Friday, October 23, 2009

Who Killed Jesus?

Purdue has been full of events dealing with religion lately. Yesterday I ran into this group:
Some of my club members mentioned they were on Memorial Mall on Wednesday, so when I saw they were still there, I dropped by. One of my friends blogged about his reaction, which was different than mine since he grew up Jewish. He initially thought the event was going to be something anti-Semetic since Jews are often persecuted with the explanation that they're the ones who killed Jesus.

I ended up talking to some of the people there for about an hour. They were very nice and thoughtful, definitely not extremists or anything. I was kind of amused because a couple recognized me - they've read my blog (hello!). I assume this is because the pastor that's leading their Q&A session tonight (which is what this was advertising) is Brent Aucoin, who you might remember as the pastor who visited my presentation on the Creation Museum.

That being said, I still fundamentally disagreed with what they believed (big surprise, right?). Most of the stuff we discussed has been gone over a ton by other people already, so I'll just touch on what I thought were some of the more interesting points.

1. I really need to brush up on my philosophy/theology. Everyone has their area of expertise, and mine is definitely the evolution/creationism debate. I don't think someone should be expected to be an expert on everything, but I feel kind of stupid when I can't coherently discuss religion on the spot. I definitely feel more comfortable when I have a moment to reflect, which is why I like blogging. Not signing up for a debate any time soon.

2. One of their main points was that they don't believe that salvation is works based. The most important thing is to accept Jesus and believe in God, and once you do that you will live your life accordingly. Even if you're a good person, you would go to hell because everyone in a sinner and rejecting God is pretty much the worst thing you can do. Obviously I don't believe God even exists or that Jesus had any supernatural abilities (I doubt if Biblical Jesus even existed), which kind of makes the point moot, but let's just say they're right.

On one point, I agreed with them. You don't want people doing good acts just to be rewarded, or avoiding bad acts just so they won't be punished. You want people acting good for goodness's sake. But that's where the agreement stopped. I just can't imagine a God so full of himself that the most important thing in the universe - punishable by eternal suffering - is not worshiping him. In their point of view, God is awesome so that is awful if you don't see his beauty - but if it's so important, why does he even give you the ability not to believe in him? God gave us free will and the ability to do evil things, or to reason and come to the conclusion that he doesn't exist. He also knows everything that will happen in the universe, so he knows people will end up doing things that will damn them. So didn't God therefore do the damning?

tl;dr, free will and omnipotence makes absolutely no sense.

3. Another point they made was about how Jesus sacrificed himself to us. A member brought up an interesting point at our meeting on Wednesday, so I asked them. Is it really a sacrifice if there are no consequences for Jesus? Jesus is God and knows that when he dies, he's going to come back from the dead and ascend to heaven, so dying really doesn't matter. It's like this: if a policeman pushes someone out of the way of a bus and dies, that's a sacrifice. He saved someone else's life at the expense of his own. But if Superman pushes someone out of the way of a bus, there's no sacrifice because he knows he'll be totally fine.

Their answer was that the sacrifice wasn't death, but being pulled away from God. Jesus took on all of our past and future sins, and that brought him as far away from God as possible, which was agonizing to him. ...This still doesn't make any sense to me. Jesus is God, so how can he be brought away from himself? Even if that was somehow possible, he still knows it's all going to be okay, since he's God and all and knows the plan, so any agony is only temporary and not really a sacrifice. They then admitted the holy trinity doesn't really make sense to them, which was yet something else we could agree on.

While I don't agree with their beliefs or their reasoning, I was happy that they could intelligently talk about things. I've run into far too many people who belief something just because that's what their parents told them, and they've never given it any thought. These people are definitely thinking, even though I think they haven't reached the correct conclusions. They're promoting discussion rather than just talking at you, which is always a good thing.

I'm interested to see what they say at tonight's Q&A session - I'm guessing it'll be similar to the discussion I had with them. Unfortunately for you guys, I'm not going to be masochistic and sit through it for your reading pleasure because I'm going on a date (amazing, I know). Sorry - unlike Jesus, I only make so many sacrifices.


  1. Yeah the whole grace-based vs works-based religions is a big deal with christians. If you ever listen to Todd Friel on Wretched Radio (which I recommend to get an idea of just how far gone some of these people are) he goes over that all the time. It comes down people being fundamentally sinners (or wretched, hence the show's name) no matter how much good they try to do hence only Jesus can save. He's gone over the free will thing too, it works like this: You have free will to do whatever you wish, God simply already knows everything you are going to (choose to) do.

  2. I love the last line of that post. <3

  3. Thanks for stopping by. It was really good having a civil conversation even though we didn't agree about a majority of the things we discussed. Also, thanks for the honest and fair summary of our conversation.
    Like I said when we were talking, I have a lot of questions about atheism [more of things like: what do you value most? What makes for a 'successful' day or week? Why do you choose to do the things you do/ value the things you do? than super theoretical questions].

    Would you be interested in getting coffee with my fiance and me to have some more open-minded and honest dialoge about what you and I believe?

  4. You don't want people doing good acts just to be rewarded.

    Well, but I'd rather have people believe in salvation by works than salvation by faith. "Just believe in Jesus and you're ok" is an evil, wretched doctrine because it takes away (for some people) what ought to be the very real mental and emotional consequences of doing wrong to your fellow humans.

    Hitchens has some choice words along these lines about the whole notion of vicarious atonement (part of his standard rant, so just look up any of his debates if you're interested :^).

  5. The faith vs. works issue is one that not even all Christians agree on. I stopped and talked to them for a while as well and we discussed this issue for a bit as my religion, LDS, does not follow the faith alone concept.

  6. I think you mean "like jesus". After all, he only made one sacrifice, and he's been living off the royalties ever since.

  7. I'm really glad that my peeps at PBF (Purdue Bible Fellowship) are engaging non-Christians civilly and respectfully. Way to go guys!

    I've been on both sides of the fence now, and I think we need a lot more of this kind of respectful engagement.

  8. ... Purdue Bible Fellowship are engaging non-Christians civilly and respectfully. Way to go guys!

    I'm sorry, but why exactly do they need praise for behaving like ordinary civilized human beings?

  9. A valid point, Ivan, but there are two reasons for what I said:

    1. Lots of people do not "behave like ordinary civilized human beings" when engaging others on issues about which they disagree. Some don't listen. Some become condescending. Some yell. (Ever watched The O'Reilly Factor?)

    2. It's not simply the fact that the engagement is civil and respectful, but that the engagement is happening at all. Though most people do make regular contact with people who hold different beliefs, many avoid having the difficult discussions about their points of disagreement. This avoidance is how we can get false images of "the opposition" and start tearing down straw men when supporting our own viewpoints.

    I'm glad there are people like you who feel that this kind of engagement is "ordinary." I wish more people felt (and acted) the same way. That's why I'm happy to see this occurring among my old friends at my alma mater.

  10. By the way, it goes both ways, I also applaud Jennifer for being civil and respectful in the way she represented the PBFers in this post. I'm with her when she says "promoting discussion rather than just talking at you ... is always a good thing."

  11. Of course salvation is work based. But your work must be love based. Have you seen Constantine?

    But you don't have to die to do some sacrifices. Helping people do just fine. But you have to do that for them, not for your selfish self. A few quotes come to my head: "The reign of God is inside of you". "When you help some hungry man in the streets, you're helping me". "If you want to come after me, you must take up your cross and follow me". Take up your own cross and follow me, don't just sit on your ass saying "Oh Jesus I love you so much" all day.

    They think that if you "receive Jesus", then he get into you or something and then you become a good person. That's not true and we all know that. People don't just change magicly. And even if people changed magicly, we all do stupid things and hurt people and take the easy way and all that kind of things once in a while, which is an unlikely thing to do if your body is inhabited by a perfect and benevolent God. We poor humans are not perfect. Only he is. That's why christians, who do have accepted God in their lives, are not perfectly good.

    Those people emphasize so much the death of Jesus. They say "Jesus died for our sins, so we don't have to pay for our own -he paid for them too!". That's silly. He certainly won't pay for those sins that would be committed after his death. The point isn't he died but he resurrected. The idea is that he resurrected and now lives forever in the reign of god... just like we will (spiritually. No zombies) if we follow him and try to live like him, according with his teachings.

    I'm a ex-catholic. I think now that catholic doctrine is silly, but honestly, these dudes beliefs seem even a bit sillier.

  12. Jose, that reminds me of a blog I've been reading recently:

    The author of that blog has a PhD from Bob Jones University, but has since left the fold. He has recently been writing critiques of the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, which is the common evangelical position that you have just addressed here.

  13. Jen, regarding the Faith vs. Works debate you might want to look into Martin Luther's writings, he wasn't so thrilled about what the Catholic Church was doing in his time.

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  15. Well Jen, let me return your words to you...your "description was pretty fair" ;)

    Seriously, thank you for the nice write up which was more than "pretty fair."

    I hope your date went well.

  16. I thought this was gonna be about anti-Semitism, too.

    By the sound of it it was Himself wot did it. And here I thought suicide was a sin (hmmm - should that be Suicide under the circumstances?).

    Hope you had a nice date. (Lucky sod.)

  17. It's too hard to understand God, especially for someone who've been entangle with their "possessions". Until you realize that Jesus is real, you begin to discover the LOVE he gave for you.

    The more you learn, the more you become proud, the more you become proud, being proud can cause total 'blindness'.

  18. I don't think goodness is an end itself. What I mean is that an action is good not because it is good intrinsically in its nature.

    And I don't think goodness has anything to do with sacrifice or selfless.

    The biggest problem with Christian morality is that it is based on altruism and bible stories. It tells its believers not to think but to memorize a bunch of rules and follow them. The result is we have a bunch of morons who cannot think and can only find answers in bible stories and blindly follow rules, just like a computer program I write.

  19. If I had a chance to continue the conversation you had with them, here are some of they things I'd might bring up to see how they would respond. You had an agreement on the point, "You don't want people doing good acts just to be rewarded". Along the same line, they shouldn't want people worshiping God just to be rewarded. Do they think it's enough just to believe, or is worship necessary? Is it immoral to demand worship with a threat punishment? Does it matter whether its a king, pharaoh or a god?

    And related to the Jesus sacrifice, would they say Jesus is still in agony, carrying sins, and separated from God? I agree dying is meaningless and isn't a sacrifice if he still exists. If Jesus gave up his existence, then that would be the ultimate sacrifice a god could make, right? I wonder where they think Jesus went when he was supposed to be dead for 3 days. It would seem he would have made a trip back to heaven for intermission before the big resurrection scene, possibly getting reacquainted with his other third to get over his agony.

  20. The more you learn, the more you become proud, the more you become proud, being proud can cause total 'blindness'.

    I would honestly like to know why anyone would consider learning a bad thing but I think you have just shown us that you don't have the wit to give a coherent answer.

  21. @ Jen

    This seemed like kind of a throwaway comment on your part, but the philosophy major in me thinks that the christians generally do a decent job of reconciling omnipotence and free will, even omniscience and free will, but they tend to stumble when it comes to explaining how free will is possible when the omnipotent and omniscient being is also the author ex nihilo of everything in the universe, from gravity to the law of non-contradiction. Even if god doesn't interfere with my actions, when I act, I must do so in accordance with a set of goals and desires that were ultimately given to me; which is what makes an incompatibalist free will so implausible. But then again that's true even without god in the picture.)

    @ Egoist Paul

    I think what makes actually makes thiest morality generally so problematic is that as Plato pointed out in the Euthyphro, god's commandments are either irrelevant to morality or make morality deeply arbitrary (with the nifty little side effect of making god not good in any meaningful sense).

  22. GBM:

    I have to disagree with you on what you said about omnipotence and free will. Omnipotence contradicts with free will. You can only have one but both.

    Omnipotence means all powerful. An all-powerful being is capable of everything, so when there is a situation in reality where there are two mutually exclusive paths, that being won't be able to choose both paths. If it cannot do that, it is no longer omnipotent. And there are many situations like that in reality, so we can say omnipotence is not possible.

    Free will enables a person to choose one path out of more than one path in reality. We know free will exists because it is self-evident. If an omnipotent being allows us to have free will, it is no longer able to allow us to choose all paths in reality, which means it is no longer omnipotent.

    Christianity reconciles with this conflict between omnipotence and free will by brainwashing people to accept the primary of consciousness over the primacy of existence by faith. By doing that, people can evade this conflict by keeping two contradictory ideas in their mind. Since they use faith as the mean of acquiring knowledge, they have no chance to see the logical impossibilities of the contents of their consciousness. They live on.

    Now, talking about the issue of morality... I don't think what you just say is the key . The key, in my opinion, is to have a good definition of what good is. Packaging good with doing things for others, community, society, country, main stream, or humanity won't work because it itself isn't an axiom and it is vague and unspecific. Instead, I think morality should start from individual's rights.

  23. GBM:
    The concept of ex nihilo is not universal among Christians.

  24. So did I miss it? Who did kill Jesus?

  25. @ Jake

    Yeah but it's a common enough position to deserve a refutation, I think. I admit that there are diffrent flavors of christianity, some of which are more philosophically sound than others.

    @ paul

    We know free will exists because it is self evident? LOL! Beg the question much? Anyway I take your argument here to be a version of the paradox of the stone, essentially, to which there are two answers of which I am aware, Descartes' and Augustines. Descartes says that God can do things that are logically contradictory, therefore he can both create the stone that he can't lift and then lift it; while Augustine says that by defining your terms with regards to god's inability to do things makes the terms of the argument incoherent.

    Anyway potence, whether omni- or otherwise, is about capability, not about actuality. So say that God is sitting on a corner and watches a two guys playing chicken in SUVs. Now say that our two guys have rather poor reaction times, and so neither of them get out of the way and both die. Now certainly if god was omnipotent he could have either changed their minds about the game, or physically intervened to prevent them from acting, but he does not. I think that in this instance, if anyone is capable of exercising free will, the two drivers did so. None of this precludes god from going back in time and changing the event, none of it precludes him from causing the crash to both happen and not happen; so it seems to me that here we have a possible case in which a being who is omnipotent exists alongside two non-omnipotent beings exercising free will.

    As for your bit about theistic morality, the reasons I will continue to disagree with you are that (1) Most moral systems are basically rule following; utilitarians, kantians, and virtue ethicists also are basically rule-followers, and frankly your rights based system is almost certainly that too. Thus if it is a reason to reject theistic morality, it is also a reason to reject every non-theistic morality of which I am aware. (2) And more importantly the Euthyphro dillemna presents a reason to view theistic morality as problematic even before there is content to the moral system, so the objection applies to all possible theistic moralities, whereas your objection appears not to apply Lockean systems (theistic systems that are also rights-based).

  26. Jake:

    Free will is self-evidence because you have to use free will to deny free will. When you deny free will, you automatically contradict with yourself.

    Decartes' philosophy is based on the primary of consciousness. He states that the existence of God is proved a posteriori from the mere fact that the idea of him is in us. Such a statement is abviously wrong. A thing exists because it exists in reality, not just because we have the idea of it. When you know God doesn't exist, you don't need to go further. Any statement about him such as "God can do things that are logically contradictory." is false. The whole bible and anything derived from it are false.

    Capability of a thing has to be proven to be true in reality. The issue of actuality is irrelevant.

    Most moral systems such as Kantian are actually wrong. The majority doesn't matter to me. Objective realty is more important because a moral system is a guidence for a person that live in reality.

    I'm not going into a discussion on theistic morality because I don't believe in God/gods.

  27. I have to say that I also thought that the sign was most likely linked to anti-semitic sentiments. Your friend's blog looks pretty awesome:
    "I then asked "well you do know that the sign can be construed as anti-Semetic, implying that Jesus was killed by the Jews?". He then said, "oh no, it can't be because a lot of Jews have come up to us and asked about it."

    Hmmm, I wonder why? Lol, classic!

  28. Jake points out that LDS do not support the whole faith over works thing. In fact it is an idea introduced by Martin Luther. He insisted that when Paul said that God's grace came through faith this meant through faith alone.

    This is actually contradicted by the Epistle of James which insists that faith is not enough and that works are also required to receive God's grace. (Martin Luther's own solution of this issue was to deny that the Epistle of James was actually written by an apostle. - So much for Bible infallibility!)

    While Mark Brownstein rightly notes that Martin Luther was criticising some rather dodgy practices in the Catholic Church at the time (with the selling of 'indulgences' being the classic example), it's also worth noting some of Martin Luther's rather less appealing qualities such as sexism, anti-semitism and paranoid delusions most likely brought on by bi-polar disorder.

    Jose said "Have you seen Constantine?"

    I'm actually a little amused by this line of argument. Within the original Hellblazer stories Constantine is doomed to hell initially simply because of works, end of story. (Later he's doomed to hell because he's sold his soul, but let's ignore that for now.) The movie, seemingly in order to appeal to the protestant audiences (goodness only knows why), or possibly because the production team are twits (more likely I feel), decides to claim that Constantine can't be saved by faith because he knows that angels and demons exist. *facepalm*

  29. Egoist Paul, is there a reason you addressed your comment to me?

  30. Fatpie42,
    the Gabriel character explains it pretty clearly:

    - I never asked to see. I was born with this curse.
    - A gift, John. One that you've squandered on selfish endeavors.
    - I'm pulling demons out of little girls. Who's that for?
    - Everything you've ever done, you've only ever done for yourself, to earn your way back into his good graces ... And you're going to go to hell because of the life you took.

    "decides to claim that Constantine can't be saved by faith because he knows that angels and demons exist"

    No, he can't be saved because of his selfish motivations. But at the end, when he dies for Rachel Weisz, he is saved. He's about to get his little wings and zoom away into the light when the bad guy brings him back to life, thinking that if he gives Keanu a little more time, he'll go back to his selfish, autodestructive life and be condemned eventually.

    That's all. Keanu Reeves makes a selfless sacrifice and because of that he earns his golden ticket. He had faith since forever but that wasn't enough. And that's what catholicism says about salvation.

    I hope you amusingly enjoy this comment, too.

  31. @Rev. Ouabache

    you misunderstood my point.
    LEARNING isn't bad, but how did you apply your LEARNINGS?

  32. On the point you made about god being the one who does the condemning, this has always been the basis for my "God is a sadistic bastard" argument. If we assume the following premises:

    1. God created each and every one of us.
    2. God has a plan for each and every one of us.
    3. God is all-knowing.
    4. Being the God is all knowing he knows that his plan will work.
    5. A mere human being could not subvert his plan.
    6. If you do not believe in God, you will spend an eternity of agony in hell.

    I think that most Christians will agree with the above premises. Now it follows that:

    7. God created some people knowing that they would be atheists (given 1,3) and that they would spend an eternity in hell (given 6) and this was part of his plan (given 2,4 and 5).

    Right, now we get to the part that most Christians would probably disagree with, but first we introduce the premise:

    8. Anyone who creates a something in order for it to be tortured for all eternity is a sadistic bastard.


    9. Given premise 7 and 8, we can conclude that God is a sadistic bastard.

    I'm sure this argument can be written far better (I'm a Programmer, not a philosopher after all), but it has always struck me that even if I felt God (The Christian one here specifically) did exist, he certainly wouldn't be a being deserving of worship.