Friday, March 17, 2006

Doctrine as Fact?


I find it curious that many Christians respond to my questions about faith by informing me of Christian doctrines and stating them as fact. For example, saying "God loves you", or "God sent his son to die for your sins," and so on. But the question I have is not what Christian doctrines are, I know those better than most, but whether or not they are true.

So for example, I want to know: Does God actually love everyone? Just stating the doctrine that he does is not an answer, since how do you know that doctrine is true? Quoting a verse from the Bible ("For God so loved the world...") is a better start, but not a full answer either. There are two responses that still need to be addressed. First, is that statement compatible with other evidence we have both in the Bible and elsewhere? It is not hard to find some strong evidence against this in the Bible itself. God must have hated the Canaanites and their children as he ordered their massacre a number of times (see my post: Is God Good?). Can it be loving to take away everything someone has and then kill him, even if afterwards you might make it up to him in the afterlife? Surely that is not love. Then there is plenty of pointless suffering the the world that God could easily prevent if he really loved people (although this could lead to a long discussion).

The second response to the quote from the Bible that God loves people, is how did the author of the text know that and could he be mistaken? The author is stating his belief or opinion. Maybe he is wrong? To convince us he needs to argue his case and show us evidence. One reply to this is to say: No, it is God speaking authoritatively through the Biblical author and so he can't be wrong. But how do we know that? Because it is another Christian doctrine? That's not good enough as it needs stand on its own merits and evidence. Another reply is to say that the Gospel writer does give us evidence that God loves us: God sent Jesus to die for our sins and save us. That is progress, as now evidence is being considered rather than a doctrine being assumed. But how strong is the evidence? What is God saving us from? Presumeably from the punishment he has in store for us, but if he really loved us he could simply forgive us (see my post: God wants a relationship with you). Or maybe the love was expressed by a willing loss: a father losing his son to death is a terrible loss, and God willingly suffered a similar loss. But did he? Actually he got his son right back three days after he died. So what is the loss? The analogy breaks down here. Or maybe the love was Jesus' willingness to suffer for us. But consider an infinite being taking on a body for 30 years and suffering badly for a couple days at the end. That suffering is not much compared to the other suffering we see in the world. Many others were crucified, and many others suffered worse and longer drawn out tortures and death. That does not seem to be much of a sacrifice for an infinite being. So the evidence for love is kind of weak. Moreover, if God put us in this sinful world and in hopelessly sinful bodies, then surely he has a responsibility to help us get out of our fix?

My point is that I don't want to simply hear doctrines stated as if they were self-evidently true. Ask yourself, is it really true? Why do you believe it? What is the evidence on which you base your belief? (And authority is not evidence.) Does the evidence have holes or contradictions? Is there counter evidence? Also look out for self deception: are you believing it just because you want to or it makes you feel good or gives you hope?

Another response I hear is: "God's knowledge is higher than ours; we can't understand stand his love now, but we will after we die". But what I am trying to determine is if those claims about God are accurate or not. Just accepting them is an abdication of one's intelligence. Surely the key value of our intelligence is in guiding what we believe. If something may or may not be true, then before believing it one should at least make sure that it does not contain self-contradictions, and be aware of what evidence there is for and against it, and then make reasoned a choice to believe or not. Say I told you "Stalin really loved his people, we just can't understand his love", I think you would not suspend your judgement in rejecting that even though you can't undetstand Stalin's mind or fathom the reasons for all his actions. So our decisions of what to believe won't be perfect, but nevertheless we have no choice but to make judgements based on the limited information we have and our assessment of it.

We are stuck here on this planet with a host of religious and faith claims presented to us. We have to decide what to believe. Simply accepting doctrines will get us nowhere; which ones ought we to accept? If we arbitrarily choose some, then there is a very high chance we are falling into error. Rather, let's be guided by the evidence we can find and by our analysis of it.

6 comments:

  1. The problem is that we can't ever fully "prove" love; not just from God, but from anyone. And people who keep demanding that others prove their love (think of a whiny girlfriend, a boyfriend trying to pressure a girl into sex, etc.) have an element of the ridiculous about them. It's impossible to logically (scientifically?) prove love. So to some extent, we MUST have faith in love. If we must believe in others' love, it is not such a large step to believe in God's love, even if they (or He) occasionally do something to hurt us.

    By extension, we often have faith that person X loves person Y (e.g., your mother really loves you). So again it is not so strange to imagine people you don't know having faith that God loves you.

    I don't think it is ever possible to call love a "fact," whether we are talking about humans or God. To try to do so is simply asking too much of the concept, or mixing apples with oranges.

    Love, Large Peapod

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  2. I agree about the difficulties in assessing love. My main claim, though, is that the way to assess God's love should be to look at evidence for it and against it, not to rely on a doctrines of it, or even biblical statements of it (which are really just people's claims about it). The analogy would be to look at how people interact to see if they love each other or not. Does the overall evidence support God's loving everyone or not? Each of us can judge based on the evidence we see.

    Daniel

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  3. In your reply to Large Peapod, you assert that Biblical statements of God's love are just "people's claims." If that is so, then you must also apply this assertion to the rest of the Bible.

    In other words, you can't use any evidence from the Bible to support your OWN claim that God doesn't love us. Because all those passages you refer to about the Canaanites could only be "people's claims" too!

    It seems that you do the same thing you accuse Christians of: using only the parts of the Bible that support your worldview. Why not just accept that the Bible has inconsistencies, and stop referring to it to make any arguments for OR against God?

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  4. Whe someone makes a statement or claim, our belief of it depends on a combination of: the reliability of the person, the likelihood of the statement being true given the evidence available, and our judgement of what basis the person is using to make that statement. So if someone you generally trusted told you he saw a zebra on his trip to Africa, you would likely believe him. But if he told you there were green men on Mars, you would probably disbelieve him. In the latter case all you have is his claim: no evidence and no likelihood that he has good evidence, and given what you know, it's a very unlikely thing.

    So that is what I mean when I say doctrines or Biblical statements of God's love are insufficient. Even though the Biblical authors are reliable about many things, if one of them makes a claim like that, we need to know on what basis he is making that statement, and what evidence he is claiming for that. Then we can examine his reasoning and be more confident in believing it or in rejecting it.

    Presumeably you would not throw out a textbook if you found an error in it; it can still be generally reliable and useful. It is the same for the Bible. We don't have to assume all or nothing; we can judge the statements on the evidence that is presented and that we know from other sources.

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  5. Love is compassion, peace, joy, sacrifice, justice, mercy, sacrifice...

    Love cannot be confined to a definition, it can only be known by what it DOES, not by what it IS for none has ever SEEN it.

    In the same way, we cannot "confine" God to a de-finition (finite) for he is infinite;it escapes our limitations.

    When we decide to believe in Jesus we are making a decision for holiness.

    If we ignore this, the discussion about the existence of God is futile and vain.

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  6. Is the Bible 100% a historical book? The question is irrelevant.

    The story of Adam and Eve is only there to teach us the consequence of our disobedience to God (illness,pain,sufferings).

    Joseph sold by his brothers is another story that mirrors that of Jesus Christ who was sold for a few silver coins, betrayed by his own brothers, and later appointed as King in order to save his own people.

    Moses, called to free his people from Slavery and to guide them into the promised land. Jesus in the NT frees us from the slavery of sin and leads us to the "promised land" in Heaven.

    There are too many wonderful prefigurations of the NT contained in the OT which were written thousands of years apart. They had to be divinely inspired, or they would have never been put into the Bible.

    NONE could have foreseen that Abraham and Isaac were a foreshadowing of God the Father and the Son. Who would include such nonsense as part of the OT when nobody knew that Jesus would personify the story in the NT?

    NONE could have foreseen that Moses and Joseph were perfect analogies to Jesus Christ, as Savior.

    There is too much perfection in the parallel stories of the OT vs the NT to disregard the fact that only God could have inspired such Perfection.

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