Figuring Out Religion

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Figuring Out Religion

Post by MediumTex » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:01 am

So Mountaineer made this comment in another thread, and this is probably as good a starting point as any:
It is not really about me or my feelings or my witnessing to others by telling them how I made a choice for God.  It is about the fact Jesus came, lived, died and raised from the dead for the purpose bringing us eternal life.  You are forgiven, no matter what you have done or not done in the past; just don't reject the gift.  I probably butchered that, but I will do my best to explain my journey and/or maybe suggest some stuff to consider.  Peace.  Later.
These are the snags I hit as I read that:

On what basis can a person conclude as a factual matter that Jesus did and said all of the things attributed to him in the Gospels?  There are easily observable contradictions and embellishments in the Gospels.  If some inaccuracies can be seen by simply comparing the text of the Gospels with one another, what would make us think that there may not be other embellishments, including the time-honored practice back then of attributing miracles to very wise people (actually, the Catholic church is still doing that today).  It seems like we are talking about a matter of faith right off the bat, with a somewhat weak basis for even faith, given the contradictions among the Gospels when taken literally.

Not to be irreverent here, but why is so much made of the offer of forgiveness?  If God is righteous and he made us and some of us turned out not to be righteous, is an offer of forgiveness really all that special?  That almost seems like providing warranty service on the human soul when it goes haywire.  It's not a gift so much as a the same type of obligation that manufacturers assumes when they build any product.

If you can, please provide more information about the gift of forgiveness and why it's a gift?  If I tell God that I love him and simply want to be closer to Him, why can I not even be in God's presence without being washed in the blood of his mortal son who was murdered by a joint effort between Roman rulers and Jewish clerics?  That almost seems like God gets out of connecting with people on a technicality ("Sorry, no one came to your village to preach the Gospel--can't talk to you or forgive you").  If God is God, why is He limited to only listening to those who are aware of the Jesus story?  To use a car metaphor, it would be like saying that the manufacturer's warranty only applies to cars purchased from a certain dealership.

More generally, why is it necessary for a supernatural being to forgive us of anything in the first place?  Why can't we forgive ourselves or have other people forgive us, sort of like the Catholics do?

Those are just a few things that pop to mind.

***

I do want to get to the details of your own journey, but the questions above always pop into my head and I never seem to get very satisfactory answers.  When someone says that "you just have to have faith", I want to say "Why?  Why do I have to have faith?  Why can't I have anything more substantive than that?"  If I told someone that the fate of his soul rested on a series of principles that he was just going to have to take my word for because I had consulted with some documents that some unknown people wrote 2,000 years ago, I would expect him to tell me that he appreciated my concern, but that he simply wasn't ready to change his whole life based upon that story.  If I then told him that he might suffer for all of eternity if he didn't take my story seriously, I would feel like I was applying coercion to help strengthen a story that simply wasn't persuasive on its own.

***

(I hope that's not too shrill a way to begin a discussion about a delicate topic.)
Last edited by MediumTex on Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:12 am

God won't violate His justice nor His promises.  The wages of sin is death.  We were told that before the Fall and chose to do it anyway.  That can't just be hand-waved away.  Fortunately for us, God Himself chose to come down and bear the penalty on our behalf!

As for having "other people" forgive us instead of God, are you talking about a priest forgiving at confession, or other people in general?  At least in the Lutheran world, part of the rite of private confession is "Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?", and in corporate confession, it goes something like, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins" (emphasis added).  So in that case, the pastor's forgiveness IS God's forgiveness.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by MediumTex » Mon Dec 09, 2013 10:42 am

Xan wrote: God won't violate His justice nor His promises.  The wages of sin is death.  We were told that before the Fall and chose to do it anyway.  That can't just be hand-waved away.  Fortunately for us, God Himself chose to come down and bear the penalty on our behalf!
But what is your basis for believing these things in the first place?  Did God tell you these things or did you read them in a book that another person wrote?  How do you know that the person who wrote that book got it all right, especially considering that in most cases, we don't even know who the authors were?

As far as the Garden of Eden story and the beginning of sin, how do we square that with primitive humans that would seem to predate the sophistication of Adam and Eve's world by thousands of years.  Were Adam and Eve the first humans, or were they the first Jews?  I ask that because they only appear in the Jewish story about how the world was made.  Other religions have other stories about how the world came to be and how we came to be sinful.

What is the point of God saying that the wages of sin is death if he is going to turn around and kill his son rather than us for our sins?  That seems like the greatest guilt trip of all time.  It just doesn't make any sense to me.  How does that make humanity any better?  We are still sinful, but God allowed his son to be murdered so that our sinful nature would somehow be less problematic?  Why not just make us less sinful to start with?  If he's God, he knew we were going to choose sin because that's how he made us.  I don't think that God can really say "I didn't know which way they were going to go" with a straight face.
As for having "other people" forgive us instead of God, are you talking about a priest forgiving at confession, or other people in general?  At least in the Lutheran world, part of the rite of private confession is "Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?", and in corporate confession, it goes something like, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins" (emphasis added).  So in that case, the pastor's forgiveness IS God's forgiveness.
On what basis, though, does someone speak for God in the first place?  Because they decide to?  Why would their words about God's will carry more weight than mine or anyone else's?

I'm not attacking your beliefs, I'm just trying to understand how you arrived at them in the first place.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by dualstow » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:07 am

Just a quick side note:
Medium Tex wrote: On what basis can a person conclude as a factual matter that Jesus did and said all of the things attributed to him in the Gospels?  There are easily observable contradictions and embellishments in the Gospels.
...son who was murdered by a joint effort between Roman rulers and Jewish clerics
Speaking of the questionable accuracy of the Gospels, I never bought that the Jewish clerics were responsible for Jesus' death. Some secular scholarly research, such as Dimont's Jews, God and History, indicates that the Sanhedrin would have conducted a trial, but would not have tried to get the Romans to execute him. I don't know. Certainly, in a time and place where religion was everything, it wasn't cool to run around announcing that you were God incarnate, and Jesus wasn't the only one doing that.

In any case, using Occam's Razor I would say that the Gospel authors (also Hebrews, of course) likely fashioned a narrative that skewed things against their unbelieving brethren, the mainstream at the time. I'm sure they didn't foresee the headaches they would bring on future generations, so I'll try to forgive them.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by moda0306 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:24 am

Xan wrote: God won't violate His justice nor His promises.  The wages of sin is death.  We were told that before the Fall and chose to do it anyway.  That can't just be hand-waved away.  Fortunately for us, God Himself chose to come down and bear the penalty on our behalf!

As for having "other people" forgive us instead of God, are you talking about a priest forgiving at confession, or other people in general?  At least in the Lutheran world, part of the rite of private confession is "Do you believe that my forgiveness is God's forgiveness?", and in corporate confession, it goes something like, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins" (emphasis added).  So in that case, the pastor's forgiveness IS God's forgiveness.
How do you know all this?  Of all the religious texts (and interpretations thereof), how did you pick Christianity?  How do you know that you are correct?  How do you know Jesus was God's son, and not just a good guy who thought he was?  How do you know the bible has any accuracy at all, if certain aspects of it are provably false, and other aspects of it are reinterpreted to be more palatable to our current moral code (including the moral code of almost all Christians... slavery is bad... pork is ok to eat... etc).

Is it just a feeling you have inside?  And if so, that's ok, but I just want to be clear that this is very subjective, and a LOT of people "just have feelings inside" that lead them to different conclusions of faith... so I guess I'd have to ask, "How do I know if my 'gut feeling' is correct?"
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:41 am

I think that it's entirely reasonable to expect revelation rather than reason.  Of the available revelations, I believe this one fits in terms of prophecies fulfilled, in terms of its description of the human condition.

Basically what makes Christianity different from anything else is that this one is a matter of what God does for us, not of what we can do for God or for ourselves.  The focus is not on me, not on us.  When we are free from obligations or threats, we are truly free to do good works, which are works accomplished for no reason other than to help our neighbor.

A lot of questions have been about choosing.  I didn't chose this; He chose me.  Faith is a work of the Spirit.  It really is not in my nature to be religious, but upon hearing the true, unadulterated Gospel preached began to turn my way of thinking.  Moda, that probably reduces in your view to a "gut feeling".  It's probably similarly unprovable.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by ns2 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:46 am

moda0306 wrote: Of all the religious texts (and interpretations thereof), how did you pick Christianity?
As an ex-Evangelical Christian I'll try to answer that for Xan.

For most Evangelical Christians, their faith is based on a mystical religious experience of being "born again" so they would not claim in any sense that they "picked Christianity" but rather that it picked them.

Reading the Bible does tend to validate the experience but after being away from it for 20 years many Christian dogmas do seem preposterous to me and I don't know how I ever believed them.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 11:52 am

ns2 wrote:
moda0306 wrote: Of all the religious texts (and interpretations thereof), how did you pick Christianity?
As an ex-Evangelical Christian I'll try to answer that for Xan.

For most Evangelical Christians, their faith is based on a mystical religious experience of being "born again" so they would not claim in any sense that they "picked Christianity" but rather that it picked them.

Reading the Bible does tend to validate the experience but after being away from it for 20 years many Christian dogmas do seem preposterous to me and I don't know how I ever believed them.
Good point, ns2; I didn't give enough credit to my second birth, which was at my Baptism not long after my first.  I don't know that I'd call it an experience since I don't recall it, but it did happen.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by moda0306 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:03 pm

Xan wrote: Basically what makes Christianity different from anything else is that this one is a matter of what God does for us, not of what we can do for God or for ourselves.  The focus is not on me, not on us.  When we are free from obligations or threats, we are truly free to do good works, which are works accomplished for no reason other than to help our neighbor.
Could you elaborate on this?  And please remember you're talking to an agnostic... I really can't understand based on this what makes Christianity unique.

I had the impression that most religions about who/what God is, what control he has of us, either now or in the afterlife, and what codes of behavior we should follow towards him and one-another.

Also, what is the "true, unadulterated Gospel preached?"  I see to have heard a lot of "Gospels" on Sundays at church throughout my life (definitely not a regular attender).  While some of the stories had some good messages, I didn't feel that there was anything truly unique about them.

Also, how do you know these stories are true?  What about them tapped you into God.  You truly may have tapped into to an entirely different corner of your soul that I simply haven't yet, but my question would be how do people know that it's a corner of a connection to God, rather than just some hokum that sounds good because we desire purpose rather than emptiness.  When others have a voice inside them that says "Abraham, kill your son," how do they know if it's God or not... he HAD doubt, so he literally could have been just going crazy, and even if he didn't have doubt, he still could have been as nuts as any other crazy person who just KNOWS in their heart-of-hearts that they know the One Truth.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by moda0306 » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:11 pm

Xan,

Also I can tell your faith is VERY important to you, and you know I respect the heck out of you for coming to my rhetorical aid as a Communist Atheist Redistributionist Statist Fascist :) so if my questions seem condescending, it's just me spitballing with wild scenarios until I can identify if I'm really missing something fundamental to Truth that I just haven't grasped yet.

I mean I've admitted that my "moral code" is basically certain things I "feel" about how we should treat each other that I can't explain with simple logic alone.  So I'm not saying I'm better than the religious man... but I just question the religious man's certainty in all of this.  I have no real certainty  that I'm correct about morality.  A religious man has certainties about things (often) that I find just a bit preposterous to bring into the realm of "certainty" vs "mystery."

But this seems awful similar to my Private Property debates with Kshartle where he just KNOWS that there is this fundamental right of self-ownership, and that it transfers very simply to the world around us, that animals have NONE of it, etc, etc.

Isn't the position you're taking a bit similar?  That you know this "one truth," or series of truths, or true stories,  that's are quite improvable.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by Xan » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:33 pm

moda0306 wrote:
Xan wrote: Basically what makes Christianity different from anything else is that this one is a matter of what God does for us, not of what we can do for God or for ourselves.  The focus is not on me, not on us.  When we are free from obligations or threats, we are truly free to do good works, which are works accomplished for no reason other than to help our neighbor.
Could you elaborate on this?  And please remember you're talking to an agnostic... I really can't understand based on this what makes Christianity unique.

I had the impression that most religions about who/what God is, what control he has of us, either now or in the afterlife, and what codes of behavior we should follow towards him and one-another.
I mean that being saved does not depend on our behavior, only on whom we trust to bail us out.

moda0306 wrote: Also, what is the "true, unadulterated Gospel preached?"  I see to have heard a lot of "Gospels" on Sundays at church throughout my life (definitely not a regular attender).  While some of the stories had some good messages, I didn't feel that there was anything truly unique about them.
I actually had a specific meaning for this, which I should have elaborated on.  It's very tempting to say something like "Jesus died for you, therefore you need to do X, Y, and Z in order to be saved", or somewhat more insidiously, "Jesus died for you, therefore you need to examine your life and make sure that you see X and Y but not Z to make sure that you're saved".

When I would hear those things, that didn't sound different from any other religion.  It wasn't particularly "good news" (the literal meaning of "gospel").  But when I hear: "Jesus died for you, therefore your sins are forgiven", that is Gospel.  It also means that I can do X and Y and it won't matter for my salvation, which means that when I do them, they truly are for no selfish reason.  That's what I mean by "free to do good works".  If I'm doing them in order to be saved, then they're not really good works.


As far as the similarity to the private property debate, maybe.  The differences are that God didn't hand down a definition of property for all time, and also I certainly don't expect everyone to agree on this kind of thing, not in this world.
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Re: Figuring Out Religion

Post by shoestring » Mon Dec 09, 2013 12:43 pm

I hadn't been by this site in forever and just happened across this.  I'm not Mountaineer but maybe I can help, or make it worse, I'm not sure.
***

(I hope that's not too shrill a way to begin a discussion about a delicate topic.)
That's okay, people have got to be honest without being abrasive or insulting, and that's exactly what I see here.  I know it's hard to convey tone in these discussions sometimes, people on all sides sound like they're condescending or smug, etc.

I hope if I "sound" like that, you will indulge me and try to take the remark in the best light like I'm trying to do here.

It's okay to disagree with anything I say or just say it's not persuasive.

And I'll try to be honest if I see an area where I don't know or I'm still working on the answers myself.  I'll also try to say where I don't think I can resolve the impasse.
On what basis can a person conclude as a factual matter that Jesus did and said all of the things attributed to him in the Gospels?  There are easily observable contradictions and embellishments in the Gospels.  If some inaccuracies can be seen by simply comparing the text of the Gospels with one another, what would make us think that there may not be other embellishments, including the time-honored practice back then of attributing miracles to very wise people (actually, the Catholic church is still doing that today).  It seems like we are talking about a matter of faith right off the bat, with a somewhat weak basis for even faith, given the contradictions among the Gospels when taken literally.
I interpret this as a question of reasonableness?  Am I misintepreting that?

Well, let me try an imperfect parallel here.  We don't have all the pertinent details of the doings of what people did in the past, and the further back you go, the harder it is to establish.

We have people who disagree on whether someone as recent as Abraham Lincoln was a hypocrite who chided Polk for starting an unnecessary war for political and economic gain and then did it himself, or the lionized, selfless emancipator who was just defending his noble ideas?

It's not just the interpretation of the person either, the hard objective facts aren't always known.  For example what precisely was he doing May 26, 1843 at 11:07 PM in his local time zone?  I just picked that date out of a hat.

From that perspective, I understand why you'd question a factual recollection of anyone's exploits.

I don't know what to say here beyond these few points:

1.  I'm not accusing you of this, but I noticed Jesus of Nazareth gets subjected to a higher level of scrutiny than other figures, to the point some claim he's made up from whole cloth (note that this is different from those who claim he's inspired by other figures active at the time).  I'm just pointing that out, FWIW.

2.  What strikes you as reasonable may be different from what strikes others as reasonable. 

I don't think consistency is necessarily the key to reasonableness, I interpret the Gospels as different witnesses recounting what struck them as the most important about the events they witnessed.  Look, it personally strikes me as reasonable that multiple people, penning multiple independent accounts, should produce different versions that don't quite jive with each other.

It's not like they had dayplanners or Ipads to record everything (I'm being a bit cheeky here, but really, four guys with scrolls and ink, recalling events after they happened, what else could they do?).

I guess I'm trying to say while I agree about the point about accuracy, I think the accounts appear to have validity, and the inclusion of them all gives greater completeness (though not total, the Bible tells us there's far more things Jesus did that aren't recorded in it).

I simply do not see something that should be cast off immediately and simply disregarded.  Upon multiple reviews, I have determined I believe that what they are recalling is real and factual, though I'm the first to acknowledge there's gaps, we haven't a complete story and we likely have some accuracy and interpretation issues.

Despite that I find what's present personally compelling.

The issue of where you draw the line on whether you believe a given thing is true or accurate is yours to draw, I cannot reasonably say where that line should be drawn.

It's just hard for me to say how much effort should go into analyzing the veracity of anything.  I can only satisfy myself based on my entirely subjective criteria which are probably a combination of my personality, environment and who knows what else.

I can only point to extremes.  The moon landing deniers seem like their lines are too high, to me personally.

Similarly, people who believe a powerful Jewish family cabal controls the Fed seem to have their line too low, to me personally.

3.  Related to the point I just made, I'll point out that while I can't explain my ability to discern why I believe the Gospel is true in a nuanced way, for your consideration I'd like to include the following:

I don't believe in conspiracy theories.  I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy.  I don't believe in most urban legends (though I've fallen for a handful, but I was still skeptical enough to go research them and resolve them).  I have two college degrees, one in a hard science.

I don't consider myself "smart" or any such thing, rather I look at the fact I seem to function, grow and adapt as a person, and I seem to believe reasonable things.

Reasonable does not imply perfection or accuracy, incidentally.  The internet tends to inflate what it means to be reasonable.

The point is, whatever my filter for veracity is, it seems to function.  I don't seem to be a crazy person looking from the inside out.  I don't have any particular reason to believe it's infallible, but I also have nothing else, it's literally basic to who I am.  I improve it all the time, there's things I don't believe any more I used to believe passionately (like I've completely changed my position on public welfare programs just for an example). 

So even if I initially am wrong, I seem to slowly, over time, converge to a more and more accurate and correct understanding.

I don't think the process ever finishes, not really, but at the same time there's a few things that just seem to carry forward no matter what else I assimiliate or change.  I think if they've been consistent in my ever changing mindset this long they're likely to be true.  I think Jesus was real and did everything they say he did.  I wish there was something more profound to it that would persuade you, but that's all I have.

I personally struggle with it a lot when other people, who seem as reasonable as I am, sometimes disagree with me on an issue of basic import like religion.  The implications of that are staggering, and well beyond my grasp.  It's fascinating really.

None of this is in and of itself strictly an argument for you to believe the Gospel, but my reasoning is I can only try to argue is my own sincerity.  Perhaps if I get you to believe I genuinely believe what I'm saying, I can make some transitive argument that I'm reasonable, therefore this has some validity.

That's a terrible terrible argument, just awful, but I've really tried to think of something better and I just can't.

I'm just  trying to shed just a little insight on how someone comes to the conclusion the accounts of Jesus seem to be true.  You can question anything, you can believe anything, and how people who seem to otherwise be perfectly sane don't seem to do that consistently baffles me.

I've had some people tell me I'm just an irrational or insane person because I have religious beliefs.  Okay fair argument, but I'm left at an impasse there, I don't know how to defend my own sanity or rationality other than saying it seems to be intact from my perspective.  If it's not intact, I don't understand how I'd ever determine this.

And I'm getting ahead of myself here, but to me this is what people mean when they say you've got to have faith: you have to find that frame of mind.  I think some people might have a harder time getting there than others because no one can recreate my personal uniqueness, they have to devise their own method.  I can but attest.
Not to be irreverent here, but why is so much made of the offer of forgiveness?  If God is righteous and he made us and some of us turned out not to be righteous, is an offer of forgiveness really all that special?  That almost seems like providing warranty service on the human soul when it goes haywire.  It's not a gift so much as a the same type of obligation that manufacturers assumes when they build any product.

If you can, please provide more information about the gift of forgiveness and why it's a gift?  If I tell God that I love him and simply want to be closer to Him, why can I not even be in God's presence without being washed in the blood of his mortal son who was murdered by a joint effort between Roman rulers and Jewish clerics?  That almost seems like God gets out of connecting with people on a technicality ("Sorry, no one came to your village to preach the Gospel--can't talk to you or forgive you").  If God is God, why is He limited to only listening to those who are aware of the Jesus story?  To use a car metaphor, it would be like saying that the manufacturer's warranty only applies to cars purchased from a certain dealership.

More generally, why is it necessary for a supernatural being to forgive us of anything in the first place?  Why can't we forgive ourselves or have other people forgive us, sort of like the Catholics do?

Those are just a few things that pop to mind.
I was long winded before so I'll try to be concise here.  Sin is an offense against God (not just God in many cases mind you), who else can possibly forgive it than the offended?

I actually rather agree we have the power to forgive ourselves, others, etc. but only God can forgive for God's sake.  I realize that probably puts me at odds with others who think some intervening agent on Earth has to solicit this forgiveness, but that's my perspective.

Anyway there's many things I didn't answer and I am sorry for that but time is of the essence, I wish I could comment more and hope I haven't just made a mess of things.
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