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Why would a Christian want to change the world?
Posted: 20 August 2012 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]
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There are some things in Christianity that are clearly incoherent, such as the idea
that God is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful at the same time. But there
other things that just strike you as slightly odd, even though it’s difficult to
find a clear contradiction. The one I’m thinking of here is the idea that Christians ought to try to create a better world, even though everything is supposedly going according to God’s plan anyway. Try as I might, I just can’t get my head around it. 

So on the one hand the Christian will say that massacres, natural disasters, children dying of cancer and so on are really all for the best from God’s eternal standpoint. For example, they may suggest that through these things more people will be saved in the long run. And after all, this life is of little importance compared with an eternity of bliss with Jesus.   

Yet at the same time they will say that they are called to help the poor and make the world a better place. But they’ve already admitted that on their world view God alone knows what will be for the best in the long run. So how on earth can they possibly know that getting abortion banned or keeping prayer in schools or feeding the hungry really will be for the best from the eternal point of view? For all they know it may be that an absolutely terrible world would actually result in more souls going to heaven. 

So perhaps it’s really only because most Christians are humanists deep down that they
want people to have good governments, clean drinking water, the chance to enjoy good food and the arts, and all the rest of it. But anyway, the main point here is that once you start saying that God works in mysterious ways and that we can’t really understand what He does or why, you end up being in a position where you yourself don’t know what to do and you have no idea what’s right or wrong.

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Posted: 20 August 2012 02:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Christians do want to change the world. They don’t believe what they say they believe. The question is better stated as “why would a person who wants to change the world accept Christian theology?”

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Posted: 20 August 2012 07:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think almost everybody wants to change the world. The problem for the Christian is that as they look at the world around them they find that they can’t be sure which events are good and which are bad and which actions are right and which are wrong, since they spend so much time making excuses for God and saying that this or that tragedy really is good from God’s point of view.

It’s relatively easy for the secular person to know what sorts of things need to be done to change things for the better. We want to try to reduce suffering as much as possible and give people the freedom to enjoy the good things in life. But if you’re a Christian and you want to try to change things so as to maximize the number of souls saved, you just don’t know what on earth you should be doing.

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Posted: 20 August 2012 09:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Dom1978 - 20 August 2012 07:25 PM

I think almost everybody wants to change the world. The problem for the Christian is that as they look at the world around them they find that they can’t be sure which events are good and which are bad and which actions are right and which are wrong, since they spend so much time making excuses for God and saying that this or that tragedy really is good from God’s point of view.

It’s relatively easy for the secular person to know what sorts of things need to be done to change things for the better. We want to try to reduce suffering as much as possible and give people the freedom to enjoy the good things in life. But if you’re a Christian and you want to try to change things so as to maximize the number of souls saved, you just don’t know what on earth you should be doing.

I wish it was that simple. If secularists are ethically/morally superior to Christians and other theists, as a whole, it has escaped my notice. We still have a lot of work to do, in my opinion, before we can say that secularism makes a demonstrable contribution. I think it can but we’re not there yet.

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Posted: 20 August 2012 09:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dom1978 - 20 August 2012 12:34 PM

... once you start saying that God works in mysterious ways and that we can’t really understand what He does or why, you end up being in a position where you yourself don’t know what to do and you have no idea what’s right or wrong.

But this is perfectly functional from the perspective of an organized religion being an instrument of social control, as the religious leaders are in a position to let you know what’s right or wrong. e.g., a certain hurricane was judgement for the locals’ sins or God supports your violent destruction of the enemy in the battle you are about to face.

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Posted: 20 August 2012 09:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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PLaClair, you seem to be missing my point here. I’m certainly not claiming that secular people are doing more good in the world than religious people. What I’m saying is that there’s a tension or possibly even some sort of contradiction at the heart of Christianity. Many religious people and secular people want less suffering, less war and more freedom and justice, and many want a world where everyone can enjoy art, music, sport, food, family and friendship. But the question is whether this really fits in with the Christian world view, and by that I’m really talking about a fundamentalist protestant world view.

So to make this clearer, I’m going to try to do a quick comparison of Christian morality and secular morality. 

1. Killing is wrong because CM We’re commanded not to do it.  SM Everybody has goals, plans, dreams, relationships, projects etc and you destroy all that when you take a life  

2. When a child dies it is CM a good thing because they go straight to heaven with Jesus SM a terrible tragedy because that child had their whole life ahead of them and now it’s all gone  

3. We should try to help the poor and make the world a better place because CM Jesus told us to help the poor SM everybody should have the chance to live a decent life, and more equal societies are probably happier and healthier overall as well    

4. The main point of ethics and morality is CM to save souls and get people to heaven SM to create a better world here and now  

Now, it’s probably fair to say that the more liberal a Christian is, the closer they’ll be to secular morality on all these kinds of questions, but I would argue that pretty much all Christians, even hardcore fundamentalists, are secular humanists deep down. The notion that making the world a better place and saving souls are somehow the same thing or go together without any problem is just complete nonsense in my opinion. The Christian should just be honest and say they don’t have a clue who’s going to get saved or why, and that it’s impossible for a mere mortal to know which actions are likely to result in more people being saved overall. Therefore, let’s just get on with trying to make the world a better place and focus on this world and this life.

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Posted: 20 August 2012 09:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Dom1978 - 20 August 2012 09:42 PM

PLaClair, you seem to be missing my point here. I’m certainly not claiming that secular people are doing more good in the world than religious people. What I’m saying is that there’s a tension or possibly even some sort of contradiction at the heart of Christianity. Many religious people and secular people want less suffering, less war and more freedom and justice, and many want a world where everyone can enjoy art, music, sport, food, family and friendship. But the question is whether this really fits in with the Christian world view, and by that I’m really talking about a fundamentalist protestant world view.

So to make this clearer, I’m going to try to do a quick comparison of Christian morality and secular morality. 

1. Killing is wrong because CM We’re commanded not to do it.  SM Everybody has goals, plans, dreams, relationships, projects etc and you destroy all that when you take a life  

2. When a child dies it is CM a good thing because they go straight to heaven with Jesus SM a terrible tragedy because that child had their whole life ahead of them and now it’s all gone  

3. We should try to help the poor and make the world a better place because CM Jesus told us to help the poor SM everybody should have the chance to live a decent life, and more equal societies are probably happier and healthier overall as well    

4. The main point of ethics and morality is CM to save souls and get people to heaven SM to create a better world here and now  

Now, it’s probably fair to say that the more liberal a Christian is, the closer they’ll be to secular morality on all these kinds of questions, but I would argue that pretty much all Christians, even hardcore fundamentalists, are secular humanists deep down. The notion that making the world a better place and saving souls are somehow the same thing or go together without any problem is just complete nonsense in my opinion. The Christian should just be honest and say they don’t have a clue who’s going to get saved or why, and that it’s impossible for a mere mortal to know which actions are likely to result in more people being saved overall. Therefore, let’s just get on with trying to make the world a better place and focus on this world and this life.

From the point of view of getting people to accept Christ as their personal savior, I think it would be a better strategy to secretly work toward people having more misery and hardships, because people are more likely to “turn to God” in such times.  (Not that I am advocating this, in case any Christians are reading here.)

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Posted: 20 August 2012 09:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Why does everyone always pick on just the Christians? All the religions function the in the same way.

I usually confront the religious person (not just Christians) by asking them if encouraging others to go to heaven is a good plan, then wouldn’t it be wise to do your best to destroy the Earth? Think of it, your act may be bad and may send you to hell; but, if your love for others is sincere, then such an act is the ultimate sacrifice for the good of all those innocent people that you’d send off to heaven and the bad ones you send to hell. You would be really sacrificing your soul for the betterment of the rest!

It usually makes sense to those I talk to and makes them think a little better about what they actually believe.

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Posted: 20 August 2012 10:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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To a conservative Christian:

You believe in democracy? What would you do if Jesus came down and ran for President but wasn’t popular? Would you let the people decide or would take whatever means necessary to assure He becomes leader?

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Posted: 20 August 2012 10:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Scott Mayers - 20 August 2012 09:57 PM

Why does everyone always pick on just the Christians? All the religions function the in the same way…

Christians just happen to be the topic of this thread, and the largest religion in the world.  I think that most people on this forum find most religions relatively equally aversive.  (Personally, I am more averse to Islam, as currently, I think it poses the greatest actual and potential threat to individual liberties around the world.)

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Posted: 20 August 2012 11:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Yeah, maybe I should have said ‘theism’ or ‘monotheism’ or something else. Anyway, we can definitely hear similar things from Muslims. I remember hearing Muslims say that everything happens according to the will of Allah and so we should just accept life’s tragedies and live with them. But if that’s the case, then why bother trying to change anything at all. We might as well just go around doing whatever we feel like and say that everything is in accordance with the will of Allah.

However, it does seem to me that fundamentalist Christianity is slightly worse than Islam here, in that the Christian often isn’t even willing to admit that life’s horrors are really bad. They will do everything to try to get God off the hook and try to blame human beings or to show that what seems evil to us really isn’t from the eternal perspective. The Muslim seems more likely to say that it’s terrible, that they hate it, but that they just have to accept it because it’s Allah’s will. In other words, the Christian still wants to hold on to the idea that God is good as we understand the word ‘good’, whereas the Muslim is perhaps more likely to say that his goodness is different from what we mean by that term in everyday life. In my view, both the Christian and the Muslim are talking nonsense here, but personally I find the Christian much more offensive.

But at the end of the day, they both have the same problem. They don’t know which actions or which events are actually good in God’s eyes, since they don’t have the eternal perspective from which to judge them. So even if they do want to change the world to get closer to God’s will, they don’t know how to do it. And so all they’re left with is some vague humanist notion of trying to make people happier in this world.

[ Edited: 20 August 2012 11:09 PM by Dom1978 ]
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Posted: 21 August 2012 12:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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To be fair, there are some elements within some Christian sects that recognize and pursue a pro-social mission. For instance, there are such elements within Cathollicism, although maybe not in their leadership, so much. When I personally was an active Christian as a child and as an adolescent, (in a Southern Baptist Church) I was most drawn to the positive social messages of Christ, e.g., love your neighbor, help the poor, etc.  The edict to evangelize and save souls felt rather irksome (although I didn’t tell anyone this at the time.)

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Posted: 21 August 2012 02:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Tim, yes I agree. Many Christians just don’t care very much about making all of these things fit together logically. They just want to go out and help people, and that’s great. My point here, though, is to try to show that if you do want to think hard about these things, they really don’t fit together. So think about the Christian who tries to argue that the Holocaust must have been for the best in the long run because an all-powerful God allowed it to happen. What is this Christian supposed to think when he hears about massacres and other horrors going on all around the world. Should we try to stop them or not? God didn’t intervene with the Holocaust, so why should we do anything here? If the Christian honestly lays out all of their beliefs, they’ll end up not knowing what to do for the best.

So what the Christian tries to do is to keep separate things like the problem of evil, saving souls, and making the world a happier place. If they put all of these beliefs out there at the same time, they end up with an incoherent mess. Still, as I’ve said many times before, I do think that most Christians only pay lip service to some of these ideas, especially things like children dying being a good thing and the next world being the only thing that really matters. Those who genuinely believe these things have serious problems.

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Posted: 21 August 2012 03:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Dom1978 - 21 August 2012 02:38 AM

Tim, yes I agree. Many Christians just don’t care very much about making all of these things fit together logically. They just want to go out and help people, and that’s great. My point here, though, is to try to show that if you do want to think hard about these things, they really don’t fit together. So think about the Christian who tries to argue that the Holocaust must have been for the best in the long run because an all-powerful God allowed it to happen. What is this Christian supposed to think when he hears about massacres and other horrors going on all around the world. Should we try to stop them or not? God didn’t intervene with the Holocaust, so why should we do anything here? If the Christian honestly lays out all of their beliefs, they’ll end up not knowing what to do for the best.

So what the Christian tries to do is to keep separate things like the problem of evil, saving souls, and making the world a happier place. If they put all of these beliefs out there at the same time, they end up with an incoherent mess. Still, as I’ve said many times before, I do think that most Christians only pay lip service to some of these ideas, especially things like children dying being a good thing and the next world being the only thing that really matters. Those who genuinely believe these things have serious problems.

When I was getting close to draft age, during the Viet Nam War, I knew it was very possible that I would be drafted, and if I was, it was very likely that I would be killing and/or dying.  I was conflicted about whether I should go, if drafted, due to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  I asked my pastor, and he pulled out the scripture: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.”  So if I had had a low enough draft number, I would have gone to Viet Nam, and I think I would have killed, and I think I would have died there.

In retrospect “Render unto Caesar…” was a pretty lame way of getting around “Thou shalt not kill.”  But the point is that the whole Bible is a confusing mess, and properly motivated (for instance, I realize now, that there was no way my pastor was going to set himself up as a supporter of draft dodging) one can pull out justification for just about any particular perspective.  So Christians have to be good at ignoring contradictions.

[ Edited: 21 August 2012 04:39 AM by TimB ]
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Posted: 21 August 2012 04:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Dom, I understood your point and agree with the part you post now, but this didn’t fit with my observation and experience: “It’s relatively easy for the secular person to know what sorts of things need to be done to change things for the better.” I wish that was true!

We’re not distracted by theistic claims, so we have the opportunity to cut straight to the heart of ethical questions. Yet somehow we don’t seem much better in doing that as a whole than the Christians or other theists as a whole. So I think the matter is more complicated than you suggest.

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Posted: 21 August 2012 04:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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PLaClair - 21 August 2012 04:16 AM

Dom, I understood your point and agree with the part you post now, but this didn’t fit with my observation and experience: “It’s relatively easy for the secular person to know what sorts of things need to be done to change things for the better.” I wish that was true!

We’re not distracted by theistic claims, so we have the opportunity to cut straight to the heart of ethical questions. Yet somehow we don’t seem much better in doing that as a whole than the Christians or other theists as a whole. So I think the matter is more complicated than you suggest.

Secularists are not organized and are generally apathetic about addressing ethical problems in society.  No one particularly expects them to do much for others.

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