Why Not Believe in a Different Kind of God?

Why Not Believe in a Different Kind of God? July 24, 2017

Editor’s Note: I first heard about today’s essayist in a Washington Post article in 2006, when my own investigation into religion was in full swing. The article was about his then new book Misquoting Jesus. I was fascinated and went right out and bought the book. Soon after that, I heard him speak at the National Cathedral on the same subject and then met him at the American Humanist Association conference where he was receiving an award. Before long, he helped me find seminary professors to participate in the Dennett-LaScola study and joined The Clergy Project as one of the original 52 members. Now he’s allowing me to re-post essays from the public section of his blog, so you’ll be seeing more of his writing here. Thank you, Bart!

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By Bart Ehrman 

I have been talking about why suffering is a “problem” in the Jewish and Christian traditions, and here I would like to reflect a bit on a point that some commenters have made, that it is a problem if and only if one has a certain conception of God as a being who is all-powerful, loving, and active in the world.  Someone who has a different understanding of the divine being – or divine beings – almost certainly won’t have this problem.

I will let others on the blog comment on divine beings in other modern religious traditions, outside of traditional Christianity.   But I will say that the pagan world in which Christianity originally began, there were much easier answers to why people suffer if there are powerful deities in the world.  The key is that in the ancient world, everyone except Jews acknowledged that there were *lots* of other deities, at all kinds of level and of all sorts of temperament.  Some divine beings could be hateful, malicious, and antagonistic.   Can’t do much about that.  Even with the good ones – if you got them angry, things could go very wrong indeed.

I would argue that even the religion that became Judaism started out with a multiplicity of deities.  The constant injunctions in the Hebrew Bible not to worship other gods almost certainly arose precisely because so many Israelites *were* worshiping other gods.  Even though the authors of the Bible insisted on the worship of Yahweh, there is little reason to think that that is what was actually happening on the ground.

Moreover, for most of the Hebrew Bible the kind of conception of the divine is henotheistic rather than monotheistic.   In the way I’m defining the terms (various scholars define them variously, but this is the normal way), “henotheism” refers to a religious belief that only one God is to be worshiped, while acknowledging that other gods exist.   This seems to be the view of most of the authors of the Old Testament.

You see it, for example, already in the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) where the faithful Israelite is sternly instructed “You shall have no other gods before me.”  The commandment is NOT: “You must believe there is only one God.”  On the contrary, the commandment presupposes that there are indeed other gods.  None of them is to be worshiped by those who worship Yahweh (or does it mean not to be worshiped *more* than Yahweh?).

Eventually this henotheism morphed into a true “monotheism” the belief that there is in fact only one God.  The other supposed divine beings are either demons or they don’t exist at all.  (If they are demons they are a still *kind* of divine being, but they are so pathetically weak in comparison with God that they don’t so much count as competitors.)  You find this view, for example, in what is called 2 Isaiah (a book written in the 6th c. BCE, tacked on to the writings of Isaiah of Jerusalem from the 8th c BCE, and now comprising Isaiah chs. 40-55).   God insists that he alone is God, and “there is no other.”

That became the view of Judaism and then, later, Christianity.  There are no gods but God.  Islam, of course, inherited the view much later.  It is within these great monotheistic traditions that the “problem of suffering emerges.”  I know that many (most?) Muslims insist that for them suffering is *not* a problem, but I should say that I know myriad Christians who say it is not for them either.  Conceptually (even though people have their “solutions”) the problem is a problem for anyone who believes there is only one powerful divine being who loves people and yet those people suffer anguishing and truly horrible pain.

And so a number of commenters have suggested that it is simply better to believe in a different kind of God.   Why not simply give up on the idea that God is all powerful?  Why not, in fact, adopt a “deistic” conception of God?  “Deism” in this context usually denotes the belief that there is indeed a divine power in the universe, who may ultimately be “behind it all,” for example, as the one “who got the ball rolling” but who is not actively involved in the world.  So hey, it’s not *his* fault.!

One common way of imagining this is to think that God started the universe in some unknown and probably unknowable way – say, 13.8 billion years ago – and then simply let nature take its course.  Big bang; rapid expansion; formation of galaxies of stars; development of our solar system; formation of earth; cooling of the planet; emergence of first life; evolution.  Then, after those 13.8 billion years are up, just some 200,000 years ago, the appearance of homo sapiens; 190,000 years later, the development of human culture; and so it goes till the invention of the I-phone.  Why not?

Suffering, then, is just the way it works, because it’s how nature works.  “God” – the one who started the whole thing – has nothing to do with it.

So isn’t this a better more intellectually satisfying view?  Why not?

Why not indeed?  I can’t actually think of an argument against this view.  So for me it would be personally plausible.  But – here I’m speaking completely personally – I’ve never seen any reason to believe it.  Why appeal to a divine causality for the start of all things when everything else can be explained apart from divine causality?  The one and only reason I can think of for someone coming up with any such idea is that they started *out* thinking that there was a God; then they came to realize that that belief is problematic for one reason or another (for example, it can’t explain why most homo sapiens over the course of their 200,000 years have lived in excruciating pain and died badly) and so fallen back on a *different* idea of the deity.  But why have any idea of a deity at all?

And what does such a belief give you?   Suppose it’s right.  Then what?  What would it matter?   How would it affect a single thing you think, believe, or do?  How would it have any effect on your life?  I should think that it is in a sense simply a kind of functional atheism.   Yes, there is a god out there, but god has absolutely nothing to do with *me*.

So I don’t know why I should want to believe such a thing.  I don’t know what logic would suggest it. I don’t know how it explains anything that can’t be explained without it (OK, yes, we can’t explain the Big Bang; but if you posit God as the one who made the Big Bang you have the same problem: you can’t explain God.  Ultimately, either way, you can’t explain the First Principle.)  I don’t know how it would change my life.  I don’t know how it is really much of anything except a faint shadow of the Jewish-Christian belief in God with no basis, necessity, or practical effect.  So why believe it?

Again, let me stress, this is just my personal opinion, and it’s not one I insist on.  It’s not based on “scholarship.”  It’s not a view I push on others.  (I’ve never mentioned it before, to my knowledge!)  I don’t mind if others have the opposite view, that some such understanding explains our world better than an atheistic one.  But I’ve never felt or understood either its emotional attractions or its logical necessity.

================

Bart Ehrman, Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Bart Ehrman, Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Bio: Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He came to UNC in 1988, after four years of teaching at Rutgers University. At UNC he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies.

A graduate of Wheaton College (Illinois), Bart received both his Masters of Divinity and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, where his 1985 doctoral dissertation was awarded magna cum laude. Since then he has published extensively in the fields of New Testament and Early Christianity, having written or edited twenty-six books, numerous scholarly articles, and dozens of book reviews. For more detail, read here.

>>>Photo Credits: By Dan Sears – Dan Sears UNC-Chapel Hill, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41276400

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  • I’ve long considered Ehrman’s solution to the “problem” of suffering a reasonable one. I offer another one, however, which still allows for the all-powerful, all-loving god of Christian doctrine. Simply put, suffering is a human illusion, a consequence of our limited, temporal worldview. If we are, in fact, eternal beings, no amount of suffering during a finite time can be significant. Remember that bee sting you got when you were three years old, when it seemed like the world was ending? How does it impact you now? In an infinite existence, suffering during our brief time on Earth is reasonably seen as nothing more than part of our learning process as we grow into whatever our eternal state looks like.

    (To be clear, I only offer this as an answer to the problem of suffering. I actually agree with Ehrman that it’s just a consequence of the way the Universe is, which doesn’t involve any deities at all.)

    • Raymond

      My mother died of leukemia. She was under palliative care at the end, but at one point she came out of her anesthesia and screamed in pain. “Help me! Why doesn’t someone help me!” The nurse came in and got her back under, and the next day she died,

      If anyone told me her suffering was a human illusion, I would ram an umbrella up their butt and open it.

      • What would she think of that experience a billion years from now? A trillion years?

        • Raymond

          I would expect that she would not consider it a human illusion still. If humans have conscious experience after death (and I don’t believe they do) I would still expect them to remember their sufferings in this life and resent them.

          • How often do we read of people who survived horrible, painful experiences and considered them formative? And that’s just a few years after the events.

            Maybe “illusion” isn’t quite the right word, but my point remains: given enough time, why wouldn’t any suffering converge on zero significance?

          • Raymond

            For starters. she didn’t survive the experience. Nothing formative about it. Please feel free to find someone who survived screaming in pain and begging for help and tell them it was formative. Just make sure there are no umbrellas around.

            When I was a young child, I banged my head against a china cabinet and lost conscious briefly. I remember very clearly the process of going to the emergency room, getting stitches, and sitting up all night in case I had a concussion. The experience has not converged to zero after more than 50 years.

          • For starters. she didn’t survive the experience.

            Of course not. And like me (I presume), you don’t believe we are eternal creatures. But if we are, she did in fact survive the experience and is presumably even now having its emotional impact decline (as will happen with any healthy psyche).

            The experience has not converged to zero after more than 50 years.

            But I’m quite sure it has considerably less significance to you today than it did 50 years ago. That’s pretty much what it means for something to converge to zero (even if it requires infinite time to actually reach zero).

            I am not trying to minimize either your mother’s experience or your reaction to it. But we do process these things from a temporal viewpoint, and if our actual existence is eternal, I think that makes the idea that suffering is a “problem” go away.

          • Raymond

            From a theoretical perspective, I can accept that if dead people have an enduring experience of duration lasting millions or billions of years, specific lifetime experiences might fade to nothing.

          • And to be clear, this is about as hypothetical a solution to the “problem” of suffering as any answer can be.

            My actual belief is that there’s no problem for the simple reason that there was no design involved in the first place.

          • Raymond

            Thank you.

          • “…if our actual existence is eternal, I think that makes the idea that suffering is a “problem” go away.”

            You seem to be assuming that our “eternal existence” is 1, real, and 2, pain-free. Neither idea has any evidence supporting it. I mean, you would be as justified saying that after we die we get nuzzled by puppies for eternity. Both ideas are similarly ridiculous. What if we live forever in unbearable pain? What if we endure billions of lifetimes with a mixture of pleasure and pain? What if our eternal selves retain all memories perfectly, so that the pain is perfectly recalled and affects us forever? Anything is possible. But what we need to know is what’s most likely, and your suggestions don’t fit the evidence. It’s far FAR more likely that this existence is the only one we have. Given that, your utopian fantasy of an eternal existence seems unbelievably callous, since it makes light of real suffering in this life – the only one we know we have.

            In your fantasy world, Hitler and Stalin were no more evil than Gandhi. Sure, the former two nutcases tortured and killed millions, but in the grand scheme of things, no one will remember what they did – not even their victims, so heck, their crimes were negligible. If you really believe what you’re proposing, all I can say is that you have a very sick and twisted – some would say psychopathic – worldview, and your “proposal” is not a solution to the problem of suffering at all – all it is is a negation of real suffering by covering it up using the problem of loss of memories.

          • And how many are still suffering the after effects, years later? Rape, crippling injuries, serious deformities, growing up in dysfunctional families, are all often serious problems affecting people’s ability to either function in life, or to enjoy it.

            I suppose if one thought that gods were literal and real, one would also think that there was an afterlife. But many concepts of the afterlife are more limited than the Medieval Christian’s. The classical Greeks, the Norse, etc.

            In my childhood’s Southern Baptist Heaven, yes, all troubles would be forgotten after death. This seemed to be most fervently believed by those suffering in the here and now.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            How often do we read of people who survived horrible, painful experiences and considered them formative?

            Too often. It is so over-used as to be considered a trope. It appears in nearly every superhero comic book; you can start with The Batman and Spiderman. We shouldn’t confuse such inspiration-speak with reality.

          • Bob Jase

            One Punch Man is pretty much the only super I can think of w/o a horrible/painful origin story.

        • I don’t want to give the impression that I’m actually disagreeing with you. Like Raymond I think it likely that over billions of years, specific lifetime experiences might fade to nothing.

          Of course, I also do not see why Deism or something similar would lead to the conclusion that there would be a life after death, eternal or otherwise.

          • Of course, I do not see why Deism or something similar would lead to the conclusion that there would be a life after death, eternal or otherwise.

            I’ve certainly never seen Deism that way. I would assume that if there was an intelligent creator of the Universe, it would be along the lines of the scenario I mentioned elsewhere here. There would be no supernatural, no afterlife.

            The solution I propose here to the “problem” of suffering is in response to the very Abrahamic concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent god… which I consider a nonsensical worldview for many reasons.

          • GubbaBumpkin

            the very Abrahamic concept of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent god…

            I believe this is wrong. The idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent God comes from Western philosophy of religion, not from the Abrahamic tradition which features a limited, violent, jealous, obsessive tribal god. It is indeed nonsense to merge the two.

        • Linda_LaScola

          So what? Many people never endure such horrible experiences at all. They live peacefully and die peacefully. They are lucky, not better, than others.

        • Do you have any evidence whatsoever that we are eternal beings? If not (and – let’s face it – no one does), why would you ever believe such a ridiculous thing?

  • Ben Yandell

    I don’t follow the lack of a logical objection to the “deism” view.

    God, according to the usual Christian view, is said to be all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, at least toward humans. If so, then the “set it up and walked away” variation still has all the same issues as the full-blown version of Christianity.

    Why create a universe that allows (demands?) such unexplained, horrendous misery? Why choose to leave it to play out as it would? (A human parent who did that with a child is guilty of criminal neglect.)

    I think the apologist for the deistic view is still stuck with the same problems noted for so many centuries now. God set it all up not knowing how it would turn out, unable to set it up differently or unable to intervene later, or not caring.

    The internal contradiction remains. As, of course, does the complete lack of evidence for any of this.

    • Consider this scenario: some human creates a universe in a laboratory. This is actually plausible- consistent with some hypotheses about multiple universes and not excluded by anything we currently know about nature. Perhaps we would create a universe with a sufficiently energetic event in a particle collider. Perhaps we already have! We might do this accidentally and unknowingly, or we might do it deliberately. We might or might not have the ability to tune some parameters of that universe so it evolves along certain lines.

      Would this make us gods of some kind? From the standpoint of any intelligent life that developed in that universe, we would essentially be the deistic cause of their existence. I doubt that we’d be aware of their existence, however. Indeed, we might be long gone as a species before they ever evolved. It could even be physically impossible for us in our universe to interact with anything inside theirs.

      • Theory_of_I

        “Consider this scenario: some human creates a universe in a laboratory”

        Assuming by universe, you mean a wholly separate and unique entity, how can that be?

        Anything created in this universe must be of this universe and no more than an extension of this one.

        How can a human create anything outside this universe, of matter and/or energy that does not now exist? It seems that would be a prerequisite for a truly new universe.

        How would you propose that be done?

        • There are hypotheses that suggest both a hyperverse containing many (possibly infinitely many) self-contained universes such as our own, with no causal connections between them, and there are hypotheses that suggest bubble-inside-bubble universes. Such universes might also be causally disconnected, each with different laws of nature. It has been suggested that the interior of black holes might be new universes, or that our own universe is the interior of a black hole within a “greater” universe which we have no access to.

          (I’m not making any strong case for these ideas, only pointing out that they are being seriously explored by reasonable people, and offering them up as physical models of a sort of deism that doesn’t involve a deistic entity that in any way resembles what we generally think of as a “god”.)

          • Theory_of_I

            I’m no scientist, but out of curiosity I am a bit familiar with the work of David Deutch and Lawrence Krause, among others.

            I can certainly appreciate the benefits gained by the mental exercise of speculative gaming in high academia. But as Krause says, we will probably never see whatever may exist beyond this universe.

            I think that perception applies equally with regard to any deities or the supernatural generally. If we can never experience such things in any way other than in dreams, emotions and dead-end imaginative flights, why even bother? That effort is spent far more productively and rewardingly in the pursuit of possible new discoveries of the real.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      God, according to the usual Christian view, is said to be all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving, at least toward humans.

      That is the omni-God of western philosophy of religion. He is so completely different from YHWH, the tribal god of the Jews as described in Jewish holy books that the merger of the two should be a complete non-starter.

  • Kev Green

    I’m an Agnostic, but functionally an atheist. The existence of any version of the Abrahamic God is inconsistent with the world as we know it. But, I acknowledge the possibility that there could be some type of deistic god or other sort of higher power.

    The problem I have with religion is that it is based on faith. At some point the believer has to assert that something is true because they say so. I prefer not to assert anything is true without proof. If there is no way of proving something than I believe the intellectually honest is to admit we don’t know the answer.

    Thus Agnosticism, to me the principle of acknowledging that I don’t know is more important than the question of whether or not a higher power exists.

    • I’m an Agnostic, but functionally an atheist.

      I’d call you a skeptical atheist, as that avoids the word “agnostic” and all its confusing and sometimes contradictory meanings.

    • Paul

      “The problem I have with religion is that it is based on faith.”

      What do you mean by “faith”? If you mean belief without evidence, that is not the kind of faith that Christianity talks about. In Christianity, the definition of “faith” is more along the lines of trust.

      “At some
      point the believer has to assert that something is true because they say
      so.”

      Again, not so with Christianity.

      “I prefer not to assert anything is true without proof.”

      What do you mean by “proof”? Do you mean evidence? Jesus never asked anyone to believe without providing evidence. (John 10:37-38) Jesus provided evidence regularly in his ministry. For example: Luke 7:18-23

      The Bible is full of examples of God providing evidence. I’d invite you to examine the evidence for yourself.

      • Bob Jase

        “Jesus never asked anyone to believe without providing evidence. ”

        Then its okay for me not to believe cause Jesus hasn’t shown me anything.

      • Kev Green

        I’m a recovered born-again Christian. I’ve already examined the evidence and found it lacking. If this evidence for your God is real then how come the vast majority of the world rejects it? We live in a world where no one religious view is compelling enough to convince the majority of the population. But, all adherents of any given religion are absolutely convinced that they are right. That simply wouldn’t be the case in world where a God had made sure there was actual evidence of his existence. I mean let’s face it, the evidence isn’t even good enough to convince people what version of Christianity to follow.

      • Sharon Diehl

        There are other religious tomes in the world besides the buybull, er, I mean bible. There is the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao-te-ching, the Talmud, the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Dasam Granth, the Tripiṭaka, the Book of Mormon, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. Take your pick.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        The Bible is full of examples of God providing evidence. I’d invite you to examine the evidence for yourself.

        Okey dokey.
        DNA vs the Bible: Israelites did not wipe out the Canaanites

        the Bible is filled with scientific errors, historical errors, moral errors and contradictions. As a biologist, I am fond of Leviticus 11, which tells me that bats are a type of fowl, rabbits chew their cud and insects have four legs. I can do without that kind of ‘evidence’.

        Do you realise that a story about God proving His existence is not the same as God proving His existence in reality?

  • Bob Jase

    A different kind of Joe Pesci?

    No, there is only one.

  • After my early childhood in the SBC, I went through a phase where I thought the multiplicity of gods was apparent enough in the bible (once I read about it in a book or two). This led to a concept of the gods as projections of various tribal or personal needs,

    Later I read D.T. Suzuki and Thomas Merton and Alan Watts and decided that “all (or many) paths led up the mountain.” Paring away the nonsense led to Zen, which affirms that effort does not lead to enlightenment. So… I am left with no religion. Merton’s monkhood is inviting, but a life devoted to science or art is not only a devotion to something beyond oneself, but produces actual knowledge or beauty. My own path was rather more chaotic, but it wasn’t bad. I’m glad I haven’t suffered terribly, because I don’t expect an eternity of peace to eventually forget about it. This is it, there’s no reason to think there’s more.

    I’ve been lucky, I wouldn’t mind a couple thousand more years of existence, but c’est la vie.

    The only “problem” of suffering is having to suffer when unlucky. It’s not a puzzle at all.

    • mason

      What could be a better example of human ego and endless greed than eternal life. Certainly if such an award were to be given there are thousands of guileless and worthy species e.g. orca, tiger, elephant, eagle, rattlesnake, great white shark, mosquito, flu virus, honey bee.

  • MNb

    “I can’t actually think of an argument against this view.”
    Fortunately Herman Philipse can in his God in the Age of Science.

  • ElizabetB.

    I wonder what Ehrman thinks about another alternative to an “all powerful” god — the process theologians’ tack? John Cobb says “omnipotent” or “Almighty” is one of the greatest calamities in translation of the bible: Jerome translated “El Shaddai” as “Almighty” because he was translating 2 names (El S. and YHWH), which wouldn’t work if you wanted the name of one god — so he used “The Lord” for YHWH and “the Almighty” for El Shaddai. (interviewer & Cobb noted that a rabbi has pointed out that in Hebrew, El Shaddai actually refers to the female shape of mountains, like the French naming the Grand Tetons) Process theologians seem to start from science and physics and see “god” as the creative impulse.

    Ehrman asks “And what does such a belief give you? Suppose it’s right. Then what? What would it matter? How would it affect a single thing you think, believe, or do? How would it have any effect on your life?” Mathematician and process philosopher Alfred North Whitehead mentioned god as “the great companion – the fellow-sufferer who understands”; metaphorically, “the poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty and goodness.” The aim of religions he saw as being “refreshment and companionship.” Maybe people who have mystical experiences do find refreshment pursuing this way? Cobb sees Jesus’ uniqueness in the idea of “love for enemies” — which he says if everyone followed, really would save the world : )
    https://homebrewedchristianity.com/2016/02/04/how-modern-metaphysics-killed-god-with-john-cobb-faniac/

    • Linda_LaScola

      I have lots of human companions who often offer great advice. I don’t see a need for an invisible celestial buddy

      • ElizabetB.

        Great point! metaphors get you back into guy-in-the-sky territory, which process people totally reject. I need to drop the occasional metaphorical phrases that crop up & try to figure out what they’re actually talking about!! The “god” they talk about seems to utterly pervade everything, including humans…. yet still not be “the same as,” as in pantheism, and not exactly panENtheism either. Maybe it’s related to our interactions with Nature that Chris and Mason talk about. Whatever, thanks very much for the impetus not to quote the metaphors!!

    • mason

      “Cobb sees Jesus’ uniqueness in the idea of “love for enemies” — which he says if everyone followed, really would save the world : ) ”

      Eliz … darn, why didn’t I think of that! So simple, so easy, should be the UN slogan! But then it doesn’t take into account just the number of natural born sociopaths, psychopaths, and tyrants born into human populations. So that that bird ain’t gonna fly.

      “Love your enemies?” Well the reality of humanity is that if you’re murdered there’s at least an 80% chance or more it will be by someone you know and love or loved, not an enemy. Humans, unless they are hard core masochists, are never going to love their enemies, they have a hard enough time even loving themselves and family; friends are easier. 🙂 No sane predator loves its enemy and we’re the apex predator of planet Earth. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/press/MILUC88.PR

      And some ancient politician who promised a messianic kingdom said (or so goes the myth), “Turn the other cheek,” but that just emboldens bullies and enthralls a sociopath with delight. So I think all Pollyannaish wishes for humankind must be brushed off the table of reality like bread crumbs to be swept up or eaten by ants.

      • ElizabetB.

        What do you make of MLK and Ghandi? They lost their lives, but the world’s a better place because they went the nonviolent route. King’s “Strength to Love” book of sermons totally blows me away, and this one from Christmas 1967 —
        “….I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”
        http://www.ecoflourish.com/Primers/education/Christmas_Sermon.html
        But I hear you… I can’t reach your link… is there a title I can google? you always have great references along with the metaphors : )

        • carolyntclark

          50 years later, ask Black Lives Matter how effective the inspirational words of MLK have been in advancing equality.

          • ElizabetB.

            Thanks very much, Carolyn. Unfortunately, we’ve lifted maybe one foot on a demanding march. I grew up in segregation; now our small Southern town has a grassroots multiracial group working to identify causes and effects of racism and come up with ways to help alleviate it. So as a country I think we’ve lifted a foot… I think Dr. King urges us to keep working and not give up on love…. It’s great to read empathy for Black Lives Matter… we all just keep working, in every way we can…. thanks!!

        • mason

          “What do you make of MLK and Ghandi? They lost their lives, but the world’s a better place because they went the nonviolent route.”

          The nonviolent method only works if the power structure that rules lacks the will to be totally ruthless. Though Great Britain had this will in the past, they were unwilling and had evidently lost stomach for necessary expense and bad PR with ruthlessness in India. Also the English wanted Indian salt. 🙂

          With MLK the nonviolent method created marches and attention but nothing really got accomplished until the ruthless force of police power and the force of law was ordered turned against the segregationists.

          “But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom.” Statements like this are really just as masochistic as “Turn the other cheek.” Capacity to suffer didn’t work; federal troops ordered into the South with overwhelming fire power did. The Black Panthers also did hundreds of bombing to gain attention to black plight. (18 just in Seattle in 7 months) https://depts.washington.edu/civilr/Panther3_schaefer.htm

          Mass movements and protest can work but not when those in power have and are willing to use ruthlessness, and then it’s always a case of brutal power against brutal power, until a new power structure and law emerges. Racism is alive, well, and malignantly insidious as a deadly mold spore awaiting moment of opportunity.

          Incidentally, Psychopath Fuehrer Trump, as is his buddy Putin, is ruthless enough to use brutality and genocide if he can destroy the Press, gain a stranglehold on government, and wreck whatever balance of power that remains. But an even darker commentary about the “soul” of America is that most of Trump’s minion would still be saluting and cheering at his rallies. 🙁

          • GubbaBumpkin

            With MLK the nonviolent method created marches and attention but nothing
            really got accomplished until the ruthless force of police power and
            the force of law was ordered turned against the segregationists.

            Nothing got accomplished until newspapers and television got images of the brutality out to a wider audience.

          • mason

            yep, the value of attention 🙂

  • Keulan

    The idea of a Deistic god doesn’t appeal to me either. A Deistic god that started the Big Bang and decided not to get involved afterwards clearly does not care about any suffering the life that eventually evolves has to deal with, so it’s not much better than an Abrahamic god that supposedly cares about the life it creates yet still allows suffering for some reason. And of course a Deistic god has the same amount of evidence for its existence as the Abrahamic god, zero. I’ve seen no evidence for any gods, but if it turns out there is a god or multiple gods, I doubt it or they would be worth worshipping anyway.

    • mason

      And certainly wouldn’t be craving inane worshiping by minions. 🙂

  • Ehrman makes sense here, primarily because, like all good skeptics, he constantly cycles back to questions. Perhaps the best “religion” of the future will be the Religion of Questions.
    My personal view: once you move through the “God out there” stage to the “God absorbed into Nature” view you may simply end the process by squeezing any anthropomorphic personality out of Nature, leaving. . .Nothing but Nature.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    The proponents of deism or limited theism may protest: don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

    I respond: show me the bleeping baby. There is no baby.

    • ElizabetB.

      Thanks for your comments, GubbaBumpkin…. I am coming to the conclusion that some people… like me… for some unknown reason, just like the idea of mentally connecting with Nature that includes something at least as “conscious” (whatever that means) as they and is connected with goodness, truth, and beauty. Mason says that’s being greedy — Chris says Nature is Enough… & I’ve tried persistently to envision that but it just leaves a gap, for me. I really don’t know what to make of that!! I certainly disagree with tons of religious thought of all flavors… maybe we’re all sui generis : )

      • GubbaBumpkin

        It sounds like you are describing the cognitive bias I described above.
        Humans have plenty of other perceptual and cognitive biases. You can find many of these presented by searching for “optical illusions”, “perceptual illusions”, etc. Here are some:
        link
        The following image appears to move when you scan your eyes over it:
        https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/14/2c/5b/142c5b442787920161cee2bfd3afa445–eye-tricks-mind-tricks.jpg
        I know that this is just an illusion, based on some subtle property of the human visual system. Knowing this does not make it stop appearing to move. Despite my inability to kept it from appearing to move, I stick with my knowledge.

        • ElizabetB.

          Helpful comment… Great links!!!

          Yes, I’ve thought that it would seem to be some kind of bias… but it seems more an “emotional” one than a “cognitive” one. I’m not looking for origins or causes, but seem to want a sense of companionship…. more accessible and encompassing than the friends Linda mentioned as so satisfying, and including ultimate truth, beauty, and goodness. If I were a mystic who had experiences I needed to explain, this bias would be logical, but since I’m not, I’ve wondered what I would think if I grew up around no religion. Or if I were an extrovert. It’s very likely that I miss the sense of companionship element when it’s not included because I grew up in a religion that stressed it. Is there lit on emotional bias as well as cognitive? or maybe emotional is just the feeling side of cognitive : ) Thanks again!!! very puzzling, and appreciate the help!!

          • Maine_Skeptic

            “Is there lit on emotional bias as well as cognitive? or maybe emotional is just the feeling side of cognitive : )”

            There’s definitely evidence that emotion is part of the cognitive process. I’m sorry I can’t cite links at the moment, but people who have no emotional connection to their reasoning process have a hard time setting priorities or making decisions.

            As for why we feel a hunger for connection? I have a guess, which could of course be wrong. I think what we feel is the impulse that evolved when some species learned cooperation as a survival tactic. We’re not the fastest or strongest, and even our intelligence is not reliably a survival tactic (death cults, wars, creative poisons, nuclear weapons). No species has been more successful at the survival strategy of cooperation than ours, and we just are not very effective unless we work together.

          • ElizabetB.

            How interesting!! I hadn’t heard anything in the last decade or so about cooperation, but following up your comment I see a 2015 cooperative theory of evolution reported in phys.org. Thanks so much! Yes, that could be part of the lure. Worth much following up!!
            https://phys.org/news/2016-05-cooperation-struggle-survival-evolution.html

            btw — a while back, I think one of your replies was one of those that somehow disappeared into the ether. I received an email containing it, but when I visited the R.D. site, there was no trace. At the time I didn’t know comments had been vanishing so I thought you must not want to discuss it for some reason, and knew a way to trip an email without its showing up online. Wasn’t sure what to do, so I just added a reply thanking you for the additional input and didn’t continue the thread. Will continue next time the ideas come around!

            Thanks for all of them!

            “we just are not very effective unless we work together” –WHY does USA gov keep coming to mind. May we come to asap

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Why not indeed? I can’t actually think of an argument against this view.

    Here’s a couple.

    If the Deist claims that a God started the universe, then let us ask: how did He do it? Once we understand how a universe could start, we will find ourselves no longer needing to ask why, or who. This is the entire history of science in a nutshell: putting supernatural entities out of business.

    It used to be that sickness was caused by God’s punishment, or was the work of demons. Once we added some science, it turned into a question of germs and genes.

    It used to be that angels pushed the planets around in their baroque epicyclical orbits of the Earth. Add some science, and those angels are unemployed.

    Clearly, humans have a cognitive bias towards explaining things by personal agency, and have frequently been wrong in following this bias. Because we know that we have this bias, we should be on guard against it. We ought to depreciate any such explanations unless/until they have solid evidence to advance them over competing nonpersonal explanations. It is the intellectually responsible way to operate.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      As for the First Cause issue, the Big Bang got started somehow. The necessary part of the explanation is some new physical force, principle or process, or a new understanding of a known force, principle or process that could set off a Big Bang from whatever existed before (perhaps it was nothing, but who knows?). There is no obvious reason why this bit of physics needs to be packaged with a personality; that part of the explanation is superfluous and unevidenced.

    • mason

      “Intellectually responsible.” I think I’ve seen that on the Sect Crest near the altar of theistic congregations. Nah. Must have been elsewhere.

  • See Noevo

    This may seem like a silly question, but the issue is not completely clear to me here.
    Are you an atheist Bart?

    • Raging Bee

      Yep, it does seem like a silly question.

  • Bruce Gorton

    I think there is an interesting thing here that possibly needs discussing too – its something that was going through my head with Dave Armstrong’s argument over deconversion accounts at the Tippling Philosopher.

    It is sort of tackling the assumptions behind the question.

    I’m going to put this forward as a group of characters to try and show what I mean, otherwise it works out to being a very complex paragraph.

    Bob is say, a believer in the Great Googly Moogly – or GGM, but suddenly he comes to the realisation that the GGM’s holy book has a whole lot of nonsense in it, and that the GGM’s theology just doesn’t make sense.

    Bob deconverts, and writes a deconversion account which he sends to an atheist website.

    Suzy is a believer in the Great Moogly Googly or GMG and she notices that Bob’s reasons for deconversion don’t really apply to her religion. The GMG’s holy book is different, and so is the theology – why should Bob throw out the GMG, the same way he threw out the GGM?

    Suzy is making a mistake, and that mistake is thinking Bob threw out the GMG.

    Bob never believed in the GMG in the first place.

    When Bob left his belief in the GGM, his reasons didn’t have to apply to belief in the GMG because he wasn’t deconverting from belief in the GMG.

    Bob wasn’t throwing the baby out with the bathwater – he was emptying an entirely separate bath in an entirely separate apartment and he never had a baby.

    Bob, after leaving behind his belief in the GGM could have not heard of the GMG, or could very well have looked into it and found a whole host of other problems with that belief, or he could just not have heard good reasons for that belief, it could be a whole host of reasons, but at the end of the day – they are separate to Bob’s reasons for his disbelief in the GGM.

    The upshot of all of this – why not believe in a different kind of God? Well, because we didn’t believe in that kind of God in the first place – so we’d actually need some evidence and arguments to adopt that belief the same as if you want us to believe in the GMG.