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Heroes, Sin and The Knight’s Dark Doctrine

(Also posted today on FaithFusion.) The Dark Knight is gripping. And very deep. Its evil is powerfully and horribly represented, especially on the part of The Joker, whom apparently you cannot even hurt. If he’s tortured or in pain, he […]
| Jul 19, 2008 | No comments |

(Also posted today on FaithFusion.)

The Dark Knight is gripping. And very deep. Its evil is powerfully and horribly represented, especially on the part of The Joker, whom apparently you cannot even hurt. If he’s tortured or in pain, he just laughs. He lives to “watch the world burn.” He kills without a hint of remorse, and in fact, while he takes a life he merely jokes and (dare I say it) “cuts up.”

In the future, if I’ve ever encountered anyone, whether non-Christian or professing Christian, who claims total evil isn’t real or that people are basically good, I’ll likely refer to The Joker in The Dark Knight. His is an especially insidious evil.

But the film’s representation of goodness is even deeper. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the moral quandary at the end, which — a hint of spoiler may be impossible to avoid here, so I hope you’ve already seen the film — Batman himself resolves by deciding to become, in effect, a penal substitution for one man’s sins. This skewed and backward-heroic act, becoming the villain but really the hero, the total unfairness of it all, is riveting. But it’s a choice that we ultimately know Batman must make for the Joker’s evil plan to be thwarted.

As Plugged In reviewer Paul Asay wrote, “Batman takes [the man’s] sin on his own shoulders, leaving [him], in Gotham’s eyes, pure and spotless and clean. Sound familiar?”

Even as I write that, tears come to my eyes. It’s so unfair. It seems so unjust. But it is “an echo of the sacrifice Christ—utterly innocent, yet humiliated and judged on our behalf—made for us,” Asay continues. That’s what I though I saw then, and what I see now even more clearly: Christ becoming the “villain” to save human rebels, just as Batman needed to be.

But apparently several movie reviewers just aren’t getting it.


The Joker’s total depravity

Secular movie critic Roger Ebert didn’t get it about the Joker. In his Dark Knight review, he wrote that with The Joker’s “cackle betraying deep wounds, he seeks revenge, he claims, for the horrible punishment his father exacted on him when he was a child.”

But Ebert misses the whole point about the supposed father-torture motivation: the Joker is lying about how he got his scars! Later, for example, he begins telling another victim that his scars were self-inflicted, when he was supposedly trying to make his wife feel better about her disfigurement. And at least twice more he’s about to tell his “backstory” again — and though we don’t hear further versions of whatever happened, we know he’ll just lie again.

(Was Ebert out getting popcorn during those film portions?)

The late actor Heath Ledger himself confirmed that the Joker is a “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy,” he told The New York Times. The Joker doesn’t even want money or even simply power. He wants to wreak havoc simply because he is truly and totally depraved. That’s it. And paradoxically, that makes his character more complex than anyone who’s portrayed as evil partly because of childhood abuse.


Batman’s ‘lying’ substitution for sin

Meanwhile, Christian reviewer Ted Beahr’s MovieGuide site didn’t get it about Batman. Their take on the film? “Very confused and eclectic, or mixed pagan, philosophical perspectives ending on a relativistic, deconstructionist ‘truth does not matter’ sentiment.”

Seriously, were they watching the same movie? (I’m still utterly confused by them since they gave Pirates 3 such high marks for supposedly containing so many Christian metaphors!)

Oh, and MovieGuide also got the Joker wrong as well. “Joker is psychotic and mean from the beginning,” the site writes. “He’s shown to be psychotic and mean several times. A little character growth would have helped him a great deal.”

Mm-mmm, not at all. That would have defeated the whole point. The Joker has no character growth. He is evil, through and through. Wrap your heads around it, and while you’re at it, consider that according to Scripture, that is how God, because of His absolutely perfect moral standards, sees us without any intervention from Christ.

But back to Batman: MovieGuide goes on, finding fault especially with Batman’s decision to take on one man’s sin as his own, and thus keep the Joker’s corruption of the man’s posthumous reputation from succeeding. In response: “[H]ero decides to lie to solve plot problem and police commissioner agrees with him,” the site writes. “It suggests a hero can be a liar without tarnishing his heroic qualities.”

Let’s see. Christ, the God-man, lay down His life on the Cross, suffering physical and even worse spiritual torment from God’s wrath, in place of rebel sinners. He takes blame for sins he hasn’t committed, and God “agrees with Him,” and punishes Him — all part of the plan.

That, it’s very clear, makes Christ a “liar.” He becomes the villain in our place, and in that way, He is the true hero — but a hero on a level much deeper than many would think.

Even some professing Christians don’t understand that. They decide that the idea of Christ laying down his life and in effect “lying” about the sins He’s claiming as His own is “cosmic child abuse.” God wouldn’t do that! such writers insist. He’s all about love and He could never be a villain! But apparently God Himself, in actual Scripture, didn’t see the need for such sugar-coating propaganda. As author/pastor CJ Mahaney says, “He crushed His Son.”

It’s a terrible truth, even an “unfair” truth. But it’s unfair to the glorious benefit of rebel sinners. And thus Christ is truly heroic, even though many now try to hunt Him, hate Him, loathe Him as a villain. The reaction of many to Him now is just like the angry mob’s reaction to Him then. And ultimately it’s very similar to the fate chosen by the Dark Knight as well.

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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—– COMMENT: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 7/20/2008 11:15:14 PM Brilliant review. I’ve seen the film twice and am still sorting out my thoughts. My son and I talked about it all the way there and all the way home. I suspect this film and its implications will stay with me for a very long time.

Yours is the first review to note the Joker’s duplicitiy. I thought it was odd that he gave us two stories about the origins of his scarred face, but your explanation not only makes more sense, it’s also completely faithful to the Joker’s diabolical character.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Tim Frankovich DATE: 7/21/2008 2:39:57 AM Absolutely excellent commentary. I may have been the only one in the entire theater like this, but I had tears in my eyes during the final five minutes. Stunningly beautiful.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: E Stephen Burnett DATE: 7/21/2008 3:20:26 AM

Johne Cooke wrote:

Yours is the first review to note the Joker’s duplicitiy. I thought it was odd that he gave us two stories about the origins of his scarred face, but your explanation not only makes more sense, it’s also completely faithful to the Joker’s diabolical character.

Since writing that, though, I’ve come across the director’s own comments on the Joker — and he would know best — and it turns out that interpretation is indeed following his intention.

This is from Christopher Nolan, quoted in an MTV interview from December of last year:

“To me, the Joker is an absolute. … There are no shades of gray to him — maybe shades of purple. He’s unbelievably dark. He bursts in just as he did in the comics.”

However — it just seems some people don’t want to contemplate truly “absolute” evil. They want a reason. They want “shades of gray.”
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Bill DATE: 7/21/2008 11:44:39 PM Batman is the anti christ trying to “become” the “Joker” aka. “Forest Gump” aka. MICHAEL THE ARCHANGEL… Be ye not decieved!
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 7/22/2008 12:16:07 AM Bill. Dude. Have you /seen/ the film? The idea that the Batman is trying to become the Joker just isn’t possible. They stand for diametrically-opposing things. Be ye not a troll.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: E Stephen Burnett DATE: 7/22/2008 2:27:42 AM Bill … “why — so — serious?”

Bill, actually, is making some kind of satirical commentary against professing Christians who are undiscerning and legalistic.

Bill, ordinarily this would be comical, Bill. 🙂 But my critique, Bill, is twofold: first, because targeting and spoofing these types is too easy, Bill; and secondly, because it’s way overdone.

Bill, there are many other un-Biblical and silly things that professing Christians claim they believe and then go rant about. Let’s spoof them instead, Bill. Ha! ha! ha!

(P.S.: This is also actually the incredible little secret behind this site! 😉 )
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Keanan Brand DATE: 7/26/2008 3:47:27 PM Awesome review. I haven’t seen the film yet, but have every intention of doing so, and reading this review makes me wish I could hit the theater this instant.

Though I own all three, I enjoyed the first Spider-man movie most for its message about power and responsibility, and I was impressed by [i]Batman Begins[i] for its strong moral themes, as well. As a fan and a Christian, I am glad to know the excellence continues.

(FYI: More great movie reviews over at Carmen Andres’ blog, In the Open Space: God & Culture.)
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Xdpaul DATE: 7/31/2008 5:03:56 PM Joker IS an absolute. Absolute evil – total chaos (except that he never accidentally does anything good.)

This review nails it. Another important element of the film is when Alfred tells Batman how, in his younger days, his crew dealt with an evil that couldn’t be reasoned with:

“We burned down the forest.”
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 7/31/2008 5:12:21 PM The weird thing about that is that burning things is the Joker’s MO. It just struck me as odd that one would fight fire with fire in a story that is primarily moral in character. One does not fight sin with greater sin. So while I get the anecdote, the parallel it suggests just struck me weird.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/3/2008 5:35:31 PM “Batman himself resolves by deciding to become, in effect, a penal substitution for one man’s sins. This skewed and backward-heroic act, becoming the villain but really the hero, the total unfairness of it all, is riveting. But it’s a choice that we ultimately know Batman must make for the Joker’s evil plan to be thwarted.”

Must he?

I think it betrays a lack of confidence in the people of Gotham. All through the movie part of the debate between Batman and The Joker was the issue of what is human nature. Batman, throughout, defended the position that humanity has goodness within it (though not total goodness) and is not, at heart, like the Joker.

And the people of Gotham then demonstrate their ability to make the right choice in not blowing up either ship.

Should this not have given Batman further confidence that Gotham could handle the truth and make the right choices?

Instead, Batman decides “you can’t handle the truth”—to echo an old Joker in a different role—and hides the truth.

Showing, in action if not in words, that he apparently agrees with the Joker as to how precarious is the hold of Gothamites on goodness and decency.

Really, though, this change of position is, I think, really just a choice made for plot over characterization—as if the creators of the film were thinking “wouldn’t it be cool to have Batman being chased by the cops as a murderer in the next movie?” and forgetting how this would affect the themes expressed in the rest of the film.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 8/3/2008 7:13:42 PM I think you’re forgetting one complexity, however. The filmmakers would have us believe that they chose wisely in part because they believed in their white knight, that his example of selflessness rubbed off on them just enough to persuade them to do the right and noble thing.

If it is revealed that their faith has been misplaced, the resulting depression could kickback and plunge the city into chaos and nihilism, which is, I believe, exactly what the Joker intended. I think Batman’s decision was more one of timing and a knowledge of how fragile people can be when emotional. I half expect the truth to come out eventually, but they then, one would hope they would have matured enough to realize ‘hey, we really didn’t need the crutch of faith in Harvey Dent in order to do right.’

Of course, all of this leaves out the role of God in any true right-doing, but I concede that a worldview that allows for God isn’t apparent in this storyline.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/3/2008 9:19:28 PM “If it is revealed that their faith has been misplaced, the resulting depression could kickback and plunge the city into chaos and nihilism, which is, I believe, exactly what the Joker intended.”

Don’t you see, though, that if this is the case then the Joker wins the ongoing debate with Batman:

If the mere fall of a single individual could kick the entire city into a nihilistic chaos then, in fact, the Joker is right. Humanity has only the most precarious hold on goodness and decency.

Sadly, I think the Joker is quite right in that claim….I just think he’s wrong in how we should react to this fact. Not with nihilism but alert, diligent and self-aware effort to strengthen our hold on the right.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/3/2008 9:27:00 PM On a related note I would like to recommend the novel FARTHING by Jo Walton.

It is an alternate history novel set in England a few years after a version of WWII in which Germany took over all of Europe except England because England signed an nonaggression treaty with Hitler (who is still currently in power).

It presents a chillingly plausible story in the background of which are a few events whick alter the entire course of history to make antisemitism and racism become more ingrained in western culture instead of gradually weakening as was actually the case.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 8/3/2008 9:31:00 PM This is where the discussion gets difficult. Are we talking about the people of Gotham City in the film, or are we talking about real people? Because there is no God in the worldview of the film as far as I can tell, but there is in ours. That matters. In fact, my answer changes on the basis of that answer to that question.

First, if Lord of the Flies (to use a dated text) or Survivor (to use a current one) shows us anything, it is that people in this world are selfish, self-centered people without God. They would have pulled the trigger to protect themselves. But people who have been transformed by God play by different rules. Despite our inherent selfishness, we serve a Lord who is selfless, and that impacts our thinking.

If the message of the film is that civilization trumps anarchy, I disagree. I think it is only the image of God, sometimes the barest hint of a reflection of God, in humans that keeps us from tearing each other apart.

In short, I don’t believe in order as a civil nicety, I believe order is a direct result of a tie back to the author of order, God himself. And when we turn our backs on God, anarchy lurks right around the corner.

In the film, order is upheld by a lie. In life, order is upheld by a truth, the we can serve each other because God told us to, knowing that He will take care of us because He promised to. The answer to the problem of anarchy is not a horizontal answer, but a vertical one. We have to have outside help to survive and to thrive. In the film, that savior is Batman, with the cape of his persona. In real life, that savior is Jesus Christ, with the robe of his crown as king.

When he voluntarily fell to save his community, Batman’s life became more difficult. However, when Jesus allowed himself to fall to save all of humanity, his life went to Hell.

Thank God it did not remain there.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/3/2008 10:22:34 PM I dont think it can be said that there is no God in the Batman universe. The question isn’t addressed in the film.

But as to your contention that people are basically selfish and self-centered except where they are “transformed by God” I’d have to say that is demonstrably false. Atheists can and do act in ways that are selfless. There are atheist soldiers at this moment putting their lives on the line every day out of devotion to country and their fellow citizens. Unless, of course, you are contending that one can be “transformed by God” without believing in God. But, even then, that is no more than an unsupported assertion.

Do you honestly think that if no God existed that we would necessarily be selfish and self-centered creatures who will only think of our own well-being over than of others?

If so, do you have any argument for this claim or is it, again, merely an unsupported assertion?
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/3/2008 10:26:50 PM Anyone know what Batman’s religion is in the comic?

I’ve heard that he’s been depicted, at least in some stories, as Catholic. But I’ve never been much into the Batman comics and couldn’t say if this is correct.

Not that this says anything about Nolan’s version of the Batman universe—which, again, simply doesn’t address the question so far as I can recall.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/3/2008 10:39:05 PM However I may disagree on some points I agree, though, that the confrontation with nihilism (of which the Joker is an especially powerful personification) is the central theme of the film. Its good that this essay seems to recognize that fact. Some others I’ve read seemed more interested in political interpretations in terms of contemporary issues of terrorism and government response to it—which, while certainly themes the film touches on, are not the most fundamental of topics the film deals with.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 8/3/2008 10:44:59 PM I would answer the noble Atheist question by saying that, in my worldview as a Christian, all nobility is a affirmation of the Biblical notion that we are all created in the image of a God whose hallmark is love. I agree that there are many people who do noble, selfless things who don’t claim to be Christian, and I laud those things. However, I see that as a proof of God, not a denial of Him. I believe God created everything and is the author of order and good. Everything that we do that is ordered and good is in harmony with the creation in which we exist whether we go the extra step to acknowledge or worship God or not. Every good act is an act of worship in my view. Worship is no phony posturing done in a group on a certain day in a certain place to be seen by one’s neighbors. It is simply the act of agreeing with the ‘worth-ship’ of the God who created this place and its rules. When one knows the ground rules and employs them for his own benefit, he is — however deliberate — complicit with the creator of those rules. This is not a bad thing. This cooperation is something that transcends mere religion (or, one might say, mere christianity, heh).

I honestly have no idea what to tell you life would be like without God, because it isn’t a notion that makes any sense to me. Complex people and an even more complex universe all shout to me as evidence of a creator subtle and powerful and imaginative enough to account for the will and complexity to explain their very existence. But that’s just me. 😉

I honestly think if no God existed, we wouldn’t exist. 😉 The idea of a fallen humanity assumes there was a standard to fall /from/. These are my opinions as one who has read scripture and agrees with the assertions contained therein, however, not an apologetical proof.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 8/3/2008 10:49:40 PM I find it interesting that Batman himself is not a Nihilist. Makes me all the more curious just what he does believe, and how that may change for worse or better after this film has concluded. Just like the space between Star Wars episodes 3 and 4, I’m very curious to see what happens in the gap between The Dark Knight and whatever comes next and how that will affect Batman.

As a final note, I’m astonished and delighted that there is so much to think about and ponder and engage in lively debate over from what is ostensibly a ‘superhero’ film. This is fun.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/3/2008 11:03:52 PM I’ve always found that its in talking about science fiction and fantasy films (not to mention prose fiction) that the most profound philosophical and religious issues get raised.

Whether its debating the treatment of droids in Star Wars (sentient beings bought and sold as property—slavery, and by the “good guys” in the film), or the ethical issues surrounding destroying an entire species in ALIEN (I find myself agreeing more with the company’s position, though not its ruthlessness), you can always find very fundamental questions to discuss even in apparently “light” entertainment.

You really don’t much get that sort of thing as much in mysteries, westerns, and other types of films.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/3/2008 11:16:13 PM
I would answer the noble Atheist question by saying that, in my worldview as a Christian, all nobility is a affirmation of the Biblical notion that we are all created in the image of a God whose hallmark is love.

This is, of course, a mere assertion. No argument has been presented for the claim.


I honestly have no idea what to tell you life would be like without God, because it isn’t a notion that makes any sense to me.
Complex people and an even more complex universe all shout to me as evidence of a creator subtle and powerful and imaginative enough to account for the will and complexity to explain their very existence. But that’s just me.

If an intelligent being designed human beings and our cosmos he is a clearly incompetent one. There are countless flaws in the design of living organisms—something entirely consistent with unguided natural processes (nondirected evolution) but quite problematic for an explanation in terms of an omnipotent and omniscient designer.

Given the amount of sheer terrible suffering made inevitable to living beings in our cosmos if a designer were known to be responsible it would be most sensible to conclude, on the evidence, that he is either horribly incompetent, malevolent, or both.


These are my opinions as one who has read scripture and agrees with the assertions contained therein, however, not an apologetical proof.

Yes, this blog is not an apologetics blog so I certainly don’t see any obligation on your part to present arguments for your position—but the issues raised by the literature discussing on this blog does tend to raise these very fundamental issues—especially when not all visitors here share your religious beliefs.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 8/3/2008 11:17:54 PM Ooh, aah.

So are superhero movies sci-fi or fantasy? (I’d argue they do apply to speculative fiction, which is the overarching umbrella that includes both sci-fi and fantasy.) In that sense, it is perhaps not surprising to be wrestling with thorny philosophical / theological questions, although I’ll note that with most normal superhero films, we usually don’t, at least as much. I think The Dark Knight succeeds so well for me because it veritably dives into those deep waters to deliver its entertainments, which make the battles less about adventure action than issues of relevance and — indeed — some meaning for our lives. I know I’m thinking again about the necessity / propriety of torture in new ways, and am unsettled by the topic before I even get to any conclusions.

I think that any story can wrestle with these things if they can get past the studios’ demands on what they think will result in big box office numbers. I don’t ever again need to hear another manufactured film quip, much preferring the sort of humor from situations. 3:10 to Yuma is a great example of a film that is about something and transcended its genre. Of course, as a sometimes confused father of a 14 year old, I am the ideal target audience for that story, and cheerfully admit my bias. 😉
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 8/3/2008 11:22:28 PM re: all that – exactly, my comments reveal my opinion and no attempt at a proof. There are other places and other people better equipped for logical apologetic debate. I own my opinions just as they are presented, face value impressions that I hold, personally, which explain how I received and process the meaning of The Dark Knight. I cheerfully acknowledge that your mileage may vary, check local listings. 😉
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/4/2008 12:30:11 AM “So are superhero movies sci-fi or fantasy?”

Well, of course, that varies from movie to movie. HELLBOY 2, clearly fantasy. THE DARK KNIGHT, science fiction (if not exactly hard science fiction).

Some others are probably a bit harder to pin down. THE HULK probably falls into that category—it explains the fantastical phenomena in terms of science—but science sufficiently implausible as to be little different from magic.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: XDPaul DATE: 8/6/2008 3:33:37 PM “If an intelligent being designed human beings and our cosmos he is a clearly incompetent one.”

I’m sorry, but that statement just cracked me up. “Clearly?” As in, “Pfft. I could do better?” Incompetent? Really? Even a staunch atheist like Carl Sagan was able to acknowledge the undisputable intricacy, beauty, and amazing structure of the Cosmos.

The debate isn’t whether creation is spectacular. It quite, ahem, “clearly” is. It is whether it has become corrupted by sin. Strangely, I think we agree on the assessment of the symptom, and disagree on cause.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/6/2008 5:12:33 PM OK. If I understand you correctly, your theory is:

People, at some time in the past, sinned.

So God altered the nature of the cosmos, making humans have a powerful impulse to sin (a strange thing to do for someone who dislikes sin), and altering the cosmos so that children are born with terrible genetic defects, natural forces wreak immeasurable harm and disease causes untold suffering (this both for humans and sinless animals).

Why would a loving God who dislikes sin do this. It makes no sense at all.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Rebecca LuElla Miller DATE: 8/12/2008 12:59:22 AM DB, I missed this entire discussion and have no way of knowing whether you’ll be back to read this, but there’s an important error in your understanding. God didn’t “make humans have a powerful impulse to sin.” Once they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that changed them.

What exactly changed? Hard to explain. The best way I can understand it is, something inside broke. And when anything is broken it may be hard to imagine what it was like “fixed.”

What would it be like if we didn’t have the well-understood phrase in our language, “Nobody’s perfect”? What if some people actually were perfect? Never hurt someone else, never made any mistakes, never slacked off? It’s nearly impossible to imagine because it is so foreign to our experience.

The truth is, we were created to relate perfectly with God and perfectly with each other. That thing that broke in us ruined both. Yet we long for what is not. We strive to achieve what we know we need and cannot obtain. This is not God’s doing. It’s Man’s.

Becky
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/12/2008 6:18:18 AM “but there’s an important error in your understanding. God didn’t “make humans have a powerful impulse to sin.” Once they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that changed them.”

If eating the fruit resulted in humanity as a whole being “broken” is this because God chose for this to be how his created universe works (in which case, the explanation of human depravity suffers from the problems I describe) or is he powerless to prevent it from having this effect (in which case he is a rather impotent diety)?

Basically, what I’m asking is why the fundamental psychological nature of all humans would be “broken” because one human committed a sin? Both the options I describe above seem highly problematic. Do you have a third option?
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: XDPaul DATE: 8/12/2008 4:22:09 PM DB –

You are missing a critical component in your logic: a God so loving that he humbly participates with, doesn’t bully, humanity, even one that is fallen.

The point is that, setting aside a genetic inheritance for the moment, you and I, as individuals, both sin, even today, through no fault, except our own.

God doesn’t “dislike” sin. He hates it. Even in what we would call “small doses” it is noxious, poisonous and unholy. Cutting off a person in traffic out of rage may not physically harm them, but it is a “small” sin that spreads, at the very least to the cut off person, who may stew about it and take it out on someone else (thereby extending the sin) who may then pass it on.

Everyone involved is responsible for the “small sin” that they commit, even if they claim justification.

So the sin, inherited or not, is on us, as individuals. It just so happens that every individual ever alive is born not only capable of sin, but committing it, too.

We take sin lightly. God doesn’t. He knows that sin is the thing that distances people from each other and from Him. Sin separates. Sin dooms. Sin, untreated, grows like a virus.

Is he incompetent because he allowed sin? No. He is loving because he allowed us to participate in his world. Is it is his “fault” that we, you and I both, have done wrong things to others in our past?

No. You and I are responsible. God gave us the freedom to NOT sin, and, at least at times in our past, you and I have both taken that freedom to commit sin: we’ve spoken cruelly in anger, we’ve looked after someone’s possessions with jealousy, we’ve overlooked someone’s suffering.

In short, we, you and I both, have taken God’s opportunity to sin.

Could he have rigged the system so that we had no responsibility? Sure. But he wanted more from us. He wants relationship. And that is messy. And that has to address (not uncreate) sin.

It may not make sense that God loves you specifically. It may not make sense that someone as powerful as our God would allow both sin and pain to cloud your world. But he can’t authentically love you (which he does) while simultaneously robbing you of the freedom to love him back, can he? That freedom to love him involves the option to hate him, and the best way we humans show our hatred for God is to propagate little seeds of sin, the one thing that can draw a dark veil between our God and us.

We don’t have to plant those seeds. But when the seeds are planted, it isn’t God’s fault for not making a more perfect cosmos, its ours for not taking advantage of it.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Rebecca LuElla Miller DATE: 8/12/2008 10:10:17 PM xdpaul, you’ve given a much more complete answer than I ever would have.

Your characterization of God wanting relationship with us and therefore refraining from creating servants without a will of our own is spot on.

Does He have the power to MAKE us love Him (which is what obeying Him translates to)? What an odd question. Is it love if someone forces you?

That’s like the old question, can God create something too big for Him to lift. Either way you answer, it makes God look less than He is.

DB, the bottom line is trust. God wants us to trust Him even when we don’t see how it all works. Not that I believe for a second there’s a lack of evidence to varify what He has said about Himself or about us.

I know people are hungry for real purpose and genuine security. God promises those things.

I know people suffer and die. God tells us why.

I know people fear the future. God promises to go with us.

He wants to engage with us about the things that are most important to us.

Becky
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/13/2008 2:13:01 AM “You are missing a critical component in your logic: a God so loving that he humbly participates with, doesn’t bully, humanity, even one that is fallen.”

What is at issue is why humanity would be fallen in the first place.

“The point is that, setting aside a genetic inheritance for the moment, you and I, as individuals, both sin, even today, through no fault, except our own.”

According to the doctrine of the Fall, as usually stated by christians, humans now have an inherent propensity to sin. A sinful nature.

The perplexing question, so often overlooked by christians, is WHY this should be the case especially when, as you say, God hates sin so much.

“We take sin lightly. God doesn’t. He knows that sin is the thing that distances people from each other and from Him. Sin separates. Sin dooms. Sin, untreated, grows like a virus.”

That’s exactly the problem. Since sin is, according to christian theology, so horrible why would God decide that since the first humans sinned subsequent humans would have a sinful nature.

Surely God, being omnipotent, doesnt HAVE to set up his creation in such a way that humanity inherits a sinful nature.

So why did he? It makes no sense whatsoever.

“Could he have rigged the system so that we had no responsibility? ”

Comments such as this indicate that you aren’t understanding what I’m saying—-since you’re addressing positions I’ve neither stated nor hold.

The issue I’m raising isn’t that we should not be responsible for it if we sin. Its why we are made to be born with a sinful nature.

And nothing you’ve said so far is remotely responsive to that question.

“Does He have the power to MAKE us love Him (which is what obeying Him translates to)? What an odd question. Is it love if someone forces you?”

You too, Rebecca, are, in this comment, responding to a position I don’t hold and not addressing the question I am raising:

why, if God hates sin, are we born with a sinful nature?

Again, nothing you’ve said addresses that question.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/13/2008 2:20:05 AM I want to be clear about one thing. I dont see you as having any obligation whatsoever to answer theological issues I raise. Though the topics you discuss bring such questions to mind for me (especially as someone who shares your interest in science fiction and fantasy but not your religious beliefs), this isn’t an apologetics blog.

If you are interested in discussing these issues I’m more than happy to. If not, you have but to say so.

Thanks,

David E.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: XDPaul DATE: 8/13/2008 9:27:42 PM The short answer to your specific question is this:

More than two hundred years ago, an ancestor of mine, and a sea captain, was taken captive in Africa. As a white slave in a dark-skinned country, he had a unique perspective on slavery. When he miraculously survived and returned to the United States, he wrote a memoir that was very popular at the time. It was one of the few books in Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home, and was an important influence on him in his understanding of the dehumanizing effect of slavery. Today, we live in a nation free of slavery, in very small part due to the actions of my (many greats) grandfather. His life has repurcussions that continue to this day.

So does everyone’s life. Repurcussions, good and bad, echo through the generations. Some of your great achievements will endure beyond your life. So, too, will some of your errors.

The error of sin, that first sin, in the first two people on earth, didn’t mar perfection, it shoved them out of its orbit. Their children would likewise be born outside that orbit, as would their children.

Sin isn’t like some white elephant that gets begrudgingly handed down from generation to generation. It is a state. You didn’t choose to be born in your hometown, and you didn’t choose to be born in the state of sin.

But you were.

You may be getting too caught up in the “inheritence.” The point is that WHETHER OR NOT there is inherited sin, you still have sinned. I still have sinned.

This is not our forefathers’ “fault.” The fault of sin is entirely on our own shoulders. The second we brought it into the relationship, it tainted everything, forever.

So that’s the thing, really. I can discuss why sin is inherited, or even how it is, but the fact is that whether it is or not is not as important as your sin, as my sin, the sins we commit, the sins we can’t atone for, no matter how we try.

Sin is a rod that pushes a man away from God’s dock, irretrievably so. But God has never wielded it. It is one that each man finds in his own repertoire, and one that he employs with impunity.

Whether or not we understand the consequence of our sins is not the point. Sin is an agent – it behaves in a certain way.

Again, God did not create it, he does not like it, he has nothing to do with it, and gave us everything we needed to avoid it.

But we didn’t.

The good news is that, as horrible as sin is, as far reaching its effects are, as poisonous its disease, and as opaque its reality-covering xanthous cloud may be, it is not the end of the story.

It is only the beginning.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/14/2008 6:24:28 AM “You didn’t choose to be born in your hometown, and you didn’t choose to be born in the state of sin.

But you were.”

I think we need to clarify a few things before we can discuss them fruitfully.

Do you believe the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall to be literal historical fact or do you interpret it as metaphorical?

Do you believe in evolution and, if so, how do you relate it to the Fall?

Do you believe in original sin? If so, please explain what exactly you mean by it. If not, what do you believe about human nature and sinfulness?

I’ve encountered too many variations among christians and their interpretation of the Fall to be able to discuss the topic with any particular christian and be sure we’re talking about the same thing without hearing their personal views on the subject.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: XDPaul DATE: 8/14/2008 7:47:44 PM I’d be happy to, but I don’t think you’ll ever find an orthodox Christian anywhere on the planet who doesn’t believe that we aren’t born into a seemingly naturally-occurring state of sin.

If they don’t believe that, then they simply fall into a different category of faith.

But to answer your questions:

“Do you believe the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall to be literal historical fact or do you interpret it as metaphorical?”

I have no biblical, scientific, theoretical or other reason to interpret it as anything other than a history. Somebody had to be first, right? The Bible’s account is the only one that documents itself to creation, and includes a plausible argument for the story’s relatively direct transmission over thousands of years.

“Do you believe in evolution and, if so, how do you relate it to the Fall?”

Of course I believe in evolution – the physical adaptation of creatures to their environment and an ability to transfer some advantageous traits over time. Everyone does. What there is no documentation for is the springing forth of life out of magic soup, the transition of one species to another, or even a geologic snapshot of the day the monkeys started giving birth to human babies, or a fish egg cracked open and a lizard wiggled out. This seems like it should be relatively easy evidence to produce, were Darwin’s theories remotely proven.

“Do you believe in original sin?”

Original sin can describe two things – in the first case, orginal sin is simply that: the first sin. Obviously, there was a time before mankind walked the earth, and a time when it appeared. Because only man can sin, someone had to be the first. The first sin, which is best described in the book of Genesis, was actually the act of two people, in collusion. Adam and Eve were together when Eve was approached by the serpent, and both partook of the sin.

That act of sin had an effect: it instantly knocked the human race (because the whole human race at the time) from a place where sin did not exist, into one where sin could exist. Suddenly, they were, by choice, changed. They were “Fallen.” The world was changed. Death was introduced. People had a knowledge of good and evil, and, with that knowledge, a propensity to compound evil.

Original Sin also explains the state in which we all naturally find ourselves. Why are babies born into sin? Well, that’s not the way we are designed, but it affects everyone in the human race the exact same way: it diminishes something, something that we want desperately to have redeemed, but can’t find it on our own, no matter how hard we try.

So, when I’m talking about Original Sin, I’m basically using shorthand to describe the origins and reasons behind the obvious sin state in which all people are current citizens.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/15/2008 6:23:41 AM OK. Traditional conservative christianity then. That’s what I thought but I didn’t want to waste time addressing a position you don’t hold.

“That act of sin had an effect: it instantly knocked the human race (because the whole human race at the time) from a place where sin did not exist, into one where sin could exist.”

The paradise in which the original humans lived was also, apparently, a place where sin could exist—since it, according to your theology, DID occur there.

The same goes for heaven, where Lucifer and his fellow rebel angels sinned as well.

“Suddenly, they were, by choice, changed.”

The human species did not make this choice. Adam and Eve made it.

Anyway, now that I know what theological perspective you take on the Genesis story I think we can proceed to address my central question:

Why, if God hates sin, are human beings born with an inherently sinful nature?

Why is our psychological makeup designed such that we have such a powerful impetus to sin.

We could just as easily be designed by God with a natural disposition to find sinful acts repellent—and this would seem the sensible way to design human nature if God actually did hate sin. To anticipate a common response, I point out that doing this does not in any way inhibit humanity’s free will. We would still be ABLE to sin despite the lack of a natural inclination to it (just as Adam, Eve and Satan did without such a natural inclination)—we just wouldn’t be predisposed to do so.

You christians always seem to treat the fall as a cause and effect process out of God’s control.

But for an omnipotent being this simply cannot be the case—if Adam and Eve’s sin had the effect of altering human nature to be naturally sinful it MUST be that this is because God chose for this to have this effect. He could just as easily, being omnipotent, do as I described—giving humanity a natural impetus to virtue rather than sin.

So why instead have us to be born with a nature which is just the opposite?
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: XDPaul DATE: 8/15/2008 4:09:40 PM DB, I believe I’ve answered these questions numerous times in numerous ways.

Look, I’m not a fool. I get it: you think Christians believe in a toy, insensible God who hands out imaginary trinkets to his believers so that we can feel justified about ourselves. Your queries have made that clear. I have no idea whether you are looking for real answers, or just like trying to pop the bubble wrap that you think surrounds Christians (or Christians of a certain stripe). In short, I have no way of knowing whether you are authentically interested in the truth, or simply interested in poking around Christianity because you don’t like it.

But if you are seriously interested in knowing God, know this: sin exists because we want it to, not because God is weak, not because he didn’t plan well, but because he was willing to risk the possibility of sin for a deep, meaningful relationship with you. I don’t know how to put it any plainer than that.

An once we “get” sin, we enjoy it, then lament it, then despise it, then become used to it, then grow comfortable. Then we blame that stupid old imaginary God for letting us have it anyway and stick to its measly wages until reaping its balloon payment at the end.

“The human species did not make this choice. Adam and Eve made it.”

Dead wrong. That’s kind of like saying that “the first people on this planet were not the human species.” The Bible makes the only plausible historic claim I’ve ever seen that purports to be a close record of the first people (whether or not you believe they came out of the trees). It is what historians refer to as a “source document.” If you’ve got a better one regarding the first humans, I’d be happy to read it (hint: the Epic of Gilgamesh isn’t even close, and the speculation of the complicated and uncertain and painstaking reverse engineering process of the anthropologist doesn’t trump reliable recorded documents.)
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Johne Cook DATE: 8/15/2008 4:14:31 PM I’m intrigued and pleased that we’ve seen such a lively discussion spawned out of what is ostensibly a ‘mere superhero’ film.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/15/2008 7:15:07 PM “DB, I believe I’ve answered these questions numerous times in numerous ways.”

I know I am repeating the question but that’s because you have been addressing all sorts of positions I don’t hold while skirting away from the very direct and straightforward question I HAVE asked.

I honestly don’t think you’ve given a cogent answer to that question.

The following is a good example of how you keep attributing to me views which I don’t hold rather than simply answering the question I’m asking:

“Look, I’m not a fool. I get it: you think Christians believe in a toy, insensible God who hands out imaginary trinkets to his believers so that we can feel justified about ourselves.”

Nowhere have I expressed nor even implied such a view.

“But if you are seriously interested in knowing God, know this: sin exists because we want it to, not because God is weak, not because he didn’t plan well, but because he was willing to risk the possibility of sin for a deep, meaningful relationship with you. I don’t know how to put it any plainer than that.”

You are, instead of answering my question as to why we are inclined to sinfulness, just restating the fact of our sinful nature as if it answered the question.

You say “sin exists because we want it to” but the question I’m asking is why we have such a nature as to want sin so strongly. We, after all, don’t choose what human nature is. If anyone does, then its God.

“Dead wrong. That’s kind of like saying that “the first people on this planet were not the human species.”

What I’m saying is that you and I and all subsequent humans (assuming for the sake of argument traditional biblical creationism to be true) did not make the choice which made human nature sinful—only Adam and Eve did. But I’m not interested in getting sidetracked into a debate on evolution vs creationism when we already have a thorny enough topic at hand.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/15/2008 7:24:45 PM “In short, I have no way of knowing whether you are authentically interested in the truth, or simply interested in poking around Christianity because you don’t like it.”

What I am interested in doing is discussing the implications of one of the doctrines of christianity.

One which, in my opinion, when examined carefully, makes no sense.

Maybe I’m mistaken. It wouldn’t be the first time. But I don’t think the question I’m raising should be dismissed so easily as you seem inclined to do. It seems to me to be a serious theological problem.

Speaking of which, does anyone reading this know any essays or books by christian theologians addressing the question I’ve raised? It might be worthwhile to discuss particular solutions to it that have been proposed by major theologians, both contemporary and through christian history.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: XDPaul DATE: 8/15/2008 9:21:40 PM You speak of examining a doctrine carefully, as if no Christian in the world has ever done so.

I’d argue that the flaw is in your analysis, not in the doctrine.

It is a serious issue of doctrine, but I’m pretty certain that I’ve addressed from several angles and have not yet satisfied your brand of logic. But I guess that exposes the key:

Logic isn’t going to be of any use to you if you are already coming at it from a point of view that it is a flaw to be worried at. It is not unlike the Rabbi who offered the young man a shekel if the lad could show him where God lived. The young man replied, “Rabbi, I will give you two shekels if you can show me where God does not live!”

You see a flaw in logic because you can’t comprehend this principle: that God allows sin because he loves us. You armchair quarterback the Almighty by presuming that his approach is flawed (i.e. you could do better), because his plan allows for something he abhors (sin).

I would only ask, is that because you don’t like sin, or because you don’t like God?

This is an important question to answer. Don’t presume I’m dealing with your question casually, or dodging it in anyway. Believe it or not, I’m trying to get at its very center. I’m afraid you may be the one getting distracted by some window dressing.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Rebecca LuElla Miller DATE: 8/16/2008 12:56:15 AM My turn. 😉

DB, I love discussing theology, so as long as you’re enjoying the conversation, I hope you keep commenting.

You said:

Since sin is, according to christian theology, so horrible why would God decide that since the first humans sinned subsequent humans would have a sinful nature.

Surely God, being omnipotent, doesnt HAVE to set up his creation in such a way that humanity inherits a sinful nature.

So why did he? It makes no sense whatsoever.

My answer goes back to the evolution question you brought up (and my answers to all those “what kind of Christian are you” questions, would be similar to xdpaul’s). According to the Genesis account of creation, God made all living creatures to bring forth life after “their kind.”

Since Adam was made in God’s image, after his kind would mean his sons and daughters would also bear God’s image.

But when Adam intentional partook of the knowledge of good and evil, his children bore that image as well.

Genesis 5 spells it out:

“In the day when God created man, He made him in the lineness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them … When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image…”

That there is a genetic passing of physical traits from father to son is certainly clear. Christians–the majority, anyway–accept that there is also a moral component to this process as well. (And haven’t recent brain studies discovered a place in the brain where moral decisions supposedly are made?)

But all of that simply reiterates the belief that this is the way sin got into humanity. It doesn’t explain WHY God set up the way one person inherits from his ancestors.

The thing is, DB, you’re essentially asking the unknowable.

We know what we know about God because He has shown us Himself. But because He is God–omnipotent, sovereign, holy, loving, merciful, immutible, infinite, eternal, to name just a few of His unique qualities–I have no chance of understanding Him at all unless He shows me Himself. I am finite, dependent, sinful, selfish, in other words, so other than God.

Why would He create this system that looks so flawed, so predictably flawed, since He knows all? I can only surmise from what else He has said about Himself:
1) He wants relationship with Mankind, and this system makes that relationship possible.
2) He is glorified through this system.

One thing we’ve been overlooking is that God knew Man’s sin would require His self-less, loving sacrifice. That He would have to empty Himself, come to earth as a man, and die in order to bring us back into relationship with Him.

Nothing else He could do would demonstrate His love more. And consequently bring Him more glory.

Becky
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/16/2008 6:30:41 AM “You speak of examining a doctrine carefully, as if no Christian in the world has ever done so.”

Again you are attributing to me opinions of an unflattering nature which I have not expressed and which, in this case, my comments clearly show that I do not hold. Did I not specifically suggest that we discuss the solutions that major theologians have proposed on this issue? So, obviously, I could not be assuming that I’m the first to think this question through carefully.

“You see a flaw in logic because you can’t comprehend this principle: that God allows sin because he loves us.”

This principle is not in dispute. That God values our free will such that he allows us the capability to sin is not the issue I’m raising. Its why we have, by nature, an INCLINATION to sin which is what I find problematic. Not why we have the ability to do so. They are far from the same thing.

“You armchair quarterback the Almighty by presuming that his approach is flawed (i.e. you could do better), because his plan allows for something he abhors (sin).”

I know only that this “plan” is that of christian doctrine. I find it dubious and therefore I ask probing questions about it.

Whether it is actually The Almighty’s plan is another question. I have not heard this plan from the Almighty himself—only from humans claiming that God speaks to or through them or who believe, at least, that God has done so with the authors of the books of the Bible.

Surely you would do the same in regard to the theology of another. A muslim or hindu, for example.

“I would only ask, is that because you don’t like sin, or because you don’t like God?”

Your tone is beginning to display a hostility which I don’t feel my questions warrant. We have an honest disagreement.

I am not a christian and I do not share your religious beliefs. Surely the fact that I ask what may be some hard questions concerning one of the doctrines of your religion does not warrant the hostility you’ve begun to show. Would not a missionary ask equally hard questions of the faith of a Muslim he was trying to convince was mistaken in his religious beliefs. Should not a christian be equally willing to answer difficult questions as to raise them?

As to the substance of your question: I have no dislike for God. I simply find it highly unlikely that any diety, as worshipped by any religion, actually exists. I dont rule out the possibility but I’ve seen no evidence or argument for the existence of one that I think is remotely sufficient to convince someone viewing the question with an honest objectivity (though, again, I could be wrong).
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/16/2008 6:48:53 AM “But all of that simply reiterates the belief that this is the way sin got into humanity. It doesn’t explain WHY God set up the way one person inherits from his ancestors.”

Thank you for, at least, recognizing and “owning up” to this fact.

“The thing is, DB, you’re essentially asking the unknowable.”

Perhaps. But another possibility is that this doctrine, in fact, DOESNT make sense and the reason we can’t think of a reasonable solution is that there is none.

I’m not claiming to know this with certainty. But it does seem to me to be likely.

Or, alternately, there may be a quite knowable solution to the problem which neither you nor I managed to come up with but which someone else eventually might (maybe someone already has, for that matter, which is why I ask about the solutions theologians may have proposed on this question).

“One thing we’ve been overlooking is that God knew Man’s sin would require His self-less, loving sacrifice.”

Well, I don’t think we’ve overlooked the christian doctrine regarding how redemption and salvation works. I just don’t think knowing about it helps to answer the question of why we have a sinful nature.

Regardless, I appreciate the courteous tone and honest admission that you don’t know the solution to this question (though you are convinced, as I am not, that a solution exists, even if beyond our human understanding).

Thanks for an interesting discussion.

David E.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Rebecca LuElla Miller DATE: 8/16/2008 9:05:13 PM David, your last line makes me think you are finished with this discussion, which is fine. But just in case I misread you, I thought I’d respond.

From your last comment:

“One thing we’ve been overlooking is that God knew Man’s sin would require His self-less, loving sacrifice.”

Well, I don’t think we’ve overlooked the christian doctrine regarding how redemption and salvation works. I just don’t think knowing about it helps to answer the question of why we have a sinful nature.

What I meant was, we neglected to see how God coming to earth and dying for sinful man factors in to the question of WHY He would create a system He knew would open Mankind up to sin.

By His act of self-sacrifice, He said more about Himself, than a thousand bibles ever could, so I am postulating that one reason He created this system was so that we would have the opportunity to know Him as He is.

But I guess I’m also curious why you think it matters that we try to figure out God’s motive for making things work the way He did. It’s like asking why He made gravity. I mean, surely He could have come up with a better way of holding the universe together that wouldn’t send particles smashing into each other from time to time or kill thousands in deadly falls.

The point is, we can take anything in the universe and ask, Why did God make it that way because I don’t think it works/is good/user-friendly or whatever other reason we have for our dislike.

Because I have no problem accepting the existence of an all-wise and all-knowing being who created the universe, and because I know myself to be NOT all wise and all knowing, then I am not troubled by reasons I can only speculate about.

It’s the trust factor I alluded to earlier. I trust that God knows what He’s doing, even when I don’t see it.

The amazing thing about God is, He is so not what we expect. He is God but took the form of Man. He is king but came to die.

The Bible is full of these apparent contradictions: the last shall be first and the first, last. If you try to save you life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for His sake, you’ll find it. Joseph said to his brothers – You meant it for evil but God meant it for good. On and on.

So why would I think my logic or what would seem consistent from my finite view of things, has to be true?

Isn’t it more likely that a good God who is self-existent, who knows the end from the beginning came up with a good plan?

The bottom line, of course, David, is that you don’t believe there is such a person. There are others like yourself, however, who have done honest questioning from an objective position. Some, like C. S. Lewis, came to a point of belief. I’m sure others remain skeptics.

So I think there’s something more at work than honest, objective questioning. But I could be wrong.

Becky
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/17/2008 2:48:21 AM “David, your last line makes me think you are finished with this discussion, which is fine.”

Well, only in the sense that, if you think the solution is an unknowable divine mystery, that there’s little more that can really be said on the topic. At least not that I can think of.

“What I meant was, we neglected to see how God coming to earth and dying for sinful man factors in to the question of WHY He would create a system He knew would open Mankind up to sin.

By His act of self-sacrifice, He said more about Himself, than a thousand bibles ever could, so I am postulating that one reason He created this system was so that we would have the opportunity to know Him as He is.”

For me, as a nonchristian, this is another christian belief I find….and I don’t mean this as an insult, its just my honest reaction…..weird.

God is, according to most versions of christianity, only willing (or, for some mysterious reason, able) to forgive humanity their sins if he first takes human form and is then tortured and killed.

Well, why?!!

“By His act of self-sacrifice, He said more about Himself, than a thousand bibles ever could….”

An act of self-sacrifice is only actually self-sacrifice if its actually necessary.

But only forgiving others if you are first tortured….that sounds to me, as an outsider to your faith, like masochism rather than self-sacrifice. I mean, if I were to steal $1000 dollars from my father and he was only willing to forgive me if I first pounded his hand with a hammer as hard as I could, I’d think he was simply insane.

Honestly, I don’t mean this to be insulting. I just find the whole theological system associated with christianity utterly bizarre—and I’m someone who was raised in it—I can’t begin to imagine how strange it must seem to people totally new to it.

“But I guess I’m also curious why you think it matters that we try to figure out God’s motive for making things work the way He did. It’s like asking why He made gravity.”

There is no inconsistency in God making gravity. Its not a christian doctrine that God hates things to be stuck to the ground.

It is, however, a christian teaching that God hates sin….and then saddles us with a nature massively inclined to sin (so much so that no one born as a human, other than him, has ever been able to resist it).

“The point is, we can take anything in the universe and ask, Why did God make it that way because I don’t think it works/is good/user-friendly or whatever other reason we have for our dislike.”

Well, the problem of unnecessary suffering (usually called the “problem of evil” which is misleading to most, which is why I don’t like that label) is also a serious issue for christianity. But that wasn’t the topic raised. These issues are difficult enough without trying to address all of them as once.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/17/2008 3:17:51 AM “Because I have no problem accepting the existence of an all-wise and all-knowing being who created the universe, and because I know myself to be NOT all wise and all knowing, then I am not troubled by reasons I can only speculate about.”

To try to illustrate my thinking put yourself in the shoes of a christian missionary in the past going to the Aztecs. He tells them that God would never want them to practice human sacrifice. Human sacrifice is wrong and God would not order that which is wrong.

The Aztec priest replies, much as you reply to me, “We do not understand why our God demands human sacrifices. But our God is holy and beyond our mere human understanding. We trust him to have a good reason for what he orders even if to our limited minds it is incomprehensible.”

I doubt you’d find this a very good answer. I know I wouldn’t.

And this is equally true of my reaction to many christian doctrines (if, other than the doctrine of Hell, less blatantly barbaric).

It seems to me, in both cases, that the believer is just cloaking the nonsensical in the mysterious.

But, as the old story goes, the emperor’s new clothes look mighty transparent (I wonder if that tale was originally intended to be interpreted as referring to religion—its always seemed highly applicable to me).

Reading the above, I realize it may sound harsh. I don’t mean to insult your beliefs but I DO disagree with them and this is truly how strange I find much of what is taught by christianity (and much the same goes for every other religion I’ve encountered).

“So I think there’s something more at work than honest, objective questioning. But I could be wrong.”

Well, I agree that you could be wrong on that. Its impossible to know what’s in another’s heart so I prefer to confine myself to discussing the issues rather than speculating on any base motives others might have for their opinions.
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Rebecca LuElla Miller DATE: 8/17/2008 8:28:45 PM

Its impossible to know what’s in another’s heart so I prefer to confine myself to discussing the issues rather than speculating on any base motives others might have for their opinions.

David, I’m sorry if I came across as questioning your motives. I wasn’t thinking along those lines. Instead, because people involved in honest, objective questioning have reached conclusions on both sides of the argument, it seems to me there must be another factor. I could speculate on what those factors might be, but I wasn’t planning on going there.

And for the record, I’m not at all offended by your characterizations of Christianity. I thought your missionary-to-the-Aztecs story was a great illustration.

I also thought the son stealing $1000 and having to smash his father’s hand to gain his forgiveness was clarifying.

I’d noticed subtle language earlier in your comments to xdpaul (and those you received in return) that I disagreed with, but making the point then would have taken the discussion off track. Now it is central.

Here’s the paragraph that contains that language:

It is, however, a christian teaching that God hates sin….and then saddles us with a nature massively inclined to sin (so much so that no one born as a human, other than him, has ever been able to resist it).

First point. You very well may hear Christians say God hates sin, but that’s not actually Biblical. I can suppose that Christians using that phrase are trying to explain the severity of sin, but it gives a false image.

Instead, think of a sterile environment, like an operating room, for example. If someone would introduce germs into that environment, then, of course, it would no longer be sterile. The two simply cannot exist together.

And the issue isn’t how small the germ or even how few. It may not make sense to the ordinary person, especially if they just washed their hands in the bathroom. They’re clean, aren’t they? The doctor or scientist, of course, knows better. No germ is “small.” Any germ cancels sterility.

That’s a more accurate picture of God and sin. Not that God can’t be around sin–a point that is obvious because He came to earth and lived here for some 30 odd years. Rather, it is the coming together in relationship that sin negates.

This leads to your point, then, about an act of self-sacrifice only actually being self-sacrifice if its actually necessary.

If sin prevents Mankind from entering into the kind of close relationship God intends to experience with us, and if in fact Mankind needs God–to make sense of life, give him purpose, provide security, hope for the future beyond the grave, and a whole list of other things–then there is an urgent necessity to solve the problem of sin.

Which brings us back to the central issue. Why sin? In your interpretation, God, if he existed, is at fault because he created Mankind with a propensity to sin. But He didn’t.

To be continued
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: Rebecca LuElla Miller DATE: 8/17/2008 8:51:13 PM He made Mankind free to choose, not inclined to sin.

What you seem to be suggesting is that God, if he was good (and if he actually existed) somehow should eradicate the consequences of a wrong choice. But then, what kind of choice is that?

If I said, here’s a cow pie and here’s an orange. Choose whichever one you want, but they will both taste like an orange and give you the equal nutritional value, but go ahead and choose–that obviously is not a choice. Choice only exists if there are real options.

Adam and Eve didn’t initiate Mankind’s sinful nature by some little “opps.” Adam intended to choose against God. He was not deceived. He knew what God had said and what the consequences were, and he decided to act in conjunction with his deceived wife anyway.

As a result, their eyes were open to good and evil. That eye-opened factor was what we all have inherited.

Your insistence that God is to blame for making the inheritance factor is actually like taking away choice.

You might be thinking that only Adam and Eve should have suffered the consequence, but that’s not logical. Once death was introduced into the world, it initiated such things as hatred and disease–stuff that kills. To say that only Adam and Eve should have died, when in fact death didn’t even exist until they triggered it, is to misunderstand the perfection God originally created.

Essentially, Adam and Eve brought a germ into a sterile environment, and that germ ended up infecting them, but it also destroyed the sterile environment. Every person born into the infected environment can’t help but become infected.

David, I hope that makes a few of the weird Christian ideas seem at least a little less outlandish.
😉

Becky
—– COMMENT
: AUTHOR: DB Ellis DATE: 8/17/2008 9:10:16 PM “I wasn’t thinking along those lines. Instead, because people involved in honest, objective questioning have reached conclusions on both sides of the argument, it seems to me there must be another factor.”

Yes, there probably is. But it is, I would propose, more likely that the desire for an afterlife, social stigma against atheism and similar pressures give an impetus to believe despite lack of evidence for, even opposing evidence against, religion than for the opposite.

I have heard many preachers and believers say they would rather continue to believe even if their religion wasn’t true because they couldn’t bear the alternative. On the other hand, I’ve never heard an atheist say they wouldn’t want to believe even if a God exists. Not once.

In almost every discussion I have with believers the claim usually arises that I probably disbelieve because I want to sin freely (as if believers can’t sin freely, we all know many do without reservation) or something of the sort.

“If sin prevents Mankind from entering into the kind of close relationship God intends to experience with us…..”

Then wouldn’t it make sense for God to choose for us to be born with no natural propensity to sinfulness?

If you were living in a future in which people frequently genetically engineered their children, what would you think of someone who engineered th