Former Christian and now atheist Cara has a blog at Think Atheist, and posted this list of questions (questions originally posted by Thomas Swan) and how she would have answered them as a Christian. I’m not sure if these answers now seem inadequate to her, or the standard answers were what made her lose her faith. Her questions aren’t, in my estimation, the most challenging, but I thought to answer them, if not for her sake, for her readers’. Her answers are preceded by A: mine by B:
1. If a hundred different religions have to be wrong for yours to be right, does this show that people from all over the world like to invent gods that don’t exist?
A: It shows that they have been deceived by false spirits or prophets. They all worship demons, unbeknownst to them. B: It shows that mankind knows and or is wired to need a relationship with the divine, and lacking revelation, will default to many schemes, typically built on nature worship and/or superstition.
2. If your parents had belonged to a different religion, do you think you would belong to that religion too?
A: No. I was chosen by God to be his follower. B: Statistically speaking, YES. However, this does little to determine the truth or falsity of a metaphysical claim, be it atheism or Christianity. It only shows us something about human nature.
3. If people from the five major religions are each told conflicting information by their respective gods, should any of them be believed?
A: Christianity is the true religion because in no other story does their god become a man and give his own life for the sake of humanity. No other religion claims a virgin birth. All other religions have roots in the demonic and their message is meant to confuse. [not saying any of this is true; they’re a few of the claims made by Christians] B. We can use logic and reason to at least eliminate some pretenders that make falsifiable claims about history. It is only at the point of *disagreement* that logic requires you to declare one or both wrong. See Pascal’s Wager – Part II: debunking the â€˜all religions are equally improbable’ ruse
Communication with God
4. How can you tell the voice of God from a voice in your head?
A: I have to pray that God will not let me be deceived, and for him to help me hear his voice better. B: Learning to discern the guidance of God, be it in dreams, circumstances, intuitions, convictions, and even internal voices is a skill that is developed by practice, and is honed in the mature (Heb. 5:14). Communications experts tell us that we interpret what others say through our own ‘interpretive grid’ – and the better that grid, the better we understand what is being communicated. The fact is, human thinking and wisdom is typically entirely confused and often backwards of how things work in God’s kingdom (Romans 11:25-36). Hence the command to ‘renew our minds’ in Romans 12:1-2. The more we think ‘like God,’ the better we can discern his voice among the many we perceive.
5. How can you tell the voice of God from the voice of the Devil?
A: See above. Also, the Devil tries to tempt me to do things I already know are wrong (drink, have premarital sex, do drugs, hang out with wordly people, etc…). Usually what God wants me to do is harder and less appealing. B: There is no such voice, only our own ‘parent tapes’ and fallen nature. Satan is neither omni-present, nor in our heads as Christians. However, some may claim to hear such influences. Scripture and the Spirit help us to discern.
6. Would you find it easier to kill someone if you believed God supported you in the act?
A: Yes. B: Sure. Would I be more tempted to care about them if Jesus said “Love your enemies”? Sure. (Matthew 5:44)
7. If God told you to kill an atheist, would you?
A: Yes. B: No, because I know that to be in violation of NT scripture. Unless she was attacking someone with lethal force – then I might, to protect the innocent, but it would have nothing to do with his atheism.
8. When an atheist is kind and charitable out of the kindness of his heart, is his behavior more or less commendable than a religious man who does it because God instructed him to?
A: Obedience is what is important. The Christian’s behavior is more commendable because he is obeying. B: Absolutely. We are to praise what is good. While such actions are not seen as salvific (even among Christians), they are laudable.
9. If you are against the Crusades and the Inquisition, would you have been burned alive as a heretic during those events?
A: Probably. Christians are always being persecuted. The people who led the Crusades and the Inquisition were not TRUE Christians. They were likely possessed and trying to kill God’s true followers. B: The Crusades were a justified war of defense against 400 years of Muslim aggression. There is such a thing as a Just War. However, that does not justify the cruelties that were part of the warfare of that time period. The Inquisition, though mainly led by a Catholic King for political reasons, and condemned by the Pope, was not justifiable, and like the many Protestants that came later, I hope I would have the courage to stand up against the evils of corrupt leaders, religious or otherwise.
10. If your interpretation of a holy book causes you to condemn your ancestors for having a different interpretation, will your descendants condemn you in the same way?
A: I don’t condemn my ancestors. The Word of God is eternal, and those who misunderstood it were not TRUE Christians. My descendants will not condemn me because I have the correct beliefs about God and the Bible. B: Salvation is not based upon who has the purest doctrine. Gross errors in understanding the basic gospel, of course, keep people from true faith. But after the basics, there is room for differing opinions, as well as error. Learning from past mistakes is a good thing. I hope my kids do an even better job than I am attempting to do.
11. Rape wasn’t always a crime in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Is that why ‘do not rape’ is not part of the Ten Commandments?
A: It was a different culture then, and God’s ways are not my ways. Who am I to question him? He knows best. B: No, it’s because the 10 Commandments were not the entirety of the moral law. Rather, they were a foundation upon which to build. Many moral commands were not in the 10.
12. Do lions need a `god-given’ morality to understand how to care for their young, co-operate within a prides, or feel anguish at the loss of a companion? If not, why do we?
A: God gave animals instinct. He gave us free will. B: Animals perhaps have only instinct, and not free will, butthey do act in what we might call altruistic AND selfish ways. Morality can not be divined purely from nature because it is fallen. In addition, it is questionable whether or not animals have a moral sense by which to decide such things. That is, they cannot objectify their actions or think in such ‘meta’ terms. As far as we can tell.
13. If organized religion requires a civilization in which to spread, how could this civilization exist without first having a moral code to make us civil?
A: First, Christianity is NOT a religion; it’s a relationship. Secondly, Christianity did not need a civilization to spread. God chose Abraham to BECOME a father of nations, and the Hebrew civilization arose because of that. It took the Moses and the Ten Commandments to make his Chosen People civilized years later. B: Non-sequitur. Morality is intuitively understood, but it needed codifying due to the corruption of mankind and his increasing distance from the knowledge of God that Adam and Eve had in the beginning.
The Characteristics of God
14. An all-knowing God can read your mind, so why does he require you to demonstrate your faith by worshiping him?
A: Again. God requires obedience. He knows my heart is sinful and full of wickedness, but he helps me overcome it and I am able to worship outwardly even when I do not want to. B: He does not need a demonstration – we do. If we fail to acknowledge him, we can then see that we have an issue to deal with. He wants us to know what he already does.
15. If God is all-knowing, why do holy books describe him as surprised or angered by the actions of humans? He should have known what was going to happen.
A: Even though God knows what will happen, it does not mean he has no feelings about it. He is grieved when we sin and separate ourselves from his love. B: That is a great question. It could be anthropomorphizing that we do. Or it could be God interacting with us in ways we understand. Or open theism could be true – that is, he knows all *necessary* truths, but not all *contingent* truths due to free will.
16. An all-knowing God knows who will ultimately reject him. Why does God create people who he knows will end up in hell?
A: He created humans to love him. They have a choice; free-will is a gift he gave us. He is saddened when we reject him, but free-will has a price. B: One of the two hardest questions and greatest challenges to Christianity – predestination and free will. There are lots of answers, but the simplest is, God created the best of all possible worlds in which free will could exist. Beyond that, it’s a mystery that you’ll have to live with in almost any world view, including atheism, which has very simplistic answers for many dilemmas, often ending in a similar answer – “it just is, get over it.” Christianity might say “it just is, but God has hope and comfort.”
17. If God is all knowing, then why did he make humans in the knowledge that he’d eventually have to send Jesus to his death?
A: See above. Jesus’ death is proof of God’s love for us. He chose to sacrifice his life to save those who choose him. B: See above. It’s a mystery. Get over it.
18. Why did a supposedly omnipotent god take six days to create the universe, and why did he require rest on the seventh day?
A: His rest on the seventh day is symbolic. He knows that humans need a day to rest and so requires that we rest on the seventh day as well. This is called The Sabbath. The six days of creation is also argued to be metaphorical. B: As an example for us. No biggie.
19. Is omnipotence necessary to create our universe when a larger, denser universe would have required more power?
A: This question actually makes no sense, not even from the perspective of an atheist. B: Show me the data! And the logic, both scientific and philosophic.
20. Why are Churches filled with riches when Jesus asked his followers to give their wealth away?
A: It is merely difficult to enter Heaven if you are rich; wealth itself is not condemned in the Bible. Some would argue it is easier to give to the poor when you have plenty to give. Also, not all rich people who claim to be Christians are TRUE Christians. We are required to give our money TO the Church, and they are led by God in its use. Not all churches do what is best because they are led by false prophets. B: Jesus did NOT ask his followers to give their wealth away. For example, Zaccheus the tax collector, after having repented and restored the money he stole, was not asked to do so. Jesus did not ask the rich or powerful to give their money away. He *did* ask the Rich Young Ruler to do so because that was his idol – and because he thought that his riches were evidence of God’s blessing. Many of the patriarchs in the OT were also wealthy, as were some members of the Acts churches.
21. While in the desert, Jesus rejected the temptations of the Devil. He didn’t censor or kill the Devil, so why are Christians so in favor of censoring many Earthly temptations?
A: Humans do not have the strength Jesus had. We are merely humans. We have to guard ourselves from temptation and do not have divine power to withstand temptation in every circumstance. B: Good question. Many religionists opt for outward conformity and control, rather than the inner qualities that lead to good behavior. In addition, many moralists, both left and right, are more interested in coercive legislation than transformation of culture.
22. Given that the story of Noah’s Ark was copied almost word for word from the much older Sumerian Epic of Atrahasis, does this mean that our true ruler is the supreme sky god, Anu?
A: Those stories were copied from the story of Noah. The fact there are similar stories only proves there really was a Great Flood. B: First, the question is, are they both recording a historical event? Second, who copied who. Third, does which one is earlier indicate which is more accurate? Fourth, the alleged similarities between various non-biblical texts and the Bible are greatly exaggerated, and often fabricated. See this humorous infographic for a summation of NT comparisons.
23. If your desire is to convert atheists so that they become more like you; do you think that you’re currently better than them?
A: No. I am going to Heaven and they are not. I am trying to convert them so they do not go to Hell. We have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. B: I am attempting to ‘convert’ them because they too are lost as I was, and the day of judgment is coming.
24. If religious people don’t respect their children’s right to pick their own religion at a time when they’re able to make that decision, how can society expect religious people to respect anyone’s right to freedom of religion?
A: Children are easily influenced and need their parents to guide them in the “way that they should go.” We do not force our children to accept Jesus, but we teach them about him from the time they are born. Eventually, they ask Jesus into their heart of their own free-will. B: I totally agree. The best method of moral education is to (a) teach them what you value and have learned, and (b) teach them how to decide for themselves as they grow older.
25. If missionaries from your religion should be sent to convert people in other countries, should missionaries from other religions be sent to your country?
A: No. They are spreading lies and are false prophets. B: Sure, that’s their right. Perhaps they know something I don’t!
26. If children are likely to believe in Santa Claus and fairies, does this explain why religion has been taught in schools for thousands of years?
A: This is a leading and loaded question. Also, a bit of a non sequitur. Adults teach religion, not children. Adults tell children about Santa as a fun tradition that they later reveal is just a game. This question is not well thought out. The fact that someone would be unable to give a good answer does not mean it’s a point for the A team. B: Ambiguous. Faith and superstition are not identical, and treating them that way belies a bias, if not an intellectual mistake.
27. When preachers and prophets claim to be special messengers of God, they often receive special benefits from their followers. Does this ever cause you to doubt their intentions?
A: We are supposed to honor those chosen by God to preach his message. It is the church’s responsibility to support their pastor and his family. Sometimes there are false prophets who sneak in wearing sheep’s clothing, but God deals with them. B: Always beware human authority.
28. When you declare a miracle, does this mean you understand everything that is possible in nature?
A: Of course not. B: Nah.
29. If a woman was cured of cancer by means unknown to us, and everyone declared it a miracle, would the chance of scientifically replicating this cure be more or less likely?
A: Again, this is a poor example. Speaking as an atheist right now… cancer does go into remission and doctors sometimes have no explanations for it. Yes, Christians jump to the conclusion is was a miracle, but the fact the cancer went into remission does not mean suddenly medical science is closer to finding a cure and replicating the results. Whether it can be replicated by science is unknown given this example. B: Neither. I suspect many so-called miracles have a naturalistic explanation. That does not mean that all do.
30. If humans declared fire to be a miracle thousands of years ago, would we still be huddling together in caves while we wait for God to fire another lightning bolt into the forest?
A: Yet another stupid question. Christians do not believe that every technological advancement ever made was a miracle; they do acknowledge human inventions and discoveries. Fire has been around longer than humans have, so no one ever thought fire was a miracle… they merely learned how to wield it. Myths were created to explain how people discovered how to use fire, but recorded HISTORY doesn’t go back far enough. This person is assuming Christians DO consider fire a miracle, which they don’t. B: While science has pushed back superstition masquerading as spiritual truth, it has not pushed back the true metaphysics of morality, meaning, origins, and existential experience.
31. If God gave a man cancer, and the Devil cured him to subvert God’s plan, how would you know it wasn’t a divine miracle? What if he was an unkind, atheist, homosexual?
A: First of all, I *would* assume it was a divine miracle and would still give God the glory, so Satan would’ve wasted his time and the plan would obviously backfire. Secondly, if Satan cured an atheist, he would still be an atheist. He doesn’t believe Satan exists therefore would not credit him, and he would still be going to Hell… just not as quickly. The fact that he was also unkind and homosexual wouldn’t change the outcome since he is atheist. B: If you read the scriptures, you’ll see that there are such things as “lying miracles,” meaning that among Satan’s arsenal are false healings. However, typically, these are done amidst other bondages of fear and spiritual oppression, as seen in voodoo or spiritism. True healings bring life and freedom and joy. As a general rule, though, Satan comes to “kill, steal, and destroy.” If you follow that general rule of discernment, you’ll find not too many ‘miracles’ that fit that bill.
32. Should an instruction to convert to your religion upon the threat of eternal torture in hell be met with anything other than hostility?
A: Yes. God is offering to save us from Hell. It is our choice whether we go there. B: It should be met with skepticism. I am of the mind that the traditional view of Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT) is not what good, conservative bible exegesis teaches. Hence my involvement with rethinkinghell.com
33. Can a mass murderer go to heaven for accepting your religion, while a kind doctor goes to hell for not?
A: Yes. If a murderer is repentant and asks God for forgiveness, God is merciful. A kind doctor has the choice of whether to acknowledge God and believe in him. Also, it is not our place to be God’s judge; his ways are not our ways. B: Yes, and this makes sense if you understand the Christian message – we don’t go to heaven based on our own merit – in order to allow the most guilty, penitent person into heaven, God made it so that NONE have to perform good works, and in fact, those who try to gain entrance by their good works are by definition ‘self-righteous’ and in essence, are trying to buy God’s love with their behaviors.
34. Did the mass murdering Crusaders and Inquisitors make it into the Christian heaven?
A: No. TRUE Christians would never have done what those people did. B: The Crusades were a justified, political (not religious as in ‘intended to spread the gospel’) defensive response to 400 years of Muslim aggression and subjugation. Sometimes killing is necessary in order to stop evil, e.g. WWII. We don’t really know the state of the hearts of the individuals involved, but seeing as they may have been under the false impression that behavior is what gets you in heaven, or dying in a crusade as the hypocrite pope told them, it is doubtful that the majority were saved at all. But they could have been, while at the same time greatly mistaken about the methods used in the Crusades.
35. How can we know what is right when we don’t know for sure who makes it into heaven and hell?
A: The Bible tells us what is right and wrong, and God sent the Holy Spirit to guide us. Whoever believes in his heart Jesus is Lord will make it into Heaven. B: When you believe in Christ, you’re in. Right and wrong is black and white in some things, while in the gray areas, you learn to develop and obey your own conscience without judging others (Romans 14).
36. If aliens exist on several worlds that have never heard of your god, will they all be going to hell when they die?
A: Yes if they haven’t heard of him, but God has probably already made himself known to them. Jesus is their Savior, too. B: Theoretically, alien life might pose a dilemma for Christianity. There are some approaches that make this not a problem. I hasten to add that we have ABSOLUTELY no evidence that intelligent alien life exists.
The Promises of Religion
37. If someone promised you eternal life, the protection of a loving super being, a feeling of moral righteousness, a purpose for living, answers to all the big questions, and a rule book for achieving the pinnacle of human potential – and all in exchange for having faith in something that wasn’t proven, would you be suspicious?
A: I trust God because I have a relationship with him, and the Bible, which he wrote, tells me he is not a liar. Any other spirit is a false prophet or spirit of deception. B: Jesus also promised suffering and deprivation if you follow him. Not protection. And some questions, like those surrounding the problem of evil or predestination, do not have complete answers (see The Two Great Mysteries of the Bible).
38. If someone promised to give you a billion dollars after ten years, but only if you worshiped them until that time, would you believe them? If someone promised to give you eternal life upon death, but only if you spent your life worshiping a god, would you believe them?
A: This is two questions, first of all. No, anyone who is not God could not persuade me to believe them, even with lots of money. My soul is more valuable than earthly things. I spend my life worshiping the One, True God, and he has already promised me eternal life. B: Eternal life begins immediately – internally, I already experience the benefits of faith, including communion with God, peace, forgiveness, and rest.
39. Why does religion appeal more to poor, weak, vulnerable, young, ill, depressed, and ostracized people? Could religious promises be more of a temptation to these people?
A: It doesn’t. There are lots of rich people, and people in positions of power, who believe in God. There are also popular, well-liked people who are Christians. We call them “charismatic”. A relationship with God the Father is appealing to people from every demographic. B: Because the rich are less aware of their need. This is one reason why Jesus warned against the ‘deceitfulness of riches.’
40. If you have eternal life in the afterlife, with all your family and friends, don’t you feel it would be like an eternal visit to your inlaws house? Don’t you think you’d get bored after 10,000 years?
A: Another stupid question. How does how entertaining Heaven would remain over the span of eternity disprove its existence, or God’s. So what if it did become boring? Would that make it less real? The Christian argument is that is could never be boring to be in the presence of the Lord. We would be surrounded by millions (billions?) of people, not just our friends and families. We cannot fathom how amazing Heaven will be. B: As many rebuked by Jesus, you have little idea of what heaven is like, in part due to bad teaching by Christians.