I Have an Even Harder Time Believing in The POG

I was listening to an interesting interview with Eric Steinhart and heard him use the term POG, which I thought was a great shorthand for the traditional monotheistic concept of God. POG = “Personal Omni-God”.

This traditional concept of God as I have always understood it has mainly the following properties (monotheists are not all in full agreement on this):

  1. It is personal.  In other words it is like a person in that It has emotions, intention, the ability to make decisions, and the ability to relate to humans in some way.
  2. It is omniscient: knows everything.
  3. It is omnipotent: all powerful.
  4. It is omni-benevolent: perfectly good, compassionate, loving, just, and maybe more.
  5. It is typically described as desiring “some kind of” relationship with all humans that it has created. But some (many?) theists would say that It only desires relationship with some humans (perhaps with the humans that It has chosen).  This however seems to run up against property #4.

Now my previous posts have basically described in more general terms why I doubt the existence of invisible, undetectable, bodiless entities that have attribute #1 above.  As I’ve mentioned I’m not totally sure on this, but if I was forced to bet I’d put my money on them not existing.  This includes gods, goblins, devils, etc.

But now when we throw in properties 2-5, then my doubts are even bigger.  The problem is that all of the issues I have described before about gods with attribute #1 become even more problematic when we add the other properties.  For me the main issue is the undetectability (what philosophers call divine hiddenness) of this God.  The evidential problem of evil is obviously an issue for many philosophers and I definitely agree that it is an issue as well (although for me it doesn’t come close to the issue of undetectability).  What many modern day philosophers on both the theist and atheist sides seem to agree on is that we don’t have complete certainty either way with this question, and I agree.  What we can do is see if the description above fits with what we all agree is the evidence of our collective experiences.  For me, I just have a very hard time seeing how there can be a God who: (1) knows exactly what every human being needs in order to have high certainty of Its existence, (2) is fully capable of causing those things to happen, and (3) desires relationship with all of these humans.  This simply does not line up for me with the fact that I and many others I know agree that the existence of God is nowhere near obvious.  For many of us it is quite the opposite.  And even further, there are a lot of theists that I know who concede that the existence of the God that they believe in is not very obvious.  I explain further the issues I have with the POG concept in my first very long comment of my previous post.  I’ve heard some philosophers state that traditional theists have basically boxed themselves in a difficult corner just for the sake of holding on to traditional ideas.  That really resonates quite a bit with me.

So if we start adjusting some of attributes 2-5 then the concept becomes a bit more plausible to me, but 2 paragraphs ago I stated where I lean on only attribute #1.

Now there are alternative concepts of “God” or “gods” that actually throw out attribute #1.  My personal opinion is that we should use a different word for this than “gods” because it seems to fall out of the standard definition then, but that really is just semantics so no need to argue that point.  What I would like to say though as I’ve stated before is that these alternative concepts of some non-personal force or “thing” start to put me more at the 50/50 point where I just have no clue where to lean.  There are some times where I may even start leaning the other way, but not enough to really claim belief.  I will go into this a little more once I am done with this series.  With my current 1 post per month that will probably be mid-year.

48 thoughts on “I Have an Even Harder Time Believing in The POG

  1. There were a lot of kids in the 90’s that had a lot of belief in The Pog! Sorry, I just watched that viral commercial reminiscing about the 90’s.

    But yes, there do seem to be quite the number of conflicting traits that people claim God to possess. But that’s ok because God can transcend all of these issues if we just believe, right?

  2. Good one Jason! 🙂 We think alike. In fact that means we can assign whatever properties we like no matter how contradictory it may seem and if we believe it then it’s good to go! 😉

  3. I find the greatest problem with even imagining a god is finding a reason for one to even exist. Presently we know a particle can pop in and out of a vacuum; something from apparently nothing, and leave a positive energy residue. This probably explains the origin of our universe, but it doesn’t actually answer the big question: why is there anything? For particles to perform this trick the laws of quantum mechanics already have to be in-place, so “nothing” is not really “nothing.” I’m sure physicists will be able to eventually answer this question and it’ll probably confirm the many worlds theory, but nowhere in any of this have i yet spied even the slightest reason for a god of any shape or flavour.

  4. Howie, you forgot one of God’s traits: “omnipresent.” You know, everywhere at once? This is the characteristic it seems many believers also forget since they nearly always look skyward when referencing God. 🙂

    One of the most interesting things I’ve discovered when talking with believers about the existence of God is that no matter how much evidence you present (ex. John’s points above), the best they can counter with is “It’s all about faith.”

  5. Good points John. I’ve never been impressed by the whole cosmo argument, but the something from nothing is disturbing to me – infinite regress of causation is part of what bothers me. But of course the POG certainly is “something” and it is quite a bit of “something” so positing the POG doesn’t help me at all to resolve the queasy feeling of not understanding the whole “something from nothing” conundrum – in fact it seems to make it a bit worse because the POG is supposed to know absolutely everything about anything at all that exists. Explaining how something like that exists is disturbing for me – and don’t even get me started on the whole “necessary being” thing – assuming that natural laws somehow “exist necessarily” and that everything then came from just those laws seems simpler. Occam’s razor maybe? Eh, who knows?

  6. Hey Nan – I’ve noticed that whole skyward issue is a popular one with you. 🙂 And I can’t blame you – it does seem like at least a small bit of evidence that the whole POG concept within Judaism and Christiainity grew and evolved from a more “polytheistic god” type of belief system which was not an omni-God concept at all. You might be interested in reading Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God”. He is a Christian who concedes this very fact in that book.

  7. Am reading a simply wonderful book right now by physicist (and fellow blogger) Mat Rave: Why is there anything? Rather than try (and fail) and summarise it, I’ll just urge you to read it when you get the chance. You won’t be disappointed as it dives right into what you’re talking about. The entire narrative is a conversation had between Achilles and Brutus.

  8. It definitely helps to explain why many Christians seem to have an air of naivety surrounding them.

    I bought my house from a couple who ran a Christian bookmark business. They tried to get me to pay out their security system monitoring contract, even after I learned that it is their responsibility to inform their security company if they are going to move – this information was right on their bill (of which the couple even left me a copy of). Even after having their real estate agent clear things up with them, they still persisted that I owe them the money.

    Needless to say, this was a significant event in driving me to better understand how Christianity functions and why it seems to lead to a significant amount of dysfunction in many people.

  9. Awesome John! That’s right up my alley. I just went over to his blog, and his book’s now on high on my reading list.

  10. Hi Howie, it is interesting that I think the problem of evil to be a much greater problem than you do, but I think so-called divine hiddenness to be no problem at all, but actually logically compelling.

    I think much of your discussion is based on assumptions that I don’t share, though I suppose many christians may think the way you describe. For example:

    (i) Many of the problems about divine hiddenness assume that God is judging us totally according to our explicit response to him in this life and that we will definitely receive very nasty things if we fail that test. I think all that is wrong, and take away those assumptions, and it’s little problem. Those who miss relationship with God in this world may nevertheless receive it in the life to come.

    (ii) Many of the attempts to show God’s characteristics are incoherent rest on poor definitions of those qualities. For example “love” doesn’t necessarily mean what people immersed in Hollywood schmaltz may think, and omni doesn’t mean infinite. (I recognise you may not think these things, but some do.)

    (iii) I think it is easier to have doubts if we don’t carefully define our terms. Take the design argument. It can be expressed in the following form:

    1. The cosmological laws and constants are such that the number of life-sustaining universes is a very small subset of all possible universes.

    2. The laws and constants which led to this suitability for life must have been determined by either physical necessity, chance or design.

    3. If, as the cosmologists tell us, it was unlikely to have been by necessity or chance, then design is the most likely option.

    Now if we just think vaguely about God and design, we can say that an incorporeal mind is difficult to conceive of, let alone believe in. But if the above argument is correct (and I think that it is both factually and logically true), then we have a much more substantial reason to believe in a designer, and from there possibly a God. Holding on the the hope that science one day will resolve this, as John suggests, is fine, but it is really just another form of faith.

    So I respect where you are at, but i think more rigorous analysis can expose the hidden assumptions and make clearer what is reasonable and what isn’t. We may still not agree, but we will at least have better defined the issues.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  11. Hey Jason – interesting story. I haven’t given that angle a whole lot of thought. By the way Jason, what would you say your worldview is? Feel free to forward me to a blog post of yours if you want. I ask because I’ve read some outside of the box stuff on your blog (and I always like out of the box) and you’ve made me genuinely curious.

  12. When you’re spending all sorts of time learning from within the Bible, that reduces one’s time and energy toward learning and understanding things outside of the Bible, I suspect.

    My personal worldview is along the lines of everything and everyone being connected, and all things tend to function on balance. Religion-wise, I’m of the understanding that the laws of the universe are what they are, whether created by an entity or a reaction, and are very unlikely to be manipulated by an external force. Magic is illusion and morality is derived from an understanding of the cause and effect of actions. Truth is something that can typically be found, and if something seems too good to be true, it likely is. And we all are doing our best to live our lives in the best way we can within our circumstances and with the understandings that we have.

    Something like that.

  13. It is typically described as desiring “some kind of” relationship with all humans that it has created. But some (many?) theists would say that It only desires relationship with some humans (perhaps with the humans that It has chosen). This however seems to run up against property #4.

    I think this attribute runs counter an omnipotent god. If we take as an example the god of the bible, what it wills happens. If an omnipotent being willed to be in a relationship with men, there would be no way anyone with less potent as this god should defeat his means and desires.
    I agree with your other observation about this god desiring a relationship with some chosen few.

  14. Interesting discussion Howie. Whether one believes that there is a spiritual dimension or other universes there will never be empirical proof. As UncleE pointed out, it all remains subject to faith. The hope for many is that a first hand experience will finally come when the body dies.

  15. Hey Uncle E: it is interesting that we think differently about those 2 issues – doesn’t surprise me though since we are different people with different experiences.

    As far as (i), Yes, as I mentioned in the post theists don’t all agree on my list, and in my second to last paragraph I mentioned my thoughts on adjustments. Yours is an adjustment to 5 which I think is not very common but is certainly a view I’ve heard. To me it solves the problem of Hell much more than the problem of “hiddenness”. I believe it is difficult to argue that the God of the traditional monotheisms really isn’t interested in making it clear that He exists because He isn’t really that concerned about having a relationship with everyone in their earthly life. But obviously a possibility – and you know I like possibilities. There are tons of them.

    (ii) is a point well taken – I do try my best to get definitions to match what most theists claim but getting that right is tough because “most” is different in US versus Europe versus South America versus Australia. I can’t respond to how I feel about every different spin, and that is why I wrote my last 2 paragraphs and also wrote my previous 4 posts all in as generic broad terms as I could.

    (iii) is a bit of a tangent and possibly more a reply to John’s comment, but I realize it’s just an example. For what it’s worth as I said in my first post of this series I will try to explain why some of the more common proofs are not convincing to me – I haven’t decided which I will pick but I’m pretty sure fine tuning will be on there.

    more rigorous analysis can expose the hidden assumptions and make clearer what is reasonable and what isn’t

    I think this is a great point that I personally believe each and every one of us can learn from. As you know I am always one of the first to raise my hand and claim that I am human and that I could very well be ignorant because I haven’t read enough, or think in a skewed way because of the influences that I have all around me that I am likely not even fully conscious of, or etc. While I realize we all need to find a reasonable balance as far as our self-confidence, I believe it’s important for all of us to contemplate our humanity and question our most cherished beliefs and that will then propel us to get closer to truth. And yes, rigorous analysis is quite necessary – unfortunately for most of us we have to rely on the experts in their fields for this and polling is not often done and even when it is it’s difficult to glean exactly what the wording of the polling means precisely – and sometimes preciseness is essential to the viewpoints. There are obviously other difficulties involved.

  16. Hi Jason,

    When you’re spending all sorts of time learning from within the Bible, that reduces one’s time and energy toward learning and understanding things outside of the Bible, I suspect.

    Ah, now I understand your previous comment – I must have been tired last night from the work-week! 🙂 Yeah, that’s a good point and may very well be true for the more conservative types.

    Wow your worldview does sound somewhat atheistic – but I really don’t want to fit you into some label. You do sound quite spiritual also. The title of your blog made me think your are Christian which you may very well be in some very liberal sense, but your description above of your worldview doesn’t strike me as at all Christian.

    As for me, While my mind does think more in the empirical analytical kind of way I do sense quite a bit of “mystery” when I delve deeply into these kinds of questions whether it be in religion or philosophy realm (there’s so much overlap). I recently bought “Nature Is Enough” by Loyal Rue. It is written from a “spiritual naturalist” perspective which seems like a contradiction in terms, but it’s an interesting worldview I’m currently reading about. I haven’t even made a dent in the book yet though. 🙂

  17. Hey Mak – that’s a good point too. Perhaps the whole free-will thing could be countered somewhat there though. But I think for sure your point is definitely a difficult one for those that believe that there is a devil getting in the way of God having relationship with humans.

  18. Hey Marc – I’m glad you came by and commented. Welcome to my blog! Other universes could possibly be empirically observed in the future, but you are right a spiritual dimension is kind of by definition beyond empirical examination. However if there are beings in a spiritual dimension interacting with our natural world in some way then it could be possible to test that (depending on how repeatable the interaction is – which unfortunately is the explanation used often for why testing is useless). So yes it could be we are a bit stuck, but I still personally think it doesn’t hurt to keep trying. Also, arguments such as the fine tuning one that UnkleE made, or the “irreducible complexity” one, or others all have some premises in it that can definitely be examined empirically.

    For me personally, regarding things which require faith, claiming that “I don’t know” just fits better for me than saying “I know such and such to be true by faith”.

    As far as some other issues I’ve run into with using faith as an epistemic guide this post explains more.

  19. It’s always good to expand your perspectives! My blog actually began with my simplified understanding of Christianity (first blog entry), as I was under the impression that many Christians weren’t understanding the concepts very well, considering the selfish behaviour I had seen in several Christians I had worked with in addition to the previous homeowners I mentioned.

    Some time passed and I was inspired to blog a little more on the topic. It’s also along the lines of what I learned from the Bible, how Jesus embraced the beliefs of the time in order to emphasize humanitarian ideas. It’s difficult to connect with people if you delegitimize their views, the key is to expand understandings by working with already existing understandings.

  20. I went and read your first post and now it’s completely clear – you made it very clear in your first comment on that post what you were doing too.

    Your approach makes sense. It’s true that connecting with people is very difficult if you delegitimize their views. I think on my blog since I am a bit blunt sometimes about my own perspectives that I run this risk and connecting is difficult. But to my pleasant surprise I’ve actually been able to connect online much more than I ever thought that I would with several believers. I think this may possibly be because I don’t think overly highly of my own views and try and mention that somewhat frequently. It may also help that I’m not really opposed to spiritual ideas even though I have a hard time getting theism to work in my brain.

  21. It’s pretty cool how the internet helps to open dialogue between people of differing understandings along with plenty of info to work from when necessary. It’s good to not take a hard line on belief as there tends to be truth in everything, sometimes even just differing language to explain similar concepts.

  22. “To me it solves the problem of Hell much more than the problem of “hiddenness”.”
    I think they are overlapping ‘problems’. Take away a literal, eternal torture hell, and some of the hiddenness problem disappears. Take away the view that God doesn’t judge by examining us strictly on the exact details of what we believe, but on our attitudes to what we do know, and most of the rest of the ‘problem’ disappears.

    “(iii) is a bit of a tangent and possibly more a reply to John’s comment”
    No, I intended it as a reply to your general view (as I understand it) that the evidence for an incorporeal being is very vague. I was making the point that if there are only three options for fine-tuning, and the cosmologists reject two of them, then that makes the evidence for the third option a little stronger than vague. It was only an example of what I think are many cases where strictly written logical arguments can give greater certainty than might appear from just discussing without rigour.

    Thanks again.

  23. Hi Howie. Thanks for your response to my comments. After rereading your essay about POG, I remembered that my dad used that term to describe himself as poor old grandpa.

    Thanks for the link to your essay about faith. I enjoyed reading it. A faith that has not basis in knowledge is problematic. A faith that has a basis in some knowledge and uses intuition to arrive at understanding seem reasonable to me. There is a lot of knowledge about the nature of the cosmos that points to intelligent design, so it is intuitive to conclude that there is a creator.

    Regarding intelligent design, we need a testable scientific theory. Perhaps one will be forthcoming from the scientific community as the weight of the evidence piles up.

    Regarding other universes, we are still left without an understanding of cause.

    Regarding knowledge of the spiritual dimension, is direct experience necessary? We can form some knowledge of places and people from second hand accounts, if they are reliable. Perhaps it is the determination of the reliability of the accounts of others that is most problematic. To wait for a direct experience of the spiritual realm in this life, or at the end of physical life, is not unreasonable. After all, St. Thomas was not going to accept the Resurrection unless he saw and touched the evidence.

  24. Hi Marc,

    “poor old grandpa” made me smile – sounds like a good memory. 🙂

    I really appreciate you going and reading that post I linked you to. Not sure if you’ve ever considered creating a blog but if you do I’d enjoy reading it.

    The people I talked about on that post aren’t here to defend themselves but I’m sure they would have said very similar things about their own conclusions. But the word faith itself is a bit of a tricky word because it truly does mean different things for different people.

    Again, as far as the stuff we don’t have answers to – I believe there are many possibilities and saying: “I don’t know, but I hope investigations are continued to further progress” fits me better than to dogmatically state that I have the answers to those questions. Whether there was a cause of the universe and what it was, or if the elementary starting blocks of the universe were just “necessary and uncaused” things (pardon my layperson terminology) are all questions that fit that category for me. Positing a personal being that knows everything to solve this issue, as I explained to John a few comments ago, only makes the questions even more difficult for me to fathom. Also, many things that seemed designed to us many years ago have slowly been found to be solved by an understanding of natural laws and statistics.

    As far as accounts related to the spiritual dimension reliability is certainly the key issue, especially since many of these accounts which are highly regarded by many are accounts written by ancient people who were very superstitious and not at all known for their attention to objective methods. Even the best of historians of the ancients (and the writers of sacred texts were certainly not the “best” of those historians) were far from the standards that are now accepted as the norm for historic analyses.

    Your last paragraph was interesting to me – I’ve seen you as well as others express this idea elsewhere: that there is a God that isn’t really concerned if people don’t figure things out in this lifetime, and things will be clearer in a life to come and people will still be given a chance then. As far as me personally if things ever do become clear that there is a God who truly represents goodness then I’d like to be on the side of that God. As I’ve written on my blog, in the past I pursued the God of goodness that I previously believed existed for several years. But as I kind of think you would agree – genocides and slavery and some other stuff that is written in the bible doesn’t match up with what many would understand as true goodness – UnkleE seemed to agree with me on that on Nate’s blog (at least he conceded it for the Old Testament).

  25. “genocides and slavery and some other stuff that is written in the bible doesn’t match up with what many would understand as true goodness – UnkleE seemed to agree with me on that on Nate’s blog (at least he conceded it for the Old Testament)”

    Hi Howie. Yes, I find it difficult to see how some of the OT commands could come from a good God. Perhaps they got it wrong, perhaps God started where they were at and tried to limit the evil they did, perhaps we misunderstand it all, but as it stands I would prefer to trust our moral sense on this than believe that the OT gets it right in every respect.

    But this uncertainty isn’t a major problem to me because I am a christian, and the NT completes, supersedes and in many respects replaces the OT, and the NT teaching on such things is very clear – love your enemies, forgive, etc.

  26. Howie – If physical death were truly the end, then the passages of the OT you find troubling would trouble me too. But because I believe there is a spiritual realm where the departed continue to live, no one has really perished yet. Only those, who after being fully illuminated, refuse to be healed and reconciled, will perish in the second death (see Matthew 10:28).

  27. Hi Marc – I can’t go along with that one. In fact I usually just express my own thoughts and feelings here on this blog with no care that others change their views, but I have to admit this is the kind of view that I really hope people would revise to look more like Unklee’s. I hope Unklee can chime in here and suggest some Christians to read that might change your view on this. I Think Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God” can give you a different perspective on it – he’s got lots of related material on the internet as well that you can find. James McGrath has also expressed similar ideas related to the atrocities in the bible but I don’t have a book to suggest from him and have lost my links to stuff I’ve found on the internet that he’s written related to it. There are many other liberal and even moderate Christians who have taken somewhat similar views.

    I didn’t mention the atrocities to try and suggest you can’t be a believer in the bible because of them (I think Unklee might have thought that which is why he may have quickly replied) because I am quite aware of the many different approaches taken that still admit that the atrocities are wrong but still believe that the God you believe in somehow inspired the bible (or at least parts of it). I have a different conclusion, but that’s not the main point – I wanted to make it clear that if I ever did return to theism then I couldn’t take the view that those passages are not a problem. If there really is a God that stands behind those atrocities then I would be very scared of that God and would question whether that God is really a god that represents true goodness.

    I also believe that somehow justifying these passages no matter how it’s done can lead to justifying practically any actions in the name of “the goodness of a god”. The Muslims are not the only religion that are still doing that to this day.

  28. Howie – You know that physical death is a part of the human condition. Whether you believe that the Creator determines the time and means of our departure from this life, we all are going to die. The problem for all human beings is death, because unlike other creatures we were created with the capacity to experience immortality.

    We all need to be healed and reconciled, and our physical death is a part of this process. Just like a surgeon who may often cause great trauma by removing defective tissues to enable healing, our Creator brings us through the trauma of physical death. Our hope is in the Resurrection.

    I sincerely doubt that you will have any problems with the decisions of your Creator when you are fully illuminated upon your entry into the spiritual realm.

  29. Hey Marc – it’s not just about physical death. Sure we are all going to die. Obviously the victims of genocide (including the survivors of loved ones) go through great physical and emotional pain. How about the slaves that were beaten but not beaten to the point of death (Exodus 21:20-21)? I won’t list all the atrocities because there is no reason I would expect you to trust someone like myself – you can read them listed by several Christians who are brave enough to speak out against them. For example, here is Thom Stark’s stuff which is unfortunately a bit long:


    And ignoring the pain – are we really to suggest that the taking of human lives in things like genocide is fine as long as it is determined to be ok by a creator – the fact that He created us makes it ok? No, it is not ok – we all agree genocide is horrible. If morality is objective then it is plain wrong, full stop, and if a god created me and is ok with genocide then I am unfortunately screwed – because as I said before I would question the goodness of that god.

    I really wish more Christians were as brave as people like Thom Stark.

    I know this is a tangent, but it just happens to be a very important one to me. And I am not alone in this – this is a sore spot for many people I know who still consider themselves spiritual (or even believe in God) but cannot fathom believing in the bible.

  30. “I hope Unklee can chime in here and suggest some Christians to read that might change your view on this.”
    Hi Howie, I have been following your discussion with Marc, and I find myself, as so often, somewhere in between the two of you on this. I don’t really want to change anyone’s view, but I do want to try to share what I believe is truth and encourage people to think about it.

    Hi Marc, I’m sorry to be writing about you here (at Howie’s request) but I guess it is also written to you. I hope nothing I say is offensive. I agree with much of what you say, just not this.

    So I don’t agree with Marc, if he is saying that because we all die, taking a life isn’t so bad. Jesus says taking a life is bad and we should love, not hate or kill, our enemies. It is probably the only time I have felt deeply critical of famed apologist WL Craig, when I tried a similar argument, based on the idea that i’innocent’ children would go to heaven. If that argument was correct, we should kill all children!

    There may be a parallel of this argument that has merit (though I don’t personally believe it) – a lady theologian whose name I forget said that the only way to justify the horrors of this world is if everyone is saved at the end of it.

    So I believe we have to say that some of the OT is deeply troubling and we don’t know how to reconcile it with the God of Jesus. I agree with CS Lewis, quoted in the Thom Stark reference, that “The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two.”

    But at the same time, while I generally agree with Stark as much as I have read him, I think he is too certain in the other direction. I think there probably is some truth in the argument, which he rejects, that the Jews had to be slowly dragged out of the barbaric culture of the times, and therefore some commands or permissions were less than ideal. But while this may be true, it then opens the question of why did God create a world that was that bad to begin with?

    In the end, there seem to me to be only two views we an reasonably hold as christians. Either the Bible is inerrant, evolution is nonsense, ancient history and archaeology are mostly nonsense, the world is bad because people sinned, and all the science etc that says otherwise is based on wrong thinking or God fooling us with false evidence like an apparent fossil record, etc (i.e. the strong fundamentalist view) OR we can trust the science, history and archaeology (broadly at least) and we can trust Jesus and the NT, the Bible isn’t inerrant (which it doesn’t claim to be) and we have to work out our view of the OT from our human knowledge and the NT and Jesus.

    I hold the second view because it seems to accord with both the human and Biblical evidence, but I can understand many christians cannot. My recommendation, which doesn’t deal directly with the issue but prepares the way, is Peter Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation

    Sorry to be so long. Best wishes to both of you.

  31. Thanks Uncle E – I appreciate you sharing your view here – I didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable doing that and I only thought you might have some books written by Christians for Marc to pursue further. In the end obviously he doesn’t have to read any of those books, this is just an important issue for me I thought it would be good to have other options to explore if he wanted to consider it.

    By the way I have Enns’ “The Evolution of Adam” on my kindle and have read only the first chapter – Inspiration and Incarnation was another I still want to read as well. I jump around with my books too much though – right now I’m almost done with one that Josh recommended on Nate’s blog.

  32. UnkleE and Howie – To equate the taking of life by God who has the power to create it, sustain it in the spiritual realm, and resurrect it in the physical realm, to a human murderer who can only destroy life; is pure nonsense. To insist that we can be moral arbiters of God’s actions is the height of human pride and foolishness. It is the same pride and foolishness that led to the fall, and has caused all the pain and suffering of humanity from the beginning. When the ignorant creatures presumes to know more that their Creator, disaster follows.

  33. Hi Marc – not being a believer I can’t comment well on much of what you are saying here. I can only offer you what I understand writers like Stark are saying. They aren’t suggesting that people should presume to know more than God. They are suggesting that God wants you to use the moral noggin that He gave you to re-interpret what was written in some of these terrible passages. Much like many modern day Christians (including some conservatives) re-interpret I Timothy 2:12.

    From my own perspective as I said before I see this kind of reasoning as a very dangerous one. God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide so it was not just God quickly and painlessly ending people’s lives – people were involved in the actions which caused great pain and suffering.

  34. Howie, I recommend “Inspiration and Incarnation” because it is an attempt to understand what the OT actually is, not what we might think it ought to be. It’s not attacking the OT but looking at the internal evidence to determine what it actually is and is not.

    Marc, despite me being a christian and Howie not, we are agreed on his answer – I am not presuming to question God, but rather to question whether these commands are from God. I don’t contest God’s right to take life, but I do question if God would at the same time condemn murder and also command people to do it. I’m not sure that further discussion would be helpful, but I hope you at least understand what I am, and am not, saying.

    Best wishes to both of you.

  35. Of course that’s why you recommend it. Do you think I should not read it then, because I will read it with my own bias?

  36. I don’t think your bias matters – we all have our own bias. If you want to know what more and more christians are thinking about the OT, then this is a good place to start I think.

  37. unkleE – You seem to be confused on the difference between murder and the ending of life for appropriate reasons. It seems that when it comes to God directing the end of human life at the hands of other humans, there is a missed message. Perhaps God chose this approach rather than a flood or fire and brimstone to teach a lesson to those who had to do the killing.

  38. Hi Marc – you may have missed the hints, but I think Unklee didn’t want to get into this with you in the first place and I think he suggested there isn’t much more to say.

    Frankly when I first brought this up I thought agreement would be a no-brainer given that your views looked somewhat similar to Unklee’s. I also thought that since you were an annihilationalist (as I’ve seen you describe on other blogs) that you were willing to have more nuanced interpretations to the bible. So I am actually surprised you are taking such a hard line on this one. You are ok with I Samuel 15:3 which includes women, children and infants? Even Saint Augustine took an allegorical approach to these passages so surely there should be some leeway as a Christian to interpret these kinds of things in a way that doesn’t make the God you believe in to look like a monster.

  39. Hi Marc,

    If God ends a life, then one assumes he has appropriate reasons. If a human ends a life, it would be regarded in our present society as murder and I don’t see any way we could distinguish whether God ordained it, or the person made that up or had a mental illness. (I have had friends with mental illnesses, including two who at times, when their medication got out of balance, thought they were Jesus.)

    But like Howie suggested, I don’t suppose this discussion is going to go anywhere much now, so do you want to call it a day?

  40. Howie – I think there is always a problem of context and perspective when it comes to reading and understanding the revelation of Scriptures. As an Orthodox Christian I reject the concept of “sola scriptura.” Even the Scriptures themselves speak of the Church, not Scripture alone, as the pillar and ground of the truth (see 1 Timothy 3:15).

    That allegory and hyperbole are used in the Bible is well established. What make no sense is to focus on a few passages such as 1 Samuel 15:3 while forgetting the big picture. Warfare is one of the scourges of our fallen human condition, but to use the terms genocide and murder to describe what happened in the conquest of Canaan is over the top.

    UnkleE – To equate what God directed faithful and sane people to do 3500 years ago to someone who is mentally ill today is nonsense.

  41. Hey Marc – maybe we are missing each other in translation then. I do understand the unfortunate need for warfare, but only in the sense of self-defense. If this is how you interpret what happened in the Old Testament that is fine. That’s not how I read it, but that may be a good place to leave this since the self-defense view is an unfortunate circumstance that we all have to deal with. My hope would be that there was a God who would help to lead us out of this horrible need somehow rather than direct us in, but maybe that isn’t the case. At least that understanding isn’t as dangerous as the other views. There are still other horrific passages unrelated to warfare, but perhaps you see them as misinterpreted hyperbole as well. Again I have a hard time reading them that way, but that wasn’t what I wanted to discuss here.

  42. Hi Howie – I did not mean to derail the conversation. I thought we were kind of focused on the number 4 attributes of POG. I share your hope that our Creator will lead us out of the depraved and harmful ways of life that lead to murder and war, and all kinds of human exploitation. This is why I believe the revelation of God’s Incarnation brings clarity to the OT.

    The contrast between the way to life (love of God and neighbor) and the way do death (hatred of God and neighbor) are made even more clear in the NT. For Christians, Jesus Christ has shown us the way to truth and eternal life. This good news of the Gospel will be understood by all people, either in this life or the next.

    There remains a strong possibility that God will intervene directly in human affairs quite soon. Yet prophecies seem to predict that even in the face of comic and seismic events revealing God’s presence, many will still refuse to believe and repent. The judgments of God, and the Resurrection harvest will bring an end to evil. This process will transpire over the course of many months and will bring about man made destruction on a truly global scale.

  43. Hey Marc – no worries – it wasn’t you who derailed the conversation (it was me), and now that I look at my list again you are right the discussion was very related to the omni-benevolent attribute. I think this has been a good discussion and it looks like there may be a little more agreement than I thought, but obviously some disagreement as well. I think Unklee’s right, we’ve probably said all we can and I’d be repeating if I said more. Thanks for your time and for visiting!

  44. Yeah, getting different words to talk about the various imagined gods is a good idea.
    POS: Personal Omni-Spook
    FOWG: Friendly Omni Wish Granter
    AMPS: All Mighty Personal Spook/Spirit

    Fun thinkin’ about it. But “God” hides too many sins of mind.

  45. Hey Sabio – Do you mean that only saying “God” allows people the flexibility to define it however they wish so as to fix up the attributes themselves so that their belief works out logically without verification and can solve any problems that might be brought up?

  46. Pingback: Maybe There Are Gods | Truth Is Elusive

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