Heresiarch

I had a pleasant weekend of eating out. S and I hit the town on Saturday; I went out with robhu and Safi on Sunday.

Much discussion of religion on Sunday. I remember mentioning James Fowler’s Stages of Faith (surely begging for a Quizilla meme), and N.T. Wright’s thoughts on what the Apostle Paul meant by the word gospel.

If I’d had time, I would also have mentioned this article on Process Theology which I found after Googling for stuff ladysisyphus mentioned. It’s good to see my own thoughts about Romans 1 being thought of by someone else too. As usual, I find myself asking why don’t you just give up? when I read this sort of thing, but it’s also kind of interesting.

No great insights from all this discussion, apart from Slartibartfast’s: that I’d far rather be happy than right any day. Logic is occasionally over-rated.

Update: The discussion continues in the comments, with contributions from me, robhu, and someone called FoaF.

12 thoughts on “Heresiarch”

  1. I highly respect Slartibartfast’s opinion, but I’m really looking for truth and meaning rather than happiness. If that doesn’t lead to happiness (which is my current view re Christianity) then I suppose I’m just highly screwed.

    I want my Sarah Lee Double Choc cake AND I want to eat it (and preferably two or three more).

    1. S (that’s girlfriend S, who goes by the initial on LJ, for privacy reasons) thinks that questions about eternal truths may well be Who Shot the Arrow questions. As someone else points out, it’s probably more important to be concerned with what we can know and do, rather than what we cannot.

      When I talk about being happy rather than right, it’s not that I’m talking about living in a happy delusion (or an unhappy one, in the case of evangelical Christianity), but rather with accepting that there are some things we can’t know about and choosing whatever Way (note significant capital) makes us able to do what we can.

      Are you saying the you think Christianity is true and this makes you unhappy, or that you think it isn’t and this makes you unhappy?

      1. Thanks for the links, I’ve never read anything on Buddhism (well apart from this but I don’t suppose that counts ;0)).

        I am not convinced that its a ‘Who shot the arrow?’ question. In that example it is of no practical value for the person dying to know who shot the arrow, whereas knowing whether there is a deity, and if so determining certain things about him/her/it/them/Cthulu might provide some insight into useful questions such as: How should I live my life? What is life about? What happens when I die? How should I treat others? and so on…

        It may well be the case that it is impossible to determine the answer to this question, but at the moment I am not convinced that is the case. I am of course aware that a lot of people seem to hold wildly different ideas, and so it is reasonably likely that the answer cannot be determined – but I do not know this to be the case. It is my hope that if there is a God of some kind out there that it is in fact eager for us to find out the answers and has provided some suitably clever way of enabling those who want to to find out.

        I am saying that:

        1. I do not know if Christianity is true or not
        2. If Christianity is true, and the evangelical version is true then I would not want to follow Christ

        My reasons for 2 are I admit emotional – it was argued (quite convincingly) that as I had admitted that I loved my ex more than God that God may well have had a hand in ending our relationship (due to the whole idolotry / jealous God / God caring more about our holiness than happiness evangelical thinking). If this was true, or perhaps if this could be true – i.e. its the kind of thing God might do then that isn’t a God that I would want to follow. My life has been pretty awful and my ex was the real jewel that turned it all around, I prayed daily thanking God for bringing her into my life, and then (perhaps) he took her away as a jealous action.

        Of course if Christianity is true and what I have said about his intentions re: my ex are true then I am highly screwed because I will be knowingly be choosing not to follow the wrathful God that I know (/believe?) exists. At the moment I’m still thinking that I’d go to heaven but to be honest I really wouldn’t want to go there.

        As we discussed earlier I don’t think I can be a righteous rebel either.

        1. knowing whether there is a deity, and if so determining certain things about him/her/it/them/Cthulu might provide some insight into useful questions

          From what I can tell, the Buddhist philosophy is that you can know enough to work out how to be happy without actually finding the answers to those questions (and perhaps those questions are even a distraction).

          It is my hope that if there is a God of some kind out there that it is in fact eager for us to find out the answers and has provided some suitably clever way of enabling those who want to to find out.

          D’you mean that we have to be clever enough to work it out? That sounds a bit like the old gnostic secret knowledge idea. As I’ve said before (bottom paragraph), an omnipotent God can be as well hidden as he likes, but chosing to hide seems quite perverse. One of the things which finally killed evangelicalism for me was the realisation that all this stuff about a personal relationship with God was meaningless. God does not communicate in the way that an omnipotent being could.

          2. If Christianity is true, and the evangelical version is true then I would not want to follow Christ

          Me neither.

          If this was true, or perhaps if this could be true – i.e. its the kind of thing God might do then that isn’t a God that I would want to follow… Of course if Christianity is true and what I have said about his intentions re: my ex are true then I am highly screwed because I will be knowingly be choosing not to follow the wrathful God that I know (/believe?) exists.

          S made the point that it’s hard to believe in a God who acts in this way. For every relationship where someone loves the other person more than God which eventually breaks up, there is one which doesn’t. As with most of the other things which people attribute to God, there’s no consistency: we pray for some people with cancer and they die, and some other people and they get better. I think it’s unlikely that there’s a manevolent power out there intent on screwing up your relationships. It seems more likely to me that what we’re talking about are human organisations and persuasive ideas.

          If there is a God, he’s much more subtle and, ISTM, not omnipotent or omniscient in the conventional Christian sense. In the absence of evidence for the evangelical Christian God, you can in some sense choose that what you’d call God doesn’t behave in the way which you’re against.

          As we discussed earlier I don’t think I can be a righteous rebel either.

          I don’t see why not. Given that God, if it exists, isn’t as I once believed it was, what I’m rebelling against are ideas and organisations which I consider harmful. They don’t have overpowering supernatural abilities (and I have Googlepower), so I don’t automatically have to lose. And if the evangelicals are right, it seems better to go down fighting.

          The His Dark Materials books are interesting for the righteous rebillion stuff, as I’m sure you’ll find out.

          1. From what I can tell, the Buddhist philosophy is that you can know enough to work out how to be happy without actually finding the answers to those questions (and perhaps those questions are even a distraction).
            Thats interesting. Do you think this point of view holds water? Can you provide any useful links for investigating it?

            D’you mean that we have to be clever enough to work it out?
            No – like I say “my hope is there is a God … [who] has provided some suitably clever way of enabling [us to find out more]”.
            By suitably clever I just mean something that solves the problems there appear to be in determining if God is there.

            an omnipotent God can be as well hidden as he likes, but chosing to hide seems quite perverse
            Yeah it does, I’d not thought of that before. The impression I always got was that God wanted us to know Him but for some reason (of which I am unaware) he was either unable to in some way (due to sin) or chose not to (because of sin). I wonder why God doesnt make himself a lot more obvious (of course I suppose Christians will say that is obvious and that I’m just blinded – I dont suppose I can counter that).

            S made the point that it’s hard to believe in a God who acts in this way.
            Why is it hard to believe in a God who acts in this way? Why must God be ‘good’ (as we define it)?

            I don’t attribute all the bad things that happen to God, in fact its hard to say that I can attribute anything bad to God – at least from the perspective I come from. In the evangelical viewpoint ‘goodness’ is essentially defined as what God does, so how can one say that God is not good? Any external determination of morality is seen to be ludicrous as it is based on flawed sinful human thinking.

            In light of this, how can I say that my morality is better than that of my creator? Would an ‘evil’ God create beings with a ‘good’ morality?

            What is morality anyway? Is it just an arbitrarily assigned set of rules? A precursor to the system of law to allow human societal development? If it is not absolute and defined by God does it have any meaning?

            I don’t know the answer to these question btw ;0)

            (Whats ISTM?)

            And if the evangelicals are right, it seems better to go down fighting.
            I hope the evangelicals aren’t right, because if they are it will be like going down fighting by being at ground zero of a billion megaton nuclear strike on judgement day… not much fighting is really possible.

            1. Thats interesting. Do you think this point of view holds water? Can you provide any useful links for investigating it?

              4truths.com is a funky introduction. As to what I think of it, I find the philosophical underpinnings hard to believe after Christianity. I’m thinking particularly of the idea that nothing is eternal, and that we’d better just accept that and try not to get too attached to it (lack of attachment does not mean disengagement here, but rather seems to be a mental attitude: I’m sure S will correct me if I’m wrong).

              By suitably clever I just mean something that solves the problems there appear to be in determining if God is there.

              If you ever find such a thing, I’m sure a lot of people will be very interested to hear about it 🙂

              I wonder why God doesnt make himself a lot more obvious (of course I suppose Christians will say that is obvious and that I’m just blinded – I dont suppose I can counter that).

              Well, yes, there’s an invisible dragon in my garage, but you’re so blinded by sin that you cannot see it.

              The other standard argument with this one is that if God were to reveal himself more fully, he’d blow our minds. We’d not have a choice about following him, and choice is important because of free will. Or something. CS Lewis says something like “He cannot rape, he must woo”. To continue with Lewis’s metaphor, my problem was that God never returned my phone calls and always expected me to do all the running. Men are such beasts.

              Why is it hard to believe in a God who acts in this way? Why must God be ‘good’ (as we define it)?

              I think when S and I were talking, we were thinking of ChristianGodTM and saying that it was inconsistent that he would split some people up and not others. Our assumption was that ChristianGod had the same rules for everyone and that he wouldn’t apply them arbitrarily (this turns out not to be true if you look at the world, therefore God as conceived by Christians does not exist. QED). If were talking gods in general, there could be an omnipotent (or merely very potent) fiend who mucks about with things for his own amusement, but I don’t see any reason to think there is. It’s also not clear why he’d bother (as the author of Sinfest points out).

              In the evangelical viewpoint ‘goodness’ is essentially defined as what God does, so how can one say that God is not good? Any external determination of morality is seen to be ludicrous as it is based on flawed sinful human thinking.

              Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? There are moral philosophies which don’t rely on the authority of a God.

              What is morality anyway? Is it just an arbitrarily assigned set of rules? A precursor to the system of law to allow human societal development? If it is not absolute and defined by God does it have any meaning?

              It’s clearly not completely arbitrary, although it does seem to change with time. Morality and law are not the same, as any lawyer will tell you. I think it does have meaning. To me, it seems to be about what sort of society I’d like to live in and how I’d like to be treated. I’m not sure where my preferences come from, though.

              (Whats ISTM?)

              It Seems To Me.

              I hope the evangelicals aren’t right, because if they are it will be like going down fighting by being at ground zero of a billion megaton nuclear strike on judgement day… not much fighting is really possible.

              True. Again, I find it better not to believe that a hitherto hidden fiend will one day decide to torture me for not worshipping it.

      1. Subject: Re: Christian Hedonism
        Do I know you FoaF?

        I haven’t read any of Piper’s stuff no. The friend who convinced me that God might have had his hand in the end of my relationship has strongly suggested that I read Piper’s stuff. I haven’t done so because I think what I do know already makes me so overwhelmingly angry with God that I don’t really see how Piper’s arguments are going to change my mind.

        I believe (as I said before I havent actually read his thesis) that it is based around the idea that loving / obeying / following God leads us to the happiness, in fact lets go with a quote from “We want you to be a Christian hedonist!.
        Christian Hedonism is not a contradiction after all. It is desiring the vast, ocean-deep pleasures of God more than the mud-puddle pleasures of wealth, power or lust. We're Christian Hedonists because we believe Psalm 16:11, "You show me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy, in Your right hand are pleasures for evermore."
        The problem is my experience just doesn’t bear this to be true at all. I was significantly more happy with my ex than I ever have been in my relationship with God, and Piper cleverly makes the ‘happiness’ of the world sound pretty awful “mud-puddle pleasures of wealth, power or lust”.

        I have no interest in wealth, power or lust (well no particular interest at least) – the relationship I was in was loving, caring, and supportive.

        The argument that people use seems to be to redefine the word happiness such that ‘true’ happiness can only be experienced by a special relationship with God. I believe I had this special relationship, and it didn’t compare with the earthly one I had.

        I’ve heard people argue that its rather ‘joy’ that we experience as Christians, but I’ve never found a suitable explanation of ‘joy’ compared to happiness. At least from my experience happiness is the thing I’m most interested in. I can’t see how God can primarily be interested in my happiness as he is quite happy for people to be tortured and executed for their faith (which I might say I am not looking down on, I look up to people able to do this), but I doubt very much the majority of people would say they are happy while being tortured.

        1. Subject: Re: Christian Hedonism
          We’ve met.

          I must admit I haven’t read any of his books either (they’re on my todo list!). I suspect what he would say (or at least what I would say if I was writing his book!) is not that the alternatives to God don’t bring pleasure. Or that the things which bring us pleasure are necessarily bad. But that the non-God things will fail, decay, die, etc… and that only God is eternal. The average currency and company have a life span shorter than the average person! Power very easily changes hands. Relationships fail. But only God is unchanging.

          I haven’t got a clue how direct God’s involvement was in ending your relationship or what his reasons for doing so were. Although on the basis of the current evidence I would suggest it might not have been because doing so would bring you closer to him, as that does not appear to have been the case! Speculating on God’s reasons for doing things if he hasn’t explicitly revealed them probably isn’t something helpful to do.

          As for the difference between joy and hapiness. I haven’t got a good definition, but would probably try to go for something like the difference between melachony and depression. One being a reasonable response to unfortunate events which take place, the other being caused chemical imbalances in seratonin levels in the brain. (Disclaimer: I am not a psychiatrist)

          1. Subject: Re: Christian Hedonism
            OK – perhaps I need to be more direct! Who are you? What is your name? :0)

            I’m not convinced of the Christian view of the world anymore so I can’t just accept what you’re saying.. but I know that like God people are eternal. Everyone lives forever, its just a question of where.

            1. Subject: Re: Christian Hedonism
              FoaF appears to run Debian Linux (yay!) and is UK based. He/She/It seems vaguely familiar to me, too. But FoaF seems to have gone away now.

              Why do you believe people are eternal? While I don’t particularly enjoy contemplating my own death, I don’t see mcuh evidence that I’ll outlast it.

              1. Subject: Re: Christian Hedonism
                Perhaps its a LiveWires person? I havent met anyone in Cambridge who runs Debian (generally I’ve just met the CU girls who are Safi’s friends)… I googled for FoaF and apparently it means “Friend of a Friend”.

                I don’t know if I do think that people are eternal – I was kind of trying to answer from the evangelical viewpoint.

                As mentionned above I hope that this isn’t the case (if the evangelicals are right) as I’d much rather cease to exist than be punished eternally.

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