Thursday, January 22, 2015

Christianity Makes No Sense? Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts dealing with an article claiming that Christianity makes no sense. You can see the second post here! The objections are mostly simplistic, sometimes evincing bad theology, sometimes bad philosophy, and sometimes just both. Today, I’m going to tackle a few more from their top 10 list.

6. Prayer is contradictory

God has a plan, so how can your prayer change it? Atheists and others don’t pray, but rely on good decision-making, and arrive at the same place people who pray do.

The article actually has a lot more to say that this, but one part doesn’t make any sense (the last sentence is the paragraph is baffling for so many reasons and appears unrelated to either of the statements above), and the others are just descriptions of either of these two. There are actually two objections here, not one, seeing as prayer’s efficacy can be challenged in the same way even if prayer is not “contradictory.” Strictly speaking, the first charge is not supported by anything said in the paragraph. What the author probably means is something like, “Prayer and an unchanging-plan of God are contradictory,” and stipulates that God’s response to prayer is a change in his plan.

So how do we avoid this first charge? Well, we could say that God’s plans change, but that might suggest that God was unaware of some fact or set of facts that, when he became aware of them, prompted him to change his mind. We wouldn’t want that. However, we could also say that God planned the world taking into account what and how and when we would pray in various circumstances. Thus, God can even bring about an answer to prayer even prior to the prayer being prayed, or prepare circumstances years prior to an event’s occurring such that someone prays for it. This is the Molinist solution to prayer, and it’s a great one! Thus, there just is no contradiction between God’s unchanging plan and prayer, since if the relevant counterfactuals had been different, then God’s knowledge would have been different, and plausibly a different world would have been brought about instead of the one we have.

The second charge is that prayer doesn’t seem to work. The problem with this comparison as an argument is that there’s no way to know that it works. That is, one would have to know that had the person not prayed, the same result would have obtained, and had the non-praying person prayed, the same result would have obtained. Given that this critique is supposed to be of Christianity, why can’t the Christian just say that, given God’s active planning in response to our prayers, the world may well have been different if we had not prayed? A better objection is the one that has a control group that doesn’t pray and a group that prays for the same circumstances or things, but even that has flaws (are the people believers in both groups? Unbelievers? Why should we expect that particular prayers are answered at a certain rate?).

8. The Bible doesn’t set the moral bar very high.

The Ten Commandments aren’t very good: it says that not coveting one’s neighbor’s wife is worse than rape! Jesus and his Father encouraged, condoned, and commanded rape, murder, hate, and hurting children! Jesus will send people to Hell for not believing in him.

And this is how we know they have done no scholarly reading on the Ancient Near East, to say the least! Of course, no examples are provided, because why should they? The Ten Commandments form the basis for moral duties, not a compare/contrast (this is why in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy case-laws are given that are not directly the Decalogue, but are instead applications of them). We’ll take their accusation of covet being worse than rape: they aren’t understanding a “better than/worse than” in the Decalogue: they’re showing fundamental units of moral behavior. The family was instituted by God at the creation. The Seventh Commandment (this one concerning adultery) is because the marital relationship is the fundamental unit of the family. So, adultery and coveting spouses (this last part of a different commandment) have the dual motivations of being in violation of the family and the image of God in man. So what about rape? That has the same violations, by implication! Thus, one can be said to be violating the seventh commandment, probably the eighth, and maybe the sixth as well (this is why Jesus says hating your brother is a violation of the sixth commandment).

Next, she is probably alluding to the Conquest passages, but there are many convincing scholarly journals and publications now that suggest hyperbolic conquest language was being used, no more literal than when Jesus said to cut off one’s hand or when we say one sports team “slaughtered” the other. The last objection fails to understand what it means to believe on Jesus. So many, many atheists make this mistake. The belief is not merely intellectual. It is volitional and active. You have to want to be saved from your sins, and trust that God will save you on the merits of Christ, not you. Rejection of this entails a choice to remain in your sins, and Hell is a separation from God. Remaining in your moral failures entails a separation from God, and, very plausibly, those who choose in this life to maintain their moral failures in the face of a perfectly holy, just, and loving God will not suddenly come around to see the light once God leaves people to their own hearts and devices. This is where eternity comes in!

8. Christian love is not very loving.

It makes no sense to have Jesus come to Earth, live without God for 30 years, torturing him to death, and then bringing him back to life instead of just forgiving humanity.

The way the objection is phrased is pretty terrible, but there’s a better one lurking under the surface: why did God have to send Jesus to die for our sins (penal substitution)? Well, some Christians reject penal substitution, affirming other models whereby Jesus redeemed every part of the world with every part of his life. I affirm penal substitution, however, so that option is not open to me.[1]

So what can I do? First, point out that Jesus did not live without God for 30 years. He in fact had a vibrant relationship with God, according to Luke 2. But further, God cannot just forgive. Why? First, there is justice. It is plausibly unjust for evil not to be paid for. Evil must be defeated! Second, there is free choice. Each person must apply forgiveness that God has secured for himself; if he refuses it, God must honor their choice in order for that choice to mean something, which is the point of creating free creatures in the first place. Third, Christ needed to live the life he did to show he was a man who kept the Law through the power of the Spirit.

Next, this author seems confused about what happened on the cross. God did not torture and kill his son. It seems pretty obvious the Roman soldiers and leaders in the Jewish Sanhedrin saw to that. God did ordain a world to exist such that he willingly sent his Son, and applied the sins of the world to him in that payment via death (this is what the Isaiah passage means, and my guess is this is the source of confusion). Greater love has no man than this: that a man would lay down his life for his friends. If atheists deny this, there’s just no telling what they consider love to be.

[1] I am becoming more and more persuaded by what Dr. Jeremy Evans has called the kaleidoscope view of the atonement, where there is some truth to just about every theory of the atonement, and together they form the whole story.

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