Inclusively Exclusive

One complaint about Christianity made by skeptics is the pettiness of a God who would condemn people to eternal punishment simply for not believing in the right God/adhering to the right religion.  Of course, that’s not necessarily true (See: Just Where Do You Think You’re Going?), though it is a persistent misunderstanding nonetheless.  Now, I don’t lay all the blame on skeptics, per se, but it seems to be a common complaint regardless of how often it is addressed.  The grievance implies that Christianity is some kind of exclusive club which non-members are kept at bay, while members look out upon those unfortunate souls who are not worthy of acceptance.

Soteriologically speaking, biblical Christianity is exclusive.  Only by professing a salvific trust in Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of their transgressions against a Holy God will one be saved from an eternal punishment for those transgressions.  But as far as inclusion into the group, no one who wants inclusion is rejected.  Skeptics insinuate that they and other non-Christians are just out of luck, as it were.

The skeptic laments that he cannot believe.  This is ascribed to a dearth of evidence, or the evidence that is offered is uncompelling.  However, For the past two millenia, millions of people have trusted on the Christian message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — and with far less evidence than is available today.  They believed without textual criticism or philosophical argumentation.  Granted, the foundational first two centuries had available to converts the witnesses (and first generation word of mouth adherents) of the events recorded in the New Testament.  Since that time, Christianity has grown in the face of persecution, and in spite of the “lack of evidence”.  Apparently the amount and quality of evidence is not the problem.

So what does this mean?  I am inclined to believe the skeptics (and non-Christians) are dissatisfied with the idea that they cannot believe what they want and behave relatively unrestrained according to their desires and still be “saved”:  I should be allowed to believe what I want and act as I wish and if God were truly loving, He shouldn’t care.

That doesn’t sound like someone who is interested in what’s right, rather, what’s preferable.  But even I can think of a more preferable reality.  What is preferable isn’t the issue.  What is, is the issue.  The skeptic can claim they and other non-Christians are getting the shaft, but it is entirely self-imposed.  Skeptics have the information, what they do with it is not God’s liability, it is their own.  I suspect that even if God provided ten ways to escape damnation, skeptics would be decrying there weren’t an eleventh.

Comments

  1. “Biblical Christianity” is a game stopper. Lots of Christians use it to describe (and prescribe) their flavor of Christianity even though it contradicts others who use the same phrase.

    So you might as well say, “In my Christianity” or “according to my interpretation and use of the Bible”.

    For not all Christians are as exclusive as you.

    I won’t go into the theologies of all those Christians who disagree with you and how they use their Bibles to support their positions — there are many web sites doing it.

    So how is someone to determine who is right — oh right, use the Bible. Ah, we hit the basement of your epistemology.

    “The skeptic laments that he cannot believe. “

    Nah, I think most “rejoice” that they don’t believe your myth or the thousand of other religions who promise heaven if you agree with them.

    You make several errors:

    (a) You imply that since Christianity has spread and survived, that this is some sort of virtue. Well so has Islam and astrology and many other superstitions. The faulty logic there should be clear.

    (b) Skeptics typically don’t want to believe what they want. Instead, they love cherished ideas to be overthrown — by evidence. Religion, in general, is the exact opposite epistemological stance: conserving their “truths”.

    (c) Evidence shows Skeptics do not act worse than Christians while you keep playing the old false trope that “Christians have a true moral foundation and thus are better people.”

    Skeptics don’t feel they are “getting the shaft” – your theology is human man, there is not God being exclusive — instead you are trying to build walls and division and using gods and spooks to help you. We are resisting your mind games, not those of gods.

    • You’re right, some Christians ignore and explain away more than 100 “Jesus is the only way” passages.

    • A. I didn’t make that argument. My point was that over the centuries people have believed with as much or less evidence. So lack of evidence isn’t the inhibitor.

      B. Nonsense. Skeptics have their naturalistic presupposition by which they filter all phenomena. Read my post “the impossibility of miracles”

      C. I made no such argument. I am not saying atheists cannot act morally or that they don’t have an objective morality. I am saying they want to behave as they wish with only their sensibilities to guide them. Whether those sensibilities are good or bad isn’t my point.

      Stop trying to read between the lines.

  2. Good point about the 100 passages, John, not to mention the countless passages in the OT about not worshiping other gods. They are impossible to miss for those who actually take the time to read the OT. That is the Israelites’ #1 issue and it results in negative consequences for them over and over. People are free to hold their anti-biblical views, but it is intellectually dishonest for them to call themselves Christians.

    Back to your post — An interesting side point of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11) is that it was a perfect example of a sign from God. Did the Jewish leaders take it as such? No, they plotted to kill him again, along with Jesus. They didn’t want the truth, they wanted their selfish desires. Skeptics who demand personalized evidence would rationalize it away in the same way they invent things like the non-scientific, evidence-free multi-verse theory to avoid the obvious conclusions of the cosmological and teleological arguments, among others.

    The question isn’t why God “only” provided one means of salvation, but why He provided one at all. A just judge isn’t obligated to pardon guilty criminals. Every act is by his grace.

    Re. Christianity surviving — Islam started, spread and continues to this day based on violence, and the violence is part of its teachings. Christianity may have had violent episodes attributed to it, but those aren’t the teachings of the Bible (with the lone exception of the clearing out of the Promised Land by the Jewish people). You don’t judge an ideology by those who violate its tenets. Christians were under severe persecution from day 1 yet Christianity survived for 300 years before being accepted by the State. Anyone who conflates the meaningfulness of the longevity of Christianity and Islam doesn’t know history very well.

    “I won’t go into the theologies of all those Christians who disagree with you and how they use their Bibles to support their positions — there are many web sites doing it.”

    Whoa — many web sites?! Touche’. Seriously, the Bible warns many times of false teachers and as usual Jesus was right. The Bible never claims that people will not be able to take verses out of context. In fact, it states the opposite.

    “Skeptics don’t feel they are “getting the shaft” – your theology is human man, there is not God being exclusive — instead you are trying to build walls and division and using gods and spooks to help you. We are resisting your mind games, not those of gods.”

    Pure judgmental dogma. And of course, in Sabio’s world his beloved Darwinian evolution is responsible for our conversion from atheism to trusting in the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and our alleged desires to build walls, divide and play mind games. Why is he so critical of the products of his worldview? Seems kinda irrational and intolerant.

    And isn’t it hypocritical of the skeptics to build walls and divisions and to play mind games by being so mean to Christians? (Not that I care, given that it is part of their job description. It just seems like they’d want to live more consistently with their worldview.)

  3. Responding purely to JB, not the initial comment:
    A. Evidence isn’t the inhibitor for those uninterested in actual truth. If Blind Faith is ok, why not go with Zeus?
    B. Skeptics have their reality, which means they take all evidence together. I don’t deny or ignore that the Bible says the Earth is 6000 years old, I just accept all the other evidence that says the earth is 14B years old. It’s not a naturalistic presupposition. It’s an acceptance of evidence that leads to naturalism.
    C. It’s Christians that make the leap of faith, denying contrary feelings and evidence to cling, white-knuckled to Pascal’s wager.

  4. Jason, blind faith in anything whatsoever isn’t the issue. Skeptics seem to find it offensive that Christianity is so dogmatic as to declare “our way or the highway “. I am merely stating that anyone who wants in can come. Lack of evidence doesn’t hinder ones ability to become a Christian. The objection implies the Christian club is closed to new members.

    Which verse says the earth is 6000 years old? Thats a new one for me.

  5. “Soteriologically speaking, biblical Christianity is exclusive. Only by professing a salvific trust in Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of their transgressions against a Holy God will one be saved. skeptics (and non-Christians) are dissatisfied with the idea that they cannot believe what they want and behave relatively unrestrained according to their desires”
    You still have made no connection whatsoever between bad works and punishment or good works and salvation. Your view of Christianity says purely that improper belief leads to eternal burning in fire. That is unjust. Moreover, death is a locked door after which no one can repent.
    Conversely, Christians can do what they want and live how they want, so long as they accept Jesus as their savior. A bad person, a ‘sinner’, who nonetheless believes in Jesus has eternal paradise waiting. That is amoral.
    Feel free to disagree with any of these premises. But so far (on this thread and ‘eternal’) all you’ve done is say ‘believe or burn’ without exception and without apology for the depravity of the system.

    • Jason

      You still have made no connection whatsoever between bad works and punishment or good works and salvation. Your view of Christianity says purely that improper belief leads to eternal burning in fire. That is unjust. Moreover, death is a locked door after which no one can repent.
      Conversely, Christians can do what they want and live how they want, so long as they accept Jesus as their savior. A bad person, a ‘sinner’, who nonetheless believes in Jesus has eternal paradise waiting. That is amoral.
      Feel free to disagree with any of these premises. But so far (on this thread and ‘eternal’) all you’ve done is say ‘believe or burn’ without exception and without apology for the depravity of the system.

      C’mon now. I addressed the point of improper belief in the post where do you think youre going. proper belief rescues you. What youre saying is the wrong treatment for disease is the cause of death, rather than the affliction. The correct medicine will save, incorrect medicine will let the disease run its course. There’s a difference.

      I will agree that a believer in Christ can sin all they want. I admit it. But that’s not the issue. The issue is how much does the person want to sin after having come to a saving trust in Christ? Before I became a believer, I did pretty much everything I wanted to do. Now I do pretty much everything I want to do. What’s the difference, you ask? The things I want to do are different now than before. I no longer want to sin. When I do, I feel guilty. I never used to. I now actively attempt to avoid sin, I never used to. In fact, I dont even miss my pre-faith lifestyle.

  6. Jason

    That is actually a very poor understanding of Christianity. No wonder we have so much trouble communicating here!

  7. John, please allow me to clear up some of your misconceptions about most atheists and their reasoning concerning your belief system.

    Skeptics are not “dissatisfied” with the idea that they cannot believe what they want. Behavior has nothing to do with the reasoning. Skeptics just don’t believe the stories of your religion (just like we don’t believe the stories of Mormonism, Scientology or Islam, for example) based on the evidence presented by the adherent.

    Personally, I don’t know why theists cannot see this. It would be no different if someone came to you with the story of Santa Claus as a savior and your non-acceptance of it was just a denial of the truth.

    Skeptics use the “loving god” argument to simply illustrate the conditional love that your deity requires in order to enter the Christian heaven. No matter what the behavior, if you don’t accept the Jesus story, no entry. So, by that regard, it is an exclusive club. (Furthermore, if I do in fact accept the Jesus story, my behavior really doesn’t matter after that either.)

    Oh, and by the way – the number of followers is irrelevant. If you’re suggesting that persistence and growth is important to believability, then Islam has a stronger case than Christianity today.

  8. John, I come across some skeptics that actually understand Christian positions, but most just visit from Stereotype Land with quotes from the Big Book O’ Atheist Sound Bites. If they had never been corrected that would be one thing, but in my experience you can explain their errors and they’ll move on to the next sound bite and then repeat the same errors later.

    Examples: Have they never heard that biblical faith isn’t “blind faith?” (Acts 17:11, 1 Thess. 5:21, worshiping God with our minds, etc.). Have they read the book of Acts to know that the Gospel was shared over and over with references to reason and historic events and never to blind faith?

    Do they even understand that there are some Christians in the “old earth” category and some in the “young earth” category?

    Are they unaware of the cosmological, teleological, moral and other arguments, not to mention the historical facts about Jesus death on a Roman cross, his disciples belief that He rose from the dead, the conversion and writings of Paul and other facts that support our belief in the resurrection?

    The evidence is there if they really want it. If.

  9. “Conversely, Christians can do what they want and live how they want, so long as they accept Jesus as their savior.”

    That argument is as old as Christianity, and Paul addresses it in the book of Romans. I encourage you to read it. Just 16 short chapters. You’ll be much better prepared to criticize us accurately after that.

  10. JB – I have a “very poor understanding?” Deny a part. Deny any part. Those are your words read back to you. I certainly didn’t come up with them on my own. You said man is saved through Christ, is that only if the sin is not too bad? What’s the limit? One murder, two, 3 murders and a rape? Or is simply accepting contrary evidence sufficient to burn, regardless how otherwise virtuously a person lives?
    eM has addressed a specific point, that Paul advocates for faith alone, sola fide, Rom 3:28. I’m aware. You forget that I’m not criticizing your premises, I’m criticizing your conclusions. You tell me that faith alone is not sufficient, and I will address that. But you (JB) must say it first, because I have only seen sola fide so far.
    Sabio already pointed out that *your* Christianity is the topic of conversation. “Biblical” Christianity is too unclear a doctrine to go with without clarification, so I just want to know what your perspective is.

  11. Christianity ain’t no country club. It’s more like the public pool. Everyone’s welcome. But like the pool, there are rules. I didn’t make the rules, but they’re there. If you want in, you’re welcome. If not, that’s your decision.

    I’m just here to tell you what I understand to be the truth. And to say:

    Come on in. The water’s LIFE!

  12. Marshall Art says:

    “Your view of Christianity says purely that improper belief leads to eternal burning in fire. That is unjust.”

    Seems to me that what would just be that which is in accordance with “the rules of the game”. In this “game”, the rules dictate acceptance of Christ as Savior. If this #1 rule is not followed, what right has anyone to complain that the rules followed should be enough? In a previous post, if one creates robots and their artificial intelligence leads them to decide for themselves what to believe, how should the creator of the robots respond to those robots that deny he was indeed their creator, or that the creator didn’t even exist? I can’t see how anyone can believe that not acknowledging the Creator would not carry some consequence. It’s not logical in the least.

    Thus, as John suggested, those consequences are really self-inflicted, as are all negative consequences that are provoked by denying truth and facts, and acting as if different truths and facts exist instead.

  13. Well said, zqtxz.
    Well said, Jason Torpy.

    John, many flavors of Christianity (yours included) say “our way or the highway”. Lots of other faiths do that too. We just dismiss you because your way is fictional. Simple as that. You, like all those other faiths are open memberships if we become just like you.
    Why the heck would we want in your club. No atheists resent your fictional club. They certainly don’t want to join. Don’t fool yourself.
    No, they want to point out how silly the whole game is. But you are not alone, lots of other clubs play by your rules. They think that eternal life only belongs to those who think like them. It is actually very laughable.

  14. Belief is an interesting concept, really. Do I believe the wind is blowing my hair when I’m outside? No. I feel it. I sense it. My brain translates the physical sensation into something I can comprehend.

    What is God? Supposedly, God is an All-Knowing, omnipowerful, Being which created life. Humans can barely grasp quantum mechanics. Astronomers are trying to use “dark energy” in their equations to explain why galaxies are accelerating away from one another at an increasing speed. Psychologists attempt to convince themselves that Psychology is a science, by removing the humanistic part of the profession.

    There is so much that we as humans have yet to comprehend. I think it is insulting that people try to personify something they don’t comprehend. How could a human possibly understand right and wrong as a divine being responsible for all creation? How can a mere mortal assume they know what God thinks is right and wrong? How can people speak of the “One true God” of love and use the same mouth to hate homosexuals?

    Some people feel God is real. That is fine. Some feel the Great Unknown is real. Others believe in elemental spirits and polytheism. I don’t think anyone is particularly right or wrong. I think it is wrong to make assumptions about these spirits and deities. I think it is wrong to judge others for their beliefs or lack of beliefs.

    While I do learn from reading books, I also think it is important to know who wrote those books, in what time period, and what was going on when it was written. Context is everything. Christianity was passed down for many generations before it was written. If you’ve ever played “Whisper down the lane” as a child, you’ll know that a sentence or two can be warped by passing it along from one person to the next in just a few minutes. Imagine decades, even centuries of that. Also keep in mind, during the time it was written–it was written by men. In this time period, alcohol was a huge part of the diet since pure water was difficult to come by. Also, opiates (poppy) were baked into bread. Alcohol and poppy will let you see angels and burning bushes, among other imaginings.

    Secondly, the Bible has neglected many things. For example, it failed to mention dinosaurs. It also is full of hypocracy. “Thou shalt not kill.” Yet, there are wars and murders throughout the Bible–and even worse, there are graveyards across the world, full of dead soldiers who died for “God and Country”.

    You are entitled to believe in God and the written word of Man, just as a child is entitled to believe in Santa and the ‘naughty list’. If it is inspiration to do good things instead of bad things, fine. I think it is a bit sad when a full grown adult needs to believe in old fairy-tale like stories to find morals, when human beings are born with intuition and in inclination to do what is right.

    Just as I can feel the wind and comprehend what it is, I do not try to define it and force others to feel it. If they feel it, then we have something in common. If someone feels that something is right or wrong, then that is nice. If it needs to be laid out that murder, adultry, stealing, etc are bad things to do, then maybe those people need to believe in something–because they sure aren’t feeling it.

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