Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Story of Christianity

The Story of Christianity
Will G

This is my attempt to give a 'storybook' overview of my interpretation of Christian theology to tie everything on my site together in an easily understandable way.

First of all, God exists. This is taken as a given (since I am explaining the internal coherency of Christian theology, not defending God's existence.) Why? Because he must as a matter of logical necessity. Can I explain the precise logical reason why he must exist? No, but I hypothesise there is one that I don't understand.

Secondly, God does not have any desires, as we humans would understand them. He is just a pure rational will. He is therefore the simplest and most basic kind of intelligence or God imaginable. But this has one advantage. Because I have the capacity for desiring power, or food, or self-defense, I have the imaginative ability to conceive of doing evil to another human. But God doesn't have any of these desires, because unlike me, God wasn't programmed with these desires by evolution or by some kind of programmer. He is pure rationality.

Since God is so unimaginative, so prosaically uninventive, he literally cannot imagine doing any harm or hurt to another being, because he lacks any desires. In fact, he's so unimaginative that when he conceives of another being like him in rationality and spiritualness, he can NEVER conceive of having any reason to restrict their free will, and so incorporates a perfect upholding of their free will in his will. And from that, if he had to interact with such a being, it would be in a perfectly 'good' way, because God would do everything to honour that being's free will, from his unimaginative nature. Thus he is perfectly good, for that is being perfectly good towards someone (in our case, honouring our free will by giving us heaven.)

God knows other persons can exist, and since he is omniscient he can imagine them perfectly well. He knows that they wish to exist and be happy and fulfilled forever. Thus he creates free beings, that is, humans, in his image, in order to fulfill the free will's desires of potential beings. He gives them the faculty of happiness and the purpose of having their free wishes fulfilled, that is, to be happy with him in his presence/heaven (ultimately.)

Unfortunately, at this point God hits a stumbling block. God can create perfect trees, rocks, universes, etc., but when it comes to creating other rational wills, like his own, made in his image, things are not so easy. Because of the nature of things, any being that is perfectly rational like God IS God. In other words, God cannot create a perfectly rational will outside of Himself. He can create very rational wills, or beings that 99.99% rational, but no being that is perfectly rational outside Himself, because anything that is perfectly rational has to be God by definition. (Rationality in this context basically means, along with the above reasoning, being perfectly good in honouring others' free will.)

Why does this limitation exist? I think we can know it exists because of how useful it is in explaining God's ways. But I can't explain any more how it exists than that it is very useful for explaining many elements of Christian theology.

Thus, in moral terms, when God created humans, or rational beings in his image, they were 99.9% good, and 99.9% moral, but not PERFECTLY good or moral because otherwise they would be part of God.

The way God gets around this limitation is to use part of his being, which Christians call the Holy Spirit, to join God to saved people, so that they will be able to draw on his character and rationality in order to be perfectly good. In other words, even though humans can only be 99.9% good, with God's Holy Spirit they can be 100% good, because they have God's Holy Spirit inside them which will overcome their imperfection, at a significant loss to their autonomy (more on this later.) As a result God can create rational wills outside himself that are perfectly good, like he is, notwithstanding the logical limitation that anything that is perfectly rational has to be God. Because the newly created rational being are joined to God in a fundamental way.

Why is it so important that God's created persons are 100% good in order to fulfill God's purpose for them? Because their imperfection cuts them off from God in some deep way.

So to recap: God cannot create perfectly rational and hence good beings outside himself, and so to get around that, he creates imperfect beings, but connects them to himself by his Holy Spirit so that they can be joined to God and share in his perfect rationality and goodness despite not being God.

However, here there is another problem: this imperfection affects every human/person God creates in different ways. In some people, it doesn't affect them particularly badly. In fact, despite being imperfect, they are pretty nice people. They act nicely towards others. For other people, it affects them very badly. They are sociopaths, or have poor impulse control, or are hypocritical or nasty. For some people it affects them in widely different areas. For example, they may be normally very nice, but sometimes nasty.

The problem is that for a percentage of people God creates, the imperfection affects them in such a way that they are logically incapable of accepting God's Holy Spirit and the process that will make them perfect, in order to be with God as I have just described. No matter what God does, their characters are affected by the imperfection so that they cannot accept the Holy Spirit. What this results in, in practical terms, is a strong desire for autonomy and 'keeping as myself', that doesn't accept the enormous loss of autonomy and individuality involved in having God's Holy Spirit make one perfect in a future state. This affects maybe a majority of people who will be created.

Now, God cannot get around the existence of, and distribution of, this imperfection. So when he created humans, God created all humans who would ever live, and allocated them into history. We are all imperfect, and unfortunately, due to the distribution of imperfection, only a minority of humans or persons who will ever live can be saved. And God has distributed those persons in history as we can see, as he has, to fulfill whatever mysterious plans he has.

On the choice to accept the Holy Spirit, it is worth emphasising that people don't have to be bad to not accept the Holy Spirit. If we knew about the decision, most of us would find it pretty tough. It involves a HUGE loss of autonomy, of God taking control of us in the afterlife while we still possess free will, and a joining of us to God. The character trait involved in rejecting it is a desire for autonomy and individuality, but I am not sure. I don't think one could test to see whether any person had it or didn't have it.

(Note regarding hell, I don't accept it as a place of suffering, just a place of limbo and disconnection from God. No happiness or pain for eternity.)

Anyway, God allocates the savable and unsavable people in our human world as he sees fit, and this is the allocation that we have seen in history, and will be in the future. Anyone who can be saved, God will save. Anyone who cannot be saved, could never have been saved even by God.

At some point in history, the time of Christ, Christ incarnated and came down to the earth and told us the message of Christianity, which was essentially to accept Christ and the Holy Spirit, repent, and gave us the outlines of theology. This had a number of purposes. First of all, it enabled people who can be saved to accept the Holy Spirit. I'm unclear on whether it is actually necessary for people who can be saved to accept the Holy Spirit before they die. I don't think it is. But for whatever reason, God has made it possible to accept the Holy Spirit in this life. (Note I am not saying more people can be saved in the afterlife than this life - that depends on the allocation of savable/unsavable people and God can do whatever he wants. He can make belief in Christ necessary for salvation in this life if he wants. Or not.)

Secondly, by his death on the cross and substitution, Christ somehow took on the consequences of being imperfect on himself, with the result that being imperfect and sinning doesn't necessarily cut you completely off from God. Though of course, it's not so simple, since you also have to accept the Holy Spirit to be saved otherwise you can never get rid of your imperfection. Christ prevented the fact humans are imperfect from separating us from God or his Holy Spirit. Why does this require a physical death on a tree? I don't know. Maybe it doesn't, and Christ just wanted to let us know by his death what he was doing for us that was a non-physical thing. Note that this is not a penal kind of substitution.

So getting back to the saved and unsaved people in the world. For whatever reason, in this life God has made it a requirement that if you're a person and you hear about Christianity in some minimally informative way, and you accept it, you can know you're saved and have accepted the Holy Spirit in this life. And in the same way, God has made it so that you can know someone isn't saved if they hear about Christianity and reject it. God strictly, in my theology, doesn't need to do this for what I'm saying to work, or at least, I'm not aware of the reason, but he does anyway. It makes no difference either way, as he can lay out how he wants the savable and unsavable people.

Hence, we can know since we believe in Christ, that we have accepted this choice and will be saved. That is the main thing. Belief in Christ IS very strongly connected to being saved.

Now let's talk for a bit about evil, and God's apparent absence from the world, having laid out Christian salvation.

Well, what's the first kind of evil we observe in the world? It's the fact that animals suffer, and that evolution is a horrible kind of process by which to create people. Why didn't God just make people and animals fully formed like in Genesis?

The reason is that just like people are necessarily imperfect, so too any world that people must inhabit is necessarily imperfect, that is, the moral experience of that world. So since God was about to put imperfect people in this world of ours, he was constrained in how 'good' he could make it. In short, he was constrained in having to allow a rather nasty way of creation to occur, and this is what we see regarding evolution. This is a short answer. But it's not all bad, since most animals who can experience happiness are probably or possibly content for most of their minutes of life.

Another point is regarding natural evil, like hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, and morally evil events like the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and anything else one could name like that. How do we explain this?

Well, as I was saying with natural evil, humans are imperfect and so we have an imperfect experience of this reality God has created, in a moral sense (i.e. we suffer.) In fact, because of the extent of our imperfection, our experience of this reality is actually pretty flawed for a lot of us. There are starving children, people killed by tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. It's a pretty flawed experience. The reason why it's a flawed experience though, is not that God is an absentee or careless God, but that because of our necessary imperfection, our reality is also very imperfect. So really, there's nothing God could have done except not create us. But that wouldn't be fair to people who are going to end up in heaven, and it wouldn't be fair to people who aren't going to be saved either, since they're not going to suffer in the afterlife, just be in a limbo like existence of emptiness forever.

So basically, because of our imperfection, we necessarily have to suffer in any reality God creates for us. And the total amount of this suffering is the total imperfection in humanity, which is the same for every person, just spread out differently. So that's unfortunate. But in an interesting twist, I think God does have a choice about where the natural evil falls, and this also explains moral evil.

Let us say today our imperfect reality is going to bring down on us the equivalent of 1,000 people dying horribly or undergoing otherwise unpleasant experiences. God can channel this suffering however he wants, although in the end it is still the same amount of evil so it doesn't make any difference. Today God is going to allow an earthquake in some country somewhere. But he could equally have allowed an unusually large number of people to have a heart attack at a fairly young age. He could do any number of things, although, whatever he does, it still has to be 1,000 'units' of evil.

(Note this explains unanswered prayer quite well I think. If one is praying for something that isn't all that important, then God may have his reasons for saying no. But if one is praying for a sick aunt, then how do you explain God not answering? Because to stop the evil God would just have to redirect it from somewhere else, which he may not be comfortable doing. In Jesus day, I think Jesus' miracles were redirections of evil, so that he cured i.e. a sick person, but had to redistribute that evil somewhere else. So it explains God's reluctance for miracles.)

One thing he does, and I think this explains events like the Holocaust, is he sometimes allows the evil to be fulfilled by granting a lot more authority to humans to hurt each other than they normally should have. The most authority a human should have, as part of their free will, to hurt someone else, should be just enough to determine whether they're a good or bad person, i.e., not enough to cause a massacre. But for whatever reason, sometimes God will give people the authority to inflict truly horrible sufferings on other people in order to reach that 'quotient' of evil for the day. This can explain something like the Holocaust.

What an unfortunate position to be in for God. There is one way he can get out of it though - and that's to make people perfect. But to do that, as I've been saying, you need to use the Holy Spirit. But not everyone will accept the Holy Spirit. So then why doesn't God just create savable people? Because the distribution doesn't work like that - the distribution affects only people who are created.

But then why doesn't God just let people suffer who aren't Christians and certainly aren't good people? Because like it says in the Gospels, if you love only those who love you, what reward have you? God loves everyone equally, and is impartial, so sometimes very good people suffer while evil people are allowed more time to live, in terms of allocating evil. And the allocation of evil in the world isn't random, although it's the same amount of evil however God allocates it. God has a plan.

Having explained evil, what about God's apparent absence from the world? Well, note that it doesn't make one iota of difference whether God is divinely obvious or divinely hidden as to how many people will be saved. It's still that ratio, out of the people God creates. And he will still have to allow the same amount of evil and create necessarily imperfect people and with a certain imperfection distribution. So we may ask, what exactly, is the reason for God to reveal himself? There is none. And also there is a good reason not to reveal himself. If God revealed himself, then everyone, including people who don't want to be saved, would have to believe in him. But believing in Christ and not wishing to be saved is an infringement on one's choice not to be saved, if that is indeed one's choice. Because it would uphold that choice to be saved, it is an infringement on free will. So God has no positive reason, and at least one negative reason, not to reveal himself.

Just finishing up on one last note - the Bible. It's not a perfect book. But given what I've said about savable/unsavable people and for God to hide himself, I don't think that matters.


Appendix Issues:


Regarding angels, they are persons created just like humans, except have already 'gone through' this whole process of necessary imperfection/savability/perfection process. I am unclear as to this stage what, if any, difference there can be between angels and humans. The point is, that when God created angels, a majority of them could not be made perfect and rebelled, and a minority of them could be made perfect and remain as angels.

Distribution Of Natural Evil

What about the fact that people today suffer probably less so than people in previous eras? How does that work? Well, I would maintain God doesn't distribute evil 'as it comes up', like 1,000 bad things happen per day. I think God distributes evil as in the total amount of evil humanity is due to wholly experience as a result of their imperfection. So in past ages it's possible humans got more evil than they do now, as a ratio of happiness to suffering. This was so that in future ages there could be less suffering. Or maybe not. We may be destined to enter an era of less suffering.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My View On The Atonement

My View On The Atonement
Brief Article
Will G

The atonement has run into some difficulty in recent times because of its notion of penal substitution. That is, that Jesus Christ substituted on the cross for our moral crimes. This view is attacked as being fundamentally unjust and unworkable, i.e., penal substitution can't happen.

My view is not to abandon substitution, because I think that is clearly taught in the Bible. My approach would be to say there is substitution, but it's not a penal kind of substitution. That is, although Christ substitutes for us, he doesn't do it like in a moral debt. How can this be? We're talking about sin after all.

What I do is divide sin up into two types. There's 'attitude' sin and 'past deeds sin'. Attitude sin is sin linked with our ongoing attitude against God. It goes away when our attitude becomes perfect towards God. 'Past deeds sin' is sin that is 'attached' in a sense to someone now because of something they did in the past. But I don't think 'past deeds sin' is a moral kind of sin. It's more like getting a disease; in fact, it's completely amoral. Past deeds sin is more like catching a deadly virus, let's say Ebola, and dying. But instead of dying physically you die spiritually. That's what happens with 'past deeds sin.' Everyone who does something evil accrues a kind of spiritual deadliness, whereby they die spiritually. This is not moral. And because it is not moral, Jesus Christ substitutes for it not in a moral way. Jesus Christ is substituting for our 'past deeds sin', but as this is not a moral kind of sin, but rather a 'disease' kind of sin, then it's not penal/moral substitution, but just substitution.

That gets rid of, I maintain, the biggest problem with Christian views of the atonement. There's nothing wrong with substitution, the problem is penal substitution. A soldier dying on a battlefield for another is a kind of substitution, my giving you money is a monetary kind of substitution. Substitution is clearly a valid principle in the world. But Christians ran into trouble when we said it was a matter of 'guilt', or penal, substitution.

What I maintain is that Christ took on our 'disease sin' and suffered the penalty for it in our place. But, as a caveat, I add that in order to take advantage of this we need to have a relationship with Christ. Why and what for? Because that's the nature of this kind of substitution Christ did for us. How do you mean? Well, just like I can't jump in front of a car and save your life if I'm not near you, so Christ's non-penal substitution can't affect you if you don't have some kind of relationship with him and his Holy Spirit in some way.

Maybe the reason for that is that we need to be 'in' Christ in some way, through his Holy Spirit, for our 'past deeds' 'disease' type of sin to transfer to him.

See this article here for a fuller exposition of my views and defense of them with regard to scripture.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

An Argument Why God Must Be Good

An Argument Why God Must Be Good
Will G

This is an interesting argument, applying Kant's ideas regarding morality to the concept of God. In my opinion, I think it may show that any God must be perfectly good, and so rules out Deism. The Deistic God is in fact, a God of perfect goodness.

An Argument As To Why Any God Must Be Perfectly Good

1. Rationality by itself has no desires, good or evil. For instance, if I create a robot as smart or smarter than I am, it won't desire anything unless I program it to desire something.
2. A purely rational will would be the same except it would will; i.e., it would not just be pure disembodied rationality, but a rational agent, although still with no desires apart from having a will.
3. From (1) and (2), a purely rational will would not desire anything evil regarding another rational being (i.e. a person.) For instance, you can create perfectly altruistic robots. Also, if it wasn't for our selfish genes, humans would not be selfish or desire selfish things.
4. A purely rational will would have some kind of 'way' or 'law' or 'system' of interacting with other persons if it had to interact with them, because it is an agent, not disembodied rationality. But it still has no desires apart from "willing."
5. From (3) and (4), a purely rational will, having no desires good or evil, could not conceive of any reason or desire to restrict the free will of another person.
6. From (4) and (5), a purely rational will shall, therefore, in its 'way' or 'system' of interacting with other rational persons, honour their free will in a perfect way.
7. If any person honours another persons free will in a perfect way, then that person is acting towards that person in a way that, in human terms, is perfectly loving and good. This is because that includes never restricting that persons' freedom to enjoy life and be happy, if such a concept is applicable, and also to help them achieve that, if applicable.
8. Therefore any purely rational being, in human terms, will approximate being perfectly good or loving, if a human was to be the same in its willing towards other persons.
9. Any rational being either has desires because a natural process, like evolution, has programmed desires into it, or because such desires are programmed into it by some agent.
10. God is not a product of natural processes, nor has anything programmed any desires into him.
11. God therefore has no desires, of good or evil.
12. However, God is a rational will, which means he has to come up with some way of interacting with other persons, whether they exist in actuality or as hypothetical beings.
13. From (12) and the conclusion of (8), God is perfectly good, if he exists.

Essentially what I'm saying here is that I think there's overwhelming evidence that all our selfish desires, our evil desires, are a product of evolution and us having selfish genes. If it wasn't for our ancestors being a little bit selfish, we wouldn't be here. Survival of the fittest etc etc. So what happens if you take that away but you still have a rational being? A rational being that cannot imagine doing anything other than honouring the free will of other rational beings? It would have a very limited imagination in terms of wanting to do stuff. So it would uphold our free will, and since our free will is to be happy, it would be perfectly good to us and any person.

As to why God created anything, maybe that's because God knew that other persons could exist. So God, knowing that other persons could exist apart from Him, must have some kind of attitude towards them, as potential beings. But God knows all about those people who don't exist, and knows they desire to exist, and want to have life and happiness. Therefore God will create us and the universe in order to honour the free will he knows we, as yet uncreated, have for happiness and life, as potentially existing beings.

Also, as an addendum, if we apply this to the Christian God, who is 'love', then one could say that in order to assist its rational upholding of other persons' free will, then the rational will would, if it could, create in itself feelings of perfect love towards all creatures which is as strong as it can possibly be. There is no necessity for this, but if God is indeed love, then maybe such rational beings would do that, explaining not only God having a perfectly loving will towards us, but also being perfectly loving.