Saturday, July 12, 2014

My Controversial Questions

When I was a child, many questions would enter my mind that people of faith would tell me I shouldn't worry about or should not ask.  Today's atheist seems to portray the standard Christian as one who would be offended by the questions I ask, but that doesn't seem to be my experience.  It seems to me that many Christians with which I am familiar would be OK with my asking them.

Before I ask them, be warned that some of you may take offense or believe this blasphemous.  These questions I do not ask about the 'real God' in which you believe in your mind.  I ask these questions of a hypothetical God that doesn't exist in my mind.  If you choose to compare and contrast the two, and accidentally confuse them, you may get offended.  

1. Why would God lay out so much evidence that goes against his existence as the Bible portrays him, that a logical person receptive to this evidence like myself would than not believe in him, and thus banish this person to hell if he truly 'loves' them?

2. Why would God, whom my mother believes in and worships, and to whom is very devoted, reward her with a 'heaven' where her son is absent, and is burning forever in a lake of hellfire?  What kind of heaven is that?  Does this not contradict the idea of heaven?

3.  Why does the Christian God answer prayers with 'Yes', 'No', and 'Wait' with the same statistical frequency as the Muslim God, the Jewish God, and all the other gods, as well as with the same frequency as what would happen with random chance, or if you had just asked your lucky rabbit's foot?  What is the point of prayer?

4.  Along the same lines as question 3, why do bad things happen to Christians with the same frequency as bad things happen to Muslims, Jews, Atheists, etc?  Why do good things happen with the same frequency?  Shouldn't a higher frequency of good things happen to Christians than do other people?  Shouldn't a higher frequency of bad things happen to non-Christians?  (Are the happenings of September 11, 2001 a sign that the Muslim God wins?)

5. What is God made of?  What composes that which makes up God?  Is there an infinitude of Gods, each one level above the other?  (These questions are just as ridiculous as those that ask what are we made of, and so on and so forth, miraculously ending with 'therefore God').   For those of you satisfied with the idea that God has always just existed, why couldn't you accept, with how you understand the time continuum, that matter has always existed?  After all, the sentence 'before there was time' is nonsensical.  Think about it.

6. Why, when God makes decisions to take someone you love away from you too early (in a freak accident, say), do you still feel the need to worship and praise him?

7.  Why does God allow his followers to get cancer, aids, or suffer horrible deaths?  Why does God allow his follower's children to be raped by pedophiles?  How wise is this God that you so admire?  If I were God, I wouldn't have created pedophiles in the first place.  But here I am, being a Monday morning quarterback.

8. What kind of God requires you to worship and praise him?  Doesn't this seem strikingly familiar to a tyrant king?  I'm sure you don't believe me to be as wise or loving as your God, but if I were God, I wouldn't require you to worship and praise me.  I wouldn't require you to give any money to an organization that would than use it to build a temple or sanctuary in my honor.  Nor would I require your money so that you could pay for somebody's living expenses so that they could get up in front of you week to week to preach to you what they couldn't possibly know: my wishes (which would be to not waste this money in the first place).  On top of that, all tax free, and thus not helping the economy in the least bit.  If I were God (with my infinitesimally less wisdom than the actual God that you believe in), I would have you instead use your money and time each week for your own devices, hoping that you would naturally find it in your heart to give your time or money to charitable works and deeds.  Think of how much your city would gain in revenue just in the property taxes alone if there were something else in place of all of these churches.  This doesn't even scratch the surface of how much money is wasted.

9. Why do many of you think there would be no morality without God?  Why do you need someone looking over your shoulder with a reward for good deeds and punishment for bad deeds in order for you to do what is moral?  Isn't it more admirable for me to be good with no promise for reward and no fear of punishment for not doing good, than for the believer to do good?  

10.  Why, in your belief of an afterlife, are you constricted to believe that some entity can control whatever ethereal being you will become without your body?  What constricts you to the thought that you couldn't go where you please or do what you want?  If your name was not in some 'book' and you were told to go to 'hell', what could possibly stop you from just saying, "YOU go to hell!" and then doing whatever you wanted?

11.  The Bible is a single, solitary book.  Why do you need to spend so much time studying it?  Did you not get it on the third time?  When reading it the first time as a child, I remember filling in the large gaping holes and contradictions with some fanciful story that seemed to satisfy those around me (as long as I believed, that was all that mattered).  When reading again with a mind for critical thinking, I found that although much of the book had some great versus (and wisdom), much of it was repulsive.  How can you take a book that is pro-slavery and misogynistic so seriously?

12. Why are there so many versions of the Bible?  Did humans over the years feel the need to clean it up a little... fill in some gaps?  Why wasn't one enough?

13. Why is there little evidence and information of Jesus outside the Bible?  Why, with this little evidence and information, is there even less evidence that this possible Jesus character said or did anything remotely close to what is suggested in the Bible?

14.  Why do you put so much belief and faith in a book written so long ago by ancient people, and so little faith in the people right in front of you?

15.  Why does the answer that you provide for the question 'Where is God?' sound like it could also serve as an answer to 'Where is the magical and sacred Flying Spaghetti Monster?' or 'Where does the tooth fairy reside?'

16.  If God has a 'plan', then what is the point of prayer?  You will either pray for something that is or is not part of God's plan.  Since you are unaware of God's plan, are you just happy in your delusion that your prayer may change the course of his plan?

I encourage my Christian friends to comment with their answers, experiences, and/or questions.  I promise to be tolerant and respectful of your beliefs as long as you are tolerant and respectful of mine.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Regarding question 4 (frequency of unfortunate events): Even without having raw data in front of us, can we safely presume that those of Jewish and Islamic faiths have historically and contemporarily endured MORE pain than their Christian and non-believing counterparts?

  3. Sure, Joe. I can grant that. I'm not sure whère we can go from there. Can we conclude that the Islamic and Jewish faiths must be false? That may seem a little harsh.

    Thanks to a conversation with a friend Michael, he brought a 17th question out of me.

    17. Does flipping off a life switch (and having there be no afterlife) scare you more than living on into eternity? Why? After having all of your questions answered and experiencing the finite possibilities of every game you could ever play, wouldn't you become infinitely bored? Wouldn't a heaven turn into a hell?

  4. “Must” be false? No. But only one or neither ‘can’ be true.

    The thought of living into eternity and communing with those I’ve lost here on Earth, and with those I didn’t get a chance to know well, is a comforting thought. But I’m not especially scared at the prospect of there being no afterlife. The realization that when I do expire, I will likely have taken more out of the cookie jar than I put in, gives me more pause and cause for reflection than the consideration of an afterlife.

    Assuming the existence of an eternal paradise…I would imagine it to have an adaptive element that would prevent a hellish boredom from setting in. Of course for a person to remain in an eternal state of bliss, they would likely also have to remain ignorant of the intentional adaptation surrounding them. Ignorance would truly be bliss.

    the drohr deliberations

    shaw, i was very excited to see these questions (please don't count my extremely delayed response as evidence to the contrary). i started working on a response right away. it's been in the back of my mind ever since then. i finally figured out that i will definitely NOT be able to respond in anything like the even-close-to-full-or-sufficient way i had initially hoped to; so now, i am simply pulling the trigger and getting something of a reply (such as it is) out there. i'm hoping it's a conversation starter, something to fan into flame what you've sparked; it's certainly not a complete answer. on that note, i'd love for this to become a face-to-face discussion if you're up for that -- that strikes me as a much more fitting setting for this discussion than the severely-limited nature of the stupid internet. that said, here you go internet: here's the current state of my still-germinating reply.

    first of all, it seems important to identify who you are addressing in these questions (both whose responses you're looking for and who you have mind in your depictions -- because i suspect those are not the same crowds). so, who are you addressing: all christians? intelligent ones? me? your mom? her church? a particular brand of christian (non-)thinking you've experienced that, although it exists, is not the only or (to my mind) best or correct way of thinking as a christian? if it's that, then i'll also be in line with you to disagree with much of what they think (and, significantly, the way they think it). it's easy enough (and right) to dismiss that, but then there's still the unaddressed issue of your own perspective, your own answers to the difficult, ultimate questions they gave bad answers to and you rightly rejected. are you wishing to go there? are you prepared to? pointing out the flaws in a bad answer to a complex question is not the same as answering the lingering question, though people often smugly, lazily and self-satisfiedly stop there. so, two questions then: 1. are you prepared to acknowledge, address and defend your own views, and 2. are you wanting to deal with the best and most intelligent christian perspectives on these things rather than the weakest, silliest straw men versions? for now i will assume 'yes' on both counts and dive in...

    below, i'll jump into commentary and responses on each of the specific questions your raised (which vary widely in difficulty, silliness, legitimacy), but first i'd like to clump together some of the broader themes i noticed throughout the questions (and in the 'questions behind the questions').

    [ultimate questions]
    * who are we? where do we come from? where are we headed?
    * why is there something rather than nothing? is it good? bad? indifferent?
    * why the weirdness/mystery of subjectivity? consciousness?
    * what do you make of morality, love, meaning? are these real things that mean something or illusions?

    ['God of the gaps' vs. 'God at the center']
    * most of your questions seem to assume a 'God of the gaps' -- a god who is called in only when he's needed to make sense of gaps in our knowledge. if i say let's agree to get rid of that opportunistic conception and that i think we're still left with the 'God at the center' question (ie, what's at the heart of everything? is it fundamentally good-loving? evil? indifferent? is there nothing real beyond what we make of things?), what do you say?

    [layered explanation]
    * for (m)any phenomenon, there are multiple, legitimate levels of explanation (cf. john haught's explanation in making sense of evolution)
    * description vs. explanation (what-how vs. why)
    * the basic unaddressed problem with scientism -- it is laughably reductive

    * we don't actually possess any of those statistics, do we? (if you're going to claim to rely on 'objective' scientific authority, let's at least do that rightly, honestly).
    * we would expect that if we think that the/a primary purpose-effect of prayer is to get things to happen that we want to happen.
    * "prayer makes us the familiars of God."
    * flying in the face of all this triumphalism is the actual story of the christian kenotic God, the one who emptied and humbled himself, who suffered and lost and died, who said things like "pray for your enemies". so, praying in order to get to know and become like him probably looks a little different than the way you've portrayed prayer here (which, i grant, is the same way that many christians do talk about it...i'm just saying they're wrong).

  7. [problem of evil]
    * this should be a bigger problem for atheists, right? in their view, evil just happens (although, strictly speaking, i don't think there can actually be any such thing as 'evil' in the first place, there is only preference and custom and expediency and arbitrary distinction), there's no logical reason to expect or demand (or even hope for) justice. the only 'hope' for something better is in (ultimately speaking) silly, unobtainable, ineffective things like education, technology, etc.
    * should our longings, our hopes, our unshakeable sense of right & wrong, our thirst for justice count as evidence that there is some basis, some reason for our feeling strongly that way?
    * the propensity for goodness, fairness, compassion, the fact that atheists can in fact 'act morally' 'without God' is them simply riding the coattails of the christian culture they claim to be moving beyond. they are sawing off the branch they are sitting on.

    [scientific materialistic naturalism]
    * how did this become the default? should it be? will it actually be up to that task (or, much like the basic christian story, which had that status for a very long time, will it begin to buckle, then violently crumble under a weight it can't possibly bear (as holes and problems and inconsistencies and doubts pile up)?)?
    * science arose from within a christian world(view) -- is this significant? (it might not be.)
    * do you recognize that this is a non-scientific, philosophical perspective and choice? it's usually held at the level of axiom, assumption.
    * logic and technical reason are amazing tools, they are necessary but not sufficient for correctly apprehending-understanding-appropriating our experience in-of the world rightly, fully.
    * science is spectacular, scientism sucks.

    [the world off its axis]
    * i know of no more adequate and compellingly realistic story of what's going on with this world than that of a good and loving creator and sustainer behind a world that has gone somehow wrong, is now 'off its axis'. this satisfies the evidence -- good mixed with bad, moments of sublime beauty, intense pleasure and ecstatic joy followed (sometimes immediately) by pain, confusion, pangs of regret, hopelessness and despair; simultaneous acceptance and isolation, compassion and violence -- better than any alternatives i'm aware of. do you know an account that makes better sense of all that evidence?
    * to make it explicit, heart, feelings, emotions (hope, fear, love, etc) are legitimate parts of human experience that ought to count as evidence needing to be explained / accounted for in whatever theory we're looking to to explain the world, right? if not, why not?
    * as alternatives, happy and naive optimism is vacuous, while nihilism is more consistent and defensible, but also happens to be impossible to live out.

  8. [imago dei]
    * my understanding makes better sense of why some people see truly (according to me) and some don't, and why many simply piggyback-hijack what is real (re: morality, eg) without explicitly acknowledging the basis for that than yours does. ie, everyone is made in the image of God and therefore is infinitely valuable and hungry to be at home in him and with others as God has also desired whether or not they actually recognize this to be the reason for their eg, felt moral impulses, longing to connect with others, etc.
    * how does your system make sense of me and others like me -- those who detect a spiritual, as well as physical, aspect to this world; the ones who think that things can really matter (the overwhelming majority of all humans who have ever lived throughout recorded history, by the way) -- who are (according to you and your system) wrong?
    * a primary problem i perceive in (consistent, honest) atheism/atheists: you feel the need to say 'thank you', but there's no one to receive it; you're rightly angry, knowing that things should not be like this, and want to yell at someone, but there's no one to direct it toward.

    okay, i'm going to have to pause there (i'm tired). i will soon follow this up with specific responses to some of your questions, but for now, i give you this much. and reiterate the hope and invitation to turn this into a face-to-face conversation -- let me know if and when we can get together sometime to discuss this. peace.

  9. I was addressing these questions to people like yourself; who would sit and think about them, and then perhaps address them. So thank you, DRohr!

    In reading through your comments and questions, I have recognized the level of difficulty we will face in debating or having worthwhile conversation. It is because of this fact. In your mind, God exists and is real as real can get. In my mind, there is no such thing as god. So, in order to get off the ground on any topic, I would have to enter the "If there is a god" state of mind or you would have to enter the "if there was no god" state of mind. This, in itself, is near impossible.

    I can tell that my idea of what a god would be like is not consistent with the God you believe in. I think that is what made you wonder who my audience may be.

    You are right in that this discussion would be best face to face with constant interaction, because either one of us could go off on a tangent that the other could avoid if we were right there. I'll be honest, I was lost with everything but a few bullets in your [scientific materialistic naturalism] and all bullets in [imago dei]. When we get together, we should probably limit our discussion to those areas. Here are just a few comments because I cannot help myself.

    Thank you for making me look up the word scientism. From what I understand, I don't follow scientism. I believe people experience back pain and that MS is real, for example.

    I only feel the need to say thank you to people. When I woke up on the pavement after being unconscious for two minutes after my bike wreck on Ragbrai, thankfulness was the furthest thing from my feeling. All I did was try and put together what had happened and what was happening. After I regained senses, I remember thinking how that would have been a perfect way to die, since there was no pain or no memory. I remember also thinking how since the light wasn't extinguished then, that when it is, I hope that it is somehow like that.

    The best quote that I have heard in my recent history that explains how I feel about our existence came from the first episode of True Detective. Matthew McConaughey plays Rust Cohle (a John Constantine character to perfection) and says the following:

    "I think human consciousness, is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware, nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself, we are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self; an accretion of sensory, experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody is nobody. Maybe the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."

    Once I embraced my complete and total insignificance in this world, I became at peace.

    Let's meet up soon.

    1. excellent. i like the (delightfully bleak) quote -- though, of course, i wholeheartedly disagree with it. i'm excited to chat about this stuff in person. i'll turn to private lines of communication now to set up such a meeting. goodbye internets.