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.
4. 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
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
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
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.