You can be skeptical and friendly at the same time.
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[Link to video]
I am age 78, once a Catholic priest for five years (in the 1960's), then a math teacher for 44 years up to the present day. I became an atheist a few years ago. My hobbies are music and chess.
Atheists in the 21st Century don’t have to put up with this “deathbed” nonsense once you absorb the implications of the idea that brain preservation can potentially turn death from a permanent off-state into a temporary and reversible off-state by pushing hard with current techniques. Study the website of the Brain Preservation Foundation to see one of the most important stories in science and medicine which almost no one knows about:
Michael Shermer, the atheist, critic of pseudoscience and editor of Skeptic magazine, serves as one of this foundation’s advisers, so he apparently considers its goals scientifically defensible;
Mr. Tarte: I am immensely interested in your bio blob at the end of this article. More so than the article your provided. I’m sorry if you think it’s an insult. It is not. I’d love to read a lengthy piece on your life story (from priest, to teacher, to recent deconversion). And all the reasons and steps inbetween. Please consider writing an article here (or a book if you can swing it!). Your little bio teases a story that would be fascinating.
ShoeUnited, thank you for your interest. I am not up to doing any autobiographical writing. However, at YouTube you can search tarte photos from priestly past, tarte seminary, tarte priestly bubble, tarte when priests don’t get along, tarte transition out of priesthood, tarte prayers of gratitude. If you want you can also view me as a math teacher, since I have scores of math videos. You could start with tarte date-names.
Edward, thank you again for yet another remarkable statement, straight from your heart and straight to the heart of the matter. This is similar to what I would say to someone if they were to ask me such a question, but your reply is so succinct, honest, and beautiful in its samurai-like efficiency.
Jesus… dude… I’m guessing this is just some hallucination, because that makes more sense than your actual existence. But it wouldn’t be the first time I talked to someone who wasn’t really there (summer of ’67 was, um… interesting.) So what the hell. Oops. [giggle]
So, even though I stopped believing in you or anything supernatural a very long time ago, I’m comfortable with the way I’ve lived my life. I’ve been mostly kind, loving, honest and generous. And those times that I wasn’t, well, they bothered me and I made some adjustments. When I look back on the totality of it, I think I did pretty well, especially compared to some of the other humans I’ve shared the world with (some of whom are your biggest fans, btw.) And to think I did this without depending on you to tell me what to do!
Speaking of which… You’re the triple-O guy! You are everywhere, see everything and know everything and yet you did some pretty shitty things or at least let some pretty shitty things happen. What’s up with that? Here’s you, knowing everything and having super powers and all that stuff, and you totally fucked up! And here’s me, with like one infinity-eth of your knowledge and power and I think I accomplished more good in the world than you did.
And you know what? I’m not the only one! There’s a bunch of us who made the world a better place without believing in you for one teeny-tiny second! I’ll go where they are/will be, thank you very much. And we’ll try to clean that place up too.
I think your reply is compassionate above all. Beautifully said.
I’d love to know the psychology behind that question. Why does the Christian always (not just some times but always) set the scene at the unbeliever’s deathbed? The attitude seems to be, “You’ve got two seconds to get it right and if you get it wrong you are going to burn baby. Don’t think, just answer.”
Are they really interested in the answer, or just taking a sadistic pleasure in pushing forward the idea that unbelievers will be tortured, and Christians will be allowed to watch?
To play along with the hypothetical:
I’d say, “So you’re Jesus? You’re the clown that said ‘believe or be damned’? You’re the uneducated twit who said the mustard seed was the smallest seed on the planet? You’re the boofhead who suggested that unbelievers should be thrown into the ocean and drowned? What the hell made you think I’d be interested in anything you had to offer? Now piss off!”
References: Mark 16:16, Matthew 18:6, Mark 4:31
Bill Carlisle came up with the perfect answer in this song from 1953:
I notice that Edward didn’t say what his response would be if the answer is “No, there is no such place.”
There seem to be far too many people who assume that the version of Christianity (or any other religion) that they object to is the only version of that particular religion there is. People do have a right to choose what manner of God they wish to follow. (That is, the concept of God that they wish to follow.)
So why do people just stop with the religious concept that they object to? Why not look for the best one they can find? (And yes, if one decides that no religion is their choice, that is OK as well.)
The point is, either the the typical human view of things (including theological things) is accurate, or it isn’t. If it is, and the unpleasant view that Edward used to believe is true, then Edward’s response is a reasonable one, and has been chosen by both believers and non-believers alike over the years. (The founder of my own religious sect made such a choice when confronted with this same unpleasant view by the pastor of the church they were joining in childhood.) But if the view is not accurate, then a rethink is in order. But no matter what one may think of God, if God exists, one’s view or opinion is just that, their particular view or opinion. God will continue to be (or not be) God whatever one believes about God.
If God is a tyrant, and can get to anyone wherever they are and torment them, then IMO such a God isn’t worth the bother, and should be discarded. But if God is not such an entity, then the false concept of God that one has entertained for however long is not worth the bother and should be discarded and replaced with a better view.
For myself, the God concept I have decided to follow is not such an entity. That’s why I personally continue to follow the path I do.
Everyone (even in the most oppressive autocratic state) gets to choose what sort of God (or lack of God) they wish to associate themselves with. And the choice to follow (or not to follow) God is one that each person makes moment by moment throughout their life. It is not a decision isolated to one’s deathbed, anymore than deciding to be kind and just to others is a decision one should wait to make on their deathbed. Following God (or following some other guiding principle) is something to be actively pursued, not a meaningless check-mark made at an arbitrary and useless point in time.
So, to me, the real question is, is one willing and desiring to correct their mistaken understanding of things when given the opportunity to do so? And that choice occurs throughout one’s life. (And yes, this applies whether one is a believer or a non-believer.)
All of us, without exception, should be willing to choose that which is correct when we encounter proof of it, whatever fact or facts that proof may reveal.
“I notice that Edward didn’t say what his response would be if the answer is “No, there is no such place.”"
There’s only so much that can be cut away from a concept before the concept disappears. If there’s no Hell, what’s the Salvation for? If there’s no Salvation, what the heck was Jesus for?
… the only thing that’s left after that, is a mediocre set of cherry-picked advice.
” If there’s no Hell, what’s the Salvation for? If there’s no Salvation, what the heck was Jesus for?”
You seem to have the same negative outlook about the purpose of religion that Edward does. Do you also have the view that the whole point of going to school is so that you won’t flunk? Wouldn’t it be a whole lot more useful if one actually wanted to learn what was being taught in school and to gain a mastery of the subjects being taught? If you agree with that concept, why wouldn’t it also make conceptual sense to you that someone might want to learn what it was that Jesus was teaching about God and God’s kingdom because they found that subject to be interesting and exciting?
I was never taught about hell, but I was taught that the reason Jesus came was to teach people about God and to help lift people out of the problems they seem to be encountering in life. The whole idea of learning about what Jesus taught and demonstrated was to help one to more usefully follow him and do the works that he asked his followers to do. Personally, I like that idea.
I don’t personally have a problem with any of that. I’m glad you’ve decided (or your parents/whoever) to abandon the more despicable aspects of the religion.
.. but that can only qualify as a “Christian” in the loosest sense, since most of the core features have been abandoned too.
You’re right. I do have a negative view of it. 5 seconds of gazing out over the endless fields of corpses wrought by faith-based thinking tends to do that.
I’m also talking about the average, generalized doctrine of the “Christians” in this country, most of whom babble on about these “salvation”, Heaven and Hell things. Those are the people we’re addressing – not every individual barely-qualifying variant out there.
Edward in this particular scenario was specifically talking about a Catholic woman who specifically held these core tenants of Christianity… so that’s what he was addressing.
So please forgive us if we’re focusing on the burning house, and not the not-on-fire houses.
Even without the whole hell thing (which I agree is deplorable), what exactly do you see as positive about the biblical deity? It seems to me like the character is portrayed as cruel. Do you believe the stories about him hurting and killing people simply aren’t true?
I think there is a great divide between those who view the Bible as a stenographic transcript of things that happened in ancient times, and those who regard the Bible as the best record people were able to put together that captured their best understanding of God (which varied over time, both for an individual, and also for a group.)
The Bible is a large collection of writings from different times and different people. Apparently part of the goal of creating it was to make sure that anything that might have been of value regarding the subject of God was not discarded or lost. So you have a collection that expresses many different viewpoints, but all of them are focused on the subject of God.
I am a Christian (although not mainstream), so I look to what Jesus was teaching regarding God as the best measure of what should be taken away from all of the different texts in the Bible. Part of something I once wrote on Beliefnet went as follows:
“Reading some of the comments in these threads relating to the question of evil, I find myself a bit surprised, especially by those who find the Bible discouraging and horrific. I certainly don’t claim to know all there is to know about the Bible, but in general, I find myself encouraged and uplifted by the book rather than discouraged by it. But even more relevant than my take on the matter, I find Jesus’ take on the Bible encouraging. He only had the OT to study, but he wasn’t discouraged or horrified by it. If he and we are basically looking at the same text but his take is positive and ours is negative, then it would seem that the difference lies in our perspectives. And if I were going to choose which perspective is the more helpful one, I would choose Jesus’ perspective.”
Jesus (at least as I understand what he taught) pointed out that stuff happens. The question is, will a person just accept what happens as God-ordained and therefore inescapable, or will they realize that God ordains only good, and that if something isn’t from God (and is therefore unjust) it can be overturned, just as a false accusation should be fought and overturned by the person falsely accused, rather than that person just accepting the accusation (and resulting punishment) as inescapable.
Taking the latter position, another part of that same Beliefnet post said this:
“Take the story of the man born blind. Jesus’ disciples wanted to know who was at fault for causing the blindness, the man, or his parents. Jesus rejected the idea that either the man or his parents were at fault. He seemed to be saying that blindness wasn’t the deserved state of this man, nor was blindness God’s intention for the man. Rather, God’s intention for the man (as it would be for all of His children) was that ‘the works of God should be made manifest in him.” Jesus then followed this profoundly eye-opening statement by literally undoing the unjustly imposed sentence of blindness.”
Its things like this that make me value the concepts taught in the Bible by Jesus. The idea that good, not bad, is the intention of God, and that healing of whatever sorts of problems that humans seem to encounter is possible rather appeals to me. So instead of assuming that God is evil and cruel and wants to destroy some or all of humanity, I take the concept that God loves all of His creation and that the need is to understand God as Jesus seems to have understood Him. Thus I view the entire Bible as instructive and valuable, but I tend to look at it and interpret it rather differently than many people do. But then, I was taught this approach both in Sunday School and also later on.
But I do think that non-believers need to make up their minds about something. If they claim that the Bible doesn’t provide evidence of anything good about God, they also need to realize that such a stand means that they cannot regard the Bible as providing evidence of anything bad about God either. One cannot have it both ways. But for myself, I simply want to understand God as Jesus seemed to. I want to follow him because I really appreciate the nature of the concepts about God that he taught.
That’s a very long response, but it didn’t answer my question at all. Do you believe that the killings attributed to the biblical deity actually happened?
Do the stories in the Bible have any truth or validity to them at all? If so, why only choose the positive ones and ignore the negative ones? Were the people who wrote the Bible ordinary human beings, or did they have special supernatural knowledge about the deity in question? If the latter, then why ignore all the stories they wrote about your deity hurting or killing people?
OK, I apologize for not being clear while trying to address what you were asking. (What I wrote was meant to answer you, but apparently it didn’t do the job.) The quick and safe answer to your question is “I don’t know”. However, a lot about any answer I might give really depends on what you are specifically asking about. As I tried to indicate in my long response, I am not someone who was taught to view the Bible as a literal, stenographic transcript of history. To quote myself “The Bible is a large collection of writings from different times and different people. Apparently part of the goal of creating it was to make sure that anything that might have been of value regarding the subject of God was not discarded or lost. So you have a collection that expresses many different viewpoints, but all of them are focused on the subject of God.”
So what does that mean? It means that I am trying to understand what the Bible narratives are getting at, rather than just taking the superficial meaning of what the words say. (Hermeneutics, in other words.) I consider all of it as useful information to process. However, I do not consider everything in it as literal, nor do I judge it as such. As a Christian, my main focus is to understand what Jesus was trying to teach and demonstrate. So I am interested in trying to understand the Bible (the OT in this case) as he seemed to understand it. For the NT texts I also try to keep Jesus’ teachings in mind because not doing so causes problems for his followers no matter when they were alive, back then or right now. Furthermore, I have my own private take on a number of different narratives which may or may not be on the money. Basically, I have been thinking about this stuff for quite some time, and am going to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Do I think I know everything there is to know about it? Hardly. I have barely scratched the surface. But let me try to address your questions as specifically as I can.
“Do you believe that the killings attributed to the biblical deity actually happened?”
Since I believe in an all-good, all-loving God, I would have to say no. (Remember, I am trying to understand the concept of God that Jesus taught to his followers.) There are many narratives in the Bible and I tend to view them rather differently than many people do. I may be puzzled by some some of them, but I am not offended or horrified by them. (The Bible is a book, after all, not a bloody, battered corpse with a knife sticking in it, labeled with a return address sticker describing to whom it belongs.) And despite the seeming impetus to take away a negative conclusion from some of the narratives, I find myself having a positive take on them. To me, the Bible documents the efforts of people to grapple with the various concepts they may have had about God. I am utilizing their record as part of my own efforts to grapple with this same subject matter. So instead of viewing some of these texts as evidence of guilt, I am looking at them as a means of making instructive points.
“Do the stories in the Bible have any truth or validity to them at all?”
Yes, but from my understanding of these things, the truth and validity are not necessarily visible at the surface level of any given narrative. Why? Because the Bible was written down by humans and not everything that is recorded indicates literal truth. Sometimes texts appear to be simply teaching stories. Other texts may be a view regarding something that would be considered to be a historical narrative. However, the text may indicate what the people in the narrative thought was going on, rather than what was actually going on. Consider: do news stories always get facts correct? No. So, do we chuck news stories as useless? No, we try to delve deeper to see what further information is available that might shed more light on a reported incident. Thinking is required in order to understand the news because the news usually involves people, both as participants and sources. Thinking is also required in order to understand the Bible because the Bible usually involves people, both as participants and sources. And even though you would disagree with me, I also consider God as a resource in all of this helping me to understand this stuff. Because, after all, the main idea for me is understand God. I am just using the Bible as one of my resources to do so.
“If so, why only choose the positive ones and ignore the negative ones?”
But I am not ignoring the negative ones. What I am doing is interpreting them differently, as I said.
“Were the people who wrote the Bible ordinary human beings, or did they have special supernatural knowledge about the deity in question?”
To me this question says that you have a rather different view of these things than I do. The people who wrote (or were written about) were ordinary people like you and me. However IMO, they were people who spent much more time thinking about God than did many of their contemporaries. For example, a person who spends a lot of quiet time in nature is likely to see more of what happens in nature than the person who goes crashing through the underbrush. But despite the time spent observing, the quiet person may still not understand everything they see, nor will they likely see everything that there is to see. (They may even crash through the underbrush a few times themselves!) It’s the same thing with the Bible characters. Sometimes they seemed to have wonderful insights regarding God. At other times they seem to have completely missed the bus, at least IMO. They, like all of us, are a work in progress. So I try to glean the useful, positive, insightful bits where they seem to exist, and also try to learn useful lessons from the negative bits where they seem to exist. (I do the same with modern people. I admire MLK for his self-sacrifice and genuine love for everyone and hope I would learn to do the same. Contrariwise, I am dismayed by the fact that he had extra-marital affairs and am hoping not to follow him down that particular path!) The lesson for me as a believer is not to worship people, but to worship God.
“If the latter, then why ignore all the stories they wrote about your deity hurting or killing people?”
Once again, who is holding the pen, and how much do they really understand of what is going on? And even if they did understand what they were writing down, did the thing that was written actually mean something in a different way than the literal words say? (Aesop’s fables feature talking animals. Their purpose, however, is not to say that animals can talk, but to illustrate points for people to consider living by.) I don’t think I have heard anyone say that they have found definitive evidence that God killed off hordes of people. And as I pointed out in my previous post, if non-believers think that the Bible isn’t considered to be evidence of anything good done by God, the Bible cannot be regarded as providing evidence of anything bad done by God either.
This may make me sound like someone who isn’t interested in the truth. Far from it. But trying to find out matter-oriented facts about something that isn’t matter-oriented is a wild goose chase from my perspective. I am trying to understand God, Spirit, so I am going to be looking at things rather differently than you might look at them.
So, with all of this doubt-casting, does this mean that I think that the Bible has nothing solid to say? Not at all. Remember, I am trying to follow Jesus. That means that I am interested in converting his teachings into actions in my life. Which means that I believe I can discern the truth of what he taught by living it and seeing where it takes me, here and now.
Does that help make anything clearer?
Goodness, that’s a long response!
So the god you believe in apparently doesn’t hurt or kill people, which I suppose is nicer than believing the opposite, but I remain utterly confused by your thought processes.
I may be puzzled by some some of them, but I am not offended or horrified by them. (The Bible is a book, after all, not a bloody, battered corpse with a knife sticking in it, labeled with a return address sticker describing to whom it belongs.) And despite the seeming impetus to take away a negative conclusion from some of the narratives, I find myself having a positive take on them.
Really? I understand you must not believe they actually happened, but how could you not be horrified by tales of murder, rape, and genocide? How could you have a positive take on your god (even metaphorically) killing all the firstborn children of Egypt? Or sending a bear to maul youths for making fun of a bald man? Or wiping out Job’s entire family in order to test his faith?
The people who wrote (or were written about) were ordinary people like you and me. However IMO, they were people who spent much more time thinking about God than did many of their contemporaries.
If these people were just ordinary, then what makes you think the god they were thinking about and talking about is real in the first place? How is their god different from all the other gods people in the surrounding cultures worshipped? Why do you think they knew anything at all about the supernatural? And if the stories they wrote down about their god are not reliable, why believe any of them?
Remember, I am trying to follow Jesus.
Why? What makes you think that anything the Bible says about Jesus is accurate? And how do you reconcile all the stories of Jesus doing bad things? It seems like you follow the positive parts of the Bible and ignore (or interpret differently) the negative parts. Did any of the good things in the Bible actually happen? If so, what makes you think those stories are more reliable than the stories about the bad events?
You commented on the length of my response to your last post. And perhaps it was. But the reason for such a long response was that you briefly referred to things that are complex in nature. And to try to be fair to you, I tried to offer what I hoped would be seen as intelligent comments on those complex matters. Hopefully, you won’t mind that this response is long as well.
” I remain utterly confused by your thought processes.”
That can happen when people are viewing things from different starting premises. Plus, I think you may be referring to some of my wording. I apologize if I am not making myself clear enough, but if you misunderstood what I was attempting to say, the result would most likely be confusing to you. And just to make sure I am understanding you, do your questions tend to directly relate to the confusion you are feeling about my thought processes, or have you kept what is confusing to yourself?
“how could you not be horrified by tales of murder, rape, and genocide?”
Please remember that I actually said “some of the narratives”. I am saddened by some of the stories, true, and some details are shockingly graphic, but there is a difference between an emotional reaction to a story and what one learns from it. (This can also be true in real life, depending on whether one has managed to rise past whatever troubling incident has been encountered.) What you need to realize is that anyone can be shocked or horrified or dismayed by stories, or by actual events. But to let the final take-away from a story or event remain as shock or horror or dismay rather than as understanding and growth also means that one can become a victim of them. In the 91st Psalm, 11,000 people die and only one survives. And if one focuses solely on fate of the 11,000, the whole point (and value) of the psalm is missed. The main thrust of the stories in the Bible is to remember that God is available no matter how discouraging or horrific the situation. So the point of Psalm 91 isn’t about the fate of the 11,000, but why that one person can be safe despite that very aggressive threat staring them right in the face. (And yes, that same safety is available to the 11,000 as well. But that psalm was obviously written to encourage an individual encountering tough times. Thus, it focuses on that individual’s safety. The 11,000 are there in the narrative just to help set the stage to show why that person might be very distressed and frightened.)
And just because you seem to think I am not answering your questions, I’ll briefly (Ha!) touch on the ones you mentioned this time.
“How could you have a positive take on your god (even metaphorically) killing all the firstborn children of Egypt?”
Please note that you are citing something very specific that personally bothers you out of a very long story. When one reads the whole thing, one should pick up on the fact that the story teller is making very strong connections between Jewish traditions regarding the Passover and the elements in the story. The whole point apparently is to make sure the children of Israel understand why they are currently doing what they do (in ritual observance) in remembrance of this escape from slavery. In other words, Jews do not commemorate the Passover by going to Egypt each year and engaging in the slaughter and pillaging of the Egyptians just to prove they’ve still “got it”. Rather, what they are doing in their commemoration is reading this story and engaging in the rituals highlighted in the story to acknowledge their eternal relationship with God who led them out of slavery and into safety. (BTW, were you aware that in the story, the Israelites only needed to stay in Egypt for 5 years? But instead just staying for 5 years, they became complacent, seemed to forget about God and why they had been led into Egypt in the first place, remained there for centuries, and became enslaved as a result. They even expressed a desire to be slaves again in Egypt as long as they could live in relative comfort in that slavery, rather than do the harder task of re-learning how to follow and obey God in order to stay safe by leading lives guided by God. There is a lot more to this story than the typically cited sound bites tend to tell.)
And please note that this large, sweeping story has touched a lot of lives in a good way. It obviously encouraged black slaves (as well as Jim Crow citizens) in the US to hope for their own salvation when they really had very little evidence that such freedom could ever be theirs. Freedom from oppression from an implacable and powerful foe has great resonance for many individuals and groups. So yes, tough imagery, comforting message. (And just out of curiosity, you seem shocked and offended by the part of the tale you cited, but how come you don’t express any similar shock and offense when Pharaoh commanded all of the male Hebrew newborns to be heartlessly drowned in the river earlier in the story?)
“Or sending a bear to maul youths for making fun of a bald man?”
I have always considered this to be a low point in Elisha’s life. As I pointed out to you before, sometimes Bible characters have marvelous insight (as Elisha did in the city of Dothan) and sometimes they completely miss the boat (as Elisha seemed to in this story.) However, I learn from both types of examples.
“Or wiping out Job’s entire family in order to test his faith?”
I have a very different take on this story than is typical. Unlike many, I do not see this as a terrible abuse or misuse of a loyal follower (Job) by a trusted party in authority (God). Instead, I see a story of someone who, without admitting it specifically to himself, is living in great fear, simply waiting for the other shoe to drop. I consider the bits in the beginning about God and Satan being plot devices to help explain the action that happens to Job. But the actual story works rather well without those bits. Plus, when Job finally encounters God at the end, Satan is nowhere to be found. In other words, the real point of the narrative is not about the bet at all. This is obviously a story with depth, and Job is obviously the protagonist in the story and we are all there watching to see what unfolds.
But all the preliminary explanation at the beginning just sets the stage for Job’s worst fears materializing. What happens if he loses everything in his life that he so dearly loves? And what if the good things he has in life are part of a zero sum game where the good must be given back (or taken from you) because there is only so much of it and you can’t have it forever? So Job wrestles with his (IMO mistaken) concept of a God with limits on the good He can bestow, who gives, but who also takes back. Job simply wants to know why he needs to suffer such harm, especially since he can’t imagine what he might have done to deserve it. It’s a really thought provoking piece. Personally, I think it is a marvelous story.
And I get the feeling you will ding me if I don’t at least comment about the rape stuff. I don’t know much about this area, but I think the point you are trying to get at is that somehow God approves of rape. For myself, I find it far more likely that men approve of rape, and thus accommodation and judgement regarding this practice are included in the rules laid out. In other words, I think it was a cultural thing, not a divinely inspired set of rules. Why? Because Jesus has two encounters with the legal-powers-that-be where something rather surprising is stated by him. The first is when the Pharisees ask him about the allowance of divorce for any reason at all (Matt 19:3-9) and he pointed out to them that Moses gave them the right to do this because of the hardness of their hearts, not because it was the proper and righteous thing to do. In other words, it was an act of men, not of God. And yet, those men liked to cite Moses as the authority for this action, implying that God was on their side. Jesus obviously didn’t subscribe to this notion. The second was the well known incident with the woman taken in adultery (John 8:3-11). What is surprising here is the fact that the situation as described was a slam dunk, legally speaking. Jews tended to be extremely cautious when coming to legal judgement about such things. They would not convict unless there was no doubt at all. In this case, there was absolutely no doubt as to the woman’s guilt. Thus, stoning her was the logical and entirely legal conclusion that should have been drawn. But Jesus wasn’t going to go there. He knew the law and the consequences of breaking the law. But instead of going along with the law, he apparently (at least it seems to me) reached out in prayer to God. And he received an answer that undid the danger to the woman, to himself, and even to those who were plotting against him. (To me, this story illustrates the nature of God that Jesus was trying to teach about. A God of mercy and redemption, not vengeance and pettiness. A God who wants everyone, without exception, to be saved.)
Now neither of these incidents involved rape, and I don’t think that Jesus ever encountered a rape situation during his ministry. But the fact that in both of these instances he deliberately went against the prevailing legal opinions and harsh outcomes suggests that Jesus never would have accepted a decidedly unjust outcome wherever it came from. And Jesus certainly wanted to be in harmony with God. So, to me, the idea that God approves of rape (by providing legal allowances for its use) does not hold water. Men wanted those allowances, and got what they wanted.
“If these people were just ordinary, then what makes you think the god they were thinking about and talking about is real in the first place?”
I’m not following your logic here. Why is “ordinary” a deal killer for you? An ordinary person can meet the president of the US, or a movie star, or a Nobel prize winner. One doesn’t have to be necessarily “special” to encounter something other than the everyday. “God is no respecter of persons” seems an apt quote here, as well as “the Lord looketh on the heart”. Why shouldn’t someone “ordinary” encounter God, especially if they were sincere, questing, humble, and childlike? And please remember, I do think that God is real, and I don’t consider myself special. God, at least as I understand the concept, is available to anyone, not just “special” people. That said, the likelihood of someone who is not interested in God still managing to find God easily seems less likely. Mind you, God is just as available to such a person as to anyone else, but a change of thought on their part is probably going to be needed. IMO humans (not just non-believers) have an amazing talent for tuning God out. (The story of David and Bathsheba is a huge example of this.)
“And if the stories they wrote down about their god are not reliable, why believe any of them?”
There is a difference between “not reliable” and “not worth anything”. If someone says that John met with the office staff on Tuesday and someone else said no, it was actually on Thursday, that may or may not make a difference. If the purpose of John meeting with the office staff was to give a sales presentation on a new line of widgets, then the widget news would be the important part, not the day of the week it happened on. And if only half of the widget presentation was accurately remembered and emailed to others, but what was remembered was intriguing, then a person might very much want to find out more news about the new widget line. In fact, just hearing that a new line of widgets was available might cause a person to want to seek out more information about those widgets.
The narratives in the Bible about God, people’s encounters with God, and ponderings about God, are not isolated one-off texts, with the rest of the Bible being filled with sports scores, crop reports, and advertisements. The entire Bible is full of God stuff. So if one narrative is intriguing, there could easily be an interest in trying to find out more about God. And even with missing bits or confusing bits (bringing up the question of reliability), the stuff that is there in the text still has drawing power to many. You may not find God to be an interesting subject to further pursue, but I certainly do. And I don’t think I am alone on that score.
“What makes you think that anything the Bible says about Jesus is accurate?”
As I pointed out above, there is enough there in the narratives that I am interested in finding out more. There are some people who think that Jesus was a completely made up individual, with everything that he said or did actually being borrowed from other sources, but I do not think that such a take is generally accepted by Bible scholars. Bart Erhman certainly doesn’t view Jesus as fictional, despite elements of Jesus’ ministry being strongly suspect in his eyes. And as I pointed out in the sentence following the one you cited above
“That means that I am interested in converting his teachings into actions in my life. Which means that I believe I can discern the truth of what he taught by living it and seeing where it takes me, here and now.”
In other words, if there is truth in what was written about Jesus’ ministry, then there is something about it that can be verified in one’s life. Thus, in an earlier response I made to you
“Its things like this that make me value the concepts taught in the Bible by Jesus. The idea that good, not bad, is the intention of God, and that healing of whatever sorts of problems that humans seem to encounter is possible rather appeals to me. So instead of assuming that God is evil and cruel and wants to destroy some or all of humanity, I take the concept that God loves all of His creation and that the need is to understand God as Jesus seems to have understood Him. Thus I view the entire Bible as instructive and valuable …”
“Jesus (at least as I understand what he taught) pointed out that stuff happens. The question is, will a person just accept what happens as God-ordained and therefore inescapable, or will they realize that God ordains only good, and that if something isn’t from God (and is therefore unjust) it can be overturned, just as a false accusation should be fought and overturned by the person falsely accused, rather than that person just accepting the accusation (and resulting punishment) as inescapable.”
and also earlier in this thread to Jasper
“I was never taught about hell, but I was taught that the reason Jesus came was to teach people about God and to help lift people out of the problems they seem to be encountering in life. The whole idea of learning about what Jesus taught and demonstrated was to help one to more usefully follow him and do the works that he asked his followers to do. Personally, I like that idea.”
The point is, I am interested in trying to follow what was said about Jesus because what was said appeals greatly to me, and I am interested in following it to see what happens. In other words, the accuracy of was was recorded will be determined by utilization. And the fact that I am not an isolated person, but have fellow church members and family members trying to bring out the practicality of Jesus’ teachings in their life also gives me something to observe and to emulate.
“And how do you reconcile all the stories of Jesus doing bad things?”
I’m not aware of Jesus doing anything bad in some major way, such as killing anyone. I have some questions about some incidents in the gospels that seem hard to understand, but majorly bad, no. But even in the case of those “bad” things, I am not aware that Jesus ever pointed to them as things for his followers to do. In fact, in one specific incident (Luke 9:51-56) Jesus rebuked James and John for wanting to destroy a village of Samaritans. As he pointed out “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” And given all of the teaching and healing he did, I think the main take away for Jesus’ ministry is not “do bad things unto others”.
“Did any of the good things in the Bible actually happen?”
If you are talking about Jesus’ works (and his apostles), yes, I rather believe that they did. (I am rather moved and impressed by some OT stories as well.) Why? Because I am aware of far too many instances of God’s help being available to people in this current era to discount the marvelous works said to have happened in Jesus’ time. You apparently didn’t grow up in a home with strong religious element to it, but I did. The idea of relying on God’s help is not at all strange to me. So when I read stories about Jesus and his apostles, I see something that strikes me as authentic (and rather impressive) rather than being made up. You probably have a rather different view of such things. No big deal. We can agree to disagree and still be on good speaking terms.
“If so, what makes you think those stories are any more reliable than the stories about the bad events?”
I’m not sure I am following you here. I don’t think I have ever said that bad events in the Bible, without exception, never happened. I just reject the notion that God, who I consider to be all good and all loving, ordained them or caused them or ordered them. The question of reliability and accuracy, for me, is about who is doing what, and why. As I mentioned to you before, I think that a number of people in the Bible (even people I admire) were focused more on their own thoughts regarding what was “right” than what God would consider to be “right”. I even wrote a somewhat lengthy post over at Cross Examined about the book of Jonah that illustrates this concept. If I can find it, I could refer you to it, or even repost it here if you’d like. (And no, it is nowhere near as long as this post is.)
In essence, I have no interest whatsoever in worshiping and following a God of evil. Only when God is conceived of as being all-loving and all-good do I find a reason to want to know more about Him. Jesus acted to heal and redeem others in obedience to God. He consorted with sinners and outcasts because he had compassion on them. He healed those in need of healing because of his compassion. Even if everything in the gospels is not completely accurate, the main message of Jesus’ ministry of God’s love still seems to stand out and demand further examination. (At least, it does for me.)
So, did any of this help, or am I still confusing you?
It’s an effort just to make it through your entire response, LOL.
Seriously, I admire the fact that you seem to have thought about this quite a bit, but going into such verbose and minute detail actually makes it harder to understand where you’re coming from.
I can’t respond to everything, but some of the key points:
And just to make sure I am understanding you, do your questions tend to directly relate to the confusion you are feeling about my thought processes, or have you kept what is confusing to yourself?
I’m confused by your emotional reaction to the stories, and I’m also confused by how you seem to have determined which stories are true and which stories are false. But actually the main issue is why you think any of the stories are true on any level, but perhaps you address this later in your comment.
I am saddened by some of the stories, true, and some details are shockingly graphic, but there is a difference between an emotional reaction to a story and what one learns from it. …. In the 91st Psalm, 11,000 people die and only one survives. And if one focuses solely on fate of the 11,000, the whole point (and value) of the psalm is missed.
The 91st psalm is not the type of story I’m talking about. I’m talking about the stories in which the biblical deity commands other people to commit murder or carries out those murders himself. How can it not trouble you to hear stories of a supposedly loving god killing people? Committing mass genocide? I understand you don’t believe the stories actually happened (obviously, I don’t either), but tales of such a vengeful and cruel god are troubling, even if they are entirely fictional.
The main thrust of the stories in the Bible is to remember that God is available no matter how discouraging or horrific the situation.
Even when he’s the one killing people? Why would someone want their murderer to be “available” to them? He’s the one who is causing their discouraging and horrific situation.
Please note that you are citing something very specific that personally bothers you out of a very long story.
And it doesn’t bother you to hear stories of your god killing people’s firstborn children? Do you believe this story actually happened? If it did, any person with a decent sense of empathy and morality should be outraged. If it didn’t, there’s nothing positive or uplifting about such a story. The character in the story who’s killing children should be condemned, not lauded.
And please note that this large, sweeping story has touched a lot of lives in a good way. It obviously encouraged black slaves (as well as Jim Crow citizens) in the US to hope for their own salvation when they really had very little evidence that such freedom could ever be theirs.
So they had no empathy for the children of Egypt, either. It’s still a terrible story, and a terrible message, no matter how many may have received inspiration from it.
(And just out of curiosity, you seem shocked and offended by the part of the tale you cited, but how come you don’t express any similar shock and offense when Pharaoh commanded all of the male Hebrew newborns to be heartlessly drowned in the river earlier in the story?)
Because no one’s worshipping the Pharoah. He’s the bad guy in the story, and there’s no question about that. You seem to believe that revenge killing is appropriate because Pharoah did bad things first? All the children who were killed were innocent, Egyptian and Hebrew alike. Obviously, this is a fictional story, so these were (happily) not real children, but if they had been, they would have been innocent.
What do you learn from this story? That it was okay for the youths to be mauled? Your god sent bears to maul people, and that’s all right with you?
I have a very different take on this story than is typical. Unlike many, I do not see this as a terrible abuse or misuse of a loyal follower (Job) by a trusted party in authority (God). .. Job simply wants to know why he needs to suffer such harm, especially since he can’t imagine what he might have done to deserve it. It’s a really thought provoking piece. Personally, I think it is a marvelous story.
So your god didn’t actually kill Job’s entire family; he just imagined that he did? Is that how you interpret the story?
And I get the feeling you will ding me if I don’t at least comment about the rape stuff. I don’t know much about this area, but I think the point you are trying to get at is that somehow God approves of rape.
I remain utterly perplexed by your comments about rape, so whatever you were trying to convey didn’t come through.
I’m not following your logic here. Why is “ordinary” a deal killer for you? An ordinary person can meet the president of the US, or a movie star, or a Nobel prize winner.
Because an ordinary person is just ordinary. He or she has no knowledge of the supernatural. He or she knows nothing about the secrets of the universe.
One doesn’t have to be necessarily “special” to encounter something other than the everyday. “God is no respecter of persons” seems an apt quote here, as well as “the Lord looketh on the heart”. Why shouldn’t someone “ordinary” encounter God, especially if they were sincere, questing, humble, and childlike?
If they were “encountering” your deity in an actual tangible way (not just in their own thoughts and minds), then they were not ordinary people having ordinary experiences. They would have been extraordinary people having encounters with an actual supernatural realm.
And please remember, I do think that God is real, and I don’t consider myself special. God, at least as I understand the concept, is available to anyone, not just “special” people.
Of course you think it’s real, but if you’re just an ordinary person, you’re not having actual supernatural experiences. Do you have any tangible proof of this deity?
There is a difference between “not reliable” and “not worth anything”. If someone says that John met with the office staff on Tuesday and someone else said no, it was actually on Thursday, that may or may not make a difference.
We have evidence that people and offices exist. We have no such evidence of deities. If there’s no evidence that “John” exists, the entire story is problematic from the very beginning.
The narratives in the Bible about God, people’s encounters with God, and ponderings about God, are not isolated one-off texts, with the rest of the Bible being filled with sports scores, crop reports, and advertisements. The entire Bible is full of God stuff
You seem to be assuming right off the bat that this god the Bible talks about is real. Why? Where did you get the idea that it was real in the first place? Why do you think these stories talk about a real thing at all?
As I pointed out above, there is enough there in the narratives that I am interested in finding out more.
Which isn’t an answer to my question. Why do you think the stories about Jesus are accurate? Even if a single historical figure called Jesus did exist during that time period, why do you think the stories are reliable? Why do you think the people who wrote the stories knew what they were talking about? They believed in the supernatural and may have believed this person was a god. Why do you believe them?
I’m not aware of Jesus doing anything bad in some major way, such as killing anyone. I have some questions about some incidents in the gospels that seem hard to understand, but majorly bad, no.
If this is some great moral teacher, shouldn’t he be above reproach, especially if you think he had divine connections? Stories about a supposedly perfect being doing anything bad seems like it ought to give someone pause.
If you are talking about Jesus’ works (and his apostles), yes, I rather believe that they did. (I am rather moved and impressed by some OT stories as well.) Why? Because I am aware of far too many instances of God’s help being available to people in this current era to discount the marvelous works said to have happened in Jesus’ time.
Which brings me back to my utter bafflement of why you think any of these stories are true or reliable, why you think the men who wrote them down had any knowledge of the supernatural, etc.
What “instances” are you talking about? I know of no verified instances of supernatural activitiy occurring in the present day, and by that I mean instances in which everyone agrees that something supernatural has happened, not just devoted followers of the religion. The supernatural is not confirmed. It’s a controversial claim, and other cultures with different gods also report visions, encounters, etc. with their gods.
You apparently didn’t grow up in a home with strong religious element to it, but I did. The idea of relying on God’s help is not at all strange to me.
Not at all surprising. You were taught these beliefs at a young and impressionable age, and you seem to have just assumed that all of these supernatural things were real.
I’m not sure I am following you here. I don’t think I have ever said that bad events in the Bible, without exception, never happened. I just reject the notion that God, who I consider to be all good and all loving, ordained them or caused them or ordered them.
So the stories where it is specifically says that he caused them or ordered them are not true? The text is very straightforward about that. The story of Noah’s Ark, for example, is plain as day. It’s the story of your god purposely drowning everyone on earth except for Noah’s family. And, sure, he felt bad about it later, but that’s supposed to make everything better? I think not. We don’t accept “Oops, sorry” from human serial killers. Why should we accept it from supernatural ones?
The question of reliability and accuracy, for me, is about who is doing what, and why. As I mentioned to you before, I think that a number of people in the Bible (even people I admire) were focused more on their own thoughts regarding what was “right” than what God would consider to be “right”.
Still not sure why you think any of these people knew what they were talking about. They were just people. Their culture had a god. They believed the god was real. How does that make them different from people in all the other ancient cultures?
A bit. It seems like your supernatural assumptions are so strong, stronger than I can possibly understand.
That was a very long-winded way of bitching because somebody acknowledged the existence of religious beliefs that are different from yours.
No, I really was curious as to why he focused strictly on the negative answer, rather than on the possibility of a positive one. My post made it very clear that anyone could choose what they wanted to believe or not to believe. I was just wondering what he would have done if the answer was different than what he expected it to be.
There seem to be far too many people who assume that the version of Christianity (or any other religion) that they object to is the only version of that particular religion there is.
I’m just curious where you’re getting that from. Many of the posts on this blog deal with other religions and the various god-concepts that exist within a single religion. There have been posts about Quakers and UUs and Methodists and other denominations that don’t believe in eternal torture, and even some that believe in universal salvation.
In my case, I happen to be surrounded by theists who believe in warm-fuzzy gods and warm-fuzzy afterlives. Where I live, people who hold these views are probably the majority. I have no moral problem with what they believe, but my intellectual objection is just as strong as it would be with a fundamentalist. IMO, a nice fantasy is still just a fantasy.
“I’m just curious where you’re getting that from.”
Mostly just from former religious types who have left their religions for negative reasons. I’m glad to hear that you live in an area where religion is considered to be more benign. I imagine that many here would like to live in an area where atheism is considered to be benign as well. They certainly deserve to encounter and to live in such an environment, at least IMO.
All people really should regard one another with genuine love and respect. It’s a pity that there is so much unneeded animosity towards those regarded as the “other”.
It’s certainly a lot easier in a “live and let live” culture, but unfortunately most parts of the U.S. are decidedly not that way. And even in the most liberal areas, there are plenty of fundamentalists who promote harsher forms of religion. Theye don’t have as much influence, but they’re still out there.
So it sounds like it’s up to us to set a good example for them to follow. Since I am a non-mainstream Christian, I am also considered as “other” by those same people who give problems to non-believers.
It’s hard in American culture because everything is so divided. The whole notion of there being a “culture war” seems omnipresent, no matter what part of the country you’re in. It’s there every time you turn on the news or go to the ballot box. I’d be happy if atheists could just go about their lives without running up against other people’s religious strictures. I really don’t care what Christians believe in their private lives as long as they don’t use those beliefs to hurt other people.
I think it might become easier once atheists declare themselves not just as non-believers (which they honestly are, but which gives no useful information at all to the other person), but as actual believers in that which is loving, honest, giving, loyal, protective, caring, etc. (which I daresay no atheist would have any problem declaring about themselves whatsoever, and helps the other person gain the measure of who they actually are.)
It takes a while (sometimes far too long) for people to realize that being “other” does not automatically make one a danger or an enemy. But it takes being able to know someone in a closer way in order to finally realize that. And sometimes the only way to do that is introduce one’s self and make friends. And for that to work, it’s best to decide right up front that you can genuinely have love for the other person. Love melts pretty much all resistance. And love for the other person often needs to include being able to take a principled stand for mutual kindness and respect. If humans have convinced wild animals to trust them, then they certainly must be capable of convincing other humans to trust them. The point is to overcome one’s own fear so that one can help the other person overcome their fear.
This may not seem easy, but I believe it is doable. And it should help to bring healing to a very unnecessary state of tension and distrust between people from different groups.
Well, that’s the thing. We’re not “believers” the same way they are. We’re not believers in the supernatural, and for most people whose lives revolve around a deity, that’s bad. If we don’t agree with them that faith is beneficial, we’re often seen as the enemy. It doesn’t matter how many times we tell them we believe in secular concepts like hope, love, etc. That’s not good enough because most religious groups see the natural world as inferior to a supernatural one. Many of them think that “real” meaning is only achieved through supernatural concepts and immortality, and they want other people to agree with them that faith is a beautiful, positive thing.
A lot of times it doesn’t even matter which faith someone espouses. As long as they “believe in belief,” other theists welcome them. But atheists, by our very existence, say that faith is at least unnecessary, if not downright harmful. That’s why so many theists take offense to even the most innocuous atheist billboards, ie: “Don’t believe in God? You’re not alone.” It’s because they think believing in a deity is good, and they don’t like people even vaguely implying that maybe the belief isn’t true or good.
If there was no Hell then why would Jesus be appearing at Edward’s deathbed? He’d go to Heaven anyway, so there’d be no need to convert and no need for Jesus to show up. Besides which, the original question was from a Catholic woman and talked about Purgatory. I’m pretty sure Catholics believe in Hell, and that’s probably why Mr. Tarte used that version of religion. I don’t think you can just choose a version of God you like to follow. There is an independant reality that exists whether we notice it or not. God’s either part of that reality or he isn’t. Hell’s either part of that reality or it isn’t. It’s not about choosimg, it’s about trying to follow the evidence, wherever it leads.
I agree. Mr Tarte’s example was focused on the Catholic faith. But as you point out (and I also pointed out in my post), if God exists, He exists in whatever way He exists no matter what we think about Him. So if Mr Tarte’s former religious understanding about God was incorrect because God was actually very different from what Mr Tarte thought, what would his reaction be under those circumstances?
And as for following the evidence, as soon as someone can point me to indisputable evidence regarding God, I’ll be glad to consider it. Until then, I think I will be quite happy following what I have been taught, since it makes the most sense to me at the present. However, I will always be glad to change my mind if something more “indisputable” is made known to me and, upon reviewing it, it makes greater sense.
“So if Mr. Tarte… under those cirumstances?”
Even so. And really, thinking about that is a good exercise for everyone, I think.
Does a lack of evidence count as evidence for a lack?
Well, there is an alternative to hell. People who don’t make it to heaven could just get left in purgatory for the rest of eternity, or until they decided to snuff themselves permanently.
You did hear this was a response to a Catholic, right?
Not sure why you got so many down votes, although I’ll admit that your post was a confusing read.
You nailed it Edward!
I’m kind of glad he mentioned that this God fellow is “infinitely evil”, since that’s been my contention.
Justice is one thing, where bad deeds are punished, but another aspect to justice is that the person actually be punished specifically as much as they deserved.
That’s why paying a fine for parking in a handicap spot is justice, but having the person brutally tortured and executed on the spot is not. That’s when one has departed justice, and entered retaliation/revenge.
So punishing someone more than they deserve is in itself evil.
The Christian god has seen it fit to create a torture chamber where everyone intrinsically goes to be punished infinitely, regardless of the level of crime.
Even if Hitler were justly sentenced to 10 octillion years in hell, per person, who was murdered under his regime… that sentence would still come to an end some day… and after that day, the punishment itself becomes evil.
That’s not how God set it up.
I have not murdered, raped, etc. Yet, this god supposedly has me sentenced to infinite punishment for minor infractions (I’m not perfect – my life total fines might amount to $1000 by any reasonable person, for what I’ve done), therefore, I am punished infinitely more than I deserve.
Therefore, God’s setup generates infinite evil. Therefore, God is infinitely evil.
That was a fine response, Mr. Tarte. Now explain what you would say on your deathbed if Sasquatch visited you.
I’d try “Ugh ugh oogh braaggh urgh”, but only if you’re fluent in Sasquatchese.
Yes, I’d suspect you would have just as much success as with trying to communicate in English with someone who likely only spoke Aramaic.
“Oh, so NOW you show up, Mr. Mysterious-Ways™? Well you’ve got a lot of explaining to do! You left us with a world that is indistinguishable from a world with no god, a confusing mish-mash of religious claims and texts, and no good way to work it out except our own cognitive-bias-filled brains. Those of us who honestly try to figure out how reality works spend our lives being harassed for it by your various fan clubs. And only now are you showing up for me, when you could have shown up for all of the other people whose desperate prayers were met only with silence. For an omnipotent god, you’ve done a crappy job and I don’t care to spend eternity telling you how great you are.
Since this is my deathbed, I think it’s far more likely that I’m hallucinating than that some god has actually decided to show up. And I don’t want to spend my last precious minutes in the company of a phantasm who can’t even be bothered to write his own book. So P!SS OFF and send me a better last hallucination, preferably involving lots of chocolate!”
I would say to him, “I don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
If Jesus came to me on my deathbed I’d probably tell him, “There are millions of sick children around the world that could use some help, why are here bothering me.”
Hey Jesus, you know when you was watching that little girl get raped and murdered.
I would have stepped in and stopped that.
you really are a c#nt of the highest order.
These types of questions always strike me as ridiculous because they presume the existence of a particular god. No one ever asks what people would say if Shiva visited them on their deathbed because everyone in Western culture understands that Shiva isn’t real. Inquiring about a visit from Jesus is no different.
Shiva isn’t really known for appearing at deathbeds either. I don’t think the Hindu gods take such an active role in getting souls. You have to struggle through the cycles of rebirth until you find them yourself.
I guess not in general, although there has been at least one case of an entire family committing suicide in order to meet Shiva:
Well, maybe not at deathbeds precisely, but the Destroyer is bound to have showed up to a death or two in its time.
I would have to ask Jesus a few hard questions… Why are women, children, and the occasional young man raped and murdered every day on this planet? How about those kids and young Moms with cancer… I’m 59 – I’ll take my lumps, but why can’t you help them? Why do your followers claim you hate gay people so much since you/your god supposedly made all of us? Why does it seem that people of strong faith are so often found propounding hate – didn’t you tell everyone to love their neighbor and to turn the other cheek? I don’t know when I’ll find myself on my death bed, Edward, but I’ll bet you dimes to donuts Jesus does not put in an appearance. I read that you don’t want to, but I’d love to read your autobiography! I look forward to your videos when ever they show up.
If Jesus came to my deathbed I’d go with him to Heaven.
If a fairy gave me three wishes I’d wish for money, peace between all humans, and a pony.
If ETs offered me a ride to the Andromeda system, I’d go with them.
Until then, I remain an atheist, afairyist, earthbound humanoid.
It’s a good reply, but I feel that it is incomplete. How would you respond if either of Jesus’ answers to the second question had been “No.”? If the only punishment for being evil was eternal boredom or a final death, ie passing into nonexistence, would you agree to go to heaven if allowed?
And what if the Biblical God wasn’t truly omnipotent? What if he was just greater than humans in the same manner that a human is greater than, say, mice, or even by two or three of those magnitudes? Would you then respond in the same manner, with the second question?
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