Yes, I Changed

Yes, I changed. I’m saying it plainly now, although I don’t think it comes as much of a surprise. I’ve already been experiencing reactions to my perceived changes of opinion that range from surprise to befuddlement to anger to sorrow. Some of the most devastating have been from family members informing me that they never “knew how much a heart can ache”. It’s been distressing to hear some of those reactions. But I’m finally ready to speak my mind.

 

 

First, I want to state as clearly as I can that it’s never been my intention to hurt anyone. I’ve never had any personal vendettas and my opinions have never been motivated by anger, bitterness, or rivalry. It might sound trite, but I’ve really just come at them by reading, thinking, and using my mind the best I know how to make sense of the world around me. They’re only opinions. I try not to impugn the character or motives of people who have come to different points of view than my own. I love receiving the same courtesy in return.

Some have asked me why I need to air my opinions in public when I know others may find them offensive. Well, it went against every impulse, but I actually did try for a while to keep them to myself; but at the end of the day, I discovered that’s just not who I am. I’m an honest person. I speak my mind. That’s always gotten me into trouble since my mind isn’t generally the same as everyone else’s around me; but at least I can rest my head at night in peace. At least I still have my self-respect. I don’t think I could live with myself if I tried to pretend that I’m someone I’m really not, or that I think in a way I really don’t. That’s it.

I also want to assure everyone who may feel shocked or confused that I was always sincere. My old beliefs were never feigned. I’ve always sought the truth with all my heart and clung to my best understanding of it with fervor. Since I was taught from childhood that the bible is the divine source of all truth, I was really passionate about studying it. I memorized chapters and books. I devoted countless hours to studying Greek and Hebrew grammar so I could read it in its original languages. I labored over it from beginning to end, seeking the best I could to reconcile all its distinctive parts and never daring to doubt its divine origin and inerrancy. It’s way too long a story to relate in one post (although telling that story is one of my motivations for starting this blog) but basically, I finally got to the point where I’m no longer willing just to lift my morality straight from the pages of a book with such disturbing elements as the bible has. I can no longer stomach the divinely-commanded genocide, infanticide and rape or the gay-bashing. I’m appalled by the horrors of an eternal, conscious and unspeakably agonizing existence in hell for the vast majority of persons who have ever existed, all because they didn’t have the right opinions on some matters. I realize that this admission alone could be enough to consign me to those flames, a point that some have already taken it upon themselves to assure me of (and believe me, I’ve had enough hell-inspired nightmares and terrors throughout my life that I don’t need anyone to rub the point in). I guess I’m hoping that the isolation and ostracism my opinions have already brought me in this life may count as hell enough. And if God summons me before his judgment seat one day and asks me to give an account of my life, I suppose all I can say is, I truly tried to love my neighbors as myself, no matter how despised and marginalized they were, and no matter the personal cost.

So yes, I’m on record now. To every person who self-identifies as LGBT (or whatever), to every freethinker or atheist, to everyone oppressed or isolated for daring to be who you are, I’m officially an ally now. I take that announcement seriously, because it’s come at a relational cost. If you care to hear more of my personal story, my thoughts and perspectives, my creative endeavors, whatever else this blog decides to be, stick around. I’m sure I’ll still convey my opinions with too much bullheaded ardor (a bad habit I’ve had a hard time breaking), but don’t be intimidated. I’m not at all threatened by disagreement, and I respect firm opinions aired passionately (and reasonably!) no matter how strongly I may differ.

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24 thoughts on “Yes, I Changed

  1. Adam Cabrera

    My Pitch. You certainly have a special gift of communicating your thoughts through writing in a concise and organized way. Interesting to read.

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  2. Jim

    bravissimo! Had no idea how much our paths were alike. And you’re not alone. Included my blog that logged my cycle in 2011. Sorry well meaning people have been shitty in expressing their love for you.
    But rest assured you’re headed the right way. Namaste brother.

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  3. jess martin

    So refreshing. You problems with the bible mirror some of my own, and esp. My husbands. ( you too would have some great conversations)It is so scary to change your stance on things. But I always tell people, God and I are ok, in fact better then we have ever been. I am e xcited for this post, and commend you for you bravery.

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  4. exetazon Post author

    Jim, so I was just looking at your blog. I’ve long suspected that I’m bipolar. Since I was a teenager and only knew it as manic-depressive from reading old sources, in fact. I’ve never really admitted that to anyone or seen a doctor, but I’m planning on sharing some of my experiences on the subject here. It’s emboldening to read about your own honest journey, my friend.

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  5. John

    Nathan, I went to the park with my son this weekend, but as I was sitting there next to the river, I kept thinking about you. While we only met once in real life and had breakfast together in downtown Portland Oregon, but we spent years working together online … so I know you pretty well and it would be an understatement that you have been gifted with a great mind. I have great respect for you. So I will try not to take up too much of your time here so I will focus in only on the little summary of major reasons you gave for changing your beliefs.

    You summed them up your doubts by citing the Bible as teaching – > genocide, infanticide and gay-bashing, eternal hell.

    You clearly have a great intellect Nathan, one that is perhaps better than I, but I think you need to dig a little deeper than that. With all due respect, I think you know that these are not really legitimate reasons for rejecting the Bible and here’s why…

    Re: Genocide/infanticide – Even without reading the Bible, we can observe the world around us, that God takes the lives of people every day. We all die .. infants, young people, old people, middle-aged people. There is famine, disease, earthquakes, heart attacks, etc.. none of us are immune. As you knew and intellectually understood the gospel for so many years, this should not come as a surprise to you. Sin, death and liberation from its captivity are all the major themes of the Text. Likewise, the judicial pronouncement against the Canaanites for child sacrifice, among their many other sins, is just a microcosm of what happens on the planet every day on a much larger scale. God takes all lives on the planet, in what you are now calling genocide. The Canaanites reached the end of their lives in war and God used the Israelites to carry out his judicial pronouncement. Even if you decide to ultimately set aside the Bible completely you will still have to deal with the fact that the entire earth is subject to the death penalty or “genocide” as you say. Any God that exists has allowed this to happen. The Bible has a reasonable explanation, I believe. God is thrice holy and so no man can see Him and live. Now some deal deal with it by becoming atheists but, of course, this brings a host of other issues that I will not go into here. But if you are to go on believing in God, in any fashion, the fact remains that “genocide” as you call it, is real for all of us. Sp is it really all that different for Him to take people’s lives through the Israelites than if he takes them some other way? Either way, they’re dead, and so God is keeping his promise of the curse He pronounced on Adam and Eve in the garden.

    And consider Nathan, this is not some us vs. them kind of thing… God did not save the Israelites because they were any better or more righteous. Consider this passage (among many others) when God tells them 3 times He is not helping them because they are good or better than other cultures:

    “Do not say in your heart when the Lord your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you.It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.“Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deut 9:4-6)

    When God repeats something three times in Hebrew literature it means He is emphasizing it.. and wants you to remember. How many cultures are this self-aware of their own sin and folly? Instead, most cultures historically naturally boast in their own self-importance and think themselves better than other cultures. Not so the Bible. And while the Israelites were indeed prone to boast in themselves because of fallen human nature, the God of the Bible always came back and reminded them that they were no better or more deserving than anyone else and deserved the same fate… and this dovetails nicely to the next point:

    Gay-bashing. I am sorry Nathan, but I do not see the Bible as singling out those acting on their same-sex attraction more than any other sin. In fact, it is but mentioned a few times in the Bible. And correspondingly I heard it but a few times in my entire 30 years of Christian life from the pulpit. So it is hardly something the Bible obsesses on. Further, the Bible does not say I am more deserving of heaven than a person with same-sex attraction. In fact, knowing my own background a sins, I have no doubt that if there were a scale, I would be far less deserving in most cases. You can even count on two hands the persons with same-sex attraction in my own local church who are loved and accepted just as much as anyone else in the church … and not only is this the case in my church but having asked other pastors of theologically conservative churches, this is quite common across the board and has been for decades … centuries. that those with same-sex attraction have been a part for the church since the beginning.

    We are all the same and find ourselves in the same condition. Now, you may end up disagreeing with the Bible’s viewpoint that we are all sinners, but that the Bible says giving into same-sex attraction is just one among many sins, all of which we cannot escape from on our own, is a very far cry from “gay-bashing.” Not even in the same ballpark.

    The obsession perhaps comes from the media which has chosen to make Westboro, a 40-member church, world famous and repeatedly talks about them as if they were a representative in the church. The fact that the media would make a 40-member church (mostly consisting of people in the same family) world famous, I think, says more about the press than it does about Christianity.

    Lack of affirmation of another’s beliefs is not an act of aggression. So “Gay-bashing”, “Bigot”, “homophobe”, words when used against Christians, is not an argument, but a tactic. While sadly there are real homophobes and people who want to harm gay people in the world. I don’t think the Bible teaches that we are to set aside gays as some sort of special unforgivable sin.. And I know of no theologically conservative regenerate Christians who wish to bully, tease or harm persons with same-sex attraction.In my years as a Christian if the topic was even brought up, I have only seen loving concern in my circles. Maybe not in yours? If you think the Bible’s call to tell them the gospel in the same way we tell others to believe the gospel is gay-bashing then I think you are not being honest with yourself. More likely the overuse of such words like homophobia is a way to put people in fear – fear of man’s opinion … and the opinions of men has great power over most minds … what others call wrong, they feel they need to call wrong too to fit in. Many people dread the idea of going against the current of the times. The thought, “I don’t want to be called a bigot or homophobe” strikes fear into many people so they go along, but what slavery this is to other people’s opinion. This is not free thinking but bondage. I am not saying this is what happened to you Nathan but it is true for many in America and Europe. Fear of man’s opinion. Don’t get me wrong Nathan … homophobia and bigotry are real problems, but when these words are so carelessly used against anyone with a different opinion then the words become meaningless.

    And people are in hell, not because they did not have the “right opinions” about things, but because God is holy and no person can be in God’s presence and live. He provided a way of escape by enduring and absorbing the full consequence of hell upon Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ for sinners. He calls you to ally yourself with Him, to take hold of Him for complete forgiveness of sin. Otherwise, if you choose not to, all that’s left is God’s holiness and your sin. So it is not about your having a “right opinion” of things.. If you don’t want Jesus Christ, God is just giving you what you want.

    Nathan I grew up an atheist, and knew no Christians until I was converted in college and came to the conclusions I have now through careful and reasoned study, by the grace of God. You grew up in a Christian home and because of this perhaps don’t see Christianity as “free-thinking”… because that is all you have ever know… but what is free thinking to one is bondage to another.

    Again, I hope you dig deeper than the reasons you cited. Are you really opposing the Bible or some of the people and politics that you have encountered who profess to believe it? If it is still because of the Bible, then you have freedom of conscience but, if you don’t mind, I will try to persuade you otherwise.

    Your friend
    John

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  6. exetazon Post author

    John, thanks for taking this time. Yes, we worked together closely for many years, and I acknowledge that your reasoning and usage of the bible is nothing with which I am unfamiliar. I blush to say I used very similar reasoning for many years, as a way to justify to myself the appalling beliefs that it tortured me to hold but that I couldn’t give up because yes, I admit, the bible teaches some really disturbing things and for a variety of reasons, many of which I haven’t gotten to on this blog yet, I couldn’t bring myself to give up the doctrine of the divine origins of the bible and hence it’s utter infallibility. I hope my journey becomes more clear to you as I get to the parts that coincide with the period during and following our collaboration — this post deals largely with the time before my journey to Reformed Theology (driven in part by countless hours spent on Monergism.com). Right now I’ll just say, I’m no longer willing just to use “God is too holy to look upon sin” kinds of reasoning to justify the existence of eternal conscious torment in hell for the majority of people who have ever lived. I think doing such a horrific thing is more monstrous than anything Hitler or Nero ever conceived of. I don’t think I could personally conjure up a more horrific thing to do with all my vivid powers of imagination. Your justification of genocide, infanticide, and rape (God commanding Moses to kill every man, woman, and male infant, but telling him to keep the female virgins for themselves, and so on) by saying that such still happens by divine foreordinance today reminds me of a quatrain by Tennyson, exposing a similar but less egregious fallacy of reasoning:

    “That loss is common would not make
    My own less bitter, rather more:
    Too common! Never morning wore
    To evening, but some heart did break.”

    You’re right, I know the scriptures quite well enough to get embroiled in a long, tedious discussion with you, but instead, I think I’ll just keep relating my story and hope it all makes sense when I’m done.

    By the way, I also know that you know the scriptures well enough to know that they speak of the act of homosexuality in terms of deep disgust and condemnation, even if the topic isn’t a particularly common one. I don’t think “bashing” is an overstated term.

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    1. John

      Nathan, my “justification of genocide, infanticide”? I think you have misunderstood my comments. I am speaking of every day life and death in this world – Are you declaring then that God has no right to take people’s lives? And that in taking the lives of people on the planet He is committing an injustice? That God is unjust because we all die? And may I ask, how you do explain that people suffer and die on the planet every day for all kinds of reasons? Is it their own responsibility or do we blame God for it? Is God committing genocide when infants and adults die for “natural reasons” on the planet? Death is a horrific thing and a great tragedy .. but blaming God for something that is our responsibility are the words of a man who does not want to be ultimately responsible for his actions. Whose standard of morality are you appealing to make such a judgement against God? Your own? or some universal morality that we are all duty bound to? If your own then it is just a personal preference but if a universal morality that all are bound to please point to what authority you are appealing to.

      The only way you can “no longer willing just to use “God is too holy to look upon sin” kinds of reasoning” is if you have concluded that God is not thrice holy by nature. That sinful man would not die if he saw God. But if He is holy then If you trust in yourself and do not trust in Christ, all that’s left is God’s holiness and your sin. If you don’t want Jesus Christ, God’s provision, you have willfully chosen independence from God — God has not coerced you into making this choice Nathan — you made it voluntarily … You have voluntarily chosen to abide in your independence from God wherein you must come into the presence of God’s holiness on your own and attempt to be acceptable to Him on the basis of your own righteousness. That is a conscious choice — and Jesus Christ absorbed that punishment for all who put their trust in him. Hitler or Nero? When these men saw their enemies rage against them, they did not love them so much that they were willing to take their place and be punished in their stead. They did not save their enemies when they were doing self-destructive things. They did not provide a way of reconciliation. Stop blaming God for something YOU are responsible for.

      I will not be online much my friend as I will be busy the next couple of weeks so may or may not be able to respond to you.. And I do consider you my friend Nathan regardless of your choices. Please take all of this disagreement in friendship. A lack of affirmation of your beliefs is neither an act of aggression nor is it bigotry against you … in fact, I believe disagreements can often co-exist between the best of friends. I am someone who strongly believes in freedom of conscience and as a citizen take the first amendment very seriously. Faith is not something that can be coerced or manipulated by men, but is something that must come voluntarily and from the heart.

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  7. exetazon Post author

    No, I don’t think I’m misunderstanding your comments. You’re using the fact of everyday life and death as an illustration intended to show that it’s not patently absurd to think the genocide passages in the OT are inherently to be denounced. That is, you’re basically attempting to justify those biblical passages by using an argumentum ad fortiorum drawing from the obvious universal death in the world around us. So you *are* justifying the specific instances of divinely commanded biblical genocide. To which I respond again, ripping off Tennyson, “that [death — presumed to be God’s judgment] is common would not make [commanded OT genocide] less bitter, rather more. Too common!” etc. IOW, I don’t approve of divinely appointed OT genocide any more than I approve of God’s actions [if you see them as God’s actions] today in putting to death every last man, woman, and child on the planet, some in horrific ways. That it’s still ongoing today (from some theistic perspectives) doesn’t nullify the OT problem, it makes it worse. So if you see death in any sense as God’s judgment, I don’t view it as a good judgment. Of course, I rather tend to see it more as a natural consequence of reproduction with variable success eventuating in evolution by natural selection, which can often be brutal. I won’t call that morally evil, anymore than it’s morally evil that a shuffled pack of cards tends not to eventuate in highly ordered patterns. It’s just the natural working of the universe without personality that unfortunately (from my perspective) sometimes results in subjective suffering. Of course I find it appealing that it results in subjective consciousness at all, but I wouldn’t call it a moral issue.

    I need to go for now, but I sincerely appreciate your affirmation of continuing friendship. Rest assured that I will not take any disagreement of opinion as reason to terminate the friendship on my side, either.

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  8. John

    Nathan, I do not know how the moniker “showmethyglory” got there, since I do not have that username anywhere but I assume you would realize that the last post is me – John. And I will just say again, I do not believe this is fallacious reasoning. The judicial pronouncement of death for all who are in Adam is similar to God’s other judicial pronouncements of death for sin. Gen 15:16 God said to Abraham, “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” So the punishment Israel deals out to the Canaanites is a judicial pronouncement for their sin. Whatever God deals out to them is deserved. And you are just a finite man Nathan so I am not sure how you think you know better than God what is good and evil? Or to what standard of right and wrong you appeal to that is universally binding to all. Your calling it genocide is like saying that God is unjust. Man should have no one to be responsible to on this planet but should do whatever he wants. Sin should not be punished. Yet I see you raising your voice in moral outrage at various things on your FB page frequently so you obviously have a sense of justice yourself and a sense of right and wrong. Well God does it perfectly and on a perfect scale.

    Warm Regards
    John

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  9. exetazon Post author

    John, quickly, it’s not the framing of the syllogism that I take issue with, it’s the assumed premises. Demonstrate, a) that God really did make the aforementioned commandment to Abraham (and later Moses), and an effective judicial pronouncement of death in Adam; and b) that whatever God commands is therefore right or just. How do you support your view that the bible is to be trusted more than any other piece of ANE literature, for one thing. And without it, how do you support your contention that death is in some meaningful sense a result of God’s judgment, rather than a consequence of evolution by natural selection? I’m not saying my own moral viewpoints are infallible (I think I’ve demonstrated a willingness to change them when confronted with reason to do so); how do you get away with just saying that God’s judgment is infallible? Or that the biblical portrayal of God is more accurate than someone else’s perspective?

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  10. John

    Nathan said, “I won’t call that morally evil, anymore than it’s morally evil that a shuffled pack of cards tends not to eventuate in highly ordered patterns. It’s just the natural working of the universe without personality that unfortunately (from my perspective) sometimes results in subjective suffering. Of course I find it appealing that it results in subjective consciousness at all, but I wouldn’t call it a moral issue.”

    That helps me understand you better.. Then Nathan if everything is just the outworking of a universe without personality then, to be consistent, no one else’s morality can be inconsistent with what you believe. Genocide is no different than a day at the beach especially if it is for survival purposes. If someone is an atheist then he cannot consistently condemn someone else’s morality, because there is no objective right or wrong to appeal to…. only individual preferences. Moral outrage at others is absurd if there is no objective morality. You can have your own morality but as soon as you say someone else OUGHT to heed to your standards and yopu try to get others to think like youm as if you were right or as if it mattered…. then you are appealing to some kind of universals. Atheist evangelist Richard Dawkins declares human beings to be a colony of bacteria, a self-reproducing robot, and a blindly programmed survival machine… What I consider a degrading view of human nature. Essentially we are teaching a generation of children that they do not matter. Atheists pretend that they can jettison God but keep everything of value intact. But few of them truly consider how atheism utterly negates their own and other people’s personal significance. In a godless universe we have about the same significance as bubbling swamp gas. You may teach children some kind of morals but most of them will not be able to see why? That is how I saw it. I grew up in a unbelieving household, embracing naturalistic evolution. So I gravitated to books like The Stranger by Albert Camus “whatever I choose it amounts to the same… absolutely nothing…” Now this is not to say that all atheists will be like this. Some are upstanding citizens but you have to close one eye to try and grind out any meaning from it all. And in any case…who has determined that a social construct is right? It is arbitrary and given what godless dictators have done win the 20th century it is not unwarranted to believe that values and social constructs can change again shifting with the times. Changes in this world are hardly progressive. Technology has gotten better but people haven’t. You can make a law but it does not change people’s hearts. But I believe the view you espoused empties the world of meaning.. I know because I lived there for many years. So it seems all the more absurd for someone who believes that to say that what God has done is wrong.

    I still don’t see how the reasoning is fallacious. If there is a God and he is holy and has the right to take people’s lives every day as a judicial penalty, then how He does it. … how he commands it is not of relevance. You may think it is wrong but to be consistent you can only hold this moral view to yourself. If you tell me or others it is wrong for me or for God then you have to show me your authority for binding me to your morality. This is constantly the problem with the online new atheists…. they love to evangelize how evil others are but then turn around and say there is no evil. This is to speak out of two sides of your mouth.

    Have a great week
    John

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  11. John

    This hopelessly contradictory aspect of atheistic ideas make it incoherent. So I take your premise and show that it is not possible to be a consistent atheist. His continual need to appeal to meaning and universal morals and imposing them on others, when he claims there is none show that the system is intellectually bankrupt. 🙂

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  12. exetazon Post author

    John, thanks again for writing. I appreciate the time you put into helping me clarify what I’m saying and ensuring that, when properly understood, I’ve weeded out as many internal inconsistencies as I can. It’s a profitable exercise. A few thoughts come.

    First, I’m not saying I’m atheist anymore than I’m saying I’m christian, I’m really just not assuming right now that any one way of looking at the world has to be accepted as the best or final without demonstrating why. Why does it have to be the bible? Why not the Koran? Why not an evolved morality, shaped by natural selection? How do you demonstrate that this one option of many (conservative Christianity) is better than any other option? I’m not arguing for any one in particular, but you are, so you should demonstrate why your assumed position is the best instead of, say, that of Confucius.

    Second, I think your refusal to allow atheists to try to define moral evil, while arrogating to yourself that authority on the basis of your own preferred ancient doctrine, is at best an uneven playing field. How can atheists even speak of moral evil, you seem to wonder? Well, this is how human languages work, John, including terms such as “moral evil”: like all other human words, that term has evolved in such a way that it means what it means largely by a consensus of language speakers. I think a good contention can be made that a fairly consensual meaning of the english phrase “moral evil” is pretty much something done intentionally, knowledgeably, and willfully that harms or causes subjective suffering or objective loss to another conscious being. I’m not really a philosopher, that’s not my point, so I’m sure there could be tons of quibbles and alterations you could make. But regardless of specificities, the basic field of meanings in common human parlance over the term moral evil is generally sort of restricted to the broad universe of actions done intentionally to hurt others. So that’s what the term means, then. Not out of any sense of necessity, just because a consensus of human language speakers have assigned to it that meaning. So when atheists see intentional harm being done and feel the human outrage that they’ve evolved to feel, and then use the term “moral evil” to describe the object of their outrage, they’re doing nothing different than when you feel the desire for nourishment and use the word “hunger” to describe it. Who’s to say your definition of “evil” or “hunger” or anything else is better than an atheist’s, granted he’s using the term in a way that’s consistent with a preponderance of language speakers?

    Third, and more importantly, it’s not just a semantic quibble but a substantial one as well. To me, it seems that your insistence on saying that everything the God of the Protestant canon does cannot be evil makes it impossible to think of the term “moral evil” in a consistent way. It makes it impossible to have moral absolutes. Is genocide wrong? Must not be, because God commands it at several points in the OT, to Samuel, Saul, Moses, etc. Is infanticide wrong? Must not be, God commanded it. Is directly and intentionally causing the death of a fetus, by killing a pregnant woman, wrong? But God commanded it. So why do conservative christians act as if abortion is an absolute moral wrong? It’s all relative. It was right for the Israelites when God commanded them to do it. But what I wonder is, who’s to say that your morality based on the biblical God is any better than Hammurabi’s law code, for instance, based to some degree on Babylonian gods? Remember, Hammurabi came before Moses, so apparently it was possible to have a divinely-patterned human morality before the bible. Why do you say Moses’ is better than Hammurabi’s? Or why do you say either Moses’ or Hammurabi’s is better than a “feel-outrage-at-something-bad-for-the-common-good” kind of morality that evolved by natural selection and that is the common meaning human language speakers often have when using the term “moral evil” to refer to it? After all, it’s a term that evolved for the very purpose of having an easy referent to that nearly universal impulse of the human mind. The Muslim would say there’s no morality except based on what his God says. How do you demonstrate that your claim is better than his?

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  13. John

    Nathan, Hi and thanks for your response… I habe

    1) I did want to respond to your question about ANE cultures and the plausibility of the Bible. I have not forgotten it but since I had a few moments when my family is resting I thought it would be a good opportunity to write you an answer. — Nathan, you know the Bible as well as I, if not better, so it surprises me that you would ask how the OT is different than other ANE cultures. It surprises me because I think it would be obvious, even to the casual observer that the differences are profound. And in fact it is one of the most important reasons that I believe the message of the Bible in the first place. If the Bible is anything, it is coherent … through and through. Its message over millennia is consistent and there are just too many coincidences to believe that this book came from the hand of a man and especially many men over such long periods of time. If something has a few coincidences, I can believe its origin is natural and has no cosmic significance but when the there are more coincidences than I can count over huge stretches of time I begin to stand in awe of the beauty of such a thing which is beyond the possibility of human production. Need I repeat to you all the things you already know? From creation, the fall and redemption … the promises and fulfillments the types and antetypes, the promises to Abraham that his children will be blessed, a promise which declares that his your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed — a promise that is being fulfilled among gentiles now. What is the likelihood that some nomad receiving this promise would actually occur? Uncanny. There are so many uncanny connections, promises and fulfillments in the Bible… When I read about the Passover and then see that Jesus was crucified in actual history on the Passover I can only stand in awe. Again if this just happened just once or twice I would not bat an eye… but the sheer number of times these things occur should make any man sit down and consider. And the fact that, unlike all other religions, Christianity is based on historical witnesses in large number. Both the oral culture of the Old Testament who passed on the words of Moses to create the Pentateuch and the NT witnesses of Christ’s resurrection both could have easily falsified what was being declared because they were there. Other religions like Islam or Mormonism base their entire religious systems on the the testimony of ONE man having claimed to have met and angel who passed on revelation… but the God of the Bible did not leave it in the hands of one single witness but 100s. I do not believe that so many people over so many centuries were mass-deluded. And that the Bible can be so right about human nature. Why is the separation of church and state, the balance of powers and rule of law such a good idea? Because man is susceptible to corruption. I do not want power to be in the hands of one man, Christian or not. How important that is for restraining evil. Not perfect being a human system but it understands man’s inherent sinfulness and it is more humane than systems which allow power to be consolidated in the hands of a few.. I could go on and one and on with these things Nathan. The Bible makes the most sense out of the world we live in. It is consistent and logical. You can always find other systems and ideas reach some kind of native contradiction. Their presuppositions conflict somewhere down the line and they don’t quite match up to the reality of the human condition.

    2) Re: atheists & morality… I am not saying that atheists cannot believe in moral evil. They do all the time and I know many atheists who are very moral people. But, note this, atheists claim verbally to be moral relativists … and If morals are entirely relative and all views are equal, then no way of thinking one person’s morality is better than another. Yet atheists cannot consistently live this out — they often impose morals on others as if they were universally binding. but as soon as you declare that your morality is universally binding not just on self but on OTHERS then you are appealing to an objective moral authority outside yourself as if such as morality existed. Morality does not come from rocks but from a mind and if there is a morality that is absolutely right for everyone then it is a claim to know absolute right and wrong universally. The vast majority of atheists, perhaps 99%, affirm moral relativism. So in other words, atheists don’t really believe in moral relativism as they claim but in moral absolutes which shows that deep down they already believe in God and suppress this truth about it. The argument is not that they are not moral but that they cannot account for the objective morality that they often appeal to.. If moral relativism were true, then no moral position could be judged as adequate or deficient, unreasonable, acceptable, or even barbaric. If ethical disputes make sense only when morals are objective, then relativism can only be consistently lived out in silence. This puts relativists in an untenable position – if they speak up about moral issues, they surrender their relativism; if they do not speak up, they surrender their humanity. If the notion of moral discussion makes sense, then moral relativism is false. … … Was slavery morally wrong if the vast majority of people believe it is right? Was slavery wrong in the 1700s if the majority believed it to be so? . No, it is wrong nonetheless. Most atheists claim morality comes from consensus but if this were so then slavery WAS NOT wrong in the 1700s and if the majority of people again decided to take up slavery again then it would not be wrong. But if you said to me , it is still wrong even though a majority of people believe in it, then I think you are no longer a moral relativist but believe that morality intrinsically exists and is universally binding for all time on all people. But if you do say it is no longer wrong if a concensus believes slavery is right then you demonstrate that slavery is not inconsistent with atheism.

    3) It seems to me that you have slightly moved the boundary lines, so to speak, in this discussion from the time you first posted. Since you now acknowledge my syllogism as being valid, it seems to me that you quarrel is not so much about the God of the Bible per se, but the idea of God at all. Because if my syllogism stands, correct me if I am wrong, then you would by extension seem to be reasoning that any god who watches over the world must be some kind of ogre to continue to allow so much suffering and death. So really this is the old “there is evil in the world, therefore God cannot exist” argument. Now you say you are not necessarily an atheist but if you think that God taking the lives of infants in war and famine, which happens every day in this world, makes God evil then you probably are an atheist. If my syllogism is true then any god in your mind must be evil. ..

    Lastly Nathan, since you already know the Bible so well and are not convinced of its supernatural beauty and obvious Divine origin then I am not sure whether you think our discussion has any further intrinsic value. Let me know.

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  15. exetazon Post author

    Hi again, John. Your questions on the bible are germane, and I’ll touch on them before we go. I feel like you skirted most of what I was saying in my last comment on atheists, morality, the lack of a consistent moral standard in the bible, etc. I made some observations and you jumped in with, well, typical atheists say thus and such…. Of course, I didn’t say any of those things (nor did I even say that I am an atheist) — but still, I’ll bite.

    To me, your point on atheist morality seems rather absurd. Human brains have evolved a strong sense of what you might call moral outrage or indignation. It’s really a vital thing for us to have in order to facilitate interactions on the scale of a whole society. Furthermore, what a society expresses such outrage over directly affects every individual within it. So I think it’s only fair and reasonable that everyone should have a voice on what is or isn’t morally or ethically evil. Even atheists. Even those who don’t think their opinions are absolute. (And by the way, I seriously doubt most atheists would really say that “all views are equal” — I’m sure most of them think some views are better than others, and that sussing out those better views is a goal worthy of the effort of conversation).

    Let me use an analogy to further express what your bald assertion feels like to me. Say there’s a convocation of literature professors, and they’re all discussing their favorite novelists. One says Dostoyevsky is clearly superior, another talks up Faulkner, a third despises Faulkner, and then here comes a fourth, who says, “Moby Dick is the divinely inspired, inerrant example of a perfect novel. It’s the absolute standard of novel perfection. You’re being inconsistent even having an opinion or saying Faulkner is better than Dostoyevsky because, by your own admission, you’re literary relativists. But my opinion is absolute, because I have the only perfect standard of comparison, which is obvious to anyone who can see the divine beauty in that novel.” I’m sure one of the other professors would say, “Hmmm, that’s weird….[turning to another prof] so what do you think of Turgenev?” Point being, just because someone doesn’t accept your preferred source of wisdom doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have an equal right to engage in the important human function of debating moral questions. Nor, in my opinion, does it mean that his moral opinions might not be a lot better and more reasonable than those of the most conservative bible scholars.

    Which brings me back to the bible. If you really want my opinion on it, I think Bart Ehrman has done an excellent job discussing its very human origins in many of his books. Yes, the Old Testament was largely written within a single culture/worldview, so there’s a basic consistency to how the world is portrayed. Then, the New Testament writers, by their own admission, (and writing a matter of decades after the events of the life of Christ) are intentionally combing through the OT looking for ways to apply it to their remembered and bandied about events of Jesus’s life. (e.g., Matthew’s regular assertion, “This was done so that it might be fulfilled…”) So their whole goal was to portray the NT as being consistent with the OT. They were probably smart people, and accomplished their goal reasonably well. However (and this is the key point) they weren’t able at all to come up with a consistent morality. In Numbers 31, God commands the Israelites through Moses, “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” But in the First epistle of John, you read, “God is love”. I can’t conceive of how that beastly first command could be reconciled with that beautiful ideal of First John. And I could literally add a thousand verses to each category without looking too hard, every one of which seems contradictory to me. So when you say that the bible alone gives a standard for morality, I think, “No, atheists and others have opinions too, many of which seem more reasonable, not less.”

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  16. Pingback: Atheistic Moral Relativism | exetazon

  17. Anonymous

    Greetings from a long lost friend on the other side of the world who regrets very much not having stayed more involved with you over the years.
    I stumbled upon your blog, and story. Your courage is commendable in sharing honestly, and not pretending to be something that you’re not. Your love for those you once looked down on is also beautiful. God has given you an incredibly strong reasoning mind which I have always admired.

    Part of me is tempted to engage with you in the kind of bantering we did in college, as though it’s a theoretical game, but we don’t live in a dorm anymore and its not a game. We live in a real life world where thinking and beliefs and morals have impact on ourselves, our friends, our wives and kids, and society.

    Another part of me wants to pile on warnings of judgment, and of the danger of turning away from the living God to a point of no return. But I know you already know those warnings, and can choose to hear them as the voice of God or not.

    I also know that you’re a man who blends intellect and feeling in deep and passionate ways. Therefore I have to believe that the shift that has happened intellectually is impacting you at the heart level. How so? I wonder. What affect is it having on you to stop believing the promises of God, hoping in the story of the Bible, and communing with the Lord? At what point did you come to see the Bible as a competitor for World’s Best Moral Code instead of a unique revelation of God’s plan to reconcile all things to himself through a Savior?

    I have to say for myself, out here in a poverty-stricken and war-torn Asia, the narrative of Scripture makes more sense than ever. It gives context for the blends of pain and joy, destruction and redemption we see around us, and hope for beyond it. We have seen a kind of evil that only makes sense if there is a devil in this world whose deeds need undoing. We have also seen the power of a living Jesus at work, the transforming effect of the gospel, hate turned to love, bitterness to forgiveness, poverty of soul to purpose.

    As far as those parts of the narrative that still don’t make sense, well, that is where we are assured that we are not shaping God in our own image, else we would understand him through and through and be comfortable with all that he does.

    Maybe that tension doesn’t make sense to you anymore. I can only hope that your journey has not ended. In fact, I doubt that your inquisitive mind will allow you to continue to view all belief systems as equally possible. I hope will keep honestly pursuing the gaps in head and heart and find what you are looking for, which I believe with all my heart is the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

    I love you, and I will renew prayers for you.

    Ryan

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    1. exetazon Post author

      Hey Ryan, it’s really good to hear from you. Our time together was brief, but very significant to me. I felt like we connected deeply with shared passions and perspectives. Time can’t change that, and I would love to see you again sometime and rekindle the friendship. I have lots of respect for your passion and inexhaustible commitment to your beliefs.

      It’s hard for me to know exactly how to respond to some of your concerns in a concise fashion. I could write volumes. In a sense, I’m still writing volumes in my head as I seek and explore and encounter new thoughts and perspectives. I don’t know yet where my ship will make landing. I’m still out exploring a very wide sea. I still hope to see many strange new vistas before I set up camp. I don’t know if it will reassure you or not, but I’m happy, I’m full of wonder and curiosity, I’m exploring thoughts and pursuing ideas that are a part of the cloth of my soul; and although I’m no longer sure what to make of Christianity or the scriptures or other ANE and early Christian literature, I can’t help but feel like the Jesus of Nazareth who accepted children and rebuked oppressors and offered an easy yoke to the heavy-laden might still have some mercy harbored up for me as I seek to face down my demons with grace in my heart and a spark of optimism in my eye.

      Thank you, sincerely, for your love and prayers. May your labors of love be blessed and enriched. Peace and grace to you.

      Nathan

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  18. Anonymous

    Thanks for the reply, cowboy.

    I didn’t expect arguments and answers.

    Your ship hasn’t landed… in that I choose to take hope!

    Yes, the Lord Jesus is a kind and merciful friend of sinners and seekers. All day long he holds out his hand and invites. His mercy leads us to repentance and faith, and He is always ready to receive. Out here, we mainly leave alone terms like Christianity, with all the human clothes it has donned. We invite people to follow Jesus. If you ever choose to reconsider the truth claims of the faith he founded, start with a heavy dose of Him, in the gospels. Move from there to his perspectives on the rest of the Bible and the rest of human reality.

    I do want your happiness, now and forever.

    Every grace for the journey, and I hope our paths cross again.

    Ryan

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