Friday 30 September 2016

How do so many Christians get Christianity so very wrong? It is a matter of basic assumptions

My answer is that they fail to take account of the primary assumptions of God being creator, wholly-good and our wholly-loving Father.

It seems clear to me that many or most Christians - past and present - do not really believe these assumptions - becausse their world picture is grossly incompatible with them. But why do they not (really) believe the primary assumptions?

In the first place such assumptions can only be known by individuals, and by direct-knowledge, intuition, faith. There are no real 'arguments', no 'evidence' to support the idea that God is creator and loving Father - either you know this, or you don't.

Perhaps you don't know it because you have never asked the question - or you may know it but doubt the validity of this kind of knowledge (and need to alter your metaphysical understanding) ... Many billions of religious people who believe in a creator-God have not been able to feel or acknowledge that God is truly a personage - but instead they have an abstract view of God (as like a 'force' or described by abstract properties such as 'omnipotence'). For them God is a creator of total power, but they don't really know anything about God, cannot be sure of his nature and motivations - and therefore cannot infer anything about the world. They might believe in a monstrously horrific human situation - and yet not be sure that this is incompatible with a creator that is good, loving, our Father because the regard goodness, lovingness and Fatherhood as merely abstract metaphors; un-interpretable and not directly applicable to 'real life'.

Others believe in God's complete goodness, but their God not the creator - so their God has very limited power to set-up the world. The world might be set-up as a horrible place of torment, maybe even made or run by evil entities...

However, my point here is that Christians (supposedly) personally, fundamentally believe that God is wholly good, the creator and our Father (that is, intimately concerned with us, his children; and concerned that we grow up and grow up well). All of these.

And yet in actuality many/ most of these Christians have a concept of the human condition as one that ought to be lived in constant and dread-full awareness of the proximity of eternal torment in Hell as the natural, just and default end to mortal life. (Their primary argument is Believe or else. It is the fear of 'or else' which compels belief, not the positive consequences of Christianity. For them; Christ came to save us from a world set-up such that we were destined for eternal torture - that is the 'good' news.)

All this is bound up with notions of The Fall and Original Sin which are abstracted-from/ Imputed to the Bible - yet are far from clear in the Gospels. Why have they become so central, so indisputable, to so many people?

The short answer is that not many people have ever really believed that God is our good, creator Father.

Think about our own earthly Father or Mother - as a child, if we believe they are good, we trust them; and we interpret their actions (observed and imputed) in that light - in the light of knowing that they love us.

We don't let any specific action, or their average of actions, or anything we read, or anything which 'other people' say, have any influence AT ALL on the knowledge of the fact that they love us. 

So the mass of Christians do not assume the loving goodness of God, they de facto test it. For example, they test the gooodness of God by reading the Bible, or Church pronouncements. This is equivalent to a child starting each day agnostic as to the love of his parents, and weighing all their actions and statements about them to decide - day by day, moment by moment - whether his parents really do love him - or not.

The fact is, such a child could never reach a conclusion, because it is formally impossible to test whether somebody loves you or does not; whether they are good or not. These are matters of assumption - hence of direct knowledge (or if there is no direct knowledge then they are not known).

This is the craziness of trying to learn about the nature of God by reading the Bible, or reading the Church Fathers, or reading the documents of the church. By doing so we have already, implicitly, mistrusted God, put God on trial; have decided that God is NOT (not really ) our Heavenly Father and creator.

We are relying upon our fallible interpretation of fallible texts for our understanding of the fundamental nature of God and reality! - little wonder that nothing or nonsense are the typical consequences!

Little surprise that - at the end of such - such common - activities, people end up with a view of Christianity that is - at its most basic level - inverted. To focus on Hell instead of Heaven, to impute a Fall and original sin as the primary and focal points of the human condition... this is crazy stuff to anyone who really believes that God the creator set-up this world and that God loves us as a Heavenly Father and is wholly good - because such a one would obviously not have made such a world.


Kirk Forlatt said...

Great points. And it's so maddeningly inescapable that the low, unworthy view of the Father is fostered not by outsiders or antichrists...but by the organized church. "Believe what I believe, and agree with me, or be tortured for eternity. Join my little group -- one of more than 30,000 -- because we're the Right Group. And if you disagree or question, then good luck dog-paddling in the lake of fire."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kirk - For me, the scales fell when I was bewailing the corruption, shrinkage and miniscule coverage of a particular church (that I was trying to convince myself uniquely held the means to salvation) - when somebody gently pointed out that it seemed unlikely that God (creator, loving, good, my Father) would set-up the world so as to leave large numbers of people (or indeed even a single one of his children) condemned to damnation for such obvious, forseeable and contingent reasons.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you ever visit there, but that Inklings-lover, Father Aidan Kimmel, has posts and discussions relevant to this one at his Eclectic Orthodoxy blog.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Dualist said...

“because such a one would obviously not have made such a world.”

If you really believe this, then is it not yourself who is not trusting God? Such a conclusion would only ever be obvious if one could fully apprehend and comprehend God’s mind, and His plan. And, of course, the same line of argument could be used to deny God’s very existence – ‘why would a wholly Good God create a world where it’s undeniable that Evil tramples all over Good’, one could just as easily say.

No, my friend, all the Evil that we have seen up to now, every single event that has occurred in the world up to now, everything, is for The Best. Because all of the evil that has occurred, and will occur, has in no way contravened God’s Will. Quite the opposite. Do you think you possess the power to act against God? Even the Fallen Angels only have any Powers at all because God permits it. Everything that happens is for The Best. Because everything is leading to…..something, something so Good that its existence will Justify all the Evil that has ever occurred.

When evil happens to us, if we had a baby that dies in infancy for example, or when we break our relationship with God by sinning, it is so important to realise that God only allows this this to occur for the Good of our souls. He allows us to fall, so that we can rise again – if we choose to do so. We are only Good in so far as God pours His Grace out into us, and we cooperate with Him, the Holy Spirit, in this relationship by using our Free Will. If we do fall, however, we can always repent at any time and rebuild this relationship. God will forgive us anything, if we repent and confess it. If we choose not to, then we have chosen Hell instead. God does not send us there, as such, but to understand this we need to understand the relationship between God’s foreknowledge and Free Will.

This is my understanding of the problem: we have to accept there are 2 perspectives, ours and God’s. The main point to realise is that God exists outside of time. When He sees us, he always sees our whole lives. So yes, God knows what we WILL do. But as me and you are sat here now, in time, we still have Free Will. To say we don’t would be like be like videotaping a rugby match, watching it on a later day and then saying ‘those players never had Free Will because I now know what they did, so from my point of view it is certain what they did back then’. Amazingly, VERY few people have this understanding. God is wholly Good, and His plan will lead to a superabundance of Goodness at some point in earthly time. Everything will be made right, everything will have been worth it, even all the lost souls, when the New Jerusalem is ‘built’.

So from God’s point of view, yes, many people are born hell-bound. But it is vital to understand that this does NOT mean that whatever we do on earth has no bearing on our salvation. We live in Time. We don’t know what God’s plan is, so we can only act towards Goodness at all times. From our point of view here, we DO have free will, though God Himself still knows what we WILL do.

Admittedly, God’s plan does seem very…..mysterious…. to us, at times. Of course it does! Consider this: when you were 5 years old, could you even dream of understanding all the science you understood by the age of 15? Yet people think they should be able to clearly comprehend the mind and plan of an Infinite Being! The arrogance!

Dualist said...


Let me give you example of how God works: imagine if you were a Spanish Catholic in the age of Elizabeth I. You sent an armada to destroy the infidel – yet all of a sudden a tempest arises and destroys your fleet. It would appear like a total judgement from God, as if he had abandoned you. But what were the long-term consequences of this? Within 200 hundred years Britain ruled the waves, allowing her to form her Empire (the greatest secular force for Good in history), spreading all the Goodness around the world like she did. We are always tempted to only look at the small-scale view. Consider that dickhead Voltaire’s ‘novel’, Candide: he gives examples of earthquakes being pointless Evils. But he never considers what Evils such an earthquake may prevent. One of the children who dies in it could have had a great-grandson who was a next Stalin.

We have no way of knowing things like that, and should not speculation on such things. They can lead us to stop trusting God. Listen to atheists; nearly every single one of their arguments turns on applying human emotions and attributes to God. It is an eternal temptation to do so, because they are the only (conscious) attributes we have any experience of. But this necessarily leads us to serious Error. No, God’s plan is utterly unfathomable to us. I have great Hope that I will understand it all in Heaven, God willing, but of even that I am not sure. Even in Heaven, God will still be infinitely high above me, despite being in perfect union with Him.

For example, just be careful comparing the love of your parents to the Love of God. Never forget that God’s Love is infinite – your parents isn’t. Can we even compare the two? I am a theoretical physicist by trade, and my mathematical understanding informs me that when we start to deal with infinite sets, new rules can often emerge and apply. There are even different types of infinity. So just how do we understand Infinite Love? This was debated by the great scholastics, with St. Thomas and Duns Scotus at opposite ends of the spectrum. The one believing that Infinite Love was just the same ‘thing’ as human love but just extrapolated to infinity, like an infinite mathematical series, so to speak, the other claiming it was a totally different type of ‘thing’ altogether and there was basically no real analogy between the two things. I personally enjoy such disputation, but let us always remember the words of St. Pio of Pietrelcina: ‘In reading books we seek God. In meditation we find Him.’

Dualist said...


As always, fella, just be careful of telling God what he should and should not do. If most of mankind is hell-bound, then we must have Faith that this is for The Best. I may even go so far as to say that if even just ONE person was saved, then it would all be worth it – that one, single, perfect Union of Love being worth all of the totality of Evil, which is a totality of nothingness. Don’t worry about Original Sin, though. Baptism wipes us of the stain due to it, though not fully of its chief consequence: we still retain concupiscence, that tendency to put our Will before God’s.

So should we have any Hope that many will be saved? Of course we should. I believe we can reasonably Hope so for this one, admittedly intuitive, reason: wouldn’t the Incarnation, the dying on the Cross and the Rising, be an awful lot of ‘trouble’ to go to if only a handful were saved? It would seem so – but then, once again, I’m telling God what He should do. I believe that sin is only forgiven through confession to a priest, and I believe that the greatest Grace we ever receive is Jesus Himself in Holy Communion. So for a soul that says ‘no’ to these things, I cannot see how they could be saved. But then, God is a lot more Loving than I am, so who knows! As for those who have never heard of Jesus, I am sure God will judge them on the fruit they bear given what little was sown into them – I believe they wouldn’t be on the hit-list, so to speak.

But we have no idea what God’s plan is. Do you know what, I’ve just had a lovely little idea: aren’t we being very me-centred thinking the world appears to be full of The Damned? Because ‘The World’ includes all that is to come, also. And for all we know, God could pour His Grace out onto every single human tomorrow and everybody could say ‘yes’, perfecting the World, and leading to a ‘Golden Age’ that lasted for a trillion years, in which every single person was saved. So actually, as a proportion, even if most people up to today have gone to Hell, the proportion of all humans who would have ended up going to Heaven would still become 99.99999999%.

Let us trust in God’s perfect, infinite Goodness, knowing that everything that happens (yes, even liberalism, sad to say) is for The Best, in the Grand Scheme of Providence. We can be pretty sure He knows what He’s doing…..

AnteB said...

You have been an atheist and have become a Christian. I´m a Christian but I feel like I am standing on the edge of unbelief because there is so many things that, seemingly, don´t add up.

We have the usual challenges of the faith, like the problem of evil, which you have made less acute for you by deserting the idea of omnipotence. For me it is more difficult because I do not know where I stand on classical theism, but even with the more limited God of Mormon theology it seems that God could do more stop or alleviate extreme suffering.

We have the issues the Scriptures. How do we deal with uncertainties of authenticity, of how to know what Jesus really preached or who he was, especially when there seems to be a lot in the Biblical tradition that cannot be verified by traditional historical methods.

Above all, we have the impossibilty of actually knowing, with a fair level of certainty, the nature of reality. You say you have had a deep intuition of God but that is personal and impossible to share. And even with a deep intuition it does not answer which theology is right.

What I´m fishing after in my ramblings is, how you have reconciled yourself to many of these difficulties and uncertainties?

I really want to believe, and I think that your approach of beginning with the basic assumptions that God is our creator and loving father (in a real sense and unequivocal sense) is the only approach to faith that is sustainable. At the same time I have this gnawing feeling that it is wishful thinking.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AnteB - "You say you have had a deep intuition of God but that is personal and impossible to share."

You are correct. We cannot take anybody else's word for our primary assumption/s. From this I infer that it is something which each individual needs to seek for himself.

"And even with a deep intuition it does not answer which theology is right."

It does - because nothing can be more sure and certain than our personal primary intuitive assumption.

(What could be more sure and certain? Science? Hardly - it is always changing; Philosophers have no agreement; Logic is too prone to error and - when applied - excessively abstract...)

What it is that we reach intuitive certainty about will vary between individuals. In my case I am often sure about generalities, but not specifics - which I gradually work out.

There are remaining uncertainties in the sense that we cannot fully or without bias grasp, make explicit to ourselves and communicate our primary intuitive assumptions - and the journey of faith is party about getting this clearer and more solid.

One 'tip' - don't try to 'force' an answer by 'logic and evidence' - instead let your watchwords be Patient Brooding. If you do this, and repeatedly clear you mind and wait, I think you will begin to make progress, one intuition at a time.

AnteB said...

Thank you for your answer. I will think about it, and read your new posts about "patient brooding".

EomerSonOfEomund said...

Dualist has spoken truthfully and eloquently. I would add that the book of Genesis gives us a beautiful and very meaningful example of how God brings good out of evil in the story of Joseph. Through the heinous crime of the other sons of Israel, God delivered Egypt from a terrible famine, and even saved those wicked brothers themselves (this salvation being contingent on their repentance). Their very crime became the instrument of their delivery.

These things were written for our instruction (cf. Romans 15:4). While we may not be able to see, appreciate or understand God's plan in this life, we can certainly learn to abandon ourselves to Him with loving trust.