Does God Change from the Old Testament to the New?

I started to leave this post as a comment on ratamacue0‘s recent post, What Started My Questioning? but decided to post it instead. Fellow blogger (and friend) unkleE left this comment as part of a conversation that he and ratamacue0 were having:

…most non-believers seem not to recognise that there isn’t one consistent portrait of God in the Bible – it changes through both Testaments – and then to choose the worst picture (which is often the earliest one) to critique. But if the claimed revelation of God is progressive, it would surely be fairer to choose a later picture.

I think most non-believers do recognize the difference; it’s just hard to forget that first impression given in the OT.

And really, how progressive is the picture the Bible paints? The NT points out that God doesn’t change, so those harsh characteristics he possessed in the OT are still being claimed by NT writers. The NT also repeats some things like “vengenance is mine, I will repay.” And it tells us not to fear those who can destroy the body, but he who can destroy both body and soul. The NT also gives us the doctrine of Hell, regardless of what that might mean.

I think some of the NT writers, like Paul and the author of Hebrews, are arguing that the method of salvation and the specific requirements God has for people are changing, and in that way the message becomes more progressive. More emphasis is placed on the mind and not just physical acts, for instance. But as to who God is, I don’t think that image really progresses from OT to NT. The same God that killed Uzzah for trying to steady the ark, condemns anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus, even though it’s hard to blame many of the Jews for saying Jesus was a blasphemer, considering the teachings in the Old Law.

Such a God is irrational. Many Christians seem to agree, which is why they don’t believe in parts of the OT. But since the NT still claims the same irrational God, I see no reason to believe in him at all. And to me, that seems much more consistent than trying to hold onto parts of the mythology, while rejecting the unsavory parts. If that god were real, and he wanted people to know about him, I think he’d keep the one source of information about him pure. Since that obviously didn’t happen with the Bible, why continue to hold to it at all? Why not put faith in a god who isn’t concerned with petty dogmas, one who simply set things in motion for us? One that may inspire people from time to time, but is largely content to let us live our lives without interference? To me, that seems to fit the evidence far better… and while I don’t have any actual belief in such a deity, I can see why some would. Why mesh it with Christianity, when it seems so superfluous?

The Problem with Alabama

First of all, sorry for the lack of posts latey. Just been busy with life — you know how that goes. I have a couple of ideas rattling around in my head right now, so I’ll hopefully shake one of them out into a blog post soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to post this article that a friend pointed me toward today. Many of you probably don’t know, but last week, a federal judge in Mobile, Alabama struck down a state ban on gay marriage, which made us the 37th state to legalize gay marriage. It was great news! However, to no one’s surprise, there’s been a huge outcry about it, and many of the state politicians are pushing hard against it. This article brilliantly captures the way I feel about it:

After same-sex marriage ruling, a question: Are we American? Or just Alabamian?

On Blogging

Not too long ago, I got a “like” on one of my posts from a blogger I hadn’t run across before. Out of curiosity, I jumped over to her blog to see what she liked to write about. Turns out she’s a Christian. Which is fine — I certainly have many Christian friends, and several of them even “like” my posts from time to time. But I understand why they do it. With this person, I didn’t get it.

I still don’t know what caused her to hit the “like” button, but I’ve started to get suspicious of that kind of thing. I’ve noticed that there are number of people who seem to blog simply to see how many followers they can attract. I’ve been amazed at how many followers some blogs get, especially since many of them are pretty new. How do they get such high readership? And then, I’ll often see that their posts have almost no comments on them. What’s up with that?

I assume that many of them scour the internet for blogs that they can follow, whether they blog on similar topics or not, just hoping that they’ll be followed in return. But what does this really accomplish? Does it really get quality readers? I’m not so sure…

And while I’d love to have thousands of followers, I’m much happier having actual dialog on my blog. I’ve never gone out looking for readers. The people who have come here have usually found me in WordPress or Google searches, or I’ve made an actually substantive comment on their blog, and they’ve come over here in response. This has made the growth of my blog a very slow process, but it feels more genuine to me. I’ve gotten this audience for the right reasons.

I was glad to read two other blog posts in the last two days that kind of echo what I’m driving at here. My friend Nila wrote this post about the merits of having something worthwhile to say, rather than focusing on a writing schedule. And someone in the comments section of that post linked to this article on “slow blogging.” In other words, thinking about what you want to say before you rush to say it. It’s refreshing (to me) to see that not everyone is being swept away by all the meta reasons to have a blog, but are still interested in conversation.

Pandora’s Box

The other day I started thinking about what would have happened if I had stopped looking critically at Christianity after reading those articles that first made me question the Bible’s legitimacy. What if I had turned from them and decided to never look at anything else that might cause me to doubt my faith? If I had, I’m sure I’d still be a Christian today.

But would that really be good enough? Obviously, the things my faith were built upon weren’t solid enough to withstand scrutiny. So if I had maintained faith only by refusing to investigate my reasons, would that kind of faith be pleasing to God? I think that’s a question believers should consider. If that level of faith is good enough, we’re essentially saying, “oh, if only you hadn’t taken your faith so seriously!” But that seems crazy.

The alternative is that my faith might have been good enough until the day I ran across things that made me doubt. At that point, the only way to remain pleasing to God would be to investigate the claims and come out the other side with a stronger faith. Of course, that’s not how it worked out for me. If God’s real and Christianity’s true, then I think this view makes the most sense. However, it causes problems for those Christians who have refused to look at any evidence that might call their beliefs into question. I’ve had several tell me that they won’t read anything an atheist has written, or don’t want me to point out the passages that I found problematic because they don’t want to lose their faith. How does that make sense? If their faith is worth keeping — if it’s true — then further investigation should only support their beliefs, not call them into question.

I’m not trying to pick on Christians here, we can all be guilty of this from time to time. It’s essentially an extreme case of confirmation bias — one in which we realize we’re being biased and we even think of it as a good thing. In fact, it’s extremely dangerous, and if we feel ourselves thinking along those lines, it should be a red flag. What’s wrong with our current position if we have to hide from information in order to keep it?

And in the end, I’m glad I didn’t stop looking. The journey out wasn’t easy, but I feel like things make so much more sense with my current worldview. Even if I’m still wrong, I’m closer to the truth than I was before, because I’ve learned new information and corrected some past misunderstandings. That can only be a good thing.

8 Year Anniversary!

So today marks 8 years that I’ve been doing this blog. That’s a pretty big milestone! I had two posts on November 14, 2006, and I thought it would be fun to repost them here (along with a little commentary).

Here’s the first:

Well, this is the first official post of my new blog. Don’t expect much, though. I’m hoping to turn this into a weekly thing with posts centering around religion – specifically, “Christianity.”

Wish me luck… :)

So that was innocuous enough. Now here’s post number 2:

If you’ve spent much time perusing your Bible, you’ve probably stumbled across passages dealing with the “mystery” (and most likely, these were passages written by Paul).  In Ephesians 3, Paul spends time revealing the mystery to us: that the Gentiles now have access to salvation!  Wrapped up in this mystery is God’s entire plan of salvation – salvation for all!  But why is it called a “mystery?”  And should it still be “mysterious” to us today?

I think 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 best explains the way in which Christ’s gospel was/is a mystery.  As vs 18 says:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

We can see from this passage that God’s plan of salvation makes no sense to those who refuse to believe it, but to those of us who accept it, it’s brilliant!  Verse 21 goes on to say:

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

See, because the world is so “wise,” it views the concept of God as foolishness.  They have been blinded by their own pretensions.  For the Jews and Greeks of the day, it wasn’t that they didn’t believe in the supernatural; it wasn’t that they didn’t believe in deities.  Their problem was that they thought they already knew what God would do.  The Jews already had a fixed idea of what the Messiah would be, so when Christ appeared and didn’t lead them to victory against the Romans, they refused to accept him.  The Greeks didn’t accept Christ because they couldn’t conceive of a god allowing himself to be put to death by his own creation.  And because they already had things “figured out,” they missed their chance.

Today, people do the same thing.  They would rather put faith in scientific theories that have not been proven.  They would rather believe that all of the order we see in our universe (the fragile food chain, vast differences throughout the animal and plant kingdoms, the very specific orbits of planets, etc) was created through a giant explosion (something that, in all practical applications, has only been shown to destroy, not create).  Have they been blinded by their own “wisdom?”

Too often, even those who profess to be religious only listen to their own ideas about what God wants.  Many times they view the Bible as a collection of stories or suggestions, and not the “wisdom of God that leads to salvation” that 1 Corinthians purports it to be.  How is that different from what the Jews and Greeks were condemned for?

Throughout the Bible, passages talk about truth and understanding.  I firmly believe that God gave us understanding and intellect for a reason.  We are supposed to be able to understand God’s message for us.  It’s not supposed to be “mysterious” any longer.  It’s not supposed to be some “better felt than told” experience.  No, God’s word is supposed to be powerful and undeniable.  It’s supposed to move us and touch us in a way that nothing else can.  But for it to do that, we have to read it, study it, know it.

It’s a little painful to read through that. I cringe when I read how badly I understood things about evolution and the Big Bang back then, or when I alluded to non-Christians as just being those who “refuse to believe it”. It’s kind of funny, but I was guilty of the same thing I was accusing others of. I thought I had the answers, but I had never taken time to really examine any other point of view.

The one decent thing from the post that serves as a bit of foreshadowing about where I would eventually wind up is the last paragraph. You can see that while I was firmly ensnared in Christianity, I believed that it was not supposed to be utterly mysterious. It was supposed to be consistent and “undeniable.” It took a while, but I finally realized that Christianity just didn’t deliver in that regard.

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt down memory lane. Someone suggested to me recently that I should think about doing this kind of review with more of my old posts. I’ve been considering it… Thoughts?

The Life of a Dog

This is reality in a universe without God: there is no hope; there is no purpose. It reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s haunting lines:

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

What is true of mankind as a whole is true of each of us individually: we are here to no purpose. If there is no God, then our life is not fundamentally different from that of a dog.
— William Lane Craig

I heard this quote recently, and I immediately thought, it’s also not fundamentally different from that of a god. If God is the “uncaused first cause,” then his life has no higher purpose. There is no “reason” for him to exist. In fact, when you really get down to it, the best reason for God to exist is to explain our own existence. Doesn’t that minimize his importance when you look at it that way? So many of the arguments for God really come down to saying:

We’re so magnificent and complex, we simply can’t be an accident! There must be some reason for our being here! So if we exist, God must exist.

Talk about arrogance! We think so highly of ourselves that we insist the Universe was created for us. But this insistence creates an interesting problem. It claims that we’re so amazing, we deserve to have a higher power interested in us. But this higher power doesn’t deserve the same thing?

If our lives are empty and meaningless without God, what does it say about God’s existence? Wouldn’t his be just as meaningless and empty?

On the other hand, if we say his existence isn’t meaningless because he infuses it with his own meaning and purpose, why couldn’t that same thing be true of us? Instead of having a purpose given to us, we make our own.

Matt Dillahunty of The Atheist Experience answered the issue this way:

You know, to put it simply, I guess this whole line of argument really just seems like wishful thinking to me. Am I missing something? Do you think the “higher purpose” argument is convincing to many people?