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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Conversations with an atheist

Atheist (A): I truly appreciate you responses to my ramblings. You are obviously much more educated than me in the details of the bible and have put a whole lot of thought into your beliefs.

I just feel that there is so much more to our existence here or anywhere than simply little toys for god to play with and to judge.

Me (M): , you're not rambling. Your expressing the exact same searching in which most engage, including me, not only when I was an atheist but even today.

However, can I encourage you to shift your perspective?

Please let me suggest your view of God is essentially Calvinist, even Islamic. Calvinism (which doesn't represent all Christianity anymore than Islam represents all monotheism) teaches total predestination. In other words, it teaches that God actually created some souls to go to hell.

Similarly, Islam teaches someone could live a righteous life of perfect virtue, and at the moment of their death, God could simply decide on a whim to write on their head, "Damned."

Conversely, at the moment of his or her demise, Allah could write on the forehead of the greatest sinner, "Saved."

In a word, that is majorly hosed. If any of this was true, it would be proof enough for your atheism. It would mean God is capricious and cavalier. And if He was any of these things, it would show He is not perfect (human persons can be capricious and cavalier, but these are sinful inclinations; they're wrong, they're imperfections, not marks of goodness or perfection). And if He is not perfect, He is not absolute. And if He is not absolute, He is merely contingent and thus incapable of being God. Thus, He would not exist.

However, not withstanding certain folks' lack of philosophical (not to mention theological and/or scriptural) clarity, this isn't true.

The only thing for which God predestined you was a relationship with Him (that you choose to reject that at this moment is a different story).

Also, know this: God didn't create you to be His little minion/automaton. He's not some puppeteer jerking your strings so He can get His sick jollies.

Instead, to repeat, He created you for love.

Think about it: What is the one thing most of humanity desires above all else (actually, all do, assuming there's not something in their background that makes them reject this)? Love. We want love. It's why we want and have friends, family, romance.

And what do all of these bespeak? Relationship. God gave us this desire. He made us for that.

I know you don't have much use for the Bible, but I'm sure you've heard through popular culture that God created mankind in His own image.

That doesn't mean He created us to "look" like Him. When Genesis was written (Genesis is where we find "Let us create man in our image"), God wasn't incarnate. He was merely spirit. There was no physical "image" for us to resemble.

So what could He have meant?

Think about the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Between them, there is total self-giving. There is a love that holds nothing back. Theologians say the love between the Father and the Son is so strong that the Holy Spirit proceeds from it.
Similarly, the relationship that most closely mirrors this heavenly union on earth, marriage, is so strong that nine months later, you have to give it a name (don't get me wrong: the Father and Son are not doing one another; sex is merely a sacred, physical eros and agape [two Greek words for love], symbolic expression of the pure agape love experienced by the Trinity).

So when He created us in His image, it was an image -- an icon, if you will -- of love. We were made for love.

But that's why we have free will. Have you ever had someone try and force you to love them? Have you ever tried to force someone to emotionally love you? Did either work?

Of course not. And why? Because love assumes freedom to choose. Theology and philosophy both would agree that love is an act of the will. It's a choice.

Now, when we love a lover, when we love our parents or a friend or whoever, we typically want to please them. We know someone -- our mother, whoever -- loves us when they show it by making sacrifices, by thinking more of us than they do of themselves (not that they're doormats; don't get me wrong). So a mom shows her love by staying up with her baby when it's sick. Our lover shows us love by, say, saving up for months to buy us a gift they know will please us at Christmas. You can probably think of your own examples.

What is proof that someone doesn't love us, though? When they don't care what we think. When they don't lift a finger to do anything for or with us. When they are selfish to the extreme (all people selfish, but when we love someone, we mitigate that, otherwise, we don't really love them, right?). When they want their own way, damn what we want ... ever.

It's the same with God, pal. He loves us so much. He loves us so much that He created us for love, to experience His amazing love, even though we don't give a single thing to Him. He loves us so much He sent us His only begotten Son to pay the debt of our sins.

And sin is selfishness. Sin is choosing ourselves, our own ways over his. It's using people. It's being cruel to them. It's being dishonest, killing, stealing, and doing anything that is simply at the service of self as opposed to for the love and service of another.

You're an atheist and presumably don't believe in sin. But even you will probably recognize there are times you do things you know are wrong, that you ought not do. You likely have regrets from how you've treated others, say. That's sin.

God gives us a choice: Love me or don't. It's total freedom on our part. His love is a gift (we talk about grace; grace comes from the word *gratia*, Latin for, amongst other things, "gift"). That gift is freely given. It can also be freely rejected. (If you've ever gotten a fruitcake or bad present at Christmas, you know what I mean.)

And when we in the interest of freedom or simply having our own way or selfishness or whatever choose our own way over His---even though His way is meant to actually to increase our freedom and give us more than we could ever imagine possible on our own (in this life and the next)---He's going to respect that freedom.

But it's not morally neutral when we do this. The regret we all feel over wrong actions in our past is proof of this (it's what we call the Natural Law, which is written on the hearts of all people everywhere, which, for instance, tells anyone---regardless of culture or class---that murder is wrong).

We can reject the fruitcake. We can reject a job offer because it's not in our best interest.

We can't, however, reject God through sin or reject His very existence---often because we simply want our own way (at least, ultimately, that's how it was for me)---and have it be A-OK. If we turn our back on Him, He'll take us at our word. He's not going to force Himself on us.

Maybe this is belaboring the point, but it's like a woman or man deciding to have intercourse. When we willingly enter into coitus, we call it "making love." When we force or are forced, it's called "rape," and that's a crime/major sin. Only sociopaths would say otherwise.

Anyway, the bottom line is this: He's not waiting for us to slip up so He can say, "A-ha! Gotcha! You're hosed now, pal."

Instead, He's respecting our freedom to reject us. What's more, He's calling us to love, to live in His mercy, to live in relationship with Him, which is the destiny of everyone on this planet (again, whether they accept their destiny is a different story).

To show that He's not the hangman waiting to pull the floor out from under us, consider when Jesus called Peter to follow Him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Peter's just majorly dissed Christ by sarcastically calling Him "Master." And when Jesus tells Peter to throw his net over the side of the boat, even though they'd "been out all night and caught nothing!" (emphasis in the original), Peter scoffs and does it just to humor this carpenter who obviously knows nothing.

But then what happens? Peter throws the net overboard, and when he pulls it back in, the catch of fish is so large, he has to call over James and John to help him haul it onto the boat. And both Scripture and archaeology show Peter was a physically *strong* man.

Afterward, Peter throws himself at Christ's feet and says, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

Does Jesus mock him, scoff back at him, gloat over him, diss him in return? "You stupid bastard. You thought you could get away with it, didn't you? Gotcha. You're hosed for eternity, bub."

No. Christ says, "'Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.' And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him."

Think of that! It's the biggest catch in their professional lives. Peter was well off. His home had 42 rooms (they've excavated it in Capernaum, Israel). This would have made him even richer! Instead, what's he do? He leaves everything to follow this itinerant preacher.

Either Peter was really stupid to do this or he was on to something. What kind of man could have that effect on others?

There was another dude, Matthew, a presumably wealthy tax collector (tax collectors were major thieves; they got paid a pittance for collecting taxes, so they made their living by charging more for taxes than people really owed and then skimming the difference off the top). Jesus simply shows up in front of him one day and says, "Follow Me." Nothing else. Doesn't give him reasons. Just, "Follow Me." Matthew leaves what he's doing and that's it.

Sure, a lot of folks have followed charismatic leaders before, but most haven't done it at the drop of a hat. (I grant the above doesn't prove anything. It's not meant to. It's meant to stimulate thought.)

Jesus had that power over people, and He changed the world more than any other person in history. Think about it. As far as I can tell, that statement's an inarguable point. For instance, we tell time the way we do (BC/AD) because of Him. Even the Chinese use an AD calendar. The examples are innumerable.

Does any of this make sense? Or am I beating a dead horse in trying to help clarify things/explain? I hope not. The last thing I want to do is be an imposition, friend.

A: Have you ever considered the ancient alien theory. I can't say I believe it because I don't know(no one does) but it does have many things about it that make sense and actually provides some explanation for some of the events described in the bible. Here is what my research has enlightened me to. The theory begins many more thousands of years before what today's science claims. We are a product of a far advanced alien race creating us using DNA of primates and theirs (which would explain the similarities between us and the primates and the missing link).

It is said that the first person created by them was Adama (Adam). Bone marrow DNA from his rib (because that's where the juiciest bone marrow is) was used to create Eve. Back then they had no terms for extraterrestrials so they called them gods. Most religions state that God(s) came down from heaven with smoke and fire(spaceship) and performing incredible feats(far advanced technology). This would also help explain the many mysteries regarding some of the amazing monuments and structures(Pyramids in Egypt, southeast Asia and South America, Puma Punku, Gobekli Tepe and many more) that science does not understand and basically guesses at their origin and purpose. What if we were simply an experiment or our existence on earth is like a amusement park and when we die we go back to our original state of being or start over again. Not saying I believe all this but I don't not (I know, a double negative) believe it either.

M: The ancient alien theory. Hmmm. Can't say I ever have. I mean, I've heard how this or that thing in the Bible (e.g., the fiery chariot that assumes Elijah into heaven) was really a UFO or something, but that's misreading Scripture, as far as I can tell.

What I can say about your research is this:

It's not about what some ancient pagan creation story/myth/whatever says, or even about what Judeo-Christian monotheism teaches, per se. It's about the truth.

What is true? That's the ultimate question. It's what every human heart longs for, the truth, the comfort and security of the truth. Not a "truth," but the "Truth."

Monotheism (well, I can't speak for Zoroastrianism, because I'm frankly ignorant of it, by and large) doesn't teach anything like what your research says. Not even the Jews' Talmud or the Muslims' hadith.

In the beginning, God doesn't create something out of something else that already exists. He creates out of nothing, "the heavens and the earth." The Bible tells us he then moves over the void that's there, creating the waters, the land, the sky, the firmament, vegetation, the fish, and finally animals, including man. Nothing about smoke and fire or the like.

Now it is true that it takes faith to believe what I do. However, given the discoveries of science (yes, science), I think it takes more faith to say it's false. And you'll probably admit that your atheism is as much a faith/belief system built on your rational deduction as mine is. Because it takes faith to believe what only 2.4 percent or so of the world's population believes (1.68 billion), to believe that *you* have the right answer and everyone else (6.832 billion) are basically sheeple, brainwashed from childhood, whatever. Not to mention it's a huge gamble. After all, if you're right, no big deal. If I'm right, that's a hugely different story, wouldn't you agree?

Also, I'd simply consider that people like Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, Albertus Magnus, not to mention their modern day contemporaries such as Joseph Ratzinger, NT Wright, John Paul II ... all first rate minds ... had to consider similar data. These men aren't ones you could reasonably considered brainwashed. Each devoted most of their lives to studying and trying to understand these issues. They came to the conclusion that God is real and not the figment of imagination or some genetic impulse we don't yet understand.

Indeed, read Thomas Aquinas. He posits opposite beliefs better than his opponents could. (He would give three "objections," answer each of those, and then give a concluding paragraph.) He answered atheism's arguments back in the 12th century when there were vastly fewer atheists.

Still, I have to admit, your thesis has some level of attraction in that it is interesting. It's fascinating to speculate about, isn't it? I used to think about the same thing(s) in my agnostic/atheist days. The same thing with wondering if I'm the only person who exists and that everything---this computer, the TV my "son" is watching, the clothes my "wife" wore to "work" this morning---is a figment of my imagination, some response to stimuli of which I'm not aware and thus can't comprehend or can't comprehend because I don't realize I'm some alien's experiment (sorta like "The Matrix," I guess). I remember writing a paper on this in high school.

Anyway, I hope this hasn't been tedious for you. For me, it's been fun, and I'd like to keep it up, but only if you're game, buddy.

Cheers, mate!

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