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Random Questions for Theists

Today I just want to share a few random questions and observations for theists.  These are not new questions;  they have all been posed elsewhere by many others.  But they are questions that should trouble believers, and they are questions we never get any good answers for.   I am really not trying to be flippant or “disrespectful” of religion.  I am genuinely interested in thoughtful, logical responses.

  • When you are asked “Where did God come from?”  answering that “God has always existed” or ” God exists outside the space-time continuum”  is an evasion.  These are not legitimate responses to the question.
  • Isn’t it just a tad bit self-centered to believe that God is personally choreographing the “blessings” of your day when hundreds of millions of your fellow human beings are living on the brink of starvation?
  • If God is necessary as the source of human morality, why do so many non-religious cultures have significantly lower crime rates than more religious cultures?  Japan and Sweden, for example, appear to be doing just fine without God.  (And please don’t point out that Japan and Sweden are more ethnically homogeneous, because the major racial  groups in the U.S. are all predominately Christian.)
  • Defenders of faith often like to point out that Stalin, Hitler, and Mao were atheists–ergo atheism leads to genocide.  But one of the more recent instances of genocide–Rwanda–was the result of Christian on Christian violence.  And in Bosnia it was a clash between Christians and Muslims.
  • What logical, empirical evidence exists to support any human being’s claim to divine revelation?    What is the basis for believing that anybody–from the Pope to the Dalai Lama– is privy to special knowledge about the workings of the universe?

Anyone have any thoughts to share?

 

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  1. adtz
    May 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    I think this is unlikely to result in a interesting conversation as the basic axioms are different. If one is basing reasoning on the a priori premise that a personal God exists, the rationales defending this are not going to make any sense to someone who does not accept those axioms (even if they formerly did). Faith is not defensible to someone who ‘does not believe’. Given the primary evolutionary purpose appears to have been to create group cohesion and ‘us’ vs ‘them’…

  2. Cristine
    May 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Yes, as the previous commenter noted, these questions are not going to serve as a useful starting point for anything. I feel as though some of these questions are the atheist’s equivalent of theists asking me about why I don’t just act like a sociopath or why I would want to seek out other atheists since i would ostensibly (in their minds) have no need for community.

    I’ve been an atheist for most of my life, and to be honest, some of the people who bug me the most are “born again” atheists. They are often people who have a fierce need to be zealots about something. They often used to be religious zealots, and now they are irreligious zealots. I’m not saying that applies to you, pagan preacher, but it is something to be mindful of. It’s possible for both sides to be hateful and disrespectful or just superior jerks (EO Wilson has been guilty of this on multiple occasions), when what we really need is a profound respect for each person’s struggle to come to terms with a finite existence and peaceful acceptance that not everyone will arrive at the same answer.

    • May 3, 2012 at 7:41 pm

      Hi, Christine, your comments in and of them selves don’t feel “profoundly respectful” of the process through which Pagan Preacher is struggling. You’re careful with your qualifiers – “some”, “often”, “I’m not saying this applies to you pagan preacher, BUT…” (Darn, that nasty little negative conjunction! Yes, it really does apply to you, Pagan Preacher…you superior jerk).

      E.O. Wilson is one of the LEAST offensive atheist biologists of whom I’m aware. Richard Dawkins or PZ Myers would make for a more powerful example of intolerance or “disrespect” of others who don’t see facts the same way.

      Sure the questions may have been worded differently in a different venue or context; however, Pagan Preacher clearly introduces himself as a “born again” non-believer who is making observations (“figuring things out”, if you will).

      • Cristine
        May 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm

        Hi! Thanks for your perspective. I honestly don’t think that my comments apply to pagan preacher at this time, which is why I made my comment the way I did. As everyone knows it is easy to “misread” subtext into a place where there is intendec to be none amd also just as easy to not see subtext that is intended to be there. I worry that some of these questions as phrased can make atheist sound like jerks because they be they begin with value judgment. This is demonstrated with phrases like “evasion” “not a legitimate response” and the more catty “don’t you think it’s a tad selfish” which are built into the question. Pre-judgment of potential responses doesn’t set a mutually respectful tone for discussion.

        And yes, Dawkins is a much more powerful example 🙂

  3. May 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm

    While i understand Pagan Preacher’s questions in this post, i’ve got to say that Cristine and adtz have hit on something good here — these questions seem right on the line of provocation, rather than fostering understanding between people across the spectrum of belief/non-belief. These are, indeed, good questions to think about. Taking just the first one, “where did God come from?” — as a theist, one raised in a similar tradition to Pagan Preacher, I’ve got to admit, my answer to this one is simply “I really have no f-ing idea.” Some times i rely readily on the “prime-mover” theory, other times I think that, as David Letterman once said in an interview “all of this, the universe we know and the universe we don’t know and everything, could all be going on in a beer cooler in some guy’s garage somewhere.” I’m glad that there are teams of scientists and philosophers working on figuring out where “all of this comes from.” In the end, stunning as those cosmic questions may be, what’s more important to me is (regardless of where we all come from) “who am I” , “what does it mean to be my authentic self?” “how do i treat my neighbor?”, and the like.

    Cristine’s call for “a profound respect for each person’s struggle” is as good a definition as I’ve ever heard for the concept of “grace.”

  4. May 3, 2012 at 12:40 am

    Hi guys. Thanks for the responses. Yes, the questions were intentionally provocative. Sometimes that’s the only way to get a response on the “interwebs.” It’s nice to know somebody is reading. Having said that, I do have a few further questions. (Again, no disrespect meant at all. This is honest discussion.) First of all–“adtz” raises a great question, “faith is not defensible to someone who does not believe.” If that’s so, then Houston we have a problem. Does that mean there is ultimately no basis for rational dialogue between theists and non-thesists? The questions I raised are typically answered by theists with reference to the “mystery of God.” This is the fallacy of “special pleading” which is often used to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble.

    To Christine, is raising the the hard questions being disrespectful? Is it possible to respect each person’s struggle and still have honest dialogue on difficult questions? I would truly like to hear an honest theistic response to any the above questions.

    To David, yes the cosmic questions are interesting, but the more immediate questions for most folks are the ones you raised: Who am I? How do I be my authentic self, etc. Actually I think we are getting some incredible insights into these questions from fields such as evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, cognitive neuroscience, and paleo-anthropology, just to name a few. None of us will probably live long enough to see the answers but the journey is fun.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read and response. I enjoy the conversation. Good discussion is one of the things that makes life worthy living.

    • May 3, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      It seems to me, Pagan Preacher, that not only are these questions intentionally provocative, but perhaps they are also questions you have asked yourself at one time or another – to which you have not been able to find an answer?

      Everyone is somewhere along a continuum between belief/disbelief, theist/atheist, faith/skepticism… and I’ll admit that struggling with questions such as these have moved me farther away from the theist end of the continuum. I believe it’s possible to fluctuate along the continuum, and I think questions like this provide good introspection to help us figure out where we really are.

      I would have to replace “God” with human nature, history, politics, geography, biochemistry, etc. to move forward with these questions at this point. The trick would be to find a venue where people are comfortable and confident enough to have the conversation.

    • Cristine
      May 3, 2012 at 8:44 pm

      I don’t think the act of raising difficult questions is in and of itself disrespectful. What is disrespectful is dismissing someone’s world-view offhand as just wrong, or ignorant or unacceptable, which I think we risk doing with the pre-judgments I outlined for skeptic chick above in response to her reply to my comment. I also think we need to be careful not to set double-standards. Just as no theist can ever “prove” the existence of God or that “God speaks to them” short of having the divine being magically appear in front of me to vouch for them, it’s also quite impossible for me to “prove” there is no God. So, questions that revolve around this are in the realm of armchair philosophy as opposed to something that can actually be answered. Does this make sense?

    • Cristine
      May 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      Also wanted to add, of the 5 questions you posed, #3 and # 4 _are_ definitely answerable via factual research that should be able to be factually satisfying to everyone. See this recent study I saw mentioned at ScienceDaily as a prime example for how to answer #3, along with neuroscientist Broan Green’s thoughtful research on the origins of human morality.

      http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120430140035.htm

  5. May 6, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I’m reading Sean Faircloth’s book, “Attack of the Theocrats”. In Chapter 8, Secularism-Born Again, he suggests that secular Americans are far “quieter” and probably far under-reported than they should be as compared with how vocal and how grossly over-represented fundamentalists are in US Government. He suggests a series of 20 polling questions that encompass much of what you have asked, here, Pagan Preacher. Christine, I suspect you may find these questions more objective and less “leading” with value judgement.

    The book is very well written, easy to read, and I plan to recommend it to some friends and family who tend toward the theist end of the continuum we talked about before. I’ll give a couple examples of Faircloth’s questions, but I’d highly recommend reading the whole book to anyone who’s remotely interested in “reeling” in the fundamentalist trend we see in US government today.

    7. Do you think that a child born in Hindu culture who dies without having accepted Christ will go to hell?

    9. Do you believe the creation stories of the Druids? Or the creation stories of Australian Aborigines? Do you believe in the creation stories of any non-Judeo-Christian religions?

    15. Do you believe that if someone prays for rain, it will increase the likelihood of rain?

    18. Do you have a question in your mind about the morality of an all-powerful God that could allow 9/11, the Haiti disaster, the Kennedy assassination, the Japanese tsunami, the Tucson shooting, and the Holocaust?

    20. Do you think that a God makes decisions about what will happen to you personally?

  6. Julia
    May 8, 2012 at 3:07 am

    As someone who was raised Christian, one of the things I hate most about Christians is their attitude that THEY are the only way to God. That if you don’t follow their beliefs, well, the end isn’t going to be so pretty for you.

    Throwing away God with Christianity is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. When I finally broke away from Christianity I felt a freedom that I never felt before. However, I will not lose my faith that there is a God out there somewhere. There is a creator.
    I don’t believe that the creator is what Christians profess Him to be. Heck I don’t believe it’s a “he” but rather an “it”.

    It’s very hard to separate the idea of God and Christianity for many people like myself and maybe this is what paganpreacher is struggling with. For me, religion was an oppressive beast that sucked all of the joy from soul. I’m only now learning to worship God after cutting out the middle man.

    Another thing, question #2 is something I’ve said so many times but some people just don’t want to hear it. Isn’t is the Theists who believe that there is a God, however he doesn’t play a role in everyday life like people think? That he made the world and stepped back and let’s things play out? Because that would be me.
    This is why I never understood prayer. “Give me this, give me that and never mind that there are people truly suffering out there.” I never fail to roll my eyes at the prayer requests I see on Facebook. You got the sniffles? Junior broke his arm playing baseball? Seriously I’m supposed to pray for this?

  7. Julia
    May 8, 2012 at 3:12 am

    Sorry I just remembered the term. It’s Deist. I’m pretty sure it’s a Deist that believes in God, however doesn’t believe God is involved with all that happens on earth which would explain why bad things happen to good people.

  8. C. John Stutzer
    June 1, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    @Julia:

    I read your comment above back when you first made it. Reread again today. “Throwing away God with Christianity is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Same feeling I have.

    I find great joy in reading about scientific discoveries, and any little things I have found out for myself. Each new wonder the science community comes up with, doesn’t deny God to me, in fact, it causes me to think that there has to be some incredible, “beyond my knowing” intelligence directing the whole shebang.

    I still pray. Prayer for me may be considered something akin to a mix of prayer and meditation. I’m not above asking for help with something specific (no broken arms this week), but usually, I try to find that place where things just flow. What is taking place when that happens, I cannot explain or describe. I’ve never had God come to me and say “Noah, build me an Ark”. Which is good, because I don’t know what a cubit is either.

    I see all churches – non-denoms or name brands – as power structures serving those who seek power & influence. Heck the Bible alludes to the internal politics of Christianity, even while it was being formed. I don’t know about Hinduism, or Buddhism, but I’m willing to bet they were the same.

    The reason (I think) why the world doesn’t see many Julia & John types attending a group is because no one’s come up with a way to do that without formalizing it all as a “Brand”. You know, the “Rules of Engagement – our “Creed”.

    I’m also one of those who has fond memories of huge church dinners, volunteers building the church, great summer camps “up north” ice skating and drinking hot coco with other church goers – all as a kid.

    I also feel an internal NEED to come together regularly with other like-minded people. Yup, there are lots of social activities where I can feel a part of something, but I still need to take time out and formally acknowledge what a wonderful universe we live in, and do THAT with others as well. To be reminded that how I behave affects others. To offer an arm around the shoulder to someone struggling – to have that arm ready when I need it.

    An observation to “Free Thinkers”: It’s a heck of a lot easier to be a Free Thinker when your circumstances support it. When you are someone on societies economic bottom, when you are someone with huge family or personal issues, you will take “any port in the storm”.

    I guess what I’m saying is that there may be a whole lot of people who attend a name brand church – not because they believe in it whole cloth, but because what they get in terms of support makes it worthwhile to put up with the dogma.

    I cannot fault them for do so either. There’s been times when I wish I could too. Then, there are those other moments, ones where something so incredible happens, when I realize how lucky I am to be alive and be a part of the Universe, that I am humbled by all of it. Its right about then, that I long for others to be in that moment with me – you know?

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