Monday, April 4, 2011

Question for atheists: Sin

To my atheist readers:

What is your opinion of "sin"? Do you think there is such a thing? If so, what are the criteria?

I see sin all around me, every day.

I also see sin in my own life, all the time.

Do you believe in personal sin?

Thanks. I truly am curious.

203 comments:

  1. Well, Leila, you know that I'm not an atheist. But I thought I would start off the conversation because I'm not used to seeing zero comments on your blog!

    I believe, as you do, that there is sin. I too, see it everywhere. I see it in myself, in husband and children. I also see the amazing gifts that each one has that God has given them to make them who they are. So even though we're all sinful, I see a lot of God's mercy too.

    A friend of mine who used to be Catholic (now is non-denominational) always used to have the saying, "Oh well, as long as it makes them happy." And used this saying for myself or herself when we would choose something that was not morally right.

    I always had a problem with this saying and challenged her often on it but never got a satisfactory answer. So if killing someone off so you could marry someone's husband made you happy, that would mean it's ok? She would scoff at me and say of course not, but I couldn't see the difference between "big sin" and "little sin". Either way, sin is sin to me and the selfish "as long as it makes me/we/them happy then it's ok attitude didn't sit well with me.

    At the end, we're all held accountable by our own sins whether we are believers or not.

    That's my two cents to help get the ball rolling, which I have no doubt this discussion will take off on its own!

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  2. Becky, thanks! If the ball doesn't get rolling, I will be back later to put in my thoughts. But you are right, the "as long as it makes them happy" is something anathema to Christianity. For many good reasons.

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  3. I don't have anything new to get the ball rolling either. Just looking forward to this discussion!

    I'll add a bit to what Becky says. I have some non-denominational friends who say, "Well I prayed about it and got peace" to justify their actions. As if some people, just because they "pray about it," get exempt from committing certain sins. It's weird. I had never heard that before.

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  4. In my youth group, we were asked to abide by three questions for our choices (I hope I got them right):

    1. Is it positive?
    2. Is it safe?
    3. Will it help our community?

    My mother's motto was?
    As long as it does not hurt someone, including yourself. (As, you are just as important)

    I think those are a good guidelines. I guess a good way to say it is, anything out side of these basic guidelines might not be a good idea.

    They have nothing to do with god, or any thing spiritual. But of course, "good for the community" can mean different things to different people.

    When I see someone else do something outside of these guidelines, I think, this is not helping out community (well, maybe not in those exact word...). Not, god will be upset with that person. So I do not see sin. I see someone doing a disadvantage to our community.

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  5. I just saw Nicole's comment. And have one thought. I have respect for all religions. But I have always felt funny about how someone can just walk into a box with a clergy member, and get forgiving. To me, that seems like it makes it all right.

    I would think at first, just saying it would make it feel out in the open. But then you get use to it.

    The way this relates to Nicole's comment is, it seems the same way with "praying guilt away". Just confess it away.

    Is their more to confessions?

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  6. Hey Chelsea! I'll let Leila go into the Sacrament of Confession! Haha. But I'll address the difference between confession and what I was referring to with my friends. Confession is done post facto. After we recognize we have sinned, we beg the Lord for forgiveness and intend to repent and never commit that sin again (note my use of the word "intent!"). In the case of my friends, they wanted to commit an act that they probably probably knew was sinful, so they prayed about it and felt that they got some sort of exemption and did it anyway. They didn't pray for repentance. They felt that they got some sort of special permission to sin. Which of course is not how it works!! :)

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  7. Hi Chelsea

    I've been Catholic for years but have always been uncomfortable with confession. In fact, I was just there this weekend, and as I was standing in line, I was thinking, "Confession is so hard!" Especially standing in line, waiting to confess your sins, your worst faults. It's not easy.

    Confession isn't meant to be comfortable or easy though. The friend that I referred to in my first comment hated going to confession for this reason and stopped going. But as uncomfortable as it was for me, it not only released me of my sins, but it did two more things for me that I had just recently learned about (through prayer and talking to people about confession):
    Every time you go to Confession you receive "knowledge of self", that is, a deeper knowledge of yourself and what you are, and a deeper knowledge of God. You walk out hopefully with a more profound understanding that He is God.

    The second thing about Confession is that you receive graces to not commit those sins again. That's not to say that it gives you a "power" so that you won't ever commit sin again but graces received does give you a special strength to gradually (or sometimes quickly, depending on how God chooses to handle that person) learn to overcome these temptations. I had once battled with a horrible sin that I don't want to mention; but I battled with it for 10 years and went to confession all that time. It was hard, difficult, humbling, but I kept going, because I knew I needed not only forgiveness but a special grace to overcome this weakness.

    I'm extremely happy and grateful to God to say, that I have not committed this sin for 2 years now! That is not to say it will never happen again. I refuse to "pull a Peter!" But like an alcoholic who learns to overcome their addiction, they also learn how extremely human they are and stay away from the temptation of liquor completely.

    I've gotten way off subject, but those are my thoughts on confession and what I have learned these past years in relearning my faith. I hope it helps a little. :-)

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  8. My answer depends on how "sin" is defined. What does the word mean to you?

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  9. @Anon.
    Well, the Baltimore Catechism defined sin thus: 'Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God.'

    That's a pretty broad statement, I'll admit. So it's more easily articulated (for Catholics at least) by defining sin as actions or inactions that break the Ten Commandments or Beatitudes or the moral laws derived from them and/or from Natural Law.

    Leila or anyone else is free to jump in and correct me, but as I understand it, sin separates us from God's plan for us, is contrary to our innate human dignity, and harms the community. Even "private" sins that we might think don't hurt anyone else are still harmful to the whole community because sin isn't just private. Its action and its effects are corporate.

    We think of sin in two categories, mortal (very serious) and venial (less serious). Additionally, I'd add that social sin fits in there too; that is, actions or inactions by the entire community that make it difficult for virtue or justice to flourish.

    Does that help? So then how do you see sin? Or do you believe it exists at all? Chelsea gave a pretty concrete definition of what "sin" would mean to her, though she may not call it that.

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  10. Thank you, Maggie. Your answer helps very much.

    I do not believe that there is such a thing as sin, because I do not believe in God.

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  11. @Anon.
    You're welcome. But I have a question for you in turn. If you do not believe in God, from where do you get your moral compass? For example, my best friend in college was an atheist, but also one of the most ethical people I know, with a high sense of integrity. Obviously she didn't think her beliefs were based on a religion. If it's the same for you, what's your "yardstick" for the morality or lack thereof of an action or inaction?

    I'm as curious as Leila on this one :-)

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  12. I'll dive into the confession question tomorrow, but anonymous, can I ask if you believe in good and evil, or in right and wrong?

    I found what might be a secular definition of sin:

    3. Something regarded as being shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong.

    Do you believe in sin in that sense?

    Also, "violating a moral law" is a definition. Do you believe that is possible? Or do you not believe in any moral law (i.e., Natural Law)?

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  13. Yes, Leila, I do believe in sin in that sense.

    Some actions people commit make them happy, and other actions make them miserable. The law of nature determines this for sane people. Which actions make a person happy and which do not.

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  14. Anonymous, I don't exactly mean it that way.... Violating the moral law, or doing something shameful or wrong doesn't (to me) have anything to do with one's own happiness. In my view, people can sin heartily and be "happy" about it. It's not about a feeling. Do you think it's about a feeling?

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  15. Happiness is more than a feeling. If it is genuine, happiness is a state of the mind.

    No sane person can be happy when causing pain to another for no reason. Consequently, it is a sin, as you say, to cause pain for no reason.

    And so forth.

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  16. @Anon.
    Okay, that helps a bit, thank you.
    But Muammar Gaddafi seems to be quite happy shooting his own people and repressing democracy. And I would classify his actions as sinful, even though they make him happy.

    And Bernie Madoff seemed okay with his scheme of defrauding people for billions of dollars, until he got caught.

    And the instigators of the Rwandan Genocide didn't seem to have any problem murdering millions of people.

    You can argue that they're insane (as per your definition, No sane person can be happy when causing pain to another for no reason) but I think it's deeper than that.

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  17. Anonymous, I am not sure I understand what you mean by happiness is a state of mind. Can you help me understand? I can imagine a petty thief who is very happy and content with his lifestyle. Can you imagine that, too?

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  18. Maggie, thanks! That's what I was getting at.

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  19. 1. Is it positive?
    2. Is it safe?
    3. Will it help our community?


    Chelsea, you are right that #3 can mean different things to different people. I would also propose that #1 and #2 also can mean different things to different people. So, how do we know what is "positive" or what is "safe" or "what will help our community"? It seems very subjective....

    Also, I want to do a post on Confession! Thanks for the suggestion! Meantime, I like what Becky and Nicole have said.

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  20. Chelsea, one more quick thing on confession: It is Jesus who is forgiving the sins, through the person of the priest. Jesus, after His resurrection, breathed on the apostles (one of only two times that God breathes on man... the first being when God breathed life into Adam), and said: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

    It is Jesus who delegated His power of forgiveness to mere men.

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  21. @Anon
    Sorry, just had another thought.
    Are there "categories" of actions that are always good or always bad? Or are the circumstances and intentions always rendering everything subjective?
    (Aquinas talked about the three parts of a moral decision- the act itself, the circumstances under which it happened, and the intention of the actor).

    For example, is stealing wrong?
    Well, yes, most people would say.
    But if you are stealing food for feed your starving children (whose starvation is a symptom of an injust or corrupt system perhaps), is that different than stealing because you want to be greedy?

    According the Chelsea's guidelines listed above, is it wrong?
    1. Is it positive? Well, not for the person from whom you stole, but it feeds your starving children, so maybe.
    2. Is it safe? That depends on the circumstance, and who is kept safe and who is harmed. If the thief has to punch someone (or worse) to steal, or put himself or others in harm's way, it's not.
    3. Will it help our community? it helps the family, sure, but the person who was stolen from doesn't feel helped. And the community might have all kinds of issues that led to the thief having to steal to feed his family in the first place (maybe he was unjustly fired or injured or discriminated against...) etc.

    I'm just trying to get a handle on how you think. Please don't take offense.

    By no means do I ever want to imply that Christians have a monopoly on being good. I am honored to have several highly ethical friends and family members who don't follow any organized belief system. And honestly, I think that's both 1)mystifying, because I can not usually follow their line of thinking (hence all my questions to you, Anon!) and 2) affirming, because I believe that their firm sense of ethics in the absence of a religious or moral compass (ie a concept of sin) is a testament to natural law.

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  22. Consequently, it is a sin, as you say, to cause pain for no reason.

    Anon, what if someone thinks he has a reason to cause people pain?

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  23. Maggie, yes, it is a testament to Natural Law!

    I will add that the question of "stealing" food when one is starving actually is tricky to use here, because taking food when one is truly starving is not stealing. If a rich man is hoarding food and refusing to give it to a dying man who needs it, the man may take the food. Food is a necessity of life that cannot be withheld from those who need it. A starving man has a God-given right to eat food if it is attainable. It is not considered immoral, or stealing.

    That being said, stealing from a rich man, just because you want something he owns, is never moral. That would be thievery and envy.

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  24. I'm always fascinated with answers from atheists on this question. They know they have a sense of right and wrong but they don't have any way to explain it. The atheists, scientists, I knew in college would always say there is no such thing as sin and some of them had kids. I always wondered how they taught them right from wrong, how they figured it out then.

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  25. Dear Leila,

    I can imagine a man who is both happy and who is a petty thief. But I cannot imagine a man who is happy because he is a thief.

    The man who is happy, when I imagine him, has a sweet wife and many children. He has good friends and he is loyal to them. He steals to feel important. He does this to be a hero in his mind. There may be some virtue in that.

    Nevertheless, In all ways I imagine, this man would be happier to not be a thief.

    If this man wished to break his habit, he will need to deny himself. He will need to quit stealing entirely. This will cause pain.

    Such pain is pain with a reason. My children, I cause them pain with a reason. This is not wicked, but wise.

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  26. Dear Maggie,

    It is always wrong to cause pain without reason.

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  27. 1. Is it positive?
    2. Is it safe?
    3. Will it help our community?

    You can take these words to twist, mold, etc any action to "make it fit" to justify your actions. Speaking from the experience here, guilty! when I was an athiest, I didnot believe in sin and confession. This is the adult version of a child closing their eyes to make something scary "go away". If the athiest dares to admit there is sin, then there has to be retribution, or divine punishment. God is just sitting up there in heaven waiting with his big stick to clobber me if I admit there is such a being as God, then he will get back at me for the the bad stuff I have done....so if I deny him, donot believe in him then he goes away and I will sit here miserable in my little world going on about my business learning to cope with my neurotic behaviour and emotional pain!!!
    God our heavenly Father is the best of the best of parents. If we cry out to him he will take care of us and our pain. He will patiently, gently, loving go thru our "aniexty closet" with our eyes wide open and make the monsters go away in the light of day.

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  28. I am not an Atheist either, but I am an ex-Catholic who is trying very hard to be a Lutheran...struggling with that... At times I will confess my theism is no greater than Pascal's Wager, but I am working hard while trying to stay honest with myself!

    Anyhow, I have lots to say, but will mention that I found Eckhart Tolle's definition of sin to be interesting: Sin means "missing the mark" or missing the "point" of life. I would surmise that this means that you are not doing things in accordance with, what I perceive to be the two purposes of life: Loving sentient beings and therefore loving God, and furthering Truth.

    Per the question: "Is it positive?" as criteria for determining the morality of an act, I it presents myriad problems. One example: This country is currently mired in discussion about "entitlement programs" including Medicare. As our technology increases, we are given more and more options and choices to treat people medically; some of those on the fringe of life. Such treatments can have exorbitant costs. For example: Should we provide a liver transplant to an 82 year old man who lived his life as an alcoholic, and who has many other co-morbid conditions? This will be costly, and multiplied over a population on 300 million costs mushroom so that taxpayers are further burdened, some so much that they cannot afford to provide college funds for their children, or they cannot afford to travel once a year to visit their own parents/grandparents, or they cannot afford music lessons for their gifted child. Thus, what is positive in one instance, might be viewed as negative in another.

    Thoughts?

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  29. We learn right and wrong from our parents and society. Then, as we grow older, and are able to think things out, we can determine right or wrong for ourselves. Everyone's moral compass is a little different. It usually revolves around not intentionally harming others, and as someone put it, yourself. Atheists don't believe in "sins" per say, but they believe in right from wrong.

    Without God, there is no black and white answer or little rulebook to consult. I cannot ask, "What does the pope say about this?" However, the rules of behavior are dictated for me by society. They are the best rules in which people can all live together without dissolving into anarchy and chaos. I believe this is where that inherent feeling of right and wrong comes from - evolved behaviors that are necessary for a society to function which are taught to each subsequent generation.

    When atheists speak of values, they don't mean gratification and satisfaction. (people who value that are just selfish across the board and they exist in both religious and secular environments) They mean the big things like love, charity, compassion, accomplishment, community, etc.

    Happiness is an emotion. But true contentment with one's life stems from living and acting according to those "big things."

    This is why we do not see things like homosexuality as a "sin." Because it doesn't hurt anyone. They don't weaken your marriage, they don't convert your children, they are NOT pedophiles (please stop comparing the two)or bad people. We believe in love and contentment for other human beings, so we wish for them to be able to express their love as we do.

    The only thing "wrong" about it is your God doesn't like it. Since we do not believe in your God, we can follow our minds and hearts on this topic, as well as any other like it.

    anon2

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  30. Just said good-bye to our out of town guests, and now I have a funeral to attend, so I have been way behind, ack! I will be more full in the discussion later this afternoon. But one thing keeps coming up, which is the discomfort in "comparing" pedophilia to homosexuality. I think it's definitely worthy of its own post. I will do that, but I will also say quickly that they are "comparable" in the same way that adultery is comparable. It's all a misuse of human sexuality, and because human sexuality produces human people, any misuse of it is a serious sin. I will elaborate soon!

    PS: Catholics do believe that homosexuality hurts people, just as all sin hurts people. You say atheists can "follow their minds and hearts on this topic, as well as any other like it" -- does that mean only on things concerning sex? Why can't you follow your mind and heart on something like stealing or lying (if it is not found out, and doesn't "hurt" anyone)?

    Thanks!

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  31. Anon2, do you think adultery is a sin (i.e., wrong)? And, what would be an appropriate legal age of consent for minors to have sex?

    Thanks.

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  32. yes, if the adultery is not mutually agreed upon.

    the legal age. What is that, 16 or 18? (I'm not saying that is a good age to start having sex, don't confuse me)

    What is the appropriate age of consent for minors to have sex in your opinion?

    And, why do you ask? That's kind of a weird question, unless you're setting me up for something.;)

    anon2

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  33. Anon2, this isn't really a direct response to your and Leila's discussion, just a corollary. Do you feel that the yardstick rightness or wrongness of an action is whether or not it's legal? Or is there some other criterion?

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  34. I heard a strong argument during a debate about the source or morality. The atheist debater argued that, because such diverse cultures/locations/time periods of people - all with different religions - had similar basic ideas about what constitutes right and wrong, this disproved the Christian notion that 'our God' is the source of that morality.

    The Christian debater's response was that this argument actually helped prove his point that one God exists and that He has a relationship with every human being He creates...across all cultures, all times, all beliefs...even with atheists who don't acknowledge Him (or don't realize they sometimes acknowledge Him.)

    Conscience = God. Science itself cannot begin to explain "the Golden Rule". Mere science, in fact, conflicts with it, since without a conscience/urging towards goodness/desire to help others and to be "good", there's no scientific or logical reason to not live solely for yourself and your own pleasure and well being. WHY care about starving orphans across the globe?

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  35. sweet jane - there is a scientific and logical reason to not exist solely for yourself. Our society and survival depends upon altruism. If we don't do each other favors, we don't survive as a species.

    This was especially true for our ancestors who were (relatively) weak, hairy ape-like creatures with no modern creature comforts. If you didn't stick together in a society, you were at the mercy of predators, elements and starvation. Therefore most of the people you see today are hardwired for altruism (or faking it to mooch off society). Their genes are dominant because those qualities are necessary.

    Check it out:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4766490.stm

    (these findings have also been written in Scientific American and Nature - both prestigious - as well)

    whether or not altruism comes from God is debatable.

    anon2

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  36. I have been eavesdropping on these fascinating discussions for a while and thought I would jump in with three comments.

    Happiness, besides being a feeling is also a very important philosophical concept defined as "that good which we seek which is not means to a further end." Also, "the proper end of man is happiness." Happiness in this sense is a state of being: everything we do, we do that we might be happy (my own understanding is that happiness is Jesus plus nothing). It is worth considering: if everyone wants to be happy, why are so many people very, very unhappy? Lots could be said on this topic, certainly, one of the answers is sin.

    Morality is not primarily socially defined. Immoral acts (sins) cause actual harm to others. If I were to punch you in the nose, the harm you would experience would have nothing to do with my feelings or society's rules. Same with stealing: the money I take from you is no longer available to you to make purchases, etc.

    Sin and immorality probably cannot be defined apart from freedom. If I cannot choose my actions; if everything I do is the result of instincts, hormones, outside forces, etc, then I cannot do any wrong or right. Rocks do not sin when they fall on animals. I sin when I choose an act I can predict will harm another as its result. BTW, if we are merely highly evolved animals I don't see how freedom could be possible, thus sin wouldn't be either.

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  37. Maggie -

    Right and wrong (for me) depend on how it makes me feel. Do I feel like I am helping or uplifting myself, others or the world around me? Or do I feel like I am hurting myself, others, or the world around me?

    The law is a good start, as it is backed by many people's thoughts and consensus over months, years, centuries as to what is unacceptable. (There are no laws that say "Do good deeds" only "Avoid these bad deeds")

    The law cannot tell you what is good and what is bad, only what actions are punishable by society.

    anon2

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  38. I think depending on society's "standards" for right vs wrong is kind of a scary way to live! Look how long slavery was around....what do you think about that??

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  39. Mary - I've read Leviticus and Deuteronomy... those are kind of scary too. Have you stoned anyone to death today?

    anon2

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  40. Anon2, not a "set up" just trying to gauge what your thoughts are in order to question you further. :)

    I don't think there should be an "age of consent" for any unmarried minor. Unmarried minors should not be having sex. If a minor gets married in his/her late teens, the marriage itself is the consent, usually with a parent's permission, I think. I do know that there is a minimum age to marry in the Catholic Church. I believe it's 16? Don't quote me on it.

    If you had to set the "legal age" what would you set it at? Some countries have very low minimum ages.

    Slavery said that people were less than human and could buy and sell and use them. Stoning in the Old Testament was a punishment for sins. It's sort of apples an oranges. And, Christ came in and instituted the law of love and grace. So, we don't see stonings in Christianity, but we sure do see them in other cultures. Slavery still exists, too, in many cultures of the world.

    I have always had a problem with the idea that we humans have "evolved" morally. No one has ever explained why the 20th Century was the most murderous on record if we are so evolved? Christians would say that human nature does not change. We've been sinning since the Fall, and it was just as ugly then as it is now. Help me see the evolution?

    If morality was based on feelings, I can tell you that I would be doing lots of things that make me feel good, but which I don't do because I know those things are wrong. Aside from the sin of envy, most sin feels very good....

    Sweet jane, excellent point.

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  41. Sin and immorality probably cannot be defined apart from freedom. If I cannot choose my actions; if everything I do is the result of instincts, hormones, outside forces, etc, then I cannot do any wrong or right. Rocks do not sin when they fall on animals.

    Mrs. Fordyce, excellent point! I always wonder why atheists can even say that murder is wrong, if what you say is true. If they truly believed that there is no God, then there is no "morality" that we must adhere to. There cannot be right and wrong. Of course, even atheists know in their hearts that some things are right and some things are wrong. That is the Natural Law at work. :)

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  42. Leila, I would love to take credit for my husband's point, but I can not! My dear husband has become a devoted follower of the bubble, and the comment was his- I am merely his inspiration!;)Great conversation, as always!

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  43. I wasn't raised with a sense of "sin". I wasn't told NOT to sin by anyone. It wasn't discussed at all in my upbringing. And yet, I knew about what was sin: obviously, due to the natural law , because, thanks be to God, I was baptized ("Christened" in the Episcopal Church). Who can explain that---- other than the grace of God working through a mysterious way?

    Nina

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  44. I have a question for any atheist that sort of relates to this subject of sin. But I've always wanted to ask: what if you're wrong?

    And I don't mean that in any condescending way or anything negative about it. I mean very sincerely, what if God exists? I admit for someone who doesn't have an organized religion that this would be thinking outside of the box and maybe too difficult to answer. But really, what if you're wrong? Has anyone that doesn't believe in God ever wondered if perhaps, they might be wrong? That when they die they will stand before God? Does that thought put any emotion into you? I really am just asking out of sincere curiosity, not to try to convert or be superior or something.

    One more question, and this goes with a short story. Leila already knows this and she must be getting sick of me constantly talking about it--but recently I had a death scare. I had a massive heart attack and dropped dead.

    Years before all this happened, I had asked a friend of mine who is an atheist what she thought happens when we die. She told me that she thinks that we simply cease to exist. That there is nothing but darkness.

    Funny enough, when I "died" (they were doing CPR for 40 minutes but I had no heart beat)I was in a place of darkness. When all this came to pass, my atheist friend came to visit me in the hospital and wanted to know if I "saw" anything while I was "dead". I knew she had heard of the people who talk about tunnels of light and such so I was very sad to tell her that I saw nothing. I was just in a darkness, floating, however, I was very much at peace.
    Yet I felt that I had confirmed my friends theory of what happens when we die--there is nothing but darkness and we cease to exist.

    This is more drawn out than I meant to make it--I will try to hurry and get to my point in the next comment.

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  45. Ok, continued and I'll try to get to my point.

    Anyway, it dawned on me that even though I was in a place of darkness, I was still very much alive. My soul and personality continued. I still had feelings and thoughts (though my memory was beginning to fade but that may have been from the lack of oxygen.)

    I'm wondering then, if some of you who do not believe in God or souls (and I may be wrong about the soul part, maybe you DO believe in souls)then how would you explain my continuation of life outside my body? True, I have no amazing story of meeting God or seeing light, but I believe that that was simply because God simply didn't want me to die yet.

    Where I was or why I was there I will never know, but I do remember it so clearly. One minute I was sitting on the steps, alive, and then-boom, all went black and yet, my thoughts and life of soul continued.

    I'm sorry this was so drawn out. Yet it's something I've always wondered what an atheist would have to say about both the soul continuing to live outside the body (in another space and time because I sure wasn't in this world anymore). Perhaps this should be saved for another post, but what are your thoughts on stories like mine, or any life-after death story? What is your explanation for these happenings?

    Again, just curious.

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  46. Sin is irrelevant if you have an easy out. In any case, atheists disregard sin.

    As far as where we get our moral compass, we get it from same place as everyone else - our sense of empathy. If you have a diminished sense of empathy, you might be a sociopath. Religion doesn't offer a moral compass, it offers a newspaper on the snout of a dog that doesn't understand what it's done wrong. Morality is not derived from fear or commandments.

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  47. ...so where does your sense of empathy come from?

    As to the "newspaper" comment, you must have a very skewed perception of religion, or you must've had a very bad experience with it at some point. In my experience, the greatest freedom I've ever known has come from being Catholic.

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  48. As per your story, you were hallucinating, and did not die. The soul is not clearly defined in the bible, and there's no evidence such a thing exists.

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  49. @Joanna

    Empathy is a function of the brain.

    I don't have a skewed perception of religion, I was Christian for the first 18 years of my life. God, according to the Bible, punishes us for both immoral and morally innocuous acts, the latter primarily focused on natural human inclinations. And we are led to believe that if we don't follow these seeming arbitrary laws (why does God care if we eat shellfish?) he kills us or sens us to to Hell. That's not morality, that's might makes right. That's why Abraham put his son on the block, because he was scared of God. If God ordered you to kill your child, would your honor the command or question his morality?

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  50. "Empathy is a function of the brain."

    Interesting. What proof do you have of this?

    "I don't have a skewed perception of religion, I was Christian for the first 18 years of my life."

    So... you DO have a skewed perception of religion.

    "God, according to the Bible, punishes us for both immoral and morally innocuous acts, the latter primarily focused on natural human inclinations."

    What Bible translation did you study? The above isn't in any copy I've ever read.

    "And we are led to believe that if we don't follow these seeming arbitrary laws (why does God care if we eat shellfish?) he kills us or sens us to to Hell."

    You're referring to the God Hates Shrimp fallacy.

    "That's not morality, that's might makes right."

    Have you ever studied the Old Testament? By studying, I mean applying proper exegesis to it?

    "That's why Abraham put his son on the block, because he was scared of God."

    Fear and obedience are two separate things.

    "If God ordered you to kill your child, would your honor the command or question his morality?"

    I would question the source of the command, because it would not be from God. This is a good article regarding the test of Abraham.

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  51. TastyPaper, Welcome!

    I think you missed the "love" part of Christianity. In which denomination were you raised?

    God does not throw people into hell who slip up. It's not a game. It's a love relationship. If someone does not want to love God, does not want to be with God, He will not force it. Love is not forced. So, those in Hell have chosen to be separated from God.

    JoAnna's questions and responses are great, so I will let you answer those.

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  52. Hi Tasty Paper! I just wanted to chime in really quickly because it seems like you have a common misconception of God's "wrath" that many people have, including my brother before he reverted back to the Church. The way I explained "the rules" to him was this:

    God has rules, not because he wants to oppress us or because he enjoys casting people into Hell. God is a Father. And like all parents, he has rules because he loves us. Parents have rules for their children because they don't want them to get hurt, they want them to be successful, they care about their well-being. That's precisely why God has rules for us. He's our Father and wants what's best for us - to get to Heaven.

    Like Leila said, that's the "love" part of Christianity.

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  53. Anon 2,

    When Jesus came he did away with stoning people to death or hurting others in any way, both physically and emotionally. So, no, none of us have stoned anyone today. The old testament prefigures the new, and the new fulfills the old.

    "You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."- Matthew 5:38-39

    The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court,they said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say? They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court.-John 8:4-9

    Jesus came to clear up all of the confusion over simply following laws and being a "rule" person. Christianity actually teaches that you have to EXPERIENCE a conversion of the heart INTERIORLY! He fulfilled all TEN COMMANDMENTS with HIS new commandments---Love God above all, and love your neighbor as yourself. IF you do these two things perfectly, you will be perfect...not only that, but the WORLD will be perfect if we all follow these two commandments.

    Of course, looking around you, no one has achieved perfection. There are only a few people that I can think of that may have been very close--Mother Theresa being one of them. And we often see people falling back into a life of sin---preachers in sex scandals, to me, is a very sad and sure sign the devil exists to lure us away from faith in God. When we are trying our hardest to follow in Christ's footsteps, the devil is right there tempting us to sin.

    It is a life long process of asking for God's grace and being transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Holiness Himself until death reunites our souls with our Creator.

    All you have to do is start asking Jesus to show Himself to you, and to come into your heart. And admit to yourself and others that sin exists, and that you are in need of healing.

    Btw, Tastypaper, just because you were raised in a Christian home does not mean you ever owned your Christianity or experienced and accepted God into your heart. Most of us left our faith in our late teens/early twenties and came back through some sort of conversion experience.

    A

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  54. That link by Anon about altruism is interesting, (anyone else read it?) but another concept to explore is kin selection. This is the idea that social animals (a group to which the human race belongs) have altruism because of something called "kin selection". This is the idea that if you are helpful to others, even though you are not directly related to them, it helps to further your genes in a small way, because we evolved in small tribal groups, where people are all somewhat related. Therefore, genes increase in a population because they are selected for.
    The extreme version of this is viewed in social insects like honeybees, where some workers give up their reproductive ability altogether, but their biological fitness is not totally lost, as some of their genes are furthered through the queen through distant relations. I have always thought that this could be an explanation for homosexual tendencies in humans, otherwise it is hard to understand how homosexuality would have evolved.

    That said, I don't see that the mechanism of how something came to be (altruism) needs to negate any belief in God or the reality that there are "non relative" sins. But, I have a hard time understanding how things like occasional masturbation and artificial birth control can be "sins" against a loving God if there is no malice, and instead there is "awareness" of why you are doing them.

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  55. Leila - where do you get the statement "The 20th Century was the most murderous on record"?

    FYI, the 20th century also has had the best record keeping, largest population, etc., but cite a source when you make a big claim like that.

    I do not see what is so hard to understand about altruism having evolved so we could become a society.

    "If morality was based on feelings, I can tell you that I would be doing lots of things that make me feel good, but which I don't do because I know those things are wrong. Aside from the sin of envy, most sin feels very good.... "

    Yikes, I'm doing "bad" things.Do you not trust yourself without god? Do you not murder because God said not to or because it causes grief and pain? Do you not commit adultery because God said not to or because it would crush your husband and break your children's hearts? Do you want to do these things - would they feel good to you?

    You keep confusing "happiness" with "gratification" and "feelings" with the big emotions like "love" "empathy/sympathy" and "fulfillment."

    Doing bad things doesn't feel good. It feels gratifying or satisfying for an instant, but there is always a feeling in your gut that says "not good." It doesn't make you happy.

    I think if you all want people to stop being so confused about Catholicism and Christianity, you have to get your stories straight. All the Christian religions have a different skew/view on what is and isn't acceptable. You all argue amongst yourselves about it, but then call it all "Christianity" to be a more united front.Then you have the Bible - which says all manner of things - and glean from it when it suits you, but then poo poo the parts that don't, with some excuse.

    For those of us who do not simply believe what people say without any evidence, this is maddening.

    JoAnna - I find it interesting that you think Tasty Paper's religious views are skewed because (s)he left a Christian religion. How about the reverts and converts on this blog - do they all have a skewed view on the other sect of Christianity they used to be or on Atheism? I bet you don't think so.

    I also find it interesting that if God told you to put your kid on the slab, you'd assume it wasn't god... why? Because you don't believe things like that can happen? You don't believe God would want you to kill your child? Belief stops in strange places (or maybe logical ones?). Guess you're not so obedient afterall.

    anon2

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  56. Anon2,
    I absolutely agree that Jesus came to temper the absolutism of the Old Testament. He preaches about awareness, empathy, humility. BUT....be careful...that passage about the adulterous woman is now widely accepted as not being authentic, as the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel do not include the story of the adulterous woman. It is not in any of he original Greek manuscripts, and not found anywhere until the 400's AD. It was inserted in later manuscripts, and the story is part of an oral tradition circulated in the Western church.

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  57. A- So do we go by the New Testament only? If so, how do Catholics reconcile the fact that the Catholic church is the richest organization in the world? I thought Jesus was not into churches making a profit.

    And why do Christians still use verses from the OT? Or - again - are we gleaning quotes that suit our cause, while omitting the parts we find uncomfortable?

    anon2

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  58. Mary - this is what I am saying. Christian religions need to sort this out before they pull out the podium.

    anon2

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  59. "I think if you all want people to stop being so confused about Catholicism and Christianity, you have to get your stories straight. All the Christian religions have a different skew/view on what is and isn't acceptable. You all argue amongst yourselves about it, but then call it all "Christianity" to be a more united front.Then you have the Bible - which says all manner of things - and glean from it when it suits you, but then poo poo the parts that don't, with some excuse."

    anon2,

    This is why Jesus prayed that we all "be one" before He was crucified---

    "that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me." John 17:21
    How interesting that you picked up on Christianity being more effective to the world, and less confusing, if we are all united! This is why the Reformation was such a tragedy--- the reformed Churches have been splintering like crazy ever since. But the Roman Catholic Church has remained the same since the beginning, as Jesus left it. Isn't that amazing?

    In addition, under the definition of Christianity we can unite wholeheartedly, and do:
    Christianity (from the Ancient Greek word Χριστός, Khristos, "Christ", literally "anointed one") is a monotheistic religion[1] based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings.[2] Adherents of the Christian faith are known as Christians.[3]

    Also, you say we use the bible to support our beliefs where it suits us. Not so! Even the BIBLE is clear that the old testament prefigures the new and the new fulfills the old:

    When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.-Hebrews 8:13

    We do not twist scriptures to suit our needs, but must understand how to READ scripture:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sk0el9nH6Q4

    As far as your views on altruism go, I think that would go out the window real quick if there wasn't enough food to go around. It would no longer be, "take care of them" but would become "take care of our own".

    Another question: How did the world come into existence? The closest we have gotten to an answer on this came from a Catholic Priest-
    ( Big Bang )---Monsignor Georges Lemaitre. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bang

    A
    A

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  60. anon2,

    We use old testament verses to prefigure Christ! There are so many old testament prophecies of Jesus Christ as the Messiah, (I think around 300) and He fulfilled ALL of them. Could this be anything OTHER than God?

    How do we reconcile the Catholic Church being the richest institution on the planet after 2000 years of consistant teaching? By praising God! How could an institution be AROUND for this long let alone so successful if it did not have God's hands on it? Who started hospitals? The Catholic Church. Who started education beyond the nobility? The Catholic Church? Who feeds more people, clothes more people, and educates more people than any other institution on the planet could ever hope to? The Catholic Church. That is how we reconcile it.
    A

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  61. Anon2,

    First, I not in any way speaking for Protestant Christianity which came into being only 500 years ago. Their break was based on Luther's heresies which were not Christian. When I speak of Christian teaching, I am speaking of Catholic teaching only, which has been taught since the inception of Christianity. So, I am right with you when you bemoan the many positions of Christianity. That is not the Church's fault. So, please keep in mind that I am a Catholic, and it's a Catholic blog. I will begin to do some stuff on Protestantism soon. I don't just debate atheists. ;)

    Mary, I've never heard that before... I don't have reason to believe that's true, but I am consulting someone much smarter than me on that.

    As for 20th Century being the bloodiest, even an atheist confirmed that for me on an earlier post. I will go back and find it....

    More soon....

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  62. But back to the main question:

    Is there such a thing as personal sin? Can you, do you sin? And I still don't get how sin is anything but subjective to you? For example, the Gypsy society has no problem with the (non sin?) of stealing. That is the "rule" of their society. You say that society makes the rules of what is right and wrong. So, for Gypsies, stealing is a good. It is right. It is not sin.

    Correct?

    Thanks!

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  63. JoAnna - I find it interesting that you think Tasty Paper's religious views are skewed because (s)he left a Christian religion.

    You misunderstand me, anon2. Tasty Paper's views are not skewed BECAUSE he left his religion. Because they are skewed is the reason he left. His comments about Christianity are very off-base and it's fairly obvious that he never knew his faith to begin with, and didn't bother to learn anything about it before he left. He's regurgitating common atheist talking points that are all easily refuted once you study the Bible with proper exegesis.

    How about the reverts and converts on this blog - do they all have a skewed view on the other sect of Christianity they used to be or on Atheism? I bet you don't think so.

    That's because most of the converts/reverts on this blog actually knew their former faith and/or know their present faith -- hence their conversion/reversion.

    I also find it interesting that if God told you to put your kid on the slab, you'd assume it wasn't god... why?

    Because God cannot and will not order me to do something that is against His revealed teachings. The Catholic Church, which is the church established by Christ, teaches that to kill an innocent child is always an intrinsic evil. Therefore, if I somehow received a message from God that I was to kill my child, I would know it wasn't from Him.

    Because you don't believe things like that can happen? You don't believe God would want you to kill your child? Belief stops in strange places (or maybe logical ones?). Guess you're not so obedient after all.

    On the contrary, I am obedient to the Christ and the Church that He established -- a Church that will never teach that the killing of innocent life is acceptable (unlike every other Protestant denomination as well as many non-Christians and most atheists).

    What's ironic about your comments is that atheists frequently advocate for the death of innocent children (i.e., abortion) but I'm willing to bet you don't have a problem with that (I will be very happy if I'm wrong and you're pro-life).

    You should read the link I provided to Tasty Paper regarding the test of Abraham.

    This article might also be of some help to you: Why We Are Not Bound by Everything in the Old Law by Jim Blackburn

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  64. Haha,

    Good point, Leila! Working in a restaurant we had to watch closely when the gypsies came in because they took everything (silverware, salt and pepper shakers, wine glasses, etc.) We would say, "oh no! The gypsies are here!" LOL
    A

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  65. Here's what an atheist on my site wrote, correcting another atheist:

    The 20th century contains the most unnatural deaths out of any century.

    Approximate deaths:
    WW1: 15000000
    Russian Civil War: 7000000
    Stalin's Regime: 20000000
    WW2: 63000000
    Chinese Civil War: 2500000
    Other wars, etc.: 100000000

    -----
    (Comparison)
    Civil War: 700000
    Crusades: 3000000
    Bubonic Plague: 100000000
    -----
    (http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/20centry.htm)


    The conclusion is obvious.



    I put that out there as the source for you, since an atheist provided it.

    You still have not explained how we humans have evolved morally since there is no evidence of it.

    Also, how do you explain a Mother Teresa, or all the saints, really? What evolutionary prompt made them live their lives as they did/do?

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  66. Mary, here is the response from my friend Gayle Somers, a nationally known Scripture teacher (she was an evangelical for 25 years before she became Catholic a few years ago). Thanks for giving me the chance to learn something new!

    Leila,

    It is the case that the story of the woman caught in adultery is not in most of the earliest Greek manuscripts of the NT, except in Codex D. Scholars believe it was a part of early oral tradition, however, and it was certainly in the Latin Vulgate version of the NT. Sts Jerome and Augustine both allude to it. Some scholars think it was originally in one of the Synoptics but was later inserted in John's gospel, as it was thought to be more relevant to the context there. The Council of Trent, which formally closed the canon, pronounced it as canonical.

    This is where the question of who decides what belongs in Scripture has to be answered. It's interesting that this writer faults the Church for adding something TO the Bible, whereas it was Luther himself who TOOK AWAY from the Bible, refusing to acknowledge the canonicity of the Epistle of James. Ultimately somebody has to decide what belongs in Scripture--the question is who? To whom did Jesus promise the charism of the Holy Spirit, Who would guide the Church into "all truth"? Catholics believe it was to Peter and the apostles that He made this promise, and they passed on that charism to their successors, the ones who would have to someday form a canon.

    There is another weakness in this comment. ALL of the teaching of Jesus was originally in oral tradition. The written Gospels didn't start appearing for at least 25 years after the Ascension. So, to say that "the story is part of an oral tradition circulated in the Western church" doesn't say anything about whether it should belong in Scripture or not. We don't have anything in the Gospels that WASN'T part of the oral tradition of the Church, whether east or west. Jesus didn't write the book! Oral tradition, by a charism of the Holy Spirit, preserved the Truth for us. Eventually some of it got written down, just as this story appears to have got written down. Still, a decision had to be made about its inspiration, and the Church made the decision--it's in the bible.

    The fact is, there was a lot of bickering between East and West over various books that wound up in the Scripture--Revelation, Hebrews, etc. No matter which way you slice it, a decision always has to be made. Good thing Jesus built a Church that could do that so we'd never have to worry about getting the Truth (the gates of hell won't prevail); our big worry is not getting the Truth but obeying it!

    This is long--hope even a little some of it will help.

    Blessings,
    Gayle

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  67. Leila, that last post is awesome information. Tell Gayle thanks for me, and thank you!

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  68. I found this chick track called Pray for Satan, that raises some pretty good points about sin and evil. The idea is that through prayer anything is possible, and if we all band together and pray for Satan to ask for forgiveness and invite Jesus into his heart, we will eliminate all evil and sin from the world. It opened my eyes up that he doesn't have to be all bad and a figure of hate like we were taught. Satan needs our help and prayers. He can be redeemed like everyone else because there is nothing that God cannot do, and that includes forgiving Satan. This is not a joke, if we truly are supposed to love everyone we shouldn't single out Satan to not receive our love and label him as evil. That is a cop out and the easy way out. I'm choosing the Christ way and saying a prayer for Satan to change his ways.

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  69. Leila - I provided you with a link to an article which points to altruism being genetic and not entirely learned (in truth we are probably hardwired for it, but it must be nurtured.) Chimps show signs of altruism, too. Helping without being compensated. Here is a link with references to credible journals: http://scienceblogs.com/notrocketscience/2009/05/altruistic_chimpanzees_clearly_help_each_other_out.php

    Yet you see no evidence.

    BUT, when some random so-called atheist posts some unchecked numbers on your blog from god-knows-where, you think this is sufficient evidence for your claim.

    And you still avoid my original question: Where do YOU get off saying the 20th century is the most murderous? Who said that? What study? What source? What research was involved and how was it conducted? I don't think it is even possible to be proven because no one kept the records we do now. It's a pretty wild accusation. Atheist or not, some Joe (or Jane) just popping numbers up doesn't prove anything.

    And being of Romanian descent, I can assure you my family didn't think stealing was "cool." Though people say 'Gyped' all the time - I guess people don't get as upset about it like when you use the term 'Jewed.'

    And Gail - I appreciate your thoughts, but would like to ask in reference to this:

    "Good thing Jesus built a Church that could do that so we'd never have to worry about getting the Truth (the gates of hell won't prevail); our big worry is not getting the Truth but obeying it!"

    That's all well and good, but who has been running your church over the last 2,000 years? There have been many hands in saying what goes in and what stays out. I guess this is why I would like to know the Truth (?) for myself and not obey something I don't understand. God is one thing, but man making god's decisions on my behalf? Hmmmm.... It is a weird concept to me, because I believe in exploration and discovery.

    PS* Leila - honestly, I am a little worried about you right now, and I mean that from a sincere place. Your mood is a bit off - whatever has happened last week, I hope you aren't losing faith in the world or mankind. I've had some rough traumas with my family and friends, some from nature, some from what you would call "sin."

    I have been in that place many times, thinking to myself "Oh my god - we are all going to annihilate ourselves! What is WRONG with everybody???"

    But it's going to be all right. It has to. Good always wins because it has to. I promise.

    anon2

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  70. Ack! I just wrote a nice long response to anon2, and it's lost!!!

    Okay, here is what I said, in a nutshell:

    You are sweet to worry about me, and I mean that! I am fine, though, I promise. :) I had two back to back weekends of out of town guests (not easy for an introvert), two deaths, with related tragedies, a wake and funeral, a big community scandal with lots of people harmed, my husband quit his job and started his own firm, and then the regular day to day stuff of raising lots of kids and their schedules, etc. Plus, a blog that I love!! :)

    So, you may be reading some exhaustion in my demeanor, and it's true, I am tired. But I am not confused or worried or despairing. I have complete peace and interior joy at the fact that my world "makes sense" even in all this sin and turmoil. Jesus and His Church are my Rock, and long ago I made sense of the existence of suffering and its meaning, even if I feel pain and grief when it hits those whom I love.

    So, please forgive my tiredness. I am okay, though, and I'm touched that you cared enough to comment. :) And I agree that Good is going to win in the end, but in even a more glorious way than you are imagining. :)

    You words about knowing Truth make me realize that I need to do a lot more writing about Who Jesus is and how we can know that He and His Church proclaim Truth for all to see. It's what brought me into the fullness of the faith, so I should start to share and explain. I like talking about things with secular people, but I need to talk more about the Truths of the Faith.

    I don't have a lot of energy (yet) to check out links. But if we could do it this way: What evidence do you have that people have evolved morally? I see sin everywhere, like always. Murder, like always, is rampant. Sexual exploitation and disorder, like always, is everywhere. Theft is everywhere. Lying is everywhere. Corruption is everywhere. Like always. Since the Fall of man. I don't see that sin is different now than then. There is no new sin, just recycled old ones. Help me see where I am wrong.

    As one who married a Jew, I see your point about the name thing, but it still doesn't answer the underlying question.

    Thanks!

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  71. College student, actually Satan has no chance of redemption. He had a choice to make long ago, and he chose to rebel and fight against God and all that is good. He is where he is, for eternity, with no hope.

    Just like all of us after we die: Our decision will have been made. We don't get to choose again. Our choice is made in this lifetime. We cannot be redeemed once we are lost and in Hell. That is why this life is so important and should not be squandered. We need to get serious about goodness and truth.

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  72. I had two back to back weekends of out of town guests (not easy for an introvert), two deaths, with related tragedies, a wake and funeral, a big community scandal with lots of people harmed, my husband quit his job and started his own firm

    PS: Did I mention that all this happened within a span of ten days? :)

    You should see my laundry pile and to-do list. It's Lent, though, and I will not let any of this go to waste. All suffering and all sacrifice is fruitful if offered in union with Christ's sacrifice:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/10/suffering-catholic-style-part-two-of.html

    Though it's been a rough ten days, it's nothing compared to the suffering of others whom I love. I have proper perspective on that.

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  73. College Student - In Catholic theology, praying for the devil is of no use, as the devil's choice (as well as the choices of the angels who fell with him) cannot be reversed. Angels have free will, but not to the degree that humans do; that is, since they lived in the presence of God (unlike humans), once they made their choice to work with or against Him, their choice is for all time.

    From the CCC (all emphasis mine):

    392 Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This "fall" consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and his reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter's words to our first parents: "You will be like God." The devil "has sinned from the beginning"; he is "a liar and the father of lies".

    393 It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels' sin unforgivable. "There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death."


    I strongly suggest not getting your theology from Chick tracts.

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  74. He may be stuck in hell for all eternity but that doesn't mean he can't realise his wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness. Or is he not allowed to change his mind in hell? That's not cool. If God takes away your ability to exercise free thought once you get to heaven/hell/purgatory then you become nothing more than pawns of God, which makes Heaven just a mirror image of Hell. In one, Satan tortures you forever, in the other God tortures you forever. In both you have no say.

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  75. College Student, it has to do with the nature of angels vs the nature of humans. Angels have free will to a certain extent, but they KNOW that once they choose which path to walk, they can't turn around.

    Satan was fully aware of the irrevocable nature of his decision before he made it, but he chose to turn against God anyway. He can still exercise free thought, but his very nature has been changed to one of pure evil (in opposition to God, whose nature is pure love). Once an angel chooses to change its nature, there is no going back.

    We humans cannot chose to change our natures; thus we can still redeem ourselves while we are alive.

    I'm curious why you think Heaven would be "torture"?

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  76. In fact, I don't get why we have to hate the devil. Why must there be an enemy? I will reach out my hand to Satan and tell him that although God doesn't give him a second chance, I forgive him, like I forgive all of my fallen brothers. I have decided that he is not my enemy, but just another misguided fallen angel that didn't see the light. I can't agree with him being tortured forever, that's pretty harsh even for God and if God is forcing Satan to endure an eternity under torturous conditions that kind of implicates God himself as a source of evil and hate. God needs to get with the program and give Satan another chance to redeem himself. If after all this time and torture Satan decides to continue down the path of darkness he should receive HELP and COMPASSION from Christ not eternal punishment, because he would clearly have some sort of mental disorder. I'm sure God has the power to reverse any of his previous rulings in the bible as he has handed down to various Kings and Prophets in the past. Eliminate sin and struggle and put an end to this game. We're rooting for ya, Satan.

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  77. College Student -

    Satan = evil

    Evil = Satan

    Rooting for Satan = rooting for evil

    Do you routinely root for evil?

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  78. Also, College Student, here's what I think you're not understanding:

    Satan CHOSE his path of his own free will. He knew the consequences. He made the choice anyway. He chose to be evil. He ENJOYS being evil. He revels in causing pain, misery, and suffering. Being in Hell is not torture for Satan because it is his dominion. God respects His choice.

    This is a quote from C.S. Lewis' "The Problem of Pain" which applies to your question about God "reversing" His decision to give the angels the choice between good and evil:

    "God might have arrested this process by miracle: but this — to speak in somewhat irreverent metaphor — would have been to decline the problem which God had set Himself when He created the world, the problem of expressing His goodness through the total drama of a world containing free agents, in spite of, and by means of, their rebellion against him."

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  79. It's gonna take a little more to convince me than just saying Satan = bad, God = good. Come on, lol, does that line actually work on people? Wake up, this is 2011.

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  80. College Student are you the same as "college student"? You seem like two different commenters.

    You may certainly "root" for Satan, but that basically makes you a Satanist, no?

    I'm going to stick with God, thanks. :)

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  81. Why do I hate Satan?
    Because he hates me.
    He hates my species (the human race), he hates my savior, and he hates you.

    That's why.

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  82. College Student,
    Are you joking? Satan HATES God's creation, and he despises God. He is the FATHER of LIES, according to Jesus. What does 2011 have to do with anything? Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That goes for Satan, on the opposite end of the spectrum. Satan doesn't care what year it is, he cares about taking human souls down with him.
    A

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  83. "His goodness through the total drama of a world containing free agents"

    and back to the topic of Heaven--no DRAMA, meaning no jersey shore, no free will, no threat of evil, and you have to endure this for all of eternity? Sounds like God taking away all of your power that he granted you on earth. Sounds like torture to me or at the very least not a very rich existence. I can start to see why Satan chose to exercise his right to free thought as you explained above, it must have been due to the intense boredom. Back to sin, now I realize why it is necessary, without it you have no earth, no GOOD or LIGHT, no definition for heaven because there is no contrasting reference point, and no understanding of God. But I still think if Heaven is all its cracked up to be we should at least let Satan in, just throw away the sin and wipe all his memories of hatred. don't worry like the rest of us he won't have any free will once he passes through the pearly gates so he will be unable to wish to cause any more pain or spread any more evil.

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  84. College Student,

    Before I came back to the faith, I spent entire nights out at bars and friends' house "Jersey Shoring it up" I did drugs, drank, smoked, danced, etc etc etc...

    My life is SO MUCH FULLER now that I am back where I belong, and I would never go back to that lifestyle. Intense boredom? See Jersey Shore.
    A

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  85. College Student

    Satan has free will and freely chose his fate by defying God. According to Catholic theology that sin was simply a decision not to serve God out of pride.

    If you accept his existence, then you have to accept some tradition of thought surrounding satan's 'history.'

    You are obviously not a literalist, sola scriptura type, ditto with being a Catholic, otherwise you'd simply accept that Satan is in hell for all times.

    Are you pulling everyone's chain as a joke, or are you serious about what you're saying/asking? I hardly imagine Mr. Chick actually writing a tract about Satan being able to be saved, so if you have a link (he has a website) to that tract, I'd appreciate it.


    @JoAnna, Satan is not pure evil. There is good there, namely his existence. Nothing can be pure evil as evil is a deprivation. To be pure evil would be to not exist, and then you wouldn't be evil because, you wouldn't exist.

    Satan could no more change his nature than a cat can choose to become a dog. He was given incredible gifts but rejected them out of pride. He rejected the reality of his nature, perhaps, but didn't change it.

    @ no one in particular:

    The Catholic Encyclopedia (CE) puts the question of the repentance of demons this way:

    "Some argue that from the nature of the angelic mind and will there was an intrinsic impossibility of repentance. But it may be observed that in any case the basis of this argument is not revealed teaching, but philosophical speculation. And it is scarcely surprising to find that its sufficiency is denied by equally orthodox doctors who hold that if the fallen angels could not repent this was either because the doom was instantaneous, and left no space for repentance, or because the needful grace was denied them. Others, again, possibly with better reason, are neither satisfied that sufficient grace and room for repentance were in fact refused, nor can they see any good ground for thinking this likely, or for regarding it as in harmony with all that we know of the Divine mercy and goodness.

    In the absence of any certain decision on this subject, we may be allowed to hold, with Suarez, that, however brief it may have been, there was enough delay to leave an opportunity for repentance, and that the necessary grace was not wholly withheld."

    So, to me it would make sense that they were offered and many if not all refused repentance (unless you go with other Theologians who say the act of their will was irrevocable). Pride is hard to get around, after all.

    Not sure if the church has made any statement on this since the CE was published about a 100 years ago.

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  86. Guiseppe, I think you are right that "College Student" is pulling our chain. I don't even think it's the same "college student" we've dialogued with before.

    Well, at least the readers may have learned something. :)

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  87. I'm sorry, College Student, but it's gonna take a little more than your assertions to convince me that Satan = good, God = bad.

    I prefer to get my theology from the learned men and women who have studied this issue from the Catholic perspective in the last 2,000 years, as espoused in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    2851 In this petition, evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God. The devil (dia-bolos) is the one who "throws himself across" God's plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ.

    2852 "A murderer from the beginning, . . . a liar and the father of lies," Satan is "the deceiver of the whole world." Through him sin and death entered the world and by his definitive defeat all creation will be "freed from the corruption of sin and death." Now "we know that anyone born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one."

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  88. I'm not yanking your chain. I didn't know college student was taken. First time here. And the tract exists, someone on the street handed it to me as I walked by although I realized it isn't Chick Productions, it is something else, and I think I fell for a joke. But joke or not it makes sense to me. I just don't feel the same hate for Satan that he does for me. I kind of pity the guy, he is no longer big and scary like I was taught to believe as a kid, he is just a confused soul that really has no power over earth or my actions. I don't see why we should hate some guy that can't hurt us. I prefer to have hope, does God want me to give up hope for Satan? Because God asking me to give up hope would really hurt my relationship with Christianity even more so than what Satan has done in my opinion.

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  89. College Student 2: are you under the impression that Satan has no power?

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  90. College Student 2, could you officially change your name to something else so that we are not confused that so that the first college student is not mistaken for you? Thanks!

    If you are not here to yank our chains, then you are welcome to stay and discuss in seriousness and thoughtfulness.

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  91. A good, short primer on the philosphical/metaphysical proof of angels and demons, as well as a "Cliff's Notes" of Catholic theology on angels, is in this book. Very short, and worth the read for anyone interested. Peter Kreeft is a professor at Boston College and he's very good.

    CS2: Satan was defeated by the power of the cross, but that doesn't mean he gave up. We are engaged in a war, and people who laugh that off with snide comments are just kidding themselves. That might sound condescending and ridiculous to you, but I'm not kidding.

    The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't' exist. Why? Because if people aren't on their guard, they are far more vulnerable.

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  92. @anon2
    I’m not sure that the article, or the studies prove conclusively that altruism is a genetic trait. The chimp’s action could simply arise out of instinct. Maybe they just know instinctively that being part of a team, rather than overly individualistic is better for the sake of survival? Any which way, I think we need to have a clear definition of altruism. If you don’t mind picking the definition, I’ll leave it to you.

    In regard to the 20th century being the most murderous? Perhaps not, man has murdered man since just nigh the beginning. Most deadly?
    There can definitely be a case for that. Whether you will accept that in the 20th Century, thanks to medicine and mass production of food and such things, there was a greater population in the world than the world had yet seen at any given time, you should be able to accept the incredible destructiveness of weapons that came with the late 19th and early 20th centuries is unique to history.

    Man is always finding better ways to kill his friends. With the advent of the machine gun, rifled howitzers mass-produced, the tank, the missile, “the bomb,” and the willingness to use all this, we had a recipe for some bloody times.

    Were we any more or less murderous? Probably not, but we killed more people in a single century through the use of man-made creations than we had in past centuries.

    Just because we couldn’t kill the enemy in the numbers we can now, doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have. Why? Because man’s nature has been unchanged throughout history. Altruism isn’t an evolutionary trait picked up by societies after shedding their ape hair. Altruism is merely one of many choices, backed one of many different motivations.

    Society doesn’t have some evolutionary geist, where all society improves over time. Otherwise, again, we would never have used the materiel we did to kill as we have in the last century. We would have recognized it wasn’t good for society.

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  93. @College Student

    1st, What denomination of Christianity do you ascribe to?

    2nd, Satan is not a soul, he is as different from you and me as a dog is. Completely different nature than you or me. He is pure intelligence, with free will. Simply put, saying he is confused would be like saying that Einstein was confused by math.

    3rd, hope for Satan is not the same thing as hope for yourself or another man/woman. Having hope that someone who has committed murder, and is totally unrepentant, and knows the consequences and embraces them, will not be punished and forgiven without his asking for relief or forgiveness because he is so prideful, is not hoping for something good. Mercy is granted to those who want it, to those who reject it out of pride, no go. Hoping that they receive mercy in spite of their rejection of mercy is hoping that their free will is supressed.

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  94. Atheist now, previously Roman Catholic.

    And, although my dog is different from me that doesn't mean I have to hate him! If Satan has free will like you just stated above, that means that he has the option to repent, and given enough prayer it will happen.

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  95. a few quick points college student 2.0 ----

    1) So God should just drag satan into heaven against his (satan's) freely willed decision? That isn't possible. God follows His own laws and keeps His promises---and one of the laws/promises is everyone has a choice to love Him. The angels had one choice---we have many.

    2) "no power"?! Yikes. Please, say what you will, but don't, please don't, underestimate his power and intelligence. Satan is (like GA said) pure intelligence, and he knows you better than you know yourself. May I suggest you read "the screwtape letters"? =)

    3) Nothing is impossible with God, true, but (besides the fact that He follows His own rules and promises) there are things that are impossible with the Angels (and us if you think about the "sin against the Holy Spirit"---but that's another topic). They all knew *exactly* what they were doing---EXACTLY. Satan knew when he said "I will not serve" that he would *not* serve for all eternity and he knew what he would "endure" and he knew that he would fail. And he knew he couldn't go back. Not only *couldn't* he go back, he doesn't *want* to go back. (all of which you seem to have ignored) He's not misguided, he's intelligence itself and he's not the anti-hero, he's the villain.

    I realize that it is actually rather easy to fall into thinking of him as an "under-dog" and just wishing and praying that he would ask God's forgiveness. It *is* easy to pity that misconception of him (I should know---I felt the same as you do for a time) but that isn't the truth. The fact is that he would like nothing more than to take all of God's children down to hell to share in his separation from God. And what better way to "get back" at God, really?

    ack! this is longer than I thought it would be. =P

    ~Myn

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  96. oh great---that comment was mainly addressed to someone who believes in God and Satan...I don't think it will mean much to an atheist...

    oh well...

    ~Myn

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  97. Hi Giuseppe! I agree with you. Totally. I was asking Leila why she thought the 20th century is worse than the rest. And yes, it doesn't say "Altruism is for certain a genetic trait" but it strongly points toward that being true. And with many studies done on chimps, they do exhibit humankind's base intelligence/emotions. Something happened when our brains got bigger that allowed us (and Neanderthals, etc.) to move past the basics.

    My main point was that my sources came from credible scientific journals, yet were dismissed - meanwhile a random atheist's numbers were used for proof.

    When you say this: "Society doesn’t have some evolutionary geist, where all society improves over time. Otherwise, again, we would never have used the materiel we did to kill as we have in the last century. We would have recognized it wasn’t good for society." I understand what you mean, but have to disagree.

    I think society has always dealt with war, murder etc. BUT... years ago, we were keeping slaves, women were property, we stoned folks, we flung poop into the streets and cheered on public executions... So I have to say, society does get better over time.

    And about the bomb? Think about this: back in ye olden times guys rushed each other with axes and swords and other horrific objects. Then later with bayonets. I mean, you were up to your eyeballs in some other man's guts.

    That takes some kind of grizzly fortitude.

    Now, we have mechanized weaponry and MOABs that can take faceless, nameless people out from far away without having to really be involved in what we are doing.

    Obviously, something has changed in our fortitude for violence as a whole. We have learned that war is hideous and try to keep our distance.

    But we do it anyway, not because society wants it, but because our leaders want it. This is why I HATE that we spend nearly everything we have on defense, meanwhile things like education and health care are neglected.I blame our leaders, though, not society at large.

    Also to A: Most Catholic schools and local churches and charities depend on parishioner's money. I am not saying the church doesn't do great things. But when I (personally) think of Christ, I wonder why Vatican City is rolling in obscene amounts of money and the pope comes out with his golden staff and bedazzled robes. It just seems weird to me.

    But, I guess he isn't Christ-Like, he just speaks for God. I don't know.

    And Leila, I am glad you are all right. With the "Jesus" post the other day, I was worried something happened to one of your children or something. I am very glad this is not the case. Best of luck to your husband & you'll get through it... Easter is right around the corner.

    anon2

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  98. Myn & all of you - do you believe the Devil can possess you, like in the Exorcist? Man, I saw that movie on accident when I was about 6 years old and I still don't like to think about it.

    anon2

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  99. the Vatican is rolling in obscene amounts of money? how much are we talking about exactly?

    I'm honestly asking btw---I didn't know that the Church was insanely rich...

    Myn

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  100. I definitely believe in the reality of demonic possession but that you do have to "let him in" so to speak. And it's totally not prevalent today---the devil prefers to be forgotten by the public. ;)

    but you have heard of/seen evidence of real-life possessions have you not? =/

    ~Myn

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  101. CS2:

    I advise reading St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica; specifically, the section on The punishment of the demons.

    Let me try putting it this way.

    The choice of the angels to rebel is similar to a human's choice to commit suicide. A human can use his own free will to kill himself, but once he does so, he cannot reverse his choice due to the laws of nature established by God. A human cannot reverse his or her own death. That doesn't mean that the human being did not have free will prior to his death, nor does it mean that the human did not use free will when deciding to kill himself. The fact remains, however, that a human being cannot resurrect himself, and God will not resurrect that person -- for to do so would be a violation of that person's free will.

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  102. awesome analogy!!!! =D I'll have to remember that...

    Myn

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  103. anon2,

    you said: years ago, we were keeping slaves, women were property, we stoned folks, we flung poop into the streets and cheered on public executions... So I have to say, society does get better over time.

    Actually all of this goes on today, in abundance, in many societies and nations in the world. Slavery is alive and well, women are property, stoning goes on, sewers and streets are the same, executions are public.... Just about everywhere except Western civilization. So, I think you are looking at things from a comfortable position in America, but not seeing that reality is the same as it always has been. Sin abounds in all these ways and more.

    As for the Church's "riches"... not sure what you mean? You mean the Vatican museum, and the priceless artwork? What should the Vatican do with it? As it stands, the Vatican prizes and protects these treasures of humanity, and they are available for all to see (my husband and daughter recently toured the Vatican museums... along with atheists, Muslims, protestants, buddhists, etc.... everyone was enriched).

    The Pope himself lives in a small room and has very little in the way of personal possessions. I would guess that you and I own more personal items than he does. That line about the riches of the Church is used a lot by her adversaries, but I'm not entirely sure why? What it means, what point is being made? Should we sell the patrimony of Western civilization and then hope that some "honest" person out there will protect and preserve it for the world? How would that work?

    Yes, the devil can possess a soul. Absolutely. Every diocese has an exorcist for that purpose, in case there is a true exorcism. Remember, the devil is after the priest in those cases, not so much the soul he is possessing.

    Thanks for the good wishes. Actually there was a death of a precious little one. Not mine, though....

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  104. college student 2, since you are an atheist, I am not sure why you are arguing a point that Christians don't even hold? You are arguing that we should start believing that Satan is redeemable, when in fact Christianity teaches that he is not. That is why I think you are playing around here. If you want to argue an actual teaching of the Church, please do. But erecting a straw man, when you know it's a straw man, is not something you should be doing here. But please, challenge us on an actual teaching of the Church and I'll be happy to address it.

    Thanks!

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  105. My main point was that my sources came from credible scientific journals, yet were dismissed - meanwhile a random atheist's numbers were used for proof.

    Anon2, please forgive me if you think I was dismissing your sources. I truly just am too tired to do any research on it. I am not the scientific mind that Stacy is (check out her interactive blog for all of that... she is a Ph.D in chemistry and her blog is AMAZING if you want science/faith answers!)

    My main points are philosophical, logical, theological. I don't see any evidence that with each successive century, we are evolving morally. My comment at 2:33 addresses that, so if you could speak to that. Thanks!

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  106. This is why I HATE that we spend nearly everything we have on defense, meanwhile things like education and health care are neglected.

    I think the federal spending on the military is 17-20%? We need to be protected from evil nations. Believe it or not, evil exists in this world, even though people think everyone "just wants to get along". That's not a huge amount to spend of the federal gov't for defense, and it is constitutionally justifiable.

    The vast majority of the federal government spending is spent on "entitlements" such as social security and medicare. Much more than on defense. So, I am not sure about your numbers.

    As for education: It is mostly a local and state issue, not so much a federal issue (thank goodness), and usually around 30% of state taxes goes to education in each state. That is not exactly a neglectful amount. There are some states spending over 50% of the budget on education. A lot of it is utterly wasteful, sadly. (i.e., One public high school built recently in bankrupt California cost A HALF A BILLION DOLLARS to build. google it if you don't believe me.)

    If you want a breakdown on federal spending, go here:

    http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=1258

    You will see that we do not spend practically 'everything we have' on defense. Not even close.

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  107. PS: Poop being flung into the streets was/is more a matter of technology and poverty and infrastructure, not so much an issue of sin.

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  108. ** in case there is a true possession.

    Sorry!

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  109. Regarding the myth that the Catholic Church is rolling in wealth, here are some stats for comparison (from John Allen's book "All the Pope's Men"):

    The myth of Vatican wealth. "At the Vatican, everything is for sale, in the popular mind,” Allen said. In reality, the Vatican’s annual operating budget is about $260 million. Allen contrasted that to Harvard University, which has an annual operating budget of $1.3 billion.

    "(Harvard) could run five Vaticans every year and still have pocket change left over for an endowed chair," Allen said, equating the Vatican’s patrimony - all the assets it could sell - to that of a medium-sized Catholic university. Its total patrimony is $770 million. The University of Notre Dame’s endowment is four and a half times greater, he said.

    Allen noted that while people often assume a significant monetary value attached to the artwork the Vatican holds, it is not for sale.

    "The Holy See’s point of view is that the artwork is part of the patrimony of humanity," Allen said. It is listed as having a cash value of one euro.

    I remember when comedienne Sarah Silverman suggested that the Church should sell all of its possessions and give to the poor. Here's my question: what's the resale value on the Sistine Chapel? St. Patrick's Cathedral? Who would buy them?

    Also, the Vatican's priceless works of art take much time, care, effort, and money to maintain. Any profit gained by admission fees to see them is rolled back into their care and maintenance, not to mention to pay the tour guides, restorationists, etc.

    Almost everything the Pope uses -- his clothing, residence, etc. -- is not owned by him but by the Catholic Church and provided for his use. When Pope Benedict dies, all that he had as Pope will be given to the next Pope, not Benedict's heirs.

    And so on. A good article on this subject, Isn't the Church Rich?, goes into further detail.

    Finally, when non-Catholics say something like, "The Church should sell all its possessions to feed the poor," my general response is, "Great idea! While we're at it, let's also sell the White House, all the contents of the Smithsonians, and all the contents of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to feed the poor. After all, we should set a good example!"

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  110. Incidentally, the myth that the Church is fabulously wealthy has been perpetuated practically since the beginning of the Church's existence. Here's one of my favorite saint stories that relates to the topic:

    A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the Church, and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum. When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.”

    Lawrence replied that the Church was indeed rich. “I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.” After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “These are the treasure of the Church.”

    The prefect was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to die—but it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, “It is well done. Turn me over!”

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  111. Yikes, I'm doing "bad" things.Do you not trust yourself without god? Do you not murder because God said not to or because it causes grief and pain? Do you not commit adultery because God said not to or because it would crush your husband and break your children's hearts? Do you want to do these things - would they feel good to you?

    First, no I do not trust myself without God. Just as a child should not trust himself without his parents. I need God, and He is my Father. I cannot save myself. Only Christ can save me.

    If I were an atheist (and if I rejected Natural Law), I don't think I would murder, because it would mean arrest and prosecution. I wouldn't murder anyone "nice" or who made me feel good, but maybe I would want to murder someone who was "mean" and made me feel bad, or belittled me, or who stole my TV, or whatever. It's hard for me to even go there in my head, because it's not something I've ever "felt" like doing. Committing adultery? As an atheist, I would probably just find a way to do it without having my husband find out. But frankly, I don't know why I would get married if I were an atheist? Why bother? I'm not being snarky, I'm serious. Marriage is an institution ordained by God. I don't know why (aside from Natural Law) I would care to get married. The atheist view of marriage, as I understand it, is not about procreation and raising children in a stable environment at base, but about expressing sexual feelings to another person and feeling happy. I could be wrong. If so, tell me how.

    Would adultery feel good? I guess it depends on the guy. :) Seriously, if there were no objective morality (or Natural Law), then what is the big deal? I don't get it.

    You keep confusing "happiness" with "gratification" and "feelings" with the big emotions like "love" "empathy/sympathy" and "fulfillment."

    If you can define and explain the differences? For example, if love is not a "feeling" to an atheist, then what is it? How is a "big emotion" different from a "feeling"?

    I'm seriously asking.

    And, I don't know if you were around for this post, but it seems to me that many atheists do see love as a "feeling":

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2011/01/is-christian-love-gibberish.html

    I'm guessing you don't agree.

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  112. I don't agree. At all.

    Marriage (for non-religious or religious-lite types)is a covenant, if you will, between two people who promise to love each other and be there for one another until death (at least - not all atheists don't believe in an afterlife).It is THE SAME THING you do, except we do not promise a supernatural being we are going to procreate for him. It s about a love union, a partnership through thick and thin.

    Love to an atheist isn't just a surface feeling of "good." Love is deep and complex and layered with each passing year. Just like your marriage.

    We make the promise and sign the papers, ensuring a "cut and run" will not be easy. We have the party to present ourselves to our family and friends and community, making our union official in everyone's eyes. Just like you.

    It's not simply "I want to do it with you."

    Problem is marriage has become a secular institution as well and this is the cause of all the confusion ("Why don't Catholics want gays to marry?") I get it, but we have to define what is church marriage and what is married like the gen pop understands it.

    I do not believe in God, yet I do not cheat on my husband - even if he'd never find out. I do not wish to murder anyone, no matter how angry they make me. I don't steal. How would you explain this?

    I don't mean to be rude at all, but if a belief in some ever-after is the only reason you're not a hedonistic possible murderer... that's kind of scary.

    When you look at your husband, how do you feel about him? Are you in awe and love with this man? Do you think he's just an amazing, wonderful person (even if you're annoyed with him that day)? Are you grateful for the time you get with him? Is he your best friend? Your (earthly) rock? Are you two a functioning whole? A perfect team?

    Or are you one God away from bonking the neighbor?

    I am the first one. Without God. It's not "I like this guy because he does that thing with his tongue" or "He makes money for me" or "We like all the same stuff, so..." (because we don't) I am in total and complete love with this man, for everything he is and isn't. For his strengths and weaknesses. For all of him.

    So when you say "to feel happy" it sounds cheap.

    anon2

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  113. Anon2, you said:

    I do not believe in God, yet I do not cheat on my husband - even if he'd never find out. I do not wish to murder anyone, no matter how angry they make me. I don't steal. How would you explain this?

    Natural Law. You know in your heart what is right and wrong. An atheist can see and understand the Natural Law.

    Don't get me wrong....I am not saying I am unfeeling and unloving. Quite the opposite!! I adore my husband (if you read my blog, you know that). But I am being very honest and telling you that if there is no God and if my mind were not enlightened by Natural Law, then there is no real reason not to do whatever I want, except for the penalties of the law, and that would only be because I don't want to suffer in jail.

    You think it's scary what I might be without God. I agree! You have no idea how many folks have gone from a life of crime and hedonism to a life of virtue, simply because they became acquainted with and then fell in love with God.

    That is my whole point: God is good. God saves. God gives us the grace to be virtuous. Natural Law (which you subscribe to, even if you don't recognize it) is from God.

    I hope that helps clear up my position.

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  114. In other words, anon2, to the extent that you and I both lead moral, decent lives, it's for the same reason: because God placed the moral law on our hearts. We all know deep down, what is good and right and ordered. We often deny it, but we know it. We often bury it, but we know it. We often work against it, but until that last vestige of our conscience is dulled and deadened by sin, we know it.

    We are both recipients of a gift, and we must be grateful for it. Grateful to God for his Truth, and for the knowledge that we all have in our hearts.

    Knowledge that animals do not have, and which is a privilege of humanity.

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  115. @College Student 2
    If you are an atheist, you are probably the only Atheist in the world that believes prayers could save satan from eternal damnation. Which makes me wonder. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

    “And, although my dog is different from me that doesn't mean I have to hate him! If Satan has free will like you just stated above, that means that he has the option to repent, and given enough prayer it will happen.”

    Your being an atheist yet believing in satan and God makes me really wonder if you aren’t just trolling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

    If you don’t believe in satan and God, your style of writing about what you see as inconsistencies in Christian thought leads one to believe that you do believe in much of that thought. Which again, makes me wonder. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_(Internet)

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  116. If only Satan was like Darth Vador....

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  117. @anon2

    “I think society has always dealt with war, murder etc. BUT... years ago, we were keeping slaves, women were property, we stoned folks, we flung poop into the streets and cheered on public executions... So I have to say, society does get better over time.”

    Stoning.
    Slavery.
    Cheering pubic execution.
    Women=property. (not marriage itself, but the reality that some countries still require you to pay for a bride. Asked how many wives he has, an Afghan said two. Asked why not more? Doesn’t have enough money to afford any more.)

    “And about the bomb? Think about this: back in ye olden times guys rushed each other with axes and swords and other horrific objects. Then later with bayonets. I mean, you were up to your eyeballs in some other man's guts.

    That takes some kind of grizzly fortitude.

    Now, we have mechanized weaponry and MOABs that can take faceless, nameless people out from far away without having to really be involved in what we are doing.

    Obviously, something has changed in our fortitude for violence as a whole. We have learned that war is hideous and try to keep our distance.”

    We have learned that war is hideous and try to keep our distance? We have always known it is hideous, and from the get-go have been trying to find ways to distance ourselves from the killing. A good book on this subject (and why I am against violent video games for kids): On Killing.

    Nothing has changed in our fortitude. People still kill others that way everywhere. Plus, I dare anyone to go up to a US Marine, infantry type, and say that because he is a modern man from a civilized society, he doesn’t quite have the fortitude to be up to his eyeballs in another man’s guts. I don’t know if you’ve read anything about the battle for Fallujah, or Ramadi. The enemy would feign death, and shoot Marines in the back as they passed by. The answer to this problem? Dead checks, checking to make sure the insurgent was actually dead, with a bayonet.

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  118. Giuseppe, thanks for exposing the troll. I knew there was something fishy going on. :) We don't get many trolls around here, so we let our guard down.

    Great points to anon2. Looking forward to continued conversation with her.

    sweet jane, ha ha!

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  119. We didn’t develop these weapons because we evolved, we developed them because getting a men to kill other men is a difficult business. The further away you are, the more you can subtract from the emotional and psychological impact killing another man has on the killer. In many ways, getting further away from the action is more inhuman, clinical, and sinister than being right there with him. It allows you to separate yourself from the reality of what you’ve done, it allows you to get excited about death without ever having to see it. Cool, we make MOABs and other such things, separate ourselves from the actual location of the killing, and suddenly war becomes a great game for the side with the better technology. Quite evolutionary? I submit it is merely because man has for a long time known that he needs to kill other men to get his way, and man is naturally a creature of comfort. Eventually we’d find a way to comfortably kill people from an armchair as soon as technological advances caught up to our bloodlust.

    If society’s evolve, and man has moved past certain things, that means the men and women of societies who have not moved past certain atrocities are not as evolved as the men and women of our society. It means they are less of what we’ve become. Are they a different creature then? Is their life any less worth living? That’s the logical, objective consequence of believing society’s and people evolve. Not everything evolves at the same rate, so you will have some outdated humans, humans who are left behind by genetic progress, therefore, humans that are less than human. Can we sterilize them so they don’t bring down the quality of our genes? Should we practice eugenics to only breed the smartest and most beautiful? And of society’s, why don’t we just MOAB all society’s that aren’t evolved out of existence? A bunch of bombs cost less than long-term nation/civilization building, so the MOAB option would seem quite pragmatic.

    Society's don't get better in some irreversable manner, which is what it seems (to me) thatyou are saying. There are some society's better than others, but those better society's just adhere to age-old principles of peaceful living together. A good roommate in 21st Century america would be a good roommate in 2nd century BC Rome. If anything, the more 'advanced' the society the 'cleaner' the ways they've discovered to do their dirty work.

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  120. Giuseppe, where have you been all my life? ;)

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  121. Don't forget the percentage of pregnant women who opt for abortion nowadays, compared to at any other time in history.

    Violence against unwanted new life in ones own womb is commonplace and defended as "right". Which is the voice of altruism (or, the alleged "more highly evolved"?) "Abortion on demand and without apology!" "Keep your laws off my body!" "CHOICE!"

    or

    "CHOOSE LIFE". "There are alternatives to abortion. There have to be." "Adoption, not abortion." "Abortion stops a beating heart."

    Throughout history, violence and evil deeds have been the result of choice...choosing sin over God. Both speak to us through temptation and conscience. We have the freedom to choose either. That's how it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

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  122. Leila,
    I was just thinking the same thing. Giuseppe, rock on!
    A

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  123. Anon2,

    Each day on facebook I get a little paragraph of the Catechism posted on my homepage for being a "fan" (it's about as thick as the bible)

    Coincidentally, (if you believe in coincidences) this is what the Catechism posted today:
    1964 The Old Law is a preparation for the Gospel. “The Law is a pedagogy and a prophecy of things to come.”It prophesies and presages the work of liberation from sin which will be fulfilled in Christ: it provides the New Testament with images, “types,” and symbols for expressing the life according to the Spirit. Finally, the Law is completed by the teaching of the sapiential books and the prophets which set its course toward the New Covenant and the Kingdom of heaven.

    There were . . . under the regimen of the Old Covenant, people who possessed the charity and grace of the Holy Spirit and longed above all for the spiritual and eternal promises by which they were associated with the New Law. Conversely, there exist carnal men under the New Covenant still distanced from the perfection of the New Law: the fear of punishment and certain temporal promises have been necessary, even under the New Covenant, to incite them to virtuous works. In any case, even though the Old Law prescribed charity, it did not give the Holy Spirit, through whom “God’s charity has been poured into our hearts.

    A

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  124. @Giuseppe,

    I liked your ideas about how we have become more murderous in some ways in that we have distanced ourselves from the killing, but you said:
    "I’m not sure that the article, or the studies prove conclusively that altruism is a genetic trait. The chimp’s action could simply arise out of instinct."

    Instinct IS genes....totally genes. I do think altruism evolved genetically, but I don't really see that we are evolving as a large society. For that to work, only those with altruism genes would be reproducing, and those with more competitive, aggressive genes would be not reproducing. Almost all the studies show, that at a base level, females are highly attracted sexually to men with typically "masculine" traits and some forms of aggressive, "testosteroney" behavior. Thus, people like Mike Tyson will be keeping their genes around for some time.

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  125. Mary,

    Thanks for the response!

    Just a caveat, I don't think we can say man is any more murderous, or less, than he has been in the past. We just have better ways of killing each other, and in greater quantities than we have had in the past.

    I will 100% agree that instincts are in part genetics. You have to agree that some level of instinct, however, is learned behavior. Much like the old salt who says, “Yep, it’s going to rain tomorrow, I can smell it.” And it does.

    Genetics a man does not make.

    The above link goes to an article at the blog, “Mary meets Dolly.” The blog writer is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology. What does that mean? I don’t know, I majored in philosophy. But “molecular biology” and “genetics” seem to walk around hand in hand. If you read that, that’s my answer to the whole Mike Tyson/aggressive behavior, etc. my genetics made me do it argument.

    PS Granted, genetics does have a lot to do with attraction. It does not determine our decisions when it comes to choosing a mate, however.

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  126. Giuseppe, I am sorry that your stuff went to spam jail! I think it has to do with the links. But I will keep checking and releasing comments.

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  127. Original College StudentApril 7, 2011 at 8:52 AM

    Hi All!
    Its me the original college student. Just wanted to say how touched I am that you realized College Student 2 was not me :)
    yayy

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  128. Original College Student, yay! I know, it was just crazy that you would speak that kind of stuff! I knew it couldn't be you, and I had one reader email me privately knowing it couldn't be you! :)

    I guess I can call you OCS now! :)

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  129. Giuseppe - I have two cousins who are Marines and my best friend is a Desert Storm vet, so I have talked about war and death with them. Not many people, aside from sociopaths, have the fortitude to stand in guts or kill other human beings - otherwise war-related PTSD, alcoholism and drug abuse wouldn't be so common among our boys both overseas and once they've come home.

    I would think this is a good thing.It gives us pause as to why we are killing. And whom, in fact, we are killing.

    As far as your theory on evolved people - wow. that is quite a leap. Because a certain group is less evolved culturally, you think it is logical to assume they are sub-human? Weird. I would just assume we could show them a better way and they would eventually change.

    Yes some people still get stoned (to death), some people are slaves and some women are property. But the more we grow, the more we realize this is not good. I mean, the cultures you pointed to, so much of that was the norm in the dawn of civilization. Today, I don't think the world would stand for tens of thousands of slaves working themselves to death to build pyramids over decades.

    Or even more recent, the railroads of America.We wouldn't stand for a bunch of imported Chinese slaves blasting themselves to death. But we did a few hundred years ago. Society changes.

    It is still being debated whether genetics makes man. But we do know nature requires nurture for certain receptors to turn genes on and off. This is a reason for some people's tendency to be "unevolved" - of course you might argue it's the work of Satan, but hey.

    Of course none of this means man is more or less murderous - I do not profess man's instinct changes, but I do believe society tempers man's instincts. And society evolves. I think looking at Tehran and then at America proves this, not disproves it.

    anon2

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  130. anon2 said:

    And society evolves. I think looking at Tehran and then at America proves this, not disproves it.

    Actually, since these are both present day societies, it does not prove that humanity has evolved morally over time. What it proves is that some cultures are more moral than others. This is a truth. That is why I disagree with the leftist proposition of "all cultures are to be respected, all cultures are equal, Western civilization is no better than any other."

    I will let Giuseppe respond to the rest, but I will say that he was in no way implying that he believes that some humans are more "subhuman" than others; he was making the point that according to your paradigm, that is what we must conclude, as some folks (those in Tehran?) have not evolved as we have.

    He can correct me if I am wrong on that. But Catholics believe that all humans, from conception to death have equal, inviolable dignity.

    Also, I am still not sure you are clear that there are currently millions of slaves still in this world. You are still talking like that sort of thing is in the past. It's only in the past in some places, like the one we live in. (Although there is human trafficking even in my state, as we border with Mexico and human trafficking is a HUGE problem here.) Also, the violence of abortion (50 million just here in America, just since 1973) is a whole new way of killing on a mass scale. It's just more hidden and "sanitized", at least to the majority of the public.

    This is a reason for some people's tendency to be "unevolved" - of course you might argue it's the work of Satan, but hey.

    Actually, it's our tendency to sin (concupiscence) and our own free will that keeps us "unevolved". I would say that a lack of virtue (which is a choice) is our problem. We Catholics don't blame Satan for everything. Our own sinful, disordered choices keep us plenty oppressed. :)

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  131. I know I am late to this conversation but Tasty Paper said something I would like to address: “Religion doesn't offer a moral compass; it offers a newspaper on the snout of a dog that doesn't understand what it's done wrong. Morality is not derived from fear or commandments.”

    While this imagery is not one that I embrace there is some truth in his statement. At its most base that is a function of religion – to strike us on the nose much as we might swat the hand of a toddler reaching for a hot stove. We are nascent in our relationship with God and we lack understanding or acceptance of His laws fear can motivate us.

    As we mature we know not to touch the stove and nobody slaps our hand to pull us away (which does not mean we never forget and get burnt anyway.)

    Laws, be they natural, civil or ecclesiastical play a role in human development. For the most part we hope our moral and intellectual development progresses to a place that we no longer need to rely on the law to govern our behavior. I am not going to murder my husband. I do not need the civil laws, the natural laws or the revealed laws which forbid such a thing to keep me from killing him. For some perhaps only the fear of punishment keeps them from such an act.

    When I was a child my family insisted we use (we are VERY southern) our ma’ams and sirs when addressing adults and we were punished when we failed to do so. I am now an adult and I say yes ma’am and yes sir to my parents, not because of any fear of retribution but because it is a demonstrable way to show my love and respect for them. The childhood rule allows me to express adult respect.

    It is no less in our relationship with God. As Catholics and Christians we learn many “rules” which ultimately foster our relationship with God and with our fellow man. Ideally we follow those rules out of fear of retribution but because we love.

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  132. Elisabeth, well said!! Thank you.

    Being good merely out of a fear of going to hell is the lowest level of morality. It'll do... but it's not very mature. When we mature in our faith, we do not need the "laws" as Elisabeth mentioned, because we do the right thing out of love.

    God is pleased to meet us where we are. Just as I don't expect my toddler to act like a teen, or my teen to act like an adult, God works with us each in our stages. The progression down that path is very beautiful.

    I wrote more about that here:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/08/part-ii-file-this-under-why-havent-i.html

    For anon2, while it is not true to say that humans have "evolved" morally on a macro scale (since human nature is always the same), it is true to say that each individual is expected to (and can) evolve morally. Each soul can move from a lower level of morality and spiritual understanding to a deeper, higher level. In fact, that is what each person is called to.


    PS: Though in previous comments I "imagined" myself as an atheist, or one who doesn't acknowledge the Natural Law, that is not my reality. Had I been an atheist, I might have no ultimate reason to stay faithful to my husband. I would probably have fallen under the "pleasure seeker" type of personality if not for my faith. However, because of my faith, I stay faithful to my husband out of love, not out of fear of any retribution. I love him in a self-donative way, my life poured out for him. I am faithful in love because my husband is a child of God, and so am I. God loves us, so we love each other in a way that reflects God's love. It's a beautiful thing.

    Just wanted to clarify that I am not wishing there were a loophole to cheat on my hubby! :) Poor guy is stuck with me. :)

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  133. Anon2, I'd love to hear your thought on my comments from yesterday at 5:47, if you have a chance.

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  134. @JoAnna

    "Interesting. What proof do you have of this?"

    Proof? Interesting coming from someone who values faith. In any case, read this article.

    "So... you DO have a skewed perception of religion."

    Why would someone who immersed themselves in their religion have a skewed perception of religion? And besides, the reason I'm atheist today is because while I was transitioning away from Christianity, I also investigated the other major religions. I understand why people have & hold on to them. I also realize why science makes them irrelevant.

    "What Bible translation did you study? The above isn't in any copy I've ever read."

    Then you haven't been reading enough of your bible. God commanded death for working on the Sabbath, something that is not immoral. He punishes us for our thoughts, something no human can curb. He says he is a jealous God and then commands us not to be jealous - something he apparently can't avoid! and of course he says there's a right way and a sinful way to have sex, which is crazy if anyone in the population desires the same sex (which they do.) God makes us, and then punishes us for the way we act naturally. The commandments that actually protect us from one another are all that should matter, and they are ideas that precede the Bible. We don't need the Bible to know good and bad, we just need empathy.

    "You're referring to the God Hates Shrimp fallacy."

    An invented fallacy to explain away doubt about a biblical prescription to abhor homosexuality. You can't burn witches, so gays are still open season.

    "Have you ever studied the Old Testament? By studying, I mean applying proper exegesis to it?"

    Yes, as a teenage Christian, I spent the better part of my week at church doing Bible study, and I've actually studied it far more while transitioning away and as an atheist. I used to listen to the BibleGeek podcast, which is very in-depth critical study of the text and it's meaning.

    "Fear and obedience are two separate things."

    Not if fear is the motivational factor for that obedience.

    "I would question the source of the command, because it would not be from God. This is a good article regarding the test of Abraham."

    How can you tell what comes from God and what doesn't? You can't understand the nature or the mind of God, and he's clearly made immoral commands of this nature before. I contend that God doesn't talk to anyone outside of the Bible, because he's a fictional character in a work of historical fiction.

    I don't see any reason to take the Bible as anything more than a historical curiosity.

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  135. @ Leila @ Little Catholic Bubble

    "I think you missed the "love" part of Christianity. In which denomination were you raised?"

    I didn't, I loved being a Christian, and I didn't stop being one from a lack of love. I was raised a Baptist Christian, but as an atheist, I find the very idea of denominations within a religion laughable. No one knows what's really going on!

    "God does not throw people into hell who slip up. It's not a game."

    It is if the salvo is hinged on asking for forgiveness. If Hitler had repented his sins and asked Jesus into his heart as he lay dying from his suicidal wounds, he may very well be waiting for you in Heaven. That sounds like a game to me.

    "It's a love relationship."

    I'm in a love relationship with my girlfriend. I don't have to have faith that she exists, or that she cares about me.

    "If someone does not want to love God, does not want to be with God, He will not force it. Love is not forced. So, those in Hell have chosen to be separated from God."

    No, they have chosen to not love God. God created hell, and he puts people in it who won't love him. That's not choosing to go to hell, that's being punished for not loving. Besides, how can I love something I can't determine exists? I can't, it's not a choice to not love God, it's a "what am I trying to attach 'love' to?"

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  136. @Nicole C

    "God is a Father. And like all parents, he has rules because he loves us."

    In light of that, explain the laws that have nothing to do with us hurting ourselves or others, and yet require a punishment of death, such as working on the Sabbath, or worshiping other gods.

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  137. Proof? Interesting coming from someone who values faith. In any case, read this article.

    If you are going to insist that certain emotional constructs are purely neurological in nature and not spiritual then yes, there should be proof of that, otherwise you're not requiring your own beliefs to adhere to your own standards.

    Here is a quote from the abstract of the article you linked:

    "Neuroscience investigations have demonstrated physiological mechanisms of mirroring at single-cell and neural-system levels that support the cognitive and social psychology constructs."

    So, there is evidence that empathy causes the brain to react in certain ways, but this is not evidence of empathy itself, but only of the reactions that are caused by empathy. What evidence do you have that empathy ITSELF is only a function of the brain?

    Why would someone who immersed themselves in their religion have a skewed perception of religion?

    Perhaps because they have not taken the time to study their religion without preconceived biases.

    "And besides, the reason I'm atheist today is because while I was transitioning away from Christianity, I also investigated the other major religions. I understand why people have & hold on to them. I also realize why science makes them irrelevant."

    Really? Can you prove there is no God scientifically? Before you ask, I know there is no way to prove that God exists, either. But if you are going to be a disciple of science who insists that science makes God irrelevant, then it follows that you have scientific proof that God does not exist.

    Here's a related question for you: do you believe in the existence of dark matter?

    Then you haven't been reading enough of your bible.

    Pot, meet kettle...

    God commanded death for working on the Sabbath, something that is not immoral.

    By what authority do you say that working on the Sabbath was not immoral for those to whom the Old Law applied?

    He punishes us for our thoughts, something no human can curb.

    Really. Where is this in the Bible, or in Catholic teaching?

    He says he is a jealous God and then commands us not to be jealous - something he apparently can't avoid!

    Oh dear. It took me about two minutes on Google to find an explanation for this, and you claim to have studied the Old Testament with proper exegesis? Simply put, the word "jealous" when referring to God is a different Hebrew adjective than is used to describe human being "jealousy." The two terms do not have the same meaning.

    and of course he says there's a right way and a sinful way to have sex, which is crazy if anyone in the population desires the same sex (which they do.)

    Interesting. Do you, then, believe that pedophilia should be acceptable as well? By your own logic, if there's no sinful way to have sex, then pedophilia can't be wrong -- especially given that most pedophiles claim they were "born that way."

    (continued below...)

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  138. God makes us, and then punishes us for the way we act naturally.

    God made us perfect. The fall of man and the introduction of original sin made us imperfect -- that is, we became imperfect due to the choice of man to exercise his free will. Man introduced sin and disorder into the world (including disordered inclinations), not God.

    The commandments that actually protect us from one another are all that should matter, and they are ideas that precede the Bible.

    The written Bible, yes, but not the oral tradition that was later transcribed into what is now the Bible.

    We don't need the Bible to know good and bad, we just need empathy.

    And what if my empathy tells me that little children are just yearning for a sexual relationship? Who are you to tell me that my desires are wrong if my empathy is telling me something else?

    An invented fallacy to explain away doubt about a biblical prescription to abhor homosexuality.

    No, it's the logical explanation for why the ritual tenets of the Old Law do not apply to Christianity. By what authority do you call it "invented"?

    You can't burn witches, so gays are still open season.

    Are you under the mistaken impression that the Catholic Church teaches that it's acceptable to burn gays (or witches)? If so, can you please prove your assertion and cite Church documents regarding same? Thanks.

    Yes, as a teenage Christian, I spent the better part of my week at church doing Bible study, and I've actually studied it far more while transitioning away and as an atheist.

    Do you know what exegesis is? Did you study the senses of Scripture?

    I used to listen to the BibleGeek podcast, which is very in-depth critical study of the text and it's meaning.

    There are people who have devoted their entire lives to performing critical exegesis of the Bible, so listening to a podcast occasionally may not be as comprehensive as is needed to understand the issues you present.

    Not if fear is the motivational factor for that obedience.

    Not fear, but love.

    How can you tell what comes from God and what doesn't?

    That is an EXCELLENT question, and one I often ask Protestants. As to how I can know, that's why Jesus established a Church.

    You can't understand the nature or the mind of God, and he's clearly made immoral commands of this nature before.

    You know, that's a really funny way to talk about Someone whom you allege doesn't exist. However, whereas I cannot understand the nature or mind of God, I do understand that He would not command me to do an intrinsic evil. To deliberately kill an innocent child is an intrinsic evil.

    I contend that God doesn't talk to anyone outside of the Bible, because he's a fictional character in a work of historical fiction.

    I contend that God is very real, and that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God -- and many learned scientists contend the same.

    I don't see any reason to take the Bible as anything more than a historical curiosity.

    Then perhaps you should do some more research. Have you ever read C.s. Lewis' "Mere Christianity"?

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  139. TastyPaper, you said:

    ...as an atheist, I find the very idea of denominations within a religion laughable. No one knows what's really going on!

    We are on the same page! As a Catholic, I totally agree. In fact, this very week (maybe next but I am not sure) I have a post which will address this very point.

    If Hitler had repented his sins and asked Jesus into his heart as he lay dying from his suicidal wounds, he may very well be waiting for you in Heaven. That sounds like a game to me.

    To me, it sounds like infinite mercy.

    I'm in a love relationship with my girlfriend. I don't have to have faith that she exists, or that she cares about me.

    Are you 100% sure, beyond even a shadow of a doubt? Can you read hearts and minds? And as far as existence, can you be sure, as an atheist, that you can trust your brain to give you truth? What is a brain but random meat and synapses firing? How do you trust it to give you any truth? Bottom line, you know your girlfriend loves you in the same way that I know that God loves me. I know Him, and I am in a relationship with Him. You know of your girlfriend's love beyond a reasonable doubt (key being "reason") and I know of God's love beyond a reasonable doubt, as well.

    No, they have chosen to not love God. God created hell, and he puts people in it who won't love him. That's not choosing to go to hell, that's being punished for not loving.

    Actually, not loving God is the choice to be separated from Him. Separation from God is Hell. God didn't "make" hell. Evil is a privation, or an absence of Good. Hell is where God isn't. If someone doesn't love God, why would they want to spend eternity with Him? That makes no sense. If God forced them to be with Him, that is cruel, no?

    Besides, how can I love something I can't determine exists? I can't, it's not a choice to not love God, it's a "what am I trying to attach 'love' to?"

    We are all born with a sense of knowing God. That is why there are so few atheists throughout the history of mankind. If you struggle with knowing God, and trying to attach love to someone you can't "see", well, God helps us there, too. The answer is the Person of Jesus Christ, in the Flesh. And I actually have been meaning to do a post on Him, as well. Stay tuned!

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  140. In light of that, explain the laws that have nothing to do with us hurting ourselves or others, and yet require a punishment of death, such as working on the Sabbath, or worshiping other gods.

    TastyPaper, well, I have certain rules that my children have that they have to do out of love and obedience, even though it won't "hurt" them not to. For example, hanging up towels, brushing their hair, even setting the table a certain way.

    But at base you are talking about the difference between disciplines (which are "rules" that change) and doctrines (which are unchanging truths), which I covered here:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/09/catholics-you-must-understand-this.html

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  141. By the way, worshipping other gods is in a category apart from working on the Sabbath (part of the Mosaic Law).

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  142. @Anonymous

    "Btw, Tastypaper, just because you were raised in a Christian home does not mean you ever owned your Christianity or experienced and accepted God into your heart. Most of us left our faith in our late teens/early twenties and came back through some sort of conversion experience."

    This is true, but I did, you don't have the whole story because my personal background hasn't been relevant until now. I loved being a Christian, and I made every effort imaginable to be as close to God as I could, based on the Bible's teachings and Christian doctrine. I asked Jesus for forgiveness of my sins and asked him into my heart as my Lord and savior. I was baptized before my church's congregation. I didn't leave Christianity as an angsty teenager mad at God for some personal grievance, I left because I found reason. And my love of skepticism & reason will prevent me from ever back-sliding back into unreasonable faith in unknowable deities.

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  143. Sorry about the spam jail for JoAnna's first comment. I have released it. And, if anyone doesn't want to wait for me to release comments and have to go back and read when I do, please be sure to hit the "subscribe by email" below, and you will even get the spam comments (that are really not spam). Anonymous commenters should consider getting a google account. We don't have to have access to your contact info, and you will remain completely anonymous to all of us. But you can subscribe via email that way and not miss a comment.

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  144. TP,

    A teenage foray into Bible study for the "better part of a week" along with sporadic atheist transitional reading and the occassional BibleGeek podcast does not an exegete make. That may seem harsh but I am so sorry you have completely missed the point.

    Can you explain why you say science makes religion irrelevant? That neuroscience article only proves we've learned something about ourselves. Yay science! Please respect it for what it is!

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  145. TastyPaper, lucky for you, you have stumbled upon a Catholic blog. Catholics LOVE faith and reason, both. We invented universities, remember? And you know why cells of the body are called "cells" right? :)

    Did you ever read John Paul II's encyclical on Faith and Reason?

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_15101998_fides-et-ratio_en.html

    I could never be a part of a religion that did not hold reason up as a positive good. I am too much a believer in truth.

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  146. Christianity gave us science! I think I'd even say that the Jesuit order was the Google prototype for storing and retreiving information. LOL!

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  147. Okay, so we don't get confused, I looked up Natural Law on the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    "According to St. Thomas, the natural law is "nothing else than the rational creature's participation in the eternal law" (I-II.94). The eternal law is God's wisdom, inasmuch as it is the directive norm of all movement and action. The rule, then, which God has prescribed for our conduct, is found in our nature itself. Those actions which conform with its tendencies, lead to our destined end, and are thereby constituted right and morally good; those at variance with our nature are wrong and immoral."

    There is more, but this is the page you are on, right?

    Besides the fact that this is a made-up construct...

    My question to you would be - do you fully understand the laws of nature?

    Though man likes order, The universe does not tend toward order.

    Man depends on man, so we are genetically bred for community. The rules of society reflect the ways we can live together without resorting to chaos and those rules evolve over time as society's needs change.

    Natural Law seems to differ from the Laws of Nature (Kill or be killed, survival of the fittest, etc.) and the Laws of the Universe and Quantum Law, so why do we say we are hardwired for "God's Natural Law"? We are obviously not. If we were, pedophilia would not exist.

    You keep saying an atheist would be a hedonist for lack of any force or belief keeping him/her in check. I hate to disappoint you, but I am not such a person. I behave the way I do out of empathy and learned sympathy. Love is my religion, I guess.

    And if a "god" gave me this gift, I cannot believe this god is as myopic as Christianity makes him (it?) out to be.

    That's all I got, Leila.
    anon2

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  148. Anon2 -

    Natural Law is from God. Disordered inclinations (e.g., pedophilia) are not from God in the sense that He did not introduce them into humanity - Man did that by his own act of free will. God permitted them to enter into the world because He respected our choice.

    Put another way, disordered inclinations are not part of Natural Law; on the contrary, Natural Law is what prompts us to act AGAINST our disordered inclinations.

    By the way, THANK YOU for looking it up before replying. You have no idea how many atheists I've had discussions with who think that "Natural Law" is interchangeable with the "Law of Nature", ignore me when I attempt to explain the difference, and then proceed to build up a straw man and knock it down while I'm left pounding my head against my keyboard.

    As for your point that Natural Law is "man-made" -- it seems to me that Natural Law is a term coined by mankind to describe observable phenomena. The phenomena, however, does not come from man.

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  149. @JoAnna

    "Tasty Paper's views are not skewed BECAUSE he left his religion. Because they are skewed is the reason he left. His comments about Christianity are very off-base and it's fairly obvious that he never knew his faith to begin with, and didn't bother to learn anything about it before he left. He's regurgitating common atheist talking points that are all easily refuted once you study the Bible with proper exegesis."

    Skewed because I left? Actually, they were skewed before, because I'd only ever considered the one religion, and not the many. I've since learned about it and how it relates to every other odd belief system that mankind has dreamed up. As far as "common atheist talking points," remember most atheists cherry pick about as much as Christians do, we just have the audacity to consider the Bible as it is written, with context and history, rather than what we hope it is saying.

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  150. anon2, just quickly before I run off to get kids...

    why do we say we are hardwired for "God's Natural Law"? We are obviously not. If we were, pedophilia would not exist.

    Actually, we are hardwired for Natural Law in that we all know, at some level, that sexual disorders such as pedophilia are immoral. We all know it. Even most pedophiles know it, deep down (some know it very clearly). We are hardwired to know the truth, but we are fallen and disordered because of sin. Pedophilia exists because of sin. Not because we think it's "true, good and beautiful".

    Christianity, far from being myopic, is more expansive than the universe. It is infinitely good, true and beautiful. I urge you to look past whatever models of Christianity you have been given, because there is so much more to it than you can imagine.

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  151. "Skewed because I left? Actually, they were skewed before, because I'd only ever considered the one religion, and not the many."

    It sounds like you only ever considered your Baptist denomination. Did you ever study different Christian denominations, or have you just lumped them all together into just "Christianity"?

    "I've since learned about it and how it relates to every other odd belief system that mankind has dreamed up."

    Such as the New Atheism?

    "As far as "common atheist talking points," remember most atheists cherry pick about as much as Christians do, we just have the audacity to consider the Bible as it is written, with context and history, rather than what we hope it is saying."

    Funnily enough, that's exactly what the Catholic Church does, too -- to the chagrin of many Protestants. :) Obviously, however, Catholics and atheists have come to different conclusions about the existence of God.

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  152. Put another way, disordered inclinations are not part of Natural Law; on the contrary, Natural Law is what prompts us to act AGAINST our disordered inclinations.

    JoAnna, thanks for putting it so clearly.

    By the way, Natural Law is what our western laws are based on. I love that Abraham Lincoln appealed to Natural Law in his condemnation of slavery. There's some very powerful stuff here, and it's not being taught in schools anymore, as you can imagine:

    http://www.nlnrac.org/american/lincoln

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  153. TastyPaper, I hope you do stick around, because it does sound like you are confusing Catholicism with Protestant denominations. We are very different.

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  154. Leila, thank you for posting that link regarding Lincoln's appeals to natural law! As I read it, I was struck once again by the similarities between the argument for the personhood of slaves back then and the argument for the personhood of unborn children today. Great stuff; thanks again.

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  155. 1. Why out of the billions of years the Earth has been spinning, did God choose 2,500 years ago to intervene with humanity and then stop?

    2. Besides the angel and white light business, how and why exactly was the son of God born as a human being? was he of spirit with a soft spot for humanity, then 'snuck down' to appeal to daddy not to smite us again?

    I've just wondered.

    anon2

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  156. http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110407/full/news.2011.217.html?s=news_rss

    Just saw this today and thought of you!

    From the order v disorder post -

    L.

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  157. L, that is cool! Thanks!!

    anon2, those are great questions! I will be doing a lot more on Jesus coming up soon. I don't want to rush those answers, but anyone else can jump in.

    The briefest answers:

    1. He did not stop intervening and has always been active in the lives of His people.

    2. Out of purest love for His creation. Jesus, as both God and Man, is the perfect "bridge" between God and Man. As a man, He took our sins upon Himself as an offering of love and reparation to His Father. As God, His offering was perfect and infinitely efficacious. Lots, lots, lots more to it, but His Incarnation was the focal point of all of history.

    On a personal note, I just loved watching the year 2000 celebrations all around the world, in every land, hour by hour. The whole world was celebrating Christ, even though many of the cultures had no idea that they were. It was awesome. Jesus' life and death was the center of all human history, and He's there, even when He is technically unknown....

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  158. What a fasinating conversation. It made me think about what were my ideas as an atheist.

    I mentioned in a post a while back that I am currently converting to Catholicism (please pray for everyone in RCIA!) Jesus was always pulling me to know and love Him, but it was the previous summer that I knew what He was calling me to do.

    Reading some of the posts here made me think about what were my "values" or ideas as an athetist and honestly it is very difficult to think about or even to remember because after my conversion I was determined to surrond myself with His love and seperate myself from the person I used to be.

    I had the same ideas before that God was not present in our lives, He did his part in the Bible and then left us, sort of like the watchmaker analogy. He could not be interested in us - or He simply just did not exist. Therefore, I was the "pleasure seeker", I looked for happiness in all the wrong places and was encouraged to do so by people that did not have faith or wavered in it.

    Anyways, my main point really is that my concept of sin and living a moral life was exactly what was mentioned here...if it is good for me and doesn't hurt anyone else then it is okay.

    Thanks be to God for the changes in my life

    God Bless

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  159. Kat, thank you! I am so glad you jumped in with your experience. And, I will be praying for you as you approach the Easter Vigil mass. I remember this stretch of Lent when I used to teach RCIA... it's a time of great trial for those preparing to receive the sacraments. Lots of spiritual attacks. Stay strong and know of my prayers!

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  160. @anon2
    “I have two cousins who are Marines and my best friend is a Desert Storm vet, so I have talked about war and death with them. Not many people, aside from sociopaths, have the fortitude to stand in guts or kill other human beings - otherwise war-related PTSD, alcoholism and drug abuse wouldn't be so common among our boys both overseas and once they've come home.”

    If they didn’t have the fortitude, they wouldn’t do it. My point is not that they are not affected by it, my point is that they do it regardless of the effect. In fact, being a sociopath means you don’t have fortitude in regard to killing! For a sociopath, the act of withstanding the horrors of killing another man is not an act of withstanding, it is something they can do without remorse because ;^) their brain has been hardwired a little different than the rest of us.

    To think that past society’s and men didn’t suffer from PTSD, or weren’t as killing-adverse as we are would be a rational misstep. In addition to On Killing, by LtCol Grossman, I suggest you read Martin van Creveld’s Culture of War. While I don’t agree with everything van Creveld says, the point to take away from that book is that the military culture exists as it has in order to offset the horrible nature of what we do. It exists to motivate men to kill who would not naturally be inclined to do so.

    Re: evolved people. I meant it the way Miss Leila put it above.

    Re: Society’s evolution “Of course none of this means man is more or less murderous - I do not profess man's instinct changes, but I do believe society tempers man's instincts. And society evolves. I think looking at Tehran and then at America proves this, not disproves it.”

    I agree society does temper man’s instincts. It forces him into certain behavioral patterns that allow him to survive, and thrive depending on the society. I also believe society’s develop, and embrace reason (and natural law!) to a greater and greater extent as they develop! This is not evolution, though. Evolution in society would mean something completely new and untried/unthought of, something miraculous being accomplished. I don’t think societies evolve in this sense. I don’t think what has happened in societies since Christ came, 2000 years ago, for instance, is a natural evolution of society.

    The more a society embraces reason, the more developed and balanced they will be. The less, the more undeveloped, or what you would call unevolved, they will appear. Again, it isn’t a matter of evolution. The reason has always been there.

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  161. @anon2

    St. Thomas, of course, brings God into the natural law equation because St. Thomas was first and foremost a theologian! However natural law came about, God or no God, it is undeniable that there are certain things that violate basic ethical principles that most men, and all society’s acknowledge.

    Natural law is called natural because it can be known by reason without reference to anything (anyone!) supernatural.

    Let’s take death for example. Smith dies of old age, everyone would pretty much call that a natural death. Rewind, Smith is 20 years old, and steps in metro train in Trestevere, Rome. Smith doesn’t step back, gets hit, and dies. Most would call that a tragedy, unnatural, an accident. But wait, Smith stepped back. 2 years later, however, Smith, a Yankees fan, gets into an argument with a Phillies fan over whose team is better (empirical evidence, by the way, proves the Yankees are better. We’ve, er, they’ve won 28 world series as opposed to the Phillies’ 2. Just saying.) Anyway, they part enemies. The Phillies’ fan is a phanatic, and harbors a grudge against Smith. The phanatic cultivates this hatred, and winds up murdering Smith in his sleep. Smith’s death is both untimely and tragic. Why? Because all would agree that it isn’t natural, it was also not an accident.

    Why do we look at murders like the above fictional example as something unnatural, untimely, and tragic? It is because there is an unwritten standard that such an action, murder, violates. Catholics calls that basic standard “natural law.”

    Re:”Law, so why do we say we are hardwired for "God's Natural Law"? We are obviously not. If we were, pedophilia would not exist.”

    Pedophilia exists because we have free will. Just because there is a natural law (or standard, knowable through reason), does not mean we will adhere to it. Natural law isn’t an unavoidable force of nature, like gravity before we learned to rocket to space, that can’t be broken. It is merely something that exists that can be known, and can be followed or broken.

    Bringing back up the good roommate analogy. Knowing and following natural law is merely being a good roommate. A good roommate in ancient Rome would be a good roommate today.

    PS I have fallen to the google “unusual activity on this account” bug, and am working on getting my account and blog back up. This is also why my name is now "Ambrose" rather than Giuseppe Ambrose, just to distinguish between accounts. I'm one in the same, however.

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  162. There is a thin line between good and evil that runs right down the center of your heart and mine. All murderers are not sociopaths, or there would be a lot more mental institutions than prisons. We are all capable of such evils, if you take away our moral compass and put us in the right environment. There was an article on NPR recently encouraging those who had left the faith to also leave the "Christian moral code", as the author put it. I could almost hear Satan when the last line of the article stated, "You've already left your Christian faith. Now get rid of the moral code." Yes, this was a real article, yikes!

    This also reminds me of a post Jennifer @ conversion diary did, which is worth a read by Atheists.

    anon2, would love to hear your thoughts on this:

    http://www.conversiondiary.com/2008/07/good-people-bad-people-truth-and-lies.html
    A

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  163. Tasty Paper:

    "And besides, the reason I'm atheist today is because while I was transitioning away from Christianity, I also investigated the other major religions. I understand why people have & hold on to them. I also realize why science makes them irrelevant."

    How do you reconcile the fact that many accomplished, published scientists are believers with your belief that science makes religion irrelevant?

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  164. @ anon2

    2. Besides the angel and white light business, how and why exactly was the son of God born as a human being? was he of spirit with a soft spot for humanity, then 'snuck down' to appeal to daddy not to smite
    us again?


    No offense, but our starting premise is completely different.

    Ours: There is a God!

    Yours:(I think?) There is no god!

    Without at least holding our premise, it would seem silly to say that “God sent His only Son because He loves us, and it was the most appropriate way to atone for our fall from grace.”

    If I am wrong in that you do believe in a deity, then what do you see his nature being?

    Secondly,

    1. Why out of the billions of years the Earth has been spinning, did God choose 2,500 years ago to intervene with humanity and then stop?

    Good question, if it really was only 2,500 years ago that he choice to intervene. He’s been constanty “intervening,” to use your word.
    It isn’t clear here, are you referring specifically to scripture? In that case, I’d have to say everything is done at the appropriate time. You don’t start making the sculpture till you have the tools.

    @A

    Sociopaths aren't crazy. LTC Grossman deals with this extensively in his book, linked in a prior comment. If you google "LTC Grossman Sociopath," he might have some articles on the phenomenon. Being a sociopath just means you aren't psychologically affected by killing, or suffering. Crime, military, and the police all attract sociopaths. Being a sociopath doesn't mean you're evil, it just means you can do evil things if you chose to, without psychological compunction.

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  165. Thanks, Giuseppe! I guess I was replacing sociopath with psychopath :)

    As far as not being psychologically affected by killing goes, I am not a psychologist but I bet that exposure to violence desensitizes a person to the point that they are able to suppress their conscience completely when committing acts of violence.

    Here is a question for Tastypaper and anon2 because it should always be addressed when discussing whether or not God exists: What about Jesus? Was he a liar, a prophet (and if so, for what purpose if there is not God), or was he just crazy? OR...is it ALL a sham? Is Jesus a fictional character that man made up who never existed as a part of the human race?

    A

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  166. Just a frivolous comment to say that I love the "Miss Leila", and I think it's because of my semi-fulfilled desire to be a Southern Belle (I did live in Atlanta for two years). :)

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  167. Pedophilia exists because we have free will. Just because there is a natural law (or standard, knowable through reason), does not mean we will adhere to it. Natural law isn’t an unavoidable force of nature, like gravity before we learned to rocket to space, that can’t be broken. It is merely something that exists that can be known, and can be followed or broken.

    Such good stuff. Such clarity. Thanks, GA!

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  168. "You've already left your Christian faith. Now get rid of the moral code."

    That gave me a chill up my spine. Shiver.

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  169. This is A. I thought it was time I put a face and name with a letter. Tastypaper may have left little Catholic bubble at this point, but I just wanted to answer one of his/her? questions from earlier. Tastypaper asked why God would come to Earth as a human being. I know there have been many many theological discussions explaining possible reasons regarding this question, but I just wanted to share why I feel Jesus Christs' Incarnation was vital in order for faith to spread and maintain throughout the world and throughout history.---

    During those dark days when our faith is in question, we can remember Christ who is our hope and our joy. During times of thanksgiving and praise, we can remember Christ who is our provider and our redeemer. During times of uncertainty, stress, or every other emotion or feeling under the sun if we look to the cross there we have a reminder of our Lord and His sufferings, and how He told us that "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." John 16:33
    It always goes back to Christ. I was recently in one of those dark times and I asked God to show me something, anything, a sign from Him to help my faith because I was lacking. I was reminded to think about Jesus. That He was a real person who lived, a figure in history who has been attested to by scientists, historians, theologians, and laypeople ever since He came to be. His words were truth and light, and this individual has influenced mankind more than any other individual ever in human history. Men died to spread Jesus' message. These are tangible evidence for God. His original disciples all died horrible deaths in order so that the truth of Christ could be preserved. That is why God came as man. Because he understands our lack of faith. Our lack of maturity. That we would need to be able to point to a figure in our history books and say, oh yeah. He lived. And He lives on.

    One night during adoration the Holy Spirit enveloped me in His love so much so that I was certain of what Heaven must feel like. I was not expecting it and it came upon me and graced me with His presence. I went back the next night looking for that feeling of intense peace and joy and did not find it. I wondered to God about why when we ask for such wondrous feelings of certainty we are met with silence, and at other times when we least expect it, that is when the Holy Spirit comes to us. A few days later my mother-in-law called me and randomly began reading a page out of Peter Kreeft's book, Jesus Shock. It was about how human beings are "feeling junkies" and that faith is not about feeling, it's about preservering, suffering for Christ's sake. The words, "feeling junkies" spoke to me about my experiences during adoration, and lack thereof. I went back seeking that wonderful feeling of serenity, not to see my Lord and worship and praise Him.

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  170. Manda, thank you! It is so good to 'see' you, and what you say is profound. You are so right.

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  171. By the way, Manda, you're beautiful! And, I used to live in Georgia. My oldest was born there. :)

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  172. "What is your opinion of "sin"? Do you think there is such a thing? If so, what are the criteria?"

    Short answer: no, there's no such thing.

    Long answer: for a human to call something a sin, I think there would have to be (1) an absolute moral law that says it is objectively and always wrong, (2) a judge to consistently and always enforce that law (God, perhaps), and (3) an agreement and knowledge among all people that the law says that thing is wrong and that there is a punishment for doing that thing.

    Allow me to explain, since I'm sure that sounds a bit weird. I'm an atheist, so I don't believe God exists or that there's an absolute moral code. But for the sake of argument, let's assume both definitely exist. If they do, then it's easy: God can deem anything a sin. If God thinks that eating chocolate is a sin, then it is, and no matter how illogical, there's nothing we can do about it.

    But then let's assume one group of people agrees that there's a moral law that says eating chocolate is a sin and that God will eventually punish you for committing that sin, but another group says that's the stupidest thing they've ever heard and there's no way that's against the moral code and there's no way God would punish it. It then becomes a matter of what IS a sin and what we THINK is a sin - at that point, no one can say for sure that eating chocolate is a sin, and no one can point at a chocolate-eater and say that that person is sinning. They might be, they might not be. We can't know.

    Of course, it's quite a bit more complicated than that. What if all people think there's a moral code and a God to enforce it, and they think that eating chocolate violates that code, but it doesn't? You could tell a chocolate-eater as much as you want that he's an awful sinner, but God might still be up there saying "haha, no, you're all wrong! It's actually eating onions that's a sin." You can't know.

    Basically, if sin does exist, we can't know for sure that it does - we don't meet the 3rd part of the criteria for us being able to call something a sin - and so it doesn't make sense for us to label something as a sin. Could God label something a sin, making it so? Sure. For him to call something a sin, the only criteria is that he wants it to be a sin. For us to call something a sin? A moral code has to exist, God has to exist to enforce it, and we have to know and agree on the moral code. That's why I find it annoying to hear someone call anything a sin - we can't know for sure about the moral code or God.

    I'm going to be completely honest and tell you I'm ignoring your second question about personal sin because I'm not sure how it's different from sin in general. But I hope this post makes sense and answers your questions satisfactorily! I'd be happy to discuss anything I said further.

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  173. Michelle, hi and welcome!

    Let me focus it like a laser beam (I need things simple):

    1) Christians believe that certain things are known by all, as certain truths are written in our hearts (we know instinctively, for example, that to walk up to a child on the street and stab him in the heart is "wrong" (breaking the moral code, i.e., sin).

    2) Christians also believe that aside from this general knowledge of the moral law, there is specific knowledge of it, which was made known to us by God through Revelation (The Ten Commandments, the Church). This gives flesh and detail to the general truths of #1.

    I guess I'm wondering if you would disagree with #1? That there are some things that we all know are wrong?

    Thanks!

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  174. PS: Michelle, It looks like you are an admirer of PZ Myers, from what I see of your blog. Do you think he's a good representative of atheists? I have read his blog, and I must say I find his demeanor and his readers' demeanors slightly horrifying. Seriously discourteous at best, and often worse than downright nasty. Unsettling to read. What do you think?

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  175. Hi Leila, and thanks for the quick response!

    There's no denying that there are certain things we do all consider wrong (barring psychopathic tendencies), and for good reason. I think it's quite safe to say that killing a kid - or anyone - is never a GOOD thing. In some extreme situations though, as uncomfortable as it is to admit it, doing that might be the MORAL thing to do. I heard this example given once (can't remember where), and I think it really helped cement the idea that morality isn't absolute: imagine your town is under attack, and you're hiding in the cellar of a house with fifty other people. Soldiers have entered the house, and if they hear any noise at all, they'll find your group of people and kill all of you. Your baby is sick and has been coughing loudly all day. Do you smother the baby and save the lives of fifty people, or do you let the baby cough, give you away, and result in the deaths of 51 people?

    It's hard to even think about it. Gut instinct says that killing is always wrong - indeed, if it didn't, I'm not sure where society would be today - but I think in this situation the clear moral act would be to smother the baby, as incredibly difficult as it would be. That's why I don't think there's a moral code (and therefore don't think there's sin) - if there were, then right and wrong would be simple to discern even in the most incomprehensibly awful situations.

    As for PZ Myers...I've been asked this before. I really do enjoy his writing and ideas - he knows what he believes and he's absolutely unapologetic about it, and he's a great and clever writer. For that, I admire him. Do I think he's a good representative of atheists? Not really. Of course, you can't just say "this is your average atheist" any more than you can say "this is your average Christian," but if you could, I think that person would be quite a bit more accommodating than PZ. Take a look at the Friendly Atheist and Blag Hag if you haven't seen those blogs - I've seen both of the authors speak as well, and though I found their ideas just as powerful, they were (I think) a somewhat more flattering and accurate representation of vocal atheists.

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  176. Michelle, awesome discussion! I want to answer, and I will later tonight (I hope)....meanwhile I must watch Paul Blart with the kiddos.... But stay with me!

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  177. haha, sounds good! I'll still be around. :)

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  178. Hi Michelle! Okay, so here is the very big difference in Christian moral reasoning and atheist or secular moral reasoning. A basic principle is that one may never do evil, even to bring about a greater good. In other words, the ends do not justify the means. So, a Christian would be wrong to smother the baby, as that is the direct killing of an innocent. We may never directly kill innocents, even to save other lives. The following is an example I gave:

    http://littlecatholicbubble.blogspot.com/2010/09/answer-to-dqs-moral-reasoning-101-ends.html

    Thoughts?

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  179. I think this is where we might just have to disagree. Assuming no loopholes (the soldiers might be lying, maybe you can stop them - none of that), if you refuse to kill the one person, you are effectively responsible for the deaths of all of the others, even if you aren't killing them directly.

    It's easy to say that you can't decide to end a person's life, but to essentially decide that your unwillingness to take one life is worth the deaths of many other people seems pretty selfish (and dare I say evil?) to me. I think a lot of this stems from my not believing in an afterlife. Once you're gone, you're really gone, and that's it. It's not like everyone will still exist in some form after the event, regardless of what you do. So, I do think that under the right circumstances, any person does have the right to decide that any other person's life is not as meaningful as 50 or 100 other lives. And if I was the one to be sacrificed, I'd still think the same.

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  180. Michelle, yes, exactly. We have to disagree. Because an atheist lives by the idea that the ends justify the means. Christian moral thought categorically rejects that idea. That is why I can say with confidence that the atomic bombing of cities is evil and wrong, even though doing so in WWII no doubt saved millions of lives and won the war.

    You quantify the value of a human life, Christians don't. And yes, it's because each life is infinitely valuable, and God is sovereign. (Read today's post; I'd love your take.)

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  181. It's easy to say that you can't decide to end a person's life…

    By the way, basic moral principles are simple, but not so easy to live. :)

    And one last question: If the terrorists asked you to slowly torture, rape and then kill a six-year-old girl, in order to save the group, would you do it?

    Why or why not?

    Thanks!

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  182. Whenever I think about things like this, I usually just end up telling myself that it's not really important to decide because I will thankfully never be in that situation. But if I was, I think the only moral thing to do would be to torture, rape, and kill the six-year-old, as awful as that sounds. To not do it would be to end the lives of everyone in the group, and I think as unimaginably difficult as it would be, it'd be horribly immoral NOT to end the life of the kid.

    I wish I could say no, I'd never do that. To me, that'd be a much easier thing to say than telling you I'd torture, rape and kill anyone. But my conscience cannot let me think that my personal discomfort with doing such a thing (absolute disgust and horror at having to do such a thing, more like) outweighs the fact that doing it would save the lives of many other people. I hope that doesn't sound too heartless and horrible, but to me it's an example of how moral principles aren't necessarily easy to live out.

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  183. Michelle, yes it sounds horrible. It sounds unthinkable, actually, that you would become unhuman in order to bring about a greater good as you perceive it.

    It is why you (I'm guessing) are okay with abortion. And if we can torture and kill to bring about a greater good, then surely we can lie to get what we want, and steal, if it brings about something great. And we can kill Jews if we need to have a more pure society so that our nation can be better for the rest of us. And we might occasionally have to enslave folks if we want a flourishing economy for the greater good of most of the people.

    That is why it is "important to decide" whether the principle of "the ends justify the means" is acceptable to you. Because it applies to any and all moral situations. And you have to teach your children what you believe.

    Unfortunately, when you live by the principle of "the ends justify the means", you must accept moral relativism, i.e., nothing can really be objectively, always wrong, as long as there is a greater good that can be perceived to come out of it. ("We had to starve a few million peasants so that the Soviet nation could achieve all its good ends for the world. The net number of people helped is much greater than those few million.")

    In my world, inviolable moral principles are not easy to live out, but they don't force me to justify the rape and torture of a little girl. I don't resist brutal murderers by becoming one myself.

    I do appreciate the clarity, I truly do.

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  184. Yes, I am okay with abortion (which I think should probably be kept separate from this discussion, since it's got a whole different set of things to factor in), but you make an awfully big leap from that to "And we can kill Jews if we need to have a more pure society so that our nation can be better for the rest of us. And we might occasionally have to enslave folks if we want a flourishing economy for the greater good of most of the people."

    No, not at all. The example with the one life vs. fifty lives is, to me, a quantifiable and clear case of knowing for sure which is the greater good. It's better for one person to die than for fifty to die. Killing or enslaving entire classes of people to increase comfort isn't at all the same thing as saving lives.

    I do accept moral relativism, though. I don't think anything is always objectively wrong, which makes for some really tough moral judgments. I consider it better than the alternative, which, although personally easier (I think) to live out, would theoretically require us to do evil things through inaction.

    Hopefully that makes sense. I'm sure it sounds pretty horrendous - honestly, the thought of being in a situation that would force me to make these decisions absolutely horrifies me - but I truly believe that under the most extreme circumstances it's our obligation to do the difficult thing and choose other people's lives over our own discomfort.

    Thanks for the tough questions, and for not immediately dismissing my views (which I get pretty much everywhere else)! I'm going to try to respond to today's post too when I get a chance.

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  185. Thanks, Michelle! Yes, what you say is EXTREMELY unsettling and horrifying to me, it's true. I mean, like nightmarish. I will no doubt use this exchange as a basis for its own post one day (sometime after Easter…I'm at my blogging breaking point, ha!)

    Thanks….

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  186. I can accept that. I just think in the end it'd be more nightmarish to know that I could have saved the lives of fifty people and didn't. I'd definitely be interested to hear what other commenters would have to say though!

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  187. Thanks, Michelle.

    I will add that if I were one of the fifty, and if my continued life were dependent on the torture and murder of a child, I would rather take death.

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  188. Throwing one more thought out…

    It makes it clearer how people can "force" themselves to do horrible, monstrous, unthinkable things like torture and killing innocents: If they feel that their cause or purpose is noble enough, they can steel themselves for any number of crimes against humanity. You would steel yourself (deaden your conscience) and do the unthinkable, to meet your desired end.

    By contrast, for a Christian, no end (no matter how "noble"!) is good enough to justify the torture and killing of a little girl. We would rather die first then commit such an evil act in the name of a higher good.

    What do you think of bombing innocent civilians in order to win a war?

    You don't have to answer it. I'm just thinking out loud for a future post on this….

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  189. This is what I meant by making really tough moral judgments. I do agree that it can be a slippery slope if you're not careful, and clearly quite a lot of people have taken moral relatively WAY too far - there's no denying that people have done some horrible things that they really felt were justified.

    Furthering a cause is quite a different thing from deciding whether fifty people die or one does, though. I'd only advocate doing incredibly horrible things if it was a clear situation where the gains would be definitely, without doubt greater than the loss. I can't really see causes or wars fitting into this - interventions to end a war, perhaps, but it really depends on the situation and the certainty involved.

    I hope this doesn't make me come across as a cruel person, since I'm far from it. On a normal day-to-day basis, I can't imagine that we'd have any disagreement about what moral conduct entails. It's only once we get to these extreme, highly improbable situations that there's such a difference in our thinking. I appreciate your willingness to discuss, though, despite both of us thinking the other's stance is shocking!

    Here's a test I came across a while back that I think is relevant to this whole discussion. I haven't taken it in a while and need to go study now, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on it!
    http://www.philosophyexperiments.com/carneades/Default.aspx

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  190. I think sometimes you can't go at these arguments saying either "the ends justify the means" or not. Maybe it's more appropriate to say "the ends CAN justify the means".

    I understand that this furthers the concept of moral relativism. But I'm certain than 50 lives are "worth more" than just 1. And I'm certain that's an objective measurement.

    While it seems foul to think about, what makes the life of a 6-year old girl equal to or more valuable than the lives of 50? Certainly no human can weigh the worth of a soul, so we have to assume that all souls are equal in value. Thus, if I choose not to kill the 6 year old girl, I am then held responsible for the lives of 50 other people. This seems equally monstrous.

    This situation is contrived, and it leads people to wonder how one comes to their answer, when they should be wondering what the worth of a human life is. If 50>1, then they are worth more. Period.

    Furthermore, if you take the other approach (of less harm instead of more good), while the torture and murder of a 6 year old girl is flippin awful, it causes LESS HARM to not kill the 50 people. Not only is it 50x more murder, but 50x more people affected by those deaths.

    That being said, I'd probably sacrifice my life (but not the 50 others) for the little girl. I'm fairly certain the universe is meaningless and I'm worthless, and if it brought happiness to the girl then it was worth it.
    -Peter (the denier)

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  191. Peter, wow, except for that little bit of light and hope at the end, it's all so awful. I don't think that I have felt as horrible about anything that anyone has ever said on this blog as I do about what you and Michelle have said. Part of me just can't believe it. I'm not being mean, I'm just being honest. I don't know what to make of the sick feeling it gives me to know that you or anyone would think torturing and murdering an innocent child could be justified under any circumstances.

    Michelle, I'm shocked that you would find it shocking that nothing could compel me to lift a hand and torture and kill a little girl. That should not be shocking. I am baffled that anyone would find it shocking. I am sure you are a nice person, but if you would be moved do such inhuman things due to a very horrible situation, why wouldn't someone else be moved to do lesser things under less horrible situations? Is that such a stretch? So, a president lies under oath because he wants to keep his presidency intact (for the good of the country). A student cheats on his exams because he needs an A to get into the school of his choice, I ruin a good man's reputation so that I can take his place on the school board (for the good of my kids)?

    How can you teach your children that the ends sometimes justify the means, and that sometimes we can commit unspeakable acts on another human, so long as we have a good enough reason?

    I can't understand it.

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  192. And Peter, I'm fairly certain (actually very certain) that the universe is not meaningless and you are not worthless.

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  193. Leila,

    To be certain, I'm not sure you're being fair in your assessment. While I saw this as an exercise in simple logic, you're allowing emotions to severely affect your decision. And that's completely understandable, and it's also why i chose the pseudonym Peter.

    Peter was the disciple who said one thing, and then did another (rejected Jesus thrice). We can all say these things, but I have absolutely no idea what I would do in this actual situation, and I'm almost certain I do not have the capacity to torture and murder a 6 year old girl, regardless of what I answer to the logic problem.

    As for extending the principle into other situations, you're right-it's hard to justify the idea of the ends justifying the means in less extreme situations, and that's where the utilitarian model begins to fail.

    As an atheist, I'm still figuring out what morality is and how to establish a compass. You probably think that as an atheist, such a thing is impossible. But I'm not sure what I would teach my kids (granted the government ever sees it fit to allow me and my partner to raise children...). I know I would teach them that everyone should be treated with love and respect and that ever life is valuable.

    As an atheist, I think the concept of sin is more nebulous but perhaps still exists, albeit not known as a transgression against God. I certainly appreciate your approach to questions, logic, and speculation, and I hope we can continue discussing other issues in the future.
    -Peter

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  194. Hi Peter. It's true that I am human and should have human emotion when I hear horrifying things. But my principle ("one may never directly kill an innocent person" and "the ends don't justify the means") are thankfully unemotional. They are just true.

    I agree, our fallen, sinful nature keeps us in some level of moral darkness. It has to be called up to a higher standard and aided by God's grace, if we are to live lives of heroic virtue. No one said it was easy. But discouragement is not of God. We soldier on, like Peter. Because love demands it.

    What country do you live in? I'm assuming you're American, but here in America there are plenty of homosexual couples who are raising children, so one of your points confuses me….

    I am glad you are here and commenting! Are you an ex-Catholic?

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  195. Peter makes an important point that I left out, and hopefully will clear up any confusion - these are really, extremely hypothetical situations. If you or anyone CAN imagine themselves torturing and killing anyone, then that is truly shocking. I certainly can't imagine myself doing that, and I would without hesitation give up my life to save the little girl.

    It's important to make a distinction, though, between what I think is the moral thing to do, and what I would actually do in that situation. It's impossible to know what I'd really do - maybe the idea of being the indirect cause of 50 deaths would compel me to do it, but likely I wouldn't be able to. It's not something I ever want to find out, of course, but I still think regardless that the 50 lives would outweigh the one.

    Bringing this back to the original question of sin, I still don't think it exists. Right and wrong undoubtedly do, but I don't think they can ever be absolutes. What would I tell my children? I'd teach them that killing is wrong, etc., since in their daily lives they'd never have to encounter a situation where it wouldn't be. As they got older, I'd discuss things like this with them and allow them to make their own judgments.

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  196. Michelle, I am glad that you would at least give your children the belief that there is a right and wrong (even though you don't ultimately believe it). I know people who have taught relativism from the beginning to their kids, and it's a scary, horrible way to grow up. Nothing is firm, all is shifting sand.

    It's important to make a distinction, though, between what I think is the moral thing to do, and what I would actually do in that situation.

    From my view, it is shocking that torturing a little girl would ever be seen as a moral option, even given an extreme, unlikely scenario. I can't reconcile it with any concept of morality that any sane person recognizes (which is why you know you couldn't do it… you are sane, and you still have a conscience).

    Another way to put the inviolable moral principle: We are to serve the good, not effect the good.

    At every moment, we choose the good. With every act, we choose the good. With every dilemma, we choose the good. We don't force the good to "come about" by doing evil.

    If I were an atheist, I would have to hope that I would be honest with myself and say that it doesn't matter in the end if I torture anyone or kill anyone, or steal or lie or cheat. It just doesn't matter, because there is no moral law. (Now, since there really is a God, and a moral law written on our hearts, I don't think I could torture and kill a child, either, even if I believed as you do. But that's because, even if unbeknownst to me, God gave us a conscience.)

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  197. Leila,

    I am an ex-Catholic. And while I do live in America and am aware that plenty of gay couples do raise children, it's extremely difficult. Without legal protections afforded to same sex parents and same sex couples, raising a child can be much more trying and expensive than for hetero couples. If people were genuinely concerned for children raised by same sex couples, they would legalize gay marriage. But I'm off topic!

    As for our conscience? I'm not sure it's God-given. It seems likely that such a thing can evolve, but I'm not sure that suggestion is going to hold up strongly in these threads! I look forward to commenting in the future.
    -Peter

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