God’s’ eyes. That is to reject him. Everything else doesn’t matter. Murder? Ask for forgiveness. Hell, you kill the right person, you don’t even have to do that. Rape? No, ask for forgiveness. Not from the victim, but from Jesus. Who knows, maybe you get bonus points for marrying her and stoning her. How fucked up is that? Is an omnipotent god so insecure, that He’ll forgive anything as long as you say pretty words to him.

  • Baby_Raptor

    And that, right there, is a huge reason that I would turn down heaven if it actually existed. No Fucking way I’m spending eternity with the guy who raped me, or them myriad of believers who constantly oppress me.

    A commenter on the Slacktivist once presented a scenario where, after the hypothetical rapture and the installation of Bible!God’s kingdom on earth, God said something akin to “Alright, humanity really buggered it. This experiment gets a C. But I forgive you all anyway.” and then he opened the gates and everyone went skipping into heaven.

    That scenario just…No thanks. There’s no justice in that. And no mercy, either, unless you count “forgive everyone of everything” as the only definition of mercy. And then I get to feel grateful that God forgives me for acting out how he created me?

  • Randay

    That is the preaching of Paul who said several times, notably in Galatians, that works will not get you to heaven. Only accepting Jesus as your savior will. So Xians should admit that they do good deeds because they are decent people like non-believers who do good deeds for the same reason. Their deeds don’t benefit them at all in the eyes of god.

    You could also go further to the preaching of Luther, and especially Calvin, who argued for predestination, i.e. god has already decided who will be saved before you were even born. So either you got the lucky lottery number or not.

  • Stev84

    Just one of the many ways in which Judaism is better than Christianity. Jews need to ask forgiveness from the people they’ve wronged. There is a wrinkle in that those people are then obligated to forgive if asked often enough or they’re wrong too, but at least they got the basics right.

  • Jeff

    I learned in confirmation class that there’s no such thing as a “most heinous crime” in christianity. God doesn’t consider degrees at all; something is either a sin or it isn’t, end of story. Stealing a dollar is equally as bad as killing a person. Vandalizing a mailbox is equally as bad as raping a person. And thinking about doing any of those things is equally as bad as actually doing them. This probably makes it easier for the monsters to receive “forgiveness” (either from fairy-tale characters or from people they never actually wronged, at least in the context of what’s being forgiven), since they can go to a christian congregation and say “sure, I may have murdered thousands of people, but YOU were looking lustfully at that popular singer…. so we’re really the exact same. It would be terribly hypocritical for you to condemn me for my sins when you’ve committed equally grave sins.”

  • NickDB

    The money is probably better and easier when you “find Jesus”

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor


  • NickDB

    as an aside I’m starting to hate “Godwin’s law” it does gives people an excuse to ignore the lessons of history. I’m comparing you to Nazi’s because you’re acting like them, not because of Godwin’s law.

    Yes people get unfairly compare to Hitler and co, but sometimes the comparison is justified and Godwin’s law glosses over that.

  • Goatless

    At this point, hell is starting to sound quite fun. At least these people won’t be there.

    One thing I’ve never understood is why hell is supposed to be torture? I mean once you’re in hell you’re stuck there right? You can’t say ‘no, I repent’ and go to heaven. So why the torture? Surely Satan would want to be like ‘yeah, hell’s great, beer and cake and parties’ rather than ‘when you get here I’m going to torture you for forsaking god…which I did too’. If he supposedly wants as many humans as possible to go to hell, all he needs to do is make hell awesomer than heaven. I mean, once you get people there they’re already damned, they’re going to be away from god for eternity, so why torture them?

  • NickDB

    Deliberately blasphemed against the goat when I found that out. Stopped my religious friends trying to convert me since I’m going to hell no matter what I or they do.

  • Drew M.

    Silly Terry, don’tcha know that any documented bug becomes a feature?

    It’s the transubstantiation of the programming world.

  • sara

    Calling Hitler Hitler doesn’t really count as Godwin’s Law anyway.

  • Drew M.

    Conversely, I find that Catholic girls start right on time.

  • Rob

    “To the Almighty, nothing is unforgivable. Let that sink in. Nothing. ” – actually, that’s not true.

    “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” Matthew 12:31

  • Louis

    What I find particularly grotesque is the idea that while the victims of these monsters suffered that some omnipotent being looked on….and did nothing. The victims that survived, and the families of those who perished have to take comfort in the fact that at some point that God will pass judgment on the wicked.

    Unless, of course, the wicked find salvation in the acceptance of Jesus Christ in which case the victims, and the families of the victims, have to accept the fact that their suffering was a test of their faith. It’s all good. Move on with your life. Heaven awaits.

    Sounds like the work of a deity with a sociopathic disorder if you ask me.

  • Louis

    You can’t sell an insurance policy without telling the homeowner the horrors of having everything you own and hold dear being burned in a fire. At least with insurance you know what you are going to get if your house should burn down.

    Religion is the ultimate insurance racket. You can’t come back to claim a refund once you are dead.

  • PicardFacepalm

    What’s really disturbing is how many Christians see this as a “good thing.” That no matter the crime, everything is washed away. They view this in awe, they’re so happy to show others “The Way, The Light.” It makes no sense, and is actually really scary.

  • Rob

    There’s a huge difference between “you’re forgiven” and “hey, come be a pastor”. Which of these do you have a problem with? I don’t know how forgiveness of sin could be scary in itself. People still have to pay their debt to society regardless. But not everybody that converts is pastor worthy either.

    This article also assumes a weak and inaccurate view of the definition of forgiveness.

  • maddogdelta

    I always wanted to read (or write…but I can’t write a story to save my life) a fantasy about a world where “god” is the evil deity who won an early battle with the good deity…. and the warrior/magician/ex-cleric group is on a quest to find and release the “evil one” who really is the “good and moral god”.

  • maddogdelta

    Until all the priests get into a good old boy cycle of forgiving each other no matter what they do….

    Then you get child rape and other scandals running wild..

  • Art_Vandelay

    There’s a further implication at play here too. While it’s fundamentally immoral and a bit psychopathic for a human to forgive another human for crimes committed against an entirely other human…if Jesus really was the Lord and knew he was the lord and his cryptonite was this thing called sin then these transgressions would have been against him so he would in fact, be authorized to forgive the offender. Of course, now you’ve just lost the sacrifice. A God can’t be sacrificed…especially by himself. He would have known exactly what was happening, because he orchestrated it. Nails wouldn’t hurt him and he’d know he couldn’t die. Isn’t that the nail in the coffin for Christianity?

  • MargueriteF

    I converted as an adult, so I never took confirmation class. But I’d like to imagine I would’ve argued with the pastor about that one. (My daughter probably did; she repeatedly made the pastor very unhappy by asking questions he couldn’t answer.) It should be clear to all but the most morally deficient person that there are degrees of wrongness. Murdering someone and thinking lustful thoughts aren’t even in the same ballpark. Our laws recognize this, imperfect as they are, so you’d think God in all his supposed perfection would have no trouble recognizing it too.

  • Richard Wade

    When I talk to some Christians about non Christians who live wonderful, exemplary lives of service to others, they talk like judges, insisting that those non Christians are going to hell anyway. But when I point out that means Hitler is in heaven and Anne Frank is in hell, they suddenly start talking like lawyers.

  • Richard Wade

    Funny how you never see Joe Klein being forgiven for naked mayhem and cannibalism.

  • MargueriteF

    Surely you mean “The Way, The Inner Light,” Picard:-).

  • Guest

    So…anything other than blasphemy is cool as long as I have an imaginary friend named Jesus? Party time!

  • Guest

    ya, but you’re still Jewish, so burn in Hell heathen!

  • Ewan

    The point of Godwin’s law is that it’s always a lazy and useless rhetorical device, even in the cases where it’s true. If you can fairly liken someone to the Nazis it shouldn’t be too hard to explain what they’re doing wrong without reference to the Nazis – after all, no-one really claims that genocide is wrong because it makes the perpetrators look like Nazis, it’s wrong anyway.

    That, and making the comparison tends to bog the discussion down into a simple slanging match of “You like a Nazi!”, “No I’m not”, “Am TOO!”.

    The point isn’t that it’s unfair, the point is that it ruins discussions.

  • MargueriteF

    But the Bible is in this, as in so many things, self-contradictory. James 2:14-17 says: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

  • Len

    The bible is contradictory. Who knew?

  • The Other Weirdo

    No True Christianity™ alert!

    Actually, both of those I have a problem with. One is meaningless, the other is purposeless.

  • Dave The Sandman

    The “claim to have a weakness” crapola sounds awfully like the same religulous gobbledygook Raputin and the Khlysty sect used to espouse. Sin makes you a better Christian because it gives you a chance to redeem yourself blah blah blah

    Utter toss

  • The Other Weirdo

    But that would never happen! Priests are guided by God Himself™!

  • The Other Weirdo

    That story has already been written. It’s called the Bible.

  • moose

    Yes, exactly–when I was still Christian, the whole “Jesus died for your sins” stuff sounded a lot like the ultimate, permanent, “get out of jail free” card. I mean, what’s the point of being kind to others all the time if you could conceivably do whatever you wanted and still land in paradise after dying? Not to mention the fundamentally offensive notion that your victim isn’t the one to whom you apologize or make amends
    Nowadays, I find it beyond frustrating when Christians claim atheists have no moral compass and no reason to be good. A get out of jail free card does not make a strong moral compass. I’m decent to others because this is the only life we get and the only way to make sure it’s pleasurable is to strive for a world in which everyone is decent, starting with yourself. If I did something horrible, not only would I know there’s still no reward for me in an afterlife, I’d go through the rest of my life knowing that I ruined a fellow human being’s chance at happiness in the only life we get.

  • Len

    Clearly the apology wasn’t written using one of the keyboards they’re apologising for.

  • tasteless chap

    As an earth-bound creature, I’ll gladly tolerate a few degrading words against any deity, over the mass slaughter of tens of thousands of people.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    And that nonsense is why there are an inordinate number of tone trolls who come here to complain about atheists using mean words when describing injustices. Their posts show that they are more offended – by orders of magnitude – by us calling a rapist a “goddamn rapist” than they are by the actions of the rapist. And this is how we know they aren’t just misspeaking: when quizzed about their priorities, they go silent instead of rephrasing, having just realized how their priorities sound to other people.

  • Bdole

    You’re absolutely right. Here’s a cookie.

  • NateW

    Hey Everyone. Not to be contentious, but there’s an important distinction to be made between asking Jesus (or anyone else) for forgiveness and what the bible calls “repentance.” In biblical culture the concept of “repentance” meant to become sorrowfully aware of the harm done to the other (i.e., not just feeling guilty for being caught) and actively and intentionally turning away from the offending behavior, (including the self-centered mode of thinking that led to it) and to actively and intentionally set out in the opposite direction, doing good with humility.

    The way you’ve framed forgiveness here, as that which assuages guilt and enables one to go on hurting others, is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a German Christian philosopher and writer who was executed in a concentration camp for being involved in an organized effort to assassinate Hitler) calls “cheap grace,” and is undeniably evil.

    Also, I’d just like to point out that the popular notion that it is cognitive “belief” in the correct version of God that “gets you into heaven” is a misrepresentation of what the Bible really says. I certainly can’t blame anyone for seeing it this way though, as this is the way that the most loud and public “Christians” talk about it. For Jesus’ actual thoughts on who God finds favor with check out Matthew chapter 7:21-23

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness.”

    Matthew 12:31-37

    [Speaking to the self-righteous religious leaders of his day who's primary focus was avoiding sin and judging those who did not]

    “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy agains the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man [Jesus' name for himself] will be forgiven, but whoever speaks agains the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” [the "Holy Spirit" isn't just another name for God, it's the name used for the aspect of God that is active within the world wherever love is present; blasphemy against the "Holy Spirit" means forsaking acts of love, calling them evil.] ….

    “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good storehouse brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil storehouse brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

    Matthew 25:31-46

    “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    [those who are rewarded didn't even realize they were serving God but loved "the least" (in the eyes of society) of their neighbors. Those who are punished thought that they were serving God but ignored the poor, the hungry and the sick.]

    And finally…

    John 15:8-11 [speaking to his closest friends/disciples]
    “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples [i.e. if you really are following me, it will show in the way you live]. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
    “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

    Forgiveness is what enables people to change, to grow, and to love. I’m not talking about “God’s forgiveness,” I just mean the overall concept of forgiveness in general. Those who know that they are forgiven are able to look at themselves with humility and see all their flaws without being crushed by guilt and shame. They don’t have to set up walls to protect themselves from other people but are able to be vulnerable, to risk their own safety and security, to lay down their own life for their friends’. Again, please don’t hear me saying that this empowering quality of forgiveness is unique to Christians. It’s obviously not. The power of forgiveness to heal (both the forgiver and the forgiven) is universal, like Love, hope, and faith. As a Christian I don’t make any exclusive claim to these things, I am just one who’s eyes have been opened to the power of selfless love and forgiveness by the story of Christ being lived out in the lives of others around me.

    The fact that I believe that selfless love and forgiveness are the best way to live doesn’t mean anything. When it comes right down to it, what any person “believes” or “has faith in” is not reflected by what they claim to believe, but what their actions demonstrate.

    That’s why I’m usually uncomfortable calling myself a Christian. To be sure, I aspire to be like Christ, to follow in his steps, but whether or not I am Christian (aka “Christ-like”) is for you to judge, not me. So please feel free. I only ask that you don’t judge other Christians by my errors, or me by theirs. Then again, Christians don’t often extend you all that same courtesy, so… well… just consider it. : )

  • Rob


  • NickDB

    It can ruin discussion, but sometimes giving an example of why something is wrong is necessary. Nazi’s just happen to be a good example that most people are aware of.

    A slangling match of You’re like a Nazi, am not, are too is pointless, but Godwin isn’t used to only stop those, it’s also used to stop any intelligent conversation that also happens to use Nazi’s as a relevant example.

  • Rob

    woa… woa… hold on there with your exaggerated “offended victim” oration. My comment wasn’t an attack on anyone, and deserves no attack. It is perfectly reasonable and logical to point out errors in the article being discussed, especially when the error is a foundational idea for the article.

    But when your ideology blocks your critical thinking skill set it appears the default is to rant uncontrollably making you the tone troll.

  • Shengatron

    hahaha, but christianity’s salvation is still backwards itself. The fact that a life was sacrificed to forgive the sin of another person’s wrongdoings makes it no less than the eye for an eye concept of iron age shepherds. biblegod simply cannot just forgive, he requires that you indulge in the human sacrifice.

  • Rob

    I agree, but not sure what that has to do with my comment.

  • Shengatron

    And to extend on that, their sense of awe of forgiveness directly contradicts their perception that their god is just as well. You can’t be just if you’re merciful at the same time. It doesn’t work for the victims.

  • Pepe

    More like, what an asshole.

  • MargueriteF

    Once again, it comes down to the problem that the Bible is actually not very clear on how people are saved. In places, it says you’re saved one way, in other places another. I’m sure we could throw quotes at one another all day long without coming to a reasonable consensus.

    I was a Lutheran before I was an atheist. From the ELCA website on “what Lutherans believe”:

    “-We are saved by the grace of God alone — not by anything we do;

    “-Our salvation is through faith alone — a confident trust in God, who in Christ promises us forgiveness, life and salvation.”

    You may see this as an “error,” but it’s what ELCA Lutherans (the largest group of Lutherans in the US) ostensibly believe. I have the impression most US Protestants (but certainly not all!) believe along similar lines. Whether they are correct in their interpretation of scripture or not (and again, I think we could argue about that all day) isn’t as important as what they actually believe. Born-again Christians in particular generally believe they’re going to heaven because they have been “born again” in Jesus– as stated in that hoary old chestnut, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”

    “…actively and intentionally turning away from the offending behavior, (including the self-centered mode of thinking that led to it) and to actively and intentionally set out in the opposite direction, doing good with humility.”

    Easier said than done, unfortunately. I can commit to live my life as a decent person (which I try to do even though I’m an atheist), but that doesn’t mean I won’t make mistakes. It’s even harder in Christianity, where “thought crimes” like lust are sins. No one can be expected to turn away from the occasional lustful thought. It can’t be done. And my reading of the Bible leads me to believe that trying hard just isn’t good enough for God. So if Christians aren’t “saved by grace,” then they’re pretty much doomed.

  • Ewan

    “but sometimes giving an example of why something is wrong is necessary”

    Yes, but “because it’s like the Nazis” is never the reason why something is wrong. The Nazis did a bunch of stuff that was wrong, but it was wrong anyway, and it’s still wrong and for the same reasons when someone else does it.

    Attempting genocide is morally wrong. Hugo Boss suits and cute, easily affordable cars are not. There is simply no point at which comparing, even correctly, something to the Nazis is ever helpful.

  • Matt Potter

    One of the most disgusting aspects of forgiveness is that it often portrays the victim as the bad person. As an example, a person commits rape and is sent to jail. In jail the rapist finds God and not surprisingly is also forgiven by that God. God forgave the rapist of the crime, why can’t the victim?

  • tasteless chap

    I was just pointing out the ridiculousness of a religious doctrine that forgives the most heinous of human-on-human atrocities while making mean-spirited words against a deity absolutely unforgivable.

  • Stev84

    The different interpretations about saving, grace, forgiveness, repentance, good works and all the stuff is probably the biggest difference between all the thousands of different Protestant sects and also Protestants and Catholics in general.

  • TGAP Dad

    Actually, blasphemy (denying god or the holy spirit) is an eternal (unforgivable) sin. So, too late for me!

  • allein

    God doesn’t consider degrees at all

    “Jehova, he don’t care much about proportionality”

    (-”Don’t Be Mad At God” by Steve Baughman)

  • ajginn

    I’m not sure how any informed priest or minister could justify the view that Yahweh doesn’t consider some sins worse than others. Jesus himself contradicts that belief:

    ‘Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”‘ — John 19:11

    Of course there’s no handy manual for telling people which sin is worse than the other, so no wonder they’re all confused.

  • Jeff See

    There actually are a few things that you can do, technically, to risk never being forgiven. Of course, they’re all offenses that are directed to God, Jesus, and the Ghost. The real offenses that you commit towards real people, are all forgivable.

  • Rob

    What you’re talking about is not the type of blasphemy that is unforgivable. Attributing works of the Holy Spirit to the Devil is the blasphemy that is unforgivable. Unless you’ve done that, there’s still hope for you. :)

  • EuropeanCommunist

    As the old programmer saying does, “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!”

    And you can bet it’s a feature. How terribly convenient is it to have this little off switch you can flip any time the church needs to have some dirty work done.

  • MargueriteF

    For good reason– the Bible is not at all clear about it. Which is why I disagree with someone implying that other Christians are in “error.” Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. I don’t think you can prove it one way or the other from the Bible.

  • The Other Weirdo

    What’s the Biblical justification for that?

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    The “Devil” is a work of the Holy Spirit.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Sir, I would like to shake your hand.

  • allein

    Or as Mark Twain put it, Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Yeah, there’s the issue (well, one of many.) Lucifer’s motivation is nonsensical. Among other problems with it, it presupposes that the Prince of Lies doesn’t know how logic works.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Y’know who else hated Godwin’s Law? That’s right, HITLER.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Good job not noticing that at no time did I even imply you did that in your post. But hey, thanks for reinforcing several disappointingly true stereotypes about theist commenters that no one even made reference to.

  • Tom

    I rather liked Philip Pullman’s up-to-eleven satirical take on the concept in one of the Dark Materials books – I forget which one – where, after intense theological debate, the church dreams up the idea of preemptive penance for what they deem a necessary sin; specifically, they decide they need to assassinate someone, and they use the kind of moral mental gymnastics we all know and loathe to forgive the guy who’s going to do it ahead of time.

    Viewed from the outside, of course, it’s all just so much self-delusion by people who want to be able to do bad things without being bad people.

  • Rob

    Matthew 12:24 is the contextual basis for Matthew 12:31.

    Context is everything, which coincidentally is the main reason smug atheists rarely quote anything correctly. Learning snippets of selected verse is the quickest way to THINKING they’re right without actually BEING right. It’s exhausting.

  • sane37

    Which is why it happens.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I don’t think those verses mean what you think they mean. Then again, there is Matthew 12:32, which provides even more context for 31. Of course, there is also 26, in which Jesus completely misunderstands long-term strategic thinking and shows that he is no way, shape or form fit for the role he’s taken on himself.

    It’s true, 24 provides context for 31. But is it the whole context? Who is to say that your interpretation of those verses is correct and a plain reading of them is wrong? By what authority have you taken on yourself the role of interpreter of Scripture?

    In other words, what makes the Pharisees in that story so wrong and worthy of eternal damnation?

    That entire part of Matthew 12 exposes the childish mentality at the heart of Jesus, and by extension Christianity itself. “Honest, I am telling the truth and don’t you dare question or criticize, or I’ll tell Dad and he’ll take your marbles away and then set you on fire forever and ever. Waah!”

    And that doesn’t even start the discussion on the unreality of demonic possession.

  • Tom

    For much the same reasons people get tortured in real life.

    Some people are naive enough to believe that information gained by torture has value in excess of all the net costs of obtaining it.

    Some people do it because they believe that if an equal (or greater, if they’re the particularly vengeful sort) amount of suffering is dished out as was received, then justice has been fully satisfied.

    Some do it because they’re confused and frustrated and frightened and angry and just feel a need to lash out at something (this one accounts for the bulk of what happened as a result of 9/11, I suspect).

    Some do it because they’re bitter and envious and spiteful (this one, I feel, might account for a great deal of religious attitudes to eternal torture of the sinful, especially those denominations that basically consider “fun” to be a synonym for “sin”)

    Some people are group narcissists and do it to revel in power and assert dominance over outsiders (probably applies to 9/11 and religions both, and just authoritarian hierarchies in general) and frequently each other as well.

    The rest just do it because they enjoy hurting people.

    You’ll notice that the one thing common to all of these motivations is that they centre on how the act relates to the torturer, not the victim. It’s got relatively little to do with the victim, really, just so long as a victim can be found, which is why you never get satisfactory answers from theists to sensible questions like yours – they haven’t really thought about the victims, because that’s not the point.

  • Rose

    I think part of the appeal of this is that it makes a good story. Christians are often expected to give their testimony of how they found Jesus. A tragic tale of how Jesus rescued them from a depraved drug-addicted life is the sort of thing that appeals. A dark past to be forgiven makes a story more dramatic.

  • Anna

    Attributing works of the Holy Spirit to the Devil is the blasphemy that is unforgivable.

    So, do you find that morally acceptable?

  • Rob

    You could be right (although not likely). But it’s tangential anyway.

    “I don’t think those verses mean what you think they mean. ” – Oh… OK… now this should be good. Please… by all means… do give me the correct interpretation will you. I can’t wait for this one.

    The level of misstatement (and misunderstanding) of biblical concepts on the part of atheists (present company excluded… maybe) is appalling. Not so much that I expect atheists to be knowledgeable of the Bible, because really I don’t. But the fact that they set themselves up as though they’re some sort of experts, all the while misquoting each and every citation.

    And then others come in an congratulate them on the brilliant “inconsistencies” they’ve uncovered about the Bible that “even Christians themselves didn’t see”. It’s like drunk/blind piranhas that frenzy at anything dropped in the water regardless if it’s an animal or animal dung. Don’t you guys have any self-respect anymore? Can’t anybody argue and debate with some class or dignity?

  • NateW

    Hi Marguerite—Thanks for your comments!

    No, I don’t see that Lutheran statement (originally from Paul, of course) as an error. I would say that We are saved by grace alone through faith. The trouble though is that our culture, I think, has over-intellectualized “faith” limiting its meaning to a sort of cognitive assent to the truth of a theoretical system of ideas. I’m firmly convinced that faith/belief is a much deeper thing than what we tell ourselves that we believe. What we truly believe is disclosed by our actions, such that the two are inseparable. The person who says “Jesus is Lord” but takes advantage of a child for his own pleasure demonstrates that he does not have faith in Jesus but is using the name to assuage his own guilt without the hard work of repentance. For him, judgement will be based on his works. For the one who has faith and struggles against certain sins because he/she is burdened by the pain caused to others salvation can be found by Grace.

    In the end, I think, it is a great misconception that Christ condemns sinners to Hell. Rather, Christ warns of judgment for those who believe themselves to be able to see—to be righteous—while judging others to be blind sinners, and He offers forgiveness and grace to those who esteem others as better than themselves, offering grace and forgiveness to others even while seeing full well their own sins. Self-Righteousness is what condemns a person, not the sins he/she commits, but a person is demonstrated to be self-righteous by his sins.

    This is the root of the “unforgivable sin” a few people have mentioned. Claiming to be righteous, taking on the name of Christ, and using it for selfish gain in oppressing others.

  • Rob

    I’m sorry. I guess I don’t know what you mean or why you would ask that.

  • amycas

    What do you mean by this? Cuz right now it sounds kind of creepy.

  • amycas

    I don’t know that Rob is a theist, but perhaps a first-time commenter. He just seems a little nervous about being eviscerated in the comments.

    Hey Rob! It’s ok, not all of our insults are being aimed at you, and I liked your original comment. You can usually tell whether or not somebody’s ire is directed at you by whether or not that user liked your comment.

    Edit: nm, it looks like Rob is a theist. I just saw some of his other comments on the thread

  • amycas

    How is paying a debt to society worth anything if the person in jail/doing community service/paying fines believes that they are going to spend eternity in heaven? Going to jail for the rest of my life would be nothing to me if I knew I had an eternity of happiness waiting for me when I died.

  • The Other Weirdo

    “I don’t think those verses mean what you think they mean. ” – Oh… OK… now this should be good. Please… by all means… do give me the correct interpretation will you. I can’t wait for this one.

    That’s the point, isn’t it? Just like happened with the Borg invasion, when every admiral and their grandmother had a take on it, every person that comes along has a different interpretation on any give set of Biblical verses. And every single one of them thinks that that interpretation is the correct interpretation.

    I don’t claim to have the correct interpretation, if for no other reason than I think it’s all nonsense anyway. This is a book written by people who thought sorcerers were actually real. That said, I read the bible for content as written, or at least as written in my translation.

    The text doesn’t seem to me to say what I think you’re twisting it to say. I have never before heard Christians claim that only attributing works of the Devil to God is the one unpardonable sin.

    And you still haven’t told me why you think your interpretation is the correct one.

  • gimpi1

    Smug atheists aren’t the only ones. I suggest you look at Libby-Anne’s stuff on the Pearls. Many fundamentalists and conservative Christians are big on Biblical literalism without content, which they see as revisionist.

  • MargueriteF

    Of course this is open for endless debate, but this is not how I read Jesus’ words, personally. In many places, he seems to be saying quite unequivocally that Hell is a place for sinners. Mark 9:43-48,for example: “…if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell…”

  • Rob

    “Going to jail for the rest of my life would be nothing to me if I knew I had an eternity of happiness waiting for me when I died.”

    Two things wrong with this.
    1. It’s not true, you don’t want to go to jail. It wouldn’t be nothing.

    2. People planning to go to heaven are not the demographic that is general focused on breaking the law. There’s no benefit to spending your whole life in jail regardless of your final destination.

    “How is paying a debt to society worth anything” – it’s worth something to the rest of society.

  • trj

    I’m firmly convinced that faith/belief is a much deeper thing than what we tell ourselves that we believe. What we truly believe is disclosed by our actions, such that the two are inseparable.

    A nice sentiment, but in that case why does the Bible itself distinguish between faith and works, several times mentioning them in opposition to each other?

  • Rob

    OK, all give you that. The problem is not exclusive to atheists. True.

    Also, for the record, I correct Christians too whenever I see they are contextually incorrect. Not that I’m the authority, but often it’s just gross neglect and ignorance.

    I’ll check out the site you suggest.

  • NateW

    “But none of the bloodshed and depravation matters. If any of the rapes, murders, mutilations, or acts of cannibalism ever weighed on the general’s conscience, they don’t anymore. Because today, Joshua Blahyi is a Christian. After bathing in blood for decades, and having “nightly conversations with the devil,” he had an epiphany. He saw Jesus. And the Lord Christ, having died on the cross for sins even as unimaginable as Blahyi’s, forgave him.”

    Have you ready ANYTHING about Joshua? From the few minutes of research I did after reading this I found articles and interviews that reveal that he is still wracked by guilt, has contemplated suicide because of the remorse that he has felt. He says that he does not expect anyone to forgive him but that knowing that God forgives him has allowed him to start a rehabilitation center for kids who were forced into being soldiers. Far from expecting forgiveness, he has said that he would voluntarily to go to trial for his war crimes and will accept whatever punishment is mandated including death by hanging.

    Hi did not “transform himself” into a killing machine, he was BRED for the purpose of being a priest for his tribe, taken from his mother immediately after birth, and trained in the art of appeasing “evil spirits” via human sacrifice. At the age of 11 he was initiated in a ceremony in which he sacrificed a child and by the age of 14 he was practically worshipped by his entire tribe. Add to this the fact that all of this took place within a country completely torn apart by constant war, where children are handed machine guns and forced to fight, and it’s no wonder the boy became a murdering cannibalistic maniac. I defy any one of you to claim that you would not be the exact same if you were in his shoes.

  • smrnda

    Forgiveness can be nice, when it’s something that a person chooses to do based on a genuine apology or after some meaningful reparations have been made or after a person has clearly tried to be a better person and undo the damage.

    The problem is that making forgiveness an automatic obligation means that people can piss and shit all over you and YOU’RE the bad person for not being forgiven. It’s a system set up to make the lives of repeat offenders easy and to silence victims either by demanding they forgive, or by pretending that all sins are equal, therefore, the person killed by the murderer sometimes ate one more cookie than they were supposed to ergo, both are equally bad which is clearly nonsense.

    People should be scorned based on the severity of their actions, and depending on how bad your actions, forgiveness should be just as hard in coming. I would probably not have a hard time forgiving a kid who commits an act of vandalism on my property, provided the kid learned a lesson, fessed up and tried to make things right, but the idea of a serial rapist or murder getting off so easy is just revolting.

  • Anna

    I’m curious if you think it’s morally acceptable for there to be an unforgivable sin.

  • JT

    After a few affairs my dad filed for divorce and afterwords cleared his conscience by telling my mom “God forgave me for it.”

  • gimpi1

    Good on you for trying to catch everyone without fear or favor when they mess up.

  • Stev84

    And allied generals:

  • NateW

    I don’t mean to imply that anyone is in error based on their intellectual interpretation of Scripture. Whether I’m thinking about theology, philosophy, sociology–any “-ology” or “-ism” really–it’s all vapid, all smoke, all utterly meaningless until the rubber meets the road in the present real life moment. I do my best to be sympathetic to different points of view and don’t see the point in arguing over ideas, but when things like forgiveness start to get thrown under the bus… and people are being judged left and right it’s just hard to stay quiet I guess.

  • NateW

    Very true and very sad.

  • NateW

    That’s a hard question to answer in a few sentences. Part of it has to do with context. For instance, Paul, a Jew himself, was writing to Jewish Christians in the book of Romans who were putting pressure on non-Jewish Christians to observe the letter of the Jewish law, so Paul emphasizes that salvation is by Grace, not by works of the Law. In other places the group being written to has taken this too far and begun take advantage of their freedom, acting in unloving and damaging ways.

    We want to believe that everything that is true can be stated logically and clearly once and for all, but this just isn’t the case. Take issues of justice for instance. We can try to lay out a general definition for “justice” (i.e. equality of opportunity, freedom of speech, etc.) but the actual application of that is going to look very different in different situations and will rarely be discernable by a simple progression of logic. There are always instances where a law is meant to bring justice, but ends up being oppressive. So, while Justice is a concrete standard, the way that we talk about it and the laws that define it have to be flexible enough to shift with the times. It’s the same thing with things like theology. Christ is true, but how a relationship with Christ is talked about and defined needs to flex and change over time to remain true to the actual thing.

  • Nicholas

    I love how Christians are slavish enough to believe what a dumb books says but arrogant enough to only believe what they want. This is the mark of inconsistency.

  • Houndentenor

    Or the Holy Toast. (from Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt)

  • Kevin Christopher Hill

    I’ve got two ideas about that, 1) Hell is as much for satan as it is for the rest of us, satan is being tortured in hell for his sins just like the rest of us, like in Dante’s Inferno. or 2) Satan is just a sociopath who has a hardon for torturing as many people as possible, so he just wants people to rebel against god so he’ll have more people in hell to fulfill his sick fantasies on. Neither of those scenarios cast god in a particularly good light, because with 1, you’ve still got eternal punishment for finite sins and in 2 god is implicit in a tortuing madmans glee because his feelings were hurt (by all that sinnin and blasphemin).

    Of course, I’ve always preferred the satan as anti-hero trying to save us, but has been cast on the wrong side of the history writers.

  • Rob

    Why would setting a threshold sin be a moral issue? I guess the whole point is that forgiveness of any sin is unwarranted, so God stipulating a sin that “crossed the line” would be totally acceptable.

    It would be like saying “OK, I’ll buy the car, but you’ll need to buy the gas”. Well, is it morally acceptable to require that of the person receiving the gift.

    Or better, a parent says ” I’ll give you $100 at the end of the week. But if I catch you getting your shoes muddy in the creek again, I’m changing my mind on that”. It’s the kid’s fault he doesn’t end up getting the cash, not the parent’s. They set the rules for the gift. How could he thinks it’s immoral.

  • Rob

    Ha, I’m actually not too worried about “mess ups”. I’m after blatant disregard for truth or accuracy.

  • NateW

    Yeah, I can see why this passage can be troubling. One thing to keep in mind is the popular protestant ways of talking about sin, heaven, and hell are not the way every Christian understands it. Especially in Eastern Orthodox Christianity, sin is not seen as a crime that God promises to punish, but is more like an infirmity that Christ offers to heal. We “reap what we sow” not because of some arbitrary decision by God to punish certain actions, but because, well, when you plant corn, that’s what grows. God is saying “when you fail to love others as you would have them love you, you won’t be happy, you won’t get what you’re looking for, you’ll be miserable, because the world doesn’t work that way. Hell might be about the afterlife (who knows??), but it is certainly a description of what it is like to be separated from all that is good (Love, joy, peace, happiness, rest, freedom, etc) right NOW.

    Sin is like the One Ring that Gollum finds in LOTR. It infects those who use it, especially those who use it for their own gain, and the shame and rejection they then fear drives them away from the light, from anything that might reveal who they really are, into the dark depths of loneliness and self-absorption. Hell is not the fiery realm where sinners are sent, it is the brilliance and warmth of God’s loving light as experienced by one who has become accustomed to a cave, preferring to live in isolation and darkness than to be seen and known by others. The same warm light that a clear conscience basks in, a dirty or ignored one is scorched by. In Eastern Orthodox tradition, Hell is God’s deep love for one who wants nothing to do with it, and the punishment for sin is it’s own natural consequences. The light of God is searching and knowing and loving, but the one who continues to sin, knowing it is wrong, does not want to be known and does not believe he can be loved. The light is excruciatingly painful. “Evil” is not a thing that exists, it is an absence of Love, of goodness, as darkness is an absence of light. To sin then, is to shade oneself (or others) from Love, joy, and peace–from God–and to experience the natural consequences of not having these things.

    Just as Frodo was saved from Gollum’s fate by having his finger bitten off so it is better to give up whatever part of ourselves it is that makes the conscience dirty (or that dirties the conscience of others if we will not give attention our own). To use an even more current pop culture analogy, if your ankle has been bitten by a walker, it’s far better to lop it off than to have your whole body infected. Jesus isn’t talking about chopping off perfectly good body parts as some form of self-loathing asceticism. He’s talking about giving up our own pleasures that cause pain to others, giving up the good things that we enjoy that have the potential to cause harm to another human soul, even if we feel like loosing them will mean loosing a part of ourselves.

    He’s talking about giving up pleasures that, in reality, are counterfeits, shortcuts to cheap versions of what we really desire, deep in our souls. We all want intimate connection with another soul, to be known wholly and yet to be loved in full. We want another soul to explore, to search and find joy in ever deepening discovery. To have this, though, means humility and vulnerability. To know another requires being known, being open, being wholly lacking in selfishness. Not able to do this, to open up this much, we turn to false connections–shallow physical relationships, porn, gossip based friendships, marital affairs, etc. Jesus is saying that it’s better to cut off these things then to retreat into them and lose entirely the ability to truly connect with another person.

  • Feminerd

    Heh. It’s not a very good stick. Modern Jews, at least in the US, learn all about the Jesus story and why it’s bullshit before we enter middle school. We point out the bloodline guilt (total BS by Christian standards), the Romans being the actual killers, the irrationality of holding anyone personally responsible for something that happened two millenia ago, and the horrible crimes Christians have committed against Jews because of that very canard.

  • Drew M.

    A play on Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young.”

    Come out Virginia, don’t make me wait
    Catholic girls start much too late
    But sooner or later it comes down to fate
    I might as well be the one.

    Perhaps it is creepy, but it’s less creepy than Billy Joel!

  • NateW

    Hey, I totally agree with you, but I wanted to point out that if Jesus really said the stuff that the bible says he did, he would agree with you too.

    The verse in question is in the context of a story about Jesus healing people who were sick and crippled and casting out “demons” (what else would people living in a pre-scientific culture that believed in demons call something like Schitzophrenia, Multiple Personality Disorder, or other oppressive mental illness?). He was taking an interest in the real suffering of real people and the Religious leaders were getting on his case because he was doing it on the Sabbath, the one day a week when no “work” was allowed to be done according to religious law. Essentially they said, “See, this guy is breaking God’s law, he must be from the Devil!”

    So, Jesus said that they could say anything they wanted to about him (aka the “Son of Man”) but that to say that making sick people well was the work of the devil was blasphemy against the Spirit (which, in biblical terms is not just another name for “God,” but the name used to refer to his power of love active within the real/physical world). He essentially said, “the letter of the law be damned, along with all those who think that rigid religious belief and obedience are Godly and helping the poor, sick, and lame is of the Devil.

    Make sense?

  • Thin-ice

    You can be a genocidal maniac who eats crushed-up infants on toast during snack time… and still go to heaven if you eventually repent.

    And conversely, evangelical theology also says that even if the ONLY sin you ever committed in your lifetime was, say, stealing a bite of someone’s hot dog while they weren’t looking, you WILL spend trillions of years in the torment of Hell.

    Why I ever continued to belief such bullshit for 46 years is beyond me.

  • Thin-ice

    Remind me again how that worked out in the OT. I seem to have missed how the Old Testament heroes asked forgiveness after they committed genocide time and time again.

  • Feminerd

    Oh, that’s easy. They didn’t commit any wrongs. They obeyed God when He, in His Infinite Goodness and Mercy, told them to murder every living being within a city except the virgin girls, who would be raped instead.

    What? They were just following divine orders. Nothing to see here, move along …

  • McAtheist

    Atheist with a Xtian girlfriend, I can only assume the sex was mind blowing.

  • Anna

    So you believe anything your god does is automatically moral? Well, that answers my question. I presume you’re yet another fundamentalist who will defend old favorites like slavery, genocide, and eternal torture.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Silence. How shocking. Your ideology must have blocked your response skill, leaving you only the default of ignore-your-projecting-rant-and-maybe-people-will-forget.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Well, so much for Christian complaints about “moral relativism.”

  • Janet Holmes

    God is using Swaggart to spread a message

    If this is true the only possible message is “You are all immeasurably gullible”. I can’t believe that a proper god wouldn’t find a better messenger.

  • cipher

    That’s why I’ve never understood why we have to spend hours in a synagogue on Yom Kippur. I’ve asked a friend who is an Orthodox rabbi – he couldn’t explain it, either.

  • cipher

    Nate, you seem like a nice enough guy, but really, you’re jumping through all sorts of hoops to make Christian theology more palatable for yourself

  • PsiCop

    Far from being a positive feature of Christianity, the concept of automatic, absolute, blanket forgiveness-for-those-who-believe quite literally encourages the continuous propagation of evil. The idea that there are no consequences for one’s actions, is personified most famously in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). In that story the more “prodigal” of two sons throws his fortune away, but is welcomed back as if he’d never never left and had never lost anything.

    Christians tell this story with joy and with tears streaming from their eyes. To them, every human being is the “prodigal son” who is treated by God as though he’d never done anything wrong. Nothing they say or do matters in the end, because no matter how horrible they’ve been, it won’t change the outcome of their lives. No wonder this story leaves them so giddy with joy. No wonder so many Christians through history have done such horrific things. When it comes down to it, none of it matters.

    Of course, this story and the concept of absolute forgiveness contradicts certain other Bible stories, such as the Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Mt 25:31-46), which has precisely the opposite message; i.e. that the ultimate determination of one’s final destiny is based solely on what one has said and done, and that there’s no “forgiveness” that can take that away.

    Conveniently for them, it’s the former message … i.e. of absolute forgiveness … that Christians tend to prefer, over the latter … i.e. that it’s ones actions that matter most.

  • cipher

    How about creating an entire species condemned to hell merely for being the frail, flawed beings he created them to be?

  • ShoeUnited

    That is probably the most hilariously poetic way to state that that I’ve ever read.

  • ShoeUnited

    Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein

    It’s even more sarcastic than you’d hope for.

  • allein

    It’s all about “interpretation,” don’t ya’ know?

  • NateW

    I do my best to see everyone’s sins as relative except my own. This doesn’t mean that I think that people should not be held responsible for their actions or that or they should not be forcibly prevented from hurting more people, but I believe that justice should be restorative rather than punitive and that I don’t see myself as being innocent enough to presume to judge others.

    Victims must be protected, and restitution should be made when possible, but I believe that forgiveness is the path to healing rather than vengeance.

    John 8:3-11
    The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “ Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “ Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “ Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

  • Artor

    Not so much. I was a virgin and she was a divorcee, trying to erase that sin by converting a heathen. Once it became clear that no amount of sex was going to make me suddenly delusional, that was pretty much the end of things. We broke up, and she was married & pregnant within 6 months.

  • KMR

    Literalist Christians base their belief that blasphemy is the one unforgivable sin on Matthew 12:31-32. From what I’ve heard and read, Progressives don’t believe anything is unforgivable. The definition of blasphemy is also from Matthew 12, specifically from verses 24-29 and yes it is commonly defined as giving Satan credit for something God/the Holy Spirit does. Both progressives and literalists hold that definition. The definition is not normally contested because no one cares.

  • smrnda

    I don’t think its wrong to judge people who actually do pretty terrible things, and I think it would be tragic if we didn’t pass judgment. Some actions you can forgive or even just ignore, but not all ‘bad’ actions are equal. A cop might let someone off with a warning for speeding, and I’d not be against that, but if I found out a cop let someone off with warning for MURDER that would be a problem.

  • NateW

    Perhaps! But then again, I am a Christian following and commenting on an atheist blog who is somehow managing to come across as “a nice enough guy,” so I must be doing something right! ;)

    In all seriousness though, I don't know whether I'm jumping through hoops or not. At this point in my life (post-late-20's-evangelical-faith-crisis) I am secure enough in my faith to know that I don't know much, but that God knows and Loves me, and that's enough. I want to know what I don't know though (even though it probably can't all be known anyway) so I read Nietzsche and visit atheist blogs on occasion to help critique my own life and find my own blind spots.

    I don't usually post much, but every once in awhile I feel I might have something to input or the greater good and step in. Yeah, I get a bit wordy an my ADDled brain shows through, but I'm ok with that if everyone is willing to bear with me.

    Have a good night! : )

  • allein

    How the heck do you get negative votes? As I type this, cipher’s post has -1 up votes and -1 downvotes. Weird.

  • rg57

    “nothing is unforgivable.”

    Matthew 12:32
    “anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come”

    Let that sink in. :)

  • Astreja

    Rob, I’ve actually done that “unforgivable” attribution… Many times, deliberately. I really don’t see any difference at all between sock puppet “Holy Spirit” and sock puppet “Satan” poking around in humans’ lives and minds, subverting their alleged free will to bring them on board with the Puppetmaster’s will.

  • Drakk

    Specifically the holy spirit? Why’s that? You mean I can say whatever the hell I want about Yahweh and his son and as long as I say the magic “I’m sorry” afterwards it’s all good. But if I go after their pet pigeon, that’s it, watch the fuck out?

  • NateW

    I think that maybe part of our disagreement here comes down to subtle differences in our definitions. To forgive someone who has wronged you, as I mean it, does not mean giving up on justice, but depending on a higher power for justice and giving up our own right to take revenge. It is not saying “what you did is OK,” but, “I want you to know that what you did hurt me deeply, but I release the right to hold it against you.” It’s not about pretending it didn’t happen, but about releasing our desire to make them suffer in return, and depending on a higher power for justice.

    Similarly, when I say that I have no right to judge someone, I mean that I recognize that it is only by virtue of things that I cannot control (environment, genetics, etc.) that I am not exactly the same as them. Christians would say that it is only by the Grace of God. The ability to forgive is born out of seeing people (including ourselves) through God’s eyes; knowing that every person was once an innocent child with the same dreams, hoping to grow up, find contented happiness, and live happily ever after. It is looking back and remembering all the things that have happened to us to smash this dream over time and seeing that no one is exempt from this loss.

    My goal (not that I always succeed) is to see people in this light, as precious children of God that have been warped by pain and shame to the point where they feel like their only hope of having their dreams fulfilled is to take what they lack from others.

    I believe that the is NOTHING that can be attained in this world that provides the happiness that we seek or fills the gap left by the shattering of childhood innocence. Many Christians believe that religion, that God, will fill this gap and give happiness, but, I think, even that is a pipe dream as many of you atheists I’m sure will agree. In Christ, again, as I understand, God has revealed that ultimate happiness is not a matter of having our desire for wholeness fulfilled, but in giving up our own hope for fulfillment in order to love those who are different than ourselves. Paradoxically, within giving up our right to peace, happiness, security, and fulfillment, in order to unconditionally love others (as Christ demonstrated by his crucifixion) we find a deeper peace, not in freedom from pain, but in the choice to love even within it.

  • Bdole

    Similarly, when I say that I have no right to judge someone, I mean that I recognize that it is only by virtue of things that I cannot control (environment, genetics, etc.) that I am not exactly the same as them.

    This is almost exactly the point that Sam Harris makes in Life without Freewill.

  • Astreja

    The sacrificial aspect of Christianity is horrific in itself, but when you add in the meme of essentially hiding behind Jesus — Using him a human shield, as it were, and letting him take a bullet for your “sins” — It results in an even more horrific sludge of murder, injustice and cowardice.

  • Physeter

    I left my faith, sort of, two years ago. When I read a post like this on how forgiveness is bad it makes me think I made a mistake, and I should have stuck with Jesus after all.

  • Hilary

    The Judaism Stev is talking about is based on the Talmud, and centuries of commentary, not the OT. This topic is one of the posts in Libby Anne’s Judaism 101 series. But there is a clear distinction between sins against God and sins against another person. For sins against another person, it’s not enough just to pray, you also have to change your behavior and try to make restitution. If the person you wronged can’t forgive you because they are dead, tough, nobody can forgive you in their place.

    I’m sure there are plenty of things in Judaism you can find to disagree with, but please disagree with what it actually is now. It’s moved a bit beyond the tribal records of 2.5 thousand years ago.

  • NateW

    Free Will

    Thanks for pointing out Sam Harris's article. His ideas, as far as I understand them, are similar to what I am saying, especially the way that he says that the idea that people don't have free will helps him to let go of anger towards (forgive?) people who have wronged him.

    We see Jesus expressing this idea to the ultimate degree as he hung crucified, nailed to a torture stake, innocent of all accusations: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Lest we think he means “they don't know I'm God,” the same words are echoed later, in the book of Acts by a young Christian named Stephen as he is stoned to death by an angry mob of religious leaders for calling them out on their hypocrisy.

    To be a follower of Christ is to be active in stepping between oppressors and their innocent victims in every situation, all the while wishing nothing upon them except that they might have their eyes opened and change their ways. It is not to turn a blind eye to sin or to just let oneself be walked over, but to put oneself into a position to protect the innocent from their oppressors and give freedom to the oppressors from their own oppressive tendencies.

    Speaking of the true followers of Christ Dietrich Bonhoeffer says this: “they confess their guilt without any sidelong glance at their fellow offenders. Their confession of guilt is strictly exclusive in that it takes all guilt upon itself.” What it means to truly follow Christ then, is to look at every “sinner” and see people who deserve to be forgiven, but to look at ourselves as individuals with free will who are alone responsible; to be like Christ is to take the burden of all that is wrong in the world upon oneself. To say “it's my fault” and to accept the consequences when others try to crucify us for our own mistakes while forgiving them of theirs.

  • NickDB

    So having a debate about the current situation in Egypt on how the democratic process can be flawed and using how Hitler and the Nazi’s got in to power using the democratic process (Yes they got in because the guy who won pegged but it was still the democratic process) is not helpful?

    Yes I could of used other examples, but please tell me one that is as well known?

    There are important lessons to learn about that period of European history before the genocide and atrocities started, yet evoking Godwin ignores those lessons. Harping on about ONLY the evils of Nazism ignores that which allow us to prevent it happening again.

  • d3bug

    You know what might be helpful to understand these things? RTFM… ie; The Bible. So many of you seem to be under quite a few misconceptions… let me clear up a few:

    1. There is one unforgivable sin: Blaspheme of the Holy Spirit
    2. You will not be forgiven if you cannot find it in your heart to fogive (which is tied to judge not lest ye be judged – by the same standard is what that means)
    3. The way to be forgiven isn’t simply to say oopsie, my bad, will ya forgive me God?… There must be repentance (turning away from sin) which comes over time, so deathbed confessions are ineffective I am afraid.
    4. Jesus himself said “many will call me Lord but I know them not” (or similar – don’t have the time to look at up atm – Dr. appt.)
    5. There are many false churches and many false teachers… you will know them by the fruit they bear.
    6. Most Christians are not Christian… unless they follow the teachings of Christ, they are in fact hypocrites.

    There is more, but I don’t have the time this morning.

  • Gus Snarp

    The first thing that made me start questioning my religion was the death of a friend of mine in high school. A 16 year old Jewish Eagle Scout who died of leukemia. I never could square the notion that people who did terrible things but accepted Jesus went to heaven, while that 16 year old boy, who was one of the truly kindest people I knew, went to hell.

    So maybe it is a feature: it’s a way out of dogmatic thought. Maybe not many see it or take it, but it’s there for anyone who has any kind of empathy.

  • Gus Snarp

    I deny the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit Damn it! The Holy Spirit fucks goats. I’m never sure what qualifies as blasphemy so I want to cover my bases…

  • Sk3ptec

    Hmmm… well okay then. Since nothing more can really be said about that, I guess we’re done here .?

  • Sk3ptec

    I guess, the same could be asked of you… Is everything YOU do moral?

    By the way, do you think natural selection is any more moral? Assuming there is no God doesn’t make these problems disappear, so do they cease to be a moral issue then?

    But also, I’m not sure how you come to blame God for man-made problems (“slavery, genocide”). Eternal torture (assuming you mean Hell) is also defined as “complete separation from God” (the whole “fire and gnashing of teeth” stuff is merely a description of the conditions there, not the punishment itself). So if given the choice, as an atheist, it seems like you would willingly CHOOSE to be as far away from God as possible, thus making Hell your obvious selected destination. I’m not sure why that makes God immoral if you’re the one choosing it.

    This assumes you believe in Heaven and Hell, which of course you likely don’t. But your question was regarding the Christian justification of Hell, so there it is.

  • Ubi Dubium

    PFFFTTT! Very funny.

    You know what might be helpful before you comment? Understanding who you’re talking to. Most of us know your bible better than most believers. It’s often one of the reasons we’re non-believers now. You think we’ve never heard this stuff before? Some of the commenters here are ex-preachers, and many many have left religion after long immersion in it. We’re not unchurched, we’re over-churched.

    Read a few other posts and comment threads on this blog before you try those old platitudes again. And especially read the comments on this thread. Most of what you spouted has already been addressed at length here.

    5. There are many false churches and many false teachers… you will know them by the fruit they bear.

    I think you’re one of those false teachers.

  • Sk3ptec

    Sorry, your statement is completely wrong. It displays a profound lack of understanding regarding repentance. There’s a gulf of difference between “you can be forgiven” and ‘…say the magic ” I’m sorry”…’

    But am I correct to suspect you already know this and are simply trying to be intentionally mocking? At this point I would almost be disappointed if my good intentioned comments weren’t met with disingenuous and hateful slander on these atheist forums. That’s pretty much what I’ve come to expect. Nobody has any class anymore.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Actually, those things aren’t really the reason the Jesus story is bullshit. It’s bullshit regardless of any of that. Jews have been persecuted for 2000 years by Christians over their own bullshit stories.

  • Sk3ptec

    Thanks for pointing these out. I find it funny, in the ironic sense, when atheists try to pretend they’re experts on biblical texts. I mean, if that’s truly the case, why are they always misquoting, citing out of context, and ‘oops – overlooking’ what’s clearly there?

    Then you try to point out these blatant (and often intentional) errors and suddenly they go into “spew venom, kill everything in sight” mode. I would think a dedication to accuracy would be a fundamental goal (if not an absolute requirement) for a community that so boldly claims to be “the keepers of all science”. But strangely, it doesn’t seem to be that important to this group.

  • Drakk

    Oh, you’re a tone troll.

    Never mind then.

  • Carmelita Spats

    1. Yahweh ordered genocides.
    2. There is NO context, exegesis or hermeneutical blathering that makes genocide moral.
    3.Anyone who tells you they love you AND they have a torture chamber in their basement just in case you don’t love them back, is truly deranged. I avoid people like that. Don’t you? It’s the stalker’s “love”…It’s disgusting
    and degrading for everyone involved. Psychologically healthy people tend to call the police on creepy stalkers and ask for restraining orders. Thus, I would respond to Yahweh’s abusive threats in the manner of a psychologically healthy adult. Any other response would be a lie.
    4. Yahwehjesuspigeon chooses/choose to punish with Hell. It’s HIS/THEIR/ITS/HER choice. This monster expects you to have wide-eyed fun in heaven (where everyone has fun and swallows cheer-up cheeseburgers, whether they want to or not) while knowing that others are burning in Hell. This is just sick.
    5.As an atheist I don’t “CHOOSE” disbelief in a
    Trinitarian-incarnational-atoning-resurrecting-ascending-soon-to-be-returning-God.Disbelief is the only rational option on the table when presented with such an outrageous claim. Denial and disbelief are not the same thing. Atheism is the only possible position given my present state of knowledge. I can no more “choose” to just believe in the existence of a god than I can choose to believe that my computer doesn’t exist. Belief requires good reasons, it is those reasons which cause belief,
    not choice.

  • The Other Weirdo

    If that’s true, then what these verses say to me is that one must never ever question anything any religious leader says or does, especially a new one. This indicates a larger problem than just a matter of interpretation. As I said before, the difference between progressives and fundamentalists is one of degree, not of kind.

  • Sk3ptec

    Yeah, if expecting some sort of intelligent level of discourse is branded ‘tone troll’, then I guess I am. Funny how that term is always used to end the discussion…

  • Calladus

    The Christian position on Hell is all over the place, depending on denomination. Some Christians believe in a literal Hell filled with Hellfire and torture for ever and ever, and others believe in “Hell Lite”, where you “separate yourself from God”.

    I’ve even found Christians who do not believe the soul is immortal, that non-believers will just cease to exist when they die.

    I’ve ceased taking any religious comment about Hell seriously since I can easily find an equally devout Christian with opposing views.

  • Sk3ptec

    Thanks… this is actually one of the more rational responses I’ve heard in a while.

    Although I reject your first 4 points outright, noting that you have a highly contextual framework of understanding for these issues and can’t be expected to think otherwise given the circumstances, I have a question regarding #5…

    So, are you saying that if you actually received evidence of the existence of God, you would possibly (or even likely) revise your position and change your mind on the issue? If so, what would it take to change your mind and “believe”? Just curious.

  • tsig

    Do you have any examples of atheists always misquoting, citing out of context, and ‘oops – overlooking’ what’s clearly there?

    So far you are the one spewing venom.

  • Bdole

    I think you’re the one who’s being smug.

    But the fact that they set themselves up as though they’re some sort of experts, all the while misquoting each and every citation

    You’re the one claiming other people’s interpretations from plain reading of the passages are wrong and…what? YOURS is the ONE TRUE one? Moreover, where did you even correct someone’s “misquote”? You may not agree with the interpretation that doesn’t mean they’re misquoting.

    I know plenty of atheists who’ve read the Bible cover to cover and quite a few who did so, at least at one point, out of devotion. Instead of lobbing ad hom’s why don’t you simply make your case, ’cause I see precious little *advanced* exegesis coming from you.

  • Sk3ptec

    OK, to start… this line from the article “To the Almighty, nothing is unforgivable. Let that sink in. Nothing.” But there are countless others.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Well, that’s certainly true. A couple cities that haven’t had the benefit of God’s instruction in morality as yet misbehave and he completely overreacts and disproportionally retributes them with orbital nuclear bombardment.

  • Bdole

    And several atheists already pointed out that there’s the unpardonable sin.

    From the CONTEXT of the OP, you must know that blasphemy isn’t really relevant to the topic since it’s not something this particular audience would get worked up about going unpunished.
    Even knowing about the Big Sin I usually don’t bring it up since people who’re Christian don’t commit it anyway and no else cares.

  • Feminerd

    Well, yeah. But sophisticated theology is a bit beyond most 12-year-olds, and most Jews don’t go out of their way to find the arguments about whether Jesus actually existed or not. They find a few arguments that make sense to them and work against most Christians, then transmit them to their kids, and the kids swap strategies for dealing with proselytizing at youth group meetings. It’s all very surface-level, because usually that’s all you need.

  • Anna

    Your deity is supposed to be a perfect being, worthy of love and worship. If that’s the case, then I would hold it to a certain moral standard. Since many Christians believe that it not only kills people (see biblical genocide), but also tortures them after death, then I don’t see it as any better than a human murderer or torturer. If a god not only does immoral things, but exceptionally cruel things, it would be a monster.

    By the way, do you think natural selection is any more moral? Assuming there is no God doesn’t make these problems disappear, so do they cease to be a moral issue then?

    Nature is not sentient, so there is no moral issue. You can’t put a disease on trial for murder, or a natural disaster on trial for murder. You can’t even put an animal on trial for murder. When human beings enslave or torture or kill, they are responsible for their actions. Unless deities are operating on the cognitive level of animals, then they, too, should be held accountable.

    But also, I’m not sure how you come to blame God for man-made problems (“slavery, genocide”).

    I meant biblical slavery and biblical genocide. Was it moral for your deity to command people to commit genocide? Was it moral for it to drown the world’s population or to kill the firstborn of Egypt? Was it moral for it to tell slaves to obey their masters?

    Eternal torture (assuming you mean Hell) is also defined as “complete separation from God” (the whole “fire and gnashing of teeth” stuff is merely a description of the conditions there, not the punishment itself). So if given the choice, as an atheist, it seems like you would willingly CHOOSE to be as far away from God as possible, thus making Hell your obvious selected destination. I’m not sure why that makes God immoral if you’re the one choosing it.

    Ah, the lovely false choice. I can’t choose to believe in things for which I see no evidence. And even if I could, there’s no way I could love or worship an entity that tortures people. I could pretend, but of course your deity would see right through that. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    This assumes you believe in Heaven and Hell, which of course you likely don’t. But your question was regarding the Christian justification of Hell, so there it is.

    Yes, indeed. There it is. I’ve heard it many times before. It doesn’t get any less horrifically twisted the more often I hear it. Of course I don’t believe in it, which is lucky for me, but I feel very sad about all the people who have been indoctrinated to believe in such a sick fantasy. I think about all the innocent children (including, presumably, yourself) who were made to believe such a terrible thing. They are victims who in turn become victimizers by passing the belief down to subsequent generations. Thus the cycle never ends.

  • Thin-ice

    Sorry, Hilary, but as long as that BS is in your Holy Book, extremists will use it to justify inhuman behavior. I believe it is CURRENTLY used as Israel’s justification to occupy the West Bank, and treat Palestinians like shit. Judaism doesn’t get a pass just because it has moderated over the years, nor does Christianity, nor does Islam. “Holy Scriptures” are used to justify almost every aspect of religious fanaticism, with the Abrahamic faiths being the worst of all world religions.

  • The Vicar

    We’ll start with intelligent discourse when you do. I’ve been reading this whole thread, and you haven’t written a single thing worth reading yet.

  • The Vicar

    As I recall, there’s a tradition that what Jesus was writing on the ground was a list of all the adulterous couplings that the Pharisees had undertaken, themselves. Certainly makes an interesting twist on the story, no?

  • The Vicar

    Uh huh. Yeah, I’m sure all of that is true. It’s so entirely plausible. I mean, it’s not like we have to take his word for any of that. Oh, wait…

    Frankly, any time someone tells me they “contemplated suicide”, I immediately start wondering what percentage of their story is false, because telling people you contemplated suicide in the past (but no longer do) is self-aggrandizement. But I am widely regarded as unduly suspicious.

  • The Vicar

    So, in summary: in the Christian universe as revealed by NateW, we are responsible if we don’t consider the results of our actions and refrain from anything which might possibly be dubious. God, who created a flawed universe — and must have known about it because he’s omniscient — and constantly gave the Israelites bad and evil instructions — and must have known about the outcomes because he’s omniscient — does not have to consider the results of his actions or refrain from anything which might possibly be dubious.

    Boy, that’s inspiring. Why don’t you found a church?

  • Your Sweet Satan

    The only holy spirit is Jaegermeister.

  • Your Sweet Satan

    It’s OK, Terry Firma. Every Christian who lives or has ever lived will answer to me.

  • SpeakerBox

    What you all (ex-Christians or atheists) fail/failed to understand is that (1) forgiveness does not and is not supposed to remove consequences of sin: the thief on the cross was still crucified; Samson still died; Paul was scorned and considered less by early Christians for his murders; Moses did not see the Promised Land; (2) “Repentance” is the turning away from sin; a change of mind and determination to no longer commit it – not a mere casual apology. (3) Only God knows a person’s heart and therefore is the only one that can say whether or not he/she is truly repentant (and thus “saved” for Heaven). (4) (Perhaps the most difficult concept for you,) ALL/ANY sin makes all of us Hell-worthy. The moment you commit your first, conscious sin, you are hell-worthy. Thus, we are all “unforgiven” and in need of Christ’s forgiveness, death, and saving grace. —> True Christianity

    But this is all rubbish, of course…to you, regardless of the 2.2 billion Christians/one-third of the world’s population (84% of the world believes in a god). At any rate, hopefully I have helped your understanding of our very non-stupid, non-gullible God.

  • Astreja

    SpeakerBox, if all 7+ billion people on Earth believed in a god and there wasn’t one there, 7+ billion people would all be wrong. Popularity does not make something automatically true, and what you have there is an argumentum ad populum logical fallacy.

    And I “understand” Christian theology just fine. I just think that it’s a very ugly philosophy and not worth pursuing.

  • SpeakerBox

    “Popularity does not make something automatically true”
    Very true (this applies to everything). However, I do not rely on that, thus no “argumentum.” My point is not that a majority population justifies anything. My point is that 1) they deserve respect and 2) therefore it is arrogant and foolish to think that that they are stupid or under a mass delusion.

  • smrnda

    I’ll agree with you on a few things. I myself have no reason to engage in crimes for $$$ because I already have enough $$$. I’m not tempted to steal.

    The problem is not everybody who commits a moral outrage has an excuse. You get incredibly privileged people living cushy lives who do pretty bad things.

    I guess too much of the Christian position just strikes me as vague, emotional verbiage without any clear meaning. I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of how I feel towards people who do this or that bad thing since I’m an extremely concrete person. There are people that I do not trust because in the past they violated my trust. If you asked me if I’d forgiven them in the sense of let go of some emotion or desire or hostility yet still remained cautious I wouldn’t see that as a meaningful statement. I mean, in terms of criminal justice I think punitive systems are just barbaric and do not work, so my opposition to vengeance based justice is mostly a pragmatic concern, along with the problem that the desire for harsh punishments is probably more a matter of a fascination with brutality than a desire for justice.

    This could just be that I think too many words meant to describe internal states are too vague to be worth using, or that I find specific words used by Christians to be too vague.

  • smrnda

    Hell for *one sin?* That’s like getting life in jail for bouncing a check. Punishments ought to be proportional to the severity of the crime.

    Now, you *can* tell me that the god of the Xtians is so holy that he can’t help but be nauseated by the guy who ate the extra cookie from the cookie jar an has to send him to hell forever, but that god sounds like a god who isn’t really fun or rational. Why is this wise and all knowing god throwing such a huge hissy fit over so many things that we ourselves would brush off? It’s like a person with a cleanliness compulsion that rather than improving the quality of life, makes life unbearable. A god who’s going to do that sounds like an unpleasant god to be around. It’d be like entering the house of a neat freak who demands that I wear a surgical mask, rubber gloves and a special plastic suit.

    I’d also disagree that people automatically deserve respect. Fundamentalist Muslims who want to kill people who disagree with them are pulling out the ‘respect’ card to silence legitimate criticism of religion.

  • Astreja

    I can and do respect people as individuals, SpeakerBox, but I have a very hard time respecting beliefs just for the sake of respecting them. I don’t think ideas should be immune from criticism, even if they’re wildly popular ideas.

  • islandbrewer

    At any rate, hopefully I have helped your understanding of our very non-stupid, non-gullible God.

    Personally speaking, although I’m sure it goes for a great many here too, no. You’ve said nothing that most of us didn’t already know about christian theology. Indeed, there are many readers here who used to tout the same message.

    So, no, you’re teaching us nothing we didn’t already know about your god.

    You’ve also failed to make him sound any less stupid or gullible, for all that.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    It’s funny how you can only repeat what we already know about that morally repugnant system of control and not address the actual issue of who should and should not be empowered to forgive harm done to people.

    Slipping in multiple logical fallacies doesn’t grant your arguments credibility*. Nor does your pretending to have the power of God by claiming that ex-Christians lack your magical understanding.

    Nobody said that your GOD was stupid and gullible.

    *An Argument From Popularity? From a “True Christian”? It is to laugh.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Sure there’s a manual! It’s just all spread out so’s you have to piece it together. For instance, picking up sticks on your day off is an executable offense, presumably because it makes other people feel lazy, but handing your daughters over to raped is okay, because if God didn’t want it to happen, he’d prevent it. Clearly A is worse than B! Checkmate, atheists!

  • Helix Luco

    evolution is a natural phenomenon, like lightning. is lightning moral? it’s just something that happens when the proper conditions arise. natural selection isn’t a deity, it’s as incapable of making moral choices as it is of any other form of agency, it’s an event.

  • The Starship Maxima

    Again, I’ll try to separate the rhetoric from the actual facts, as I understand them as a practicing Christian.

    Some basic notes, the overwhelming majority of Christian pastors aren’t ex-cons and don’t rape and murder. Just to put that out there.

    Now, yes, some people abuse the concept of complete forgiveness as a license to be dicks. It seems appropriate that anything can be abused in such a way, including atheism.

    Any way, the apostle Paul actually addressed this phenomenon. “Should we continue to sin so that grace may abound. God forbid it.” Paul stated it very well, but the entire Bible is explicit that you don’t get saved so you can continue to do the same shameful things you did all over again.

    The entire point of becoming a Christian is very PRECISELY to do better. To repay those whom who have cheated and then extra, as per the example of the tax collector who Jesus forgave.

    The Christian who makes no efforts to change his ways or make amends to those he’s wronged, is no Christian.

  • Sk3ptec

    Ok, I’m understanding you.

  • NateW

    Hey, in all sincerity, sorry for getting preachy there. I know that I tend to sound like “here’s the way it is,” but its not my intent. Just the view from where I stand, maybe you have a better vantage point. Take it or leave it as you wish. : )

  • SpeakerBox

    I agree to and respect that 100%.

  • KMR

    I don’t know if I would agree with that or not. Personally I like a lot of progressives I meet in both real life and on-line considerably more than literalists/fundamentals. Their scholarly arguments are rather fascinating also. There is a quite a lot of study behind liberal positions and although what a few of them believe is nonsensical (Yahweh didn’t order the slaughter of whole societies. That was the interpretation of the early followers based on how they recorded and understood events during that time. But yes, Jesus’s words are right on the money!) others are really quite interesting (the Christian pro-gay movement’s one for instance). And you won’t find many progressives being mean to people in the name of Jesus. And as far questioning goes, they do. There isn’t any blind devotion to a leader at least not that I’ve ever seen. To be honest, it’s probably why a lot of mainline churches are failing. It takes a lot of devotion from followers for a church or pastor to maintain any kind of large success.

  • SpeakerBox

    1)”address the actual issue of who should and should not be empowered to forgive harm done to people.” – The Bible warns all people – Christians included – to obey the law of the land; it even says that police officials are agents of God and only criminals should fear them. In a way, the Bible gives great leeway to the criminal justice system – even for the death penalty, imho. Only God can absolve a sinner, but, like I said, the punishment for that sin is open to any proper authority. As for the victims, they have to settle it with themselves, with the criminal, and/or the justice system.

    2) “There are examples of the damage this causes in this thread.” No person in their right mind should ever deny that religion has caused damage to people that tried to follow God/Christ. However, any poorly understood, ill-guided approach to any way of life can be extremely damaging. Consider: an idea of how to treat women, how to become rich, how to “be a man/woman,” or how to lose weight/be attractive. All of those subjects, if poorly handled, can result in damage to the person and others. Does this fact mean that following Jesus and denying yourself is inherently bad and damaging? Your mind may resist the obvious, but can you seriously say that all (even most) people that seriously pursue Christ suffer damage?

    3) “morally repugnant” – by claiming to have the authority to say what and what is not morally acceptable and repugnant, you are claiming that you (or those that agree with your perspective) are objectively correct. Well, Christians believe that God is/created/holds morality – we merely hold finite pieces of a greater, objectively correct morality that is distorted by our sinful nature.

    4)”why you’re complaining at the people who don’t buy your story, rather than at the people who do and who you presumably believe are doing it wrong**. Those are the ones who supposedly “just don’t get it.” – No complaining here. I just happened upon an interesting subject and I wanted to offer another prospective on a confusing subject (See #5 below). Plus, I believe we all have to meet God in one way or the other.

    5) “That is like a White Sox fan claiming that the existence of Cubs fans proves that Baseball is great.” – I do not rely on popularity for my argument (see my response to Astreja). Good metaphor though. It is actually like a White Sox fan(atic) pointing to a Cubs fan(atic) and saying to his friends, “See, I’m not crazy; I’m not the only one that claims there is such a thing as baseball!”

  • SpeakerBox

    While “many readers here” may have known said info, there are also many that have not and instead “tout” misunderstood principles that they have observed/learned from people that half-heartedly pursue and apply biblical truth.

    “You’ve also failed to make him sound any less stupid or gullible, for all that.” – He needs no defense…but, in a way, perhaps I have:

    “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

    ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’
    Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
    . . . . . . . . .
    But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that [we] are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” 1Cor 1:18-31

  • SpeakerBox

    All of your contentions are answered by Scripture. If, for the sake of our discussion, you aren’t willing to even “suspend your disbelief” and accept explanatory answers from the source itself, how can we possibly discuss Christian principles?

    “Whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all. For the same one who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ Even if you do not commit adultery, you have become a lawbreaker if you commit murder.” Jm 2:10-11

    “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” Rom 3:20

    “But now . . . the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Rom 3:21-24

    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:8-9

  • islandbrewer

    He needs no defense

    Which of course begs the question, why bother, then? For that matter, you should probably just let your god do his own proselytizing, omnipotent being that he is. Right?

  • islandbrewer

    And bible quotes make for bad argument. Paricularly ones that are your passive aggressive way of saying, “You’re stupid! I’ll show you! Nyah!”

  • SpeakerBox

    Yep. But you can take it even further: why did God create mankind if he knew we were going to screw it up and even some would spit in his face and deny his existence. I guess the answer to all of it is because he can and he wanted us.

  • SpeakerBox

    “bible quotes make for bad argument”
    - I agree, especially when the person you are arguing with doesn’t believe in the Bible. A lot of Christians do this though. But, I am not “passive[ly] agressive[ly] arguing with you. I am merely giving you what the Bible has to offer in explaining itself – even the foolishness. Note that “no one may boast before him” – so trust me when I say that I am not saying, “You’re stupid! I’ll show you! Nyah!”

  • islandbrewer

    No, you missed the point. I wasn’t talking about the actions of your magical invisible friend, I was talking about your actions. Asking why your imaginary friend created anything isn’t taking it further, it’s introducing a non sequitur.

    Taking it further would be asking why you even bother mentioning the great sky fairy in the first place.

  • islandbrewer

    Yeah, that is what you’re saying with those bible quotes.

    I am merely giving you what the Bible has to offer in explaining itself – even the foolishness.

    But, that doesn’t actually explain anything, least of all the bible.

    And if those passages aren’t saying “Look, you’re going to look dumb when God shows you!” then I dare you to paraphrase what they do say without it coming across that way.

  • islandbrewer

    However, if you want to go down your non sequitur, why not ask why God has never done anything that demonstrates his existence?

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    If he punishes people eternally (or even at all) for mistakes he knew they would make and in fact designed them to make, the only logical conclusion is that he only wants some people: the ones he takes.

    That’s “love” in the sense that a child loves his action figures.

  • Sk3ptec

    Ok, but if what you’re saying is true… the acts committed by the creatures that evolution creates are also exempt from the restraints of any morality or moral judgement. Translation: No acts (regardless of severity) should be considered immoral. In fact, a person killing another person (or a theater full of them) is no more “morally wrong” than a lion killing a zebra would be. In fact, I should be able to kill all of humanity and become the sole survivor king (completely without guilt)…. if I want to, and/or have the ability.

    If the evolutional framework for life is outside the realm of morality, so are the acts committed within that framework. There’s no getting around that fact.

    Asserting that people should follow some arbitrary ‘code of moral conduct’ simply for the good of society is actually just projecting one’s personal morality onto society – evolution itself doesn’t produce it anywhere. The whole “morality has evolved with us” stuff is just unrealistic.

  • Feminerd

    That’s entirely incorrect. We have brains and innate empathy. The fact that we can ask moral questions means that they are valid questions. We choose what to become, what is important, what gives our lives meaning. The fact that we’re smart animals only makes this more true.

    Evolution itself is a process. It isn’t immoral, it’s merely amoral (that is, having no moral content whatsoever. Also, morally neutral). However, the creatures that arise due to evolution having moral and ethical sense makes perfect sense- evolution favors the survival of species that can work together and protect members who are temporarily ill or have talents that benefit the many but may kill off the individual. Evolved morality doesn’t make it any less real. We still care about other people; empathy evolved as a survival mechanism, and using it as such to build ethical frameworks that ensure as many people survive as possible is both 1) extremely moral and 2) probable when talking about evolved creatures.

  • Helix Luco

    that’s like saying that hitmen paid for by money from a nonprofit are doing good works. how a person comes to be doesn’t decide wether or not they practice ethical behavior. listen, get over it already, believing in evolution is not a philosophy, moral code, or religion.

  • Kerry

    Incredible! I actually met General Butt Naked in Liberia! I was having breakfast and this person at the next table struck up a conversation with me…and guess who? I knew who he was immediately from the various stories I had heard. He is indeed a missionary to the boys he abducted during the war, and while he seems to be trying to do the right thing by those boys now, how can anyone EVER forgive the atrocities committed by him. He should be locked up or perhaps dealt with in a more humane way! I will let the readers mull over what that might be.

  • SpeakerBox

    Generally, I think you are on the right track at least.

    The thing is: 1) knowing something isn’t the same as predetermining it. I can know something is going to happen and still not control/direct it and still be mad about it. 2) Design: I don’t think he designed us per say to sin or be stubborn – just like he didn’t design the Devil to turn evil. It is very complex, I’m just venturing here, but He gave us free will to follow our natural dispositions (but he did create those dispositions, I know).

    He gives grace (to be resistant to sin, to easily believe in Him) to those he desires and not to those he chooses not to. See Rom 9:11- 21 (PLEASE read this. Not only is it revealing but it will give you more ammunition. Of course, I hope you will not see it that way. ;) ); Acts 17:11. I know that isn’t satisfying (because it is not for me) and it seems unfair. It may make a great sticking point for Atheists, but it is what it is; if there is a God, and that is his nature, and he holds the “Right-O-Meter,” then you would have to accept (suspending your disbelief, of course) that is who he is and he can do whatever he wants and that whatever he wants cannot possibly be bad/evil/sadistic/unfair. Cf. Matt 20:15. see also Job 38:4; 2Tim 2:20.

    We Christians don’t say, “Let me be an instrument of your will” for nothing.

  • Without Malice

    Yes, and all this nonsense goes back to the teachings of that wonderful wandering miracle worker who told his followers that looking on a woman with lust was the same as adultery and that hating your brother was the same as murder; both of which are idiotic in the extreme, but who’s to argue with the lord and master of the universe. The truth is that all the teachings of Jesus can be read in less than an hour, and if you take out all the ones that really don’t amount to a hill of beans about all you’re left with that makes a lick of sense is “be a good neighbor”, and that comes directly from the OT and didn’t require any virgin birth or incarnation to get the teaching across.

  • Without Malice

    According to Paul (I forget which letter) if you willfully sin after accepting Christ there is no longer any forgiveness, for you have crucified Christ anew. Which, of course, doesn’t make a lick of sense, but hey, we’re talking religion here. The obvious fact is that Yhwh of the OT was already in the sin forgiving business long before Jesus showed up and all he required was repentance of the wrong you had done, not in having to believe several dozen idiotic doctrines like the virgin birth, etc. So just exactly what the death of Jesus added to the mix is a question that has never really been answered.