Friday, September 7, 2012

Haunting Questions

Well, now Tony Jones is really opening a can of worms. He has asked for questions about Christianity that keep people from being faithful. He got some of the classic questions and some with a more modern twist. I wonder if he expected the scope of the response. It appears that there were many people reading his blog but not commenting. I see lots of new names and lots of atheists responding.

He will be posting the questions on Tuesdays, sometimes discussing them on a radio/podcast on Wednesdays and giving his answer on Friday. Someone asked if there will be follow ups or will he just give the same old apologetics then move on, self-righteously satisfied. I hope he answers that one first.

I will list them here, along with Tony's answer, and a rating. A simple 5 start rating system won't do it, so I have created a zero to sixty system where zero is awesome and 60 getting so bad I can't believe it (70 was added later, see Q#2). It leaves room for adding explanations to the scale. Lower is better, but my guess is, he will never score below 30.

10 This is a universal truth or a premise that we can all agree on and work with to create a better world. I have no idea why that would haunt anyone.

20 This is a good rule or guideline for living. It could be accepted even without belief in a deity. If you can’t accept that, you’re definitely not a Christian and maybe not a very good person.

30 If you read the entire Bible, using the same translation and all the same theological books that I agree with, then you would understand this problem with Christianity.

40 I just love Jesus. That’s my answer.

50 I don’t agree with that part of the Bible, but I like some other parts, so the basic idea of Jesus is true, believable and worth giving my life to.

60 We don’t know the mind of God, just accept it.

70 What? Christians don't do that. There is no problem here. This is not haunting at all.

Q #1. 9/11/12 If you come from a family of skeptics, how could you enjoy eternity if your family’s not there? Or, if they are there, why should you become a Christian?

Tony's response. Part 1 gets a definite 40. Part 2 a 55.
My comments to Tony.

Q #2 9/18/12 Why ignore the Gnostic Gospels?
If you want a history and theology lesson on what these are, read the comments. If you want hard analysis about how the Bible was canonized, good luck.

Tony's response. I had to add a score of 70 for this one. I don't know if I can keep this up.

Q#3 9/24/12 Why don't I experience God? Less technical, should be interesting, or not.
Tony's response.  Very honest, kudos to Tony. One guy said Tony just admitted that he doesn't know who God is and said he was going to stop reading the blog. Good riddance, says me. Another did a follow up, saying he copped again, and didn't say why some experience God and some don't. Tony says he'll think about it. I remain skeptical.

The score is tough on this one, part of me wants to give it a 15, because he says everyone has these experiences and that's just the way it is. But the other part says 60, because he decides to take everyone else's personal experience and use it as proof for God.

 Q #4 10/2/12 Don't modern definitions of God sort of define him out of existence?
The comments start out horrid, but this one contains history of how people have viewed God, starting with Anslem in 1078.. Then the question asker, Hugh, follows that post with a deeper explanation of his question. The question is intended to be one that makes an atheistic point since it has no good theological answer. I jump in on the follow up to that.
Tony's answer gets a solid 50. He is talking more generally about God and theology, not just Jesus and the Bible, but he is saying certain theologians do it wrong, you just need to do it right, but he doesn't get too specific about what is right.

Q #5 10/9/12 Why do Christians believe in demons?
Oh Lord, I can't look.
I'm going to give this one a 15. It doesn't quite rate as a "universal truth", but he says that people believe in demons because they need to blame something. I encourage Tony to continue to exorcise these ridiculous beliefs out of Christianity. I hope he isn't left with a watered down spirituality, but with a dynamic organization that works to bring peace and justice into the world. 

Q #6 10/16/12 What if We're Wrong?
Well, I was wrong about the answer I expected from Tony on the last one. I don't expect much from the comments this time around though.
Most of the comments are truly atrocious, except this one.  He says if Christians are wrong, they have to stop judging, be accepting, listen to others. These are all things they say they are doing or should be doing in the name of Christ. This is exactly what is meant when people say that we can be good without the need of gods.

Since he almost says exactly how I define the score of 70, I’m giving this a 68. Tony rides a very fine line here between completely dismissing Christianity as no big deal but maintains the Christ event isinfinitely important. This is the trick of emergent Christianity. Allow for any and all questions, remove any barrier that a potential convert might have, but never let go of the mystery. It is easily done if you simply ignore history. If you ignore how the story developed, how the idea of a Messiah began in the Old Testament and became mixed with dying and rising god stories around the Levant then was used to make a political statement about the most oppressive state/church organization in history (up to that point in history). Not tomention how it was sold by Paul then Constantine, two people that have more to do with why we know about the resurrection than anyone else.

Tony puts this in bold, “seems unlikely that the non-exclusivity of Christianity would be a very big deal”, and a little further on, “Nor does it seem likely that, standing in the presence of the Creator, we would experience embarrassment or shame that we’d committed our lives to following a peasant-rabbi who preached peace and love and who sacrificed himself.”

I would take this a step further. If I am wrong, and I face a god after I am dead, it seems unlikely that it would be bothered by my attempts to lead a good life, even though I did not spend much of that life worshipping it or attempting to convince others to worship it. I do however, in this life, experience some embarrassment for having attempted to follow some 2,000 year old writings of dubious authorship and authenticity. Those stories have since been improved upon and their ideas have been well integrated into social movements. I realized it was time to move on.

Tony believes that the Christ event, “is a concept so profound that it demands everlasting unpacking and interpretation.” I think he is confusing the issues that are raised by the event with the event itself. Certainly we continue to uncover what love is, how to live peacefully, and to ask, “what is just”. The story of Roman history and how the Jews and Christianity influenced its fall contain valuable lessons. Obscuring those lessons and the facts of that history with myth and magic doesn’t help at all. Tony would have to tell me more about what he means by “unpacking and interpretation” for me to see it as worthwhile.

This strategy might allow Christianity to survive a few centuries more, but it will prevent it from evolving. Christianity needs to do what Muhammad did, acknowledge the great prophets of the ages. But it needs to not make the same mistake of claiming one new prophet that supersedes them. For a few hundred years, Muslims discussed those other prophets, sought the wisdom of the ages from other cultures, then it became just as exclusive as Christianity and we have been fighting over which one of the two is right for 1,000 years.

Discussing a different prophet or philosopher every Sunday is a lot harder than coming up with a new interpretation of the same old story. Reading a new poem or a singing a new song takes a lot more effort than picking from the same hymnal week after week. Simply entertaining the possibility that one might be mistaken is not enough. There are many ways to figure out what is true and what is right. Do that Tony and I might consider stopping by Solomon’s Porch.

Q #7 10/23/12 Is God's goodness arbitrary?
I hope this series ends with Halloween.
Yeah it sure is. Score: 60. I can't even comment on this. I'm so depressed.

Q #8 10/20/12 Why did God create sin?
The questioner later qualifies that she meant this to be more about suffering, not "sin" as a theological concept. It turns into mainly a question about the problem of evil.
I tried to stay out of it, but somebody said something about atheists murdering everyone and I had to jump in. I thought it ended up somewhat interesting. Search for "murder everyone" to follow that, if you have time to kill.
Tony's answer was not worth the wait. It was original though, I'll give him that.
The score is off the scale. He anthropomorphizes God and says he feels pain, so that's just life. Apparently pain and suffering existed before God, or came into existence with God, or just always have existed, although he seems to reject these ideas earlier in the answer, so I don't know what he is trying say and no longer care.

Q #9 11/13/12 Is it a God of peace or war?
Shira asks the question, and responds to just about every comment. She has studied religion extensively and experience Christianity fully. A great discussion.
Tony just avoids the issue. I wish he would just stop. I'm getting to be like the guy with the sore tooth who can't stop touching it.

Q #10 11/20/12 If God is perfect, why create an imperfect universe?
This was my question, so of course it is awesome. Actually, it is a question about the reasoning used by only some Christians. I explain that in the comments. R. Jay makes some good points, as do others. A little bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure.Near the end, it seems like a truce could be made by the theists and the atheists.
Tony acknowledges that I have been disappointed in the series so far, but with his answer, I move to disturbed. I really don't understand how anyone who spends so much time with the Bible can claim that there is no indication that perfection is a term that Christians or Jews would attribute to God. Although Tony gives a helluva try and almost starts a brawl. I have heard this story about the influence of Plato before, and while true to a degree, Plato did not corrupt Christianity. The idea of perfection is integrated into Christian theology, it did not suddenly appear when Romans embraced The Church.

Q #11 was about baptism, I skipped it.

Q #12 12/4/12 Define 'Christian'. A great question, with Rob the blogger chiming in frequently.
Tony's answer was impressive too. It doesn't really fit my scoring system since I assumed questions would be things that bothered people about Christianity, not this fundamental question of what is a Christian. So, let's call it an A+.

If you don't want to dig for it, here's my comment:
This is the best answer so far, it is internally consistent and externally verifiable. I am uncomfortable with proclaiming “Jesus is Lord”, but if I could be convinced that he is truly a master who acts as a servant, that he holds promises for me but allows me to make my own mistakes and learn from them, that evil can be explained as some sort of constraint that is required for creation to “work”, and that the majority of people who claim to have followed or to be following Christ are just plain wrong, if you could convince me of all that, I might sign on.

Your historical summary as well as your present application explained the definition of “Christianity” as well as could be done, IMHO. It leaves open the idea that we puny humans must continue to discuss the meaning of “Jesus is Lord”. This precludes the possibility of shaming someone for not doing it and, thank God, the right to kill anyone, just war or otherwise, based on it. That alone could save Christianity from the dust bin of history.

02/05/13 Why Didn't Jesus miraculously rescue himself from the cross?
I haven't been keeping up with this, but Tony somehow manages, even with his busy schedule of world travel. This one sparked some good discussion, so I thought I'd link it.
Apparently Tony is not quite so impressed with the discussion. He seems to be getting a little annoyed.

03/08/13 To Love God is to Love Flesh and Blood
This is an answer from a guest blogger. I didn't expect much from it given the topic, but it is pretty darn good. In it, he admits that there isn't that much difference between a progressive Christian and a liberal humanist. He takes Pascal's wager and gives it a progressive Christian answer. Instead of saying he will risk not believing in God for whatever consequence that may bring, he says he will risk "respecting and protecting the dignity of every human soul" even if that means he won't get to heaven.