Where is God?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Scott Adams post

I'd just like to direct you to Scott Adams' post here. What has he gotten wrong?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Do we have free will?

This question has perplexed humans for thousands of years. Do we really get to choose our paths through life, or is there a destiny for everyone, a great plan that we cannot stray from?

There are hundreds of ways to look at this question, but let us stick to the God thing. Assume the following to be true:

1. God is perfect and omnipotent. He is unlimited in all senses - infinite power, knowledge, presence etc...
2. Humans have free will in the sense that we can choose whether or not to believe in God, in what way we believe in Him, and to what extent.

Looking at these two statements, I come to the following. If we do have free will, it is conceivable that we can consciously choose to go aginst the will of God. Granted this would doubtless result in some unpleasantries (like a painful death and eternal burning in hell, where I can only imagine they play 'Welcome to My Life' by Simple Plan in loop), but it is nonetheless theoretically possible that God reveal Himself to me, say 'George, it is my will that you eat this tomato, so obey', and I say 'no, I will not'.

Hence if humans have free will, God's power is limited (whilst he can create a universe, he could not make me eat a tomato). God cannot be limited by definition. Now consider:

1. God is perfect and omnipotent. He is unlimited in all senses - infinite power, knowledge, presence etc...
2. Humans do not have free will - God controls everything that we do; it is His will

If this is the case, everything from Eve eating the forbidden fruit, to the Black Plague, to both World Wars, to living in a world where we are slowly destroying the Earth and billions of people are going to hell (no matter which religion is right, billions will be wrong), is God's will. Not only that, but what would be the point of believing at all, since God would choose who believes in Him and the rest don't have a hope...

Either one of the 2 situations above is true, or they are both flase. I think that they are both false, which leads us to the following: God, if indeed He exists at all, is limited in power. Indeed it follows that he is limited in all things, and hence the definition of God as it is understood by most is flawed. So:

1. What is the definition of 'God'?
2. Do we have free will?
3. Can God have limited power?


Monday, September 11, 2006

Is an imperfect God good?

Hello all!

I'm sorry for the lack of updates. As you may have seen from my other blog (Cuppa Tea), I was away for a weeks holiday in Amsterdam, and internet was a little hard to come by. :-). My apologies.

Naturally I have been thinking about this blog, religion and Christianity a lot. I started asking myself why I wanted to ask these questions, why it interests me so much (following on from my post yesterday). I think that this comment from 'Mattie' sums it up:

"This has little to do with faith, and much more to do with psychology. Maybe you should do your exploring there."

Whilst this is not the most interesting comment I have received, it is the only one that gave me a flash of realisation. I am exploring human psychology. What interests me is not so much religion and Christianity, but where they come from, their reasons for existing, and how they impact on individual human lives and humanity. Hence 'to find out WHY people believe'. So this is my first question for today. Why do you believe in God? And following that, why do you follow religion doctrines? Let me analyse these for a second.

The most logical answer to the first question (and the one I expect to come up the most) is "because, having analysed the evidence and read the bible, I have concluded that there is enough evidence to convince me that God exists in the form that Christianity describes". It is the second question that is a little bit difficult. Some answers I can think of (and indeed have received before):
  1. Because I want to go to heaven
  2. Because God defines what is good, and I want to be a good person
  3. To bring glory to God, regardless of the consequences
  4. Because they have a beneficial impact on my everyday life
Let me be clear - if there is a heaven, I want to go to it. All rational humans would. However, this is not a reason for believing in God or being religious (see question 2 of my first post Where is God?). I also have trouble with reason 2. I do not like the idea that God 'defines what is good'. I understand that, by definition, He is perfect, and therefore can do no wrong, and therefore defines good. However, I am very willing to accept that God has flaws (question 3 - does He?). The Greeks thought they did, so the idea is not so far fetched. Look around. If God was perfect, and He loved all humans, why did he create cancer and AIDS? Why does he give the already starving Africans drought and locusts? Why do natural disasters kill so many innocent humans? Indeed, if He loves humans, why is he letting us self destruct? Are we an experiment gone wrong to Him? Or are we His sons and daughters? If it is the latter, when will He make the world a better place?

The second part of reason 2 does not work for everyone as well. As I asked in this post, would you still be 'good' if doing so sent you to hell? Some said 'yes'. I predict that on a global scale, you are very much in the minority.

The 3rd reason seems silly to me. It portrays humans as God's slaves. You might say to me that God created me, and that I owe Him everything. I could say the same as my parents. However, I question their orders and morals. Terrible things have happened in this world because people try to 'bring glory to God', believing blindly that they are serving their Lord. Questioning orders, laws, rules, beliefs and morals is what makes us human.

I have absolutely nothing to say against reason 4, except to throw it right back at you. I do not always live my life according to strict Christian values, because they do not have a beneficial impact on my everyday life. In fact, I think that there might be people out there who live a Christian life without being as certain of God's existence as most of you seem to be. Their attitude: 'it brings something extra to my life, and if it's true, that's a bonus'. Are they going to hell? (That was question 4.)

We are back to my original belief when I started this blog. I think that as long as you lead a good life, try to be a good, virtuous person, and regret your mistakes, you can look forward to heaven, in whatever form it is, and God's love, in whatever form He is. Praying is not necessary, church is not necessary, and perhaps belief is not necessary. Tell me why I am wrong without quoting from the bible, as I have decided that, for me, it is not a source reliable enough for me to base my life on.

Quick response to one of Amanda's comments. It is perfectly possible that some of the bible can be right, and some wrong. Imagine that it is NOT the word of God, but the story of the resurrection is true. Is that not possible? Or let me put it this way - imagine that the stories are true in their most basic forms - all the actual sentences ('and then he said...') are either slightly wrong, or completely wrong.

I have much more to say after being away for so long, but I shall let you ponder what I have written for a little bit. A quick word to Jim Jordan - thank you very much for all your responses (I think you have left the most comments). I owe you a personal reply, and it will come.

Remember people, be good, but doubt your goodness.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Response to Amanda

As requested by Jim Jordan, I shall reply specifically to one of the comments from my last post Why is God bad at marketing? Amanda has left several very interesting replies to my questions
on her blog
Imago Dei. Her most recent response is here.

In response to Amanda's first question:

'What is your motivation? You've already stated that you're not asking these because you're seeking God'

To answer this I direct you to my response to the post at The Sincerity of Questions.

As a partial answer to Amanda's comments, I think a more interesting question is why am I exploring Religion and Christianity, rather than any other interesting and debatable philosophical subject? Well I'm sure you'll agree that religion has always played a huge role in the evolution of mankind, and continues to today. One must admit not always for the good (crusades, Middle East disputes, religious extremist terrorism etc...). In fact, from what I've seen, religion, although wonderful in small communities and on a personal level, causes huge problems when used in politics.

I can think of nothing better than religion to unite a population. The problem is in politics you often only need to unite a population to do something that people would not usually agree to, like go to war, suicide bombings and the like. Thinking about the huge role of religion in our world, and the problems it can cause, I starting wondering why people believe what they do, and why so many people disagree with those beliefs. I wondered: 'if religion were less important on an individual level, would the world be a better place?' I realise that the believers amongst you are itching to reply almost outraged at the prospect, saying "religion is the single most important thing to mankind". I realise this, and on a personal level agree with it. If it is true, then nothing is more important to the individual. But on a global/political level, would not the world be a better place if religion never came into it?

Those were the thoughts that lead me to start asking questions about Christianity, to try and find out what makes it so solid when it looks so fragile from an outside perspective. This is the one and only reason I think that Christianity is so fragile: the bible. So far no one has directly answered the question 'how do you know that the bible is the word of God? Every response has been based on the bible. Most of Amanda's first paragraph is a biblical quote, and the concluding sentence is "
But then, we don't need them either because we have everything we need to know laid out for us in the Bible". It is irrational for any human being to believe blindly in a book that makes such huge claims (see my comments about the book 'Misquoting Jesus' in this post). I agree that historical evidence for the existence of Jesus is indisputable for any rational man. Indeed I could probably be convinced of His resurrection, and that would probably be enough evidence to convince me that He was the Son of God. These are the 'basic beliefs' I have mentioned before. However, I have trouble believing everything beyond that, as the evidence becomes very hazy. It is the 'messages from God' and religious doctrines that I have trouble swallowing. Indeed, I think that many religious agnostics would agree. And yet my just accepting the 'basic beliefs', I have been told, by every person who has commented on this blog, is not enough.

How do you know that every word in the bible is so correct as to be completely indisputable as the word of God? There must be something else, some other piece of evidence that pushed you over the tip, and made you a Christian, rather than a 'basic believer'. I'm on a quest to find what that thing is, and so far what I have suggested (that you feel God, that you hear Him, that you have seen a miracle) has been wrong according to those that have responded (often because I found flaws in them myself). So tell me, taking all I have said into account, how do you know? Where did you find God? Where is He?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Why is God bad at marketing?

Reading some of your answers, one thing I have discovered about religion (and perhaps Christianity in particular) is that it is very personal. This means that everyone has different opinions and interpretations of almost everything. There are very few people who believe exactly the same thing. I realise that these differences are only skin deep, and the underlying beliefs (the basic beliefs we discussed in my previous posts) are the same, but it still makes you think. The fact that there are so many interpretations shows one thing: Christianity and the messages of the Bible are ambiguous. So why doesn't God make things clearer for us?

Please do not jump to the obvious response – ‘what right do you have to question the way God works’? I have been told this before, but I remain unconvinced by those who say that but cannot provide an answer to my questions. It is human nature to question beliefs and knowledge, and I belive that it is very important to do so.

I have always assumed that God wants us to believe in Him. Indeed if He loves all of mankind, then he should want as many people as possible to believe. If this is the case, why does He do such a terrible job at promoting Himself? Those of you who believe and find your belief unquestionable, have you never wondered why so many people aren’t believers? There are about 4.5 billion non-believers. Assuming that Christianity is ‘the one true religion’, why are so many people missing out on it? Here are the reasons I can think of:

  1. Education about Christianity is not wide spread enough
  2. It is easier to find God (or think that you have) through other religions
  3. God only reveals himself to certain people
  4. Christianity is difficult to believe in, and those with a sceptical mind don’t think that there is enough evidence for it
  5. The Devil has corrupted 4.5 billion people so that they will go to hell (through reason 2?)
  6. 4.5 billion human minds are too corrupted to believe

In reasons 1 through 5, I have to think that God isn’t doing a very good job of getting people to believe in Him (assuming He wants us too). Being God, shouldn’t he be able to solve these problems without completely revealing Himself? He should be able to do it without us even noticing a difference. As for those of you who liked reason 6, isn’t it a sin to think that you are superior to 4.5 billion other human minds?

To compound this marketing problem, God also fills the world with ‘tests of faith’, which have been prominent throughout human history as we make discoveries. The whole ‘test of faith’ thing doesn’t make sense to me, and I have only ever heard it when a believer is unable to provide an explanation for something that goes against their beliefs. All I have said is with the assumption that God wants as many humans as possible to believe in Him. So I ask you these two questions:

  1. Does God want us to believe in Him?
  2. Why is He so bad at getting people to believe (yes, 2.1 billion people is a lot, but it also means two thirds of humans will burn in hell)?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

If you pray, can you misquote Jesus?

Wow. The response to this has been amazing - thank you all very much for your answers. Unfortunately I cannot answer everyone personally, so this is a global response.

It was very interesting to read all of your answers. I feel that I should clarify that I am not looking for God for myself. If I had a strong desire to find him, I know that I could very easily - it is easy to believe something that you want to believe. The reason I ask these questions is because I wish to understand why people believe. It is possible that through your responses I shall become a believer, for I am not closed to the idea. I just need reasons that convince me to believe.

The most prominent thing in your answers was the comment that I had a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel. I do not take this as a criticism, and I admit that I was wrong. I thought that much of the importance of Christianity was based around a Christian community. In this Christian community, everyone was to 'act like a Christian' - be helpful to others, not sin, love thy neighbor etc... I naturally assumed that access to heaven was granted a) through belief, and b) through goodness. Most of you pointed out that you do not 'earn' access to heaven. Indeed, it would be impossible for a mere human. Instead, we should pray for forgiveness for our sins, and God will forgive. I admit that this poses me a problem (and not only because heaven will include a child rapist who asked for forgiveness whilst an innocent, lovely child with parents from a different religion burns in hell). Imagine you tell a child that no matter how hard they work, they shall fail a class. You then tell them that you shall let them go into the class above anyway, but only if they truly regret being unable to pass on merit. Do you think the child will be motivated to work despite guaranteed failure?

Another thing I found very interesting in your comments about the Da Vinci Code, is that they were all so different (some said that it held no importance to those who were secure with their faith whilst others said it was an insult to all of Christianity), and yet all of you agreed on one thing - pure fiction. I agree 100% with this. However, if we take into account my comments above, it is perfectly conceivable that someone can believe in every word in the book and still be a Christian (the characters in the book are). Indeed, as long as they pray for their sins, they go to heaven. I therefore ask this - does God forgive sins even if we don't realise we are committing them, if we pray for forgiveness? Also, are being a Chritian and going to heaven essentially unrelated? To go to heaven, you must pray for forgiveness. Isn't there a lot more in being a Christian? Would you call the man who believes in the book but prays a real Christian?

Thirdly, about my comments on the bible changing. I anticipated that you would answer in the way you all did - 'what are your sources', 'it is not true', 'plenty of evidence to the contrary'. Let me reassure you that I am not one to believe something with no evidence. I did not believe the survey when I read it (although I did accept it was possible; see Bart Ehrman's 'Misquoting Jesus'). I planned to use this to illustrate a point. Instead of directly answering my question, you pointed out that the question itself was flawed. The question was based on my reading of a book which was based on some historical evidence. I believed (or pretended to) in what the book said. How is this different to the bible? How do you know it is the word of God? As you can see from my example, believing blindly in a book because someone told you it was true. Have you looked up all different historical evidence, analysing each in an objective way? Those who have done have come to different conclusions. What makes you believe unconditionally in the bible, but not in 'Misquoting Jesus'?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Where is God?

Let me preface this by saying that I am neither an atheist nor a Christian, and the questions and comments are not all originally mine.

I am somewhat confused about religion. I fully admit that I do not know much about it (indeed this is an attempt to find out), but what I do know makes it difficult for me to understand how people can be believers. So I ask one big question – how do you know that you’re right? Here are some questions/problems I have about Christianity:

1. The Bible: many take the bible to be the word of God – most of the religious beliefs and practises are based on it. However, changes (accidental and deliberate) to the bible over the last 2000 years mean that less than half of the words now there are the original ones. So is God changing the bible to fit the times? That’s the only explanation I see, but we have stumbled across a problem. Not only do we have hundreds of different versions of the bible, but we have also become so good at copying it that we don’t make ‘mistakes’ anymore. So how will God modify it?

2. Selflessness: from what I understand, one of the most important things about living a Christian life is being ‘good’, and that often means being selfless. So doing things only because you benefit from them is a sin. But why are people ‘good’? To go to heaven. Ask any Christian why they follow God’s word and the answer is so that they can go to heaven. Isn’t this the same thing as saying ‘I’m only good because I get a reward’? Sounds a little bit selfish to me… Those of you thinking that you are not ‘good’ for selfish reasons answer me this: would you still be ‘good’ if doing so sent you to hell?

3. Different interpretations: everybody interprets the bible differently. Is this ok? Christians with the same fundamental beliefs live their lives in very different ways. Not all believe that premarital sex is wrong, not all believe that being homosexual is wrong, some think that you should go to church every day etc… So where is the line? Are there some basic beliefs that if you hold, you will go to heaven, as long as you’re ‘good’? Come to that, is it enough to just be ‘good’? Are these the basic beliefs:
a. God exists
b. Jesus was the son of God
c. He saved us
d. We should be nice people
If they are, what was the big deal about the Da Vinci Code? Surely it’s anyone’s right to believe that as much as the bible – the evidence for both is about the same anyway. And they are upholding the basic beliefs.

4. Lack of miracles: miracles were the evidence that Jesus provided to show he was the son of God. A miracle, by definition, is something occurring that should be impossible (not unlikely). So when was the last miracle? Has one ever happened to you? Was it what made you a believer? A disease being cured doesn’t count – that is merely unlikely, and just as many people have died even though people were praying for them. However, something like an amputee’s leg growing back – that works.

5. Talking to God: many believers say that they believe in God because he talks to them. If someone says that they hear voices telling them what to do, we usually send them to an asylum. How do you know you are different to them? Secondly, why is it that God hasn’t spoken to billions of people, including me? This seems a little unfair considering he is supposed to love all humans equally.

6. Other religions: if Christianity is the one true religion (and believers of other religions are going to hell), God is again being unfair to the billions of people who are never educated about Christianity, and never have a chance to believe in it. And it works the same the other way around. How many of you have been educated about every different religion and still choose Christianity? If you are brought up as a Muslim, you will be a Muslim. If you are brought up as a Hindu, you will be a Hindu. Or is it that it doesn’t matter which religion you believe in, just that you believe in a higher power? If that is the case, why do we have a bible?

These are just some of the questions I have. Let me say again that I am actually looking for answers, not trying to convince anyone of anything. But I do think that everyone should take a step back and truly analyse their reasons for believing what they do. Is the most important thing just to be a good person, and after that you can believe what you like? If that is the case, then I understand why some people are Christians, some Atheists, some Muslims etc… Religion can have a very beneficial impact on someone’s life (and if it’s true, all the better). If you do not think this, please tell me why. Please answer my questions. Tell me: where is God?