Polycarp on biblical literalism

Diogenes, I would welcome your questions too. (As you’ll have noticed, I was composing my answer as you made your post, and it precedes yours by less than a minute. Avid Reader, cheering sections are welcome here, but even more so are people who jump in and make their own arguments. Did you see problems that badchad didn’t address?

Oh, and badchad, thanks for taking me up on the offer, reminding me of it, and arguing your case in good faith (that may not be quite the apposite term, but you know what I mean! ;)). I’ve developed a lot of respect for you since I finally got a handle on what you were saying. I look forward to matching wits with you further in this thread and others! :slight_smile:

I guess Poly responded while I was typing.

I have a question for you Poly, (and I think I may have asked you this in my “Questions for Christians” thread, but I’d like to clarify it again now)

Do you grant the same spiritual veracity to those who have mystic experiences of other gods as you do do to your theophany (I think it’s a fair word for your experience) with Jesus. If a Hindu speaks to Krishna, do you believe that person is actually speaking to Krishna? If not, how can you know that you are actually speaking to Jesus. Visionary and mystic experiences occur in every religion, and those who have the experiences are all equally convinced of their reality. If the angel Gabriel told Mohammed that Jesus did not die on the cross, and Mohammed’s experiences are just as real to him as yours are to you, then how do you know who’s getting the real scoop? Are all theophanic experiences equally valid? If not, how does one know which ones are and which ones aren’t? If they are equally valid, then how do we reconcile the contradictions?

Diogenes: Short answer – “I dunno. Depends.” :wink:

Long answer: IMHO (and this is opinion, not belief) God is interested in getting His message across to people, and speaks to those willing to listen. Some of them will inevitably interpret this as a call to start a new religion, and most of them will hear it under the terms and categories of their own former beliefs and upbringing – hence Buddhism is based on Hindu philosophy, Christianity on Judaism, not the other way around. (This furnishes an opportunity to flag the material just before this parentheses as a neglected part of the answer I should have given badchad.)

Whether it “fits” – not in intellectual reason but in “style” and impact – with the belief system I have is the criterion I use in gauging whether to pay any attention to it. The guy that starts preaching that Jesus is coming again to cleanse the world of the immorality of homosexuals, liberals, and Democrats has just convinced me that his inspiration comes from his own synapses. Every so often something in the Tao Te Ching refocuses my understanding of what’s really going on. Julian of Norwich never fails to rivet me (I used to carry around a hazelnut, as a reminder of contingency).

It’s not a question I have a good answer to. All I can say is, I trust my own experiences, and the things that seem congruent to it, and use a sense of “this doesn’t feel right” or its absence to evaluate the others.

Ever run into Oahspe? Late 1800’s “Bible” of sorts written by an absolute nut? It features a number of gods, two of whom are named Jehovah and Jehovih (don’t ask) and angels that are transported around the universe in flying saucers called avilanzas. The book reads like somebody got Dal Timgar and Krispy Original in the same room, overdosed them with LSD spiked with something obnoxious, and then wrote down their hallucinations verbatim. (No offense to either poster – if you can visualize what you might sound like while hallucinating, guys, and mix it with the interests of the other one as bizarrified by his hallucinating at the same time, and you two heterodyning off each other’s reports of your hallucinations, you have a vague idea of what that book is like! :))

Oahspe is my ideal example of what a believable account of a religious experience is not like, just based on its total off-the-wall-edness. The Jesus experience of, IIRC, Ramakrishna is perhaps at the other extreme, along with some of the Christian mystics I like the most.

But this is an element of my metaphysics that is not at all resolved. And one reason I asked the Pagans to witness about their faith was to try to get a better handle on what’s going on outside my own mind and comfort zone.

I get a bit lost in the metaphysics.

I read the works of Lao Tzu, and the philosophies of Kant, and Gandhi, Jefferson, and a few hundred others. I don’t know if any of those people were the actual authors of the words purported to be theirs. I don’t know if they knew the people they claim to know, or the events they claim to have seen. Yet I gain from these works a sense of knowledge, and understanding of the state of man. From that knowledge and understanding I have some rudiments of what serves as a philosophy. The philosophy is not true or false. It is just a map for me to find my way through the world of human beings, and their interactions and expectations.

I also read the works of Hawking, and Newton, and Kepler, and hundreds of others. I don’t even understand the more abstruse elements of those works, and the bewildering complexities revealed by the giants standing on those shoulders. But it ends up giving me some rudiments of a science. From this, I have a limited and inaccurate view of what the universe really is. It is necessarily true that the view is wrong. It has always been wrong. All science exists because the answer is wrong. From the error of science comes the truth of science.

The faith I have in Christ is not the same thing at all. It doesn’t matter to me that I don’t know who wrote the Bible, who translated it, who printed the copy I currently have in the pile of books by my desk. I don’t even know for sure, without looking what version it is. (OK, I checked, KJV, and also the NIV in drawer) I read it because it is a story told by some people who came to know God.

And as in the other cases, I don’t understand all of it. I cannot prove any of it. I have little reason to credit the scientific validity of most of it. I know for certain that its geology is questionable, and its mathematics simply incorrect. Yet I find also that it contains great truth. And because of it, if not from it, I have gained that which is my faith. And because of that, I came to know God.

But then, if you had proof positive that there was no Jesus, never had been a Jesus, and that there was no God either, the faith that I have gained would still endure. It would be what sustained me in my grief at the loss of my Lord. It would be all that could save me, in a world of despair, without the Lord. And because of it, I would do as Gandhi taught. I would be the change I wanted to see in the world. I would try to be what Jesus wants me to be, even if He were not. Given that God is love, then if there is no God, still there can be love. And if there is love, there is God.

And it is truth even if it is told as a deliberate lie. Oddly enough, although the view of literalism cannot abide the fact that only one thing can be truth, yet truth is greater than all that is not truth. It is paradoxical. It is absurd. Yet still it is truth.

Logic is a great tool, for science. It is a poor choice of tools for understanding faith. Not impossible, but very difficult.

The person who finds the most errors, and lies, and false teachings in the world is not the person who has found the most truth. He is just the one who spends the most time looking for lies. Seek, and you shall find.


“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” ~ Carl Jung ~

Polycarp, I too have a question. It is sort of an expansion on Diogenes’s question. Also, I would like to state up here that I may make unwarranted assumptions or draw incorrect conclusions here, and if so, please correct me.

If a person were to have something along the lines of your theophany, but it resulted in a different form of belief system than yours altogether (say atheism … I’ll try to explain) while still having the same impact (I’ll also try to explain this), would that also, in your opinion, be worth paying attention to?

Now, to try and explain the atheism line. Some people may not agree on my definition of atheism here - and it is a very loose one, IMHO - but I’ll try to go ahead anyway, since that discussion really belongs in its own thread, as far as I understand these things.

A person has a theophany, and as a result that person believes that the unlikely coincidences he’s experienced (i.e. the coincidences you explain as being a result of His working through his “operating system”, or Divinely programmed and seeded RNG as I interpret it) are a result not of a divine, separate entity influencing humanity through some ineffable means - but rather that they are a result of human spirtituality in and of itself. When I say “human spirituality”, I don’t mean that of an individual, but that of the speices, a spiritual collective subconscious, if you will. As a result, this person lives his life according to some basic moral and ethical rules and tenets, that happen to happily coincide with the teachings of Jesus on how to treat your neighbour. Would you consider this theophany to be “real” and thus worth paying attention to?

In closing, I would like to mention that I’m rather new to Great Debates, not to mention the SDMB itself, and thus still trying to find my footing here. Feel free to ignore my post completely, say “you have no idea what you are talking about and/or your post makes no sense”, or to point out what errors I have made. I would prefer the latter, though. Questions for clarification are also very welcome.

Elethiomel, I’ve been staying out of this because I know Polycarp can explain things far better than I can, and a lot less defensively, but your question I can answer.

As I’ve mentioned many times, two of my closest friends are Fundamentalist Christians, turned Atheists, turned Wiccans. The male half of this couple is the one I’ve talked most with about religion, and from what he tells me, in his Atheist days, he was as hard-core atheist as anyone I met. He’s one of the people who got me to join Mensa, and, as he puts it, he used to go to Mensa gatherings, see people doing tarot readings, etc., and ask himself, “How can intelligent people believe this stuff?!” Sometime later, after what started off as legitimate research for a book he was writing, he had what he calls his, “Epiph-Wicca-ny”. As I understand what happened to him and as I understand the term “theophany” it was definitely a theophanic event, and one in a religion which some would say is diametrically opposed to mine, yet I certainly acknowledge it as valid and real. We have a blast discussing religion, and he will get to this board one of these days. In the meantime, while he and I disagree on certain specific points, he and his wife are as moral and ethical as anyone I know, and I suspect they were so throughout their spiritual journey. Then again, I’m a very unusual Christian.

Welcome to GD, and I hope this helps,

I’ve stayed out of this discussion also, Elethiomel, because I have little to offer on this subject and much to learn. However, I can say from personal experience of having related an unconventional theophany that Poly would definitely respect a theophany which differs substantially from his own, as would many other Christians on this board. The point, I believe, is that God makes himself known in the way most communicable to the individual. (“Here I Am” rather than “This is how you must see me.”)

And welcome to GD!

The word for what you’re describing is non-theism*.

Badchad wrote (to Poly):

Speaking for myself…

Poly is drawing a distinction that you are not acknowledging. You are not required to draw the distinctions that he draws, but you are required to acknowledge them — particularly if you are going to query him about them.

The distinction is between the terms [symbol]pisteuo[/symbol] (Strongs 4100) and [symbol]gnwsis[/symbol] (Strongs 1108), the former signifying an intimate experiential comprehension, and the latter a sterile intellectual knowledge. For example, a man might understand hypothermia in the intellectual sense if he knows its clinical symptoms and its effects on the human body. But he has a very different kind of understanding about hypothermia than the man who has experienced its effects.

It is possible to have one sort of belief or knowledge without the other or both to varying degrees. A man from the Amazon might never have heard of toes even being cold, and yet when he has been deposited in Anarctica and his toes have frozen, he has every confidence that toes freeze and knowledge that freezing toes exist. Likewise, an Amazonian man might learn all the technical details of frozen toes from a visiting missionary, but be completely lacking in any ability to contextualize his knowledge since he has no frame of reference for cold. But it is also possible that he might learn about frozen toes and then experience his toes freezing, or vice-versa.

For many of us, including me, the [symbol]pisteuo[/symbol] knowledge of God preceded the [symbol]gnwsis[/symbol] knowledge of God. Only after experiencing the presence of God did I begin to research in earnest in order to come to a greater intellectual comprehension of Him, just as a man might have his toes frozen before he researches the literature to learn intellectually about hypothermia.

Goodness is an aesthetic, and it is the aesthetic most valued by God. Love ([symbol]agape[/symbol], Strongs 26) is the means by which goodness is facilitated, and in fact, God Himself is Love — the Facilitator of Goodness. Knowing God as a person is knowing the One Who has facilitated goodness such that it is imparted from Him to you.

I am made in the image of God and in His likeness, which means that I am a spiritual being with freedom of moral will, just as He is. He freely and volitionally chooses to value goodness, and I am free to do the same. Because God is Love (the Facilitator of Goodness), whenever I experience love, I am experiencing God as a person.

Sin is the opposite of love; that is, sin is the obstruction of goodness. God values goodness so much that He does not sin. I, however, do not value goodness as much as He; therefore, whenever there is “badness” in my life, it is because I have obstructed goodness. Many men do not value goodness at all, and therefore resist or reject love, since love is the facilitation of goodness.

Whenever there is “badness”, it is the result of choice by free moral agency. Since God never chooses “badness”, that choice is made by other free moral agents, i.e., us.

Once again, you fail to make a necessary distinction. Jesus teaches that man is a being with a dual nature — he is a physical being born of water (from his mother’s womb) and a spiritual being born of God. Man is both physical and metaphysical. Indeed, throughout history, he has had an interest in both the world around him and the world inside him.

Because you recognize only the physical being and not the metaphysical being, you find it incredible that Jesus came and spoke to someone. That is because your reference frame is limited to a man being corporeal and speech coming from the larynx. You are like a man who cannot hear, and thinks of music as the movement of fingers up and down a keyboard. You do not comprehend the essence of what music really is.

Jesus speaks to our hearts. Webster’s Unabridged defines this usage of “heart” as “the vital center; the innermost essence”. His Holy Spirit places understanding into our moral fiber — our spirit — and only then do our brains comprehend.

The Bible provided a moral philosophy that was unique and unprecedented: (1) Metaphysic — Eternal Love; (2) Epistemology — the Holy Spirit; (3) Aesthetic — Goodness; (4) Ethic — Perfection. The moral imperative given to us by Jesus is to “be perfect”.

To see Einsteinian relativity, you have to “explain away” certain Newtonian principles. But that does not harm the credibility of relativity and its effects on gravity and the speed of light.

William of Ockham wrote, “Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatum.” Here, you have violated his razor by introducing an unnecessary bifurcation. You have applied a moral judgment to an amoral context. There is nothing in the atoms that is either moral or immoral; the universe is morally neutral. What you have called “murderous” is nothing more than a restructuring of molecular associations. When God destroyed Sodom, for example, only the physical and temporal manifestations of the people died. Those were manifestations that were in fact born to die, and even without God’s intervention would have died only a few short years thence. The significant manifestations — their eternal spirits — did not die. Therefore, there was no murder at all. What is real is not what is temporal, but what is eternal.

Forgive me, but that sounds a bit disingenuous, as when you capitalize “Jesus” but not “God” using both as proper names, or when you capitalize the “Odyssey” but not the “Bible”. You are doing what Jesus calls straining gnats and swallowing camels. Poly did not mean that Jesus might not have done His miracles, but that their significance is not in how they are described.

I’m glad that you wrote that about Jesus. It helps to illustrate a point that I’ve been making for quite some time. Jesus is Who Jesus is. He loves you unconditionally, and He does not judge you. Rather, He establishes the truth and you judge yourself by it. You face east and say that the west looks dreary. You’re drinking poison that has been labeled water. You’re fighting an image from a dream in your mind with your eyes closed.

The very fact that you loathe what you present as Jesus is testament to your love of the One Who is. You despise your image of Him because you see nothing good in it, and that is as it should be. You are head and shoulders above the man who knows Who Jesus really is and hates Him in his heart even as he pays lip service by meaningless and vapid testimony. The man who despises evil and loves goodness is like God.

And I have good news for you!

The heart you speak of will die. It has been dying from the moment it pumped its first blood cell. The universe is dying. The energy that it has available to do work is decreasing exponentially and relentlessy. Your sun is merely blustering, destined to consume your earth and then die from exhaustion. It is no wonder that a man who puts his faith and confidence in such fragile things is a cynic and a pessimist. Whatever optimism he might have is as short-lived as what he treasures.

The good news is that none of it is real. The heart in your chest is a trivial thing. But the heart inside you that is stirred one way or another by these words is eternal and will never die. You oppress it now with your brain, but your brain too will die and its oppression will end. Whether you are youthful and myopic or old and hardened, what remains of your captivity is but a blink. You will be free.

Suppose I proposed to you an epistemology described this way: it is circular in nature, depending upon its own axioms for its conclusions; it begs the question of its own validity by stating that its validity is dependent on its rules; it has multiple theories of truth, some of which conflict, and all of which rely upon its own antithesis for verification; and it has the peculiar property that if it is complete then it is inconsistent, and if it is consistent then it is incomplete. Would you want to believe anything it revealed to you? In case you do not know, I have just described deductive logic.

The notion that a revelatory epistemology is somehow inferior is primitive and jejune in its conception. In fact, if a spiritual metaphysic is taken as axiomatic, then a revelatory epistemology becomes a necessary one. What is reasonable depends on context.

We’ve already seen how you’ve gutted the context of compassion by presuming the universe and its atoms to be morally significant, so there’s no sense in revisiting that. But here, you levy a charge of bias while yourself disregarding a priori the existence of something that is definitively necessary — a Supreme Being. Even if you deny a spiritual metaphysic, you are compelled to acknowledge that a greatest entity exists. Even your beloved Hume acknowledged as much, and regarded the universe itself as being “in charge”.

He is God.

Polycarp, I appreciate the time you’ve put into this thread, as well as the tone you and badchad have taken with this thread. I wrote this post last night, but it didn’t go through for some reason, and I didn’t want to take a chance of having duplicate posts, so I thought I would wait till this morning to make sure. I’ll be brief with what I have to say, but if you have time, I’m hoping you will elaborate further on this:

**“Supernatural events” in the Bible are the writer’s naive perceptions of what went on. I do not know whether any given one of them is a literal account or not, but it does not matter – whether Jesus got up from the tomb on Easter Morning in a sort of Night of the Undead Messiah or not, some event occurred that convinced men who had known Jesus intimately for three years that although they’d seen Him dead, He was alive again. **

Yes, that’s the way the gospel writers portray it in their stories, is that some event occurred with Jesus. If the miracles stories aren’t in the first drafts of the gospels as many scholars think, maybe no event occurred, you suppose? I doubt there is an event surrounding Jesus’ life that hasn’t been similarly recorded by writers before writing on figures such as Buddha and Krishna, and I also doubt if there is a single good teaching in his that isn‘t is theirs. Historians and scholars (minus conservative Christian’s) know all too well that they came before Jesus. Somebody obviously did some serious borrowing. Anyway, knowing how human’s tend to bend the facts, and human deceit is every day occurrence, why would one put more trust in a story that violated nature itself? This time in particular was known for its credulous writing. And I agree with your first sentence completely, but with the resurrection it does matter if some supernatural event occurred here to most Christians, does this not matter to you either? If you also have some serious doubt about the resurrection, I’m curious why you still prefer the Christian label? If you are solely into Christianity, not because of the miracles, but because of his teachings, we’ll have to do a board on this sometime, because I still think his teachings as a whole leave a lot to be desired too.


I too asked a similar question - I am of the opinion that the mystic experience or theophany is in all cases very similar, but diverges as the individual attempts to make sense of it.

I also think that this experience is much, much more common than is generally believed.

Further, the people who experience them are not necessarily religious in any sense (I was not).

As Xeno said, I will not reject the good-faith account of someone who has experienced a theophany that differs from mine. Being of a compulsive-classifier nature, I will try to make my understanding of it fit into the system of how I understand God and his modes of revelation of Himself to us – but I won’t be upset, and certainly won’t reject its validity, if I’m unable to fit someone’s account into my system. I figure that God knows what He’s doing, and it’s not essential that I do. I’ve spent two years trying to expand my conceptualization of what’s going on to allow for what happened to Freyr in his two distinct theophanic experiences (of YHWH/Jesus and of the Vana Freyr), and (which may be of particular interest to Elethiomel) we actually have a member here (of whose board name unfortunately I’m suffering a memory lapse) who is in fact a “soft atheist” as the term is used here who experienced a theophany. (I’ll let him retell his story and how he’s come to understand it, but it’s well worth reading.)

With regard to Lib’s posts, my stance is fairly close to his, differing only in that I don’t demand that anyone reprocess their epistemological assumptions and come to a decision about essentiality/contingency to arrive at an acceptance of the reality of experiential phenomena, even though that leaves us with the old objective/subjective problem that’s plagued these debates since day one. While I feel that anyone willing to take the time to work in the intellectual categories he speaks of will come to conclusions actually identical to his (though perhaps verbalized in quite different ways), I also feel that most people are less than willing to juggle metaphysical conceptualizations as he does. So I pitch my accounts of what I believe at a much less abstractualized level, even though that results in misunderstandings of the sort “Poly’s god = magical sky pixie” from the language I’m forced to use in consequence.

Which is to say, Lib and I are saying the same thing – but he’s attempting to furnish objective and logical demonstrations of what I’m attempting to systematize by empirical means. Each technique has its virtues and its faults – which is one major reason why God made us brothers in spirit and brought us together on this board! :slight_smile:

W/R/T my heart attack, there’s one element of that story I didn’t tell. I did go for cardiac surgery, which was performed on the day before Easter. On that day, I was scheduled to do one of the Scripture readings at the Easter Vigil at our church – and instead I quite frankly and nigh-onto-literally experienced that reading:

Thank you, cjhoworth, and xenophon41, for welcoming me, and for explaining some of what I was wondering about. Thanks also to Malthus for further explanations, and of course to Polycarp, for his explanation. :slight_smile:

Diogenes, thanks for supplying me with the word I was looking for. My first language is obviously not English.

I think I shall rejoin the lurker crowd in this thread, at least for a while, so I can have some time to think about how to put my further thoughts on this subject into words.

I have to quibble with your assertion that anything here is “unprecedented” (other than the Christian semantic associations). God was Love and compassion toward all living things was a primary imperative in religious thought long before Christianity. Epistimological authentication of the metaphysical through personal (mystical) experience is an essential pillar of Hinduism, and Buddha’s Eightfold Path is a recipe for how to “be perfect.” Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, though. Precisely what apect of Jesus’ teaching do you believe was unprecedented.

I’m constantly amazed at how close you come to Buddhism in your worldviews. This paragraph could have come right out of a Buddhist primer. Buddhists call it “Maya,” you have often called it a “mise en scene,” but it’s the same thing. I think it’s a great credit to you that you have been able to arrive at these kinds of insights through such an iconic lens as Christianity. You don’t mistake the symbols for the substance. To paraphrase Jesus, you’re drinking from the cup instead of polishing it. I don’t mean this to sound patronizing in the sense that I think you’re showing “insight” by approaching a more Eastern worldview, I just mean to compliment you that you can think past the symbols.

That’s a mighty big “if” there, Lib. An axiom is an axiom only if it is mutually recognized as such. A spiritual metaphysic is far from a self-evedent truth.

A greatest entity does not equal “God” in any meaningful sense.

This is an interesting question that I’ve been thinking about for a long time actually. I’m no closer to the answer than anyone, and I think Polycarp did a good job below (and in his original post).

I did want to add that I find it supremely interesting that there is a common chord that runs through most, if not all, religions. I think Polycarp hit on something here.

I think the reason for the interpretations and different religions lay somewhere in the minds of those who adhere to them. For me, what I know of Christianity feels right. I find useful tools in the bible that help me in my day to day living. I have found similar useful tools in other religions, I might find more, but I’m not familar with them (although I am taking steps to learn more).

I think Lib’s post below (actually, the ENTIRE post) illustrates something that I firmly believe, which is God is operating on a far different set of rules than we are. For God to operate on what we call good and evil would be nonsense, IMO, because mankind’s moral radar fluctuates (sp?) practically every generation.

I did want to applaud everyone in this debate, badchad (whom I think has backed off of the inflammatory button pushing aggressiveness) included. I’m learning a lot by reading the exchanges.

No – my point in saying what I did is that I was not making an objective, metaphysical assertion about a putative entity to be termed God, but that I operate on a faith-based concept of trust in Something that I have come to know as God, in a relational setting. Obviously one cannot have a relationship with that which does not exist, in some way, shape, or form – and for the same of argument I’ll allow children’s “imaginary friends” in the door here, and concede that my percept of God might conceivably be all in my own imagination

I think we are getting somewhere with the posability of god being in your imagination. Children’s imaginary friends comes pretty close and I don’t see how you can make any differentiation.

(I have grounds to take the contrary position, which we can discuss later in this thread)

I’m interested in getting to that as I think the grounds you are using to take the contrary position are faulty.

– but my position is not merely one of asserting that God objectively exists (on which I have no reproducible proof capable of satisfying the skepticism of another, merely interior, subjective proof sufficient for me)

Would you acknowledge that people frequently use subjective proof to establish beliefs that are false. Would you also acknowledge that people have a tendency to believe and find evidence to support (adequate or not) what they want to believe? If yes would this acknowlegement increase or decrease your 99.99999% surety that god exists.

– but that the key to knowing and understanding Him, so far as a human can, is in that relationality, that acceptance of a personal relationship with Him.

Sounds like a nonsense statement to me. I think to have a personal relationship he would actually have to interact with you. I don’t think that experiencing an unlikely event, to which one got goosebumps qualifies.


I think this gets down to the crux. How can you know god as you would a person? Also how can you be sure he has made his goodwill known to you. You have posted that you have had some unfortunate things happen to you as well. Couldn’t you just as easily said that god has made his badwill known to you?

Because He is, among other things, a person – or at least has the attributes associated with personhood. Since (except for alien abductees if they are to be believed and the owners of genius cats if they are) no human being has ever dealt with another sentient mortal not a human being, there’s a distinction between your and my personhood and His – but it’s one of his being an element of His nature; He’s more than another person, not less and not skewed from the concept of personhood.

Objective cite please.

I’m not prepared to promulgate some sort of great conceptualization of the solution of the Problem of Evil – but allow me to say this much on the goodwill/badwill question. He created a world in which it is possible for evil and hatred to exist and people to choose to do things which injure themselves or others, physically or spiritually. (And “spiritually” does not necessary mean “in a religious sense” – contemplate the spiritual damage done to a gay youth by the ostracism of his peers and the condemnation of the fundamentalists, as dealt with in a different thread.)

I don’t acknowlege a spirit. How about emotional damage?

In living in this world and dealing with it, we find we grow emotionally and spiritually; I suspect that has a great deal to do with the reason He chose to produce it in the way He did.

I still don’t like your word spiritually as if you put in emotionally, physically and perhaps mentally spiritually is superfluous, unless you want to describe it as ones ability to fully assimilate societies favorite superstitious beliefs. Though I think this would be at the expense of one’s mental growth. Still in your outlook you have in place the survivorship bias that I spoke of earlier. There is no growth in the gay teens who commit suicide due to the hardships they face. No growth in the people people killed in hurricanes, wars, disease etc. Your talk of growth is only for those with the relatively happy endings and the reality is that a lot of people don’t get these happy endings.

While He could plausibly have intervened to physically stop me from entering into situations where harm resulted, that would be contrary to his apparent “write a ‘clean’ operating program for the Universe and let it run” mode of operations. Instead, what He does is to work through his “operating system” by causing coincidence to happen and people of good will to intervene at the right times.

I think you have contradicted yourself. If god wrote a clean operating system then he would not have cause these coincidences. Also, outside of survivorship bias, what makes you think that these coincidences are in your favor? What makes you think that these coincicdences happen any more frequently then they ought to given a world without a watchmaker?


I don’t think you are making the claim that Jesus actually and literally came and spoke to you. Would it be accurate to rephrase this by saying you went through some very unlikely events, which would make anyone think there might be something there and because you live in the USA, christianity was the most proximal supernatural explanation?

  • Your rephrase is quite accurate save for the fact that I did have the mystical experience (I originally said “theophany”) of a very strong sense of His Presence in which He gave me to understand some things.*

I think this is one of your biggest errors. In an average lifespan I would estimate that one experiences millions of events. As such things that are one in a thousand come up frequently and one in a million events still come up from time to time. Spooky as they may seem it’s simple probability that these unlikely events will fall upon us and psychologically are deeply memorable. Could even lead to the “theophany” you describe. I highly recommend the book “How we know what isn’t so” by research psychologist Thomas Gilovich for more information regarding this and other ways humans tend to be subjectively sure about things they are objectively mistaken.


I take it from this that you don’t put much credence in any of the miracle stories. In the last thread you seemed to be saying that you didn’t believe in hell either. If I got this wrong please clarify. Do you beleive in heaven or any other afterlife?

I “believe in” God. I see my task as to deal with the world in accordance with the two Great Commandments (love God, love your neighbor), and to trust Him for what may happen at my death. I don’t rule out total annihilation of my consciousness, reincarnation, or any of a dozen other potential fates – but I believe He has the situation under control, and I don’t need to worry about it.

What do you estimate the probability of heaven as paradise is, vs. annihilation of your consciousness? What do you think is the probability of hell as eternal torment?

I confess to being totally at sea about the miracle stories. A lot of Scripture suffers from what I personally have termed the “Jacob Brown Effect” – Gen. Jacob Brown having single-handedly effectively won the War of 1812 – at least if you go to school about five miles from where he lived, as I did. Imprecision due to exaggeration, repetition of stories with consequent distortion à la the kids’ game “Telephone,” misinterpretation of what did happen, either by the observers or by others misconstruing their reports – all these may have contributed to the phenomena reported.

This wouldn’t surprise me at all.

It’s quite possible, of course, that they may be the literal truth – that Jesus was able to cure a paralysis and tell the man to take up his bedroll and walk. But far more likely is that they were told by the early Christians, whether as made-up stories to illustrate a point that came to be regarded as true, misconstruances of what happened, or whatever, in an effort to stress to the rest of the world what a remarkable person this Jesus was.

I also agree with you that it is far more likely that these miracles did not really occur. However if Jesus really was god, I would think that the only way he could distinguish himself from other pretenders would be that he could actually demonstrate his miracles, rather than have people rely on second, third and worse hand accounts. Wouldn’t you think so?


Well, as Voltaire phrases it “A proverb isn’t a reason.” Heck, I read the bible seriously, but not literally, as I did The Iliad and The Odyssey. All three talked of gods and had moral lessons a plenty if you looked for them. How can you (without cherry picking) say the bible is any different?

Because the Bible talks more directly about the God I know as a person.

Or maybe the god you think you know as a person.

I am personally not inspired or instructed by tales of Greek and Roman deities and their love lives and strange sense of justice,

Are you going to tell me that the bible does not describe some pretty strange senses of justice? I think I can give you plenty of examples, as many or more than described in the Iliad. Though I know with your nonliteral interpretation you’ll just say those don’t count for some reason or other or say that we are too small minded to understand the full wisdom of god, bla bla bla. I can apply such statements with equal ease to the Iliad, so if you have a less generic line of argument let me know.


Plagues, floods, fire and brimstone, angel’s with swords, hell fire for unbeleivers. This speaks to me vivid detail of god’s personality (if he exists) and in our dog eat dog world, it actually fit’s better than the nice god that you see. Note that to see your loving god, you have to ignore or explain away a lot of jealous, vengeful, murderous stuff. How can you say that your view of god’s personality is right and the bad stuff is wrong? Back to the greek god’s, at least they didn’t make the claim of being all good and all powerful at the same time. In that sense I think you could make their existance a little more likely than your favorite god.

o-fucking-lutely true. However, I have two points to make here. First is that it is IMHO not a dog-eat-dog world.

How many life forms do you think have had to be snuffed out or enslaved to sustain your existance so far?

Second, Fred Phelps claims to be talking about the same God as I am – but I totally reject his lunatic Hellfire-and-damnation scenario of who God is. The god who would create you, me, and Gobear and damn him for being what he created him as, is not one I believe in.

Well, that is clearly the god of the bible, both old and new testiments. Again, which is the reason why I started this whole discussion. If you throw away much of the literal interpretation from the bible you throw away much of what you base your beliefs on. Yet you won’t admit it. That is why I think your position and the position of all “reasonable nonliteral christians” is so intellectually dishonest. At least the literalists think they have proof of miracles and 1000 correct propheseys of the bible in which to base their beliefs.

The miracles are signs. What He did and how He did them are secondary to what they convey. I said in the other thread that it is no less a miracle to transform a bunch of selfish people into generous ones willing to share their lunch around with strangers than to transform five loaves and two fishes into enough food for 5,000

That’s a bunch of BS and you know it. You get selfish people to share and I’ll shrug my shoulders. Heck my mom used to do that all the time. You do the latter (in a way that I believe it actually happened) and then I’ll be the one trying to rationalize my belief system.

And his biographers are, within bounds, reliable.

If they reported miracles that did not take place (and you think they did so) then I don’t see how you can call them reliable. If they messed up on things like miracles, what makes you think they got the morality correct? If you think they did get the morality correct, how come you only follow the parts you like? God is far more wise than you, remember.

Okay, I’m cherry picking. But I’ve seen enough people try to pass the buck, and some of them to blame God, that I see it as the likely explanation for why he’s represented in Scripture as commanding things that are contrary to the ethics he taught later.

When Jesus taught his ethics later he did say that not one tittle of his old ethics were to pass away. He just made his new requirements a little more stringent. Though if I recall correctly Jesus frequently contradicted himself, so you can probably come up with examples of the contrary.

  • It’s not how I see the world, and I think I have reason to prefer my view of it over yours.*

I think you put your preference first and created your reasons to fit.


Again, if Jesus did not really do miracles, what makes him different that a lot of other so called wise thinkers who attracted a following, that you chose not to worship?

Those other wise thinkers (well, except Baha’ullah) did not presume to identify themselves as the access to the Godhead.

I think this makes those other wise thinkers; (A) not liars, or (2) not insane. Either of which would make my listening to them more reasonable, though I don’t think I would worship them.

I worship Jesus because he was a human aspect of the God in whom I believe, an avatar if you will.

Or so you think.

And, if you gave me concrete and convincing proof that Jesus was not indeed who and what He is claimed to be, I’d still live out my life according to His teachings

All of them or just the teachings you have cherry picked?

Yes, yes, and no – it would do neither. My reasoning here is that subjective beliefs can, of course, be true or false; the proof must lie elsewhere. And it’s certainly a truism that people tend to engage in wish-fulfillment fantasies – believing in that which they want to. However, insofar as my conscious mind goes (and I do feel I have a good handle on my subconscious motivations, but we both know they can be tricky, so I’m putting in that reservation) what I experienced and its aftermath was nothing I had any real interest in experiencing, let alone desired. I was happy with my intellectualizations; to have them “come up and slap me in the face” as something real with which I’d have to deal, metaphorically speaking, was the last thing I wanted.

With humbleness and absolutely no intent to get us back on a hostility kick, I feel that you’re reading something into what I’m saying here. It may be that I have not made myself clear. I have indicated two things, interrelated but distinct, regarding my relationship with God: a single overwhelming event of great impact in which I came to recognize Him as Person and present to me, and an ongoing sense of the Divine Presence (metaphorically) “hovering” and from time to time noodging and guiding me in what I do. I think I can see where you got the one-shot “unlikely event” from my previous statements, but I thought I’d made the ongoing sense of presence clear, and I apologize if I failed to.

Sorry – that was an assertion of my understanding regarding the God in whom I believe, not an objective definition I would expect you to buy into, in response to your question about how I could claim to know God as I would a person. I can refer you to Lib’s efforts to demonstrate Him by logic, or to any number of theological treatises defining Him as a Trinity of three persons in one Godhead, but I’m fairly certain that’s not what you meant by “objective cite!”

Acceptable. I meant “spiritual” in the sense in which one would read, in a non-religious account of someone’s life, “His spirit was finally broken by this last indignity” rather than positing a metaphysical essence I cannot point to.

In view of the fact that we’re in essence debating whether “spiritually” has a real referent or not, you’re kind of begging the question by the definition at the end of your first sentence! But I think Gaudere, moderator here and firm atheist, would use “spiritually” with reference to the mental/emotional impact that good art has on her, and I’ll try to refrain from unnecessarily using it in our discussions here. And yes, I grant that there are tragedies and pathetic endings to lives, and that positing ‘spiritual’ growth – intellectual and emotional maturity and character development – as a possible partial answer to the Problem of Pain/Evil does in fact assume that bias. I said I didn’t have an answer for it; I speculated on a partial answer. Is it acceptable to you that we table the question of why human pain/evil exists in a universe claimed to have an omnipotent and beneficient creator? That it does exist does not disprove Him, though it certainly suggests that something is haywire in the world if He is presumed to exist. (A wandering fundamentalist would pop in here and throw Satan into the mix as the explanation; I refuse to do so.)

You mean a good program should not have built-in safeguards against aspects of it crashing? I see the “coincidences” as integral parts of a monstrously complex Plan. And, of course, there’s Eddington’s (?) famous comment, “The laws of probability not only permit coincidences; they demand them.” I’m missing where you see a inherent contradiction in my comment – please rephrase, and I’ll try to answer better.

Oh, absolutely! Peculiar little events happen all the time. For example, my wife and I liked Zager & Evans’ one hit, “In the Year 2525” when it first came out. We probably had heard it once in the last 20 years until last week, if that. But in some work we were doing together where she was dictating and I keying in data, two adjacent entries were the number 25, and when she read it as “…25, 25…” we both laughed and began singing a snippet of the song. Oddly enough, we’ve heard it twice since then on the radio. After completing C&P answers to you, I’ll address in brief in a separate post why I feel that I can reasonably assume that I did not hallucinate the original theophany and then construct the sense of presence to sustain belief in that initial event. (No offense intended in doing it that way – it involves extended narrative and description of self-introspection, so it’ll make for easier reading done as a continuous essay rather than Q&A style.)

I presume from the few descriptive passages associated with the promises made that whatever heaven may be, it’s a sense of intimacy with God, comfortable and pleasurable, presumably with ongoing new input to pique interest to avoid any sense of boredom. In view of the fact that He promised it to those who follow Him, I’d give it 100% probability – but it’s not something I feel at all concerned about.

Hell is an interesting concept to try to decipher. I reject the Hell-as-vengeance-on-unbelievers style of belief; it’s too much like “when my Daddy gets through with you, you’ll be sorry you picked on me, you big bully!” But the two main threads of conceptualization regarding it are people in torment and the annihilation of the person. To grasp what is being said, I analogize it to the condition of a hard-drug addict. He may have had a wide range of interests and enthusiasms before getting hooked, but after he has gotten hooked and been a user for an extended period, he’s effectively burned out much of what he had been. His interests narrow to the craving for the drug and to what he must do to get it; the relief from the craving is only momentary and leads to more craving; and what was vibrant in him is no longer there, merely an ash that once was a fire. IMHO, God’s insight into humanity is such that He realizes that apart from Him and what He can provide, in the extreme long run everything will lead to that sort of addictive behavior for the individual – and he will be in a state of craving and regret, without the possibility of restoring himself to what he had been. And that will be hell for him – both torment and virtual annihilation of the real self, the reduction of the individual to remnants. God does not punish by sending non-believers to Hell; they choose to pursue paths that inevitably lead there by the very nature of mankind, and his offer to save them from it is always open.

I won’t quote our long exchange on miracles – but the Jews expected (and still expect) the Messiah to be the one who restores the righteous kingship to Israel and repels their enemies. Jesus didn’t fill that definition. IMHO, he was not particularly interested in doing miracles; his interests were in the nature of personal relationships and the abuse of them by twisting the Jewish religion into a legalism, in what constitutes a fuller and richer life lived in harmony with one’s fellow man. First Century culture was superstitious; any leader was supposed to have done miracles.

Nope, I completely agree. But you’re (I think) operating on the assumption that the Bible is supposed to be (according to Christians) the infallible Word of God – I see it as the record of their growing understanding of how He operates and what He wills. So the bizarreries in which our sense of justice is greatly perverted are attributed to Him, while Isaiah and Micah and Habakkuk start to get a grasp of what He really wants.

Point taken – even if I were a total vegetarian, I would have caused the failure to live of large quantities of wheat and peanut plants by eating a peanut butter sandwich! But I understood you to mean “dog-eat-dog world” in a quite different sense, effectively one in which altruism never exists and a nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw competitiveness is the dominant feature of existence. And even Darwinian theorists posit that cooperation and coeveolution rather than competition is key to their understanding of how life interacts.

Well, thank you! It is certainly wonderful to have you acquaint me with what I base my beliefs on; I had thought that I founded them on something completely different, and had been trying to explain that to you. I’ll have to introduce you to His4Ever; you and she, being literalists, will get along just fine!

Perhaps I should not be offended – but I’m going to let that paragraph stand, as a signal that you have pushed one of my buttons. I do not base my beliefs on the Bible. It is a very useful, if oftentimes flawed, reference point for information about God. I’d like a bit more explanation of why you see my position as “intellectually dishonest” before I argue the contrary – it’s your assertion; your turn to do the explanation and defending. I’ve tried to explain my position clearly and cogently; if there’s a problem with it to the extent that you call it “intellectually dishonest,” perhaps you’d care to spell out in detail what it is – remembering that all our discussion of the Bible is to one side.

As for the rest of your post and the promised explanation of why I don’t accept the “wish-fulfillment-hallucination” explanation of what I believe I experienced, I think on second thought I want to wait for your response. You’ve begun mixing apples and oranges in what you’ve said towards the end, and it feels like some of the remarks are personal potshots, so I will address them later when I feel less emotionally disturbed by them.

BADCHAD, your last post IMO reveals your agenda, and frankly it’s one that we’ve seen around here before.

You want POLY to prove that God (or “his” God) exists, by proof that is acceptable to you.

But if you just asked him flat-out to do it, he’d be the first to admit to you that he can’t. God is supernatural (that is, outside the natural) and therefore not amenable to proof. But by the same token, He is not amenable to disproof, either.

So in your world it may be acceptable to play the odds as you see them and declare that it is more likely than not that God doesn’t exist, but that’s as close to a declarative statement on the subject as you can get and still be intellectually honest. And even that is just your opinion, totally unprovable and unproven. So you have your opinion about God’s existence and POLY has his, and they’re not the same. Quel suprise.. The only question is, When your position is no more provable than his, why are you busting his chops about what he believes?

Frankly, the “wish-fulfillment-hallucination” I see here is yours: If you insist that the only possible God is found in (and limited by) the words in the Bible, and you insist (disregarding all evidence to the contrary) that every Christian must worship this God (your god) as you say they do, then the hallucinations are yours.

In other words, and as POLY already said, if you think God is a wish or a delusion or a hallucination, then prove it. It’s your thesis, so your burden of proof, and you’re the one all hung up on proof anyway. So get busy.

Diogenes wrote:

The entire philosophy as described. A philosophy may be identified minimally by its four core tenets — its metaphysic, its ethic, its epistemology, and its aesthetic. In addition, a philosophy may imply a moral imperative.

For example, Ayn Rand was not the first to suggest a metaphysic of objective reality (she was preceded by Hume and others), but her Objectivism was unique as a philosophy when the elements were combined: (1) Metaphysic — objective reality; (2) Ethic — self-interest; (3) Epistemology — reason; (4) Aesthetic — realism. The moral imperative that it implies is “be selfish”.

You might be interested in Kahlil Gibran’s Jesus the Son of Man. He and I are of one mind on Jesus.

Granted. However, in my beloved John 8, the Pharisees reminded Jesus that His testimony was not valid because He was appearing as His own witness. He replied to them, “I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” It is sufficient for me that Jesus, His Father, and I mutually recognize the axiom.

Perhaps. But speaking for myself, I can conceive of no entity greater than He.

Badchad wrote (to Poly):

Speaking for myself…

Neurological scientist, V. S. Ramachandran, MD, Ph.D, was careful not to fall into your fallacy:

“Why is the revealed truth of such transcendent experience in any way “inferior” to the more mundane truth that we scientists dabble in? Indeed, if you are ever tempted to jump to this conclusion, just bear in mind that one could use exactly the same evidence — the involvement of the temporal lobes in religion — to argue for, rather than against, the existence of God.” — Phantoms in the Brain

I can prove objectively that God exists if you will accept the definition of God offered by Hume in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, and the following two axioms: (1) it is possible that God exists, and (2) if God does exist, then He exists in all worlds that are possible. From those, I can derive a valid conclusion with deductive logic that God exists in actuality.

A far more interesting question, however, is whether you, upon being presented with a sound logical argument that proves the existence of God, would actually change your mind. Or is it a fact, as Jodi suspects, that you have an unmalleable agenda, and no amount of reasonable argument would sway you?

If you are willing to put your integrity where your mouth is, I offer you a challenge. If I put forward an argument as described above — defining God as that which, if existing, would exist in all worlds that are possible, and the two axioms I gave you — then if you find a logical flaw, I will renounce the existence God. If, however, you cannot find a logical flaw, then you must acknowledge the existence of God.

So which is it, is your interest in reason or in something else?