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Do As Thou Wilt

Over at Say Anything, blog-buddy (and Guest Wizbanger Emeritus) Rob Port posted an interesting theory: is God a libertarian? I read his notion, and found myself nodding along. I think Rob might be on to something.

Of course, let's get a few disclaimers out of the way. Rob's an atheist, and I'm an agnostic, no we have no "skin" in the game. (Conversely, we could both be considered to be a tad more objective on the matter.) However, neither of us are hostile to religion, and are pretty familiar with Christian doctrine, so we have no axes to grind.

Further, we both have pretty hefty "small-l" libertarians, so there's the whole "man creates God in his own image" fallacy we have to watch out for. Most everyone tends to see God through their own beliefs and biases, even those of us who don't acknowledge His existence.

All that aside, Rob's theory appeals to me. And not because it confirms my own beliefs, but because it tends to fit the available facts.

God doesn't directly control us. He has told us what is right and wrong, but leaves it up to us to decide which to choose. He gave us free will, and allows us to exercise that -- it's been a very long time since He's directly intervened and rewarded or punished people for their choices. No, He's pretty much hands-off in the day-to-day operations of the world, explicitly refusing to prove His existence by intervening.

No, God says that the true judgment for our deeds will be in the hereafter, when it's a bit too late to warn others of what you've reaped. God's MO is to let us make our own choices, and face the consequences of those choices. He doesn't want us to choose poorly, and He goes to great lengths to make us fully aware of what is right and wrong, but He lets us make our own choices.

The cynic in me also finds this theory appealing, as it explains some of the seeming paradoxes of religion: an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God who refuses to prove His existence; the reconciliation of predestination and free will; and a justification for faith in the explicit absence of proof. It resolves them in an exceptionally convenient and tidy manner.

As far as Rob's discussion of how this bears on the differences between the social conservatives and the libertarians, currently united on the issue of fiscal responsibility and rejection of the Pelosi/Reid/Obama four-year Reign Of Error, I dunno. That's a future concern, and one that will have to be hashed out later -- if ever. Hell, on the left, they have both the labor unions and the illegal alien lobby, and if ever there were two groups that ought to be natural enemies, it's them. If they can coexist, maybe the libertarians and the social conservatives can find a modus vivendi.

But back to the topic at hand: is God a libertarian? No. Earthly political labels don't really apply to divinities. But libertarian philosophies certainly seem pretty solidly in line with how Christianity (and Judaism, to a lesser extent) describe God and His mysterious ways.


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Comments (62)

Happy Meals now offer your ... (Below threshold)
gary gulrud:

Happy Meals now offer your choice of honorary UofPhoenix PhD: Philosophy, Theology, Psychology. What's the diff, really?

God is all about freedom. H... (Below threshold)
Tom Kelly:

God is all about freedom. Hell exists to honor the choice of those who are agnostic or atheist. If you're alive, you have skin in the game. Choose wisely.

"However, neither of us are... (Below threshold)
Don L:

"However, neither of us are hostile to religion, and are pretty familiar with Christian doctrine, so we have no axes to grind."

Of course, that's in lieu of the fact that the Christian God says that we are either with Him or against Him.....no neutrality possible,eh?

Care to cite the relevant s... (Below threshold)

Care to cite the relevant scripture, Reverend Don?


"But libertarian philosophi... (Below threshold)
Don L:

"But libertarian philosophies certainly seem pretty solidly in line with how Christianity (and Judaism, to a lesser extent) describe God and His mysterious ways."

Yeah,that God is a pretty libertarian fellow -- live and let live - all those Commandments are such fluff. If you really understood Christianity, you would know that free will is to choose correctly. Libertarians could care about immoral personal choices - God never approves of chosing evil, nor does He pretend like self-centeredlibertarians, that it doesn't matter; both are devestating for the person and the larger community.(St Paul's, we are all cells in one body analogy)
God on the other hand sent His Son here to die to save us from our own self--destructive foolishess. He cared enough about our personal choices to die for us. he hardly has that earthly admired libertarian nobility I'm afraid.

Care to cite the relevant s... (Below threshold)
Don L:

Care to cite the relevant scripture, Reverend Don?

"and are pretty familiar with Christian doctrine"

So, you're kidding, of couse. But scripture, someone so familiar with Christian Doctrine is one source of Cristian truth, there's that "tradition" thing also.

Why the personal attack (Reverend Don) because someone disagrees with your premise? Isn't that the game of the liberals you so often excoriate for doing the same thing? Did I get to close?

My biggest problem with thi... (Below threshold)

My biggest problem with this and with all religions is your reward for all of eternity is decided by a few actions over the course of a few years. What is the percentage of 80 or so years compared to all of eternity?

Then, Don, you don't unders... (Below threshold)

Then, Don, you don't understand libertarianism very well. As a small-l libertarian, I don't want to see people make bad choices. I will speak out against it, I will try to persuade them to not do it, but if they insist, I will respect their choice and their right to make that choice. To say that we don't care is complete and utter BS.

And "familiarity" does not mean "expert," by any stretch of the imagination. I'm no expert on Christian doctrine, but I was raised Methodist, read the Bible, and have had lengthy discussions with some very devout Christian friends.

So, let me repeat this: could you please cite your source for God saying we're either with Him or against Him? Chapter and verse, please. And I WILL be checking your homework.


AKA deism. ... (Below threshold)
James H:

AKA deism.

So much to deal with. First... (Below threshold)
Don L:

So much to deal with. First, it is near ludicrous for someone who claims to be "familiar" with Christian Doctrine(the term you used to give authenticity to your attempt to equate God with libertarians thereby justifying your libertarianism) to not know that Jesus said "You are either with me or against me." However, as an accomplished blogger, you certainly kknow that you can, in seconds, Google in the phrase -I assumed that all Methodists would know this inarguable revelation of Gods.

As an agnostic, I'm curious how and where you make judgments about good and bad in order to "speak out" against it. It also is interesting that someone is so content to "respect" other people's immoral choices.

There can be no neutrality on issues such as abortion, unvoluntary euthanasia(as in present day Holland, "final solutions" as in Nazi Germany etc. the sexualization of our innocent children, the corruption of science, AGW, the denial of the principle of subsidiarity.

Again, staying neutral while evil runs rampant, is not a virtue, as libertarians (small "l" or large "L") would have us believe.

No wonder I dislike organiz... (Below threshold)
James H:

No wonder I dislike organized religion. Don L just took a dozen unrelated issues and grouped them as policies inimical to his god. Don L's isn't reciting theology here. He's trying to legitimize his own personal political views and shout down arguments by attributing them to a deity. "You must be wrong. God is on my side!!!"

Religious leaders, two-bit politicians, and televangelists have been doing this for millennia, and it's just as distasteful now as it always has been.

Well, I think that Don may ... (Below threshold)

Well, I think that Don may be speaking of Matthew 12:30, "Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters." Of course, there is also John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (emphasis added)

Anyway, as a devout Christian and and an adherent to libertarian philosophy (as were the founders), I think you're on to something. What took you so long?

To answer for Don L,<... (Below threshold)

To answer for Don L,

Exodus 32:33 The LORD replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.

James 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Just a quick search from Biblegateway. I gave an example from both the Old Testament and the New to show that God is consistent.

"You must be wrong. God is ... (Below threshold)
Don L:

"You must be wrong. God is on my side!!!"

Precisely the theme of Jay's post.

James, you call them "unrelated," but evil and deceit are hardly unrelated.

It is the attempt of the post to relate (and thus co-opt )the perfection of God with libertarians that I found offensive to God.

God has made us in His image and we spend our lives trying to remake Him into our image, thinking foolishly that we can find true peace in ourselves. But, we either believe or we reject belief in God, which is something even Satan didn't try to do.

Mat 12:30 He that is not wi... (Below threshold)
Buster Dog:

Mat 12:30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.

God is a monarchist. He created you and therefore you are His property to do with as He wills. Having said that, as a practical matter, I believe the best form of government for Christians is libertarianism, because we have a natural advantage. A true Christian is self governing in a way that non believers are not. We naturally give more, but require moral improvement from the objects of that giving. Socialists can't stand that.

As to the point that God doesn't prove His existence, He showed up in person and lived among us, we killed Him and He got right back up. Sure, you can find reasons to disbelieve, but on balance I find not believing less rational than believing.

Atheists have skin in the g... (Below threshold)

Atheists have skin in the game. You may claim as an agnostic that you are on the side lines Jay, but Rob's choice of atheism is taking a side as much as my Catholicism is.

It is the attempt ... (Below threshold)
James H:
It is the attempt of the post to relate (and thus co-opt )the perfection of God with libertarians that I found offensive to God.

Baloney, Don. Unless you've been consulting with a burning bush, or you just spent 40 days up on a mountaintop, you're not speaking for a god. You find Jay Tea's thesis offensive to you and to your conception of the world, not to your god.

And for the record ... "evil and deceit," again, another thing I dislike about you absolutists. If somebody opposes you, it isn't that that person is mistaken on an issue, or disagrees from a position of good faith.

No, that person is practicing "evil and deceit" for the simple crime of disagreeing with you over ... global warming?

Don's enthusiasm for "his" ... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

Don's enthusiasm for "his" religion rivals that of the radical islamists sawing people's heads off over perceived insults of "their" God or Prophet. No room in "Don's" heaven for all the good people who don't happen to be "his" kind of Christian, or even Christian for that matter.

No, in the above I was not speaking to Don L. I have no desire to speak with Don L. James H is covering that task wonderfully.


BTW - this is why it's never productive to discuss politics and religion. It's impossible to just "discuss" articles of faith.

Upset Old Guy: "Don's enthu... (Below threshold)

Upset Old Guy: "Don's enthusiasm for "his" religion rivals that of the radical islamists sawing people's heads off over perceived insults of "their" God or Prophet."

Uh, your comment would have more credibility if Don, or Christians sharing his beliefs, were actually sawing peoples heads off.

So I guess I'll just say that your interpretation of and level of antipathy to Don's religion rivals that of atheistic communists who methodically murdered 100 Million human beings in the 20th Century.

Hey, this game is easy!!

Jay -Apologize for... (Below threshold)

Jay -

Apologize for going off topic, but take a look at my comments (#3 and #6) to the thread announcing the winner of last week's caption contest.

Buster:So a believ... (Below threshold)
James H:


So a believer is moral because .... of a belief in a god? And one who does not believe is, if I read your comments correctly, automatically a socialist who can't stand you?


I don't see how your devotion to a god grants you moral superiority over an atheist who acts charitably. From all appearances, their actions seem the same.

Again, you claim moral superiority and superior moral. Superiority based on your belief in a god, when an objective analysis would grant you no such position.

"God who refuses to prove H... (Below threshold)

"God who refuses to prove His existence"

Just Look Around da Proof is Everywhere..... The Mathematical odds that this is Random isn't even in the Realm of Beyond Staggering.


James H: "Again, you claim ... (Below threshold)

James H: "Again, you claim moral superiority and superior moral. Superiority based on your belief in a god, when an objective analysis would grant you no such position."

I'm curious James H, who would be qualified to perform this "objective analysis", and what would this "objective analysis" "look like"?

My journey to libertarianis... (Below threshold)

My journey to libertarianism has occurred in answering two simple questions: Upon entering into the Christian covenant (my helplessness for His mercy), what should my moral conduct be? What of my own morality am I to impose on my neighbor? Certainly, from a theoligical perspective, our self-righteousness is an offense to God and our only hope is found in the righteousness of Christ (Deu 9:6,Jer 23:6,Eze 33:13,Isa 64:6). So, if my own morality is offensive, why should I impose my morality upon my neighbor?It would also seem that the New Testament has a "libertarian" view of what we are to avoid: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell." (Acts 15:28.29) Now, there will be those who immediately jump to accuse me of condoning murder, rape, etc. And I will only reply that Paul was confronted with the same weak-minded accusation.

From a philosophical standpoint, I would offer the example of the so-called war on drugs, and would ask more simple questions: How is it different than 18th Amendment? How effective is it? What have been the unintended consequences (okay, that's not so simple)?

The Democrats want to force man to submit to a false morality. But, so do the Republicans. That's why I am neither.

Drago:I'... (Below threshold)
James H:


I'm curious James H, who would be qualified to perform this "objective analysis", and what would this "objective analysis" "look like"?

Any thinking person should be capable of an objective analysis if that person approaches that analysis in good faith.

If done properly, such analysis would be the length of several books and cite to multiple obscure works, perhaps including those of Kant, Nietzsche, and other philosophers, but given the constraints of this forum, I think we can improvise a bit.

And for the life of me, I cannot see how a virtuous theist's acts morally trump a virtuous atheist's acts assuming both behave in a moral manner.

Jay,When I saw the... (Below threshold)


When I saw the title I thought you were talking about paganism.
As you may or may not know
"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law"
is Aster Crowley quoting François Rabelais.

The Judea-Christian tradition has 10 commandments, the book of Leviticus. When God saw that no man could be perfect he sacrificed his only Son. God became man dwelt among use and rose from the dead. It is belief in him and dedicating life to him that saves us.
That of course is one tradition in that tradition all things are possible but not all things are permissible.

The little l view just does fit with the Christian view it might fit other traditions like
Paganism and to an extent Satanism IMHO.

The real issue is Christian God and the teachers are guides and belief system that allows one to make decisions. Therefore God cannot be co-opted by any political party. God is perfect his creation is not. Classic Liberalism and modern Conservatives do however see that the rights of man derive from God and therefor Government cannot take those rights away.

James H: "Any thinking pers... (Below threshold)

James H: "Any thinking person should be capable of an objective analysis if that person approaches that analysis in good faith.

So, all one would have to do is define "thinking person" and then determine if that person's approach to the analysis is "in good faith".

I'll give you a moment.........

Is it possible for you to see how your answer is not an answer at all?

Probably not, since you offered it in the first place.

James H: "If done properly,...

Who would define what is "properly"? Folks like our friends at East Anglia CRU who lost their data?

James H: "..such analysis would be the length of several books and cite to multiple obscure works, perhaps including those of Kant, Nietzsche, and other philosophers, but given the constraints of this forum, I think we can improvise a bit."

Wow. You really believe this tripe your posting?


James H: "And for the life of me, I cannot see how a virtuous theist's acts morally trump a virtuous atheist's acts assuming both behave in a moral manner."

Define "virtuous acts".

Preferably without creating a tautology.

Unfortunately, fun time is ... (Below threshold)

Unfortunately, fun time is over. I'm off for about 6 straight hours of meetings and delightful client interactions.

I'll check back in later to see if Upset Old Guy has equated Don's philosophy to that of suicide murderers!

Drago:Do you have ... (Below threshold)
James H:


Do you have something substantive to offer, or are you just interested in being an ass?

We don't need to define "objective," "virtuous," or "properly." Let's see your ideas.

My thesis, restated: Provided their behavior is substantially similar, neither a theist nor an atheist enjoys a superior moral position.

Drago, I give you my permis... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

Drago, I give you my permission to say or think anything you wish about me. How's that for a good deal?

As I said before, it's impossible to just discuss articles of faith. Many of the previous 28 posts adequately demonstrate that proposition.

And for the record, Drago, ... (Below threshold)
James H:

And for the record, Drago, yes, I do believe the "tripe." I've only sampled their work, but moral philosophers can and do cite other philosophers' work during discussions, whether they support or refute the ideas they discuss.

In a serious academic debate, that kind of thing is important. In a blog comment thread ... not so much.

James H-In the inter... (Below threshold)

James H-
In the interest of keeping this discussion going (and with no offense intended whatsoever) I am curious to know, referencing your comment at #25, as to what motivation an atheist might have in doing charitable works? What would be their justification for acting thusly? I am not inferring that atheists cannot be virtuous or charitable, I am just interested in their motivation behind such works.

I've run across the same th... (Below threshold)

I've run across the same thought myself, and as a Christian, it seems somewhat applicable, especially in the area of free will. Note that if the Bible is true, He also provided us with a textbook of good and bad choices, along with His game plan in the time war.

He even gave us a contract written in His blood to disconnect ourselves from the consequences of bad choices - not because helping others is the only purpose in life, as Altruism states, but because it's right to help those who ask for help. (Liberty does not negate morality.)

I also believe that the conflict between Satan and God is primarily political. Perhaps Satan was jealous of the infinite power of God and started a Communist revolution: since God has infinite power, He can afford to give infinite power to all the angels too and have no less than He began with. The trick is that if God acquiesced to this plan, Satan would have claim to rule instead of God because he thought of it before the God with supposedly infinite intelligence.

A fair question. Any number... (Below threshold)
James H:

A fair question. Any number of reasons. A sense of duty toward a family member. A sense of duty instilled by millennia of evolution. (Check into recent work on evolutionary psychology on this point) a dislike of somebody's suffering. Personal atonement for some immoral act. Personal moral codes forged of experience. Moral conditioning. Aspects of the social contract.

The incredibly insufferable atheists like Bill Maher would likely argue moral superioriry because they don't need a god to guide them.

I think Maher's a prick, personally. I just think that there are multiple motivators for moral behavior, and that theism is unnecessary.

Sorry I'm late to the game<... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Sorry I'm late to the game

Deut 30:19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live 20 and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

God's all about choices and being clear what the consequences are about those choices. People hate it when they have to choose between immediate and delayed gratification. Our tendency is to deny that we have to make a choice and that we can defer any decision to the last moment and then decide. It doesn't work that way.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that we have a choice and that choice is to either accept Christ or to not do so. It also makes clear that there is no other way. If you don't like that then your choice is simple.

If there were no necessity to make a choice we would not have Pascal's wager.

So to the point of the post... (Below threshold)
jim m:

So to the point of the post: Is God a libertarian?

Yes. He's the original libertarian. He allows everyone to choose what they will do and does not coerce or force behavior(in general). But He knows the future consequences of our decisions and he tries to explain to us what those consequences are and He tries to recommend the best course of action.

Even so we remain free to choose otherwise. We are free to curse Him. We are free to turn our backs and ignore Him. We are free to refuse His offer of salvation and strive to earn it by our own works. We are free to commit unspeakable acts of evil.

All these things God allows because the only way we can be free to choose Him is to be equally free to choose against Him.

This is entertaining to sa... (Below threshold)

This is entertaining to say the least. Jay you dropped it, then you stepped in it.
Clay# 12 nailed the verses for you( some of them),you can check them if you want.

"and he tries to explain to... (Below threshold)

"and he tries to explain to us what those consequences are and He tries to recommend the best course of action"

In other words, He also holds to the libertarian ideal of free information for anyone who cares to research it.

God is definitely a liberta... (Below threshold)

God is definitely a libertarian. Freewill and all that. Also God refuses to "prove" his existence, which is something our government should try. People should be able to live their lives without being constantly reminded that the government is there. LOL, we should be allowed to chose to believe in government or not, which sadly is not possible at the moment because they're always there with taxes and deadlines and laws and regulations.

It always makes me laugh when people claim to have "no skin in this game." If you have skin and you're here in this game, you're kind of out of luck trying to deny your participation level. I get the meaning behind those words, you have no investment in Christianity or who believes or who doesn't, but when it comes to the game of life, there are no innocent bystanders. LOL, we're all here because we're not all there. Whether you want it or not, you have "skin in the game."

Heh. The atheist and "agno... (Below threshold)
Jim Addison:

Heh. The atheist and "agnostic" (who loves to brag of his ignorance more than Jay?) libertines just love to lecture Christians on our religion, and claim their mantle of "objectivity" in a post titled with a words from the most famous Satanist in history.

Stirred up some comments, though, which I presume was the whole point - I could find no other.

The part about you being "familiar with Christian doctrine" was hilarious.

yttik has it right. Even t... (Below threshold)
jim m:

yttik has it right. Even the atheist and agnostic have skin in this game. You have one of four choices:

1) God exists. He is the God of the Bible. I believe and try to follow Him. Pretty straight forward: It's your God so you care about who He is.

2) A god exists. I don't believe in the Bible/don't like that god. There are a zillion flavors of this position, from there are many paths to god, to 'I believe in non Christian religion X". You many not believe in the Christian God of the Bible but you have a vested interest in God not being Him because if you are wrong you are totally screwed.

3) You're agnostic. You can't decide/are unwilling to commit or take the position that you just don't care. Despite affecting an attitude of not caring or knowing you have a vested interest in God not being that of the Christian Bibla because, once again, if He is you are totally screwed.

4) You're Atheist. You have more skin in this game than anyone because if you are wrong about God existing, even if He isn't the one of the Christian Bible, you are most likely totally screwed.

Hence Pascal's wager. There's no upside to being atheist and being right, but the downside to being wrong really sucks.

Upset Old Guy: "Drago, I gi... (Below threshold)

Upset Old Guy: "Drago, I give you my permission to say or think anything you wish about me. How's that for a good deal?"

Who cares?

I'm simply calling you out on your obviously ludicrous attempt to draw parallels to Don's stated beliefs with those beliefs of muslim radicals who are sawing off peoples heads.

I'm sorry that my noticing your loose logic and sloppy rhetoric upsets you.....but then thats to be expected, after all, you're an "old guy".....

I don't see how your dev... (Below threshold)
jim m:

I don't see how your devotion to a god grants you moral superiority over an atheist who acts charitably. From all appearances, their actions seem the same.

Well that's the problem isn't it. The Bible is full of passages that explain that it is not our actions that make the difference but the condition of our heart that matters. In other words it isn't what we do it is who we are that matters.

Actions are just actions. They are sinful or not. It does not matter who does good actions and who sins. We all do both. An action is not "better" because a believer commits it, nor is it worse because a nonbeliever does it.

Any one (atheist or believer) can do all sorts of good works, but none of them avail him one jot. Good deeds work in the Boy Scouts, they don't count for much in God's economy.

Well, gee whiz, I didn't re... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

Well, gee whiz, I didn't realize this was a writing test.

Drago, I've lived among people who had their belief system stripped from them by government and "Christian" missionaries. People who subsequently found themselves living without any religious support as the missionaries lost interest in being there among them. So, I'm not surprised by the response, "Who cares?" I've seen it and heard it before.

You don't think the religious absolutism expressed in Don L's statements is like that of the radical islamists. Fine by me.

Have a nice life, pretty sure there is nothing else we need to talk about.

UOG,Frankly I do n... (Below threshold)
jim m:


Frankly I do not see the comparison at all. I don't agree completely with Don L's statements but I cannot see anything that remotely comes to a statement like the islamic belief that infidels and apostates should be killed for failing to believe. Nor do I perceive any statement that non-believers are some sort of second class citizen that deserves discrimination against and punishment for their non-belief.

UOG: "You don't think the r... (Below threshold)

UOG: "You don't think the religious absolutism expressed in Don L's statements is like that of the radical islamists."

Nope. As evidenced by the objective TRUTH that Christians of Don's persuasion aren't sawing off peoples heads.

Regardless of what you choose to believe.

I'm sorry if the "data" puts the lie to the ridiculous parallel you attempted to draw.

"You many not believe in... (Below threshold)
Evil Otto:

"You many not believe in the Christian God of the Bible but you have a vested interest in God not being Him because if you are wrong you are totally screwed."

And that is why this agnostic doesn't believe in the Christian God. Any all-powerful, supposedly loving God who would "totally screw" someone for not believing in him is a being I want no part of.

Joe: "your reward for a... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Joe: "your reward for all of eternity is decided by a few actions over the course of a few years. What is the percentage of 80 or so years compared to all of eternity?"

Actually, many major decisions with long-term effects are the result of a very sudden decision.

Children are born at the end of a process which begins, biologically, with a spasmodic reaction which lasts a second or two.

A moment's loss of concentration can lead a drunk driver to take someone's life or maim them for the rest of their days.

A twitch of a finger on a trigger can mean the difference between a bad decision a young man can come back from, and a waste of at least two lives, one in death the other behind bars for the rest of his.

We make permanent decisions in a moment every single day. Sadly, too many of us do not realize this until we have closed doors that cannot open again. God's warning about heaven and hell simply reflects our own recklessness and the consequences.

Joe: "your reward for al... (Below threshold)
jim m:

Joe: "your reward for all of eternity is decided by a few actions over the course of a few years. What is the percentage of 80 or so years compared to all of eternity?"

And as I have pointed out this has nothing to do with the Christian concept of salvation. It isn't what you do. It isn't your actions or accomplishments that determine your eternal fate. It is faith alone that saves.

If you could be good enough or make enough right decisions then Christ need never have died on the cross for our sins.

The problem with coming to faith is that it is often the case that our attitudes are the result of the choices that we make. In so far as we choose immediate gratification, we choose what's expediant over what is morally right, we choose to harden our hearts toward the God who offers us forgiveness.

But these are not just a few choices they are multiple millions of choices ever day and every year. We choose to sin. We all do. Christians do it as much as the rest. The lone difference is that Christians try to choose right and they (if they really are Christians) strive for repentance from those sins and hope to do better with the next choice.

In Christianity it is not about being on some theological dot of God's will, it is about a condition of the heart, accepting God's forgiveness and provision and desiring to be more like Him.

More people dislike Christianity for the characterizations of it rather than what it is really about.

Some random thoughts:... (Below threshold)
James H:

Some random thoughts:

Pascal's Wager is flawed on a number of fronts, one of them its lack of dimension. If one chooses to worship the Christian god in the hope that there is a positive afterlife, that person is going to be hard-up when he gets to the afterlife and Ma'at is waiting for him with a feather.

Not that I'm saying Egyptian myths are any more valid than Christian beliefs. But from my vantage point, neither one is more or less likely to be true.

Wikipedia discusses the wager in further detail; I find particularly interesting the ways in which the wager can be framed. The Dawkins version -- "waste of time" vs. "living a life of reason" -- is one particularly persuasive to me.

Worshipping a god vs. living a moral life. I felt like a dentist pulling out a particularly troublesome tooth, but Jim M above conceded that there is no moral difference between an act committed by a Christian and the same act committed by an atheist. Whether one helps an old lady across the street or commits murder, one has committed an act that is either moral or immoral, and one's faith does not affect that.

And then the discussion degenerates into Christians expounding on their belief that a person has to accept their god or else that person's going to burn in hell. (Oddly, no mention of being eaten by jackals if you fail Ma'at's test).

and that's something that I find inconsistent. Apparently, living a good life, or a life as good as one can, is not good enough for the Christian deity. One is also required to worship, have a personal relationship with that deity, or to believe in that deity and so forth, or otherwise that person will be consigned to eternal torment, forced to burn painfully and watch Alf reruns for all eternity.

But ... doesn't that seem a little petty for an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent deity? "Believe in me, worship me .... OR ELSE!!!" Is this deity insecure in its own godhood? Does it demand obeisance? And if I feign obeisance, wouldn't it see right through my bad faith, given its omniscience and all?

I find that kind of behavior morally questionable. It discounts nearly all the good or evil a person might do in his lifetime in favor of a test that makes a mockery of all of man's existential ponderings, and indeed of man's very existence.

The nature of god. In God is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything, the acerbic Christopher Hitchens points to the obverse of many supposed miracles. He notes, for example, that for every family that thanked a deity for a person's survival in Katrina, there is another family that did, in fact, lose its family. Moreover, if one accepts the existence of a god, then that god must have been responsible for that hurricane in the first place!!

Which means that if I accept the premise that the Christian god exists, I must also accept the premise that it is a very distant entity. It appears unconcerned with the plight of mortals, good or evil, and smites them without regard to their individual merit.

Either that, or the Christian god is a non-interventionist god that does not interfere at all in its creation. The suffering of a few thousand ... or a few million ... otherwise good or not-so-good people is of no concern to that entity.

Contrast that with the teachings of that entity's chief prophet. That prophet tells us to love our neighbors, turn the other cheek, be charitable to those less fortunate, and generally be nice to each other.

If the relevant deity does not itself adhere to those precepts, then are those precepts valid? Or does the deity invalidate itself through its own words?

Back to Pascal's Wager. Let's reconsider this for a moment. If I am to embrace an eternal reward in a forced wager, then I am compelled not merely to live a moral life, but also to devote myself to the worship of the Christian god.

To attain that reward, I must worship a deity that, by my own analysis, is either uncaring, non-interventionist, or worst of all, actively malevolent. In what universe does such an entity merit veneration? If such an entity exists, I would be best off to offer sacrifices in the hope I can appease the entity and keep it from taking bloody violence against me!!

Or perhaps I can embrace another truth. If I adopt the alternate hypothesis that there is no god, then natural disasters and similar things are merely natural phenomenon, attributable to plate techtonics, the wings of butterflies, and other largely impersonal, non-guided forces.

In other words, it doesn't matter that both sinners and non-sinners die in an earthquake or a hurricane. It simply is. And their survival is the results from some combination of luck, preparedness, and the willingness of human beings to help each other.

In some ways, this is a better world. It does not require petitioning some remote deity for answers to universal questions. It means the answers are right here in front of us, for better or for worse.

Given the choice between venerating such a deity and seeking meaning in the natural, present world, I choose the latter course. Moreover, I find myself incapable of the former course.

How can I pay even lip service to that worldview, when all evidence points elsewhere? In crafting his wager, Pascal thought that a doubter could come to religious faith over time through practice of that faith, but I am incapable of that level of self-deception.

supposedly loving God wh... (Below threshold)

supposedly loving God who would "totally screw" someone for not believing in him

Because, after a life marked by a desire to be apart from Him, a loving God would force you to spend eternity with Him? That would be your definition of love? Look, you have evidence all round you. Your own self is irreducibly wondrous, leaving you without excuse.

Hell is merely an extension of your life here in separation from God. Your choice. Your consequence. It seems fairly libertarian to me.

The entire quote:"... (Below threshold)

The entire quote:

"An it harm none, do what thou wilt shall the the whole of the Law."

James H has some good point... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

James H has some good points, although I would remind him that Wikipedia is not a strong resource for accuracy or academic veracity (not a known on wiki, I like it myself for quick reference but I never forget that open-source websites can be manipulated, and wikipedia is notorious for such things in the past), as well as the fact that while he is entitled to quote notable atheists he finds cogent, their opinion is no more "truth" or "fact" than any religious opinion.

I also think I need to respond, from the Christian perspective, to his last comment, not as an antagonist but in hopes of continuing the discussion. From my position, one thing we humans all have in common is a limit to our understanding and knowledge, and so discussion that expands our horizon and improves understanding is something we may all enjoy.

First, I also dislike Pascal's Wager, but from the perspective that I believe it distorts God's purpose and motive. Like James, I do not find it reasonable that we should be compelled to believe in, much less obey, a deity on threat of torment or destruction. That scenario would paint God in the colors of the Gambino syndicate.

I also dislike the idea that we can intellectually "prove" God's existence or His will. Throughout Scripture, the fundamental precepts of God as revealed to Jews and Christians are Faith, Hope, and Love. There are no 'secret teachings' or magic words, we are each of us able to speak directly to God, soul to spirit, without any special tools or need to worry about mis-steps or details.

James' point about good works having no extra value when done by a believer also misses the lesson. As a point, consider two men, one unemployed and the other a billionaire. If both give $50 to charity, they give the same amount of money, but the act certainly costs more to the man out of work, and so it has the potential to mean more. Also, it would be absurd to argue that a man who gave money to charity, was kind to children and animals and worked as a volunteer at a homeless shelter, could therefore be allowed to, say, cheat on his wife and drive drunk. Moral virtue does not accrue in the way that money can be accumulated. Therefore, we do not "earn" rewards from God by being good, but rather we reflect God's love by showing goodness and love to our fellow humans.

DJ:Actually, I fou... (Below threshold)
James H:


Actually, I found the Wiki article on Pascal's wager fairly informative. Aspects of it, particularly recitation of Pascal's own thoughts on the wager, enlarged my own understanding of it. As to the prominent atheists ... I cited them not as fact, but as opinion and analysis I found persuasive.

I know you don't like the idea of proving a god's existence, but ... well, it's something that I would require before I believe in that god, let alone worship it. Without empirical evidence -- whether direct or indirect -- to support that god's existence, you're essentially left with a holy book and your firm conviction that your god exists. I'm sure that it's a very strong conviction, but I don't see how it has more value than imam's faith in his god, a rabbi's belief that Joshua of Nazareth was not the Messiah, or a Hindu man's unshaken faith in his deities.

As far as speaking soul to spirit, presumably through prayer or similar, again, I can't lend credence to that sort of thing. It's a highly subjective experience. And I have yet to see it produce some objective result.

That said, I've seen people draw a great deal of strength and inspiration from their faith in a higher power. They're survived tragedies that should by all rights have devastated them, yet they drew strength from their faith. I would argue that these people seriously devalue their own internal fortitude. But who am I to argue with them?

To your final point: I do not argue that one accrues moral currency that can then be spent on evil acts. That way lies papal indulgences, corruption, and German ministers nailing theses to your church door.

Rather, I argue that adding a person's religiosity to an act does not make it any more or less moral. Whether one murders or walks an old lady across the street, that act does not change.

And to your final hypothetical about 50 bucks. From an economic standpoint, you illustrate aptly the diminishing marginal utility of money. The more you have, the less each individual dollar is worth.

But I would argue that the unemployed man who gives fifty dollars is not as good-hearted as we think. Does he have a family to take care of? Does he have existing obligations that he needs to meet? If he cannot meet those existing obligations, then giving away his fifty dollars for the sake of his own morality seems a deeply selfish and immoral act.

PS. You skirted around one... (Below threshold)
James H:

PS. You skirted around one of my central points that I'd like you to address. If this god exists, then is that god an immoral being based on the acts I recited? And if so, why does that god merit worship?

I "skirted" nothing James. ... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

I "skirted" nothing James. I answered a good chunk of what you wrote, and the rest can be discussed in due course. I did not want to present a sermon, so I hit your first few points and tried to apply context and some respect to you. Would be nice if you returned the favor ...

Thought I did, DJ. What ot... (Below threshold)
James H:

Thought I did, DJ. What other points shall I hit?

You saw nothing in my posts... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

You saw nothing in my posts that sparked an idea, or suggested a dialogue?

Of course I did, DJ. And I... (Below threshold)
James H:

Of course I did, DJ. And I think I provided a bit of response.

Thanks James, I somehow mis... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Thanks James, I somehow missed your 104 PM response. I was writing up an answer and my 'puter burped and lost it, so I will have to come back and try again in a bit, as either God or the 'puter are telling me to go do something else for a while.

Sorry for the delay, James.... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Sorry for the delay, James. Things got really crazy over here, including a sudden change in business travel plans for next week.

The idea that God can be counted immoral runs into problems as soon as one accepts the contention that he is God. By definition, Godhood affords a being the control of morality - if God says something is good, then it is so, even if only because He says so. The question falls back to whether God exists, or whether a given entity is in fact God. After all, even the Bible warns that the Devil tries to deceive men into worshipping him as God, which by definition means we should test any claim by someone that they are God, or are speaking on His behalf, especially when they start giving out orders. Ultimately, we decide whether we believe or not, and our decision directs the consequences which follow. You'll hate me for saying so, but it comes down to faith, even when we decide to reject a claim.

One of the strongest arguments I know against the existence of a loving and active God, is the fact that good people suffer harm, loss, pain, and death. Besides all the evil that men do, we suffer from floods, earthquakes, and other disasters that are pretty consistently called 'Acts of God'. I can't really argue against that phrase, even though I believe God is good and kind - what else could I call, say, Hurricane Ike or Katrina? Could I really suggest that God was unable to spare the lives lost? That does not even consider the millions of personal hurts suffered every day by people who never deserved it. Sure, we have free will, but who can argue that a child who is molested or a wife who is beaten, or someone thrown into prison on false charges, also had their right to free choice respected? And even though we must accept that what God does is beyond human criticism, it makes it very hard to understand and so just as hard to accept.

This is one reason I love the Bible so much. When you really read and study the Bible, you notice how much of it is surprisingly honest. King David, for example. On the one hand he is shown to be basically the template for King Arthur in terms of valor and chivalry, but we also see plainly his sin with Bathsheba, a nasty combination of lust, arrogance and a murder conspiracy (nice touch that the husband of his mistress was not only cuckolded and murdered by David, but we are also told that Uriah was one of David's most capable and loyal captains. Shows Davis in a very bad but believable light.

And that brings me to the Book Of Job. Most people know the basics of the story, and almost no one is satisfied with the ending. It seems to come down to God getting bored, making a bet with Satan about whether Job will deny God if every good thing is taken from him, Job passes every test with surprising patience and terrible suffering, and God's answer to Job about why seems to come down to a scriptural version of "because I can". A hard book to read, and nearly impossible to make much sense of.

From the human perspective, anyway. If you pay close attention, especially to the moral foundation which everyone uses for their arguments in the book, there is a broader, eternal perspective that has to be taken to make sense of things. Like the question of whether God exists, this has to be accepted - or rejected - on faith, not evidence.

What makes this reasonable in the eys of believers, is the fact that so much of life has to be taken on faith. How do you know if your friends will keep a confidence? How do you know if your wife or husband will remain faithful? How do you know anything, really, about so many issues that matter? In the end, you choose to believe or to be a cynic. And that choice changes you.

So too does the choice regarding God. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people who claim to believe in God, do not really do so. They do what they want, and for them 'god' is a convenient way to get rid of pesky moral messes. Lie to your wife? Steal from your boss? Don't worry about what kind of person that's making you become, just pray to "God" (registered brand name personal deity) to take away your sins and you can be clean and happy!

Seriously, I think there's a lot of folks like that, and for my money the atheist is well ahead of them in morals. But there are also people who take God for real, and in their case it's not about fear of punishment or 'getting caught', it's about trying to be something greater than yourself, to grow as a person and get away from the sad old habits of doing things you don't really want to do. I don't just mean exercising more or learning how to meditate, I mean how to love your neighbor and to be honest, good and true like we all wanted to be when we were kids. When Jesus said we must be 'born again', that's what he meant, I believe - becoming the ideal person we hoped to be but missed the road some years back.

And yes, believing in God makes a difference, because it's not something you can do all by yourself. Sure, other people can help but the fact is you need a guide, a sign if you will, that you're on the right path and that what you are doing is not useless or doomed to fail. It's about becoming human the way we always hoped we would be.

DJ: Thanks for the respons... (Below threshold)
James H:

DJ: Thanks for the response. It'll be later before I can get back to you. I'm glad you didn't use some of the usual dodges I've encountered over the years.






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