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July 16, 2013

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Or....and I know this sounds crazy...you could actually examine what he says with an honest open mind and see if it has any merit rather than presuming from the outset that his claims must contain inconsistencies and try to formulate tactics to dismiss it all ad hoc.

Condell may be noting the passing of Old Testament Ceremonial and Civil Law while preserving the eternal Moral Law. But the abrogation of this legislation was a mark of the fulfillment of the Law through Christ.

Condell would do well to understand Paul's argument in Galatians. We, the Gentiles of the New covenant are not obligated to keep the fine points of the Mosaic Law.

Is this the culling out of morality to which Condell refers?

You're right, Claire. It would be wise for each of us who claim to be followers of Christ to examine our own hearts - not just in response to this challenge, but on a regular basis - and ask God to show whether there be any truth to the challenge within us. It is possible, even likely, that there is at least a nugget of truth there, that we will need to repent of.

However, Mr. Condell apparently did not address his remarks to any individual believer, but broadly painted all of Christendom with that brush. It is right and necessary that we equip ourselves to give an adequate defense.

I think the simplest place to start is the initial claim that Christians claim "atheists have no morals because they have no moral guide." This is false on at least two counts. First, the lack of an external moral guide does not mean atheists have no morals; as Mr. Condell rightly pointed out, all humans have a conscience. We all have an instinctive notion of right & wrong, fair and foul. However, the truth is that the human conscience is easily seared and overwhelmed by our own unfettered desires & lusts so that it cannot always be trusted to guide us to act rightly.

Secondly, the actual claim of Christians is that without God, atheists lack a grounding for their morality. Morality becomes an arbitrary notion that varies from person to person or by society. Lacking an external moral standard to ground us, we each are free to do what is right in our own eyes.

Since the initial premise of his claim is false, the rest of his story is easily dismissed. Tho, we would be unwise to do so without first examining ourselves for a kernel of truth.

DGFischer makes a good point, and it reminds me that people like Condell often assume that their logic must have been unknown to previous 'ignorant' generations, while we live in more enlightened times. When you realize that the Biblical writers themselves were more than aware of the kind of faulty reasoning that can arise, it only goes to show that there is indeed very little new under the sun.

I appreciate your comments, Tobias. They reflect a discerning mind and a heart that recognizes its own frailties. I also am thankful that you followed your thoughts through with careful reasoning. Nice post!

I'm sure Christians have well thought-out responses to this, but I just wonder about Jesus saying "turn the other cheek" and "give him your cloak as well." It sounds like Christian morality means never retaliate or even defend yourself. But no one really lives by those moral rules.

It's not just the Old Testament law, but many things that Jesus himself said. Like sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. It sounds like there couldn't be any such thing as a rich Christian.

Probably this is what Pat Condell is referring to.

It has to come from a higher source

As if the earth is inhabited by 7 billion “highest sources” walking around with the “highest source” morality that money can buy.

What does Mr. Condell mean by “higher” anyway? Does he mean better? More reliable? What? If it’s more reliable, or more specifically, that the self takes precedence over anything we can read, then what takes precedence over the self?

Playing on Mr. Condell’s turf, he is saying a higher source is revealed when there is moral dispute (i.e. what we feel vs. what we perceive the Bible to say).

You defy the Bible.

Let’s assume this is true (of course, we all “defy” it). What if I defy Pat Condell? What then? Using his standard, if there is dispute, we need a higher source to resolve that dispute.

Is there is no Primacy? Just go with your gut? Maybe if Pat Condell agrees with your gut?


I agree with Pat when he says "So in fact, the Bible is not your moral guide, you are". That's true for a lot of moral questions (not all) and the irony is that this fact undermines his argument.

For example, we don't need the Bible to know it is immoral to murder an innocent man. How did we come to know this, Pat? The Christian answer is that we are made in the image of God - we were created as moral beings imparted with the ability to reason. That teaching is in Bible.

But maybe Pat isn't really taking issue with that. Maybe he's asking what guides us as we interpret the Biblical text. There again Pat is correct to say that the Bible is not our guide, we are. Hermeneutic principles are not found in the Bible, but so what? Christian's have never claimed that they were. That we can perform this task reliably is a testimony to the same Christian answer I gave above.

John Moore,

You have made a good advancement on the thought of the challenge, not just the Old Testament Law but the hard sayings of Jesus. How hard is it to meet the standards of Biblical morality?

What if "Impossible" was the correct answer?

Your citations of the difficult sayings of Jesus were removed from its context. The pair of statements in your first paragraph (turn the other cheek // give him your cloak as well) were drawn from Matthew Five. Jesus was addressing the dictum "eye for eye" and responded with "resist not evil." Also remember that this chapter totes "Love your enemy." Crucial in all this line of thought in this chapter is summarized in verse twenty: For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The scribes and Pharisees were the masters of morality, yet Jesus says such standards of human conduct advanced by such is inadequate for salvation.

Your "sell your possessions" quote is drawn from the situation with the Rich Young Ruler, which I find in Mark 10: 17-32. The RYR sought to have eternal life and sought the method. Jesus referred him to the second table of the Law (ones obligations to his neighbor). When the RYR asserted perfect conformance, Jesus demonstrated the fellow's insufficiency to trust God when asked to sell everything to give to the poor (in the same moment showing failure to preserve either the first table of the Law, ones obligations to God, nor the second). Another hard saying of Jesus is Mark 8: 36, 37: 36For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? 37For what will a man give in exchange for his life? Jesus warns repeatedly of the danger not so much of our possessions, but in our possessions possessing us, consuming our lives for the mere temporal.

The key difficulty in this whole challenge is the Christian concept of "grace." God willingly forgives the repentant who acknowledge their incapability to keep Law perfectly. So Condell misunderstands the doctrines involving human morality, and this destroys his proposal that we make moral choices that contravene Scriptures. Yes, and this not to our credit. Condell's concept fails to account for the Christian teaching of the New Life in Christ, motivated by the promptings of Holy Spirit. We fudge often, and grace wins the day.

An atheist must try to understand this before giving credence the Condell's estimation of our abilities to trump Biblical morality.

DGFischer,

The bible can be twisted to mean whatever the reader wants it to mean. On one hand, we have Paul stating that grace is a result of faith, not works. On the other hand we have James saying that works AND faith are necessary for salvation. I don't know a single Christian who would say that works are irrelevant to one's salvation. Some would say they are necessary and some would say they are the result of the holy spirit.

In other words, no one really knows how many good works the christian needs to perform in order to demonstrate or attain his salvation, depending on your perspective. The bible is not clear at all on what constitutes sufficient moral behavior. Everyone just makes it up as they go along.

Let me give you a scenario that demonstrates what stands for justice from a faith-only based view of christian salvation. Suppose a serial rapist/murderer picks out a victim who is an atheist but who generally lives a moral lifestyle, even if you want to argue that her morality has no objective grounding. This woman does charitable work, loves her family and is a law-abiding citizen. Now suppose the rapist rapes and murders her. On his deathbed, the rapist repents and accepts Jesus. The traditional protestant view is that the woman will be cast into hell and the rapist will be saved. Does this sound like a reasonable moral and just decision to you? And I don't want to hear about how we're all filthy sinners. Some people are far more filthy than others.

If this is what constitutes "ojective morality", you can have it.

AJG,

You are under the misconception that Paul contradicts James. Careful study of their epistle(s) declare special circumstances. Paul speaks to the notion of salvation based fully on the faith in Christ. James speaks to the practioner of faith, asking the faithful to not be an all talk, no action individual. Paul's scope is wider. Take ROmans. Paul develops chapter by chapter the moral defect in the pagan and Jewish culture. No one stands. Then Christ enters with the notion of grace. Grace still leads us to moral obligations. But now such moral obligations are motives of a life thankful for such grace.

James deals only with one specific situation, a Christian who knows of an individual in distress (without food and clothing) and merely wishes that unfortunate well (Jm. 2: 15, 16). Such a Christian who has the resources to help but will not has denied the generous life a Christian is obliged to live. Failure to see Paul's far more extensive study of grace versus James application to one issue has caused problems in understanding Gospel. Gospel is not moral living, but a proclamation of forgiveness to all who believe. Deniers of Gospel grace love to construct moral scaffolding on which we just try to make our lives apparently more noble than thou.

The Pharisee with their overt moral behavior had the weakness of looking down on the "sinner." Such views of moral superiority was that which Christ denounced in Matt. 23. To deem others "far more filthy than others" and therefore ineligible for grace leads to moral arrogance. Such is the fate of appealing morality to a source "higher than the Bible."

With such a moral view, we may be doomed to many more episodes of Zimmerman-Martin's than we can stomach. Who in the end will be deemed upright?

Thank you, DGFischer, for your excellent post from 09:45. That approach is better than my own because it doesn't even bother trying to debunk the agrument; instead it shows that the argument doesn't go far enough. Not only do Christians fail to uphold God's moral standards, but that is exactly why we need a Savior to begin with. Admitting our own failures, we can then explain why the arguer needs God's grace.

AJG wrote: "no one really knows how many good works the christian needs to perform in order to demonstrate or attain his salvation."

If the formula is faith + works, we can never have any assurance of our salvation. If, however, salvation is by faith alone apart from works (Eph 2:8-9) then we need never question whether we've done what is necessary. Since God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1Cor 14:33), faith alone is the best understanding.

And, of course, this is the answer to your second post, as well: "The traditional protestant view is that the woman will be cast into hell and the rapist will be saved. Does this sound like a reasonable moral and just decision to you?"

It doesn't seem fair or equitable, does it. Particularly if you measure the rapist's horrible crimes against humanity against the woman's positive contributions to society. But, once you recognize that they are both already spritually dead, you can see their crimes or contributions for what they are: vain works, performed by the walking dead. Neither of them can work their way into salvation; they both fall short, so they each need God's grace. If the rapist's deathbed conversion is genuine, he can reasonably lay claim to the same promise the theif on the cross received from the lips of Christ (Luk 23:43).

If the formula is faith + works, we can never have any assurance of our salvation. If, however, salvation is by faith alone apart from works (Eph 2:8-9) then we need never question whether we've done what is necessary.

Right. Because no one who is saved through faith ever has to recommit themselves or "walk the aisle" again. Calvinists admit that no one can be completely sure if they are part of the elect or not. And then, of course, you have people like myself who after many years as a practicing Christian finally saw the light and realized there was no good reason to believe in a god. You might say that I was never saved, but I can assure you that I thought I was. If I could lose my faith, anyone could. There is no more assurance in the faith model of salvation than there is in the works model. In fact, I'd argue that there is less. We can control what we do but we cannot contol what we believe.

But, once you recognize that they are both already spritually dead, you can see their crimes or contributions for what they are: vain works, performed by the walking dead.

Nope. I used to believe that too, but then I realized that if man were truly made in god's image that man's sense of justice would not be so at odds with god's. I have a better grasp on what constitutes right and wrong than the god of the bible does. Dostoevsky nailed it in the Brothers K:

"One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge your answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature- that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?"

Alyosha Karamazov's answer to this was no as any moral person's would be. Yet we somehow let god off the hook for what anyone can see is a travesty of justice. I finally decided I was done making excuses for the god of the bible. He's just a petty tyrant torturing the majority of his supposed creation for his own glory.

You are under the misconception that Paul contradicts James.

A plain reading confirms this is no misconception.


"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

"You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone." James 2:24


The only way these two passages could possibly contradict each other any more would have been if James said salvation was by works alone. Luther understood this clearly which is why he hated the book of James until his later years. It takes a massive amount of cognitive dissonance to try to argue that these verses are both true. But cognitive dissonance is at the core of any religion.

AJG,

Luther is also the man who stated, "Faith is such a busy and active thing, that, before one conceives of a good act to be done, lo, it is performed." Luther confessed the active faith, and saw James complaint of lazy faith in terms of Paul's assessment in Eph. 2: 8 - 10. We are saved by faith, not by works. It is God's gift. No one can boast. But we are God's workmanship honed to do the work God prepared for us to do.

You see a synonymy in Paul's "saved" and James' "considered righteous." Truly, they are not. What is it to be "saved?" What is it to be "considered righteous?" A careful reading of James notes a cautios warning of taking Paul's assessment of placing trust in God's promise of deliverance and forgiveness (not merited by human works of self-righteousness) as a carte blanche to live devoid of righteous acts that God delights in. Even Paul has this covered in Romans chapter six.

James is straight-forward in all the dangers of life-less faith, from founding one's life on pious platitudes (2: 16), dead intellectual faith (2: 19), to blind, foundation-less faith (2: 14). James' attack was on pseudo-faith. Paul stated that Abraham believed God. James shows that belief meant acting on God's testing of sacrificing Isaac. James also commends Rahab the prostitute, but on her acts of protecting the spies. It's the faith one proves to the world as "lights that shine." It's a teaching that Paul would agree with (cf. Phil. 2: 15).

Please, be more careful in reducing everything to cognitive disonance. Sound explanations are there, if open to them.

AJG,

With all due respect, there is no contradiction. One must read the epistle of James in its totality in order to understand the author’s intent. He begins, in the first chapter, with an admonition to endure the trials that will inevitably come our way, as this provides the means by which one matures in the faith. The basic theme throughout is ‘faith in action’, otherwise it’s ‘dead faith’. The point is that if one exhibits no works, then one must question whether they are, in fact, IN the faith (cf. Matthew 13:20-22). It’s the testing (when one sees another in need) that proves the faith (actually helping this person). Verse 2:26 makes this point clear:

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. NIV

If one professes faith yet exhibits no works, there really IS no saving faith to begin with. If one has never received the Spirit, there will be no attendant Christ-influenced deeds. [That’s not to say non-Christians cannot and do not do good deeds, of course.] I’d say the best way to translate this is with quotation marks around “faith”. This is like J Warner Wallace’s current post:

http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2013/07/believing-the-gospels-is-different-than-trusting-the-gospel.html

…the difference between “belief that” and “belief IN”.

The letter is a study in contrasts, e.g. vv 3:13-16 compared to 3:17-18.

At the very end then is the whole purpose of the Christian faith. I see these last two verses in this epistle, in part, as an example of the failure of part b of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), i.e., to make disciples, through proper teaching (part a is preaching the Gospel message):

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

AJG, it’s time to come back to the truth.

“Suppose a serial rapist/murderer picks out a victim who is an atheist but who generally lives a moral lifestyle, even if you want to argue that her morality has no objective grounding. This woman does charitable work, loves her family and is a law-abiding citizen. Now suppose the rapist rapes and murders her. On his deathbed, the rapist repents and accepts Jesus. The traditional protestant view is that the woman will be cast into hell and the rapist will be saved. Does this sound like a reasonable moral and just decision to you?”

Hi AJG.

Just curious. How do you feel about Hank’s response? It would not be a reasonable moral and just decision to force this woman, which has spent a lifetime voluntarily distancing herself from God, to involuntarily spend an eternity with God.

http://www.equip.org/bible_answers/why-should-i-believe-in-hell-2/

Claire, you're presuming I was presuming! I watched the video and saw inconsistencies in his position, hence my suggestion to look for them and draw them out.

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