Monday, 28 May 2012

Response to the New Atheist Rosa Rubicondior - Christians! Be Sensible Now And Tell Me This.

 I recently found myself reading the blog of a UK based  New Atheist who blogs and Tweets alot about problems they have have with Christianity here. Most of the content is actually pretty good and the author seems pretty well read in the atheistic literature from what I can see. I subsequently stumbled upon a post that posed several questions for Christians to respond to. So being Christians, a few of us got together and offer a few brief points in response to Rosa Rubicondior. They are not exhaustive responses, and some of the questions touch upon very similar points so it wasn't necessary to go over them again. Anyway, below are our thoughts on the questions posed to Christians, hopefully the response will be helpful for both Christians and Atheists.

 Hopefully these questions are genuine and if this is the case I hope that these short responses help to correct any misunderstandings, and help people to better understand what Christians actually believe. There is often a tendency for many New Atheists to come up with questions about theism or Christianity specifically that are meant to rock the theistic boat. However the answers are usually a little thought or book away. I think its important as a Christian to better understand the New Atheism and see where their coming from so I take the time to read their books. Perhaps if I can humbly suggest that the New Atheists occasionally pick up a book on the basics of Christian Theology (I know after reading Dawkins you think its a non-subject). Stranger things have happened. Most of us are products of the books we read, most atheists read books that support their case or assumptions and the minority of Christians who do pick up a book generally do the same. Its good to mix it up a little.

1. You tell me I need your god's forgiveness for something Adam and Eve are believe by some to have done many thousands of years ago. Why should that bother me if I don't believe in your god or the Adam and Eve myth, please?

 Truth is not determined by what you believe. Christianity is objectively true or objectively false irrespective of what you believe about it. For reasons discussed on this site and elsewhere, we find the evidence for Christianity to be very compelling. Furthermore, it is not only Adam and Eve who sinned and have thereby fallen short of God's righteous standard. Indeed, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." It is for this reason that we need a Saviour. God, being by His very nature just, must come against sin with perfect righteousness and justice. All sin must be punished -- and, indeed, it will be; either in you, the sinner, or in the perfect substitute, namely, Jesus Christ.

2. Leaving that aside for a moment and accepting for the sake of argument that I am somehow responsible for something someone else did a long time ago, and over which I could not possibly have any influence or be held to account for, how did a blood sacrifice absolve me of that responsibility exactly, please? Note: I'm not asking whether it did or not; I'm asking how it worked exactly.

 God's character demands that sin be dealt with justly -- A Holy God cannot simply wink at sin. Two thousand years ago, God the Son -- the second person of the Trinity -- stepped into human history, living a perfect life in full obedience to the law of God. In love, he went to the cross and bore the punishment that we deserve as a consequence of our sin. All sin is ultimately an offence against the Creator. It is for this reason that the only means by which we could be reconciled to a Holy God was by Jesus Christ -- God in the flesh -- standing in our place condemned as a penal substitute. By simply placing our trust fully in what Christ has done -- ceasing to attempt to earn your own salvation by your own meritorious good deeds -- you can be saved from God's righteous judgement and enter into relationship with Him.

3. Why did your god need a blood sacrifice in order to forgive us? If it is all powerful, why couldn't it just forgive us?

 Firstly God doesn't necessarily need anything. Blood signifies life and is highly symbolic in that sense, in the OT the sacrifice of a perfect animal without spot or blemish that had done nothing wrong functioned as a symbolic act that God acknowledged as a representation of forgiveness between a person and God. The sacrificial system demonstrated that sin is serious, that the penalty of sin was death, that human effort can never make us right with God, to point us towards Jesus, and to show that sin can be atoned for. When someone placed their trust in that sacrifice through that symbolic act they knew that they were and would be forgiven, the animal functioned as a substitute for Gods justice to be expressed. It was also a foreshadow of Jesus who would come willingly and lovingly without spot or blemish lay down his life as a substitute in place of us, for Gods righteous justice for our sin (Rebellion and crimes against God) to be expressed through Jesus rather than us. So that if we accept his gift and place our trust in the historical death and resurrection we can be forgiven. So there's no more need for numerous animal blood sacrifices any-more (Hence no need for a temple or priesthood etc), instead we're left with a one time sacrificial death on our behalf that meets Gods need for justice. Jesus death represented the death we deserved for our sin, the penalty of which was death and his resurrection was the vindication of his claims.

 Secondly being all powerful isn't specifically relevant to a moral question. When people commit a crime we have the expectation of justice. Gods expectations are no different, our sin/offence against him demands justice since we have done so with the knowledge of good and evil through the human conscience. Gods holy and righteous character demands that he punish sin, hence sinners (us) appropriately and Gods justice must be suitably satisfied. God expressed his love by punishing a fully adequate substitute and thus allowing us to receive mercy. The redemption of man clearly came at Gods expense, on the cross Jesus was our willing one time substitute, becoming instead the object of Gods justice/anger. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends - John 15:13.

How did your god arranging for the sacrifice of a manifestation of itself provide that blood sacrifice, exactly, when its 'death' is not only impossible but only lasted for a few days?

 The author seems to infer that the "blood sacrifice" of Christ is somehow lacking in meaning/effect given that He was raised to life. To parse this differently: isn't the atoning death of Jesus undermined or diluted in the light of His eventual resurrection? With respect to the author, I suggest that this betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what Christian theology says regarding atonement. Jesus' Resurrection was not a superfluous 'extra', some relief on the Sunday for the sufferings on the Friday. Rather, both the Bible and the overwhelming consensus of Christian theology declares that the Resurrection - far from taking something AWAY from Jesus' sacrifice - ADDS to its significance.
 The Apostle Paul, for example, wrote the following in his Epistle to the Romans: "It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification." (Rom 4:24-25). In other words, the Resurrection contributed towards our justification - our being made 'righteous' before God. Just one verse later Paul says that now that we are justified, we have peace with God through Christ (Rom 5:1). Paul does not mention the resurrection here as a superfluous feature. He doesn't describe it as something 'extra' to Jesus' atonement on the Cross. Rather, he presents it as intimately tied up with it, achieving part of its purpose. The rest of the New Testament teaches likewise. Jesus is said to have been raised to provide repentance and forgiveness to God's people (Acts 5:31). Peter taught that we are saved by appealing to God for a "good conscience" through the Resurrection (1 Pet 3:21).

  In each of these passages, the Resurrection ADDS to the atonement procured by Christ on the Cross. Both the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday are perceived as the one harmonious, redemptive work of God. The author's assumption that the Resurrection undermines or dilutes the blood sacrifice of Christ is therefore entirely fallacious.

5. ‎If the blood sacrifice worked, why do you say we are all still sinners and why do we still need to keep asking your god for forgiveness?

 Imagine you where young once again, and in your childishness you stole a bar of chocolate from a local shop. The shop keeper, knowing it was a foolish mistake accepts payment for the chocolate and presses no charges. Just because you are not charged, does not mean you are not a shoplifter for doing such.
In the same way, we are forgiven for our crimes against God - our sins. That answers the first part of your question

The second part is "why do we keep asking God for forgiveness" I am not a punctual guy. I am often late when meeting with my friends, each time I am late, they forgive me (so far) I know that my friends will forgive me for being late. I never plan on being late, and I always apologise and ask them to forgive me for that. This is the same reason why we ask God for forgiveness each time we sin, because when in a relationship with somebody you love, and who loves you, one does not take advantage.

6. Why is a god which:

A. arbitrarily designated an act by two innocent people who did not know right from wrong as about the worst sin imaginable

B. arbitrarily, and against any notion of natural justice, decided that responsibility for ...that 'sin' was to be inherited by all their descendants

C. requires the life of an innocent person as the price of its forgiveness when it could have forgiven us anyway . . . worthy of worship and in what sense of the word 'love' is that an act of a loving and benevolent god?

 Firstly I disagree with the premises, so let me address those: 6a. Please see answers to question 1. Also, what is the 'worst sin imaginable'? I personally don't think of the sin of Adam & Eve in those terms. It's more to do with acceptance and/or rejection of God and therefore also morality, as morality is defined by his character. Therefore, when anyone does something wrong we are working in opposition to his character. Thus, what Adam & Eve did would not be a crime that we, nowadays, would consider 'major'. Rather, it was representative of a choice to define morality and meaning according to themselves, rather than God. And when we do that we go against his character, and by doing so reject God as God. We all do that, or all have done in the past. And therefore, we have all rejected God as God. By doing this we have all decided in action and in motive to separate ourselves from him. This is why we all, of our own volition and choice, do wrong, and why there are consequences for what we do.

6b. See answer to question 1 & 6a

6c. See answers to question 2

 Therefore, considering the above answers, God is not arbitrary, and certainly not unjust. He dose not reject us for petty reasons. Rather it is us who have rejected him, by designing our own way if living without reference to him. God has made it clear that he desires a relationship with us, by providing us with a way out through Jesus. See answers to question 2 for why this is needed. So, God is loving. We reject him, and all of us do; we are not innocent bystanders who are convicted of a crime we did not commit. We are convicted because we are all guilty of living how we want, regardless of God and (on occasions) others. Therefore, God's love is shown in the fact that he shows compassion and love for us all in taking the punishment we all deserved. I think what Jesus did on the cross was the ultimate display of compassionate love and self sacrifice.

7. If that is how a loving god behaves, how would we recognise a hateful and malignant god?

 I don't believe that the questioner really wants me to explain how I would recognise a malignant god compared to my own God. I believe the question might be rhetorical. But, I will assume that it is not, for the sake of answering it! The difference would surely be in the things that he did. A malignant God would not show the self sacrifice that Christ did. That is for sure. But a much better explanation can be found here.

8. If we should worship your god just in case it is real and the story about original sin and the need for its forgiveness is true, how does that differ from an acute, morbidly paranoid, anxiety disorder, or phobia, please, and why should this theophobia not be regarded as a psychological disorder requiring therapy?

 Firstly, it would be a little weird if someone were to worship God 'in case it (he?) is real'. I expect most people would be uneasy, even unable, to worship a God that they were not sure existed! Anyway, I'm sure many people do go through the motions just in case, so it's a valid position, but I still find it strange that anyone would do that!

 How does belief in God and belief that we have done wrong and need forgiveness differ from 'acute, morbidly paranoid, anxiety disorder or phobia’? Well a lot, I believe. I have suffered with an anxiety disorder before and also have friends who have long lasting irrational paranoia, and the differences between believe in God and moral consequence and those mental disorders are vast. But the main difference I would highlight is fear. All the above mental problems revolve around fear; fear of what others think, fear of the future, fear of the past or fear that something bad will happen to you . . . Etc. I understand by reading between the lines that the questioner believes that belief in God also revolves around an irrational fear. Firstly, belief and worship of God does not revolve around fear, but around love (though there is an appropriate place for fear of God because, well, he’s God! But this should not be the basis of a relationship with him). And this is the way that it is meant to be. What Jesus has done is meant to set one free from fear, because we know that God will not hold anything against us.

 Therefore the difference between Christian belief and a mentally ill person, with the disorders described above, is fear. Christians do not believe out of fear, but out of conviction. I know of no Christians who are walking around trembling, paranoid or in constant anxiety because of their faith. Quite the reverse. Also all the above mental disorders affect your ability to function in society. I had an anxiety disorder for a year, which was accompanied by depression and I lost my job, and started working part-time, because that is all I could handle. I had been a Christian for two years before I started getting anxiety problems; it was the opposite of what my faith had produced in me. Being a Christian does not stop you functioning in society, in fact, it should encourage a reliable work ethic. There is a tendency in the question to assume that Christianity is a form of mental projection. I wrote about this a while ago, and instead of re-hashing it out here, I will link directly to it. Here and another article on a similar theme here.

Responses provided by Daniel Rodger, Nathan Paylor, Ruth Preston, Jonathan McLatchie and Andrew Goudie.


  1. Please permit me to submit the following as a more complete, far better answer to the questions being posed here.

    Let's start with question 6(A):

    Our universe was intended as a place where men could live in communion with God. Life was never intended to occur apart from the conscious presence and intervention of God. In fact, it does not occur without His presence; all life depends on His constant, current, personal, intimate attention.

    Rebellion against God is the first, the most serious, and in fact the only sin possible. All other sins arise from it and are sub-instances of it. It is in the absence and ignorance of God that we begin to behave in a manner unlike Him. The very definition of immorality is "behavior contrary to the character of God." That's what sin is.

    The sin in Eden was not something about which they could not know. They could not know the distinction between good and evil because they had never experienced evil; but they could, and did, know "God's will" as opposed to their own intentions. It was the only thing they did know. The sin consisted of abandoning God's instructions for their own intentions, thus severing their dependence on the divine and substituting self-will.

    Here we get to question 1: It is the reliance on ourselves independent of God that produces all the misery in the world. In fact, that's the very definition of hell. "God must punish sin" is only true in the most trivial sense. It is far more accurate to say that sin is its own punishment. Hell is not "the place where God sends sinners to punish them," so much as it is the place where God gives sinners what they have asked for (e.g. a world without His intervention) and abandons them to the full impact of their sins. It is the sins, themselves, that produce the "lake of fire" in which the wicked are destroyed.

    His intention is to redeem us from the destruction we wreak on ourselves; that's what "save us from our sins" means. Forgiveness is only the very first step. We need to be taught again to rely on God, and that takes a lifetime of reconditioning. He sent the Holy Spirit in which we are able to live that way, not by our own power, but by His.

    All the correct answers to the rest of the questions can be deduced from the foundation I've laid out.

    All the things I've said can be found in the writings of the Church Fathers and the great saints of the faith. They can also be defended by resort to scripture if you insist that I do it.

    Only, take careful note: parsing the Bible for systematic understanding produces the bizarre, distorted version of the faith that your post represents. It arises from the almost animistic belief that by merely studying the Bible on an intellectual plane, one is encountering God.

    The people who do this err; the scriptures exist for us to get to know the living God, they are not a substitute for knowing Him. God is not a book, He's a person. He has a character. He does not merely give us the book; He gives us Himself, and communicates freely to those who have ears to hear. If you get to know the character, you'll understand the book. If, however, you study the book as though it was the object of the exercise, and neglect getting to know the very real God who inspired it, you end up with stilted, disjointed, meaningless factoids that mean very little and make no sense.

    I apologize for seeming to dismiss the work of some who imagine themselves mature, well-educated believers. I don't know any better way to say what I'm saying. If I were an atheist, I would not accept the answers you've given; but the view I've presented here makes cohesive sense.

    1. >Our universe was intended as a place where men could live in communion with God. Life was never intended to occur apart from the conscious presence and intervention of God. <

      I take it that you will be presenting the definitive evidence upon which that assertion is based in due course?

      Or are we just to accept your word for it?

    2. It would appear that we are just to take your word for it. How did you know that 'fact' without any evidence which you are able to share and which may be evaluated by others, please?

  2. Phil,

    thanks for taking the time to read the post but I feel I must highlight that this was NOT meant to be an extensive response to each question. I think the short paragraph responses are suitable for demonstrating that the questions are not defeaters. I appreciate your well written response to questions 6 but I did specifically aim to keep them as short as possible since this is a blog, not a book. Answering all those questions in that detail I deemed unnecessary and would have resulted in a post people wouldn't bother getting to the bottom of.

    However I don't accept your assertion that our response 'produces the bizarre, distorted version of the faith'. Nor that we think you can experience God through studying the Bible simply intellectually, I can't help think that your reading certain assumptions into what's written, to my knowledge none of us here think that.

    By all means feel free to respond to the atheist article yourself, the more the merrier :)

    'I apologize for seeming to dismiss the work of some who imagine themselves mature, well-educated believers.'

    No need to apologise, we're just normal Christians not intellectual heavyweights.


  3. It's interesting that you say Christianity is objectively true or objectively false because that clearly implies you have an objective basis for your belief and are not depending on faith alone. In other words, just as science does, you are relying on evidence for your belief, so this evidence can be scientifically examined and tested - something which is of course impossible for subjective faith.

    Before we go any further, perhaps you would be kind enough to tell me precisely what objective evidence you have, why it convinced you, how it was independently validated and so shown to be evidence for the Christian god and for no other, and where I may see this evidence for myself, please. If you have subjected it to scientific scrutiny perhaps you could point me to the results.

    Once we have established this objective basis for our discussion we can proceed to discuss its reliability and validity.

    When ready, you may contact me on Twitter - @RosaRubicondior - or you may leave as message on my blog at Rosa Rubicondior. I eagerly await your response.

    1. Om what scientific basis are you claiming that science is the only justifiable basis for knowing? Thats isn't a scientific claim, it is a faith claim. So is science your religion?

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Nice attempt to duck the question rather than answer it.

      It looks as though that claim that Christianity is objectively true can't be substantiated. I'm no theologian, but how does making a claim for which you have no evidence differ from bearing false witness - something which I understand Christians regard as a sin - please?

      As you pointed out, "Christianity is objectively true or objectively false irrespective of what you believe about it."

      Does this mean that, since it is evidently not objectively true, as evidence by your inability to produce any scientific evidence for it, that it is objectively false?

    4. floggin a dead horse:
      "Om what scientific basis are you claiming that science is the only justifiable basis for knowing?"

      Planes fly, Cars drive, rockets go to the moon, mars and beyond (AND BACK!!!). You are reading this post, on a computer, connected to a gazillion other computers and, in the blink of an eye, my response will be posted for a gazillion people to see.
      Science WORKS is all the proof I need, no need for "asserting" or "believing".

      You theists should really stop using this as an argument, it's merely a shovel to dig yourself deeper in the nonsense you call "truths". It only shows the incredible depth of your self-delusion.

  4. What continually makes an impression on me about New Atheism (I am ordained Methodist clergy) is how fundamentalist it is. It's as if the New Atheists can conceive of no God to renounce except that which pop culture - and here is America, the entertainment industry - presents, which is a cartoon of devoted faith.

    So I would say in response to the first question, "I do not read the story of Adam and Eve literalistically, as actual history. So why do you?"

    If we can lead these folks to start to understand that much of the Bible is less about "truth" than about understanding, then they can start to see the shallowness of their arguments.

    As converted atheist scientist Alistir McGrath wrote, "My own conversion was intellectual. I didn't need a quick spiritual fix. Instead, I encountered a compelling and luminous vision of reality so powerful and attractive that it demanded a response. Christianity made more sense of the world I saw around me and experienced within me than anything else—my earlier atheism included. I discovered the sheer intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith—its remarkable, God-given ability to offer us a lens through which we can see things, bringing everything into a sharper focus. It's a light that illuminates the shadowlands. That's why I've come to love Lewis's great one-liner: "I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not just because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

    1. >"I do not read the story of Adam and Eve literalistically, as actual history. So why do you?"<

      Does this mean then the the idea of original sin is false or merely allegorical?

      If the latter, allegorical for what, exactly please?

      If the former, why then should we be bothered about any notional need to atone for it, and what was the human blood sacrifice of Jesus for?

    2. Readers may note the lack of a reply...

  5. >God's character demands that sin be dealt with justly -- A Holy God cannot simply wink at sin. Two thousand years ago, God the Son -- the second person of the Trinity -- stepped into human history, living a perfect life in full obedience to the law of God. In love, he went to the cross and bore the punishment that we deserve as a consequence of our sin.<

    That was the claim I asked you to deal with, however, my question was very explicitly about how a blood sacrifice works to achieve that exactly.

    You failed to address that question. Does this mean that you don't know how a blood sacrifice works but have merely assumed it must do in some mysterious way?

  6. "Christianity is objectively true or objectively false irrespective of what you believe about it."

    Given your failure to respond to my request for the objective evidence which would establish the objective truth of Christianity, for a little over ten months, is it time yet to conclude that there is no such objective truth and hence, given your statement above, that you now accept it is objectively false?

    Or do you require more time to get that objective evidence you seemed to be so confident could be produced last May?

  7. "Christianity is objectively true or objectively false irrespective of what you believe about it."

    Is it time we now concluded that Christianity is objectively false because you can't demonstrate that it is objectively true and, in your words, there are only two possibilities?

    If so, can I assume you have stopped promoting it to children, and vulnerable and impressionable adults as an objective truth and now tell them that it is objectively false? That would be the honest thing to do, after all.

    1. Rosa, if Christianity is objectively true then it is true irrespective of whether you think it is false. If it is objectively false then it is false irrespective of what I think. That's the nature of truth, our opinions don't have any bearing on it. You wrote a post and we took the time to respond to your questions and suitably deal with what you believed to be good objections.

      You have presented nothing that would lead me to believe that my Christian theism is false. I think there is a good cumulative case for it and you disagree. Your assumptions that Christianity is dangerous are unfounded and I don't really have much time for something so clearly unreasonable and unfounded. Some Christians have been dicks and atheists have been dicks, it doesn't mean that either of them are false because of that. It would be like claiming atheism is false because of Stalin's five year plan for atheism, its moronic.


    2. Daniel.

      Great! So when do you think you'll be in a position to present to the world the objective evidence which convinced you of the objective truth of Christianity? Or are you using a private definition of the word 'objective' which doesn't include objectivity?

      The problem is, as the blog says, Christianity is either objectively true or it is objectively false. It follows then that if you have no objective evidence it cannot be objectively true, which only leaves you with one other possibility - it is objectively false.

      Please let me know when you have the objective evidence ready. I would like to be in on that momentous event which will undoubtedly earn you world-wide fame and fortune and almost certainly result in you being declared a saint and going into the history books as one of the most famous people ever to have lived - the first person ever to objectively prove a religion to be true.

      How long do you think you need?

    3. Daniel.

      Or will you be using the traditional excuse used by those who claim to have objective evidence that their superstition if true when asked to produce it - that I wouldn't understand it and it would be wasted on me?

    4. Again, there is that tell-tale lack of a response...

    5. Rosa,

      You may have noticed that this blog is no longer updated, that might explain why no one has responded.

      Something being objectively true/false in this case refers to something being true/false irrespective of personal feelings. So if Christianity is true or false it cannot be based upon feelings but evidence (of varying degrees of certainty) from a number of different areas. Perhaps I wasn't clear in the blog.

      I'm pretty sure you could check the last post and see that the blog is no longer running, not that much work to check is it?

      If you fancy a discussion let me have your email and we can chat that way. I won't be updating this website again although I will check back this week to see if you've left me an email address, Cheers

  8. And STILL no objective evidence and yet STILL no recognition of the fact that this means Christianity cannot be objectively true, so, in the words of the blog, must be objectively false.

    Coming up to three years now an not a single Christian has found the moral integrity to deal with this fundamental fact.


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