Jahweh and Ganesh

A few days ago one of the visitors to the combox said something like, “Why should I believe in the Yahweh of the Old Testament? He’s no different from Ganesh the Hindu elephant god or Baal or Molech or any of the other mythical divine beings.”

I had stated that one of the disappointing things about so many of the atheists who come trolling through the blog is that they are often very ignorant of the very subject they are pronouncing on. Here’s a case in point: “Is Yahweh the same as Ganesh or Baal or any other pagan god?” The fact of the matter is that Yahweh is very different from any other god who ever appeared anywhere in the history of religion.

First of all, he claims to be the one God and the only God. The gods of the pagan pantheon don’t make that claim. They are demi-gods with various powers and expectations. While there are some pagan gods who the myths say are above the other gods, there are none who claim to be the only god. Monotheism is therefore a uniquely Hebrew development in the history of religion, (indeed it is the foundational tenet of Judaism) and Yahweh is the only divinity who claims such total allegiance.

Secondly, the very name of Yahweh reveals him to be a divinity of a very different order than the others. The tetragrammaton is the four-letter Hebrew name for God YHWH are the consonants used to write the name, but for Jews the name Yahweh is too sacred for human lips to utter. The name was revealed to Moses at the burning bush, and the name Yahweh means “I AM What I AM” or “He Who IS” or “He who is existence” or “He who causes existence.” This extraordinary name for what is otherwise a tribal or local deity is unique within ancient religions.

The Hebrew God is therefore unique not only because he is the only God of the Hebrews–and pure montheism is in itself an innovation in the development of religion in the ancient near East–but it is also unique because it is a highly philosophical and metaphysical concept for the divinity. The other pagan god developed from certain earth powers which were personalized or from certain astral or supernatural beings who controlled certain forces of nature. The Hebrew God, on the other hand, is ‘He Who IS” or “He who is existence.”

This is an important distinction to make therefore when discussing the existence of God. Theists often refer to God as ‘the Supreme Being’. This is incorrect from a Judeo-Christian point of view.  God is not the Supreme Being–as if he were the biggest person of all, or even the one who was before all and caused all. Any idea therefore that God is some sort of super magical being in the sky is in fact a straw man in the sky because Christians, Jews and Muslims don’t believe in God in that way. Instead he is what St Thomas Aquinas calls the ipsum esse subsistens. (Subsistent Act of Existing Itself)  God, according to the scholastics, is not only existence itself, but the ground and source of all existence. That this definition is first revealed to the Hebrews within the divine tetragrammaton elevates Yahweh of the Hebrews into a new and unique dimension of divinity.

Furthermore, it is God’s being ipsum esse subsistens that explains the seeming contradiction of God’s transcendence and immanence. Aquinas argues that God is most transcendent from, and most immanent in creation for the very same reason–that he is that existence that is beyond all existing things and yet the cause in and through all created things–being therefore transcendent and immanent at the same time.

That this ipsum esse is also a personal being follows because that which is existence itself must also be rational, and if rational then it must have mind and will and if mind and well, then it must be self knowing, and if self knowing then personal.

This does not mean that one must believe in this god. It’s just to make the point that this is not really the sort of talk we hear about Ganesh the elephant god.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • RickK

    Both my Southern Baptist grandmother and my Catholic grandmother prayed regularly. And I know for a fact that neither one of them was praying to a “Subsistent Act of Existing Itself”.

    Perhaps you should talk to some religious folks before you assume you know what they mean by “God”.

    Oh, and you should read your history as well. Akhenaten beat the Israelites to a transcendent monotheistic deity by several hundred years.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      I think you’ll find that Akhenaten’s ‘monotheism’ was actually a case of henotheism–the devotion to one god above all others. This is different from the exclusive monotheism claimed by Yahweh.

      Your Christian grandmothers may not have had the vocabulary to say that they were praying to the “Subsistent Act of Existing Itself” but had they had it explained to them I’m sure they would have assented, and I expect they both heard the story of Moses and the Burning Bush and they knew from their teachers that the name of God was ‘I AM’–after all that’s how it is translated in Exodus and explained in all the Bible story books. So if they knew and believed that story and believed that they were praying to the same God as Moses, then they did, in fact, not only pray to the ‘Subsistent Act of Existing Itself” but in their own way they understood that was what they were doing.

    • RickK

      I think you’ll find that Aten was a direct attempt to replace a polytheistic religion with a monotheistic one, and it was precisely and directly comparable (and prior to) the Israelite attempt to limit their pantheon to a single god.

      As for what my grandmothers believed – they believed in an active, listening, interventionist god, as do almost all devout Christians. It is a tiny percentage that believe in the kind of god you describe – one so transcendent as to be irrelevant to the common person. You sound so much like Karen Armstrong whose concept of “God” is so abstract that it ceases to have any meaning. Do you REALLY think this is the god that people think they’re praying to? I think you’re spending too much time buried in theology and not enough time with theists.

      Some people, steeped in apologetics, abstract God into irrelevance. Some go the other way and decide the Bible or Qur’an are absolutely literal, word for word, because anything else is too hard to deal with. And then a few people take a deep breath, look at the situation honestly and realize the explanation that best fits the facts is that there probably is no “God”.

      Oh, finally, Catholicism is not monotheism. You have an entire pantheon of God, his son, Lucifer, angels, demons, saints, etc. All of these have supernatural powers and expectations that are indistinguishable from the “demigods” you discuss above.

      • Matt R

        But a God who is ‘ipsum esse subsistens’ is not mutually exclusive from a God who listens and intervenes.
        This goes back to what Fr Longenecker talked about a few days ago. Your point re: Catholicism not being monotheistic is off-base. Please disagree with what we actually believe, not what you perceive based on your knowledge/understanding of Catholicism.

        • RickK

          I know you believe Catholicism is monotheistic. I’m simply pointing out that it’s not. That’s all. The Bible and Catholicism is full of additional beings of supernatural powers that live alongside God and his demi-God son in exactly the same relationships as seen in the ancient Greek, Roman and Norse pantheons. The entire concept of the Trinity was simply a rationalization to try to explain how Catholicism could be explained as a one-god religion.

          All it takes to believe that Catholicism is monotheistic is faith. That’s the true power of faith – the ability to ignore contradictory evidence.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            I have to hand it to you RickK–this comment gets top prize for combining a breathtaking ignorance with complete confidence in your own opinion in the face of 2000 years of Catholicism and over a billion adherents in the world today. Thank so much for informing all of us what our religion is really about!

      • Barbara B.

        How about just saying what *you* believe, instead of telling us what you think your grandmothers believed, or what *we* believe? You don’t have too great a handle on Catholicism.

        • RickK

          I believe that there is no evidence of gods or supernatural beings or afterlife. I believe there is massive evidence that people WANT these things to be true. But people have been wrong before.

          If given the choice that your god is true and all other are false, versus the choice that all gods are false, the latter is MUCH more likely given the evidence. That’s what I believe.

          But you missed the point I was trying to make. I was using my grandmothers as an example of what actual common, Bible-reading, church-attending people think when they think about God. And they DON’T think of God as the odd abstraction (God is existence) that people like Father Longnecker and Karen Armstrong, with all their long years of theology, portray. Common people think of God as something that changes the path of physics and nature and the future in response to faith and prayer. They think of God as a tangible, active presence in their lives. And that raises hard questions when “acts of God” wipe out the faithful in equal proportion to the atheists and sinners, when “God’s Chosen” are exterminated by the millions, and when the most ignorant populations on the planet are also the most deeply religious. Father Longnecker is trying to avoid those difficult little issues by abstracting God into irrelevance, and I was simply pointing out that he’s speaking for people who think differently than he does.

          Do you understand?

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            I’ll repeat what I wrote elsewhere. If your grandmothers and all good Sunday School going Christians ever heard the story of the burning bush, then they heard that God’s name was ‘I AM WHAT I AM’. They therefore understood (even if in a simple way) that God was the essence of existence itself. They may not have been able to articulate it using Thomistic language, but they understood that God was the source of all being. If they were good Bible believing Christians they would also have heard a sermon on the words of St Paul “in Christ all things live and move and have their being.” These are not such difficult concepts for ordinary people.

            Furthermore, they would have understood (like Aquinas) that God being the source of all things and the essence of existence itself did not negate the fact of his immanence and involvement in the world. Ordinary folks pray to a God they believe will answer their prayers who they also know is the source of all things that are and the source of existence itself. The trick of appealing to ‘what ordinary folks’ believe is dishonest–not only because that is not what ‘ordinary folks’ believe anyway, but also because not all Christians are ‘ordinary folks’. Some are scholars and theologians and if you wish to discuss these matters in an informed way, then you will need to discuss what the experts say as well as what you think the ordinary folks believe.

            You say “I believe that there is no evidence of gods or supernatural beings or afterlife. I believe there is massive evidence that people WANT these things to be true. But people have been wrong before” But the key word here is your word ‘believe’. What kind of evidence for gods or supernatural beings or afterlife do you require? You never actually say. Instead you simply state again and again, “There is no evidence.” When you begin to state what you mean by “evidence” we might be able to have a conversation.

            I have said before that the concepts you suggest here are the shallowest of atheist arguments. You suppose that people believe in gods because they ‘want’ to. But why would they want to? What is there in the early gods that was attractive to believe in? For the primitive peoples the gods were first fearsome and loathsome deities who demanded obedience and allegiance. They demanded human sacrifice and threatened destruction. Why would someone ‘want to believe’ in such a deity? What is there that is attractive about a god who demands that you put your babies into the furnace of his belly like Molech?

            The same can be argued about Christian belief. Atheists suppose we want to believe in a sugar Daddy in the sky who will one day take us all home to glory to be with our loved ones in the air. But the Catholic understanding of God–in harmony with the Old Testament and New Testament is that while God is a loving Father, he is also the fearsome judge of all mankind. When we meet our maker we’ll be held responsible for what we’ve done. We may be punished forever. If I were thinking wishfully this is not what I would have wished.

            So who is the wishful thinker? The Christian who believes in a God who will hold him accountable for every action and may punish him forever because of his choices or the atheist who convinces himself that there is no God? It seems to me that it is the atheist who is guilty of wishful thinking for he believes that he will get away with whatever he wants to do. When he dies there will be no hell to pay and he can simply go to sleep and go into the nothingness and whatever he did in this life won’t have mattered at all. Furthermore, he doesn’t really have to obey any of God’s laws here and now either. He can do what he pleases and never have to pay the price. Now THAT’S really a juicy bit of wishful thinking!

      • M. Love

        “Oh, finally, Catholicism is not monotheism. You have an entire pantheon of God, his son, Lucifer, angels, demons, saints, etc. All of these have supernatural powers and expectations that are indistinguishable from the “demigods” you discuss above.”

        None of this makes the slightest dent in monotheism. Apart from the fact that God the Father and God the Son are not separate beings, the others you mention belong to the spiritual realm, but (as created beings like us) are as utterly distinct from and subordinate to God as we are.

        Atheists tend to scoff at the notion of a spiritual realm, but that’s because they are arguing backwards from their preferred conclusion, which is usually a rather rigid form of naturalism. (Otherwise known as The Will to Disbelieve). But even the most hidebound and rigid atheist should be willing to concede that IF a transcendent Creator-God exists outside of the universe and time, then He can create as many different “states of being” as He pleases, including purely spiritual ones.

        The overwhelming consensus of history is that spiritual beings exist and occasionally interact with the material world in one way or another. Almost every culture records encounters with spiritual beings, some benign, some … not. It is even possible, from a Judeo-Christian point of view, to speculate on whether the Canaanites and Carthaginians (among others) were throwing their live children into furnaces to propitiate real beings, for all the good it did them in the end. (And what parallel can we sophisticated moderns draw to these practices?)

        • RickK

          The overwhelming consensus of history is that witches and witchcraft exist and occasionally interact with the material world in one way or another.

          The overwhelming consensus of history is that the movement of the stars affects our daily lives, and reading the stars can foretell the future.

          The overwhelming consensus of history is that the Earth is fixed and the stars move.

          One thing is certain – the overwhelming EVIDENCE of history is that the overwhelming consensus of history is not a good source of truth.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Before we give you any evidence you must tell us what evidence you would accept in argument. Otherwise, whatever evidence we give you will explain as you have done here.

      • Thomas R

        I agree Atenism was intended as monotheistic rather than henotheistic. Other gods were discouraged or demoted.

        However Atenism is different than Yahweh in several respects. Atenism had at least a little to do with centralizing power. Local gods were rejected and the priests of other gods rejected too. Akhenaten gained a more absolute control over the religious structure or tried to anyway. As indicated Atenism was also very “top down.” You don’t get lowly people being prophets for Aten under Akhenaten, at least not so as I recall. I believe Samuel or Jeremiah or both criticized their kings on behalf of Yahweh. That couldn’t really happen under Atenism as I understand it. Lastly Atenism descended from worship of the solar disk or the sun. The idea evolving from the notion that the Sun is the source of all things and therefore it is the one God with other things maybe emanating from it. Hence Akhenaten’s temples had openings to the sunlight and a light/airy feel. By the Book of Wisdom, at least, it’s clear Yahweh is not a personification of any natural object or even of the power of a natural object.

        Granted some atheists I’ve seen indicate the Ugaritic civilization worshiped a God named “El” which was similarly transcendent. Also I think many Hindus believe that the various “gods” are really aspects of a singular All-God. (I don’t precisely agree with the Father’s views of other faiths) Still a monotheistic transcendent/creator god, that is not a personification of natural phenomenon or object, is very rare. I’m not even sure the Hindu All-God precisely fits.

        • RickK

          Yes, I agree it is uncommon. But it is not unique. And the concept of “God” has evolved dramatically in Judaism and Christianity since the days when it was just the latest god to rival El and Baal. Isn’t in interesting how we can even re-use a psalm originally written to Baal to apply Yahweh. Kinda erodes Yahweh’s uniqueness, doesn’t it?

    • Max Schadenfreude

      ‘Both my Southern Baptist grandmother and my Catholic grandmother prayed regularly. And I know for a fact that neither one of them was praying to a “Subsistent Act of Existing Itself”.’

      Then they were praying something that required another for its existence and by definition wasn’t God.

      Hey, we are all ignorant to some degree in this world, there’s no need for you to work so hard at it.

      • RickK

        Ah, I see.

        Max, go ask your mother, your cousin, and 10 random people around you in church to give you a few sentences on what they think God is. Then tell me how many of them say something like the “Subsistent Act of Being Itself.”

        Go collect some actual data before you start throwing insults.

        • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

          So you accept your grandmothers’ opinion and Max’s mom and 10 random people in church on what they think of God…so they are an authority greater than Thomas Aquinas (and the vast majority of theologians) but those same, down to earth Christian folks would probably also believe in the reality of witchcraft. So are you taking their word for it or not?

  • M. Love

    Of course, if you believe–as Jews and Christians do–that God revealed himself to and “walked” with our first parents, then it’s not surprising that the human race over tens of thousands of years retained a dim sense of a transcendent Creator-God above all other “gods”, and that this sense manifested itself in various ways across many different cultures. Chesterton deals with this at some length in The Everlasting Man, as does Ronald Knox in his lectures collected as In Soft Garments, here citing the work of anthropologist Fr. Wilhelm Schmidt:

    “All the things we think of as very queer and primitive, totems, and cannibalism, and earth-goddesses, and magic, and solar myths, and the vegetation-spirit, and human sacrifice, and all the things the anthropologists have been making such play with this century past, are not really primitive at all. They are later innovations, belonging to the ages when men tilled the ground and shot beasts with arrows and grazed cattle and did civilized things like that. Among the really primitive peoples all the odd, fantastic elements of savage religion either don’t occur at all, or only occur here and there, in a half-hearted way. Meanwhile, all these early peoples believe in one God. Sometimes they have a collection of other deities, but always there is one top god, so to speak, quite unmistakably superior to anything else that exists in their thought. He lives in the sky; he is the creator of everything in the world, and generally of the sky itself as well. Sometimes the existence of evil in the world is attributed to a second being, the Coyote, for example, of the American Indians; but he is a sort of cornerman, like Brer Fox in Uncle Remus, and he is always utterly inferior to the Creator. The Creator is all good, and approves of, indeed exacts, right behaviour among men … They offer sacrifices from their hunting, but not human sacrifices at all The Creator is always personal; he is ordinarily represented as Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Eternal.”

    Now, this was in 1932, and I don’t pretend to be au courant in anthropology, but one thing to keep in mind is that Christians don’t believe that monotheism began with Abraham; we knew YHWH from our very beginnings, and retained that knowledge in various forms throughout our history. So it’s not surprising–let alone threatening–to us to hear about one-God traditions from earlier cultures. But only in Judaism do we see that knowledge develop into a fully formed theology. Many of the Psalms sound downright Thomistic in their description of God as the Ground of All Being!

    • RickK

      Schmidt’s conclusions have been almost completely rejected by subsequent anthropological research. People who have spent time with primitive peoples and their religions do not find what Schmidt postulated. My guess his conclusions were driven more by his white collar than by actual data.

      • M. Love

        Ah. Well, since modern anthropology is widely known for its rigorous, strictly empirical and totally non-ideological approach, I will have to defer on that specific example. It is, of course, unheard of for modern anthropologists to put their predetermined conclusions in the driver’s seat. Isn’t that so, Ms. Mead? Mr. Chagnon, how about you? Fight the power, Mr. Bourgois!

        • RickK

          Chagnon realized he was completely wrong about the Yanomamo, threw out his data, and started over, freely admitting his error in a fantastic example of how scholarship should work. He did this because of inconsistencies in the DATA he initially collected. That’s honesty. That’s how you find truth.

          “Science does not aim at establishing immutable truths and eternal dogmas; its aim is to approach the truth by successive approximations, without claiming that at any stage final and complete accuracy has been achieved.” – Bertrand Russell

    • Matt R

      Of course they would sound ‘Thomistic, since humans have always had the capacities of reason that St Thomas Aquinas so fully explained.

      • M. Love

        Of course. I was being wry.

        • Matt R

          :)

  • Ben

    Thanks for including the whole article on one page this time, Father!

    • pam

      Thanks for bringing that up Ben. I leave Fr. Longeneckers blog up for my son who struggles with the faith. He always reads it but would never click on “read more.”

  • Neill

    What about the Zoroastrians: they are monotheistic. How ancient are they?

    • M. Love

      According to La Wik:

      “[Zoroastrianism] was probably founded some time before the 6th century BCE in the eastern part of ancient Greater Iran.”

      So, several centuries younger than Judaism. Note also that Ahura Mazda is uncreated, universal, and transcendent, though (interestingly) not omnipotent. He is the Lord of Light (Ahura) and Wisdom (Mazda), which may sound passingly familiar to Christians, especially Catholics. Oh hey, also the creator and upholder of truth! (I crib shamelessly from Wikipedia here.) Also angels, demons, etc. In short, pretty much what I referred to previously: An inchoate sense of an ultimate One-God cropping up in all sorts of places. Pretty much what you’d expect if the Judeo-Christian account of creation is correct.

      • Rational Libertarian

        I’m pretty sure Judaism began before Zoroastrianism.

  • Rational Libertarian

    Many Jews were polytheistic before Saul unified Israel.

  • Zwetschgenkrampus

    The original comment that instigated Fr. Longenecker’s article went something like YHWH not being any different than, say, Molech (or similar). Excuse me: Molech? Wasn’t he the one whose followers sacrificed children? I think the term was “letting them go through fire” (i.e. burning)? Sounds QUITE different from the deity who, in the end, sends Their own son to be strung up in some tiny town on the east side of the Mediterranean …

    • Rational Libertarian

      Wasn’t Yahweh the wizard who commanded Moses to commit genocide against the Canaanites? And the Amorites and Midianites unless I’m mistaken. And what about the Egyptian first borns? Yahweh is a mean, angry, vengeful and evil deity.

      • Zwetschgenkrampus

        If you insist on remaining strictly in the Old Testament, please clear these points with a Rabbi of your choice, esp. the theologically convincing argument in your last sentence …

        • Rational Libertarian

          Do you refute the fact that your god commanded and committed genocide?

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Here is William Lane Craig’s discussion of the ‘God commanded genocide’ question: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOgSxv37SbE

          • Rational Libertarian

            Craig’s justification of genocide is sickening.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            It seems rather measured compared to Stalin’s and Mao’s–not to mention Dawkins’ personal endorsement of infanticide.

          • Sagrav

            Yahweh’s endorsement of genocide isn’t as heinous as Stalin’s or Mao’s; thus, Yahweh’s endorsement of genocide is… good? Stalin and Mao are pretty low standards by which to measure the morality of a deity.

            Also, I googled “Dawkins endorses infanticide”, and all found were a bunch of links to an argument that he had with a theologian who was trying to justify infanticide in the bible. I have to assume that Dawkins is pro-choice, and that you equate this to being pro-infanticide. This, of course, assumes that you believe that embryos and fetuses are somehow the equivalent of an infant. If I am incorrect in my assumption about your Dawkins claim, please provide a link explaining Dawkins’ supposed fondness for baby slaughter.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            Check the link to the video of the Dawkins-Singer conversation referenced above in which Dawkins explicitly endorses infanticide.

          • Sagrav

            I didn’t see the link on your previous blog post, but I think that the conversation that you referenced was this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWkJ6cZ0FY8

            In this video, Dawkins explains that if an infant were to be stricken with an incurable and painful disease, then the death of the infant is preferable to allowing it to go on living in agony until it eventually dies anyway. His position is both logical and humane. What possible point is there to allowing a helpless baby to suffer with absolutely no hope for either an end to the pain or a cure to the disease? Do you really think that your god, the god that claims to actually be “love”, would condemn you for ending another human being’s pointless agony? Seriously? If that hypothetical infant suddenly learned to speak, its last words would be “thank you”.

            We treat dogs better than that. When illness cannot be cured and one knows nothing but pain and misery, life has lost all value. Period. There is no nobility or lesson to be had from writhing in pain. If you really believe that your god has forbidden the escape of death, even in an extreme case like this, then it is most certainly not a being of “love”. A being that advocates prolonged suffering for the most innocent among us is not worthy of worship, no matter how powerful and terrifying you believe it to be.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            The problem with this form of utilitarianism–compassionate though it sounds is that there is no reason this mercy killing should be limited to infants with painful, incurable diseases. The same reasoning allows mercy killing for adults with painful, incurable diseases. The same reasoning allow mercy killing for anyone with an incurable disease–whether it is terribly painful or not. Who decides is the pain is enough to kill the person? If we kill to relieve much pain why should we not kill to end even a little bit of pain, and what is pain after all? If a life is deemed not worth living because we think the person will have a short life full of pain, why not kill the mentally disabled who will have a life full of pain? Is pain only physical pain? Why not kill the mentally incurably insane for what sort of life have they except a long life full of suffering and pain. If the elderly are in pain and seem to be at the end of their life why should they not be killed. If we may kill those who are in pain should we not also be allowed to kill those who cause pain or who may cause pain? What about serial killers who’s whole life will be spent in prison? Why should they be kept alive? You see, once you start taking life for a utilitarian purpose there is no end to it, and if you think these examples are extreme or ridiculous why not look again at the genocide of Hitler. He started with mercy killing.

          • Zwetschgenkrampus

            Re: “Do you refute the fact that …”

            Who or what do you think you are? A Congressional Investigation Sub-committee?

      • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

        This is one of the common errors of the atheists: they take the Bible at face value. The Old Testament is a unique, complex ancient document. To understand it fully one not only needs to study ancient archeology, the history and languages of the ancient Middle East, textual and historical criticism, but also (and most difficult) one needs somehow to try to get into the mindset and worldview of Semitic nomads who lived 4,000 years ago. Until you’ve made that effort please spare us your Sunday School level understandings. I’m surprised you’re not embarrassed saying such things on a public forum. Please take the time to read this article which explains this common error as well as three others: http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/2012/08/misunderstanding-god-where-atheists-go.html

        • Rational Libertarian

          You are pathetic individual. I’m surprised you’re not embarrassed representing a church that institutionalied molestation. I didn’t read Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat, but I knew the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. Do you have an intimate and comprehensive knowledge of every religion you don’t believe in? I severely doubt it. Wake up, the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

          • Nathan

            Could I suggest changing your screen name? Let’s see. 1) Fr. does not seem pathetic, in fact he seems sincerely committed to the truth, but even if he is pathetic it would have no bearing on the truth of the issue under discussion. Thus, this is an irrational statement. 2) Whether or not Fr. should be embarrassed for being a Catholic Priest also has no bearing on the truth of the issue at hand. Thus, this is another irrational statement. 3) Whether or not the Church institutionalized molestation (it hasn’t by the way) does not prove / disprove YHWH. Therefore (and you see where is going by now) this is an irrational statement. 4) Fr. does not (to my knowledge) enter into discussion on other religions on blogs run by people with a deeper knowledge of said religion. However, even if he did, this would not invalidate the thrust of his argument here, so this is (yet again) an irrational statement. Please, for the sake of truth in advertising, change you screen name to Irrational Libertarian. On second thought, as libertarians believe in personal freedom and have a “live and let live” attitude on things (including religious belief) perhaps Irrational Authoritarian might be best, although that is not terribly catchy. Maybe “The Jackboot of Irrationality.” Or, if you are really committed to your moniker, try being rational instead of simply calling yourself rational, it will make for a more fun discussion if nothing else. Have a good day and may the love YHWH continue to hold you in existence (it is, afterall, the only thing separating you from nothingness.) Pax.

          • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

            I don’t pretend to have an intimate knowledge of every other religion, but I’m not denying the goodness, validity and truth of those other religions. I accept that there is much good in them and am always interested to learn more about them. I would certainly never go to the blog of a Muslim or a Hindu and attack their religion, but even if I did, or even if I questioned their religion I would never do so without learning as much about it as possible–and to do so from their own sources– not from biased sources that were anti Muslim or anti Hindu.

            Yet this is what atheists do on this blog. They come in on the attack, yet all they do is reveal how little they know about what they are talking about. They’ve rarely done any in depth study of Christianity itself, or if they have it is almost all written by those who are biased against traditional Christianity in some way. This is why I call it embarrassing. It’s like someone who has taken seventh grade wood shop from a person who ideologically hates cutting down trees going into the workshop of a master carpenter and telling him he’s got it all wrong.

            Furthermore, what I find so intriguing–is that atheists come to this blog declaring that religion is irrational and that they want to discuss things rationally and they want ‘evidence’. But they very often end up making angry and irrational personal attacks, resorting to broad, negative slogans about ‘pedophile priests’ or ‘the millions killed in the Spanish Inquisition’ or ‘the Pope caused the AIDS epidemic’ or tossing their head and saying, “Well, I saw through all that religion stuff!”

            It doesn’t really create much confidence in the atheist cause I fear. On the other hand, there are some atheists or agnostics who have come here and had discussions that were respectful, knowledgable, curious and witty. It’s a delight to have them visit.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      God did not send his son to be strung up in Jerusalem. He sent him to the world for humanity to make a choice what they would do with him.

      • Rational Libertarian

        And we did the right thing to him.

      • Zwetschgenkrampus

        I am sorry, Father, for the wording. It IS unclear. My mistake. I wanted to write up how the tale ended – not the actual “marching orders” at the start.

  • Nathan

    This is a simple problem that an atheist should be able (and willing) to avoid once it is explained to him. The word “god” is not being used univocally when it is used by a Christian, Muslim, or Jew of YHWH and when it is being used by a Hindu of Ganesh. Perhaps, this is why we use God vs. a god. There are many examples of words that are used equivocally or analogically in everyday speech so this should not be a hard concept. Of course if the atheist is not willing to understand what we mean by “God” then he isn’t really willing to argue with us, is he?

    • Rational Libertarian

      I’m rational because I approve of the scientific method, which scares religionists. I’m a libertarian because I support freedom. I never said Christians aren’t allowed to spread their lies, but I’m gonna challenge them every step of the way. And even if Yahweh exists, I’m on Satan’s side. Satan fights against Yahweh’s tyranny.

      • M. Love

        Excellent! So far we’ve had the following development from RL in just a few short posts:
        - Many early Jews were polytheists, therefore [?]
        - God commits genocide, therefore [?].
        - The Church institutionalized molestation (do tell!), therefore [?]
        - Christians don’t exhaustively research other religions, therefore God doesn’t exist.
        - We were right to kill the Son of the God who doesn’t exist.
        - Religionists are scared of the scientific method, therefore [?]
        - I’m on Satan’s side.

        All in all, just another standard debate with an atheist.

        [David Attenborough voice]Wearing his abject ignorance as a badge of honor, the atheist rarely sticks to one argument, instinctively sensing that doing so would put him at a disadvantage. Instead, he jumps from one disconnected point to another, hoping thereby to divide and frustrate his opposition with his increasingly loopy non sequiturs. As the crowning blow, in a likely vain attempt to attract the attention of the rare female atheist, the atheist trumpets his rationality and fealty to the “scientific method”, thus demonstrating the impaired sense of irony common to his kind. [/David Attenborough voice]

        • Rational Libertarian

          You believe that a carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago is the son of (and is, inexplicably) a very angry deity. It’s very hard to argue against such stupidity without being insulting. You are demented. Also, Attenborough is an atheist.

          • M. Love

            “It’s very hard to argue against such stupidity without being insulting.”

            Well, thank you for your forbearance.

            “You are demented.”

            Oh. Never mind!

          • M. Love

            But seriously, Irrational Libertine: Which argument do you wish us to respond to? You’ve made six or seven separate assertions so far, and have developed exactly zero of them into an actual–you know–argument. I mean, I know this is the fashion among the hip Noo Atheists, but we Catholics actually like to engage in substantive discussions of issues rather than skipping merrily from one baseless assertion to the next.

      • Nathan

        First of all, the scientific method does not scare all “religionists”. In fact, Catholics embrace faith, reason, and science all of which are aimed at attaining the same goal through different (and complementary) paths. You are confusing Catholicism for Biblical Fundamentalism, which the Church rejects (and has always rejected). As a matter of fact, Roger Bacon (widely considered a Father of the Scientific Method) was a Catholic Franciscan Friar and has been called the “Doctor Mirabilis” by the Church. Secondly, approving of the scientific method, by itself, is not “rational.” You need a reason to accept the scientific method (which can’t be found via the scientific method) and you need to recognize the limits of the scientific method. Those who fail (or refuse) to do this are irrational. An example might clarify. It is entirely rational to utilize the scientific method to understand how the tides work, however it would be incredibly irrational to use the scientific method to determine if your wife (or mother) loves you. More importantly, it is irrational to claim the scientific method must be used to verify all truth statements, as the statement “the scientific method is the only way of knowing truth” cannot itself be scientifically tested. If we claim all knowledge is found via the scientific method we have fallen into what is called “Scientism” and is (because it ultimately contradicts itself) irrational. That being said, if you are willing to be rational, I would encourage you to continue to challenge Catholicism. If you are only willing to call names and make wild claims, then you are not even challenging Catholicism, you are only wrestling with a figment of your imagination, which you are confusing for Catholicism.

  • mm

    Fr. Longnecker- thanks for the original post. In the Catholicism series by Fr Barron a very similar explanation is presented- it is a great series & I recommend it to everyone. Rational Libertarian would have a much greater understanding of what Catholics actually believe, rather than poorly draw strawman arguments if he watched the series. Perhaps then he would not have to descend so rapidly to ad hominem attacks.

  • M. Love

    @Sagrav

    I think Father means this: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2012/03/dawkins-and-singer-trying-to-think.html

    I’m not sure that Dawkins actually flat-out endorses infanticide in the video (Peter Singer is well-known for his advocacy of infanticide), but he certainly engages in a fair amount of serious chin-stroking about the question.

    The real takeaway from the video is that–whatever his personal preference may be–Dawkins’s atheism leaves him with no grounds for opposing infanticide. This is broadly true of atheists everywhere: If there is no objective, transcendent morality, then all moral questions boil down to mere personal preference. The atheist may not LIKE the idea of infanticide (or genocide, or pedophilia, or theft, or whatever), but he can provide no reason why anyone else should take account of his preferences. The only resort he has is force (if that is available to him), so morality quickly devolves into a base regime of might-makes right.

    So, if atheism is true, then God’s ostensible “genocides” are no problem at all, for at least two reasons:

    1. God doesn’t exist, and a non-existent being obviously cannot do wrong.
    2. Genocide cannot be wrong, because everything is just particles blindly bumping into each other, and blind particles have no moral agency.

    • M. Love

      Oh, I just re-watched that video, and I was mistaken. Dawkins DOES in fact endorse infanticide.

      Of course, we should credit Dawkins with having the honesty to face up to the implications of his atheism, unlike so many of his fellows. (Leaving aside, for the moment, the faux-outrage he deploys, when convenient, against events in the OT.) After all, as he admits, we are merely particularly complex chunks of randomly formed matter, no different in any essential way from rocks. Our morality, as he further concedes, is merely happenstance contingent on random evolutionary events.

      I’ll re-link the video father linked above, because it really is worth watching. It’s not just Craig’s response to the “OT genocide” argument; it also contains Dawkins’s advocacy of infanticide and his admission that morality is really contingent and ultimately devoid of meaning.

  • Brian Westley

    “If there is no objective, transcendent morality, then all moral questions boil down to mere personal preference.”

    Adding gods does nothing; that simply changes into a personal preference for a god. And by the way, you’re wrong about point #2 re: genocide, but I’m sure I can’t convince you otherwise.

    • M. Love

      “Adding gods does nothing; that simply changes into a personal preference for a god.”

      Nope. Your god is too small. You’re arguing against a notion of God that Christians do not believe. It’s certainly true that adding Zeus (Odin, Ganesh, whoever) has no effect on morality, but the All-Goodness of the Christian God flows logically from His nature as the Unmoved Mover, Pure Actuality, and the Ground of All Being. We observe that all defects and evils are failures to realize natural potentialities: Blindness is a failure to realize the potential for sight; disease is a failure to realize the body’s natural function; and moral evil is a defect or deprivation of some moral good. But the Christian God–being Pure Actuality–has no unrealized potentialities, therefore no defects, therefore no evil. For us created beings, therefore, our potential is most fully realized in discerning and adhering to the All-Goodness inherent in God’s nature. Fortunately, He has told us how to achieve this.

      Now, I doubt you will accept this (absurdly condensed) argument, but you should at least realize that there IS a serious argument to grapple with–one that has compelled the attention and allegiance of some of the greatest minds in history. And this is why we ask you to to at least make an effort to understand what we believe, rather than mistakenly telling us what we believe. Why waste your time on a Catholic blog if you’re not willing to engage seriously?

      “And by the way, you’re wrong about point #2 re: genocide, but I’m sure I can’t convince you otherwise.”

      Try me. I was argued out of atheism into Catholicism just a few short years ago; perhaps you can argue me back!

  • Brian Westley

    ““Adding gods does nothing; that simply changes into a personal preference for a god.”
    Nope. Your god is too small”

    I don’t have a god, and your statement has nothing to do with the observed fact that different people believe in different gods with different moral requirements. It doesn’t matter if you, personally, believe in your god; other people believe in other gods (or none).

    ““And by the way, you’re wrong about point #2 re: genocide, but I’m sure I can’t convince you otherwise.”
    Try me.”

    Why should I bother?

    • M. Love

      “I don’t have a god, and your statement has nothing to do with the observed fact that different people believe in different gods with different moral requirements.”

      Oh, my goodness. Could you more blatantly dodge the actual argument, I wonder? Of course, when I wrote “Your god is too small”, I was referring to the erroneous concept of god you were referring to in your comment, not to your own beliefs. You seem like a moderately intelligent fellow, so I expect you knew this.

      You place a great deal of stock in the invocation of “different gods”, as if this somehow proves something. You may be surprised to learn that Catholics are already aware of the fact that people worship different things, and so they do not tend to stand around with mouths agape at the news. Now, over a few recent threads, Father has responded to your Killer Thesis by explaining why monotheism is unique among religions, and why Christians do not believe in our God as merely one Great Being among many. Instead of merely repeating your original statements, how about grappling with the actual arguments?

      “Why should I bother?”

      That’s actually a good question. If I was in your shoes, I wouldn’t waste any of my brief, meaningless time on earth debating on Catholic blogs at all. I’d be out there living life to the fullest, grabbing as much pleasure and self-fulfilment as possible in the few years available to me before oblivion overtakes me and I wink out of existence. I mean, here you are, a blind, physically determined collection of elements, trying (rather inadequately) to persuade other collections of elements of something or other, it’s not quite clear what.

  • Brian Westley

    “Oh, my goodness. Could you more blatantly dodge the actual argument, I wonder? Of course, when I wrote “Your god is too small”, I was referring to the erroneous concept of god you were referring to in your comment, not to your own beliefs. You seem like a moderately intelligent fellow, so I expect you knew this.”

    Sorry, you don’t get to say any else’s gods are “too small”; you’re just assuming your conclusion, a classic fallacy. And if you want to write clearly, don’t refer to my god and then whine when I explain I don’t have one.

    “You place a great deal of stock in the invocation of “different gods”, as if this somehow proves something.”

    Only the obvious fact that different people believe in different gods.

    ” If I was in your shoes, I wouldn’t waste any of my brief, meaningless time on earth debating on Catholic blogs at all. I’d be out there living life to the fullest, grabbing as much pleasure and self-fulfilment as possible in the few years available to me before oblivion overtakes me and I wink out of existence. ”

    Oh, like you did when you used to be an atheist and advocated genocide? By the way, I don’t recall you ever committing genocide, yet you now seem to think it’s an inevitable part of being an atheist. But supposedly you were an atheist who refrained from genocide. But I guess belief in invisible superbeings means you don’t need to be coherent.

  • M. Love

    “Sorry, you don’t get to say any else’s gods are “too small”; you’re just assuming your conclusion, a classic fallacy.”

    Whoa, there. Show where I did that. You mentioned a conception of “god” that Christians do not hold in order to argue against the Christian conception of God. Your furious bout of hand-waving doesn’t change the fact that a) I was obviously not accusing you of believing in your convenient self-conception, and b) You have still conspicuously failed to respond to my actual argument, choosing instead to bluster about a figure of speech.

    “Oh, like you did when you used to be an atheist and advocated genocide?”

    Hahaha. Nice try. I merely point out that you have no grounds–none whatsoever–for opposing genocide or any other evil. Dawkins admits this. Why can’t you?

  • Brian Westley

    ” You mentioned a conception of “god” that Christians do not hold in order to argue against the Christian conception of God. ”

    No. It’s clear you didn’t understand my argument from the start.

    I was pointing out a flaw in this statement of yours:
    “If there is no objective, transcendent morality, then all moral questions boil down to mere personal preference.”

    People believe in all kinds of different gods who dictate all kinds of different morals. What god they believe in is no more than mere personal preference. Adding subjective experiences like special revelation, theology, or anything else doesn’t change it, it’s still mere personal preference

    ““Oh, like you did when you used to be an atheist and advocated genocide?”
    Hahaha. Nice try. I merely point out that you have no grounds–none whatsoever–for opposing genocide or any other evil.”

    Oh, of course I do. Not on grounds you accept, but that’s irrelevant to me.

    And by the way, when you WERE an atheist, why didn’t you advocate genocide? You seem to think now that it’s some kind of inevitable conclusion, yet it appears you were an exception to your own rule. How is that possible?

    “Dawkins admits this.”

    Cite please.

  • M. Love

    Brian, it’s become pretty clear that you’re not serious about engaging, so I’m going to close off with this and let you have the last word.

    You have already been provided with plenty of arguments against your “personal preference” notion, both in Father’s articles and in the comments. It’s pretty evident by now that you’re determined not to respond to these arguments, preferring instead mere rephrasings of your original assertion. Even a brief study of Natural Law Theory would teach you that Catholics believe that all the fundamental moral precepts are reachable by unaided human reason, since they are built into the very fabric of reality. Indeed, it is why you insist on holding on to moral precepts that are–by your own worldview–utterly meaningless and contingent. You know, at the lowest levels of your being, that good and evil exist–that some things are wrong regardless of the circumstances while others are right.

    This means, of course, that you are suffering from a misalignment between the world as you know it to be–a world of right and wrong, good and evil–and the worldview you profess to hold, in which all is ultimately meaningless and nothing has objective value. For a person with a normal functioning intellect, this creates cognitive dissonance, and there are two possible resolutions. Either:

    - Seriously seek to align your worldview with the world as you know it to be, or;
    - Embrace the true implications of the nihilism you profess.

    That also answers your last question:

    “And by the way, when you WERE an atheist, why didn’t you advocate genocide? ”

    Probably for the same reasons you don’t: because it is intrinsically evil. But my recognition of that fact caused me (after several years of struggle and hesitation) to seek the foundations of the objective morality that I (and almost every other human) acknowledge at the deepest levels of my being, and that led me first to the God of the Philosophers, then to Jesus Christ, and ultimately to the Church he founded.

    ‘Cite please.’

    The YouTube video Father cited above , from 18:50-19:40:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOgSxv37SbE

    You seem to be seeking truth, Brian–in however a half-hearted and halting way–or else you wouldn’t be here. The mere fact of seeking truth puts you on the right path. God bless, and I trust that one day we’ll see you using your intellect in a more fruitful way.

  • Brian Westley

    “Brian, it’s become pretty clear that you’re not serious about engaging, so I’m going to close off with this and let you have the last word.”

    Wait, you haven’t answered about the time you were an atheist and saw nothing wrong with genocide. Assuming you are convinced by your own arguments, you MUST have been ok with genocide when you were an atheist, right?

    ” It’s pretty evident by now that you’re determined not to respond to these arguments, preferring instead mere rephrasings of your original assertion.”

    No, I keep pointing out that your arguments aren’t even addressing what I was referring to.

    ““And by the way, when you WERE an atheist, why didn’t you advocate genocide? ”
    Probably for the same reasons you don’t: because it is intrinsically evil.”

    But that contradicts your own statements that an atheist CANNOT have reasons against genocide. So does that mean you were lying about reason #2?

  • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

    Anyone who thinks Sri Ganesh and Molech are comparable, well, they need some schoolin’.

  • Obpoet

    Try as you may, you cannot outsmart a cretin (or an atheist).

  • veritas

    Father,

    Can I suggest you remind posters of the common rules of decency that are to be applied when lodging a post on this website.

    So far Rational Libertarian has said: “you are a pathetic individual”, he has said that the Church institutionalized molestation, he has said your belief is “stupidity”, he has called another blogger “demented”, he has said he is on Satan’s side,

    and worst of all,

    when you said: “God did not send his son to be strung up in Jerusalem. He sent him to the world for humanity to make a choice what they would do with him.”, his reply was: “And we did the right thing to him.”
    So having condemned us for believing in an angry God he then declares that crucifying Jesus was the right thing to do.

    This man is not only full of anger and hatred, he is insulting in the extreme and tries to win arguments by invective.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Thanks for your comment. My rules for the combox are rather liberal. I only delete posts that use profanity are intentionally rude to me or others or blasphemous. However, I sometimes allow comments that cross the line to stand because they do more to condemn the writers than any argument ever could. The ones you’ve mentioned are a case in point.

  • Judith

    Hinduism , of course, has one ultimate divine – ‘Brahman’ – the ultimate reality – although that is a gross oversimplification, hardly doing justice to the rich philosophical and metaphysical thought of Hinduism. The Gods, Sri Ganesh among them – are manifestations of the Divine.


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