Rev. Sam Norton has responded to the questions I posed to moderate christians. Sam’s post is here. Sam's answers are in blue Italics. Original questions in green. Some of these questions will have seemed simple, maybe even naive. The point is to get down to some very simple questions and use the answers to build up a more informed idea of what the other side really thinks about some of the really basic things upon which a faith has been built. Is it as irrational as I think? Maybe, maybe not. Let's find out. Thank you Sam for providing me with some answers to work with. I have some follow up comments/questions. I think it is important to mention also that when I ask for evidence, I am in this case asking for any kind of evidence, including biblical justification.
1. Do you think the bible is the inerrant word of God? If not, why not?
No, simply because Jesus Christ is the inerrant word of God. Treating the Bible this way is a Protestant innovation, by and large.
The first sentence is possibly a little confusing and I think exploring it more might be quite interesting. “Jesus is the living word”. What does this mean? My first reaction to this statement (quite a while ago) was to assume it was just a poetic way of saying something like “Jesus lived perfectly according to God’s word” or “Jesus was the epitemy of godly living”. I have since come to wonder if some religious people mean something more literal when they say this. If that is so, what exactly does it mean?
Also, saying that the bible in not the inerrant word of God because Jesus is, is a little vague. Maybe the answer to this question would bring more clarity. Do you think that all the actions/saying/teachings/commands etc of God and Jesus in the bible are accurate and are indeed from God and Jesus. If not, how reliable would you say the bible is in terms of it’s describing historical events?
2. If you answered no to question 1, why do you think that a) it is reasonable to believe that a man wielded magical powers and b) rose from the dead and c) was a god and a man at the same time; I am assuming that you do not generally believe in these things. What is it about the Jesus case that is so compelling as to make believing the impossible reasonable?
a) I don't think Jesus did anything which isn't (in principle) available to the rest of us to do.
b) I think i) the historical evidence is robust, and ii) science doesn't have anything to say about it.
c) My understanding of God (and man!) is different to yours.
On a). Are you suggesting that we could all perform Jesus like miracles? Have you any evidence to believe this is true (of any kind, biblical etc.)
On b) If I told you I saw someone come back from the dead after three days you would not likely believe me. If 1000 people all attested that they saw it happen, you would most likely still be sceptical. A very poorly corroberated claim from an age where such a claim was hardly unique can surely not be said to be historically robust. Are there any particular pieces of historical evidence you find particularly compelling? Also, I think science can comfortably illustrate that a corpse cannot come back to life after 3 days.
On c) Presumeably you think Jesus has some attributes or some essesence which was different from and unatainable by a normal human (i.e. he was not a regular human). Do you think there is good evidence for this and if so what is the most compellnig evidence in your opinion?
3. Why does God command and condone evil acts in the bible (genocide, Rape, slavery etc.) if he is good?
i) God is beyond good and evil, so my basic answer is 'I don't know'
ii) Some of what is predicated of God is a projection of local culture
iii) Some of what is predicated of God is about obedience or something else (Abraham and Isaac)
On i) God is beyond good and evil, what evidence is there for this? He seems to expect people to be firmly on the good side. If God truly was beyond good and evil (not sure that actually makes any sense), why would he prefer one over the other?
On ii) Are you saying here that God did not actually commit these acts? If you are, how do you know?
On iii) Does the idea of God having to test someone seem a little inconsistent to you? I am thinking of Abraham and Isaac. Would God not already know whether or not Abraham would do it or not, why the need for the test?
4. Why is it not more reasonable to assume that God is evil given his rampage of destruction throughout the O.T?
It's all in how you read the OT. I read it as the story of a people discovering that YHWH wasn't the bloodthirsty tribal God that they thought he was.
I presume you mean by this that many of the old testement stories where the authors wrongly interpreting what they thought God was like. Many times in the O.T. God speaks to people. Were they just making it up? There are many stories in the O.T. which simply can’t be viewed in a positive light no matter how hard you try. God’s orders to utterly wipe out the Amalekites for example.
5. In what way would an evil God have acted differently and can you imagine a way in which God might have acted more morally at any point in the O.T.?
I have no view on the latter part, but on the former part - he would have resembled the Baals and the Molochs.
Are you referring to sacrifice? YHWH fancied a bit of that himself. If you are referring to something else, can you elaborate.
Do you think God might have found a better way of dealing with sinners than wiping out all life on earth?
6. Why is Jesus’ character so different from the God of the O.T. if they are (inexplicably) the same person?
Technically that's Marcionism. The whole point of Christianity is that Jesus is NOT different to the God of the OT.
Do you think that the pacifist, ever merciful and forgiving character of Jesus is compatible with the jealous, violent, draconian YHWH?
7. It appears I can't count quite as well as I had formerly presumed. There was no question 7. :)
8. Is it conceivable to you that Christianity might not actually be true (in the sense that Jesus might just have been an irregular Joe.)?
Yes. It's perfectly conceivable that the resurrection didn't happen.
Willingness to accept even the possiblity that it may not be true (even if you believe it is true) is probably the single greatest distinction between the moderate and the fundamentalist. Glad to see you are in the moderate camp!
9. When considering the idea that there is no God, is your reaction one of distaste or disagreement and could you be happy living in a universe where there was no God?
More disagreement; specifically a sense that it was an incoherent perspective. I wouldn't know what to do with various things that I understand about the world (eg how to link together justice, integrity, knowledge and so on).
I would be interested to hear more about how your Christianity (or even just God belief) informs your views on justice, integrity etc.
10. Why do you think (assuming you do) that Mohammed was not in direct contact with God (Allah)? There is a holy book and many witnesses who profess he was. If you are willing to believe such things are possible, why do you not believe this?
Mohammed was a completely different character to Jesus. He was more like Napoleon.
Agreed. In fact, that may be doing Napoleon as disservice. But in what way does that make it less believable?