Questions for Lance Mays

A Just God?

How can God be called just or fair, (1) if he makes a list of rules knowing that no one will be able to follow them all? (2) If the consequence of not following ALL the rules results in eternal punishment? (3) If the punishment for breaking one of the minor rules (e.g. taking the Lord's name in vain), is the same as repeatedly breaking a major rule (e.g. murder)? Justice depends on the punishment fitting the crime. And not believing in Jesus hardly merits eternal punishment in the fires of Hell.

Is it just or fair for God to forgive our sins against someone else? Shouldn't it be up to the people who were harmed? If someone kills my mother, what right does God have to forgive him? God wasn't hurt by the murderer. Shouldn't it be up to my mom, or me, to decide whether the murderer is worthy of forgiveness? If I wish to see the murderer roast in Hell for a few centuries, but God sends the murderer to Heaven instead, will I believe justice has been done? It looks like the fellow escaped justice. What if my Mom goes to Hell because she was Jewish? Where is the justice in sending my mom to Hell and the murderer to Heaven?

Fear of God, Fear of Parents?

> We are to have more fear of God than mankind. That will help us to remain true to God and reject
> the influence of men to get us to give up our faith.

Hmmm... Who might you be referring to? :-) You've strengthened my beliefs, haven't I strengthened yours?

> What we do know is that our purpose is to glorify and honor God with all that we are and have.

Jer 5:22 (NIV) "Should you not fear me?" declares the Lord. "Should you not tremble in my presence?"

Why, if God is loving and forgiving, do we have to fear him? The obvious answer is that if we don't, he'll send us to Hell. He wants our reverence, our respect. He wants us to bow down and worship him. He tells us he is a jealous God (even though all other god's are imaginary).

What kind of a father is this?

The goal of a father is to help his children grow up, teach them good manners, healthy habits, and become independent. But God doesn't want us to become independent. In fact, the goal of our existence, here on earth, is to be invited to live in His house forever.

He wants us to worship and praise him. Do we want our children to worship and praise us? If they don't, do we strike them down? It sounds like God is rather conceited, as well as insecure -- a rather unhealthy reason to have children.

We'd like our children to agree with us, but if they don't, we will still love them, won't we? Yes, we want them to love us, but do we want them to fear us? Do they need to fear us?

Does a loving parent create a hell for his children, and never talk to them again, if they don't worship him?

If our children lie, we punish them immediately to teach them that lying is wrong. But when a murderer kills, God lets him kill again. He only punishes murderers after they have died, so the punishment is pointless. And the punishment occurs out of sight of everyone on earth, which in no way deters other murderers.

Why Does God Want to Test Us?

Let's start at the beginning.  God created Satan and the angels, but Satan and 1/3 of the angels rebelled.  But God knew that they would, 
so their rebellion must have been part of His plan. Otherwise, he wouldn't have created them.

There are two questions linked here: First, if God had created identical angels, then they all would have behaved the same way -- even with 
freewill, their choices would have been identical -- but they didn't behave the same way, so that means God must have created angels that 
had unique characteristics.

Now if God didn't have foreknowledge, then we would assume He gave the angels unique characteristics because He was curious to see what 
would happen. He would have been surprised at their rebellion, and created Hell to punish them.  Unfortunately this view can't be correct, 
because you believe God has perfect knowledge of the future; that means God created Satan and the angels to carry out His plan, and Hell is 
part of His plan.

God must want (and need) Satan to tempt people, and do other evil things, because God - by His Nature - cannot do evil.  But isn't creating something that's evil also evil?

Second, why does God want to tempt and test us?  If He hadn't created Satan, wouldn't more people choose God?  Furthermore, God put a snake in the Garden of Eden to tempt Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.  But why tempt Eve?  Even more confounding: why put the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden, then tell Adam and Eve not to eat it?  God put that tree there knowing they would eat it!  And He wanted them to eat it, even though he told them not to!  Otherwise, He wouldn't have put it there! 

(You'll say He did it to test them.  But God knew what the result would be, so that means He wanted Adam and Eve to know that they had failed His test.  Did He hope they would pass the test?  No!  Only if you don't know the future, can you hope for something. God already knew they would fail, so the test meant nothing for Him).

Look what kind of a father God is! 

Do we tempt our children by putting candy in front of them before dinner, and telling them not to eat it?  When we do this, we know (if we are like God) that when we turn our backs, they can't help themselves and will eat the candy.  Then we can say to them, "Hey!  You disobeyed my command. Now I have to punish you." 

Your children now think that you have the right to punish them.  They believe you are just and fair, because you told them not to do it, and you told them what the punishment would be if they did do it.

But you didn't have to put the candy in front of them.  If the candy wasn't there, they wouldn't have eaten it.  You only used it as an excuse to punish them -- an excuse that children will understand and believe.

So, Lance, why does God want to test us?  He already knows which of us will pass, and which of us will fail.  He obviously wants us to know it too.  But wouldn't more people choose God if Satan weren't so tempting?  Why did God make sin so appealing?

My answer: God puts "candy" in front of us, knowing that we will eat it, so that we will call on Jesus.  If Satan wasn't there, and if God didn't make all those difficult rules, we wouldn't need Jesus to help us, and we wouldn't go to church.  Minister's depend upon convincing people that "candy" is bad for them, and that without Jesus, they'll get a "stomach ache" that will last forever.

The final question becomes: Why did God put the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, if he didn't want Adam and Eve to eat from it?


P.S. I love the story of Adam and Eve. It is a beautiful allegory of why humans worry and fear death.  Animals may suffer, but they do not worry about the choices they make, or have regrets about what they did, or should have done.  And they do not fear of death, since they live in the present.  Human intelligence is a two-edged sword.  Because we have knowledge of good and evil, and are aware of our own mortality, we suffer in a way animals never do.

To: Lance Mays
Date: September 4, 2008
Subject: Morality Without Religion

> There is a standard of right and wrong that goes beyond each person
> determining for himself what it is.  

I agree, although I don't think Nietzsche would.  

> But unless one is willing to see a greater force behind our creation and
> existance, then there can be no higher wisdom or standard?

I disagree. Why do you need to believe in a greater force to believe in a higher standard?  I don't believe in God, but I do believe there is a higher morality than my own self-interest.

In fact, here's a counter-intuitive proposition for you.  A belief in a higher power, can cause more killing, more suffering, and more selfish behavior than the absence of that belief, because it can be easily manipulated, and people can delude themselves into thinking they are doing something for a greater good, to defend selfish acts.

We all agree that hurting other people is wrong, and being nice to others is good.  Who can argue with that?  But how is that put into practice if you believe in a higher power?  Let history judge.

The Spanish conquered the New World for Gold and for God.  People that didn't accept Christianity were killed, those that did convert became slaves, because the Spanish said it was God's will.  Witches were burned so their souls could go to Heaven.  People were tortured during the Inquisition to save their souls.  Slavery was defended on the basis of scripture.

This higher power you claim results in a higher level of morality can be hijacked by people who are only looking out for their own self-interest, and using scripture to justify their actions.  When someone starts talking about Heaven, that often means caring less about what happens on the earth, or to the pain that they inflict on people now, because they can say they are doing it for a higher purpose - helping them reach heaven.

Did a new wife and children for Job make up for the suffering God caused him and the death of his first wife and children?  Only if you believe they were rewarded in Heaven.  If your wife and children were all killed in a car accident, but you married and had more children, would that make up for your loss?

You can have morality without religion. I recommend reading "The Science of Good and Evil; Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule," by Michael Shermer.  Here's what he asks on page one:

   If we are nothing more than the product of sightless natural forces
   operating within a mercilessly uncaring cosmos, from whence can we
   find absolute ethical standards or ultimate moral meaning?

> ...there is evidence of a higher standard or power putting things
> together and holding out a standard of morality!  In your studies, what
> have you seen?

My first thoughts were gravity, the Big Bang, and the Sun.  There is order in the universe.  A developing child is a sequence of little miracles.  But the laws of the universe, or biology, don't tell me how to live my life, or how to treat others.

The higher power you refer to is called God, and you believe the Bible is His view of how men should act.  But suppose, for a moment, that God didn't exist.  That would mean the scriptures were written by men, for a variety of reasons, possibly for their own self-interest.  This interpretation fits the Old Testament.  The Israelites needed land, slaves, and wives, and the OT says they took land, killed men, raped women, and made slaves of neighboring tribes because they worshiped the wrong gods.  Sounds like a convenient excuse for taking the land they wanted, killing their enemies, and enslaving women and children.

The Bible is a history book written by the winners.  The Midianites, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Amorites, Canaanites, Philistines, Assyrians, the people of Baal...  were all enemies of God, so it was okay to kill them.

What about the sacrifices required for God?  The food - meat, not vegetables - were cooked and eaten by the priests.  Priests, didn't do much work, but by using scripture that they had written themselves, forced people to give them the best food - unblemished, without flaw.

Scholars say not only self-interest but group survival was the reason for the scriptures (see Darwin's Cathedral). Thou shalt not kill was a commandment only within the tribe.  It didn't apply to those outside the Jewish tribe.  The OT is filled with lots of killing, sanctioned by God, of other tribes, so the Jewish group (and the priests) would prosper.

Whoa! I've gone on far too long, but I do enjoy defending my beliefs and challenging yours :-)

So, in conclusion, yes, I agree that there is a higher standard of morality, but a belief in a higher power isn't required to believe in it.  And most important, a belief in a higher power doesn't always lead to better behavior.  Instead, it may result in more, not less, selfish, and cruel behavior by an individual or a group.



From: Lance Mays


> What is most interesting to me is that your very reasoning
> and arguments show that indeed there is a God of almighty
> force!
> All through out history mankind has worshiped some form of
> God or another.  And yet in every culture mankind has
> perverted his own motivations and methods of
> reshipping that deity.
> That has not changed the reality or the falseness of that
> God, it is only evidence of free moral choice that has been
> given to mankind.  With free moral choice comes the
> opportunity for Satan, an opposing force to God, to guide
> and tempt choice away from God.
> Did God allow them to "killed men, raped women, and
> made slaves of neighboring" (I thought your choice of
> words a little strong)?  NO!
> However, a study of what those countries in the land of
> Canaan were doing shows that Justice was meted out by God
> through the Israelites.  Did God punish those peoples with
> destruction, or slavery?  Yes!
> Did God take their land away from them?  Yes!
> Why?  Just so that He could give it to the Israelites?
> No!
> That was a part of the plan.  But He never would have done
> it had their lives been right with God.  Notice the story
> of Abraham as He talked with God about what was going to
> happen to Sodom and Gomorrah!  Had there been some
> righteous people there, all those cities would have been
> saved.
> As I stated before, many study their Bible only from a
> concept and not in its context.  The result is a complete
> lack of basis.  Here's a question for your
> consideration.  Please tell me if you think it is a fair
> question.  "If there is an almighty God, could He
> create a rock so big that He couldn't lift it?"  
> Having fun, Lance!


Interesting questions you've raised Lance,

In answering your questions, I've assumed you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible (e.g. the Flood killed everyone on earth).

> What is most interesting to me is that your very reasoning
> and arguments show that indeed there is a God of almighty
> force! All through out history mankind has worshiped some form
> of God or another.

Yes, all cultures have worshiped gods.  But that doesn't prove God (or gods) exist.  Just because humans want to believe in a higher power, that can explain the unexplainable, or grant their wishes, doesn't mean there is one.  You don't believe in Zeus, or Apollo, or any other Roman or Greek gods.  You don't believe in the Hindu or Muslim gods, either.  Instead, you believe that the Christian God of the Bible is the correct one, and all the other religions have failed to understand, rejected, or "perverted" this God.  

I don't think it's a coincidence that Greeks believed in Greek gods, Romans believed in Roman Gods; Muslims pray to Allah, and the Japanese build Shinto temples.  It's not surprising that in 21st century America, you would worship Jesus, and claim that there is only one true God.  You are as certain of your beliefs as the Greeks, Romans, Muslims, and Hindus are of theirs.  But believing something doesn't make it so.  In fact, you are quite certain that their beliefs are wrong.

But if there is no God (or gods), then why do all cultures have religion - a belief in a higher power?  First, as pointed out in Darwin's Cathedral, the success of the Jewish, Hindu, Muslim (and Mormon) religions gives survival value.  Groups work better, and fight better, if they believe in the same thing.

Second, a belief in God (or gods) comforts people in times of crisis.  Marx said that religion was the opiate of the masses, but opium was not just an hallucinogen used to escape reality, it was also a drug that relieved pain, and that was what he meant.  Life in the cities, during the early years of the Industrial Revolution, the beginning of capitalism, was horrific.

> ... a study of what those countries in the land of Canaan were doing
> shows that Justice was meted out by God through the Israelites.  Did
> God punish those peoples with destruction, or slavery?  Yes!

Christians have struggled with this question for some time, and you seem to dismiss it so easily.  Should they take the Bible literally and accept that the Israelites were performing God's work by raping, killing, and enslaving other tribes; that God's will includes Him killing everyone on earth - the young, the old, and the unborn in a flood; that God would murder all the babies and children in Sodom and Gomorrah?  Or should the stories of the Bible be judged in light of who wrote them and the era they were written?

Christians taking the second view would say that Israelites used God to justify their killing, slavery, and taking other people's land. (That's what all the tribes, in that area of the world, did during that time). They used God to explain the inexplicable: why a massive flood occurred, and why a city was destroyed by fire from the sky.  But Christians taking the first view have to accept a God who is a mass-murderer of women, children, and the unborn.  

> With free moral choice comes the opportunity for Satan, an opposing
> force to God, to guide and tempt choice away from God.

Here's another counter-intuitive proposition for you: God is more evil than Satan.  

In the Bible, who directly killed more people, God or Satan?  God, right?  Did all those people deserve to be killed?  How can God justify the murder of children and the unborn?  They were obviously innocent (God's explanation: He punishes up to the fourth generation for the sins of the father. But that is wrong, unjust, and unethical).  

What about the guilty?  What were their crimes?  Some were homosexuals, some were adulterers, some were probably murderers and rapists, and some worshiped Satan or other (non-existent) gods.  So they were put to death not only for what they did, but for what they believed.  Did Satan ever kill anyone for not believing in him?  

And then you've got to deal with the question of why there is evil in the world.  If God knows everything before it happens, then he knew that Adam and Eve would eat from the tree of knowledge.  He knew that He'd have to destroy the world He created.  If God is all-knowing, then He becomes a psychopathic mass-murderer, who creates a world, gives life to millions, all the while knowing that he will eventually kill them all.  If He knows what Satan has planned, and has the power to stop him, but doesn't then Satan is part of God's plan and is, therefore, doing God's work.  

A literal interpretation of the Bible means that everything that happens has been foreseen by God, which means it's all part of His plan, and he allows it to happen.  But if someone is doing something evil, and you could stop them, but don't, would you consider yourself to be a good person or an evil person?

The worst mass murderers in history, pale in comparison to those of God.  Stalin, Hitler, and Mao killed (only) 10 - 40 million people each. But in the Flood, God killed between 235 and 9 billion people. <>  

Here's a list of all the Biblical reasons God has for killing people:  (you think the Taliban are bad?)

By contemporary standards, any human doing the things God does for the reasons He gives, would be considered evil.  And judged by American law, God would be guilty of first degree, premeditated murder of millions.

> Please tell me if you think it is a fair question. "If there is an
> almighty God, could He create a rock so big that He couldn't lift it?"

Funny you should ask that.  A few months back, when my daughter started talking about God and and that He could do anything, I asked her that question.  It took her a few days, but she finally understood the contradiction, and now asks friends that question. No matter what answer they give, she enjoys pointing out the flaw in their answer.

So, is it a fair question?  It's as fair as asking, "Do you still beat your wife?" Well, do you? :-)

A more serious, but similar, question, "Does God allow Satan to kill people who believe in Jesus?"  I suppose you would answer "no," and say that if you believe in Jesus, you have eternal life.  So, I'll rephrase it.  On earth, in the Bible, did Satan ever *directly* kill someone *because* they believed in God?  By 'directly,' I mean strike them dead, the way God killed people in the flood, or Sodom and Gomorrah. In the Bible, did Satan ever cause someone to kill someone else because they believed in God?

I just found the answer, with the statistics, citing chapter and verse from the Bible.  You can Google "How many did God kill vs Satan?"

In the Bible, God was responsible for over 2.2 million deaths (not counting the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, or the first born males of Egypt). Satan was only responsible for the 10 deaths in Job, and Satan had God's permission, but didn't kill anyone *because* they believed in God.

Although Israelites were killed in battles with other enemy tribes, and while they were slaves in Egypt, the Bible never says the other tribes took orders from, or worshiped, Satan.  God ordered the killings because He was jealous of other gods (that didn't exist).

Oh, my!

I'm spending way too much time on this, but it's challenging me in a way my real work doesn't.  But I'm an idiot, because I might have wasted all this time telling you things you already agree with.  I should have asked at the beginning, what denomination you belong to.  My assumption was that you were an evangelical Christian, who believes the Bible is the literal word of God (e.g. the world was created in seven days, we are descended from Adam and Eve, and macro-evolution is a bogus theory).  So, I'll ask now, what do you think of the Bible?  Is everything in it true?   Are the contradictions in it easily explained?