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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Entangled Retired Moderator Supporter

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    You should keep in mind that while the gospels are all we have, they are not a complete record of Jesus' ministry, life or spoken words. They are an embellished, written recollection of an oral traditon. Clearly, Jesus said much more and did much more than is recorded in these books that is lost to us. Why wouldn't you expect contradictions? Far younger relgious traditions suffer from the same syndrome. If I collected a very small percent of your posts at CFC, would they provide us with a clear and uncontradictory picture of who you actually are? ;)

    I am curious, though, to know exactly what your source is for knowing what god would allow and what he/it would not allow in regard to theological discussions.
     
  2. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    @Plotinus: I'm not sure why you expect me to provide evidence for claims that the gospel texts have been corrupted. It seems to me, as a student of theology, you must know this. (But if you insist I'll look into it and provide some examples.)

    But I agree that the matter could be dropped just as easily. Finally (?), I'm glad once again for your corrections.

    Even if you collected everything I've written in my entire life, it maight still be contradictory; that's not the point. If Jesus is God, then - God being a perfect being - his utterances might have been delivered in such a manner that they are clear and without contradictions. (Ofcourse, theologians might, once again, argue that Jesus is both perfectly human and divine. Personally, I find that hard to reconcile - if only because that means while human Jesus may perfectly well have been a blundering idiot, while his divine nature would make this impossible. Possibly this is one of the things in theology I'll never understand...)

    That's not really what I said, but see my answer above. (Theological discussions, being human interactions, cannot be guided by divine principles, such as perfection and absolute goodness.)

    Anyway, having said this, I feel no obligation to continue a discussion which, as hinted at, seems pointless by sheer repetition.

    So, feel free to air another question (one that can be answered unequivocally perhaps).;)
     
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I'd be genuinely interested if you did. As I hope I've made clear, not only do I not know this claim to be true, I believe, on what seems to me to be very strong grounds, that it is false. So any evidence you have to support it would be interesting.
     
  4. bigfatron

    bigfatron Chieftain

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    Plotinus

    I'd be interested in your thoughts from a theological perspective on the following argument that I heard presented by a fundamentalist thinker over the weekend - I'll try to render it as faithfully as possible:

    1) The fundamental tenet of Chrisitianity is that Christ died for our sins and, through His death, redeemed those who accept Him and His Father as saviour

    2) It was necessary for Christ to offer Himself as a sacrifice because of the original sin of Adam, a sin so great that it encompasses all humanity and taints all of us as Adam's descendants.

    3) God could not,as perfection incarnate, have created humanity as flawed. Sin must have entered the world by a means other than God's hand.

    4) The concept of Original Sin being caused by Adam, a member of the human race, must be correct, since it is incompatible with God's perfect nature to have chosen to inflict suffering on humanity, nor to have punished all humanity unless humanity was itself responsible for bringing evil in to the world - essentially, it must be the case that humanity punished itself.

    5) Christianity therefore rests for its very existence on the literal reality of Adam, his sin, and God's response in giving his Son to us as redeemer.

    6) To deny, by accepting the age of the Earth, geology, evolution, etc, the literal existence of Adam as progenitor of all humanity is therefore to deny the fundamental reality of the Christian faith.

    The person in questions took this approach to try to demonstrate that Christianity is incompatible with Darwin's theories, and therefore (on his assumption that Christian belief is incontrovertible) that Darwin must be wrong.

    I have to say that, superficially at least, I find it hard to pick holes in his argument, even if I then draw a somewhat different conclusion...

    What are your thoughts?

    All the best
    BFR
     
  5. Lone Wolf

    Lone Wolf Chieftain

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    And that's why we have Young Earth Creationists.
     
  6. bigfatron

    bigfatron Chieftain

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    Agreed.

    But are they right - theologically and philosophically - to state that Adam's Original Sin is a necessary truth to allow the core of Christianity to hang together?

    Just because they take the next step based on their unwavering commitment to their beliefs by denying the science does not mean that their logic up until this point is incorrect - I'm trying to figure out the flaw in their reasoning and have not found it yet. Any thoughts?

    BFR
     
  7. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    I don't know that it is necessary for the story of Adam's Fall, as found in the Bible to be exactly correct (and bear in mind that much of what makes up Young Earth Creationism isn't even Biblical!) for it to have happened in some form.
     
  8. bigfatron

    bigfatron Chieftain

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    What form could it have taken? What degree of 'wrong' by whom could have justified eternal damnation to all of humanity as a consequence?

    I'm genuinely looking for flaws in this argument, and - thus far - failing to find them.

    BFR
     
  9. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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  10. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Most of the steps in the argument are at least questionable, but step 4 is the obvious flaw, because it presents a false dilemma. That step states that there are only two possible causes for human suffering:

    (1) God, who inflicts suffering upon human beings, or
    (2) Adam, who by committing the first sin implicated all his descendants in its guilt, thereby causing them suffering as a direct consequence.

    And the argument is that (1) is unacceptable, so (2) must be true. At least that is how I understand the reasoning of this stage in the argument.

    But when you set it out like that, it's obviously flawed, because there could be other possible explanations as well. One possible explanation is that every human being is responsible for his or her own suffering (or punishment) because of the sins that he or she chooses to commit. Alternatively, one person's suffering may be caused by someone else's sin, but that other person needn't be Adam. For example, if I choose to reject God, I may suffer existentially as a direct result. So I am responsible for my suffering. Or again, if Barabbas chooses to rob Peter, then Peter suffers, and Barabbas is responsible. In neither of these cases do we have to assume that there was a first human being who somehow started all of this. Each person makes his or her own choices in life. And if you're going to attribute human suffering to human sin, that's all you need - imagining a first human being and a first sin doesn't add anything to the explanation.

    Besides which, even if one did need to suppose that there was a first human being and a first sin, it wouldn't have to be Adam or the events described in Genesis 3. Presumably there was a first occasion when a human being, or something which was an immediate ancestor of human beings, first did something which could be described as sinful, and you don't have to deny evolution to believe that. So even if the argument weren't invalid, it wouldn't prove that Adam and Eve, as described in the Bible, were real.
     
  11. bigfatron

    bigfatron Chieftain

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    But Christ wouldn't have needed to come if there were no damnation in the first place?
     
  12. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Well, he wouldn't have needed to come if there weren't the possibility of damnation in the first place.
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Some theologians have thought that Christ would have come even if there had been no sin. He wouldn't have come as a saviour, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't have come.

    Many theologians have also thought that no-one will be damned at all, at least not eternally. In fact this is probably a majority view among theologians today, although I suppose it depends rather on who you count as "theologians".
     
  14. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

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    Can you explain how these theologians have come to the "no-one will be damned" line of thought?
     
  15. bigfatron

    bigfatron Chieftain

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    OK - perhaps my understanding is faulty.

    I had understood the theological position to be that we are unable to redeem our own sins through works and repentance because we are all tainted by Original Sin - the act of bringing evil into the world being so overwhelming that it is both inherited by future generations (an immoral concept in itself IMHO) and requires the ultimate 'blood' sacrifice by the Son of God himself to expiate the crime.

    So while I agree that we can consider alternative explanations for the existence of sin - as a necessary consequence of free will for instance, or the creation of some unspecified third force - I'm struggling to identify an alternative that warrants, or in fact requires, both the ultimate punishment of eternal damnation and that ultimate sacrifice of Jesus' death.

    And while I agree with the idea that we may all be responsible for our own sins, nevertheless accpording to orthodox Christian thinking a new-born baby has never sinned, but is still damned by its Original Sin - if not then a true innocent would not need redemption, which is contrary both to Jesus' own words and Christian belief.

    So while I agree the fourth step is over-simplified, I don't think it is a demonstrably false premise.

    All the best
    BFR
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I suppose that there have been five main reasons that theologians have thought that:

    (1) It says so in the Bible - Romans 5:18; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.

    (2) Origen believed that it was a basic principle that the end of history should be the same as the beginning. In the beginning, all souls were united to God, before they fell away. At the end, therefore, all souls should be united to God once more. We can make this a more obvious principle if we think that the final outcome of God's purpose and plan must be at least as good as the beginning, because otherwise God has failed to make things as good as they could be. If, in the beginning, no-one was damned, then at the end, no-one should be damned either, unless we think that either God wants people to be damned, or he cannot prevent it.

    (3) Origen also believed that evil is limited and ultimately unsatisfactory, whereas good is infinite and perfectly satisfactory. Given an infinite length of time, even the most evil person would eventually choose what is good. If the damned in hell are there because they reject God, then eventually all of them will change their minds and choose God. God's mercy being infinite, that would be the end to their sufferings.

    (4) What is the point of punishment? Many, at least since Plato, have argued that it is not just retribution but rehabilitation. A person is punished to improve him or her. That, at least, is what punishment should be, and the reason why a good person would inflict punishment. Punishment that's just pain for the sake of pain is intrinsically wrong and indeed pointless. On this view, if God punishes people, it is in order to improve them morally. Origen (again) likened the suffering of the damned in hell to patients undergoing painful operations. It may be horrific, but it is the best way to cure them. The logic of that obviously requires that eventually the cure will be ended, which means the suffering is only temporary and eventually they will be saved. Gregory of Nyssa seems to have thought along these lines too.

    (5) The main reason that modern theologians have tended to reject the notion of eternal damnation is simply that it seems to be inconsistent with that of an all-loving, all-powerful God. If God can do anything logically possible, and he wills what is best for everyone, then it seems that he will not abandon any of his creatures to eternal damnation. I suppose this is similar to reason (2) but more general. Of course one might argue that, by the same logic, God would not allow any suffering at all, but he seems to. The response to that is that we can suppose that there is a purpose to the suffering we see around us. We may not know what that purpose is, but it is possible that God has one. Whereas the infliction of horrific torments upon the damned for ever and ever seems to be positively without any purpose at all; it is impossible to see that God could have a purpose in doing that which would outweight the suffering involved. In which case it is not reasonable to suppose that God would do it at all.
     
  17. Moss

    Moss CFC Scribe Retired Moderator

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    Thanks. :)

    How would these theologians view Christ? Was he the son of God, the savior? How would they counter the strong belief among many people that one has to believe in Christ to be "saved" ? (No one comes to the Father except through me, ect..)
     
  18. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    That is only one way of thinking of original sin, which didn't really develop until the late fourth century. The Orthodox Church doesn't look at it like that. I think that most Christians believe in "concupiscence", which is an inherited tendency to choose what is wrong, but they do not necessarily believe in inherited guilt, which is what you seem to be talking about. It is, after all, surely absurd to suppose that someone can be culpable for the acts of his or her ancestors.

    Also, the language of "blood sacrifice" and "expiation" is only one metaphor that has been applied to the atonement. There are others. In the Orthodox Church, again, salvation has historically been understood not as some ghastly blood-drenched sacrifice to overcome a "mass of damnation", but as God joining himself to his creation to lift it to his own level. On this view, humanity is imperfect - not necessarily all damned by its forefather's sin, but subject to death and corruption - so in the incarnation divinity is joined to humanity and transforms it. Human beings can become immortal and incorruptible, and ultimately become divine themselves.

    If you read Romans 6, you'll see that Paul thinks of "sin" not as a burden of guilt that all human beings inherit and which must be expiated, but as an oppressive force that keeps human beings captive. On this view, the atonement is about liberation.

    So in short, the Christian tradition has masses of ways of viewing these things. Don't assume that the overly legalistic, Augustinian-Calvinist one which you cite is the only one. That's just one, rather narrow tradition.

    Again, to view these as an "ultimate punishment of eternal damnation" and an "ultimate sacrifice" are themselves just particular interpretations of theological motifs that can have other interpretations as well. Even if someone believes in eternal damnation, must that be understood as an "ultimate punishment" at all?

    Augustine thought that, but don't assume that all Christians think that.

    Now the argument that you attribute to the fundamentalist is supposed to show, from the basic premises it begins with, that belief in a literal Adam and Eve is essential to Christianity, understood as the belief that God sent Christ to die so that human beings could be saved. As I've indicated, Christianity contains many, many ways of understanding what that means. If you assume just one, very narrow and particular way of understanding it, then yes, perhaps the argument does work. But of course, the purpose of the argument is supposed to be to demonstrate that all Christians are (or should be) committed to the views it seeks to defend. Evidently it fails in that purpose. It would require a whole lot more argumentation to show that the doctrines mentioned in the early stages of the argument should be interpreted in the ways you suggest.
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    There are several approaches to this:

    (1) You have to be a Christian to be saved. But ultimately, everyone will become a Christian - just not necessarily in this life. I think this is the view of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa.

    (2) You do have to have faith in Christ to be saved, but that doesn't necessarily mean being a Christian. Christ, as the universal divine Reason, is present in many religions and in none, which means that people can follow Christ without knowing it or recognising that it is Christ they follow. This is the view of Justin Martyr and, more recently, Karl Rahner.

    (3) The notion that you have to believe in Christ to be saved is an outmoded and arrogant one that Christians should reject. There are just as many paths to salvation as there are routes from the South Pole to the North Pole. Different religions offer different views of the ultimate reality, which means that no-one can say that only one is the right one. This has been defended at length by John Hick.
     
  20. Mowque

    Mowque Hypermodernist

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    ^---- Thanks for that post, even though i hadn't asked the question.
     
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