Guest post: A response


Reader consoledreader sent the following response. I have chosen to post it here on its own so that those willing to contribute can do so here and he will be free to respond whenever he has the time to do so.

1. Why was eating a forbidden fruit such a great sin? Why and how does a human sacrifice make up for this sin?

Well, the Bible is a collection of myths. So Genesis 3 is just a story to answer certain questions about human experience rather than a literal event. If there is “a sin” it is that the characters disobey G-d and fail to trust that G-d’s commands are for the best. The reason suggested in Genesis 3 that G-d ddoesn’twant them to eat the fruit is that He doesn’t want them to become like divine beings (whose two essential qualities are defined by the two trees in the Garden: Knowledge and Immortality).

There are myths that explore similar ideas throughout the Ancient Near East, such as the story of Inanna stealing the me (the arts of civilization; pronounced May) from Enki, the Sumerian god of wisdom. There are also other myths with the concept of trees of life.

According to standard Christian Theology, the Original Sin brings death into the world and forever taints human beings in subsequent generations. In Ancient Israelite belief, they believed sacrificing animals could serve as absolution for their sins. Jesus, being the son of G-d, according to the view of Christians functions as a more powerful paschal lamb. So his death wipes away their sins.

2. If the bible/koran/ torah is the word of god as you claim, why so many interpretations as there are believers? Was it impossible for your god to be clear?

Well, I’m claiming the Bible/Koran/Torah are books of myths that reflect the values and beliefs of their respective cultures, so I’m probably atypical in this regard. Basically it is a literary work. I don’t think G-d wrote it.

One reason there are so many interpretations is that history and social situations change, thus applying and adopting old ideas to new problems. If you asked an Orthodox rabbi what they are doing when they address a modern problem, let’s say artificial insemination, they wouldn’t see their own actions as reinterpreting the old books to mean something new. Rather they would consult the Torah and Halakha law and apply the general ideas to a new situation, hence for them proving that the old eternal laws are eternal precisely because they can be applied to new situations.

Another reason many interpretations are inevitable is that the Bible has multiple writers who contradicted each other, reflecting historical and social changes in their own time period, and different theological viewpoints. Interpretation is necessary to reconcile these different viewpoints.

Likewise, from my experience it seems interpretation is inevitable with any text of a certain level of sophistication. This problem isn’t just something that applies to the bible or religious texts. People interpret and misinterpret blog posts, Plato, various other philosophers, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Einstein, etc.

3. If your god is spirit, incorporeal, was Jesus born with only his mother’s 23 chromosomes?

I imagine he was born with his full-set of 46 chromosomes in 23 pairs.

4. If there is a creator god that knows all, that he would have to kick Adam out of the garden, that he would have to destroy the Earth with flood, that he would have to sacrifice himself to himself to redeem anyone at all… why did he create the universe full of failures? Was he unable to stop himself?

Well, all of those events are just stories anyway. However, to answer the larger idea behind it, in theory freewill and evil are compatible with Omniscience. To remove evil completely from the world would require one to remove freewill (as a person couldn’t choose to do evil). So one could argue freewill is itself an ultimate good.

I saw a recent clever and impressive argument on a different atheist site, however, that attacked this idea by suggesting if G-d is good by his very nature, then given this standard argument it would follow that he lacks freewill since He cannot choose to do evil (even if G-d wanted to), and if one disagrees and G-d has both freewill and is completely good, then one is conceding that He could have made humans with freewill and completely good as well since one would be admitting the ideas are no longer incompatible. The first prong isn’t hard to get around if one argues that a being can be perfectly good by its very nature and possess freewill, but this brings trouble with the second prong, which is much harder to address.

5. if there is a creator god that knows all, and Adam & Eve screwed up, why not immediately send Jeebus to clear things up right then and not wait some thousands of years with many failed “covenants”, changing languages, “laws”, etc?

It’s just a story, but I imagine a Christian would argue that Adam and Eve and subsequent generations needed to have experienced some punishment (living in the real world outside the Garden of Eden) as a consequence to their actions.

6. When we see today a man walking down the street with a long beard, saying we have to repent because God is watching/coming to Earth/will punish us if we don’t, etc, we call them loonies. Some 2,000 ago they called them prophets (or Jesus). If these guys were indeed prophets – as they claim – who is to say the ones standing outside the metro today aren’t prophets too? What’s the difference between them? And if a guy called Jesus appeared today and said the exact same things he said back then, would anyone believe him?

Well, given the existence of cults, actually it is possible that someone would believe them! I don’t really consider the Prophets to be loonies; I see them more as the political radicals of their time.

7. If you are Muslim, do you believe the heavenly language is Arabic?

I took one semester of Arabic in college. It was a neat and difficult language, but I didn’t find it particularly heavenly.

8. Each of you claim your religious text is the right one, does it occur to you that not all of you can be right, so how do we tell who is right?

By flipping a coin!

Honestly, this is a personal choice, regulated by cultural factors. Everyone has to weigh the evidence or various factors for themselves and decide what makes the most sense to them.

9. Why aren’t Catholics born to Muslim parents if we are born religious?

I imagine people claiming that we are born religious are suggesting we have an inborn tendency, similar to innate ideas or essentialist arguments for human nature. Basically, what such people are arguing is that our religious impulses are part of our very nature at birth. Really then this means all they are arguing is we are born with the innate idea or need for religion. What religion one then adopts is a matter of culture and one’s parents.

I might be misunderstanding your question, though. You might have meant something more along the lines of what roughseainthemed wrote: “There was never a moment when I didn’t feel God’s love and guiding hand. I didn’t ‘become’ a Christian, I was born one.” In which case, they aren’t just arguing for a religious impulse, but being born with a specific religion and how do they explain a Muslim would argue that they, too, were born Muslim from the womb by the will of G-d.

10. If your god is self sufficient, immutable and unchanging, what happened at the point it decided to create the universe or it became unchanging after that?

If I go and make a grilled cheese, it wouldn’t follow that my core characteristics (personality, thoughts, essence, nature) changed. So performing an action doesn’t entail a change in essential characteristics. I imagine when people talk about an immutable and unchanging G-d, they generally mean a being whose basic essence doesn’t change, not one incapable of performing a temporal action. But I could be wrong about how some theologians and philosophers understand this concept!

11. If free will is cherished by your god, that it created us with it so we can love him, wasn’t the free will of pharaoh important? Why harden his heart?

It is a story. So I think pharaoh is just a character and the events fictional to serve a dramatic purpose. The purpose of hardening pharaoh’s heart is for dramatic effect to demonstrate G-d’s power in saving the Israelites from slavery. He hardens pharaoh’s heart so He can perform more miracles.

12. What god kills the children of slave girls to free his ‘chosen’ people?

The one as depicted in the story. From the standpoint of the fiction, it is a structural parallel to the beginning of Exodus when pharaoh orders the execution of the Israelite children.  Obviously this is nasty stuff from our point-of-view, but it makes for some powerful fiction. Whoever said fictional stories need to be all flowers and roses?

And a bonus question.
Classical theists define god as possessing omni-capabilities, is there a thing that god could will and not actualize? How do you know this? Could your god have willed there to be no evil on earth but it didn’t materialize.

I’m going to treat this as a variant of John Zande’s omnipotence problem. Can G-d create a boulder even he couldn’t lift? Or could G-d create a square-triangle?

The problem with such arguments is that it is asking G-d to perform actions on empty signifiers (square-triangle). It doesn’t MEAN anything. You could just as easily ask could G-d create a nippity-nappety-boop-bop. It’s meaningless until someone gives some sort of definition that makes logical sense (or at least imaginary sense) and if the word’s signification is capable of being imagined in a non-contradictory literal way (not just as words on a screen, not just as a mere signifier), then it is capable of being created.

The rock-lifting problem can’t be objected to on those same grounds. After all, humans are able to create things that we can’t lift. G-d, however, is generally presented as an incorporeal being, so a physical challenge doesn’t really make sense. The more fundamental idea behind this question is can an omnipotent being make itself non-omnipotent? I think this would be fundamentally contradictory. Instead of an empty signifier, like the previous paragraph, we have an empty scenario. It would be logically impossible for an omnipotent being to make itself non-omnipotent. So the scenario itself is meaningless rather than just the word.

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About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

59 thoughts on “Guest post: A response

  1. Mordanicus says:

    Nothing to add.

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  2. “Well, the Bible is a collection of myths.” Interesting. So those who believe the Bible is a literal description of true facts are wrong, then? They would very much disagree. It is, or it isn’t a myth? The minute you claim it is, you are considered a non-believer by many, and damned by many others. that’s why I simply chose to eat christians. They taste better than they argue. BTW, this is a well written, and well thought out answer to Mak’s questions. I enjoyed reading it, all wise cracks aside.

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  3. Ignostic Atheist says:

    If you are willing to acknowledge that the most important scenes in your holy book are mythologies, why believe that the religion it describes is true?

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    • makagutu says:

      Don’t hold your breath waiting for a response.

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    • Superb point. Any apologists around to answer it?

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    • Well, I don’t believe my religion is true. At least not in the way I suspect you’re thinking about truth (i. e. a literal description of reality). I believe G-d might exist, and it is a more likely possibility than a less likely one.

      To put it in terms of Dawkin’s belief scale, I’m “leaning towards theism.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spectrum_of_theistic_probability). An agnostic theist would be a pretty good description as well. (http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Agnosticism#Agnostic_theism). I have no clue whatsoever if a G-d actually exists. This is complicated further by the fact that I’m Jewish.

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      • tildeb says:

        Two things:

        Firstly: do you mean that you lean towards a Pentateuch kind of god that probably exists or a nebulous kind of ground-of-being kind of god that you think is probable but about which you have no clue if it really exists?

        Secondly, I find it quite interesting that you assume the Christian interpretation of the Genesis myth has any merit, namely, a story about man’s fallen (sinful) nature (“it is that the characters disobey G-d and fail to trust that G-d’s commands are for the best). There’s the theistic rot, the cancerous origin, for the caustic and toxic assumption that robs the story entirely of its life-affirming teaching value.

        I actually find this acceptance staggering. And here’s why:

        I think it’s completely ludicrous to assume that we have a myth bobbing about for a millennium or two and then later in history have some kind to event to ‘explain’ it for the ‘correct’ interpretation (as the Christians do in order to justify an historical and literal blood sacrifice that we are to personalize, as in ‘He died for YOU!”… on behalf of redeeming us for our mythological and metaphorical sin.). By your answer to the first question, this is the interpretation that you are, in fact, assuming is a ‘reasonable’ one.

        It’s not. It’s the southern deposit of a north-facing male bovine.

        Anyone who knows anything at all about mythology (and you give an indication that you do) knows that its narrative form necessarily involves the supernatural so that we – the reader (or listener) – can immediately know that this bit is highly symbolic (not literal) of something in our own lives. Talking snakes and magical trees and some companion god are obviously symbols of something else. Why should such a story hang about in popular culture and get passed along if the symbols can’t be properly read for another few thousand years? How does this make any sense (to anyone not steeped in religious indoctrination and conditioned to just go along and swallow whatever is being served up in the piety dish)?

        It tells me you’re not thinking in this case (and I know you’re hardly alone in that).

        My suggestion is to go back and read Genesis as if you know absolutely nothing whatsoever about any Abrahamic religious tradition. What meanings can you place in the supernatural agencies that represent the world you know for the story to not just make sense but to be personally revealing?

        I think you’ll be shocked at how truly terrible is the reading done by later ‘theologians’. Talk about the cart before the horse! I think one has to be comfortable putting aside a thinking brain and settle into a vast ignorance – especially about mythology and its teaching role in passing on wisdom – to go along with the awful and nonsensical life-denying interpretation put forth by so many later theists to rationalize a later event.

        The theistic interpretation (again, stealing the myth and passing it off as if it created it) is remarkably brazen and should be laughed out of serious consideration.

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      • makagutu says:

        Forgive my ignorance, how does being Jewish complicate your belief in whether a god exists or not?

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  4. tildeb says:

    This reply by consoledreader is a summation of a deflection; because scripture is only stories (except the fundamental literal bits that define what makes a theist a theist) then we can wave away any pernicious effect that believing in these stories brings into the world… because, after all, they’re just stories. This response seems to suggest that those other folk who take this stuff far too seriously and literally (in some fashion) are slightly misguided, you see, because they shouldn’t… because, well, they’re really only stories (except for the fundamental literal bits that define what makes a theist a theist… but we won;t talk about that).

    What I’m not reading is any answers to these questions that are able to comport with the fundamental literal bits that define what makes a theist a theist.

    I think that was supposedly the purpose of asking makagutu to prepare just such a list, wasn’t it, to show that a theist’s beliefs really can comport with these kinds of answers?

    So, consoledreader, do you tell the theists you encounter that they should read all scripture as fictional narrative, metaphor, myth, and allegory?

    Why do I suspect not?

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    • What makes a theist a theist?

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      • tildeb says:

        As I already said, what makes a theist is for a person to assume certain fundamental bits are NOT only fictional narrative, metaphor, myth, and allegory. Belief in in a god unfettered to scripture would be some form of deism at most; a notion of some nebulous, ineffable, divine agency somewhere in the recesses of time and place. Belief in a fettered god – fettered so that it’s somehow ‘knowable’… like from privileging scripture to be descriptive and accepted as truthful – means accepting that in this physical world exists a real causal divine agency creating real physical effects in some specific time and specific place. This kind of god does not comport (I don’t think) with answering the OP’s questions in a satisfactory, coherent, and rational way. I think only by first privileging and exceptionalizing a faith-based belief in such an agency (by special pleading) allows the creation of a mental (but very flexible) divine agency brought into being only by a believer’s belief (and not indicative of an actual, external, causal agency). I think believers have to do this in order to rationalize their belief to not be obviously delusional, creating out of nothing the supposed existence of a peek-a-boo divine critter.

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        • This was an excellent answer. My hat’s off to you. Well said, indeed.

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          • tildeb says:

            Thanks, ibtd. I think any theist has to be a fundamentalist in some regard to specific religious beliefs. What fascinates me is how people seem to be able to effortlessly divide the unpleasant, immoral, unethical, prejudiced, genocidal, misogynistic, and ridiculous aspects of their scriptural god as somehow separate and not-god bits distinct from those few bits they accept as true (Jesus as God, the risen Christ, the need for redemption, and so on). A moments reflection on HOW they differentiate which bits belong with which category – the rejected or the accepted – reveals the truth about what empowers their religious beliefs: it ain’t nothing out there in reality. It’s an assumption based solely on personal preference… grounded not just in the geography of their birth (and family they’re born into) but in the morality they themselves bring to bear on these beliefs. This demonstrates that morality comes from within… so what’s all the hoopla about needing this god or that? Why the crutch, I wonder, especially from such a well read person as consoledreader?

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          • Again, beautifully articulated. I agree with what you say. If part your holy book you believe to be “myth” and other parts of it you CHOSE to accept as true, because you like those parts a lot, then it is you who are choosing what to believe based upon your internal sense of morality. And, like you say, this is then a person deciding their moral base from within themselves and not from a fundamentalist read on scripture that’s been handed down by god. Like I’ve mentioned here earlier, the Bible is or is not a myth. If parts are myth and parts aren’t to you, then it is you making the Bible have the meaning for you that you want it to have. No divine omnipotent invisible guy need be involved in this at all. Which is nice, because there isn’t one, at least none that I see any evidence of at all. Imperious Rex!

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          • makagutu says:

            This answers to the question we are often asked where do we get our morals from if gods don’t exist. They cannot claim they get their from their holy books when they approach the same book as myth or metaphor depending on what they want the book to tell them.

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          • makagutu says:

            I think any theist has to be a fundamentalist in some regard to specific religious beliefs.

            This is very true. At some point, scripture must take precedence in the life of the theist.

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        • Ignostic Atheist says:

          How am I not following you? This is brilliant.

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          • tildeb says:

            Because I don’t post very often?

            Many of the theist sites I end up commenting on (dangling preposition, I know) tend to call this kind of writing I do another ‘atheist rant’ or a ‘militant missive’ (from the more erudite… Thomists, usually). I like to explain my reasoning (radical, I know) and, if I’ve gone astray, have it pointed out to me. Does happen.

            I’m a big fan of figuring out stuff without having to read someone else’s book-length interpretation of what I’m considering (why do so many commentators think providing a reading list will somehow enlighten others and by fiat support the commentator’s position?). I try to get people to think for themselves and demonstrate to themselves why the points I raise (criticisms I think worthy of a comment) really are worth considering but actually self-evident… if the person is willing to give it a go without the predigested religious baggage .

            For example, it seems obvious to me that we bring our morality to any scripture we might encounter because otherwise we would be unable to grasp the moral concepts it presents. So if morality precedes religious instruction – and it must – then whence comes the moral sense… if not biology? So any study of morality should be a study of some branch of biology and not theology (a thief that steals absolutely everything it considers reflective of its meaningful contribution as far as I can tell and blames everything else for its pernicious real world effects).

            And we see exactly this deflection in every one of these ‘answers’ – thus protecting consoledreader’s religious beliefs from critical review. Even asking mak for such a list (as if it would demonstrate compatibility between beliefs and hard questions) seems to me to be another deflection but one that required a fair bit of work ‘answering’ to maintain the charade. But the jig’s up.

            Or maybe I’m just being too harsh.

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          • Brilliantly put, you rambling atheist militant you. How dare you explain yourself and your thoughts with such precise reason. Kidding aside, I really appreciate the clarity of your writing and the rationality of your thought process.

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          • tildeb says:

            Can I use you as a reference? Sort of the, “Oh yeah? Well, inspiredbythedivine1 disagrees with your assessment! So there!” kind of reference?

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          • Sure. And if you’d like, I can share some of my recipes for cooked christian with you too, DELICIOUS!!!! That’s why I became an atheist in the first place-all the good meat. Oh, I also like poisoning christian wells. That’s fun. So, you can use me as a reference, and also a threat. If someone disagrees with you or gets nasty, you can tell em, “Oh ya, Pal! Well you just better apologize or else a whole lotta shit is gonna be comin’ yer way! Hear me?”

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          • Ignostic Atheist says:

            Hold still and let me hump your leg.

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          • makagutu says:

            Harsh, far from it.
            You make a good contribution to the discussion.

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        • makagutu says:

          well said tildeb

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      • makagutu says:

        a theist is one who believes in some form of deity. They can be mono or poly. In the minimum they must believe that a god or gods exist and that this gods interact with the natural in some way or other.

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    • makagutu says:

      Thanks Tildeb, as you well write here, once the theist decides scripture is myth, there is no point in really continuing the debate. Every question can be answered with a wave of the hand, and a claim you are reading the myth wrong without being told how exactly one arrives to the conclusion that it is to be regarded as myth, narrative, allegory or metaphor.

      To claim that it is myth while for centuries men have lost limb and life for being in opposition to the book do not take into consideration that several millions have taken this books to represent a truth that isn’t open to challenge.

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  5. aguywithoutboxers says:

    A great feature! Thanks for adding this! 🙂

    Like

  6. I find it pretty amusing to watch someone who claims that the bible is mythic nonsense to also be so afraid of this god to spell it “G-d”.

    ah, and this “He hardens pharaoh’s heart so He can perform more miracles.”

    aka this god is an asshole who loves to show off. He hurts and kills people for the sole purpose of showing off like any pathetic bully on a playground.

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  7. […] recently I did a guest post on an atheist blogging answering questions that were supposed to stump a theist. Then I got put on […]

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