DEBATING CHRISTIANITY IN THE BIBLE BELT
The following is a dialogue based on my conversations with several staff members of Answers in Genesis, the creationist organization that runs both the Ark Encounter and the Creation Museum. My words are in italics.
1. CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY
We emphasize the book of Genesis because that’s where we find the explanation for the nature of life… for our fallen world. Adam disobeyed God… and incurred His wrath. Sin entered the world… And the only way to be reconciled to God is through our acceptance of the sacrificial death… of Jesus Christ… as the full payment for our sin. That… is what you need to understand.
Well… I understand that, but I DON’T accept it, because to me, it’s irrational theology. I mean, from the very beginning it’s flat wrong… teaching that… disobedience is the original sin… the prime sin.
The Adam and Eve story teaches… blind obedience. God never says WHY they should not eat of the forbidden fruit. He gives no reason. Adam and Eve don’t even ask, WHY? The story is such a violation of the human spirit… and the search for knowledge and truth.
Look at history. It’s full of religions claiming to speak for God and demanding OBEDIENCE… Obedience to what?... Disobedience… per se, can’t be the prime sin.
I think unkindness… lack of love… is the prime sin.
…Who exhibited the greatest act of love in history?
Well, according to your opinion, Jesus.
Why do you think Jesus died?
I think he died… for his beliefs… he..
No, Jesus didn’t die for his beliefs; he died for OUR sins. He died for YOUR sins.
No, he didn’t! I never did anything that someone would have to be killed for what I did. That’s crazy. That’s contrary to the very idea of justice… that person A has to die for person B’s sin.
It was a tremendous act of love on Jesus's part. To suffer for OUR sins.
You can’t transfer guilt like that. If someone commits a crime, it’s that person who deserves the punishment…. If Jesus is willing to go to jail for a bank robber, that’s a magnanimous gesture, but that is NOT justice.
…You’re against human sacrifice, as a barbaric thing, right? But I think… you’re so… indoctrinated, you don’t even see that your theology is actually BASED on HUMAN SACRIFICE. Jesus had to shed his blood and die… to appease God. That is just such a primitive, barbaric idea. Like in the Old Testament, your God is constantly pleased with animal sacrifice. I think that’s just nuts. Why would killing an animal please God!? I love animals. It makes God happy if I kill one!? That’s… ridiculous!
Jesus paid that price for all of our sins.
I’d rather God have stopped the Holocaust, than pay off some… theoretical cosmic guilt. The crucifixion did not solve the world’s problems.
So, you think your theology is rational… I don’t.
2. MAN VS GOD
The problem is that you’re trusting you own knowledge, and perspective, and morality, instead of God’s. You’re putting your judgment above God’s. If man appeals to his own reasoning as the ultimate standard, how can he ever know if that standard is correct? Only an omniscient being could possibly provide a standard of reasoning that is sure to be correct in all cases.
Since any manmade standard lacks universal justification, it amounts to nothing more than an arbitrary opinion. So, this debate can really be summed up as: “God’s Word versus man’s arbitrary opinion.”
OK, I’ve heard this argument several times now from your staff, that my standard of reasoning is an opinion, and it’ll be different from someone else’s… and that’s quite true… quite true. But, that’s the nature of life. We don’t have an indisputable source of spiritual authority.
And here’s my response – You…YOU!… have the very same problem… of subjectivity! What you think is objectively true Scripture, someone else does not. Why can’t a Muslim say, “You Christians are following your own subjective standards instead of the objective standards of the holy Koran”? Or why can’t Catholics say, “You Protestants are following your own interpretations of the Bible instead of the objective, authoritative interpretations of the Church.” And that is exactly what they DO say! – They say biblical interpretations and morality can’t be left up to the subjective views of individuals, but must be defined by God’s authority here on earth… the Catholic Church.
I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think the argument about objective morality goes round and round and gets nowhere. You say people’s reasoning differs. Yes, but I say people’s religions differ also. And people’s interpretations of the Bible differ. So, you still end up with people individually deciding what makes sense to them.
Let me put it this way – I don’t see how Christianity can be a reliable or an objective standard of truth, when there are hundreds of differing denominations, all convinced their understandings are correct, and the others are wrong.
So… it’s not like you’re trying to frame the debate, that it’s MAN against God… ME against God… It’s not; it’s man against man; it’s MY concept of God against YOUR concept of God.
It’s not My concept of God, it’s the Bible’s; it’s Jesus’s concept, it’s the OBJECTIVE truth.
OK, so here’s the key to everything, like I said before – Jesus is the key, the reason you accept all this, and the reason I don’t… it’s the persona, and teachings of Jesus.
Here are my top five reasons why I reject Jesus. Why I think Jesus is not the Son of God, as you think, or even a wise man, but rather, a religious extremist, who constantly overstated for the sake of impact, at the expense of accuracy. He taught some good things, but some very bad things also.
Number 1. He taught Hell, which is a thoroughly unloving… and unjust, concept.
Well, you have to…
Let me go through my list, and then you can pick which ones you want to argue, OK?
Number 2. He believed in the Old Testament God, who is a really nasty character.
Number 3. He believed the world would end in his lifetime, which it didn’t.
Number 4. He taught that belief is more important than behavior, which it is not.
And Number 5, he taught that your prayers will be granted, which they are not.
I think if you examined these issues more closely you’d see there are solutions. Let me ask you this – If everything the bible says, everything Jesus says, were true… would you bow to him?
If they were… but they’re NOT. You’re saying if these things were not a problem, would you believe it? And I’m saying but they ARE a problem, that’s the problem! And you’re rationalizing away the problems with pseudo-logic.
…The end of the world. Jesus didn’t expect the end of the world in his lifetime. You’re ignoring context. He was referring to the future generation that sees signs of the end times, that they will not pass away till these things happen.
See now that’s a perfect example of what I mean by pseudo-logic. It does not make any sense that Jesus would URGENTLY warn people of events that will not happen until thousands of years after they’re dead!
The apostles wanted to know when these things will happen. There’s no logic in answering, “The people in the future who see signs of the end times will not pass away till end times happen.” That’s a pointless answer. You’re only interpreting it that way because you’re… forbidden to conclude that Jesus was flat wrong. In Mt 24:33-34 Jesus is talking to his apostles; he is not talking about some generation in the distant future.
The Bible is for ALL people, for all time. He’s talking about the signs of his second coming.
4. JESUS AND PRAYER
Your point about Jesus and prayer. Again, you’re not understanding the full context. Sometimes the answer to a prayer is NO. Jesus never promised prayers will always be granted.
Yes, he DID!!! He did! Here’s the quote: Mk 11:24 Whatever…WHATEVER… things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.
…They will be granted if it is according to His will.
But that undercuts everything. It makes it a meaningless promise. It makes the statement essentially, “I will grant your prayers if I grant your prayers.” It’s like a bank saying, “If you ask for any loan from us, we will give you that loan!” But then adding on page 12 of the contract, “IF it’s our will to give you a loan.” The qualifying statement makes the original statement meaningless!!
…I don’t believe in petitionary prayer, only contemplative prayer. Petitionary prayer does not get answered any more than if you pray to a pumpkin.
What makes you so convinced of that? Have you even humbled yourself fully to God? Have you even been wounded in your life because a prayer was not answered?
…………………There have been two times in my life when I absolutely humbled myself… to the depths of my soul… in prayer. Once, when I was in my twenties and I desperately wanted a relationship to work and it wasn’t working, no matter how hard I tried. I wasn’t looking for some tangible communication from God, but just some sign, subtle, whatever, just something… for help.
But…….. there was no answer. Nothing. I concluded God does not work that way. If we’re honest, to believe in a God, we have to go on faith… without any tangible evidence.
And the other time, years later, when my sister was dying of cancer. I prayed not that she would recover, because I knew she wouldn’t; the cancer was too far advanced, but only that she not suffer… and suffer… and suffer. And again… there was nothing… Except… during those moments, a horrible screeching sound, out in a nearby field; I think some animal was being attacking by a coyote or something.
So, personal experience is one reason I don’t believe in petitionary prayer. And the other is… a large study done on petitionary prayer. The STEP project, 2006, Benson. They tracked 18 hundred heart patients, a very careful double-blind study, done by a Christian group. The results? No effect… except a slight one – a sub group of people who knew they were being prayed for, did slightly… worse.
Well, I know the positive effect prayer has had in my life…
5. JESUS AND HELL
…Now, you cited Hell as the first reason you reject Jesus. In order to understand Hell, you have to understand the holiness of God, compared to the sinfulness of man. God is perfect; He cannot abide sin no matter how small.
Mickey, have you ever lied?
I don’t lie. But I’ve probably told some… white lies.
Have you even stolen anything?
I don’t steal. But… I did steal a few marbles once when I was 6 years old, from a kid. He had thousands of marbles and didn’t seem to care that much about them. But, yeah, OK, I have stolen.
Have you ever, Mickey, gotten drunk?
Nah. Never been interested in drinking. Ha hah, got you on that one.
Have you ever lusted?
Yeah, but I think desire is good. It’s what you do with that desire. You don’t want to hurt anyone.
Have you ever taken the Lord’s name in vain?
Yeah, I cut my finger on some metal just last week and I said, “God damn, that hurt!”
So… by your own admission, you’re a lying, thieving, adulterous-at-heart blasphemer. You said you were not a sinner. You are steeped in sin. We’ve all done a lot of bad things…. I’m the worst sinner I know.
Well, heh, then you’re sick. I myself, I am.. not a sinner… as I define it… I have never intentionally done anything significantly harmful to anyone, for my one selfish benefit.
But that is not the proper standard. Even what you consider minor things, are an affront to God, who is holy.
I know you see your God as holy. I see Him as… petty. Really… really petty.
I KNOW I am a sinner. I do not live up to God’s standard. And I know there is a lot more in your life that you’re not facing.
No there isn’t... But the issue here is… Do you really think a God who has a Hell, a scenario of… never-ending severe suffering for sentient beings, that such a God is loving and just!?
It’s not something I’m comfortable with, but yes, I do.
I think that… is… a monster God… not worthy of worship. I’d be ashamed of myself to believe in such a God.
6. OBJECTIVE MORALITY
But we need a basis for morality, which we can only have with a revealed, holy God. Morality can’t be just arbitrary and left up to man.
Well, if your God is such a beacon for good morality, how come atheistic Denmark and Sweden have a far lower crime rate than predominantly Christian United States? For that matter, the states here that are more Christian do worse than the states that are less Christian. Child abuse fatality rates in Mississippi are twice that of New Hampshire, and Kentucky's is four times higher than Oregon's.
I think… in theory it makes sense that people who believe in God, in some ultimate sanction for behavior, would behave better, but the stats don’t back that up.
I.. do not share your horribly negative view of human nature. My brother once said to me, “If people accept this idea that we’re all horrible sinners at bottom… it… becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy! It’s really a bad idea.”
Morality is a tricky business. Unh… I remember years ago in college a philosophy professor asked the class, “How do we determine morality?” And the answer I came up with was “results.” See what works best. And I’m thinking now that that was a good answer. I know that in skeptic circles today, they’re debating whether… science should determine morality. In other words, let’s check the results, the statistics, to see what works best for societal health. I think that’s a good idea. Let’s use science, or what might be termed “social science,” to arrive at, genuinely… objective standards.
You’re still attributing to man, what is only God’s right.
Yeah, in theory, but the reality is that, in practical terms, God has been asleep at the wheel, so we humans have to look out for ourselves and make our own decisions. The Holocaust was stopped by Allied military power… not God.
And as I mentioned earlier, history shows us that divine command theory is fallible. Divine command theory is fallible. It assumes the one things one cannot honestly assume, that we have the unequivocal word of God. [Good people do good things, bad people do bad things, but to get a good person to do a really bad thing, you need religion, you need divine command theory!!!!]
You’re making the one assumption that we MUST NOT make, that we have FOR SURE God’s Word… because your culture has indoctrinated you and because you find some of Jesus’ teachings inspiring.
Oh, and I want to make this clear. Even though I am what I call a “soft theist” – I believe in the probability of an almost deistic God, who is only… ULTIMATELY loving – I think… atheists… have a legitimate position. I respect their position, they might be right. whereas… no offense again… I find the Christian position.. aaaah… not only irrational, but… dishonest and immoral.
7. THE BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW
OK, let’s say that the Bible is right. Let’s examine this worldview from within itself. Let’s do an internal critique and see if there are actual inconsistencies in it. I appreciate your passion for truth, justice, and reason… but those things only make sense within the Christian worldview.
Well, I agree that IF… IF… you start with the PREMISE that the Bible is right, then you ARE being consistent.
The whole arc of the Christian worldview, from the Garden of Eden, to Jesus, from the beginning to the end, is self-consistent. It makes a coherent narrative.
Yeah, ha ha, you’re making that big circular motion with your arm, to show self-consistency from beginning to end, and I’m thinking… “There’s a fine line between self-consistency … and… circular reasoning.” In fact, again, no offense, but this whole world religions conference is to me a giant whirlpool of circular reasoning. Statements are made, and seem logical, but really aren’t, and then they are immediately followed up with catchy biblical quotations. It’s all circular reasoning to me.
Yes, you’re consistent, given your starting point, that the Bible is true, but I keep saying – your starting point is wrong.
I look at Deuteronomy 13:6-10, where God tells the Hebrews to kill, without pity, any family member or friend who decides to follow a different religion. That is such a barbaric, intolerant attitude. That’s a terrorist attitude! …Over an issue – religion – where decent human beings can sincerely come to different conclusions.
Again, you have to understand the context. The survival of the Hebrews was paramount. They had to preserve their identity, their very existence.
You’re saying they HAD to kill family members who decided to follow some other religion. I do not buy that. I say NO context justifies that passage. Not only that, context is irrelevant here because this command was immediately preceded by Deuteronomy 12:32 which says Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. … Psalm 33:11 says God’s counsel stands forever, for all generations. Isa 40:8 says, But the word of our God stands forever.
We are now no longer under the old law, since the sacrifice of Jesus Eph 2:15 – He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances.
I thought Jesus said in Mt. 5:18 that not a jot or tittle of the law would be changed.
Yes, until his crucifixion, at which point then we are no longer under the old law.
So, what was so critically important before… is now suddenly irrelevant? See that’s why I don’t accept the Bible. It’s full of irrationalities.
8. CHURCH/STATE SEPARATION
Let me ask you this: If the president of our country were sworn in on the Koran, would you be fine with that?
No… there is a standard of truth.
So he should not be sworn in on the Koran? But he should be sworn in… on the Bible?
Yes, because that’s the standard of truth.
Well, no… the Koran is.
That’s not what we believe.
But that’s what the Muslims believe… Isn’t it best to keep religion out of government?
I think you conservative Christians perceive secular humanists as wanting to take away your rights, when what they really want is to take away your… privileged position, that you’ve gotten so used to.
9. BIBLICAL INERRANCY
A lot of people think we here at Answers in Genesis interpret the Bible literally, but that’s not true. The Bible has many different genres of literature. Psalms… poetry… parables… in addition to historical narrative. And we read these works appropriately. There is a lot of figurative language in the Bible.
Right. But.. the Flood story you regard as historical narrative.
Yes, because that is the way it’s written. Not only that, but when Jesus referred to the days of Noah, he regarded Noah as an historical figure… as well as Adam!
Yeah, right. I agree. And so, here’s a big point I want to make. And I know liberal Christians will be offended, but I think that you… you, conservative Christians, are the real Christians, and liberal Christians.. are not. They… are cafeteria Christians. They pick and choose what they like and ignore what they don’t like… to the extent that they reject CORE teachings of Jesus – like the five I listed – yet, still consider themselves Christians. They make up their own white-washed Jesus. [See essay “Why I’m Not a Liberal Christian” on my site.]
I think liberal Christians are being intellectually dishonest. And I think most of them subconsciously know this and simply proceed in their lives ignoring bad teachings and kind of regard themselves as cultural Christians rather than religious Christians.
But, I would add this. I think liberal Christians are overall a force for good, whereas you conservative Christians, I think, are not. I think, for example, that you are directly responsible for many gay suicides.
We don’t hate gay people. We hate their choice in life.
But it’s not a choice. It’s the way God made them. They didn’t choose to be gay any more than you chose to be heterosexual. In my opinion, you DO hate them because perceiving them as immoral human beings, is, per se… hatred.
But let’s get back to inerrancy.
There’s a book called “The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy” written by Dennis McKinsey, who… I will always consider a dear colleague. He died a few years ago. He presents and analyzes thousands… thousands of contradictions.
Apparent contradictions. Apparent contradictions. ALL of them can be answered.
I don’t think so… like David committing only ONE sin all his life, yet clearly committing… another sin. [1 Kg 15:5 (the Bathsheba incident).2 Sam 24:10 (taking a census against God’s will)] And how do you answer immoralities, like the biblical God regarding slaves of less worth than free persons?
The Bible regards all men equal. Galatians 3:18
That’s a good passage, but it does not erase Exodus 21:29-32, where the penalty for the owner of an unruly ox killing a free man, is death, but for killing a slave, it’s only a fine.
I’ve studied that passage. You’re not reading that right. The penalty is still death for killing a slave, but you have to pay a fine IN ADDITION. Your estate has to compensate the victim’s family for the loss of the slave… ALSO.
I don’t see the words “in addition” or “also” there. I think you’re reading that in, to fix the problem. It doesn’t make sense that in a matter of life and death the writer would not make that clear, that it’s “in addition” to losing his life, his estate has to pay a fine. And, it doesn’t say “his estate”; it says “he” shall pay the fine! That definitely implies that “he” remains alive.
Not to mention that a rich man can buy his way out of the death penalty if the aggrieved party agrees, while a poor man CANNOT. That is bad morality.
The Bible considers slaves property. That is immoral. How do you explain Leviticus 25:45 where it refers to slaves as… “property”?
Slavery in the Bible was not slavery as we know it from our country’s history. It was in fact indentured servitude.
How do you explain the Bible’s use of the word “property”?
The Bible lists slave traders among the worst sinners in first Timothy 1:10.
That’s kidnapping men to enslave them, as opposed to the “legitimate” owning of slaves. How do you explain the word “property”?
The Bible gave slaves far more rights than any other surrounding countries did. If you knocked out a slave’s eye or tooth, you’d have to let him go. Ex 21:26-27
Yeah, but you still have the right to beat him severely as long as you don’t kill him, or knock out an eye or tooth. Ex 21:21 How do you explain the word “property”?
You know that a Christian, William Wilberforce, led the fight to abolish slavery?
Yeah, fighting for a long time against other Christians wanting to keep slavery. How do you explain the word “property”?
The bible is candid about the harsh reality of slavery in those times, but in all cases, slavery is unacceptable by biblical standards.
The word “property”!
I can reject the Bible on that one word, “property.” Human beings are not property and a book that says so is immoral. And I can reject Jesus on this same issue. Jesus never spoke out against the institution of slavery, as an alleged Son of God MUST. Instead, he used it in his parables with no condemnation. Lk 12:47, Jn 13:16, Lk 17:7-10.
I’m supposed to consider the Bible a good moral guide?
But if you look at translations, you look at the original Hebrew, there are solutions to all these issues. But the bigger point is that this is God talking. We are all sinners.
I agree that humanity needs to be a lot better than it is, but I do not agree that we are all inherent sinners.
Well… I’m thankful we had this opportunity to engage. I think you’re here searching for truth, asking questions. As a former non-believer, I sympathize with what you’re going through.
You’re badly misconstruing me. I’m not a lost soul looking for a family; I’m a very grounded person. I’m not in my twenties any more. I’ve carefully arrived at a firm position against Christianity. I’m not here to explore the idea that you guys might actually be right. I am here… to… refute you, to examine the issues and make the better arguments, so that other people can see both sides, and make a more informed decision.
Well, I will be praying that the one true God does a powerful work in your life, to His glory! Is it OK if we take time now and pray with you?
Unnh, yeah, if you want to.
Thank you God for this opportunity to discuss truth with Mickey. We hope you would open his eyes to his sin, and to your Word. That he would be saved, through your gospel, the only way to truth and life. Amen.
For my part, I hope you guys… open your eyes and see how irrational and untrue your worldview is…. Thanks for your time.