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Do atheists fear death?

October 6, 2014

Things have been a little quiet on this blog lately. I do apologise, but my mum died quite suddenly at the end of August. This has meant that I haven’t quite been up to detailed and passionate exchanges on life, God and meaning. You can read my eulogy to my mum here published on another of my blogs.

This very real and personal confrontation of death has prompted some significant questioning and reflection in myself. It has confronted me afresh with the reality and permanence of death. I wonder where my mum has ‘gone’. If atheism is true, she no longer feels, thinks or even exists, the consequences of which I’ll outline below). If Christianity is true, I wonder about the intermediate state, is she ‘sleeping’, her spirit gone to be with Jesus or feels nothing awaiting the resurrection at the end of the age?

So I thought I’d share some thoughts on this blog. This post is modified from an earlier post I wrote a couple of years ago after attending several funerals in quick succession.

Funerals remind me of my own mortality – that one day I will die. It’s not a cheery or happy thought, I find it sobering and chilling. Death is something that we don’t really think about and it’s something that’s outside our experience, but we will all go there. We will all die.

Death is catastrophic in the atheist world: it should be feared

I think there is something to fear about death in the atheist universe. Death is so final; its victory over us is complete. In the atheist world, when we die, we are annihilated, we cease to exist and we fail to perceive anything about our world or reality.

Given this comprehensive finality of death, I am somewhat surprised at the almost cavalier attitudes towards death that some atheists propose. Deceased atheist Christopher Hitchens said,

“Do I fear death? No, I am not afraid of being dead because there’s nothing to be afraid of, I won’t know it.”

Another atheist concurred with Hitchens claiming, ‘I was dead for billions of years before I was born and I did not suffer the slightest inconvenience’

If the atheist worldview is right then Hitchens correctly observes that we won’t know that we are dead. But I can’t see how this removes the fear of death, for the fear of death comes precisely because we won’t know it. This is exactly my point.

We didn’t suffer inconvenience before death, but we also had never experienced consciousness, life or the universe. We were never aware of anything (we weren’t actually dead!) We didn’t exist. Hence to go back to that “feeling” of non-existence is chilling. To return to ‘non-experience’ after experiencing the great gifts of life and thought and the universe in all its wonder and mystery. For us not to experience anything, I can’t help but find depressing and meaningless.

Our minds fail to grasp what non-perception is like. We are physical creatures, we perceive, interrogate and experience the world around us – we are the sum total of our experiences. Yet to lose that, to die, ends these experiences. Death ends our sense of perception, it ends our experience. Death is a foreign ‘experience’. I cannot begin to wonder what that will feel like – or more correctly what not perceiving feels like. In the atheist philosophy death is so catastrophically and depressingly final. Life and consciousness become a tragic and cruel joke.

Shouldn’t atheists want there to be an afterlife?

One of the puzzling enigmas of modern dialogue on religion is why so many atheists, notably anti-theists, are so militant in their opposition of God and an afterlife. Thomas Nagel wrote,

It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

Even if there is no God or afterlife, surely we would want there to be one? Surely we would want to continue to exist and to perceive, think and experience? I can’t quite understand why anti-theists adopt a no God at all costs attitude, particularly if it means ditching any hope after death.

Will we survive death?

So will we survive death? The Christian faith asserts that we will – that that there will be some kind of afterlife. Some will suffer punishment and others experience eternal life. Now, a common criticism of the Christian faith is that the afterlife has simply been invented as a crutch for those who can’t bear the concept of annihilation – it is wish fulfilment i.e. we don’t want to die, hence we really want an afterlife to be true.

Yet, unlike any other world religion, Christianity doesn’t simply assert that there is an afterlife, it demonstrates one, through the resurrection of Jesus. This is why the resurrection is so crucial to Christian hope,

‘And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19)

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. If the reports of Jesus’ resurrection are true, then there is hope that we can survive death. Christian hope isn’t simply wishful thinking, it becomes an exercise of trust in an historical event. We can trust in Jesus’ resurrection and its historical occurrence and trust that we too will be raised to everlasting life. Alternatively, from the atheist perspective, we can trust that death is the end, the final word. Which invariably makes life utterly pointless, meaningless and empty.

I trust Jesus’ resurrection, and this gives hope that death’s victory is not complete,

‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55)

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From → Bible, Comment

107 Comments
  1. Can you describe heaven? What will it be like? The bible says you’ll be able to look down and see the suffering of your loved ones that did not make it into heaven. Is that what you want? An eternity of knowing your loved ones are being tortured? Does that comfort you?

    What will you do in heaven? Worship god? Does that fulfill your desires and needs completely? Can you say that if you had no need of provisions you could happily spend your life worshiping your deity? Would an eternity of singing the praises of your deity bring you happiness?

    What the hell is heaven? Please discuss.

    • Thanks for those questions, although they seeem a little irrelevant to the original post. This would be good material for another post altogether – but there are a few things we can say about ‘heaven’. It will be where there will be perfect relationships, there will be no pain or suffering, there will be work (but no toil), there will be rejoicing, there will be joy, it will be physical (as it is the renewing of the earth). It is ‘life to the full’. Why would someone not want that?

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      Where does the Bible say that we will spend eternity being able to view people in Hell? Actually, it will be the Lake of Fire, but I am not aware of any verse that supports your idea. Also, we will spend eternity on the new earth, in the new Jerusalem. I am not saying that we cannot go to Heaven or the rest of the New Earth, or more.

  2. What we would want does not change reality. So, let’s assume for a moment, that I wanted some version of an afterlife (surely not the Christian hellhole called “heaven”, where all the evil people go who can enjoy and even glee about the poor souls burning in “hell”) to exist… That still wouldn’t change the simply fact that there is absolute nothing pointing to its existence.

    And if I have to chose between a uncomfortable truth (“There is no indication for any afterlife, only the wishful thinking of people who are afraid to die”) or a comfortable lie (“There surely is an afterlife!”), then I chose the truth. Simple, isn’t it?

    Personally, I don’t fear death. Of course, it’s a pity that I will die, could easily spend a few hundred years on earth without getting bored, but that’s the same feeling that I have that I didn’t visit Disney land. So what? Fear? No. As long as I am here, death is not. And as soon as death arrives, I will not be here to meet it. So, no reason to fear. Dying, on the other hand, could be an unpleasant experience – but, it has one big advantage: It ends.

    • Atomic, I agree we don’t want to change reality. That was part of the purpose of the post – i.e. I stare in the face of the atheist ‘reality’ (if it is true) and I find it terrifying. I find your lack of fear of the abyss genuinely puzzling. I can’t understand why you would not be uncomfortable with non-existence?

      I disagree with your point that there is ‘absolutely nothing pointing to its [heaven’s] existence’, I outlined a key piece of evidence in Jesus’ resurrection, which the Bible describes as ‘firstfruits’ of the age to come.

      Also, I would suggest that there may be another uncomfortable truth – that there is an afterlife and we will all be judged!

      • I’m not uncomfortable with being dead, because I won’t be existing anymore. That’s like bad things happening at a party after I left, not my problem anymore.

        And sorry, no, the bible has exactly zero quality as evidence, which you would realize if you didn’t believe all that stuff already. For everyone else, you are pointing at this book, looking proud, while we think “So what? When asking for evidence, pointing to the book on which you base your faith is not leading anywhere, because there is no evidence for the book being true in the first place.”

        And honestly, is “fear” the only emotion you can think of? It gets boring quickly and makes a very bad recruiting tactic, because it only makes you look like a mad torturer’s apprentice.

  3. I enjoyed reading this, many thanks for the post.

    Being afraid of death is part of the common (and reasonable) fear of the unknown. Like God, knowing what comes after death is beyond the realms of scientific enquiry, we will never know. Until the time comes. When we do know (and should there be anything), we will have little choice but to keep it to ourselves.

    We fall then to the ideas of the afterlife, I believe that these ideas come from a need for comfort and from a position of arrogance.

    Firstly, comfort. This is an obvious perspective so I shan’t elaborate too much here, but of course we take comfort in knowing that our relatives are in a place or position of calm and tranquillity. I can’t think of anyone who has lost a love one and considers the question “are they in hell?”. I think the notion that we always only consider the better outcome to represent our need for this comfort.

    Secondly, arrogance. Why is it that things must go on? Why is it all about us?. The chances of a specific human, developing a specific personality to live certain experiences…at a certain time are so incomprehensible that it’s staggeringly beautiful.

    The certainty of death for me increases the value of each hour that life contains. This is not a depressing concept, actually it is an encouraging one. Death being the end means that I have everything to live for.

    However, I am aware that there are discussions taking place in regards to the continued existence of consciousness after the body dies. I do not know a lot about it so I won’t go too much into it. If you are familiar with Christopher Hitchens then you will no doubt be familiar with Sam Harris, I hear he has been having these sorts of talks for quite some time now.

    It may be of some comfort to you to look into these enquiries.

    Be strong my friend

    LL

    • Thanks LL for enjoying the post. I do try to stimulate and be intelligent and respectful along the way.

      I find your comments helpful and illuminating. I did want to point out that we can know something of the afterlife – if Jesus’ resurrection is true! If this is true, then it does give us something to understand what happens after death.

      I also find your comments about death meaning that I have everything to live for quite interesting. I actually disagree that death means we have everything to live for, I think that death means that everything we live for is pointless. Like sandcastles on the beach, everything that I have lived for will disappear. I have tried to find solace in that point, but it actually makes life more stressful (what if I’m not living for everything) and ultimately pointless. I can’t see how atheism doesn’t end up with nihilism.

      Thanks so much for your comments and I hope you can continue commenting on this blog.

      Kind regards,

      Rob

      • Hi Rob,

        In my opinion, if God was somehow proved through the resurrection (hardly any evidence to support this) then the afterlife would be a endless series of praise to God. You would also be able to observe the fallen and watch them tortured for all eternity, this does not appeal to me.

        I can see why it would seem difficult to be optimistic about life itself knowing it was all coming to an end, I enjoyed your sandcastle analogy but I would ask you this:

        If you were the child who made the sandcastle, you would be sad as it were swept away, all that hard work would have gone to waste. The truth is that it doesn’t end there.

        Imagine the man who looks back on his sandcastle, he remembers the pride and the joy he felt once it was complete. He does not dwell on the fact the sandcastle was lost because all sandcastles fall.

        It is true that we will fade away, but we can choose to “live” on through other means. I for one would love to publish books one day, on these sorts of topics and know that someone, somewhere felt just a little stronger because of something I said.

        If I am fortunate to have a family of my own some day, I would love to influence the sort of people they become and play a part in them fulfilling their potential.

        This is not an afterlife, more of leaving something positive behind.

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      “I can’t think of anyone who has lost a love one and considers the question “are they in hell?””

      I do. I have relatives and/or friends who are, as far as I know, in Hell. To think that everyone you( I speak of the 3rd person, plural) like goes to Heaven, and those you hate go to Hell, is arrogant, vengeful, haughty, and unrepentant. People invent a god for themselves who is a sugar daddy to them and their friends, but a destroyer to those they hate. They are careful to make sure that they, themselves are always never fallen short. This is not the God of the Bible. The God of the bible does not save the “good” people and sentence the “bad” people. Salvation is not by good works. “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:4, KJV. AND “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” Galatians 3:11, KJV.

      What am I saying? That the “popes,” most or all of them burn in Hell. They sought to buy their own salvation. Impossible. Good works do not save. Sometimes evil people repent later in life, and trust Christ. Some may think, “Surely they are so wicked/evil that they will go to Hell.” Who better to see the Master Physician, than the sickest person? “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31, KJV.

      I am not cocky, or arrogant, I think. I am nothing. Without Christ, I am sure I would be a wicked man. In my flesh, I still am, of course, but I am no longer just flesh. I am a new creature, in Christ. Both fighting each other. The old man, who still sins, and the new creation. I do not speak of dual personality. There is no such thing. That is for the movies.

  4. Of course,Jesus was no more resurrected than he flew into the sky and disappeared into a cloud on his way to Heaven.

    These stories were written by people who sincerely believed Heaven was above the sky, and so their made up stories reflected what they believed.

  5. I’ve been doing some research on this issue and I’ve found out that the only environment which can support bodily life is an Earth-like environment, exactly like the one we have today. You may want to Google ‘fine-tuning’ if that comes as a surprise to you.

    So Heaven is ruled out, unless it looks like the Earth.

    • Unless ‘heaven’ is bodily – just as is the Christian hope of the resurrection of the dead!

  6. Rob,

    I am sorry for your loss. In spite of my age (59) I have never lost anyone that close to me, so I don’t know what it will feel like. But at least I won’t be worrying that my loved ones are continuing to suffer in Hell (in whatever form you imagine it). The idea of that would drive me insane with grief and worry, I think.

    As for my own death, I do find the idea quite scary. I suppose that evolution would naturally make us dread death, or we wouldn’t have lasted this long. When I was starting to realise that I didn’t believe in God I tried to avoid recognising the atheistic destination my thoughts were leading me to because I feared having to accept death as annihilation. But when I could no longer hide from myself the fact that I didn’t believe in God, do you know what? I was exactly as scared about dying as I had been when I did believe. No more, no less.

    I’ve never met anyone, believer or theist, who doesn’t wish to avoid death for as long as possible (in the absence of extreme circumstances). I find that quite easy to understand in the atheist’s case. Harder to understand for the believer.

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      I know of no animal that dreads death. They do not think about it.

    • Frances, Thanks so much for your comments and support, I do appreciate them.

      Thanks also for being open and vulnerable and admitting that you find death scary! I’m intrigued about your thoughts about why you were scared about dying as a believer and nonbeliever. Did the Christian hope of resurrection not fill you with comfort?

      Also wondering if you could tease out why you find it harder to understand why the believer wants to avoid death? I can think of a couple of reasons (and one of them is unbelief, or lack of trust, which plagues believers to different extremes at different times), but I’ve also known many believers who are comforted and feel peace about death.

      Thanks again and hope to hear from you soon. Rob

      • Did the hope of resurrection fill me with comfort? Errr, kinda. If I thought of death, after an initial stab of alarm, I would think “Oh, but then I’ll go to Heaven and it will all be lovely. Ok, back to the here and now…..” It was the metaphysical equivilent of me sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “La la la” loudly.

        In the link I’ve sent you on your Effective Altruism thread Sandra LaFave says that we do not truly believe anything if it does not affect how we act. On that basis, you might say I never really believed at all. I just chose not to ask myself too many questions because I sensed that I might not like the answers.

        Why do I find it more understandable in atheists than believers? The answer is partly in what I’ve just said – we don’t really believe in anything if we don’t act accordingly. And it’s partly in what you’ve just said: that Christians can be afflicted by a loss of faith. But the odd thing from my POV, speaking as an outsider, is that Christians don’t appear to fear death as a “blip” when their faith runs low. Fear of death is a default position. Any comfort derived from the afterlife appears to kick in only once all hope of recovery is gone and the person must resign themselves to death. When somebody is gravely ill, Christians pray for their recovery. Nobody ever suggests “Hey guys, you know what? Old Joe, he’s surely one of the saved. His family are all grown up now and independent of him. We’d all love to have him with us a bit longer, but that would be selfish. He’ll be much better off in Heaven, so why don’t we all pray for him to die?”

        It’s a bit hard to talk about these issues without sounding crass and insensitive and I hope what I’ve said isn’t coming across that way, but I am honestly perplexed.

      • Thanks for sharing that. I think you’re right – we do fear death. As I said I fear death, but the hope of the resurrection is like balm on this fear.

        Yes, I do agree we pray for recovery of someone who is dying, because life is good!! Death is never a ‘good’ thing. Although on that, I was recently reading some of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians when he said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.”

        Paul outlines a real dilemma in his mind. I also do know of many Christian people who are facing death and are comforted with the prospect of seeing Jesus face to face. My experience is that Christians do mourn, but not as those without hope.

        I appreciate your perplexity, but I think it’s complex issue. In fact someone was perplexed when I admitted that I ‘feared death’, perhaps I also didn’t mention that the hope of the Gospel rubs balm on these fears.

        Thanks again for sharing and being honest. I appreciate that.

        Rob

  7. I’m a realist, for a while when a child i was taught to believe in a Christian view of the world but now with years of research, personal experience and an open mind i have a thorough understanding of how we got here and what happens when we die. That space is occupied by my parents, my parents parents, so on and so forth. One day my children will occupy that same space, if its good enough for them, its good enough for me. Nothing to fear, it is what it is.

  8. Ed Atkinson permalink

    Thanks Rob for a great thoughtful piece. And my sympathies, the death of a parent is a big deal. I found myself agreeing with fjanusz2 so closely I wondered whether to comment.

    There is a new movement called ‘Death Cafes’ where people of all kinds discuss their thoughts and fears. Most go as a one-off and I found the one I went to as brilliant. The leader is well trained and professional.

    Rob, your link to the resurrection is well made and of vital importance. I trust that you will return to the issue of the evidence for the resurrection here in due course.

    A final note – why does the lack of Ultimate Meaning undermine meaning in life, equally why does the lack of Ultimate Morality undermine morality? Meaning and morality are real, but to attempt to project them into an Ultimate is a mistake. Our lives all do have meaning whether death is the end or not. If they didn’t there would be no grief.

    • Ed. Thanks for your comments (always welcomed). Thanks for your sympathies – they are much appreciated. I do appreciated your throughs (and Frances – fjanusz2) very much.

      I will return to the issue of the resurrection in due course and I’ve been thinking a lot about your comment about Jesus being put in a common grave. I have a post brewing on that and I will appreciate your comments on that.

      In terms of your comments on ultimate meaning and morality – I think your point is interesting and worth teasing out more. I think that a lack of ultimate meaning (and morality) means that everything moves to nihilism. Like sandcastles being washed away, we can create what we like, but when we reflect on it, the meaning seems to fade. We can create out own little meanings for a while, but if they’re not connected to anything eternal or lasting, that meaning becomes meaningless.

      I think grief is caused due to attachment/fondness/loss, less about meaning. What do you think?

      Thanks again for commenting and sorry for not responding earlier.

      Rob

  9. Baptist Joshua permalink

    One way we may be able to understand each other, in context, is to know our backgrounds. I suggest we post a brief description of our history. For example:

    I was saved before I turned 4 years old. At about 5 I wanted to make sure I was saved. Again, around 16 I wanted to make sure I was saved. “If I didn’t mean it then, I mean it now.” I was then convinced that I truly had repented of sin and trusted in Christ as Saviour, before I was 4.

    As you know by my name, I am Baptist. Some of you atheists were never pointlessly religious. Some may come from roman catholic backgrounds, or the like. I would like to know.

    “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Romans 3:23

    • Ed Atkinson permalink

      Hi Joshua, I converted to evangelical Christianity when 16, I soon joined the charismatic movement (also in a Baptist church). I sought God and worked for God for about 20 years before I gave up in dissappointment. I decided to step away and assess its truth. I wanted to follow Christianity but it had to be true. Slowly I found no evidence and eventually ended up an atheist. I guess that I am now pleased that God never seemed real in my church and devotional experience, it helped get me out of the false beliefs. Cheers Ed

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        I wanted to clarify. When I say that I am a Baptist, I mean a more conservative, traditional Baptist, as they used to be. Nowadays, you have all sorts of false religions CALLING themselves Baptists, but even a quick look into what Baptists generally believed will show that these impostors are not Baptistic. Charismatic movements, by their very nature would not be Baptistic. I assume you refer to the goofy, snake wrangling, E.R. visting, speaking in nonsense, running down the aisles, slaying in the deceptive spirit, mumbo jumbo. That would not be biblical.

        For specifics sake, I am a 4-point “Calvinist,” though I don’t care for using men’s names to describe Bible doctrine. I was not forced into becoming a “Christian.” My Parents never asked me if I wanted to be saved. They didn’t want a false conversion. They gave me the gospel and knew that if God was working, I would want to be saved, and one day I did! Excelsior!

  10. Hello Joshua. My story is a bit dull, compared to Ed’s. I was brought up in a not particularly observant Christian family. We went to church (C of E) occasionally. My mother was brought up as Catholic but switched to C of E on marrying my father.
    When I was about 12 my mother decided she’d return to the RC fold & I converted (entirely my own decision).
    I spent a few years feeling smug about being on the “right” side. Then I started to ask myself some questions…..
    First the Catholicism went, then the Christianity and finally the theism.
    My mother told me when I was still quite young that she didn’t believe in Hell because she didn’t believe that a loving God would send anyone to eternal punishment. This seemed to me to be so obviously right that I never worried about Hell (just death, as I said).

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      Fjanusz2, is C of E, Church of England? If so, that is Anglican, correct? I am an American, so I am not familiar with the term, “C of E.”

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      Fjanusz2, first, thank you for your response. I see something in your message above. It is not logical. You say that you believed in a god, but not in hell. Well, God is in scripture, and hell. You can’t say, “Well, this part is true, but the rest is fake.” They are both true. A righteous Judge will condemn. I don’t want to watch a man be killed, and yet, I agree with the death penalty. It is uncomfortable, but right.

  11. Baptist Joshua permalink

    Hello, Rob. I am sorry to hear about your Mother. A Christian does not need to wonder where another Christian is, when they die. Scripture is clear on this: “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, KJV. Christ also spoke to the man on the cross and told him, “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43, KJV.

    If the Rapture happens within my lifetime, I will not taste death. :^) Up, Up, and Away!

    A normal person will fear death, at least if they do not believe in life after death. To act jaunty about it is, as I see it, a cat, who when faced with a strange cat who is angry, suddenly begins to purr. Apparently trying to calm the other cat or itself. Like a child lost, who mumbles, “It’s O.K.! It’s O.K.!”

    The atheist will physically respond to death as this: “Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 22:13, KJV. I am sorry to say this.

    The atheist is a fool. “<> The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” “<> The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.” Psalms 14:1; 53:1, KJV. You are dealing with fools. Fools cannot be reasoned with, often. What do fools do with reason? Let this be the basis of conversation, knowing that your own words with either do nothing or in some cases only help. Scripture is the sword. It is the power. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12, KJV. Or, “lean not unto thine own understanding” The atheist can see no proof of God, because they do not want to see proof. They hate God. They fear the idea of God. They want their sin(usually sexual, in my experience with them). Any thinking mind can come up with some sort of “proof” for anything it sets its mind to. Pictures of U.F.O.’s? They abound. Elvis in a trailer park? Sure. Elvis’ supposed voice on record? Heard it. Multi-directional shadows below moon rocks? Seen it. NASA photographs with crosshairs behind objects? Seen it. If I wanted to believe these things, I easily could. The “evidence” is overwhelming. Yet I reject them. My predisposition is to not believe them. Therefore I bore holes in the “evidence.” Some here, said “little evidence for Christ’s resurrection…” Well, little is a lot. There is ZERO evidence for any of these atheists’ great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great…Grandfathers. None. Zilch. Ah! They never existed, and I can’t be changed until “peer reviewed evidence is shown.”

    With the atheist, it isn’t about proof. Proof could stare them in the face and nunchuk them and they wouldn’t believe. They do love their sin. I don’t mean to be crude, or vulgar sounding. I am just speaking from experience, but atheists commonly, and usually out of nowhere, want to defend masturbation. ??? Sexual sin seems to be often at the forefront of the atheist’s mind.

    Have they read the bible? Specifically the KJV, since we are English speaking here. Have they read books about how we got the bible, written by Christians? Books on preservation of scripture? Have they, or are they only sick of their false religions that they were a part of? Perhaps the religion was false. Scripture is pure. Sometimes leaders aren’t. Were they mocked or attacked by supposed Christians? Have they read books on the abounding evidence of Christ’s resurrection? Do they reject all of Josephus’ writings, or only the parts about Christ? Was the translator(1 man of many men who translated it in 1611) of the King James Version, who knew 11 languages, an idiot, to them? A simple minded man? The others who translated it with him knew multiple languages. Starvation is not proof of no food; only that food is not found.

  12. “I don’t mean to be crude, or vulgar sounding. I am just speaking from experience, but atheists commonly, and usually out of nowhere, want to defend masturbation. ??? Sexual sin seems to be often at the forefront of the atheist’s mind.”

    Sorry Joshua, but I have to say based on this post, that sexual sin seems to be often at the forefront of your mind.

  13. Baptist Joshua permalink

    How many “atheists” here come from a Roman Catholic background? Have you considered that God and scripture and Jesus Christ are not false, but that your religion was? There are many supposed versions of Christianity. They can’t all be correct. Some are mutually exclusive. Example: Roman Catholicism vs. Baptists. Some atheists may be former RCs, Presbyterians, Methodists, United Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, etc. Now truth is singular. Not all can be correct. What if your specific religion was wrong, but scripture itself was correct? That is, your “understanding” of it was wrong, but it is correct, none the less.

    • Baptist Joshua, Thanks for your comments on this blog. I think that the basis for your message here is right, i.e. all ‘versions’ of Christianity cannot be correct, but Frances does raise a legitimate possibility that they might all be wrong! So I think it’s important to analyse, discuss and come to an informed decision (and in my mind, treat others with respect and dignity along the way). I’m sure you’d agree with that?

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        One of the hazards of internet text, is that nuance and meaning can be lost. I am not mocking or being disrespectful in my attitude. It may come across this way, but none is meant. I do not pretend to be on a fence, either. I am saying that God is true and faithful. I don’t have room for “what if’s.” Some will say, “Oh, then you are dogmatic and bullheaded.” No. I just have Truth. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32, KJV.

        “Not all religions are true, therefore all could be fake” is not true. 2+2 = 5 is not true. 2+2 = 6 is not true. 2+2 = 7 is not true. Does that mean then since many thousands of combinations are false, that then, 2+2 = 4 may also be false? No. Why? Because Truth is Truth, even if no one believes it or understands it or recognizes it. Many atheists I know come from false religious backgrounds. No wonder they doubt their religion! But then, somehow they begin to doubt God. Perhaps, subtly, their thought is that if anything was true, their “denomination” was true. But many come from false backgrounds. They should entertain the idea that the false gospels they heard, and the false, modern “bibles” they were reading are part of the problem.

  14. Hello Joshua,

    Yes, C of E is Anglican.

    You say that I was illogical to believe in God but not Hell, but all Christian belief requires some inconsistency because the bible does not constitute a logically coherent piece of work. It was written over centuries by authors most of whom are anonymous. Some of it represents the collection of various oral traditions which scribes reduced into writing. All of it is riddled with factual and philosophical discrepancies.

    That’s why there are so many different versions of Christianity: because every version can refer to something in the bible which supports their own version. Where there is an uncomfortable discrepancy between another part of the bible of what a particular church teaches, the members of that church become experts in “explaining it away.” As you say, these conflicting versions of Christianity cannot all be right.
    BUT
    They could all be wrong….

    There is a logical inconsistency at the heart of all versions of Christianity and you have referred to it yourself. The Christian God is logically incoherent because nobody can be both infinitely merciful and infinitely just. Mercy cannot happen without a derogation from justice and complete justice cannot allow for any mercy. Justice and mercy are both good things but like many good things they can conflict. There is no perfect solution which can encompass both.

    You say that God is just, but if someone deserves punishment then not punishing them is failing to do justice. And remitting their punishment because you have punished somebody else (or yourself) in their stead does not make it just. It would only make the injustice even worse.

    Frances

    • Frances, I think you raise some good points here. (Some of which we might discuss another time!). I do agree that all versions of Christianity might be wrong – hence one of the reasons for running this blog. And I do appreciate thoughtful responses (such as those from people like yourself!)

      Yet my interest was piqued by your comment on the logical inconsistency at the heart of all versions of Christianity. I think that there is a solution in Christianity (and unique to Christianity). I wrote about some of it here: https://atheistforum.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/reflecting-on-the-top-10-tips-for-christian-atheist-dialogue/ in an earlier post (where Matt Dillahunty made a similar objection). I think that this is a very important issue and maybe I should expand my thoughts on this topic in a separate blog post. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this one.

      Thanks and talk soon. Rob

      • Dear Rob,

        Grrrr! I’m afraid that reading to link to your response to Matt Dillahunty (& others) only had the effect of raising my blood pressure and thoroughly irritating me. In fact, if ever there was a post calculated to bring out the worst in me, that would be it.
        1. Matt is not ignorant. He was raised, as I’m sure you know, a Christian Southern Baptist. He planned to become a minister. He lost his faith when he started to study atheist arguments because he wanted to save his atheist room-mate by showing him that Christianity was true. I have no doubt that he knows at least as much as you do about the doctrine of the atonement.
        2. Not referring to the doctrine of atonement through Jesus’ death is only a culpable omission if you consider that it is any kind of solution to the problem. You appear to have overlooked the last sentence of my reply to Joshua. Not to punish somebody who deserves punishment is failing to do justice. Punishing somebody else instead of the guilty party compounds the injustice. Dude! The doctrine of atonement isn’t a fix! It’s a bug!

      • Frances!! Whoops. Sorry, I didn’t mean to raise your blood pressure (but perhaps the feeling is reciprocated when I read certain atheist websites, and unfortunately Matt Dillahunty is one of them). Just to respond briefly.
        1. I realise that Matt is not ignorant. Although, unfortunately I do wonder what degree of Christian conviction some of the previous atheists have actually had. I read things that people like Matt and Dan Barker write and I am genuinely astonished that they held any Christian understanding. He may know something about the atonement, but my question is, given that he knows that, why does he not acknowledge that Christianity has a solution?
        2. Are you suggesting that any form of ‘atonement’ is still unjust? i.e. there is no possibility of any mercy? Even if the due penalty of the crime is paid? e.g. if I earn a parking fine and someone pays it for me, I should still be condemned even though the fine has been paid? Interested to hear your thoughts on that one.

        Thanks again for your thoughtful comments Frances, I do appreciate them.

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      fjanusz2, you said: “It was written over centuries by authors most of whom are anonymous.” So many of the books are specifically mentioning the authors. Some do not, but we know who the author was because of the context, etc.

      “All of it is riddled with factual and philosophical discrepancies.” Now this is only true if you are reading a modern translation. I would not argue that the modern translations are perfect or inerrant. On the contrary. Whenever I speak of the Bible, I am generally going to be meaning either the Hebrew or Greek or the King James Version. These are error free. You can laugh at me, but I have hears of showing people how the Bible is correct, but their understanding(often an ignorance of Israeli custom, knowledge, etc.) was wrong. Feel free to drop me one example. I can’t promise an answer, but most examples I’ve seen are old ones, long ago properly answered.

      You speak of God being “infinitely merciful and infinitely just,” and that those two cannot be. Where does it say that He is both, infinitely? Does not He warn in Revelation how He gave Jezebel time to repent, but she did not? Justice without mercy may seem cruel. Mercy without justice is not truth. Justice and mercy is grace. He is just in that he condemns us all. He is merciful in that He saves. But where went our justice that would have applied to the saved? It fell on Christ.

  15. Baptist Joshua permalink

    fjanusz2, you said: “I never really believed at all.”

    “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14, KJV.

    “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD.” Proverbs 21:30, KJV.

    “Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.” Isaiah 40:28, KJV.

    “For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.” Jeremiah 4:22, KJV.

    If you never believed, then maybe you can’t yet experience knowledge of God. Truly born again Christians do.

  16. “Death is so final; its victory over us is complete. In the atheist world, when we die, we are annihilated, we cease to exist and we fail to perceive anything about our world or reality.”

    I find the use of the word ‘victory’ here indicates more about your outlook on life than to say anything factual, which is what I feel the tone of this sentence is supposed to convey.

    “If the atheist worldview is right then Hitchens correctly observes that we won’t know that we are dead. But I can’t see how this removes the fear of death, for the fear of death comes precisely because we won’t know it. This is exactly my point.”

    I always felt Hitchens angle here was more that death itself isn’t to be feared; it is an inevitability in life. That’s not to say the prospect of not sharing jokes with friends, dining with your family, reading good books, intimacy with a lover, etc., isn’t a sad one. For him, knowing that it cannot go on forever, though, I’m sure there was some solace even here. Are you not at all familiar with Stoic philosophy, to take one example?

    “In the atheist philosophy death is so catastrophically and depressingly final. Life and consciousness become a tragic and cruel joke.
    […]
    Alternatively, from the atheist perspective, we can trust that death is the end, the final word. Which invariably makes life utterly pointless, meaningless and empty.”

    Surely there being an afterlife makes life equally meaningless in this life philosophy? Why on earth start living in this world when you could simply start in the next!? It boggles the mind. In any case, when it comes down to it, it again becomes a matter of the fact you have a different cultural or world-view from others and this alone. I’m more inclined to share the point that life is more meaningful and wondrous because of its finality. Every day and every moment is so, so important. The idea of the infinite diminishes this for me and might make me think— why am I wasting my time here? This is all meaningless in the grand scheme of infinity.

    I appreciate that this post was no doubt fuelled by recent tragedy in your life but I feel that perhaps you should have paused and reflected more. I don’t criticise or judge someone from stamping their feet when they’re angry or rapping their fingers on a table when impatient— they’re cultural habits where the action provides some level of comfort despite the fact that, if pressed, the person might readily admit they don’t think the action accomplishes anything in the slightest. I see this now with the act of Christian prayer, as another example. You simply have a different life philosophy. I think if you read widely on all of the various life philosophies out there, you’ll see that different people in different cultures find solace in their own way. I personally feel that you are writing from the perspective of someone who belongs to one such philosophy and hasn’t ventured outside of it— or feels uncomfortable when you do choose to venture as everything suddenly seems wrong or illogical, when it fact the reality is that it’s simply unfamiliar and not shared.

  17. Fear of death and fear of the unknown have this in common – the objects those fears don’t actually exist. They are empty spaces. Fear kicks in as a survival mechanism because we fear that which we project into those empty spaces – what dangers might be lurking therein.
    This is a more than useful survival mechanism – thank you, evolution.
    Curiously, those who fear the negative things listed above are actually demonstrating an impressive belief in life after death! As Rob so touchingly, and naively, expresses it, “I cannot begin to wonder what that will feel like – or more correctly what not perceiving feels like.” So he believes that feeling will persist when perception has stopped. Spot the error.
    I have had two quite different experiences of “death”: an NDE in 1978 and a 90 metre bungee jump in 1998. The first left me with a sense of serenity concerning my demise, the second plunged me into a sensation of pure, visceral, uncontrollable, paralysing terror. Of course, human biology explains both of these emotions. One day my biological clock will stop ticking, and fears will disappear along with everything else.
    Death and sleep have often been compared because in both cases we stop doing all those things that Rod has extolled above. Indeed, some very anxious people do actually suffer from insomnia precisely because they fear that there might not be an after-sleep life! Others are unable to sleep for precisely the opposite reason – they are sure that the same sh*t will be there when they wake up.
    It is unsurprising that Christians might confront death with the serenity of someone who is going to “wake up” again, even though their inherited instincts will usually continue to provide them with the adrenaline of fear when their life is threatened. Looking down into a 90 metre chasm certainly did that for me!

    Once we understand that our fear of the unknown or death is actually a fear of all the terrible things we project into those empty spaces, we can look directly at the waking nightmares that raise their ugly heads in the absence of anything more substantial. Then perhaps we can take some solace in the thought, “Since I have no idea what is there, it might equally be something extremely pleasant as something terrible.” I know that works for me. (Ok, ok, I admit it, that all sounds a bit Kierkegaardian. Whatever…)
    Today I delight in the unknown. It is like an unopened present.Sure, when I open it I might discover an iPhone with a pre-installed cafetière app (Oh, frabjous day!) or it might explode and tear my face off. Without exception, my willingness to open it will depend upon information acquired from previous experiences.
    Realistically, Rob, it’s often what I actually know that depresses me. Not the unknown, and even less the unknowable.

  18. Rob,

    When you ask why Matt does not “acknowledge that Christianity has a solution” this is begging the question. The question is whether the atonement is a solution or a problem in its own right.

    I am bemused to find that when asked about justice and punishment, the example you come up with is – a parking infraction! Like, I suspect, most people, I find it hard to care whether or not somebody else has paid your parking fine. It’s not exactly a crime that cries aloud to Heaven for justice, is it?

    If the fine is paid then in law the obligation is satisfied. The law and justice are not always synonymous. I can cover this in more detail if you want, but I do think it is a complete red herring.

    However, the situation is entirely different in the case of other penalties, of which the most obvious (now that we don’t have the death penalty) would be prison. If someone is convicted of murder and spends 20 years in prison before it is revealed that another person was guilty, nobody suggests that the real murderer should not be punished because as long as *somebody* has done time for it, justice is satisfied, do they?

    • Frances,

      I suppose it does ‘beg the question’ in one way, but I do think that Christianity does offer a solution which Dillahunty’s statement completely ignores. Hence I’d suggest Dillahunty’s quote is a straw man objection. He gives the impression that there is no solution, whereas I think the atonement does offer a solution – whether or not that’s a satisfactory one is a different question (and the one to which we can discuss further). Perhaps we can leave the issue of whether or not Dillahunty was correct and focus on the more interesting question of justice and punishment.

      Sure, the parking infraction may be trivial, but it demonstrates the point i.e. that the penalty is paid by someone else. I think the analogy is similar with the atonement i.e. the penalty of rebellion (death) is paid by someone else. Meaning that legally we can stand ‘righteous’, this I think is at the heart of justification. Justification is predominantly a legal term, which means that the law is satisfied. Now whether or not this is ‘just’ is another question and I’d be interested to hear how you separate law and justice with specific reference to the Christian paradigm. I think that Paul discusses this relationship at length in Romans.

      In terms of your example of someone being punished for someone elses crime – yes, I agree that justice isn’t satisfied in the example cited. But I would also suggest that there is an element of voluntary substitution going on as well, i.e. someone deserves a certain punishment and someone voluntarily steps in and takes it for them e.g. someone is whipped for someone else. (the issue of jail as an appropriate punishment is an interesting question (but also leads us off on other tangents about the nature and purpose of jail)). Would the voluntary aspect of penal substitution change anything?

      Thanks and talk soon. Rob

    • Frances,
      Both you and Rob omit a crucial part of the multi-faceted mechanisms of the Atonement.
      If we include what seems to me to be the essential feature of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, any comparison with the workings of human law and justice falls flat on its face. And Rob will try to do better next time.
      The Christian narrative does not present an unconditional get-out-of-jail-free card. In the New Testament there is no hint of a scenario where the criminal gets away scot free just because somebody has done his time for him, and that’s the end of it.
      The Atonement is only fully effective when the criminal/sinner fulfills two very specific conditions: repenting and believing, apparently in no special order.
      Christ did not say to the woman caught in adultery, “Go and don’t get caught the next time.” He said, “Go and sin no more.” He was concerned about the problem of recidivism. This was an intimation of the transformative effects of accepting Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
      When Christ says to someone, “Go and sin more”, he’s thinking, “Actually I know you will, but I’m going to help you to deal with that as well.”
      Trying to transpose this to a utopian human legal system will produce rather surreal results, but let’s do it anyway. If we compare being released from the bonds of sin and death to a prisoner being released from jail, we would have to include a life-long post release supervision and treatment programme. Release from prison would depend on a commitment to accept and faithfully follow the programme. The supervising social worker would be available 24/7.
      Actually, we can do better than that. This programme can be offered as an alternative to incarceration or the lethal injection immediately after judgment has been passed.
      The condemned man is warned that following the programme will not be easy and will involve a great deal of fear and trembling. Many hours of community service will be required. However, the assurance of help will never be withdrawn. Refusal of the programme will result in the full application of the penalty, and no further appeals will be allowed after death.
      The programme has the advantage of costing nothing to the state. That means that buildings where convicts can meet regularly will be exempted from paying state taxes.
      Why would the social worker have to suffer in order for the programme to be effective?
      Bonding.
      And what about the parents of the little girl who has been raped and murdered, and who are screaming out for justice and vengeance?
      Well, I did say it was utopian, didn’t I?

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      Your last paragraph compares apples to oranges. If a person is imprisoned by mistake, that has no bearing on the true criminal’s punishment. Christ was not punished by mistake. Face it, we are talking about Christ taking sin upon himself. Murder, rape, cheating, stealing, parking infractions, lying, watching filthy T.V., etc., etc., etc. All this went on him, but this was not lack of justice. God invented justice, and God died for mercy. God required the blood of Jesus as payment. God agreed to die. You are a worm. I do not mean that as an insult. See David for example. My point is, what right have you to complain? “Oh, say, God? Master of the Universe, Creator of Heaven and Earth. I gots more better ideas on justice that You. Yeah, it’s kinda’ my thing. I’m so very good at justice.” What??? In no way, can you teach God. We do not have to understand the workings of The Father and Jesus, the Son of God, to accept that the cross was justice, mercy, truth, and grace.

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      You are all wrong! You are wrong in claiming what the cross was like. You say it was like a Judge who finds a criminal guilty, and then an innocent person steps up and agrees to take the death penalty for the criminal to satisfy the Judge. Wrong, I believe. Are you forgetting that the Son who took the penalty, was also the Father, the Judge? God is ONE. Three in One! God found you guilty and God sentenced God to death! Jesus paid it all, but JESUS IS GOD! So now tell me how evil it is for someone to pay your penalty. This is called forgiveness.

      • I never said it was evil. I said it was not justice.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        fjanusz2: “I never said it was evil. I said it was not justice.” And what is justice? I mean, outside of your good definition? The punishment should fit the crime. O.K. But that can be interpreted in various ways, by various people. “Justice” to the mohammedan is chopping off a thief’s arm. Is that Justice? Do you have a standard? God invented justice. He gave us the idea. If He wants to condemn a sin and then pay the penalty, that is fine. That is mercy and grace.

        If you walked into a man’s house and dragged in dirt, and he said, “I do not want dirt in my house. This must be cleaned.” and you said, “I’ll do it on my own.” and the man said, “No. You can try, but all you’ll be able to do is move it about and it would settle into the rug. Seemingly gone, but hidden. I have a cleaner. A vacuum. I will truly clean it. Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this! “; if a man said that, would you argue that he was not just? What do the condemned know of justice?

      • Joshua,

        What do *you* know of justice? How, for instance, do you know that God is just?

        If somebody who owned a vacuum cleaner wanted to use it because he thought it would do a better job than my own unaided efforts, then I would think that that man was more interested in having a clean house than having justice. And very sensible too. I’m all in favour of justice, but really, sometimes you have to be a bit pragmatic.

        If however I went into his house and murdered his daughter and he said to me:

        “This is such a terrible crime that it DEMANDS justice and I shall have justice! However, lucky for you, my son has volunteered to be executed in your place. So he will be killed and justice will be satisfied!”

        Then I would think that the man was a lunatic. I might personally be very pleased not to have to pay the penalty for my appalling crime but I would not for one minute consider that justice had been done.

        I hope that helps.

        Frances

        PS yes I am from England.

      • Frances,
        You say, “Then I would think that the man was a lunatic.”
        There are two problems with this.
        1. Again, you make the mistake of comparing the Christian notion of atonement with a human example. By so doing, you omit the crucial element of the Christian narrative. In your example, you seem to be saying that once someone, anyone, has been executed for committing a murder, that’s the end of the story and we can all go home and have a glass of wine.
        That would indeed be completely ludicrous.
        The Christian account tells us that Christ’s sacrifice is only the beginning, not the end, of the story. In God’s eyes – sin is sin is sin. All separate man from God, regardless of their gravity. Christ satisfies the demands of divine (his own) justice, opening up the path for the transformation of the sinner – be it a murderer, a rapist, or a reprehensible house dirtier.

        2. You would think that the man is a lunatic? So what? Notions of mental health are not alien to Christian thinking. For example, in 1st Corinthians, Chapter 1, 23-25, we read:
        “But we preach The Messiah as crucified, a scandal to the Judeans and madness to the Aramaeans. But to those who are called, Jews and Aramaeans, The Messiah is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the madness of God is wiser than humans and the weakness of God is stronger than humans.”
        (“Madness” is a more accurate translation of the word usually translated as “foolishness” and “nonsense”.)
        Considering the whole issue of Justice from a purely human point of view, your reasoning makes perfect sense. Christians claim a Divine point of view, so different rules apply.
        All Christian apologists, including American Joshua, ultimately fail because they attempt to twist human reasoning such that it fits divine reasoning. Why would they do that? Because they desperately need to appear reasonable. How sad.
        All Christian apologists end up appearing as intellectual cripples, because they spend their time shooting themselves in the foot.
        There are better ways of becoming legless, right?

      • Richard,

        It was Joshua’s example, which I simply responded to by pointing out its inadequacy and failure to address the real issue. Having said that, I can’t agree that it is wrong even, perhaps especially, from the Christian viewpoint to use a human example to illustrate any aspect of the relationship between God and people. Jesus himself is rather keen on that approach and uses any number of human analogies to describe the relationship between God and people, where it has gone wrong and why and what is to be done about it.

        I don’t agree that there is “justice” and “divine justice”. (Spock: “There’s justice here, Jim, but not as we know it……”). As I said to Rob earlier, what I mean by God being just is exactly what I mean when I talk about my fellow humans being just.

        Remember that this particular part of the thread stemmed from my claim that God could not be both perfectly just and perfectly merciful, so was logically incoherent. The atonement was introduced by Rob as resolving the issue whilst I say that far from resolving it, it introduces yet another layer of incoherence.

        What you say about the transformation of the sinner does not get to grips with justice. Reformation and rehabilitation (which seems to be your model for the atonement) are important parts of most judicial criminal systems but they are NOT justice itself. And so the tension between justice and mercy remains unresolved (and unresolvable.)

        If God’s reasoning operates by different rules to ours then (1) it should not be called “reasoning” at all and (2) there is no point in saying anything at all about it. That which is not accessible to our reasoning is not accessible to our speech.

      • Exactly. You point out that “Reformation and rehabilitation (which seems to be your model for the atonement) are important parts of most judicial criminal systems but they are NOT justice itself.”
        However, if we can accept that giving your heart to Jesus is the heavenly programme for reformation and rehabilitation, and that it is inseparably associated with divine justice, Christians have effectively invented a form of internal coherence. It only makes sense when seen from the inside.
        Seen from the outside, as you say, it just seems to be layers of incoherence all the way down. I guess God’s wisdom is incoherent to men.
        It clearly operates by different rules to ours. The only point in saying anything about it is to keep Christian apologists busy blogging.
        To finish on a gloomy note, one has to wonder why anybody would engage in a debate with bloggers who use these different, and constantly morphing rules. “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point”?

      • Exactly. You point out that “Reformation and rehabilitation (which seems to be your model for the atonement) are important parts of most judicial criminal systems but they are NOT justice itself.”
        However, if we can accept that giving your heart to Jesus is the heavenly programme for reformation and rehabilitation, and that it is inseparably associated with divine justice, Christians have effectively invented a form of internal coherence. It only makes sense when seen from the inside.
        Seen from the outside, as you say, it just seems to be layers of incoherence all the way down. I guess God’s wisdom is incoherent to men.
        It clearly operates by different rules to ours. The only point in saying anything about it is to keep Christian apologists busy blogging.
        To finish on a gloomy note, one has to wonder why anybody would engage in a debate with bloggers who use these different, and constantly morphing rules. “Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point”?

      • ” It only makes sense when seen from the inside.”

        I’ll have to take your word for that, Richard.

      • You are right to pick up on that, Frances. “Internal coherence” is one of those euphemisms that I employ when I inadvertently lapse into politeness.
        Once you accept as axiomatic some completely unverifiable premise – “God did it all”, for example, it is child’s play to construct an apparent coherence. It looks logical, it feels logical, but it is invalid on account of that one foundational non-fact.
        It’s a bit like being in love, or having a baby. As GB Shaw remarked, “Love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else.” Or as I once remarked, “Beauty is in the eye of the purchaser.”
        The obvious sincerity that we observe in apologists stems from the fact that they have totally accepted that one, initial premise – God exists. From that point on, their reasoning becomes so intricate and convoluted that it has all the appearances of coherence. But it’s only an internal, relative coherence.
        That said, I do not seek to cheapen or underestimate the value being in love, having a baby or believing in God. How many mothers talk about their “wonderful” children in all sincerity? However these same children may appear as less than wonderful to their teachers or probation officers.

        People like Baptist Joshua and Rob are using apologetics to say, “Come on in. The water’s lovely.”
        To those standing on the dry shore, all allusions to wetness are meaningless. They see that the King has no swimming trunks. And so we get the non-dialogue between walkers and swimmers.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        fjanusz2, and others: I do apologize for it taking so long for me to reply.

        P.S. I take it from the dialogue and words used that you people are in England, correct? I am in the U.S.A. Illinois to be exact.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Please answer my question, though. Attacking my statement does not uphold yours. We were talking about your idea of justice.

      • Which question?

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        fjanusz2 “Which question?”

        fjanusz2: “I never said it was evil. I said it was not justice.” And what is justice? I mean, outside of your good definition? The punishment should fit the crime. O.K. But that can be interpreted in various ways, by various people. “Justice” to the mohammedan is chopping off a thief’s arm. Is that Justice? Do you have a standard? God invented justice. He gave us the idea. If He wants to condemn a sin and then pay the penalty, that is fine. That is mercy and grace.

        If you walked into a man’s house and dragged in dirt, and he said, “I do not want dirt in my house. This must be cleaned.” and you said, “I’ll do it on my own.” and the man said, “No. You can try, but all you’ll be able to do is move it about and it would settle into the rug. Seemingly gone, but hidden. I have a cleaner. A vacuum. I will truly clean it. Don’t worry about it. I’ve got this! “; if a man said that, would you argue that he was not just? What do the condemned know of justice?

      • Joshua,

        Your post contains numerous questions, most of which I have interpreted as being rhetorical and those which are not rhetorical I have responded to already, I think. But if there is some specific question which you want me to answer then….specify it.

        If a God invented justice, then the nature of justice is arbitrary. God could have invented it so that justice consisted in wanton cruelty. It is what it is simply

      • Sorry, pressed “send” too soon!

        Simply by God’s fiat, I meant to say.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Richard Morgan, you have a haughty attitude. I do not attempt to twist human reasoning to fit Divine reasoning. The two are mutually exclusive. How can divine reasoning look like human reasoning? They cannot. I am not trying to justify myself. You and your “look at the monkey try to be intelligent. How sad.” sort of vomit is parroted by many an angry atheist. You like to believe yourselves to be mentally above others. Leisure is the mother of philosophy. I generally don’t even read your posts, because you can’t be taken seriously. I do not mock others for their false beliefs, because maybe they don’t know any better yet. I am not here to pull up my own britches. I am not here to hoist my own flag. I am here, because I care enough to lose time of my life to try to witness to these people. Now I don’t so much mind disagreement; it is to be expected, but I don’t care for your haughty, intellectually superior attitude. If you are such a king of knowledge above me, one wonders why you stoop to communicate with us lowly fleas?

      • Bj – you make a good point: “one wonders why you stoop to communicate with us lowly fleas?”
        I was wondering the same thing. There is only one honest answer – boredom.

      • An apology to Baptist Joshua. Yes, I felt justly reproved when you said, ” I do not attempt to twist human reasoning to fit Divine reasoning. The two are mutually exclusive.”
        I’m afraid I made the mistake of dismissing you as an apologist – my bad.
        One does wonder what you are doing in a debate/discussion which is based upon reasonable exchange. But one does not need to wonder very long. You apparently belong to the “Magic Spell Brigade.” You throw out scriptures like some Harry Potter reject, piously believing that God’s word “shall not return void” (Isaiah 55:11).
        Why else would you spew out Bible verses, having abandoned any attempt at dialogue? “Let’s zap ’em with the few scriptures and allow the HS to do his thing.”
        You are right. My accusation was wrong. You do not try to twist human reasoning. You don’t even attempt to do human reasoning. You scatter your magic verses and – Bingo!
        I frankly confessed that I stoop to communicate with the intellectually disadvantaged (you, not Rob or Frances) because I am sometimes bored. That is arguably an even better reason for participating in this discussion than your magic tricks with bible verses.
        You “do not attempt to twist human reasoning to fit Divine reasoning. The two are mutually exclusive.” You should therefore automatically consider yourself excluded from a reason-based discussion.
        Over to you – Frances and Rob.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        fjanusz2, without disrespect to you, you are in error on this point of salvation(mercy) not being also justice. Does not the Bible teach that when someone is saved, they are crucified with Christ? Or, perhaps, that the old man is killed? Death penalty. Why punish a new creation? The old creature is killed.

        You said, “That which is not accessible to our reasoning is not accessible to our speech.” For the unsaved man, this is true. But not for the saved. By Christ we have access to God. “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” “For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.” Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18; 3:12, KJV. Romans chapters 7 and 8 speak on a Christian’s mind and God.

        “That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:6, KJV.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Richard Morgan, scripture does not teach that we give anything to God when we are saved. Have you not read John 3:16? We are drawn to him with nothing of ourselves, save our load of sin. He gave us all. All to him we owe. I gave him nothing. He gave me salvation.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        No, Richard Morgan. Your reason for communicating here is not simply boredom. Oh, I imagine you are bored. After rejecting any idea of God, you probably came to the conclusion that life has no purpose and now things that once entertained you are boring. No purpose. Kids stuff. Perhaps your next meal is the most important thing, I do not know.

        But that is not why you debate here. I would guess that you feel the need to “kill God” everyday. To make sure He does not exist. To reaffirm your beliefs. If I told you that a stop sign was red(in America), and you agreed, and then I went on to post a picture proving it, you wouldn’t think much of that. If I went on, day by day, speaking on the manifold proofs of a stop sign’s redness, and posted picture after picture and joined The Stop Sign is Red forum, you might think me mad. You are angry at Him whom you do not believe on.

        “And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” 1 Corinthians 8:2, KJV.

      • BJ, you say two things which are correct:
        ” Your reason for communicating here is not simply boredom.” It’s not just “simply” boredom, but boredom does have a lot to do with it.
        “Perhaps your next meal is the most important thing, I do not know.” True. You don’t know.

        Could I invite you to explain how it is possible to hate something while believing that it doesn’t exist?
        Elsewhere, I have adequately explained how one can fear death and the unknown. In the absence of information, we are actually afraid of what we project into the empty space of the unknown.

        You make an interesting observation when you say that I feel the need to “kill God” to make sure he doesn’t exist, and to reaffirm my beliefs. Forgive me for pointing this out, but here you are committing the error of projection. You, yourself, seem to feel the need to keep God alive by reaffirming your beliefs. That is understandable. You need to nourish your testimony.
        But, please, no more attempts at mind-reading. OK?

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Richard Morgan, I wonder if you were once a Pastor.

      • No, BJ, I have never been a pastor. In a spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I have been far worse than a pastor. In 1972 I was a mormon missionary. Mormonism and I parted company in 1978. I was a late developer, I guess. It took me some time to discover logic and reason.
        There. Now you know.
        However, I will congratulate you on your perspicacity, BJ. You obviously spotted that I know what I’m talking about. Not because I was a pastor, but simply because I know how to read, listen and think.
        Please do not mention my being a pastor again – you’re starting to give me ideas…

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        What is justice, fjanusz2? To the mohammedan, cutting off a thief’s arm is justice. Not likely to you. So what is justice? You can’t just say, “A punishment that fits the crime.” What is justice?

      • Joshua,

        I never said “a punishment that fits the crime.”

        I have said in answer to Rob that producing a comprehensive account of such a complex concept as “justice” is not likely to be possible within the confines of a blog thread. But I have given a description of what I consider to be a few fundamentals. You need to read back through my posts if you have missed them.

        But of course, you haven’t answered any of my questions. How do you know God to be just?

        Sent from my iPad

        >

      • Joshua,

        I never said “a punishment that fits the crime.”

        I have said in answer to Rob that producing a comprehensive account of such a complex concept as “justice” is not likely to be possible within the confines of a blog thread. But I have given a description of what I consider to be a few fundamentals. You need to read back through my posts if you have missed them.

        But of course, you haven’t answered any of my questions. How do you know God to be just?

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        fjanusz2, I don’t remember reading your description of justice. Would you give me a quote so I can search for it by exact wording? All I remember reading of anyone was a generalized, “I think the punishment should fit the crime,” sort of answer.

        How do I know that God is just? Unabashedly I would say that I know of justice through scripture and God teaches that justice, therefore He is just. The Bible is truth, and I don’t rely on junk science(not to say I am an ignorant mountain man type either) to derive truth.

      • Sorry, Joshua. To find the exact quote(s) I would have to trawl back through the thread myself and you are as capable of doing that as I am. If you want to challenge your opponent with what they have said and its alleged inadequacy, then it behoves you to do your own research.

        When you read the Bible and read what it says about justice, how do you know that what that it is in fact just?

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        fjanusz2, that is exactly my whole point! You ask me how I know that the Bible teaches justice. It is self-proving. Maybe you don’t understand that, but maybe you were never saved. Never experienced knowing God, the Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. I cannot explain to a blind man what the color green looks like, because he is blind and has nothing to relate a color to. Your own claimed logic should be figuring out that if the Bible is farce, then how can it be just, and yet it IS just, so how could it ever be farce? The American Justice system WAS(I accentuate WAS) based on the Bible. It used to be very very just and fair.

        Now you have some notion of your own perverted, imperfect form of justice, which you think is good, but it is human and therefore flawed and perverted and imperfect, though you may not be able to see it. Before you grow angry, think of it this way: A murderer talks to another murderer, and they agree on a system of justice. Now, to a thief, who doesn’t plan to murder, he could find flaws in the murderers’ system because in the eyes of men, he is a “better man.” Then the man who does not murder or steal in act, though in thought, as we all do, but only is a man of speed, who drives illegally above the speed limit, he would condemn both their ideas, right? Because he is a “better” man than either other. Now you have your own ideas of justice, right, but a man who is better than you will properly condemn you? So what makes YOUR ideas of justice absolutely true and just? What basis? You know mine, and mock it. You have none, other than your own thoughts.

      • Bapist Josh,
        You said to fjansz2 : “You have none, other than your own thoughts.” That is very naughty. I have already asked you to stop doing your mind-reading tricks. How do you know that anybody has only their “own thoughts”.
        You, too, it could be said, have only your “own thoughts” about the Bible.
        In reality, everybody is alone with their own, private thoughts. Some of us try to do our best to ensure that these thoughts of ours have some connection with verifiable reality. New information can modify these thoughts.

        Come on Josh – let us reason together. Could you answer my questions already? Here’s a reminder in case you have forgotten:
        1. How can anyone be angry with a non-existent entity?
        2. How do you know that all modern translations of the Bible are false?

        Thank you.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Richard Morgan, I am glad that you have left the cult of mormonism. But that doesn’t mean that God is false, because the god of mormonism is false. The false god of mormonism is not the God of scripture. In the English language, when I refer to scripture, I specifically mean the King James Version. I read no other. I know the modern translations to be false versions. The God presented to us in Truth, in the Word of God, is far different from the goof invented in the book of mormon. God created the devil in scripture, and Satan is a fallen angel and no brother of Christ. The Bible teaches that: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” Acts 17:24-31, KJV. But mormonism teaches that there are evil spirits of low valiance, which become dark skinned people, and the high valiance become white skinned. We see in scripture where Aaron and Miriam were upset with Abraham marrying the second wife, and God gave Miriam leprosy. The eunuch Ethiopian was saved. He was baptized AFTER believing. Baptism has no part in salvation as taught by John 4:2(remember this in connection with John 3:17), and also 1 Corinthians 1:14-18 “¶ I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other. ¶ For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

        You knew of a god based on your mormonistic twisting of a true God. You have rejected that god and that mormonism/Smithism. But the true God, a very different God than you thought you knew, is presented in scripture and unadulterated by Joseph Smith. Reject Smithism well, but do not reject the true God. I do not talk to you out of boredom, but because I care.

      • BJ – how do you “know” that the modern translations are false?

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        fjanusz2, you said,”Sorry, Joshua. To find the exact quote(s) I would have to trawl back through the thread myself and you are as capable of doing that as I am. If you want to challenge your opponent with what they have said and its alleged inadequacy, then it behoves you to do your own research.” This is what you said when I asked you for your definition of justice. Well, I did go back through the logs and found the closest thing to a definition:

        “But justice would include treating people equally (which won’t necessarily mean “the same”), punishing the bad and rewarding the good.” –fjanusz2

        So that is my point. Just saying that sounds nice and all, but it doesn’t give an accurate description because those words are relative. To the mohammedan, cutting off a thief’s arm is justice. Not likely to you. So what is justice? You can’t just say, “A punishment that fits the crime.” What is justice?

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Richard Morgan, I know that they are false, because they are translated from the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. These manuscripts were created by a cult called the Alexandrians, who did not believe in the deity of Christ, so they removed verses on Christ’s deity. This is dishonest and the invention of a false religion. Some have argued that the codexes were more accurate because they thought that they were older. Older does not mean more accurate. Recently, they have discovered older manuscripts equal to the Textus Receptus which pre-date the codexes. Another reason I do not like modern translations, is that many words are lost, such as “ye” and “thee” and “thou.” There are no modern equivalents of these.

  19. Rob,

    The point illustrated by the parking fine analogy is not a point which has any bearing on justice. I don’t believe anybody actually thinks that justice is engaged when it comes to parking infractions. So how does establishing that somebody else can pay your parking fine help to establish that punishment is some sort of fungible good, which is what you are trying to prove?

    A better example (with great respect and all due deference) would be where a corporate body is fined for negligent manslaughter. If the company’s fine were paid for it by some super-rich benefactor (perhaps with an ultra-libertarian agenda) then the law (as it stands)would be satisfied. But justice would not and there would be an outcry, probably with a demand that the law be changed. It would voluntary, but so what?

    I don’t agree that justification is predominantly a legal term. Why do you say that? I know that it has a specific theological meaning, but I don’t see that can be relevant to a discussion about the nature of justice as it is understood in any general context.

    I don’t know what “separat[ing] law and justice with specific reference to the Christian paradigm” even means. Explain please (but only if it is really relevant to the issue of whether it is logically possible to be both entirely just and entirely merciful at the same time).

    I don’t see why whipping is any more helpful as an example than prison. Why would we not just as much be side-tracked by issues about the nature and purpose of whipping? But if somebody does deserve to be whipped then no, justice is not satisfied by a different person volunteering to take the whipping for them.

    • Thanks again for your thoughtful comments. This is a stimulating thread. As I look at this conversation, I wonder if we might potentially be talking about different things. So we might just need to step back and clarify some terms and concepts. So, I wonder from your perspective what it means for God to be just? What are the requirements of justice? Thanks again and hope to continue more.

  20. What it means for God to be just is what it would mean for anyone else to be just. There is no point in using terms such as “just” or “loving” or “merciful” when we talk about God if we do not mean by them that which we mean when we use them of people.

    What are the requirements of justice? Plato wrote a whole book on that, rather a long one, and not my favourite if I’m honest (a bit dull). So I’m not going to nail it within the confines of this thread. But justice would include treating people equally (which won’t necessarily mean “the same”), punishing the bad and rewarding the good.

    What do you consider the requirements of justice to be?

    • Good question about what I think are the requirements of justice . I tend to agree that punishing the bad and rewarding the good and treating people equally (otherwise it’s not justice is it)? But just to clarify further, what would constitute a ‘just’ punishment or reward?

  21. A just punishment or reward would be proportionate to the evil or good which was done (or intended) in each case.

    • “My object all sublime
      I shall achieve in time —
      To let the punishment fit the crime —
      The punishment fit the crime;
      And make each prisoner pent
      Unwillingly represent
      A source of innocent merriment!
      Of innocent merriment!”

      The Mikado (Gilbert and Sullivan) – “A more humane Mikado”

      • Whose production was this, Richard. There seems to be an “in joke” about the place of study. I know that the “list” (which their all on”) is always updated. I didn’t realise they did the same with this song.

  22. Sorry, “they’re” not “their”. I told you my spelling was rubbish.

  23. fjanusz2 : Your comments are the only ones which make any sense. robanddi and Joshua constantly hide behind unverifiable assertions. A fear of death is instinctive. Beliefs have nothing to do with it.
    Justice is man-made and man-imposed. Christians complain that this is too arbitrary. Not liking something does not make it false. I think there is nothing more arbitrary than the constantly varying concepts of God. The Apostle Paul wanted to be all things to all men. Just like God. I hope that robanddi and Joshua decide to reply to the issues you raise, though maybe to do so would be too faith-challenging for them. Joshua was honest enough to confess that he is american. I think that explains a lot. You have the WMD of being english and you use them to good advantage. I enjoy your comments very much.

    • Choro,

      Thank you!

      😊

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      Why does my being an American explain a lot, Choro Risada?

      • You talk about belief in God in a way I have never heard in my country. American Christianity is a very strange thing. It reminds me of your hamburgers – they are very good to eat the first time, but in excess they are harmful. reading other American christians blogs, I see that much people prefer to quote verses from the bible instead of thinking. This can be good sometimes, but in excess it is harmful. So I guess it is an American thing. You must correct me if I’m wrong.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Thank you, Choro Risada, for the best compliment I have had here. :^) Really! I am moved by your statement. I am sorry that you don’t know of Christians who actually trust in God in your country. That is so sad.

        I am fully capable of thinking. There is no leaving the brain behind when you mature as a Christian. But you must remember: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12, KJV. So it(Bible) is a better weapon than my thoughts and my words, and it says better what I would like to say. Why should I talk to you in my own words, when scripture will tell you better what I mean, think, and you would get to know the Subject better by actually reading it? I mean, God is the discussion here. So how better to get to know Him, than through His Word?

        For certain, it is no American thing to often quote scripture. Most Americans are pointlessly religious. Having a system of man’s invented religion that will slide them into Hell. They are not saved, they do not know God, and they restrict religion to one day of the week or two and no further. They do not read the scripture. They don’t mind the name of God, especially if it is to use His name in vain, but Jesus Christ makes them cringe. In short, they are no different from England. France. Japan. China. Pointlessly religious. Doing them no good whatsoever, but in fact, harm.

        I am saved. God knows me. I know Him. When you have a true relationship with God, then you actually read and believe scripture. Why not often quote it? So many atheists may not actually be angry with God, but as with Richard Morgan, realized that their religion was false. All religions CAN NOT BE RIGHT! Most are mutually exclusive. I am a Baptist. We trace our beliefs directly to scripture and to the first church in the New Testament. Your George Whitefield, who was technically an anglican, was in reality, more like a Baptist. He said that “all my chicks have become ducks,” meaning that the people truly saved under his ministry here, began to really read their bibles and became Baptistic. They did not believe in baptizing babies, for instance.

  24. Oops – I inadvertently posted my last comment using the wrong account?. Sorry about that. I’m not as young as I used to be before I was old…

  25. Joshua,

    You are not paying attention to what I am actually saying. I have said twice on this blog now that it is not possible within the confines of this thread to produce a full definition of such a complex concept as justice. I specifically said that what I had outlined were some of the fundamentals and were not intended to be a full account. In spite of which, your next post is to say that you have not been able to find the “definition” which I had just told you in the clearest possible terms was not going to be there!

    But if you think it is possible to wrap up the whole subject and provide a water-tight definition, then why don’t you give us yours?

    I see no reason to *assume* that a system of justice decided upon by murderers would automatically be flawed. I’d have to see what they actually said. What do you think they might say?

    • Baptist Joshua permalink

      fjanusz2, Happy Thanksgiving! You claim that justice and mercy can not be concurrent. But you don’t know what justice is. What it truly is, because you base it on yourself, or Plato, or some man. In the realm of men, “justice” is relative. Chopping off your hand, because you stole is “justice” in the mohammedan world. This is not justice, as I hope you would agree, yet they would call it justice. In the Bible, we are taught universally true justice and mercy, and they can coexist. Outside of the Word of God, justice is relative, open to emotion, and flawed. Outside of the Bible, mercy is flawed. If I remember correctly, Al Capone would steal/earn money wrongfully, and then give gifts to poor people/down and out types. This was HIS type of mercy. It was cruel to those who were robbed/abused. “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” Proverbs 12:10, KJV.

      • Joshua,

        Happy Thanksgiving to you too.

        Justice and mercy are in conflict because in order to be merciful you must first have someone who deserves punishment of some sort. Justice determines the extent of the punishment they deserve. You then exercise mercy by either not punishing them at all, or mitigating the punishment to less than justice demands.
        If somebody deserves 15 years imprisonment then it is just to give them 15 years. If you only give them 5 that is merciful. But it is not justice. If it was justice to give them 5 years then it cannot be merciful to give them only 5. It is not merciful to give somebody exactly what they deserve.
        You can be just, or you can be merciful, but you cannot be both simultaneously in respect of the same action, because the two are logically incompatible.
        I wouldn’t say that I don’t know what justice is. I would say that justice is a very complex concept and not one that we can do justice (no pun intended) to in a blog thread. I notice that in spite of my invitation, you have not tried to define justice yourself. You have said that universally true justice is taught in the Bible. But that is not a definition. The Bible says many things. Which of them do you understand to be its teachings about justice? Jephthah sacrificed his daughter because he won a battle. Was that just? It’s in the Bible. If it’s not just, how do you *know* it isn’t?
        I would agree that hand-chopping for theft is a bit excessive. That’s because the harm done to the thief by removing their hand will almost invariably be out of all proportion to the harm that that the thief did to the victim by stealing from them.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        fjanusz2, first off, thank you. I did have a nice Thanksgiving. My Sister, Dad, and Mom went over to my Brother and Sister-in-law’s, and her family was there, as well. Tamales and turkey with many trimmings! Ahhh…! :^) For me, Thanksgiving is not an important day to thank God, because I thank Him regularly. I pray regularly. I pray your time was good, as well.

        Justice and mercy SEEM incompatible, but they are not. Example: You see your little one trying to touch the hot stove. You tell your little one to stay away, as it will burn them. Later, you see them go for it again, and again you warn them. Now, the third time you see them, if you let them be burned a little, that is justice. If you let them be burned, that is ALSO mercy. How? Because never letting them learn is not mercy, it is cruel, lazy(parents), foolish. They need to learn, if they will not listen. Life has consequences. So, being merciful, you allow justice to happen. They are burned, and they are learned. :^) So the two can be compatible.

        I believe I have defined justice earlier, but if that was not clear or my error, I am sorry. I would define justice as anything which exactly fits examples of justice, in scripture, or that is in keeping with the spirit of justice in scripture. So, as an example for the 21st Century: Let’s say a guy steals your automobile and runs from the police, and during the chase, he smashes your car, rendering it totaled. Junked. In America, you would lose your car, maybe be given a settlement by the insurance company, which would likely be low, and then the thug would go to jail/prison and you would have the enjoyment of paying for his cable T.V., exercise gym, 3 meals a day, etc., by paying your taxes. This is not justice. According to scripture, the man would have to pay back for the damage done. Don’t quote me on this, but if I remember correctly, if a man stole something and it was recovered, he had to pay back so much(like maybe double or quadruple), but if the item was lost in the crime, he would have to pay more back to the victim. So today, if America were using biblical justice, instead of a long prison term, he should be forced to wear an ankle bracelet, and WORK!!! Make him get a job or work for the county or state or Federal government. There would be created a superfund to repay any victims so that they were monetarily out of stress, and then it would be the government’s job to make sure the criminal worked to repay the government superfund, possibly plus his expenses of the system, like the gov workers, ankle bracelet rental :^), etc. No prison time. That is more like justice.

        Jepthah, in Judges 11, as far as I can tell from studying scripture, did not kill his daughter. She remained a virgin for her life. This is noted. It may be more than simple celibacy. She may have served God in some way, but your point is, I think, moot. Examples of events do not a rule make. It is obvious in scripture, where the rules of justice are. Obvious. Now there are examples of men’s sins, and where they did otherwise. This is not taught as a good thing, as truth. It is showing that men fall short.

      • I’m glad you had a good day, Joshua. We don’t actually celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK although I think it is a very good idea. We all ought to remember that there are people and things in our lives which we are so lucky to have. I think we should follow North America’s example in celebrating that.

        The example you give of the toddler and the stove isn’t (in my view) an example of justice**. It’s an example of how you sometimes have to allow your children to make their own mistakes if they are to learn from them. A parent in that situation isn’t thinking about what penalty is appropriate to the crime (of disobedience). They are only thinking about what will be the best way of protecting their child. It’s not about justice. It’s all about the long term benefit of the child. I don’t regard that as merciful either. Looking to do what is in somebody’s long term interests isn’t an exercise in mercy – unless they *deserve* to suffer whatever fate would befall them otherwise.

        Punitive justice is not all about benefitting an individual. If someone goes to jail for (say) rape, the primary purpose of the punishment is not to benefit the rapist. It is *possible* that the rapist may get some benefit from being sent to jail and come out a reformed man. So much the better if he does. But that is not the primary purpose. The primary purpose (IMO) is for society to recognise the wrong done to the victim and to express its disapproval.

        But anyway, the example you give doesn’t fit with what I take to be your idea of divine justice. God doesn’t propose to burn us just a little bit, so we can learn from our mistakes. God proposes to burn us a lot, for ever and with nothing to be achieved by it in terms of our long-term welfare. Isn’t that so?

        The example you choose from scripture of justice is a part of the legal code. So do you only recognise justice in the Bible when it is part of a legal code (If anyone does x then y should happen to them)? Or can you recognise it in other contexts, even if you can’t find a legalistic Biblical provision which covers it? If you can, how do you recognise it when you see it? You say it is “obvious”. But what makes it obvious to you?

        I believe that in the Bible a thief has to pay back four or five-fold a stolen animal (depending upon the particular type of animal.) I regard that as unjust. Let me explain why using your 21st C example.

        You seem to presume that the thief is poor and jobless. But supposing he is fabulously rich? Does that mean he can go around stealing and smashing up other people’s cars whenever he feels like it because he’ll always be able to buy his way out of trouble? Why should a poor man be effectively sold into slavery because he has no money, whereas a rich man can do exactly the same thing and walk away laughing?

        What if he is poor but already has a job, the highest paying job he could hope to get with his qualifications? I suppose you’ll say that all his earnings should go to repay his victims. But suppose that he has a wife and family and every cent he brings in is already committed to keeping them in food, clothing and other necessities. Should his wife and family starve because your car is written off? Or will your tax dollars be spent on keeping them fed and clothed, rather than keeping the thief in prison? Is that any better?

        Jephthah did kill his daughter. He burned her, according to his vow. Where is your textual authority for saying otherwise? He asked God to deliver his enemies into his hands and promised that if God did so, he would offer up who or whatever came out of his house to meet him on his return. “And The Lord delivered them into his hands.” God chose to give the victory to Jephthah knowing that he had promised a potential human sacrifice (and in his omniscience, presumably also knowing who the sacrifice would be).

        **I should add that I don’t recommend allowing your small child to get burnt, even a little bit, as a teaching method. But I don’t want to quibble about the particular example you’ve used. I accept that you can allow somebody you love to suffer the consequences of their bad judgement in order for them to learn from it.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Fjanusz2, you said so much and asked so many questions, that I believe it would be simpler if I pasted your message below, and interrupted your words with mine in CAPITALS.

        You said,
        I’m glad you had a good day, Joshua. We don’t actually celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK although I think it is a very good idea. We all ought to remember that there are people and things in our lives which we are so lucky to have. I think we should follow North America’s example in celebrating that. THERE IS NO POINT IN THANKING NOTHINGNESS. THANK GOD OR THERE IS NO ONE TO BE THANKFUL TO. THANKFULNESS HAS A FOCUS.

        The example you give of the toddler and the stove isn’t (in my view) an example of justice**. It’s an example of how you sometimes have to allow your children to make their own mistakes if they are to learn from them. A parent in that situation isn’t thinking about what penalty is appropriate to the crime (of disobedience). WHEN THE CHILD DISREGARDS THE THREAT OF HEAT, AND THEN THEY ARE BURNED, IT IS JUSTICE, IN RELATION TO THE HEAT. WHEN A CAT HISSES AND YOU CONTINUE TO CORNER IT, IT SHREDS YOU. JUSTICE. YOU DID NOT HEED A VALID WARNING. THE CHILD ALSO DID NOT LISTEN AND JUSTICE IS THE PUNISHMENT. SO IS A SPANKING. NOT A BEATING. A SPANKING. They are only thinking about what will be the best way of protecting their child. It’s not about justice. It’s all about the long term benefit of the child. I don’t regard that as merciful either. Looking to do what is in somebody’s long term interests isn’t an exercise in mercy – unless they *deserve* to suffer whatever fate would befall them otherwise. A DEER FALLING THROUGH ICE DOES NOT “DESERVE” TO DIE. YET IT IS MERCIFUL TO SAVE IT. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND MERCY.

        Punitive justice is not all about benefitting an individual. If someone goes to jail for (say) rape, the primary purpose of the punishment is not to benefit the rapist. It is *possible* that the rapist may get some benefit from being sent to jail and come out a reformed man. So much the better if he does. But that is not the primary purpose. The primary purpose (IMO) is for society to recognise the wrong done to the victim and to express its disapproval. PUNISHMENT AND “REFORM” ARE THE CLAIMED PURPOSES OF PRISON. I BELIEVE THAT A RAPIST’S ONLY PUNISHMENT SHOULD BE DEATH.

        But anyway, the example you give doesn’t fit with what I take to be your idea of divine justice. God doesn’t propose to burn us just a little bit, so we can learn from our mistakes. God proposes to burn us a lot, for ever and with nothing to be achieved by it in terms of our long-term welfare. Isn’t that so? YOU ARE CHANGING THE SUBJECT. WE WERE NOT TALKING ABOUT HELL. WE WERE TALKING ABOUT JUSTICE AND MERCY COEXISTING. HELL IS PERMANENT.

        The example you choose from scripture of justice is a part of the legal code. So do you only recognise justice in the Bible when it is part of a legal code (If anyone does x then y should happen to them)? Or can you recognise it in other contexts, even if you can’t find a legalistic Biblical provision which covers it? GENERALLY, YES, I WOULD REFER BACK TO THE LAW, BUT I AM NOT ADAMANT IN THAT. THERE MAY BE EXAMPLES OF JUSTICE THAT ARE NOT SEEMING TO BE A COMMANDMENT. If you can, how do you recognise it when you see it? You say it is “obvious”. But what makes it obvious to you? 1. I AM A TRUE CHRISTIANS. CHRISTIANS SEE THINGS AND ARE GIVEN UNDERSTANDING THAT THE UNSAVED, POINTLESSLY RELIGIOUS CANNOT SEE. 2. IF IT FITS WITH SCRIPTURE, THEN WE KNOW THAT IT IS A TEACHING AND NOT SPECIFICALLY A NARRATIVE OF AN EVENT.

        I believe that in the Bible a thief has to pay back four or five-fold a stolen animal (depending upon the particular type of animal.) I regard that as unjust. Let me explain why using your 21st C example. READING AHEAD, YOUR STATEMENTS DON’T SEEM TO EXPLAIN WHY THIS TRUTH IS UNJUST. IT IS JUST. IF THE MAN MERELY REPLACES THE CAR, WHERE IS HIS PUNISHMENT? WHAT OF YOUR BEING PUT OUT OF THE WAY? YOUR TROUBLES? YOUR TIME?

        You seem to presume that the thief is poor and jobless. IT WAS AN EXAMPLE. ONE EXAMPLE. BEING A THIEF IS NOT A JOB. But supposing he is fabulously rich? Does that mean he can go around stealing and smashing up other people’s cars whenever he feels like it because he’ll always be able to buy his way out of trouble? Why should a poor man be effectively sold into slavery because he has no money, whereas a rich man can do exactly the same thing and walk away laughing? AH THE ATHEIST’S TRICKS. YOU INVENT AN EXAMPLE COMPLETELY OUT OF THE CONTEXT OF MINE, THEN ATTACK YOUR OWN INVENTED EXAMPLE AND THINK THAT THAT DISPROVES SCRIPTURE. ??? IF A RICH MAN WISHES TO STEAL MY CAR AND GIVE ME BACK EIGHT, I WOULDN’T MIND IT. IF HE WALKS AWAY LAUGHING, HE DOESN’T UNDERSTAND ECONOMY.

        What if he is poor but already has a job, the highest paying job he could hope to get with his qualifications? I suppose you’ll say that all his earnings should go to repay his victims. But suppose that he has a wife and family and every cent he brings in is already committed to keeping them in food, clothing and other necessities. Should his wife and family starve because your car is written off? Or will your tax dollars be spent on keeping them fed and clothed, rather than keeping the thief in prison? Is that any better? THE BIBLE DOES NOT SAY THAT HE IS TO STOP TAKING HOME PAY TO TAKE CARE OF HIS FAMILY. HE IS TO REPAY. SECOND JOB. THIRD JOB. INDENTURED SERVANT. YOU EXAMPLE IS WRONG, BECAUSE IF HE CANNOT BOTH TAKE CARE OF HIS FAMILY AND REPAY, WHICH IS NOT TRUE, THEN HE COULD QUIT HIS JOB AND WORK FOR THE GOVERNMENT, WHO COULD HIRE HIM AT A LIVING WAGE, THEN HE COULD SUFFER A LITTLE UNTIL HE PAYED IT OFF. NOW YOU ARE GOING TO SAY, “BUT WHAT IF HIS CURRENT LOW PAYING JOB IS TO BE THE ONLY SUCCESSFUL BRAIN SURGEON…” YOU CAN FIND WAYS TO SAVE MONEY, OR YOU CAN GET ANOTHER JOB OR TWO, OR YOU CAN GET A BETTER PAYING JOB. IN YOUR VIEW, HE WOULD GO TO PRISON, BUT ISN’T HIS FAMILY SUFFERING TO NOT HAVE A FATHER AND HUSBAND?

        Jephthah did kill his daughter. He burned her, according to his vow. Where is your textual authority for saying otherwise? THE B-I-B-L-E. HIS DAUGHTER MOURNS HER VIRGINITY, NOT HER DEATH. GOD DOES NOT ACCEPT HUMAN SACRIFICE. (EXAMPLE: THE MOLECH SACRIFICES) YOU CAN’T HAVE GOD DESPISING HUMAN SACRIFICE AND ACCEPTING. EVEN IF A PERSON DID SACRIFICE A HUMAN “TO GOD,” THAT IS NOT PROOF THAT GOD ACCEPTS IT. A STUDY OF THE WORDS SEEM TO INDICATE THAT SHE SURVIVED. He asked God to deliver his enemies into his hands and promised that if God did so, he would offer up who or whatever came out of his house to meet him on his return. “And The Lord delivered them into his hands.” God chose to give the victory to Jephthah knowing that he had promised a potential human sacrifice (and in his omniscience, presumably also knowing who the sacrifice would be).

        **I should add that I don’t recommend allowing your small child to get burnt, even a little bit, as a teaching method. But I don’t want to quibble about the particular example you’ve used. I accept that you can allow somebody you love to suffer the consequences of their bad judgement in order for them to learn from it. IT IS BUT ONE EXAMPLE. IN OTHER EVENTS, I WOULDN’T LIKELY ALLOW THEM TO LEARN THEIR LESSON, AS THE CONSEQUENCES WOULD BE TOO GREAT. THE EXAMPLE IS NOTHING; THE PRINCIPLE IS WHAT MATTERS. ALLOWING A CHILD TO SUFFER AFTER A WARNING, IS BOTH JUSTICE AND MERCY.

      • Joshua,
        1. You can appreciate your good fortune without believing that a supernatural agent is responsible for it.
        2. The child being burned is not justice. It is a natural consequence. It will happen whether the child has been warned once, twice or not at all. The cat will shred you whether you are trying to get hold of it to kill it, to cuddle it or to catch it to save it from a house fire. Same outcome in hugely different circumstances, irrespective of culpability. That isn’t justice.
        3. The deer doesn’t deserve to die, but it hasn’t done anything to deserve your help either. It is merciful to help the deer because justice doesn’t require you to help it. If it was a person you had pushed through the ice then it would not be merciful to pull them out, because justice would demand that you help them. Unless, of course, the person had done something to deserve death by hypothermia, in which case, it would be merciful.
        4. Whether the rapist’s punishment should be prison or death is completely beside the point. I don’t understand what point you even thought you were making on that one. It’s all about retribution, Joshua, which punishing your child isn’t, making child-punishment examples beside the point (I am a retributivist).
        5. Hell has cropped up several times in this thread and it is in that context that I have raised the question of the compatibility of mercy and justice. If justice requires that we all go to hell, then mercifully letting some of us off the punishment is not compatible with justice. There is no point in using an example about how we teach our children (even if I agreed that it was an illustration of justice, which I don’t) if it can have no bearing on the particular inconsistency I am talking about. The permanency of Hell just illustrates how the temporal (and temporary) example you have used can’t have any relevance.
        6. You misunderstand me. I said nothing about only replacing the car. My point was that the proposed punishment is no punishment at all for a very rich person. A good system of justice would recognise that what would be a very harsh punishment for a poor man would simply be shrugged off by a rich man. The rich man and the poor man, if they have both done the same wrong, should each receive a punishment which hurts in equal measure. If one walks out of court laughing and the other walks out of court crying, that’s not justice. The fact that *you* may not be bothered as long as you get your 8 cars does not make it just. It only reveals a self-centred and materialistic world-view on your part. Trying to adopt a Biblical approach to theft produces numerous anomalies and impracticalities. That is not my trickery. That is the failure of your chosen model.
        7. Jephthah promised God a burnt offering if God ensured that he won a battle. God did ensure that he won a battle. Jephthah “did with her according to his vow” i.e. Offered her up as a burnt offering. How could she be a burnt offering if she was at the same time living in some sort of Jewish nunnery? Jephtath’s reaction (tearing his clothes), his daughter’s reaction (mourning for two months) and the reaction of later Israelite women (spending 4 days in every year remembering the sacrifice) indicates that this was something huge, terrible and dramatic.

        Anyway, when online discussions get to this point (cutting and pasting with comments interspersed) it’s my experience that both sides just get bogged down in innumerable trivial disputes and the conversation becomes tedious for all concerned, including anyone else still reading. So that’s it for me on this thread (except I may respond to Richard’s last post). You may now have the last word, if you wish.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        Fjanusz2, in reply to your #1: We were not talking about appreciating. We were talking about a holiday called, Thanksgiving, where Christians and agnostics alike celebrate. Religious people celebrate it, for the food, and because they think they are right with God and know no better. True Christians celebrate it because they are truly thankful, and for the food. Agnostics celebrate it so they can have food, and foolishly believe they can “be thankful” without an object of that thanks. This is not semantics; this is deception.

        Your #2: The child being burned IS justice. If a man disregards a law and is sentenced, we call that justice. If a child disregards the laws of his Parents, and is burned, that is justice. If a child disregards a Parent’s law and is not injured, then justice is when the Parent spanks the child. It IS justice.

        Your #3: You don’t understand mercy.

        Your #4: You spoke of “reforming” a rapist. I do not believe in mankind reforming a rapist. Therefore, the point that I DID make, is that a rapist is not reformed by man. Outside of Christ, rapists usually or always repeat.

        Your #5: I was never talking of hell when I spoke of justice and mercy. We were talking about life. Christ’s propitiation. This is pre-Hell(for the guilty, I mean).

        Your #6: If you really think that a rich man will laugh hysterically because he has to pay a 8-to-1 debt, in your model, then I have only one thing to do. Raise an eyebrow. o_0

        Your #7: You seem to have totally disregarded what I said.

        “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Romans 3:23

        “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

        “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

        “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

        “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

        “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:9-10

  26. My friend, David Robertson has written a book – “Magnificent Obsession” in which he makes this remark: “Just as we recognize the concept of justice in our society (you do the crime, you pay the time) so there is a deep-seated justice within the universe created by God. There is an ultimate Judge to whom we will answer for all our sins – that is both scary and wonderful. After all, who would want to live in a universe where there was no justice, and people got away with evil?”
    And yet, the Christian concept of atonement seems to be precisely that – you do the crime, somebody else pays the time – you get away with evil.
    No?

    • Richard,

      This reminds me of an Unbelievable episode where the theist (and Justin Brierley – Justin, for all his likability, is NOT an impartial moderator!) accused the atheist of having no foundation for drawing any distinction between Mother Teresa** and a Nazi concentration camp guard.
      I wanted to shout at the radio “But it’s your world view which makes no distinction between Mother Teresa and a Nazi! Mother Teresa – totally depraved sinner meriting eternal punishment, unless she accepts Christ as her saviour. Nazi guard – totally depraved sinner meriting eternal punishment unless he accepts Christ as his saviour!”

      It is wonderfully bizarre to me that the very people who will challenge an atheist to find a foundation for judging the Holocaust to be the undeniably evil thing that it was, are often the same people who will say that the Jews, so wickedly driven into the gas chambers, will arrive on the other side – to be pushed into Hell for having failed to accept Christ. Which would not be evil at all,apparently.

      **The atheist, as I would myself, baulked at the suggestion that Mother Teresa was the pattern of all goodness. But for these purposes, let’s take her as all she’s cracked up to be.

      • Baptist Joshua permalink

        fjanusz2, You said: “But it’s your world view which makes no distinction between Mother Teresa and a Nazi! Mother Teresa – totally depraved sinner meriting eternal punishment, unless she accepts Christ as her saviour. Nazi guard – totally depraved sinner meriting eternal punishment unless he accepts Christ as his saviour!”

        What truth!

        The agnostic has no basis for judging the Holocaust to be evil outside of two things, that I can think of. 1. His God-given albeit often ignored and seared conscience, and 2: His “Christian” or Christian upbringing. Check history. After one or two generations of atheism, old morals are pushed off and you get tyranny. The first gen agnostic, though mentally wishing to ignore God, still has been affected by the morality taught in scripture. The second gen questions even more, and the third disregards. I am being somewhat approximate in my generation numbering. The PRINCIPLE still is true. Outside of your own feeeeeeelings, you have no basis for saying that anything is wrong. You say, “Well murder is against the law.” Outside of God, law is just men’s feeeeeeelings. A society’s generalized agreement. If atheism is true, then the lion who roars loudest should have his way. The atheist disregards the whinings of the “weaker” “animals.” One supposed atheist told me that murder is wrong because society has agreed that it is wrong, and one must comply with society for peace. Uh…why should everyone be at peace with society if God is not here? The foolish agnostic will then say, “Well then, maybe you DO need religion to keep you from being bad.” If there is no God, and I was that bad(as the agnostic would think of me), then how could a set of rules(the only thing an agnostic sees scripture as being–chains), how would rules control me? Can rules control the murderer? Oh great! We made a new law. Murder is verbotten! Yeah! No one will ever murder again! :^)

        The agnostic can have his deluded ideas of a peaceful utopia without God, but history shows us that utopia. It is a violent slide into hell.

        Of the two, I believe scripture would condemn Teresa more than the guard. He murdered people in this life. Teresa was a Roman Catholic and the Roman catlicking “church” murders men’s souls. It teaches them that they can be at peace with God if they will be good little catholics, burn a few candles, cannibalize Christ, etc. Rot.

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