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Ask a Theologian IV

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, Jun 24, 2011.

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  1. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    This thread is a continuation of the original and the two sequels. If you have a question it might be a good idea to look through those threads or this one to see if it's already been addressed.

    In the next couple of posts I shall give links to sections of the earlier threads where many things have already been discussed, so please check there to see if your question has already been asked (especially if you want to know whether I believe in God or what I think of Kierkegaard).

    I should make it clear that there are basically two meanings of “theologian”. The first is someone who thinks or speculates about God etc and writes what they think. Such a person is actually religious and tries to describe God (or whatever) as they think he really is. It was in this sense that Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth-century theologian, commented that theologians pray truly and that, if you pray truly, you are a theologian.

    The second meaning of “theologian” is the academic sense and it basically means someone who studies theologians in the former sense. For example, my old tutor is an expert in Duns Scotus, which means he studies Scotus, writes about him, and tries to establish what he believed and why – exactly as a historical philosopher might study Plato or Descartes. But that doesn’t mean he actually agrees with Scotus on anything. Theology in this sense has considerable overlap with history, literary criticism, anthropology, and so on, especially since the people or groups under consideration could be contemporary as well as historical. Clearly you don’t need to have any religious faith at all to do this, any more than you have to be French to study Balzac. In fact I think that modern academic theologians probably divide roughly equally between those who are religious and those who are not. Perhaps there are more of the former than of the latter, but it would probably depend to a great extent on where you are.

    So I’m a theologian in the latter sense. I’m not religious and I don’t expect to become religious, at least not through studying theology.

    I have a BA in Philosophy and Theology, an M Phil in Theology, and a PhD in Philosophy. So professionally speaking I am more of a philosopher than a theologian. Most of my academic research has been in philosophy. However, I have written quite a few books for a general readership on historical theology and church history. I have also worked in what might be called either philosophy of religion or philosophical theology, which is the study of theological doctrines using the tools of modern analytic philosophy.

    I should also specify that I mostly know about Christianity. I don’t know much about other religions.

    So feel free to ask anything that relates to any of this. If I don’t know the answer I might at least know where you should go to find it...

    Directory to earlier threads

    This thread is now in its fourth version, and we've had a lot of questions already. Also, certain questions keep cropping up. So before asking, please have a look to see if your question has already been asked. I've made this as easy as possible by compiling a list of all the questions that have already been asked. Click the links to find the discussion. The links take you to the question rather than to the answer. Bear in mind that sometimes the answer took a while to appear, so you may need to scroll down before you get to it. Some of the questions sparked quite long discussions, which may contain further information related to that topic. Also, in these links I have paraphrased most of the questions. Some were not even in question form originally, but I have phrased them as if they were for the sake of consistency, and included them here since they led to (hopefully enlightening) discussions.

    Again, if you have a question, please look through here first and see if it has been answered. If something like it has been asked before but your precise point hasn't been raised, or if you're not happy with the answer or the discussion, then feel free to ask again and refer back to earlier discussions.

    I have organised the questions under different topics, which are themselves organised into broad categories. Within each topic, the questions are listed in chronological order. Be aware that the categorisation is a bit vague and that there is overlap between some of the topics. For example, there are questions about the writing of the Bible under the topic "The New Testament, and the church in the first century" as well as under the topics that are more explicitly about the Bible. And there are questions about Jesus under the topic "The doctrine of the incarnation" as well as under "Jesus". So check carefully to see if your question or a question like it has been asked.

    In the remainder of this post, I list the categories and the topics. See the following posts for the links to questions.

    n.b. I have not yet finished updating this list to contain all the questions from thread III.

    Theology and academia

    Academia and writing
    Theology as a discipline
    Theology and other areas of life


    The nature of religion
    The nature of doctrine


    Beliefs about God
    God’s power
    God and time
    Proofs of God’s existence/non-existence
    The problem of evil
    Free will, determinism, and divine foreknowledge

    The Bible and Jesus

    The Bible – general
    The Bible – different translations
    The Bible – its reliability/truth
    The Bible – how the books that it contains were chosen
    The Bible – the Old Testament
    The Gospels and our sources for Jesus

    The history of Christianity

    Church history (general)
    Influences between Christianity and other religions/movements
    Antiquity in general
    The New Testament, and the church in the first century
    The church in later antiquity
    The Middle Ages
    From the Renaissance to modern times
    Modern movements in Christianity

    Issues to do with Christianity

    Faith and reason
    Science and religion
    Philosophy of religion
    Christian attitudes to other religions
    God, sin, and salvation
    Ethics and morality
    Different Christian churches
    The Pope

    Christian doctrines

    The history and development of doctrines
    The doctrine of creation
    The doctrine of the Trinity
    The doctrine of the incarnation
    The doctrine of atonement
    The Virgin Mary
    The Eucharist
    Adam and Eve, the Fall, and original sin
    Heaven, the soul, and life after death
    Hell and damnation
    The devil

    Other things

    Modern people
  2. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    Theology and academia

    Academia and writing

    How do you go about doing academic research?

    How do you go about writing books?

    Theology as a discipline

    Isn't theology all pointless and irrational?

    Can there be theology without metaphysics?

    What can you do with a degree in theology?

    Which theology is the oddest?

    Is it better for a theologian to be agnostic, to be more objective?

    How does one become a theologian, and what job prospects are there?

    Is theology basically about deriving conclusions from arbitrary presuppositions?

    What are the dangers of reading earlier authors in the light of later ones?

    What’s the difference between philosophy of religion and theology?

    Is theology just the study of fantasy?

    Is theology really just about competing opinions, or are there solid arguments as well?

    What is the difference between “revealed” and “natural” theology?

    Theology and other areas of life

    Are there big differences between the ways that philosophers, theologians, and historians deal with religion?

    Has the relevance of theology to humanity changed over time?

    Has theology ever been a common topic of normal conversation, and why isn’t it now?

    Are there any primarily literary works which have influenced theology?


    What proportion of theologians are religious?

    Who is the most under-rated theologian in history?

    Have there been any sexy female theologians?

    Does being a theologian make you a hit with the ladies?

    Who was the most evil theologian ever?

    Have there been any fun theologians?

    Who was the fattest theologian ever?


    The nature of religion

    If religion is about peace, why has it caused so many wars?

    What do you think of the concept of “religion as a set of memes”?

    Why are religious beliefs so deeply held?

    Are there general trends in religion, or is just one damn divinity after another?

    What do you think of Rudolf Otto’s idea of the nature of religious experience?

    What is religion?

    Is it plausible to think that in the future there will be a rational utopia without any religion?

    What do you think of the idea that religions are so closely tied to their particular cultures that they can only address problems that arise from their own cultures - to the extent that it makes no sense for people from one culture to convert to a religion from another?

    The nature of doctrine

    What does it mean for a doctrine to be “orthodox”?

    Are most of the disagreements in religion just a failure to realise that the doctrines are all metaphorical?
  3. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003

    Beliefs about God

    Why should the Christian God be worshipped at all?

    Is Christianity really monotheistic at all?

    Why is God “he”?

    If God is omniscient, what is the point of prayer?

    What’s the weirdest conception of God?

    What’s the definition of a god?

    How can Christians reconcile faith in God’s goodness with his behaviour in the Bible?

    Where did monotheism come from?

    Does God ever change his mind?

    What do you think of “open theism”?

    What exactly is the difference between pantheism and panentheism?

    How does Process Theology view God and the universe?

    Since there are many views about the existence or nature of God, does this mean that each of these views is very unlikely to be true?

    What can you say about the doctrine of divine simplicity?

    Do Christians think that there could only have been one God, or is it just a contingent fact?

    Can you be a theist without believing in the supernatural?

    Are human beings programmed to believe in God?

    Why do some people think that there are some things that God wouldn't know, because they have no truth value? Don't even counter-factuals have truth values which we can pretty much know?

    Why do some people write "G-d"?

    God’s power

    Can God create a rock he can’t lift?

    Why do most monotheists think God must be omnipotent?

    Why must a theist suppose God to be omnipotent or morally perfect?

    Did human beings just invent God, as a more powerful version of themselves, to explain things they didn’t understand?

    God and time

    What does it mean to say that God is outside time?

    If God created the universe, there must have been time (because there was a time before the universe existed). But how could an infinite God have existed inside time?

    If God is outside time, would he need to be caused by anything else at all?

    If God is outside time, how could he love something which is temporal, such as the universe?


    What's the history of atheism?

    How did atheism come to be such an anti-religious movement?

    When did atheism first appear?

    Why have atheists always been a minority throughout history? In fact, have they been?

    Can some atheists be called “militant”?

    Proofs of God’s existence/non-existence

    Has anyone tried to show that no proof of God’s existence is possible?

    If God revealed himself to everyone, would that count as a “proof” of his existence?

    Is it theoretically possible to prove God’s existence?

    Have you seen any argument for or against God’s existence that no-one could answer?

    Why is it wrong to think that the burden of proof is always on the theist?

    Do you agree that modern science suggests that the complexity of the universe and especially of life is hard to explain without appealing to an intelligence behind it all?

    Is the fine-tuning argument just another flawed argument from analogy?

    Is the existence of an intelligent creator a reasonable explanation for the existence of life?

    What do you think of Pascal's Wager?

    The problem of evil

    What different responses to the problem of evil are there?

    Is evil an inevitable consequence of free will?

    What’s the history of the free will defence?

    Why does God allow suffering?

    Free will, determinism, and divine foreknowledge

    Could God create a universe where everyone has free will but never does evil?

    What is determinism?

    Which makes more sense, predestination or free will, and what is the history of these doctrines?

    Is belief in free will incompatible with Christianity, and where did this belief come from?

    Can anyone believe in a loving God, determinism, and hell?

    If determinism were true, would it mean we have no choice about anything – and what is the difference between determinism and fatalism?

    Is free will compatible with divine omniscience?

    If someone believes in predestination, do they have any motive to try not to sin?

    Does it make sense to think of God’s plan for the world as a series of conditional propositions, so that he alters his actions depending on how people behave?

    What do you think of the idea of compatibilist free will?

    Did discussion of free will only come about because of theology? And was this a distortion of ancient concepts of liberty?

    Does God act justly in condemning people for not believing in them, since they choose not to believe in him out of their own free will?

    What about free will in heaven?

    If God knows what we're going to do, does that in itself mean that we have no choice over the matter?
  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    The Bible and Jesus

    The Bible – general

    What did Spinoza say about biblical interpretation?

    What parts of the Bible would you recommend to people who haven’t read much of it?

    Is biblical literalism a modern heresy?

    Why isn’t there any divine knowledge in the Bible beyond what people of the time would have known anyway?

    What are the earliest and latest verses of the Bible?

    What ten books of the Bible should someone read who doesn’t want to read the whole thing?

    Was the Bible written by con artists?

    What do you think of this documentary about the Bible?

    Where did the idea come from that the Bible is the infallible word of God?

    Are there many references to alchemy in the Bible?

    The Bible – different translations

    What is the most accurate version of the Bible?

    Which is the best version of the Bible?

    How do the RSV and the NRSV differ, and which is better?

    The Bible – its reliability/truth

    Are the prophecies in the Bible reliable?

    What criteria might we use to tell if the Bible is true or not?

    Does the fact that the books of the Bible were originally copied by hand mean that they must be full of transmission errors?

    Have the study of history and archaeology really proved the Bible to be true and reliable?

    Is there any evidence that the stories in Genesis are true?

    The Bible – how the books that it contains were chosen

    Why did some books not get included in the Bible?

    Is it true that the books of the Bible were chosen at the Council of Nicaea?

    Should the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient texts have been included in the Bible?

    Why didn't the Protestant churches disagree with the Catholics over the canon of the Bible more than they actually did?

    Why did some books make it into the New Testament, and not others?

    The Bible – the Old Testament

    Where did the stories in Genesis come from?

    Why are the Ten Commandments considered more important than all the other commandments in the Old Testament?

    What about the distinction between the civil, the moral, and the ritual parts of the Old Testament law?

    Does the Old Testament forbid murder, or just killing?

    Are the laws in Leviticus given by God directly or by people inspired by him?

    Where can I find out about theories concerning the authorship of the Old Testament?

    Are the silver scrolls still the oldest bits of Tanakh text extant?

    Who was Jezebel?

    Does the book of Genesis say that human beings have mastery over animals?

    Does the Genesis account of creation really talk about “gods” in the plural?

    What does the story of Aaron's staff budding mean?

    Did Moses receive the "oral law"?

    What does the Bible say about the world before the Flood?

    The Gospels and our sources for Jesus

    What evidence is there that Jesus existed?

    Are there any sources for the historical Jesus outside the New Testament?

    Is it possible that the Gospels were really written by Jesus’ disciples?

    Who really wrote the Gospels?

    What historical records are there about Jesus?

    Were lots of details of Jesus’ life invented to fit the prophecies?

    Do the stories of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke contradict each other?

    Can we know anything about what Jesus was really like?

    Was the text of the Gospels tampered with for doctrinal reasons?

    Does Matthew contradict the other Gospels by saying that the stone outside Jesus’ tomb was moved by an earthquake?

    If Jesus didn’t really claim to be divine, why did the authors of the Gospels insert such claims into their writing?

    Why is the Gospel of John commonly regarded as less historical than the others?

    Why is Mark’s Gospel generally thought to be older than Matthew’s?

    Were many of the supposed sayings of Jesus actually written centuries later by monks?

    Is John’s Gospel based on any of the others?

    Are there any accounts of Jesus' resurrection apart from the Bible?

    Who were the different Gospels written for?

    What would most historians of the period say to the claim that the historical evidence supports, or is consistent with, the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead?

    What can you tell us about the Gospel of the Hebrews?

    What is the origin of the non-canonical Gospels, such as the Nag Hammadi texts, and do they corroborate the evidence of the canonical Gospels for the life of Jesus?


    Was Jesus a Jew or a Christian, and what is the definition of Christianity and Judaism anyway?

    What about the Messianic Secret?

    Are there other Jews in history who claimed to be the son of God?

    Did Jesus teach that everyone is equal?

    What’s the relationship between the Old Testament and Jesus’ teachings?

    Which is more likely – Jesus was a trickster, or he was nothing special and the stories just got exaggerated?

    What does Jesus’ saying about “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” mean?

    Was Jesus really good at carpentry?

    If David Blaine were to go back to Jesus’ time, would people think he was doing miracles? And if Jesus were to come to our time, would people think he was just a conjuror?

    How likely is any of that Baigent “bloodline of Jesus” stuff to be true?

    What was Jesus’ attitude to the religious authorities of his time?

    Did Jesus advocate taking revenge?

    Did Jesus support slavery?

    Did Jesus claim to be divine, and would such a claim have been regarded as blasphemous by most Jews at the time?

    Did Jesus have any brothers or sisters?

    What was Jesus’ attitude to the Jewish law?

    What did Jesus mean when he prayed to God to forgive the people who were crucifying him?

    Did Jesus really not claim to be divine?

    If Jesus didn’t say anything more extreme or offensive than most teachers of the law did at the time, why did he get crucified?

    What did Jesus mean for the validity of the Old Testament?

    Seriously, did Jesus really not claim to be divine?

    Why didn't Jesus throw the first stone at the adulteress?

    To what extent was Jesus a pacifist?

    Why do people think it's so important to stress that Jesus was Jewish?

    Who were the most important followers of Jesus in his lifetime?
  5. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    The history of Christianity

    Church history (general)

    What have been the most important points of influence between the church and secular politics?

    How far back does the reform movement go?

    Has the church ever tried to rename the planets?

    How did a carpenter’s son become one of the major world deities?

    What forms of Christianity have set up a certain ruler as Messiah or God?

    Was the spread of Christianity inevitable, so it would have happened even without Constantine and the other Christian emperors?

    Would Christianity, or something very like it, have happened even if Jesus had never existed?

    Are there any known instances of Christian belief forming spontaneously without contact from missionaries?

    What's the history of asceticism in Christianity?

    Influences between Christianity and other religions/movements

    Who is more important to Christianity, Plato or Aristotle?

    Has Islam influenced Christianity?

    What was Mithraism like, and was it similar to Christianity?

    How have traditional African beliefs influenced African Christianity?

    What elements of pre-Christian piety made their way into Christianity?

    What influence did Zoroastrianism have on Christianity?

    Were the Christian rites copied from Mithraist ones?

    Is Satanism a cyclical historical fad?

    Have you written about the influence of Stoicism upon Christianity?

    Is it really true that many of the things that are believed about Jesus were originally believed about Horus?

    Were lots of beliefs about Jesus really taken from earlier pagan religions?

    Why are there such similarities between deities or messiahs in different religions?

    Did Mithraism have lots in common with Christianity?

    What influence did Zoroastrianism have on Christianity?

    Did Christianity take lots of its claims about Jesus from earlier religions?

    Are Christianity and Platonism really so compatible with each other?

    Antiquity in general

    What do you think of Marcus Aurelius?

    What would the ancient ideal of passionlessness really be like?

    What do you think about Plotinus?

    What about Josephus?

    What is the relationship between Mithraism and Zoroastrianism?

    In Jesus’ day, how many Romans believed in the traditional Roman religion?

    Was there much opposition to Roman rule in Palestine in Jesus’ day?

    Were there any satirical religions in antiquity?

    Can you recommend any books on Neoplatonism?

    The New Testament, and the church in the first century

    Was Paul the only person to distinguish between his “own” views and those that were “divinely inspired”?

    What is the meaning of 1 Corinthians 6:9?

    Was Paul a bad writer?

    What is the difference between the Logos in Plato and the Logos in John’s Gospel?

    What were the relations between Christianity and Judaism in the early years?

    Did many Jews listen to the words of Jesus and the first disciples and become converted?

    Did Peter and Paul really exist?

    What do you think of the miracle stories in the New Testament?

    Did Paul invent the idea of preaching to gentiles?

    Did most of the twelve apostles really exist?

    Is 666 a reference to the emperor Nero?

    Which letters in the New Testament were not written by the person they claim to be written by?

    Are there any apostles whose historicity is fairly sure?

    Are the early popes historical?

    Were the early Christians vegetarians?

    Which books of the New Testament are “forgeries”?

    Was Peter really the first pope?

    When Paul appeals to the fact that there were witnesses of the risen Christ still living, does that strengthen the case for saying that the resurrection really happened?

    When did the Christian church become distinct from Judaism?

    Was Paul’s decision to preach to gentiles a major turning point in the history of the church, and did the other apostles disagree with it?

    How do we know that the apostles were killed for their faith?

    The church in later antiquity

    What about Pelagius?

    Why was Augustine fascinated by farting?

    Why did ancient theologians say that some emotions are “unreasonable”?

    Did Catholicism triumph over rival churches and heresies just by luck, or was there something about it that made it intrinsically more likely to survive?

    What about Jovinian?

    What were the political factors involved in the rise of Christianity?

    Was the church organised by political powers in order to manipulate people?

    How influential were pagan neoplatonism and magic upon early Christianity?

    What were the regional differences in early Christianity?

    How did Manichaeism die out?

    What was the role of anti-semitism in early Christianity?

    What is “gnosis”?

    Is there any truth to the bit in Dan Brown where he says the emperor decided that Jesus was divine?

    Is there any theological strength to Arianism?

    Were any ancient Greeks monotheists?

    Was Arius trying to return Christianity to its Jewish roots?

    When did the symbol of the cross lose its infamy?

    What can you tell us about Eusebius and Irenaeus?

    What sort of proofs and arguments did early Christian theologians use?

    What can you tell us about the “Three chapters” controversy, and how Chalcedonianism sought to find a “middle way” between Monophysitism and Nestorianism?

    Did Christians after Constantine regard the emperor as the head of the church?

    Was Jacob Baradaeus as important to the Monophysite movement as is often claimed?

    Did Constantine convert to Christianity just for political reasons?

    To what extent were Augustine’s views influenced by Manichaeism?

    Was Constantius II an Arian?

    Was Christianity so absurd to the ancient mind that no-one could have believed it without being divinely inspired to do so?

    Was the date of Christmas really chosen to be a sort of alternative to the celebration of the solstice?

    Were the early Christians really all pacifists?

    Why was Augustine so widely read?

    Was there an Egyptian Christian patriarch who was forced to worship the god Serapis?

    The Middle Ages

    Are quodlibets zen?

    What do you think of Boethius?

    Where did anchorites come from?

    What was the justification for the practice of indulgences?

    Did the Catholic and Orthodox churches schism because of a disagreement about St Peter?

    Is Aquinas’ notion of human flourishing the same as Aristotle’s?

    What are the links between the Manichaeans and the Bogomils?

    Did the Orthodox split from the Catholics, or the other way around?

    Is there any link between asceticism and the trial by ordeal?

    Were the Middle Ages a time of evil intellectual oppression and witch hunts?

    Who were the Waldenses, and why were they declared heretical?

    What made the Cathars heretical?

    What were the theological justifications for the Albigensian crusade?

    Are there any cool medieval texts on monasticism?

    How did pacifism decline in Christianity, and were there any medieval pacifist Christians?

    Why do you like Aquinas?

    From the Renaissance to modern times

    Is John Locke a good theologian?

    Was there some particular reason why the Reformation happened when it did?

    What about Berkeley?

    What about Spinoza?

    What did Nietzsche mean by “God is dead”?

    What are Jesuits?

    What happened when native Americans combined Christianity with their own traditional beliefs?

    How did the US end up becoming more religious than Europe?

    What can you tell us about Pietism?

    Was Bartolomé de Las Casas a bad man?

    What do you think of Kierkegaard?

    What really happened with Galileo and the church?

    Again, what do you think of Kierkegaard?

    Have the crusades been officially called off?

    When Voltaire criticised Leibniz, did he know what he was talking about?

    More importantly, what do you think of Kierkegaard?

    When did the church start allowing Europeans to engage in usury?

    What happened to the different sects of Lutherans that split apart from each other in the early Reformation?

    Did Kierkegaard turn theology into the objective study of religion from the outside, and make it useless as a tool used by religion itself?

    Did Berkeley have unusual views about transubstantiation?

    Did Berkeley's The analyst initiate a debate about deism?

    How could anyone have been attracted to Calvinism?

    Why do you like Bonhoeffer?

    Modern movements in Christianity

    What about liberation theology?

    What about Catholic theology?

    What are the main achievements of the ecumenical movement?

    What’s wrong with conservative evangelicalism?

    What about the doctrine that Christians are still bound by the Old Testament law?

    Do any monastic orders allow marriage?

    What’s the KJV-only movement all about?

    What are some good resources on Christian existentialism?

    What do you think of Yonggi Cho and the Yoido Full Gospel Church?

    Is modern religion doing anything other than retreating in the face of secularism and science, and if so, does it have a future at all?

    How can Christian humanists claim to believe in God if they don't believe that God exists?
  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    Issues to do with Christianity

    Faith and reason

    Is faith in God rational?

    Which ancient authors should I read on the subject of faith?

    If someone believes something just because they have faith, is that irrational?

    Where did the rise of rationalism in early modern times come from?

    What is the relation between knowledge and belief?

    Is Christianity wilfully illogical in saying that you have to believe things “by faith”?

    Was Nietzsche right to say that Christianity was set up to stop people thinking?

    Isn’t Christianity fundamentally at odds with rationality and science?

    Science and religion

    Does the scientific method undermine belief in God?

    Why is Richard Dawkins wrong?

    Was Kant the first person to try to combine traditional Christian metaphysics with the modern scientific worldview?

    What about the “anthropic principle” and evidence for a fine-tuned universe?

    Why do people think that science and religion are incompatible?

    What do you think about this documentary, which argues that Christianity is completely compatible with the theory of evolution?

    Does Hume's problem of induction offer a way to reconcile science and religion?

    Philosophy of religion

    What do you think of Alvin Plantinga’s argument against naturalism?

    What do you think of Anthony Flew and his conversion to theism?

    What do you think of William Lane Craig?

    What do you think of Richard Swinburne?

    Christian attitudes to other religions

    What do Christians think about other religions?

    Does the Catholic Church think that other religions can offer routes to heaven?

    Did the discovery of the New World cause anyone to change their views about the salvation of non-Christians?

    What do you think of this depressingly unedifying bit of bickering on Oprah on the subject of religious pluralism?

    If the Bible says that Jesus is the only way to salvation, how is it fair that people’s salvation can depend on where or when they were born?

    Most religions say you will go to hell if you believe in the wrong god, but how can anyone know which is the right one?

    Do Christians believe that adherents of non-Abrahamic religions must be going to hell?

    God, sin, and salvation

    Is there any proof that God can forgive sins?

    Why do Christians believe that God has to sacrifice someone before he can forgive people’s sins?

    Do Christians believe that sin required a “blood sacrifice” to expiate?

    How do Christians who think that everyone will be saved understand the role of Christ?

    What’s the whole “faith” and “works” disagreement about, between Catholics and Protestants? When Catholics talk about “works”, is that just code for “giving money to the church”?

    If Jesus’ purpose was to get crucified, why did the people crucifying him need to be forgiven at all?

    Why have theologians generally accepted the claim that there is no salvation outside the church?

    Is the idea that you can sin just by thinking unique to Jewish/Christian culture?

    Do most Christians think that “sin” is synonymous with “evil”?

    Again, aren't there good reasons for thinking that sin and evil are not the same thing?

    Does the ransom theory of atonement compromise divine omnipotence?

    Is it possible to deny Jesus' divinity and still be saved, according to the orthodox or canonical view?

    Ethics and morality

    Why does Christianity have such a thing about sexuality?

    Do all religions have the same moral standards?

    What is the Christian teaching on Just War Theory, and what is its history?

    Why does Christianity have a thing about homosexuality?

    What does the Bible say about sex outside marriage?

    What is the biblical view of marriage?

    What’s the hoo-hah about gay priests and bishops?

    How essential is pacifism to Christianity?

    What did Augustine think were the criteria for a “just war”?

    What is honour?

    What is marriage?

    What is the church’s answer to the Euthyphro problem?

    What do you think of the claim that, without God, life is necessarily amoral?

    Have any theologians written about phronesis (practical wisdom)?

    How can people call themselves Christians while ignoring the instruction not to kill?

    What’s the origin of the Seven Deadly Sins?

    Can we infer from the odd stories about women in the Bible that Jewish/Christian culture had a weird thing about female sexuality?

    How did the church react to the re-introduction of the death penalty in England in 1120?

    If a couple have got married in a purely civil ceremony, does the church regard them as married at all?

    How did the church change from teaching extreme pacifism to setting out the circumstances under which a war could be just?

    Does the condemnation of homosexuality by Deuteronomy/Paul refer only to penetrative acts?

    What does “casuistry” mean in a theological context?

    Different Christian churches

    Is the Catholic Church the oldest Christian denomination?

    Which Christian denomination is most similar to the seven churches of Asia (from Revelation)?

    What are the proportions of the different churches in Europe?

    Why do different Christian denominations have different views on baptism?

    Which Christian sect is closest to the teaching of Jesus?

    Which denomination is closest to the truth?

    Does the Catholic Church today vie for political power to try to save souls?

    Why does the Orthodox Church have a different style of cross?

    Which denomination has the most reasonable view of the scriptures?

    Do Catholics produce as much polemical literature against the Orthodox as the Orthodox do against the Catholics?

    Why did Protestantism go against monasticism?

    The Pope

    What is Papal infallibility all about?

    What can you tell us about the doctrine of papal infallibility?

    What exactly is the Pope supposed to be and do?
  7. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    Christian doctrines

    The history and development of doctrines

    What’s the Holy Spirit all about?

    How much does Catholic teaching change?

    Has Christian theology generally just been an expression of the church’s political concerns?

    Have there been big methodological shifts in how theology is done?

    On the assumption that Jesus wasn’t really divine, what is the best explanation for the growth of Christianity and its belief that he was?

    What is “actual grace”?

    What is the beatific vision?

    Who on earth were the Craspanians?

    The doctrine of creation

    Why did God create anything at all?

    Why would God create a universe so vast that we will never see most of it?

    When did God create the universe?

    Why did God create the universe at all?

    Why do people think Genesis says God created the universe out of nothing, when it doesn't?

    The doctrine of the Trinity

    Where did the doctrine of the Trinity come from?

    What is your favourite solution to the problem of the Trinity?

    What was the motive for the development of the doctrine of the Trinity?

    What do you think of relative identity approaches to the Trinity?

    Would the doctrine of the Trinity be absurd without the doctrine of Jesus’ divinity?

    What is the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to that of the incarnation?

    How have Christians reconciled the doctrine of the Trinity with monotheism?

    The doctrine of the incarnation

    What is the doctrine of the hypostatic union?

    Since Christians believe that Jesus was God and God is perfect, do they believe that Jesus was incredibly good-looking and that he was the world champion at everything?

    How have theologians tried to reconcile Jesus’ being God and his being human at the same time?

    If Jesus was God, how could he have not known something?

    Did the doctrine of the incarnation develop as a result of Christian beliefs about salvation?

    When do Christians think Jesus came into being – from the start of creation, or just later, when God realised he needed to save people?

    Why is Jesus given the title “Son” if he is supposed to be equal to the Father?

    How could Jesus pray to God if he was God?

    What are the “substances”, “wills”, and “energies” of Jesus, and why did it matter?

    Why didn’t Jesus teach people useful scientific insights that they didn’t already know?

    If Jesus was the product of a virgin birth, where would the other half of his genes come from?

    If someone is fully human, doesn’t that preclude them from being God as well?

    If Jesus could be God, could other humans also be God?

    Was C.S. Lewis right to argue that if Jesus wasn’t insane, he must have been God?

    Would Christ have to be divine in order to save humanity?

    The Virgin Mary

    Catholics believe that Mary is the mother of God, but how can any human being be the mother of God?

    If Jesus had siblings, how can the Catholic Church teach that Mary remained a virgin all her life?

    What is the connection between the doctrine of the virgin birth and the doctrines of Jesus’ divinity and his descent from David?


    Some Christians claim to venerate Mary and the saints, but not worship them - can this distinction really make sense?

    Have there been any Christian groups who worshipped saints?

    The Eucharist

    Why do Catholics believe in transubstantiation?

    Do Lutherans believe in transubstantiation?

    Why aren’t Christians bothered by the fact that the Eucharist is so like human sacrifice?

    Adam and Eve, the Fall, and original sin

    Are Mormons the only ones who think that the Fall was a good thing?

    How could the actions of Adam and Eve affect other people?

    Is Augustine’s view of original sin the same as Paul’s?

    Is Christianity committed to the view that Adam and Eve really existed? And since they almost certainly didn’t, isn’t that an argument against the truth of Christianity?

    Why did God not want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge?

    Is the story of Adam and Eve an allegory?

    How does the church reconcile the fact that Adam and Eve’s children must have had to marry each other with its prohibition on incest?

    Is the doctrine of original sin incompatible with the doctrine of theosis (the divinisation of human beings)?

    When did sin first take place - when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, when God found out what had happened, or when they decided to eat the fruit?

    Heaven, the soul, and life after death

    Where does the doctrine of purgatory come from?

    What about pagan beliefs about enlightenment and heaven?

    Do Christians consider the soul to be divine?

    Do all dogs go to heaven?

    Where do Christians think the soul comes from?

    What is the most common religious definition of death?

    Where are heaven and hell – outside time and space? How could that work?

    What are Christian beliefs about the resurrection of the dead, and how come you don’t hear about this much in modern Christianity?

    Can you be a Christian without believing in heaven or hell?

    If you believed that good people will go to heaven when they die, why would it be wrong to go around killing them to send them there more quickly?

    What arguments are there for the existence of the soul?

    What do you think of Aristotle's arguments for the soul?

    Are there arguments against the existence of the soul?

    Do all Christian theologians think the mind is the same thing as the soul?

    Hell and damnation

    Where does the doctrine of hell come from?

    Why is “hell” a swear word?

    What were early Christian beliefs about hell?

    If you believe in purgatory, what’s the purpose of hell?

    Do Christians think that you have to repent your sins to avoid going to hell? And what is repentance?

    Suppose there were someone who believed in God, but hated him, and spent his whole life trying to help other people. Would God send that person to heaven or hell?

    Isn’t a God who sends people to hell unworthy of worship?

    Why do some theologians think that no-one will be damned at all?

    Do Christians have to believe in hell?

    What do you think of Alexandre Kalomiros' River of fire sermon about God's goodness and hell?

    The devil

    Where did belief in the devil come from?

    What views are there on the devil and hell, and how powerful is the devil supposed to be?

    Is there any explanation of why the devil went bad?

    What do Mormons believe about the origin of evil?

    Do Christians really believe that an "antichrist" is coming?

    Did the idea of the devil develop from contact with Zoroastrianism during the exilic period?

    Where does the name "Lucifer" come from?

    Is Lucifer similar to Prometheus, and if so, why is one seen as bad and the other as good?
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    Other things


    What was marriage like for Jews in antiquity?

    Are there Jews who take the Old Testament literally?

    Why did Ethiopian Jews stop performing animal sacrifices?

    Would ordinary Jews in Jesus’ time have belonged to parties like the Pharisees and Sadducees, or were they just for the elite?

    Were the Maccabees really descended from Aaron?

    What influence did Zoroastrianism have on Judaism?

    What was Judaism like before the Babylonian captivity?

    Was Yahweh based on earlier “dragon gods”?

    Are Jews now – or were they in the time of Jesus – waiting for a Messiah?

    How was ancient Judaism more diverse than modern Judaism?

    Did Moses really believe God was speaking to him, or did he make it all up to gain authority over the Israelites?

    Could a first-century Jew have claimed to be God?

    Was Yahweh based on earlier "donkey gods"?


    What is the point of philosophy?

    What is philosophy?

    Can there be mind-body dualism other than substance dualism?

    Isn’t philosophy of mind part of neuroscience?

    Does it make sense to talk of two situations that are different yet observationally identical?

    Is philosophical methodology now the best it’s ever been?

    Where would one start to find out about scholastic logic?

    Should we try to stick to ancient definitions of words when we do philosophy?

    What do you think of Schroedinger’s Cat?

    Is there a role for satire in rational debate?

    Do we perceive the real world, or just our own ideas and mistake them for the real world?

    Is philosophy a good minor for a college student?

    Which are the best philosophy departments in the United States?

    Modern people

    How good or bad is Bertrand Russell’s discussion of “Catholic philosophy”?

    What do you think of Thomas Morris?

    What do you think of Bart Ehrman?

    What do you think of Richard Dawkins?


    Why aren't you a Christian?

    What do you believe?

    What got you into theology?

    What’s your favourite sub-topic in theology?

    How do you go about working?

    What denomination would you be, if you were a Christian?

    If you had to read only one theologian for ever, which one would it be?

    Are all theologians as clever as you?

    Why did you choose to study philosophy and religion?

    Do you teach theology, and what is it like?

    How do you earn money?

    How popular are your books?

    Do you ever think, “How could anyone believe this?

    Have you memorised parts of the Bible?

    Do you keep up with current church events?

    Are you bothered by the pointlessness of being a theologian?

    Seriously, are you an atheist, deist, theist, or what?

    Does the fact that you are not a Christian help or hinder you as a theologian?

    How do you manage to do all this and also play/mod Civ?

    No, really, what religion are you?

    Do you know relatively little about other religions just because of time constraints, or are you genuinely not interested?

    Have you studied Muslim philosophers and theologians much?

    What is your favourite religion-related film?

    Why don’t you believe in God?

    Once again, what do you believe?

    Can you separate your analysis of a religion from your own beliefs?

    Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?

    Just tell us! Do you believe in God?

    What church do you belong to?

    Do you have any philosophical or theological views which are contrary to the generally accepted view?

    Can I cite what you say here as a source in my paper?


    What does “Judeo-Christian” mean?

    What about the Gospel of the Nazarenes?

    Are there some things that all Christians must believe to count as Christian at all?

    What does it mean to say that the Holy Spirit sanctifies the faithful?

    What would the love of God be like?

    Who defines the church?

    What influence has the Bible had on the blues?

    Is Christianity overall good or bad for people?

    Can we make sense of a “spirit of Christianity”, which lets us say that some teachings in the Bible are more important than others or even override them?

    Why do Christians and others consider wine to be sacred?

    If aliens appeared, and they were not Christians, how would this affect Christianity?

    What does the word “Calvary” mean?

    What does “speaking in tongues” mean?

    Is it possible to love without there being something that you love?

    How would you define “religiosity”, “non-religiosity”, “atheism”, and “spirituality”?

    Do Christians think that lucid dreaming is wrong?

    What do you think of the Brick Testament?

    Are there any Christian writers who think human beings could become literally divine?

    What is “constant prayer”?

    What would the faithful do if they knew the true history of their church?

    Should history be written without reference to the divine – and if so, how would one go about this?

    If you make a promise to God in a dream, are you obliged to keep it?

    Does the church have a specific doctrine about trying to convert children?

    What is it that makes someone a Christian?

    Can you love without there being a thing that you love?

    What do you think of the Theopedia site?

    What do you think of Joseph Campbell?

    Are purveyors of bad Europop gods?

    Do Wiccans think that human beings are more divine than other things?

    What's the relation between Tolkien's work and Christian mythology?

    What do you think of this online edition of early Christian texts?

    What do you think of the film "Zeitgeist"?
  9. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

    May 11, 2007
    United Nations
    Because I'm trying to "put a notch on my belt" and I'm out of ammo? It's hard to notch a belt without ammo. :dunno:

    But here's a legitimate question:

    If there are two general ways of viewing human society, 1) as a kind of place that should be harmonious in order to flourish, verses 2) as an arena of constant struggle, which would you think best characterizes the world around you? I'm guessing most religious people view the world from the more "functional" perspective, that we are here to flourish and "make things work" so to speak. In fact one could argue, perhaps, that "making things work" is the primary function behind religion itself. For example, why do Muslim women wear veils? So that they don't present themselves as objects which men will fight over. Or why does Jesus say turn the other cheek? It's to minimize conflict between people. Those are examples of religion trying to solve social problems. And religion tends to do that sort of thing. But underlying all this is maybe the fact that we humans are in constant struggle over scarce commodities. Perhaps religion ultimately amounts to little more than laying down the "rules of combat". So people seek alternative means of waging the conflict. Why? Because that's just what humans do.
  10. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

    Nov 24, 2005
    Pale Blue Dot youtube=wupToqz1e2g
    I've been looking at the reasons why people think that Jesus is God (or involved with God). Even assuming that all of the miracles took place, is there a reason to think that Jesus is God? I mean, if the miracles took place, then clearly he's 'magical'. But, unless we've some reason to think that 'magic' can only be done by God (and I don't think there is*), we still don't need to think of him as God (or involved with God).

    Does Jesus do anything that we'd really associate with being God? The only two things I can think of are: forgiving sin (or declaring them forgiven) and getting demons to obey him. Forgiving sins seems to be the province of someone being God. I don't know if commanding demons is.

    People present the evidence of Jesus being magical as if this is evidence that he's God. I don't think it follows, no?

    *other than that I don't believe in non-God-caused magic's existence, I guess.
  11. timtofly

    timtofly One Day

    Sep 28, 2009
    Jesus healed a blind man so he could see.
  12. Ziggy Stardust

    Ziggy Stardust New Englander

    Nov 23, 2005
    High above the ice
    And the Best Start of a Thread Award in 2011 goes to ...

    I know this is (bordering on) spam, but I'll take the infraction to give a :hatsoff: at the effort, clarity and most especially complete and utter completiness of the opening posts. It's much appreciated.
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Nov 14, 2003
    I don't think that the ethics of Jesus, as presented in the Gospels, are meant to be about solving social problems. I think they're more about re-orienting the individual to God. Every time Jesus is asked about some moral or political issue, he is presented as answering about God. If that solves social issues then that's more of a by-product than the main goal.

    I would say that society in general is a mixture of conflict and cooperation. Trying to see it as "mainly" about one or the other is probably a distortion. E.g. commodities may be scarce, so we are in competition, but by cooperating we can use them more efficiently. Neither competition nor cooperation is the "natural" or inevitable state of things. But that's just how it seems to me. This isn't exactly a theological question.

    You're quite right that being able to perform miracles is poor evidence of divinity, even assuming that Jesus really did do so. The Bible presents all kinds of people, from prophets to apostles, as performing miracles. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus' miracles are not presented as evidence of divinity. People are amazed by them but they don't regard Jesus as God because of them - just as they didn't regard people like Honi the Circle Drawer or other Jewish miracle workers of this time as divine. This is so even for the demonic exorcisms that you mention. John's Gospel, by contrast, does present Jesus' miracles as "signs" of his identity, although whether that identity is meant to be strictly divine is a difficult matter to determine. But it's noticeable that exorcisms are not among the "signs" - in fact John's Gospel doesn't contain any exorcisms at all!

    Given that miracle-working is, on the whole, not presented as evidence for divinity in either the Bible or in Jewish culture in Jesus' day, I'd say that the miracles are not meant to be taken as such and shouldn't be taken as such. On the more general question, I don't think there's any good reason, from a historical viewpoint, to think Jesus divine. I would say that if there is a good reason it's simply because one experiences him as divine. That is, if someone has a religious experience of Jesus, and experiences him "as" divine, that's probably the best reason (psychologically speaking) that one might have. And I should think that, if the early Christians thought Jesus to be divine, it was probably for reasons similar to this. But it's hardly a philosophically rigorous reason or one that is of much use to anyone other than the person who actually has the experience, because while it may be hard to believe something contrary to such an experience that one has oneself, it is perfectly easy to to do when the experience is someone else's.

    On forgiving sins, I don't think there was any idea that you had to be divine to say something like "Your sins are forgiven", as Jesus does in the Gospels. In fact Christian priests say the same thing today every time they pronounce absolution, but they're not claiming divinity, and no-one thinks that saying such a thing is evidence that they are divine.

    And so did Ananaias when he met Paul, according to Acts 9. The same chapter of the same book has Peter raising the dead, presumably something even harder than making the blind see. But neither Ananaias nor Peter were divine, nor thought to be.
  14. timtofly

    timtofly One Day

    Sep 28, 2009
    In Acts, Paul was blinded by God and healed by God. Ananaias did pray over Paul when God told him to do so.

    The blind man had been blind from birth, and even he knew that only one from God could do this. This does not point to Jesus' divinity straight out, but it does raise some strong implications.

    Raising from the dead is not strong since Jews held somewhat to the ability of the soul to stay around after the body expired. Calling the soul back in would be a miracle, but not a great one.
  15. Arakhor

    Arakhor Dremora Courtier Moderator

    Mar 27, 2009
    Peter walked on water and healed the man who could not walk, Paul did many other things and you're missing the point about the story of Lazarus that Jesus deliberately tarried along the way so that the spirit would have been believed to have fled. I'm sure it was Paul who raised Dorcas from the dead.
  16. Ceoladir

    Ceoladir Come Fly With Me

    Jul 14, 2009
    How does the Torah, the Gospels, and the Quran compare?
  17. Gary Childress

    Gary Childress Student for and of life

    May 11, 2007
    United Nations
    I believe you have said that you are agnostic. If this is still true, what sort of evidence would convince you personally, beyond REASONABLE doubt that there is a God and cause you to discard agnosticism? I don't say beyond ANY doubt because I don't think the existence of God could ever be "proved" beyond any and all possible doubt.
  18. El_Machinae

    El_Machinae Colour vision since 2018 Retired Moderator

    Nov 24, 2005
    Pale Blue Dot youtube=wupToqz1e2g

    That there're no exorcisms in John really undercuts my idea that exorcisms were evidence of divinity! I would think that the ability to command demons is something reserved for God or those operating with God's blessing (whilst 'magic' seemed to not need God - see: Pharoah's magicians and King Saul's necromancer). Thanks for that point. Changed my thinking.

    What was the conception of angels in those days, and did Jesus's teachings modify the thinking about angels in the early church fathers? In the passage above, the author is clearly using angels as a reference point, so there had to be a common idea, no?
  19. _random_

    _random_ Jewel Runner

    Feb 18, 2008
    Behind the man behind the throne
    How have scientific discoveries about the physiological mechanisms of our thoughts and emotions entered into discussions about the nature of free will and the soul among modern Christian thinkers?
  20. Elrohir


    Nov 22, 2004
    Plotinus -- do you know of any Christian teachers, groups, sects, or denominations of note that viewed procreation as bad, or celibacy as mandatory, for Christians as a whole? (I'm not talking about for select groups like Roman Catholic priests.) I'm aware of the Cathar heresy as well as the Shakers. Are there any others that you know of?
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