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On page CICCU Vitenka asked:

Uh, how is it possible to get offended by the central core of the religion?  It boils down to 'the golden rule' just like every other societal norm.  Are there really people offended by that?  --Vitenka
But it doesn't. That was one of Jesus' chief teachings, but not as central as "Repent and believe (and be baptised)". In Christianity it's not doing good to others that gets you to heaven; it's admitting that one gets things wrong and can't earn one's way to heaven, but God has offered a way as a gift. Perhaps this should go on a separate page, the ChristianGospel or something... --AlexChurchill
No, but unless you take a liberal intepretation, it says that everyone in the world is wicked, and all non-Christians will go to hell for all eternity. I think that's the most likely stickler. -- Xarak
I'm sure I will regret entering this discussion as I really don't have time.  However, I would dispute several points.  Firstly, I have no idea how one would determine which out of "repent and believe" and "love your neighbour" is more central for the Christian faith.  I am not sure whether Christianity can be said to "boil down" to one specific doctrinal proposal in quite that way.  As a result, CICCU's attempts (and the attempts of many other groups) to "boil down" can be facile and simplistic. --AR
While I won't argue that sometimes CICCU has been oversimplistic, I don't think that has to be to do with the priority they put on the Gospel. (And the Gospel is what this page is about) Having a succinct summary of the core of your faith is quite useful for purposes of communicating with people about it. --AlexChurchill
I simply fail to see Jesus giving a "succinct summary of the core" of his ministry.  It wasn't possible.  Maybe it could be summed up by saying something like "follow me", but I think the truth is messier than that.  A succinct summary of the core of the Christian faith is the Church.  We can then speak about what the Church holds to be true, and what Her different members hold to be true.  That's why I struggle with this kind of discussion.  I have a sprawling kind of un-neat, unsummaried, enfleshed Gospel that can only be made sense of by the incarnation Himself.  Somebody quoted N.T. Wright as saying, "The Word was made flesh, and Christians turned him back into words".  I agree we need something to discuss, but my priority is placed on the people, and the arguments cannot take place without the bodies of the people who sustain the Body. --AR
Secondly, I would dispute the point that Christianity says everybody in the world is wicked.  Made in the image of God, indeed.  Sinful, yes.  Wicked, some of us, probably. --AR
Good point. Total depravity isn't universally agreed by any means. But I think just being called "sinful" is what Xarak was objecting to. Maybe the rephrasals of the same concept to "imperfect" or "disobeys sometimes" might be more agreeable? (Without wanting to water the statement down to the point of meaninglessness) --AlexChurchill
I wonder if it is possible to call sin "imperfect" or "disobeys sometimes" because a) they do sound more agreeable and somewhat watered down, but b) they require somebody to admit to a certain understanding of perfection or obedience for which they are negations.  I think you are kind of pre-supposing that they can see sin before they've met God. --AR

Thirdly, I think the "non-Christians going to hell until eternity" part of the message was probably more a medieval accretion to Christianity than anything else.  (I should a word of caution here.  I think the image of Hell that most people have is a medieval one.  I suggest that Christians prior to that did have an image of Hell (obviously, because Hell is creedal), but I am not clear that the Christian message has always been "believe these axioms and you'll be saved").  Even if one accepts that it is now a genuine development of doctrine within the Christian tradition (and that is far from universally agreed upon), we need to take heed that it is never clear exactly who is going to Hell.  I am highly dubious of people who know for certain that "they are saved" and think they can accurately determine who is "in" or "out".  Association does require disassociation.  I'm not saying that churches ought not to teach and adhere to doctrinal norms.  However, who is in or out of Hell is entirely up to God.  Maybe some of you have no problem with a God who has created people in his image and then landed them in Hell.  However, that would mean the destruction of His own image from them, unless we acknowledge that he is in Hell too.  If He's in Hell, it can't be Hell.  If he destroys the image of Him in them, I cannot see how they would continue to exist, because there would be nothing good in them.  If you want to go down the Hell line, I suggest that the annihilationist theories are most probable.  Even John Stott (CICCU approved Evangelical) does not think that most people will be burning for the rest of eternity.  Incidentally, he's quite faithfully taught by Evangelicals, but certain people do ignore this aspect of his thought.  Nonetheless... Jesus does speak of Hell.  He does speak of his sheep and goats.  I suggest that the best way to make sense of this is by reading Karl Barth on election, but not everybody agrees (unsurprisingly). --AR
'If He's in Hell, it can't be Hell,' eh? Well, maybe, but God's image is not the same as God. A person, made in God's image, can be in Hell without God being there, just like a photograph of PlasmonPerson can be in Brazil even though PlasmonPerson is not.
I think your argument would work were we not speaking of God.  It does not make sense to speak of somebody being made in the "image of God" if God has failed to communicate something about Him to them.  I undestand "the image of God" to be a stronger stamp, than a photograph, from God to us.  There is massive theological debate about how far sin stains (or entirely desecrates the image of God in us), but I want to leave that aside for the moment.  All I am saying is that if people are to retain the image that God has stamped upon them, then there must be a part of his image that is reflected in Hell.  Most people define Hell as a kind of sphere without God.  If God were there in any way at all, it would not be Hell. --AR
If God were there, it would not be Hell; but that you're not claiming that. You're claiming that if an image of god is there, then it is not Hell. What does that follow from?
From the idea that nothng godly will be in Hell.  I guess an image of God counts.  Anyway, bleurgh - tThis reminds me (although this is much more reasonable) of the discussion going on [here]. --M-A
Oh, that's given me a good giggle. I needed that.
Oh, good.  I wouldn't want to think this was an entirely wasteful discussion :-). -- AR

A number of evangelicals don't believe in hell, and a lot of others aren't sure whether what happens to those not saved is annihilation or eternal torment. But either way, hell is another overemphasised doctrine: the goodness of the good news extends far further than avoiding something bad. We've got an eternal future to invite people into, with neverending fulfillment and delights designed by the One who created pleasure itself, yet we spend more time talking about quite what the options are if you don't go for that one? --AlexChurchill
Oh, come on. If you're trying to get people to accept that your doctrine is true, "let's just pretend these bits don't exist for now" is not a good start. Likewise, if you're trying to convince people that your God's nature is an absolute standard for morality, "let's just ignore all these Bible passages about people being condemned to eternal suffering" is also not a good start. Evangelising Christians are always going to have to confront these issues in some way. - MoonShadow
*blink* Excuse me? Who's ignoring anything? I'm not denying it would be awful to end up there. But my point was that there are better ways to motivate people than threats. Carrot is better than stick, and boy do we have a lot of carrot! So I get fed up to see many evangelists in the public eye keep on about hellfire, with the accompanying ridicule and offense from the supposed audience, when there are better ways to get people interested! That was all... --AlexChurchill
Ah, OK - sorry. It's just for a moment there it sounded to me like you were saying something like "let's all of us stop this discussion of hell and talk about heaven instead" rather than "evangelists should tell people about heaven instead of telling them they're eternally damned". In that case your comment is probably better placed in response to Xarak's than AR's, IMO.. - MoonShadow
Wibble wibble and we see Alex's evangelist: 'Why should I follow God?' 'Because if you do you get neverending fulfillment and delights designed by the One who created pleasure itself!' 'Myeh, actually I'm pretty happy as it is. I suppose I could be a bit more happy, but on a trade-off between having to follow God, and happiness, I'm actually fine where I am thanks. See you around.'
Hell is a lack of being with God. There's nothing worse that He could do to you than ignore you. That's all it is. People get too hung up on Hell (especially certain of my denomination...) - I reckon all the fire and brimstone is supposed to be a metaphor. What could be worse than being alone and tiny and inconsequential in a massive universe and being unable to do anything about it? That's why we're trying to avoid it. --Requiem

I was sort of ignoring that as being both non-central and the defining difference between a religion and a philosophy.  How central is the whole repenting thing, anyway - compared to not doing wrong in the first place?  I thought that was just the Catholic side - since "I mass murder then say sorry, now I go to heaven" is the kind of daft extreme that was being ignored for purposes of discussion here.  --Vitenka
See http://www.aslan.demon.co.uk/faith.htm --ChiarkPerson
Now the answer to "how central is it" will depend on the flavour of Christian you ask. But "Evangelical" groups like CICCU would put it at the very heart of their message, far more important than doing good in the first place. A popular Evangelical comment is that Christianity isn't a religion because religions are all about what you 'do", while Christianity is all about what Jesus has "done". Ironically, a lot of Roman Catholics would put much more emphasis on "be good here and hope you go to heaven", while it's the Evangelicals who'd say "We be good out of thankfulness that He's guaranteed we can go to heaven". --AlexChurchill (not wanting to be anti-Catholic - some would say that, some wouldn't)
I really don't think Catholics say that, though - from many, many discussions on UkReligionChristian involving Catholics.  However, I can't actually explain what it is they do believe, so will have to google for an article - SunKitten
This will do for now - http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?q=catholic+work+faith+salvation+group:uk.religion.christian&start=10&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&group=uk.religion.christian&edition=uk&selm=XLjM9ZHm0VdAFwBY%40trustsof.demon.co&rnum=20 - SunKitten
According to the central Christian doctrine, as stated in the NewTestament? in numerous places, and drawing on bits from the Old, is that doing good in the first place isn't enough. Not doing bad would be - although there are tricky things like OriginalSin that say that even if you somehow manage to do no bad, you're still in trouble because Adam started all that time ago - but no-one ever manages to not do bad. Once you've done any bad, there's no amount of good will balance it out, as Heaven and God are perfect. But repentance is basically "I'm really sorry for all this, I sincerely wish I hadn't done it." To which God is then happy to say "Yes, so do I, and I should punish you. But I punished Christ instead, so so long as you really are sorry, and you really do believe that I did punish Christ for it - well, justice is served as far as I'm concerned. Welcome back." --ChrisHowlett, trying to be doctrinally correct under personal interpretation. Feel free to correct.

It's that "believe" part that's my main problem with this account, and I suspect, other people's. Take a hypothetical person who doesn't believe in God, but accepts the Christian message in that he accepts that if there is a god, he has sinned against Him, and furthermore wishes he wasn't a sinner and "repents" ( although as an internal, personal process, not in prayer ), and tries to be a good person, and trys to come to right conclusion about the truth of the Bible. Essentially, he fulfills all your criteria except that he doesn't believe in God or the saving power of Jesus. He doesn't hate God at all...he just doesn't believe in Him, but he accepts the possibility that he's wrong about that, and knows that if he is wrong, then he's a sinner and is thankful that Jesus died for his sins. Would such a person go to heaven? It seems the only difference between him and a typical Christian is that he has come to the wrong conclusion on the philosophical and historical question of the truth of Christianity...but that's not a sin, surely? Making an honest attempt to find the truth but ending up being wrong is a mistake, not an immoral action. Everyone makes mistakes. This hypothetical person has done all he can, but fallen foul of his imperfect ability to sort through a religous question. It seems almost like there's a Religous Studies exam to get into heaven... -- Xarak
I can't give the Christian argument not being a Christian and not understanding the religion very well but it seems to me that blind unconditional belief in the tenets of the religion are required if you are to be considered a member. This is how most religions deal with the "but I can't see it" problems of followers.--King DJ
(disclaimer - I'm using the word 'you' rather than the word 'one' due to bugs in English - this is not directed at anyone) Faith is all that is required. You are encouraged to study and come up with your own interpretation - or at least that's the case in these more enlightened times. I'd rather not think of myself as having blind unconditional belief in anything, thanks. What I think Xarak's asking, is our stance on agnosticism. The point is, that if you're agnostic you're in the process of being given a chance to believe. God's holding out his hand to you - you can feel that perhaps there's something more to all this. That's where we all start from - that's where organised religion comes in. The Church is there to give you a leg-up at that stage. If you can't find God on your own, but you know he's out there - well, join a church. Talk to people with faith. Find out what they think, and perhaps you'll hear something that just says "Yes! Look here! See!" and you shall find your own faith. But you can't game the system like the person in your example - at least, not successfully. You can't say 'Well, if God exists then I believe in him' - it's a logical fallacy. --Requiem
No, but it still seems like Mr Hypothetical is being damned for coming to wrong conclusion, rather than any sinful choice. He chose to investigate Christianity...and he wasn't intelligent ( or wise, or whatever ) enough to come to the right conclusion, but that's not his fault, he did all he could. The response I've heard to this argument is that anyone who genuinely seeks God will find him, and that it's impossible to be led astray in the way I've described. Anyone who claims to have sought the truth and not found it is actually "choosing the easy way out" ( atheism or another religion ). This seems dubious. -- Xarak
Hmm. Crises of faith are a difficult one. All I could say to Mr. Hypothetical would be 'Talk to as many different Christians as you can; go to Church; find out what their answers to your questions are.' Like I said - we're not alone in our search for God; that's the entire point of having an organised Church. --Requiem
Um. Well, checking with the source of Christian doctrine - "But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul." (NIV: DEUT 4: 29; see also NIV: MAT 7: 7 etc.) Moreover, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast." (NIV: EPH 2: 8-9 etc.) - which would seem to imply, if Christians are right, Mr. Hypothetical will find God if he looks for Him, if he looks and doesn't find God then Christians are wrong, and it's not about him being "intelligent enough to come to the right conclusion", it's about him asking the void if there's anyone out there and getting an answer back. If he seeks but never gets an answer, then Christians are sadly mistaken about their religion and he's not gonna go to hell 'cos there is no hell. He's not supposed to give up looking 'till he dies, though, AFAICT, so we can't use it as a way to let everyone else know who's right. - MoonShadow

At the risk of [repeating myself], I now find it odd that some Christians (especially the evangelical sort) think that it'd be unfair to have a pass mark of good works to get into heaven, but never quite address how much faith is enough. Faith is a continuum too. How much is enough to be saved, I wonder? And how does one get it? -- PaulWright

Yes. The point is that God is so perfect that it is impossible for us completely to understand Him. All we know is that we should love Him, and that we have wronged Him. If we didn't have any further help, then what chance would we have of being saved? We don't know enough. That's where Jesus comes in. He tells us that we have sinned, and we're doing more every day, but that through Him God is willing to let that drop. Jesus' suffering gave us the possibility of atonement. In my view (and this is going to start a debate...) God will still allow people not to atone if that's what they want. Jesus' death meant that if you believe, and by extension do GoodWorks? and spread the faith and do as He has commanded, then you are saved. But God created FreeWill, and people are still capable of doing anything they want - no matter how sinful - even of rejecting the salvation that God has given. As far as I'm concerned, and as far as the Doctrine of my denomination is concerned (I think; I'm not that good a Catholic), it is far more important that we do God's work on this Earth than that we spend all the time in prayer. Because we've already confessed our sins and repented, and we do so all the time - but we have time left over from that, and in that time we do God's work. In the end, if we do good, then people will notice. They will see that it's the right thing to do, and they'll join in. And so they will come to believe. --Requiem

"I mass murder then say sorry, now I go to heaven" is the kind of daft extreme that was being ignored for purposes of discussion here.  --Vitenka

Just to go out on a limb here - logically, what's the problem with that? If the mass murderer is saying sorry to God, God presumably knows if they mean it. If they went in for mass murder thinking they could apologise and get into heaven, that doesn't strike me as a particularly sincere "apology". If they genuinely regret the action and don't intend to do it again, what's the point in punishing them? ISTM most useful purposes the punishment could have (getting them not to do it, getting them to accept they were wrong, etc) have been achieved. OTOH, if they can't control themselves and do it again - should they really get punished for something they can't control? - MoonShadow (sits back, waits for flames)

Jesus was well known for associating with criminals. To paraphrase one of the Gospels - it's not the healthy that need the services of a doctor. The point about the promise of salvation is that if one truly, truly repents of one's sins, then they are forgiven no matter what they are. If that's not the case, then we're all screwed, not just mass murderers. --Requiem
Well, you know, I feel really rather offended by the idea that any deity could say 'oh, it's OK that you killed millions and fucked small children, you apologised to me but YOU well, you spent your life praying to false idols and even if you've never done anything really bad and you've done lots of good things for people who are less fortunate, you get to go straight to Hell, do not pass Go do not collect $200'  that's offensive.  The fact that Christians like to ram it down my throat is even more offensive.  Mostly because I believe that in order to be forgiven you have to do good deads, that you are judged on the sum of you deeds not your prayers, oh, and that Christianity is generally wrong (but that's a different argument). - hftc2.newn
It's more "You, you used to be a real bastard, but you are truly repentant and reformed, so you get in, but only because I will love you no matter what you do. But YOU, you've refused to accept my  message. I sent my SON down here, and he DIED to give you a chance, and you spit in my face and declare that I don't exist and that all my followers are dupes. You're still hurting me, every day, and you don't seem either to notice or to care." Not that the second of those wouldn't get a chance then to realise the truth, and then apologise / repent / whatever - I can't believe that God would give up on anyone, even if they gave up on Him. I suppose it comes down to the definition of 'apologised', really; by 'repentant', I mean that they realise exactly what they've done, and how bad it is, and how they are evil rats who don't deserve anything but the worst of punishment, but that they are throwing themselves on God's mercy and asking for His forgiveness (which, to be fair, is what we're all doing). And apologies on behalf of everyone who's rammed this stuff down your throat. That's not the way this is supposed to work. If you've been told already, then it's your choice whether to believe or not; we should get on with providing a good example. I don't count theological discussions as ramming stuff down anyone's throat - they asked for it! ^_^ --Requiem
If only it were a different argument - but I fear it is precisely this one. The key is what you describe as "never done anything really bad". If heaven is a place of perfection, what counts as "really bad"? Serious fraud? Betraying someone? Lying? And who has the authority to make that decision? On a different note, I am sorry that some Christians seem to "like to ram it down your throat". That's not loving, and that's how this discussion started on page CICCU in the first place, and I'm really sorry that some Christians do act that way. --AlexChurchill
Here's a question : if you believe that any sin is infinitely bad in the sight of God, then does that mean that, on earth, here and now, we should punish all sins ( or crimes, which are the sins we can catch people doing ) equally? If not, then why should there be different standards on earth and in heaven? -- Xarak
The law of God is just that. The law of God. It's nothing to do with how we should punish people here on Earth - that's for society to choose. Not a single one of us sinners is qualified to judge which sins are worse than others - we've just been told that they're bad, and not necessarily that they are equal. There oughtn't to be different standards on earth and in Heaven - but there are. Because we don't know what the right standards are, because we're just a bunch of mortal, fallible sinners. We just try to act in the best fashion we can - and we'll find out what the correct way is when we die. --Requiem
Fair enough, but wouldn't some Christians say that we do know what the right standards all, because all we need to know is in the Bible? -- Xarak
In the nicest possible terms, I would pray that God open their eyes. There are so many translations of the Bible, which was written by so many different people, that I'd say relying 'blindly' (I'm aware that';s a loaded word, but can't find a better) on its advice would seem to me to be a much harder path to salvation. Do those who believe unswervingly (ah, that's the word) in every word of the Bible not believe that God is still working in people's hearts and minds today? That he might not be working in the hearts and minds of other writers? Some people might think that I'm wrong in that. But I'd like to hear their end of the argument. To me, God is by nature ineffable. --Requiem
(PeterTaylor) Firstly on the issue of translations - I've read parts of about 10 English translations and 3 Spanish ones, and I also have a GNT which I use to help arbitrate disputes. However, all the translations I've read are clear that the road to salvation in trust in Christ's atoning death. Besides, "relying" on "advice" sounds like a legalistic path to salvation, which while certainly hard isn't advocated by any Christian I know. As to God still working in hearts and minds today - I'm praying right now that God will help me express what I've understood of His truth in ways which will be understood by those who read. I think, though, that you were meaning more in terms of novel revelation of God's nature, and I believe that came to an end with Christ. God cannot indeed be described totally by us, and moreover we can know nothing about Him other than that He reveal it to us. Of this revelation, the author to the Hebrews writes "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son..." (NIV: Heb 1: 1-2) What could there be which God would want to reveal about Himself which was not revealed when His Son walked the Earth, demonstrating perfect life in union with the Father and teaching with unsurpassed wisdom and insight?
(PeterTaylor) That's an interesting question. The reply which springs to my mind is "Given that God will punish all sin, why should we punish any?"
I'm sure I posted a rant on "why punish crimes?" somewhere, but can't seem to find it now. ISTM that's another "beating your wife" question. No, I don't think human society should take upon itself the task of punishing sin (things that God deems unacceptable) - that's God's job. However, there are also things that society finds unacceptable, which often happen to overlap with sin. It seems like a good idea to make these things happen less, because it makes life nicer for most members of society, and punishing the few for doing them seems like one way of achieving this goal. Precisely how the details are decided is a debate for another page. - MoonShadow
(PeterTaylor) (This starts to head towards the theory of punishment stuff I studied in RS at school, and on which Angela almost certainly has lots to say.) I presume, although you don't state, that reference to OldTestament? law is intended. Why was the Mosaic law given, and why does it have the punishment scale it does? The answer to the first part of the question is multi-faceted. From the OT perspective, the Mosaic law was given as part of the Mosaic covenant: if the community as a whole followed the law, then "out of all nations [they] would be [Yahweh's] treasured possession" (NIV: Ex 19: 5). From an NT perspective, the law is intended to lead people to Christ: since no-one can keep all of it (consider "Do not covet your neighbour's wife, donkey, etc - NIV: Ex 20: 17) it is clear that the sacrifices prescribed are the only reason the covenant holds together, yet they are merely a type of Christ's sacrifice. That's heavily abbreviated, and I'm sure you'll want me to expand on parts of it, but moving on to the second half of the question: why did the Mosaic law have a punishment scale? For a lot of the prescribed punishments, it's fairly clear that the intention of the punishment is compensation to the victim. "A thief must certainly make restitution" - NIV: Ex 22: 3. In other areas, the intention seems to be twofold: deterrent, and a demonstration to the surrounding kingdoms of what it was to be the people of Yahweh. So, for example, sorcery was punishable by death.
Interesting. So, given all that, how much of the law ( OT and NT ) do you think is still valid today? Should "sorcerers" still be punished by death? -- Xarak
(PeterTaylor) This is well off-topic, so I'm going to reply in Ethics/Christian.

Yeah - but what your skyghost believes will happen to me doesn't really matter, I mean, it's what MY skyghost thinks that matters, right?  --Vitenka (On a good day, I might concede that your skyghost gets jurisdiction over you.)
I'd say that's only true if you don't really care about the opinion of the person you're talking to. It's a bit like being teased at school - you *shouldn't* care what other people say about you, your beliefs, your opinions... but you do. Also, it's very hard to say, e.g., "my skyghost disapproves of your opinions / actions" without coming across as "I disapprove of you". If the person doing the talking is someone whose friendship you have come to enjoy, it feels like a stab in the back. If your entire circle of friends is like this, you can end up feeling intimidated at best. If most of the people who have authority over you are like this, there is a very strong pressure to conform or break. Not sure "offensive" is the right word, actually - it encompasses both too little and too much. - MoonShadow
Yeah, that one. I suppose this is the place to point out that I don't feel I have the right to disapprove of perfectly good and nice people who don't believe or act in precisely the way I'd believe would be good / holy. I believe religion is a personal issue (in that you choose what to believe and it all gets sorted out afterwards) - but I also enjoy a good debate. --Requiem

Well, the reason this is distasteful is because of the societal havoc it causes.  "Oh, it's ok to destroy stuff, god loves me" is not a helpful attitude to foster.  --Vitenka
Indeed, but the one Christianity tries to foster is actually more like "God loves me and I love him back, so I'm gonna try and stop destroying all his stuff and I'm gonna apologise for stuff I've already managed to destroy. Oh, and incidentally he punishes people who don't love him." - MoonShadow
The attitude "If I did really bad things in my past, God will still accept me" might be helpful, though. --Requiem
True. If there was no chance for redemption built into the religion all those who had sinned previously would probably take the attitude "Well I'm going to hell anyway. I might as well enjoy myself first!". In my opinion its just another way to get people hooked, after all the religions that are left are the ones that managed to get and keep followers. Evolution at work if I ever saw it.--King DJ
A guy from my primary school apparently used to believe precisely that. He must have grown up a bit because, the last thing I heard, he was training to be a minister in the USA. It's a funny old world - CorkScrew

Also reading this, I still have a hard time seeing how anyone could get offended.  Get bemused watching people tie themselves in logical knots to justify an arbitary position - yes - but offended?  --Vitenka
People tend to get quite offended if vehemently and often told by their friends that they're gonna be punished eternally for not having an emotion they think they can't control for someone they don't believe exists. Which is where CICCU came in. - MoonShadow
Nyehehe. That would be the *bad* kind of offence (the kind evangelism shouldn't cause). The "good" kind of offence (the kind Jesus caused - perhaps "unavoidable" is a better word than "good") would be connected to the way that God does want to be your ultimate authority (i.e., Lord). And this is fine if you agree that He's supremely loving, wants the best for your life, and knows better than we finite mortals what that is... but if you don't agree with some aspect of that concept of God, then submitting to him could be an offensive command. It's one that Jesus made, though, on the understanding that that *is* what God's like. --AlexChurchill
Could be offensive even if you do believe it. --ChiarkPerson
Yeah. I'd say that, even if there is an all-powerful god whose motives we cannot comprehend, worshipping him is a moral copout. - CorkScrew
I'm intrigued. Why do you say that? I interpreted ChiarkPerson's comment as saying how it's hard to hand over control of your life to someone even if you intellectually agree it's the best thing to do, but it seems you're meaning something a bit different? --AlexChurchill
I can't see how, if there is a God, you can't worship Him. And, for that matter, if there's a nonzero probability of there being a God, you're better off being a believer due to the marginal benefit ^_^ --Requiem
(a)I dislike worshipping things on principle that I prefer the illusion of being free. (b)I like my Sundays. I guess I'll risk eternal dammnation for that. --Edith
Working off the assumption that you have a moral sense independent of God, the act of doing whatever God says will eventually bring your moral sense into conflict with God's wishes. At that point, the Christian viewpoint is: do what God says. I consider this a moral copout - an unwillingness to fight for your own view of right and wrong. Coupled with my personal opinion that the fundamental reason that Christians worship God is so they can go to heaven, this paints a comparatively poor picture of those who support God regardless.
Bear in mind that I am currently extremely tipsy, so I reserve the right to take back any or all of this in the morning - CorkScrew
To CorkScrew: Just by way of explaining why the Christian approach hangs together: If you put yourself in the place of a Christian, who's become convinced that they can't always rely on their own sense of right and wrong, but also become convinced that there's One who does know what He's talking about on the matter: does choosing to go along with hisfview of right and wrong rather than fighting for your own make a bit more sense? (I know you're not in that position, but I'm explaining why I don't think it's a cop-out)
(PeterTaylor) So many avenues of response. I think I'll break this into a number of threads.
(PeterTaylor) Firstly, overruling one's own moral sense is hardly unique to Christianity. In fact, since everyone will disagree on some aspects of morality, putting one's own moral sense first necessarily implies moral relativism, and hence the only community with which it is compatible is an anarchic one.
Good point and I think this may indicate an axiomatic difference, which is hence not worth the trouble of arguing. However, Id disagree strongly that moral relativism == anarchy - CorkScrew
(PeterTaylor) I didn't say that moral relativism is anarchy. However, a non-anarchic community has and enforces laws. Place your moral relativist in a situation where he has a choice of performing an action which he considers morally acceptable but which is illegal. Either he's going to end up being punished by the community - incompatibility - or he must "cop out".
You're missing the point of moral relativity. It says that morality as we know it is the effect of instilling fear into an individual when they're young and powerless, to protect society from them once they grow up. Moral relativists themselves tend to try to grow past this indoctrination, and generally follow the tenets of enlightened self-interest. This latter would lead an individual to only clash with the law when the return is greater than the loss - in a societal context, this will generally be if they have "right" on their side, ie the balance of power in society tends towards their viewpoint. Law, from what I can tell, is intended as an approximation to the most powerful attitudes in society (sum over (strength of opinion * dominance level) being the relevant equation). We can see this as, if Law were otherwise, it would be changed to better reflect this equilibrium POV. The short answer is that, if it's morally acceptable but illegal, then either you're in a minority or the Law is dodgy. This is a whole other discussion which we can start elsewhere if you like. - CorkScrew
(PeterTaylor) Secondly, your position seems to me to assume that one's conscience is fully formed in the womb and thereafter immutable. My experience tells me that I do sometimes cop out by doing something which both my own moral sense and my understanding of God tell me is wrong; after about the third time, my moral sense acquieses.
(PeterTaylor) Thirdly, we run into the issue of original sin. When I was a kid, Mum never sat down with me and said "Today I'm going to teach you how to be naughty." Not only is the conscience mutable, but the Bible agrees with my experience when it says that the conscience starts out far from perfect.
(PeterTaylor) To sum up, then, I claim that it takes strength rather than weakness of character to consciously choose the path you've become convinced is right in the face of peer pressure, even when that peer pressure comes from within.
I'd agree, but I think our opinions differ as to which is the peer pressure - I'd say that it takes strength of character to follow your conscience regardless of what the Bible says. Incidentally, how would a Christian deal with the issue of the occasional Biblical contradiction? For example, when someone thumps you do you turn the other cheek or smite them hip and thigh? - CorkScrew
(PeterTaylor) Can you give a reference for smiting hip and thigh? I'd like to check it out and see whether I agree it's a contradiction.
Hmmm. Having found the thing ([Judges ch15v8]), it's possibly not the best reference as it talks about what Samson does rather than being a specific declaration from God. However, his actions in his role of God's chosen do seem to preclude the possibility that the God of the Old Testament was anti-violence. - CorkScrew
(PeterTaylor) As I've said in replies to Xarak, Israel was meant to be a distinctive nation-state. Judges seems an odd translation, because they were more warriors than magistrates. The time of the judges came to an end when the monarchy was founded: one of the jobs of the King being to lead the nation in battle. The context of "Turn the other cheek" is individual rather than national, and the link between the [grouped instructions] is not insisting on your rights.

Before flamewars begin, the logic behind my opinion (that the fundamental reason Christians worship God is to go to heaven) is that people don't tend to do anything that doesn't improve their condition. This is a very cynical view, but in this case it seems to work - if Christians were known to go to hell instead of heaven when they died, would they continue to worship God? My answer is no - there is a contract between God and the Christian that the Christian will worship God on the condition that God supplies the Christian with eternal bliss. This seems to work as a theory - CorkScrew
Firstly to Edith, there is a viewpoint that says real freedom is being what you are meant to be. Secondly, to CorkScrew, it's not a cop out. Why? Because it takes a lot of hard thinking to discern what God wants in most cases and even then you're (generic) often wrong. Funnily enough, that's an argument used by liberal Christians when arguing against literalists - the latter state that they know what God wants 'cause the Bible has all you need. The liberal points out that that is a cop out because they're letting their interpretation of the Bible rule their thinking. The last thing anyone should do is leave their brain out of things, whatever the reason - SunKitten
So the only way to do what God says is to put words in His mouth? - CorkScrew
Uh - where did I say that? - SunKitten
Sorry, I think I skipped a few logical steps. "To put interpretations in his mouth" would probably be a better way of phrasing that. My point is that, if the Bible really is ambiguous or unhelpful at times (evidence for this is provided by the massive number of denominations out there), then the only way to follow it is to 'clarify' what it's talking about. But any clarification of something ambiguous will necessarily be subjective - your words in God's mouth. - CorkScrew
Ah, but I'm not saying 'this is what God says.' I'm saying 'this is what I think God says.' Or, more likely, I'm trying to do what it is I think God recommends. And I'm always aware I could be wrong, could improve, could learn something else which changes my point of view. I've changed quite a bit since I started reading UkReligionChristian - it's a very thought-provoking 'place'. And I try always to be open to God himself pointing stuff out to me. You (generic) can't be certain you're getting it right, that's why you need to keep your mind open to other points of view. I do admit that there are some things which I'm hopelessly unsure on. Hell, for one thing.
The important things aren't so unclear. Love God. Love people. Claim Jesus as Lord and as Saviour. I think pretty much everything else follows from that, even when it's hard. Hard to understand, hard to live - SunKitten

Just to bring up another point: I think there is a massive difference between "a god exists" and "the Christian God exists". A couple of comments above appear to me to presume something like the latter when they say something like the former (e.g. "if God exists how can you not worship him?") - MoonShadow
Very true, maybe we need a new page : God -- Xarak

Vitenka is very sorry, and will try to remember never to open his trap about CategoryReligion? ever again.  Now, what buttons do I need to press to get you to stop?  --Vitenka
To get the Christians to stop: read the gospels, then go try talking to their god ;) It can feel a bit idiotic to what ssems to be the void; but ultimately that's all they want you to do, and if you try it - sincerely try calling and mean it - there's not really much else they can ask; it's between you and Him from there, and they oughta all shut up if you want them to. - MoonShadow

Hmmm.  You clearly think it might /be/ possible to get us to stop... :-) --AR
What, and give up on the chance to bear witness to all these lovely unbelievers? ;) --Requiem
I, for one, would be in favour of a "Pause" button - you can unpause after exams ;) --ChrisHowlett
Seconded. Fervently. To all others posting on this page - I'm still interested in the debate. I still have a position, and I'm burning with answers to your points. But I really don't want to fail, so I'm stopping scrivening for two weeks. --Requiem
Meh, probably a good idea. But I might make one more post ;) Ultimately this was all my fault, I started the CICCU page... -- Xarak
Poor 'tenka. Thanks for providing evidence for my MoralRelativism? hypotheses - you've presented a classic example of negative feedback leading to change in behaviour. It's not deeply ingrained enough to be linked to morality yet, but just give it time... - CorkScrew

Xarak has realised that he's been saying that attacking other people's positions is an ineffective means of argument...and then attacking ( although not aggressively he hopes ) Christianity 10 minutes later ^_^ So here's a more positive contribution... AtheistGospel
Yes and no. If there are logical flaws in someone's position / argument, I think it's a pretty effective and reasonable means of debate to point them out, whether or not you consider that to be attacking; so it's fair enough for you to "attack" people's statements in the way you have been. I agree it's unreasonable to attack someone by deriding things that are unrelated to the debate at hand though :) - MoonShadow
Naath agrees in general about not attacking but feels that sufficient Christians are attacking her position that attacking back is the only way to go.
Requiem is trying like hell to answer various people's questions without attacking anything.
CorkScrew is pretty sure he has yet to receive an argument for believing in the Christian God which doesn't basically boil down to "this is what *I* believe." As such, he has moved on to the AztecGospel in the hope of attracting Christian criticism - the more debates the better.
He's not going to get one. If God's existence could be logically arrived at, without accepting some of the things that we hold as articles of faith, then someone would have done it by now in an incontrovertible fashion. --Requiem
MoonShadow is likewise pretty sure CorkScrew ain't ever gonna get one, either; and has been saying things to that effect all over the place. ;)
CorkScrew accepts this and tries to figure how the heck we got to discussing this

Pallando wonders how much the original message was distorted over time and whether there is any systematic way to try to compensate this...
(PeterTaylor) FormCriticism? attempts to. However, it's rather subjective.

Let's start with standard Meme theory of oral propagation.  A religious leader, during his teaching life, makes a certain number of statements.  These are likely to be of varying generality and ambiguity and memorability (eg "Please pass the wine, John.").  Different followers get to hear different subsets of these statements and, when asked by their followers "So then, what DID he say?", repeat on some or all of the statements they can remember, possibly mis-remembering the more ambiguous ones.  And, quite importantly, they are likely to summarise similar or oft repeated statements.  If the original leader says "Love thy neighbour" 1000 times and "Don't eat the shell fish" only once (perhaps after a bad meal), the follower may just repeat  each statement once.

As time goes on, which statement is more likely to be remembered as being specifically attributable to the original leader?  The one the leader said more often, or the one that is unique and stands out?  And which follower is more likely to get to pass on their message and be followed in turn?  The one who emphasises "Love thy neighbour" or the one who emphasises "The only way you can avoid burning for eternity is to believe in and follow THIS specific God who I can tell you about".
(PeterTaylor) Jesus taught mainly in parables in order that his teaching be memorable. The followers whose messages were passed on seem to have been the ones who committed their messages to writing earliest. We have reasonable evidence for very significant influence on the parts of Peter, John and probably Matthew (I'm not sure what the evidence is tying him to the gospel with his name, but I presume it has some basis) among Jesus' closest disciples, and if you want to you can compare their emphases (particularly between Peter and Matthew) and memories (between them and John) to some extent with a synopsis of the gospels. However, that something isn't emphasised in the gospels doesn't mean it's considered unimportant. Compare the ratio of discussion about Hell between Mark and the Petrine epistles.
As far as the authorship of Matthew goes, according to F.F. Bruce The New Testament Documents, a fragment of Papias (one of the church fathers living in the early second century) says "Matthew compiled the Logia in the 'Hebrew' speech [i.e. Aramaic], and every one translated them as best as he could." The Logia was a collection of the sayings of Jesus, which was combined with narrative material (which is believed to have either come from or from a common source as the gospel of Mark - it is generally believed Mark was the earliest of the gospels to have been writen down in it's present form). Some of these Logia are common to Luke as well as Matthew. I'm not sure what particular direct evidence there is if any that leads to the belief that Matthew actually compiled his gospel in it's present form, but indirect evidence such as the fact it was accepted as a canonical gospel leads me to believe it contains material which derives from eyewitnesses whether or not the person who actually compiled it in it's present form was the Matthew who was one of Jesus' disciples. Presumably apostolic origin and trustworthiness of authorship was one of the most important criteria in leading to it's acceptance by the early Christians. -MawKernewek
So, back to the original question.  To what extent has the current canonical 'ChristianGospel' been shaped by these forces (while still oral, while in faliable human memories for 40 years, and during the convocations deciding on the creed and which books make up the bible)?  And what message do we get back to if we discount by 50% the importance of any part of the message that, by its nature, was likely to get doubled in importance in transmission?
(PeterTaylor) If you want to read a relatively recent book which sort-of attempts this, E.P. Sanders' [ISBN 0140144994 The Historical Figure of Jesus] may be worth finding. I found it had some useful background information, but Sanders' scepticism about the supernatural inevitably leads me to disagree with many of his conclusions.

It may be that our present gospels derive from earlier written sources (some may say that some of the ways in which material is common to the synoptic gospels is evidence of this), it may be Jesus's sayings and actions were collected and recorded before they were compiled into the gospels in around 70AD. It need not have necessarily relied solely on oral transmission for 40 years. -MawKernewek

(PeterTaylor) I've deliberately refrained from discussing the role of the HolySpirit in prompting the apostles' memories of Jesus thus far, but I think I ought to mention it somewhere, as relevant to my view on the issue, even though I'm not certain it will carry any weight with you.

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