Absolute truth, not limited truth, is a necessary component of many religions.

Christians frequently insist that God is Love. What they generally mean is that their particular version of god is always loving in every conceivable situation towards every conceivable person. Unless he gets righteously angry, of course.

The problem with this mindless assertion is that is is inconsistent with reality and with the rest of the standard Christian story. Leaving aside the difficulties of proposing a supernatural being with human-like emotions, all but extremely liberal Christians are faced with the uncomfortable theological necessity of positing a god with absolute and unchanging characteristics in the face of significant and embarrassingly contrary evidence.

In the writings which these same Christians believe are divinely inspired by the Jewish-Christian god, one or other of the oneness-trio is frequently depicted as behaving in a very unloving manner towards all manner of people, including those that this multiple personality calls his own chosen group. Fundamentalist Christians have the added problem of having to maintain that these writings are absolutely accurate in every detail – except, of course, when it suits them and/or their leaders to interpret the passage as allegorical.

The problem would dissipate (except for the supernatural part of it) if Christians were willing to accept that their version of god was emotionally capricious (like many of the Greek and Roman gods).

Unfortunately for them, a god which is nice one minute and an utter bastard the next does not fit in with the central theme of a perfectly behaved god who is so overwhelmingly moral that he can transfer his perfection to all humanity for eternity by having part of himself tortured for a few hours and then killed for a few days. If this god is only loving in a limited fashion then the whole theology of the sacrificial death for the sins of capricious humankind comes tumbling down.

Most Christians faced with the stark reality of the Old Testament description of the Yahweh god work extremely hard to deny it, ignore it, shelve it or explain it away.

The weakest argument is that god’s ways are not knowable to man so that what looks as if it were disgustingly immoral is actually wonderfully moral when looked at through god’s eyes. In other words, they argue that what looks to be black is actually white when god is the agent because they just do not have sufficient understanding of god’s purpose. If they argue that they do not have sufficient understanding to understand god’s actions then it is very arrogant of them to imagine that they have the understanding to interpret it. They can’t have it both ways.

Another approach is to suggest that the covenant which the Yahweh god made with the Israelites in the Old Testament is null and void now that a new one has been made with the world by Jesus. Christians who argue this are rarely prepared to discard the writings of the Old Testament because they also believe that it contains divinely inspired predicitions of the New. This approach still fails to absolve the Yahweh god of the atrocities for which he is credited or to explain why behaviour which is credited to him by one author is attributed to the devil by a later writer (see the story of David and the census).

It also creates a spiritual split personality which pits the Son against the Father in a kind of supernatural family feud. Which personality is in charge here: the loving one or the terrible one? What can we say about a dependent personality who agrees to have himself humiliated and tortured in order to fix a problem created by another personality? What can we say about the morals of the dominant personality? If the dominant personality loves to kill and torture and "test" his subjects, then what kind of Hell would his Heaven be for those who were trapped there for eternity?

The bottom line is that the Christian scriptures do not describe the kind of god which most Christians say they believe in.

Their god conforms to the their own moral viewpoint and upholds only those cultural values and mores which they and their community think are axiomatically good. They see these things as static and unchanging “truths”. The fact that the concept of morality has been evolving over the centuries is not known to them.

They have truly created a god in their own image, a god which is incompatible with the sacred scripts which they think describe it.

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Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on May 16, 2009 at 10:16pm
Humans have some choice, but only within a matrix of realized and understood choices. The restrictions include primed probabilities resulting from education (or lack of it), biological conditions, emotional states, instinct, genetic endowment, environment, upbringing and circumstances of the moment.

Humans aren't the only ones who have this ability. What is not generally recognized is that a similar matrix of choices is available to animals. The lowly snail has some "free will" in where he choses to slide. Its brain is just not complex enough for it to invent a snail god and chose to go where he choses to believe it directs.

Free will is a necessary component of higher animal life. All learning above the level of reflex requires some ability to direct behavior and make choices. Any animal which has the capacity to learn has the ability to choose. The practice part of learning enables the learner to restrict future choices in order to speed up and automate the behaviour.

Watch your pets as they exercise free will. They show affection to you because they choose to do so, from within their own matrix of choices. That is part of what it gratifying for you. That is probably the origin of the idea that a god needs to have subjects with free will so it can enjoy the reactions. You can influence and change your pet's behaviour towards you by how you treat them. Any canine obedience school will show you how.

If there were a god, it could influence how we behave in a similar fashion. There is no evidence that it knows how to do that effectively. Perhaps it failed the learning theory component of behavioral sciences 101. I recommend it attend supernatural summer school for divine under-acheivers.
Comment by Jim DePaulo on May 16, 2009 at 8:55pm
The most enslaving meme of the whole side show is the idea that "free will" was a gift from god. What a great gift, god, of course it has absolutely no value. It's an illusion conjured up for humanity so they believe they are making the choices in their life.
There is no independent free will thingy within us making judgements and decisions out whole cloth. As if that BS were not sufficient, free will is also entangled with the delusional entity - the soul. The evidence establishing the existence or either is as voluminous as is the evidence for the existence of god.
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on May 16, 2009 at 3:43pm
What part of "Thou shalt not kill" did he not understand? Did he think that the commandment did not apply to people? Or did he think that it didn't apply to people who had broken the new commandment not to bow down to "graven images", in spite of the fact that they had yet to be advised of this commandment? This may be the first recorded instance of people becoming aware that ignorance of the law does not exempt them from it. Apparently clemency was not part of his god's legal system.

He also deliberately smashed the stone tablet with the first set of the so-called Ten Commandments inscribed into it. If his god had prepared it why did he imagine he had the right to destroy his god's handiwork?
Comment by Rich Goss on May 16, 2009 at 1:51pm
Rosemary, I like the story of Moses coming down Mount Sinai with the new law to discover his followers worshipping the Golden Calf. Not only that, they were partying like crazy. So Moses ordered his soldiers to slay every one of them.

I believe he overreacted, but that's okay. God the Father acts in mysterious ways.
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on May 15, 2009 at 11:35pm
@Roger: I shuddered when I read your story about Yahweh being more "just" than loving. It reminds of the Calvinist Baptist pastor I heard on a Podcast last week who excused Calvin from burning a so-called heretic alive (simply because he did not believe in predestination) because he claimed that Calvin was not part of the government or the judiciary and therefore did not have the power to do the deed. The fact that he engineered the burning was not considered to be relevant. It was one of those moments when it is difficult to believe that you are hearing what you are hearing.

I won't get into the Fanatical Phelps Family's Fag Furnace Fantasy.
Comment by Roger Rotge on May 15, 2009 at 10:03pm
True story: I just finished up a 13ish week course with a local church put out by Focus on the Family. I just wanted to see what honest to goodness believers in my local area are being taught and how they respond. There is a lot I could say about my experiences, but in response to what you said about God and good, here is what I was told, "I don't think God is more loving that just." What this person at the meeting was saying is that he believes God couldn't be a fair judge of humankind if he was all-loving. His analogy was that if a human judge let every murderer go because he loved his fellow man, he wouldn't be a good judge. Therefore, God must damn some people in order to be fair. It was one of those moments that just shocked me! This person, this devout Christian, just logically denied one of the core components used to define the deity they worship. I haven't been this flabbergasted since asking the question, "if you could go back in time and save Jesus(assuming there was a historical Jesus) from being tortured and killed, would you?" Around 95% of the people I asked said no, they would not save Jesus.
Thank you for your post. I enjoyed reading it.
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on May 15, 2009 at 8:32pm
Thanks Darrel. Episode is over and the new meds are working.
Comment by Darrel Ray on May 15, 2009 at 7:00pm
Well put, Rosemary. If only logic worked with the religious, you would now be a saint of reason in the pantheon of atheist demigods. Hope you are feeling better.
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on May 15, 2009 at 6:13pm
I think the standard Christian responses to that are:

1. The devil caused it.

This implies that god cannot or will not over-ride the actions of the Devil.

Although god is credited with casting the Devil and his Angels into Hell it seems to be a very porous place. The Devil keeps escaping from it to wreak havoc on Earth, a outrage which seems to be stupidly misplaced. Then there is the strange story that Yahweh gave the Devil dominion over the Earth. He seems to have been unable to make up his mind over whether to reward or eternally punish his former spiritual creation. Even more strangely, he gets together with the Devil (in Hell or outside it?) to stage the joint project of “testing” poor Job. In civilized moral systems, aiding and abetting a crime is just as evil as carrying out a crime. It sounds like Lucifer, the Angel of Light, had good reason to rebel against such a Dark Lord.

One can only speculate why the Biblical Almighty didn’t sacrifice himself to pay the penalty of sins committed by the Devil and the other Fallen Angels. These entities seem to be yet another of his botched creation projects. Why does he view them as less worthy than the Fallen Humans?

An alternative to arguing that the Christian god is powerless to stop the devil doing evil is .to argue that god simply refuses to use this power because there is “greater good” involved in this restraint.

The usual argument here is that god won't do anything about Satan because it would upset his gift to humans (and the Fallen Angels) of "free will". It would then follow that the ability to chose or reject god is deemed to be more important than keeping a monster in check or preventing the pain and suffering of those who have no ability to help themselves. Worse, it allows for cruelty towards people who may be too young or too mentally damaged to be able to exercise any of this “free will”.

2. God caused it.

a. The men, women and children were sinful and deserved their fate. This is a disgustingly insensitive argument. It implies that the victims deserved their fate more than the war-mongers who caused it.

This is generally argued by those who preach that god likes teaching people painful lessons in a manner reminiscent of the methods practiced by psychopathic personalities. The “punishment” does not fit any “crime” they may have committed. Moreover, there seems to be absolutely no correlation between the severity of the misery and the severity of the “sinfulness”. Freshly born babies are treated more harshly than grown ups who water board others. In this scheme, human life is treated as trash. Modern morality condemns people who treat animals in this cruel fashion, let along humans.

b. A related argument is that god has caused/allowed disaster to happen in order to punish others. The others may be related to the victims very loosely, or not at all. This is the argument that natural disasters were caused by god to punish whole communities or nations for failing to do whatever the accuser thinks is “sinful”, including a State or Nation passing the “wrong” laws. This is the same incredible “punishment-by-proxy” argument which is used to explain how the torture and death of Jesus can pay the penalty for the wrongdoing of infinite generations of humans.

c. A really disgraceful argument is the one that suggests that god allowed the victims to suffer so that his Followers could bring glory to his name by helping them. Malevolent means are used to justify supposedly glorious ends.

There is a problem with this one if you are an Evangelical who believes that you are saved through "faith" alone. The usual explanation is that such "works" are the natural product of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus/Yahweh and logically follow from it. It is argued that charitable behavior will make others take notice of the good qualities of Christians. This, in turn, will influence others to do whatever a the particular Christian and his group believes is necessary to obtain eternal salvation. What is stressed here is not that the physical lives of people are improved but that they, or other, spirits are saved from a hypothesized hell in a hypothesized after-life. Christians feel good about this. This is selfishness redefined as righteousness.
Comment by Rosemary LYNDALL WEMM on May 15, 2009 at 2:48pm
I am happy to provide permission. Let me know when the book is published.

If you want to keep abreast of Christian Craziness I recommend that you download some of the Christian/Atheist debates on the Infidel Guy site. Some of them really give the atheist a run for his logic but in the end the Christian argument devolves into silliness.

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