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Who Is This God Person, Anyway?

(Bonus points to whoever recognizes the source of my title without Googling it)

OK, DJ's thrown down the gauntlet (a decidedly martial and un-Christian metaphor) with his latest treatise on his Christian faith and cheeky little disclaimer, so I am honor-bound to reply. Especially since he can count on Rick to be his loyal second in the duel.


OK, enough intramural teasing. Time to get at least a little serious.

On many, many occasions, here and elsewhere, I have proclaimed myself an agnostic on the matter of religion. I've often facetiously coupled it with  "born-again" as a bit of a tweak to whoever's prompted me to declare my status. But just what does that mean to me? What do I intend to be saying when I say that?

The best explanation I've found so far is that I seem to have been born without the "faith gene." I simply can't find it in myself to take the required "leap of faith" on the whole issue.

That's what sets me apart from the atheists, too. As I see it, it requires the same kind of "leap of faith" to assert the non-existence of a supreme being as it does to assert their existence. I see atheism -- as it is most often expressed -- as a sort of religion in and of itself, as it is based on the same kind of belief in the absence of evidence as any religion. They are both, to coin a phrase, "taking it on faith."

Another way I stand apart from most atheists is my attitude towards religion in general, and religious people in particular. I appreciate most religious faiths, to various degrees, and respect people of faith generally. (Along with a touch of envy -- my way is filled with uncertainty and, occasionally, loneliness. But I didn't choose it, it chose me.) I see that, by and large, religion has been a force for good in the world, and while it has done evil, by and large it's been a net positive.

And on the smaller scale, I've noticed the same thing. Religious people tend to do "the right thing" more often than not. Cynical atheists say it's not because they're better people. but because they've got "their invisible, imaginary friend" looking over their shoulder. Me, I tend to care more about behavior than beliefs, so I don't particularly get worked up about their motives for acting decently.

But that respect doesn't come with blinders. I still see where I think the various religions have problems. The Catholics, for example, have some serious issues with the role of women in their hierarchy, and their attitudes towards birth control are literally medieval. Mormons have some of the most objectively silly beliefs I've ever heard of outside of bad science fiction turned into the world's biggest quasi-religious scam operation (not to name names). And nearly all faiths haven't quite figured out that homosexuals ain't going back in the closet, no matter how hard they try to push them there.

But for the most part, I have a laissez-faire attitude towards those flaws. There are very few religions today that are coercive, so those people who have to live with those flaws do so by their choice. They always have the option of walking away. So it's none of my business to fight them -- I might occasionally bring them up if I think they might be relevant, but they're hardly a cause for me to go on a grand crusade.

And yes, I'm ignoring The Big I, the elephant in the room. That's a whole 'nother kettle of fish. Let's just say my problems with Islam are not tied to its theology or internal practices (well, mostly -- I consider them coercive, as they actively punish "heretics" who leave the faith), but its nature as a social and political and economic and military force. That's a topic for another very lengthy piece.

So here I am, a n unbeliever on a site with two very vocal evangelicals (the aforementioned DJ and Rick) and others less expressive about their faith. How the hell did that happen?

Well, for one, seniority. I was here before any of them except Kevin, and even counting my sabbatical, I still have more time here. I didn't join them; they joined me. So there.

For another, as I said, I'm areligious, but not anti-religious. For the most part, I'm fairly religion-friendly.

With a big notable exception: I don't like being preached to.

Which is what helped prompt this spat of religion-themed postings, I believe.

Earlier this week, I wrote about Sarah Palin and how I think her religious beliefs shape her actions -- and will continue to do so. In the comments, most folks complimented me on my understanding of Christian doctrine, and (as usual) questioned how I could still be an unbeliever if I can "get it" like I do.

A couple folks decided that was a good opportunity to discuss Christian doctrine with me, in the hopes of helping me find my way to the Lord.

I politely but firmly declined, stating that I had no interest in being evangelized.

Most of them got the hint and dropped it, respecting my wishes.

One guy didn't.

He trotted out his set of standard "convert the heathen" talking points and tried to apply them to me. To add to the insult of ignoring my wishes, he also got several of his details quite wrong about what I said and believed -- which I had spelled out above.

I didn't take it well. No, not well at all.

I have no problems discussing religion. I have an occasional interest in Biblical archaeology. I think that there are some wonderful debates about comparative religions and ethics and whatnot that I enjoy. I even sometimes read DJ's longer pieces about faith and enjoy them. (But not that often. DJ, hate to tell you this, but you really shouldn't use the "large type" option on your articles. On my system, it makes the lines of text overlap vertically, and that makes it annoying to read. If you left it at the default setting, like I do, I'd be more inclined to poke through them.)

But I have absolutely no interest in being preached to. And, as noted, I will not take it well.

I understand that some people feel they are obligated by their faith to spread the word, and this is the way that they believe is the best way. I understand that they don't do it maliciously, but with the purest of intents -- they want to help me, to do right by me.

But their sense of duty incurs absolutely no obligation on me. I will politely demur from the discussion, I might even jokingly attempt to change the subject. But if I feel I am being cornered and my explicit requests are being ignored, I will take that as gross rudeness and reply in kind. Because at that point, I will have seen that politeness and courtesy have not been working, and will try other approaches to make my feelings known.

Kind of like I did to Myronhalo.

No, exactly like I did to Myronhalo.

'Cuz guys like him give the "good" Christians, the ones I like and support and appreciate, a bad name.

The Jews have a couple of things about their faith that I like -- things that make me like them, in some ways, more than Christians. For one, they don't seek out converts. In fact, they make it quite difficult to convert. The phrase "evangelical Jew" is a delightful oxymoron.

For another, they have a phrase and concept that I also rather like: the "shabbos goy," or the non-Jew who helps Jews. It's come to mean, to some, a non-Jew is is "Jew-friendly" and is respected and appreciated and made welcome, but no effort is made to convert them to Judaism. It was the feeling recieved when I was involved with a Jewish woman, and attended several Jewish ceremonies and rituals -- it was abundantly clear that I was not Jewish and had no interest in becoming a Jew, but was never made to feel excluded. All I had to do was to demonstrate my respect, and I was welcomed.

(And that's how I can pronounce "L'Shanah Tovah" tolerably, know when to put on or take off a yarmulke, and know enough to NOT make "Shofar, so good" puns or ask for the yarmulke with the propellor on top. And here's another reason to like Jews -- they don't eat pork products. If you, like me, believe that "God made bacon to show He loves gentiles, too," that means more bacon for the rest of us.)

So that's me. To Christians, I am a willing friend and ally. I respect your beliefs, and I will not challenge them.

I ask the same in return.

No, I demand it.

Give me the same courtesy and respect I offer, or get back the disrespect I perceive.

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Comments (23)

Hitchhikers Guide to the Ga... (Below threshold)

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Doug Adams? Third book of someone's trilogy.

Dammit. Roger beat me to i... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

Dammit. Roger beat me to it.

Actually, Roger, it was fou... (Below threshold)

Actually, Roger, it was four books -- "Where God Went Wrong," "Some More Of God's Biggest Mistakes," "Who Is This God Person, Anyway?," and "Well, That About Wraps It Up For God." But since we're talking about Hitchhiker's, calling it a "trilogy" seems somehow appropriate.

Great catch.

J.

Oolong Coluphid's trilogy o... (Below threshold)
instugator:

Oolong Coluphid's trilogy of philosophical blockbusters, "Where God Went Wrong", "Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes" and "Just who is this God Person Anyway?"

There is nothing wrong wit... (Below threshold)
Jim m:

There is nothing wrong with challenging people's beliefs. It's all in how you do it. James H and I had a good discussion on the foundation if morality. I don't think either of us came off preachy. At least I hope not.

I may argue with you and lay out my reasoning and challenge you to consider your position on a rational basis but I won't prostelytize you. I think there is a difference.

And yet I will agree with you that even as a christian I find distasteful the ham handed attempts by some to use this forum as a platform to preach the gospel. There is a place for everything and this is a poor venue for outright evangelism.

I'll quibble with you on on... (Below threshold)

I'll quibble with you on one point, jim. I think it would be an entirely appropriate venue for outright evangelism -- if it was done by DJ, Rick, or another author.

It's our prerogative as editors to do such, if we choose. If either of them -- or any of my other colleagues -- chose to do so, I'd respect that. I might say something in our occasional private discussions, and might not enjoy the change in tone of the site, but it would be a lot less offensive than trying to hijack my articles for that purpose (to cite the most recent example).

It boils down to respect. Oh, and pragmatism. Preaching like Myron tried simply don't work on me, or on a lot of other people (outside really bad Christian fan fiction). But they still do it, and it's quite annoying.

J.

I have been kicking around ... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

I have been kicking around awhile on this site and always new two firm rules. Don't try to convert/evangelize JT and don't talk about Katrina/New Orleans with Paul.

That aside, I understand your position JT. I held that very strongly for the first 25 years of my life.

I know you support open debate, but if you bring up Christianity on a post, it is a very slippery slope for Christians to NOT talk about their faith and what it has done for them. That is the basis of testifying. So, I hope you excercise some patience with well intensioned people.

I hope you don't mind if I pray for you? ww

"Preaching like Myron tried... (Below threshold)
DaveD:

"Preaching like Myron tried simply don't work on me,..."

I read Myron's post. He sounds nor more preachy about his Christianity than you do about your agnosticism.

What is the one most abso... (Below threshold)
Will:

What is the one most absolute, concrete, perfect point of knowledge and understanding that I possess about "God".

I ain't Him and neither are any of you.


but I suspect He is a Libertarian.

"Gauntlet?"</... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

"Gauntlet?"

Not my style. I'm more the reason and humor kind of guy, like Mr. Rogers w/o the fashion sense, except that I drive over trolls when I feel like it.

"Treatise?"

Not so much. Those are usually well-designed and contain lots of footnotes and evidence. I just talk a lot and hope the conversation drifts the right direction.

"Cheeky disclaimer?"

Not really. I was just making sure folks didn't think I was speaking for anyone else, and I wanted to cover for accidentally convincing Mr. Ducky to become a Shaolin Monk ... did I say that out loud? Hope not but oh well ...

Duel?

Nope. I duel like I duet, which is rarely on purpose, because bystanders get hurt more often than the participants.

Jim M: It was a good discu... (Below threshold)
James H:

Jim M: It was a good discussion, and I've got a question I've been meaning to ask you, one that we didn't really get to:

Do you hold that the Christian god functions as an enforcer of morality, or as an exemplar? Or both?

"Who Is This God Person, An... (Below threshold)

"Who Is This God Person, Anyway?"

No, no, no.

That quote is from the blogger's guide to inter-tube minutia. Or something.

I got no problem with your views or beliefs, Jay. Reasonable people can have reasonable disagreements, even if you are wrong (ha ha).

But, as you alluded, the real trouble comes from those violent radicals who see a dissenter's death as an acceptable solution for their intolerance.

That's why I believe this 'baby in the manger cult' to be a superior ethic: One can say, "I have absolutely no interest in being preached to," and walk away with fear for your life or property.

Free will. It's a beautiful thang.

"...and walk away withou... (Below threshold)

"...and walk away without fear for your life or property.

Without.

Hmmmm. Good question James... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Hmmmm. Good question James H.

I would say definitely yes to the enforcer. The point of having moral code is that someone needs to enforce it in some manner. Otherwise it isn't much of a code. As they say, God gave us the Ten Commandments not the Ten Suggestions.

After breif consideration I will say no to the exemplar. We don't see God very much on a day to day basis and get only glimpses of Him in the OT. Jesus gets a lot of page space in the NT , but even then while we see many examples of His behavior we do not get a global picture.

So God promulgates the moral code, enforces it and provides much more in the way of instruction than He does personal example.

James H, I'd like to answer... (Below threshold)

James H, I'd like to answer your question, even though jim m already answered it.

I believe in fact that God is the ultimate exemplar of morality -- through the personhood of Jesus Christ. Christians believe Jesus to be fully God and fully man; in other words, Christ's actions and words during his ministry on earth are a true reflection of the mind of God.

Throughout the story told in the Bible, there is a progression, starting with the Garden of Eden (man and God in a relationship best described as 'unity'); then the period of the Patriarchs (Noah, Abraham, Joseph, etc.) where man rebelled against God and God was forced to deal individually with a select few righteous individuals; then the period of the Exodus and the Mosaic Law, where God established a nation sanctified through the observation of the Law and disciplined through the writings of the Prophets; then finally God's own incarnation as a man, Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son.

The words, thoughts, and deeds of Christ serve as a guide for us as individuals, as we seek restore our relationship with God, back to the kind of oneness that existed in the Garden of Eden.

God, as a man, Jesus Christ, accomplished a level of exemplary behavior simply not possible through laws or through prophetic messages. Funny thing is, in exemplifying the ultimate morality, he deeply offended and threatened the most religious keepers of the law (the Pharisees) as well as Jewish and Roman government officials.

Of course that's not the end of the story. After the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, God gave believers the gift of his Holy Spirit, which we believe personally dwells within believers and further guides them in developing their relationship with God; ergo, the Holy Spirit shapes our concept of morality and guides us, so to speak, in making choices in keeping with God's will.

PS - I try to at least keep... (Below threshold)

PS - I try to at least keep some kind of an understanding of these things straight in my mind, so hopefully I avoid trying to prove black is white, thus getting killed at the next zebra crossing.

Michael,I can agre... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Michael,

I can agree to a certain extent about God being an exemplar. But to me there is too much unknown. We don't get sufficient detail or description to make Christ an example that fits in every situtation. That's why we have to ask the question "What would Jesus do?" It's not always clear. We've been given instructions but not the example. We are told a lot about how christ lead His life but not specifics.

So while we understand the nature of Christ's life on earth we don't get the details that make Him a useful exemplar. He gives us an outline but to fill in the details we need to have something more. I suppose that's where one's Christian walk comes in.

I disagree completely of th... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

I disagree completely of the view of God as an enforcer. God is, of course, the ultimate exemplar.

God gives us free will. He does not enforce morality. He sets the example and He tells us what it means to obey Him, but He does not force us. Even as Christians He allows us to disobey. Scripture says that God disciplines those whom He loves, as a father disciplines a child. He "steers" us in the right direction. Even so, it is not enforcement. We can take the discipline and still do what we want, the same as a disobedient child.

Even in the afterlife, God separates Himself from the unbeliever and consigns those who reject Him to their own domain where they can do whatever they wish. (That's right. Hell.) That is not enforcement, it's separation and punishment. Many theologians have posited that the torment of hell is the result of total separation from God -- the path that individuals chose.

The Bible also indicates that God's Holy Spirit acts in this world as a "restrainer" of evil. I see that as God using His influence, but still not 'controlling" mankind.

God chooses to fellowship only with people who desire it of their own free will. He generally allows the consequences of sin and rejection of Himself to run its course. All must choose.

That's a bit of a ramble, as there are many directions one could go, but I hope it is cogent enough.

If God does not enforce His... (Below threshold)
jim m:

If God does not enforce His moral will then their is no basis for morality. Without consequences for immoral actions then morality is nonsense and a meaningless construct.

While we may prefer to think of God as an examplar (and don't get me wrong I believe that the example of a person who lives free from and without sin is a great example, I just don't think that we are given enough information about hte details to make Christ what I would consider a useful exemplar) to say that separation and punishment for sin is not enforcing the moral code is just ignoring the obvious.

Punishment is meted out in a just and fair way. Perhaps the connotation of the word "enforcer" is what bothers people. But applying the moral code and administering justice are enforcement. Only God can ultimately supply that. That makes Him the enforcer.

jim m - you've done a comme... (Below threshold)

jim m - you've done a commendable job of explaining theology from a reformed/Calvinist perspective.

Ultimately I think the question is a false dichotomy, because God is really BOTH exemplar (through the life of Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit within His sanctified church) and enforcer (both in God's deliverance and defense of Israel in the Old Testament, and God's future judgment of mankind in the Last Days).

Where we run into trouble is when we limit God to be one or the other ('crime and punishment' God vs. 'love and peace' God) instead of His rightful role as both.

.... it requires a similar ... (Below threshold)

.... it requires a similar leap of faith to assert the non-existence of the Supreme Being as it does to assert His existence ....

You remind me much of me.

Before my ego and I stopped playing semantics with the word God and allowed Him to come into my life.

The rest has been, as they say, quite miraculous!

Well, we will just have to ... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Well, we will just have to agree to disagree. It does not matter that God has destroyed the wicked in the past through Israel, or by directly swallowing them up in the ground, as He did the Israelite Baal worshipers, or that He sends some to Hell. The point is that He does not make them moral. He does not make them follow His moral code. Of course there are consequences. Facing those consequences does not make anyone more "moral" or holy than they were to begin with. They remain wicked. They still don't follow God's moral code in Hell.

Free will is where it's at.

P.S. The idea that God is a... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

P.S. The idea that God is an enforcer of morality just does not square with reality. Not when you have the Hitlers, Pol Pots, Ted Bundys, et al running to and fro about the earth. They exercise their free will to commit evil.

The idea that even though many wicked people will never face justice in this life but will in the next is, for me, one of the most comforting things about being a Christian. Though they will face judgment, they will never be made to be "good."




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